Jainism in the World

c. 850 BCE Parshvanath

The twenty-third Tirthankara, Parshvanath, is said to have lived about this time.

599 – 527 BCE Mahavira

The twenty-fourth Tirthankara, Mahavira, was born near Patna in what is now the state of Bihar. He is said to have been a kshatriya, a prince or warrior, and to have renounced the world to seek self-realization. He attained kaivalya, luminous knowledge, at age 42 and taught for thirty years until his death.

360 BCE Beginning of Digambar/Shvetambar Split

It is said that at a time of famine, part of the Jain community migrated south. When they returned, they found the monks of the north had compiled a version of the scripture with which they did not wholly agree and had taken to wearing simple white-clothing rather than maintaining the “sky-clad” traditions. The Shvetambar (“White-clad”) and Digambar (“Sky-clad”) schism constitutes the major sectarian split in the tradition.

400s CE Formation of the Shvetambar Siddhanta

By the fifth century Shvetambar Jains had compiled 45 texts into a canon, commonly called the Siddhanta. The canon includes 45 texts subsumed under six categories, the oldest and most venerated of which are the 12 angas, including the Acharanga.

400s CE Development of Jain Lay Community

By the early centuries of the common era, the Jain tradition had small communities throughout the Indian peninsula. Shvetambars were concentrated in north and west India, the Digambars were principally in south and central India. Although the monastic order remained the core of both Jain communities, in each case a growing number of lay practitioners associated themselves with the tradition. Beginning in the fifth century, Jain literature increasingly concerned itself with regulating non-monastic life, including proper etiquette toward monks and nuns, temple worship, and life-cycle rites.

1000s CE Digambar Community Concentrates in Maharashtra

The Digambar Jain community, which had previously enjoyed royal patronage in south and east India, fell into disfavor as Hindu theism gained popularity in the 11th century. Digambars migrated north and westward, settling in Karnataka and Maharashtra, where their descendants have continued to make their homes.

1100s CE Shvetambar Community Concentrates in Gujarat

The tide of Hindu theism that precipitated the emigration of Digambar Jains from southern India swept over northern India as well. This, coupled with the rise of Islam, resulted in a contraction of the Shvetambar community, which has been concentrated in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh ever since.

1400s CE Sthanakvasi Reform Movement Forms

Beginning around the 10th century, there developed a class of monks who lived full-time in temples and exerted increasing control over temple resources. Charges of corruption and spiritual degeneration occurred with increasing frequency, culminating in 1451, when a Shvetambar layman named Lonka Saha launched the Sthanakvasi reform movement. Unlike most Jain groups, Sthanakvasis, or “dwellers in halls” (as opposed to temples), object to the veneration of images, claiming that such activity too easily degenerates into idol-worship. Monks of this movement are recognized by their practice of donning a cloth or mask over the mouth and nose to avoid inadvertently inhaling and thus harming minute life forms.

1500s CE Taranapantha Reform Movement Emerges

Apparently influenced by the Sthanakvasi movement, a small group of Digambars under the leadership of a man by the name of Taranasvami also banned the worship of images.

1700s CE Birth of Terapantha Reform Movement

All Jains agree that a person should eschew any action that would harm a living being. In the eighteenth century, a Sthanakvasi monk named Bhikhanji asserted that a person should avoid any action that would directly affect another sentient being, including saving its life. To give aid to another not only indicates that one has failed to practice total renunciation, but makes one responsible for any harm that that being may cause in the future. It is said that Bhikhanji’s reform movement is called Terapantha, “the path of the thirteen,” because he could only gather twelve disciples to follow his radical ideas. Today, the Terapantha movement continues as a small but vocal minority of the Shvetambar tradition.

1869 – 1948 CE Friendship of Mohandas Gandhi and Raychandbhai Mehta

Mohandas Gandhi was arguably the greatest champion of nonviolence in the 20th century. Although a Hindu, his appreciation for the profound spiritual significance of ahimsa derived principally from the conversations and correspondence he had with Raychandbhai Mehta, a prominent Jain layman. According to Gandhi, the three men who most deeply influenced his thought were Tolstoy, Ruskin, and Raychandbhai.

1970 CE Shri Chitrabhanu Travels to Geneva

In 1970 Shri Chitrabhanu became the first Jain monk to break the injunction against traveling by airplane when he flew to Geneva to attend the second Spiritual Summit Conference. He arrived in the United States one year later to establish the Jain International Meditation Center in New York and to found and inspire many other Jain centers across the U.S. and throughout the world.

1990 CE “Jain Declaration on Nature”

This statement on the Jain philosophy of non-violence and its relevance to the ecological crisis was presented by an international group of Jain leaders to H.R.H. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

2010 CE Jain Temple Opened in Belgium

The largest Jain temple outside of India opened its doors in a suburb of Antwerp to serve the couple thousand Jains in the area, many of whom are involved in the diamond trade. The community’s spiritual leader, Ramesh Mehta, was also a member of the Belgian Council of Religious Leaders, demonstrating the integration of the Jain community within a European religious landscape.