The Jain Bird Hospital in Delhi expresses the Jain commitment to nonviolence and care for others. This 2500-year-old tradition traces its lineage back to Mahavira, who was given the honorific title of Jina, meaning Victor.
Mahavira was born in the 6th century BCE. Growing up in luxury, he abandoned his home at 30 to become an ascetic. At the age of 42, he attained the state of kevalajnana, alone in the world in his supreme knowledge. After a prolific career of teaching, Mahavira passed away at the age of 72, attaining what is called moksha (liberation).... Read more about Mahavira
Mahavira was just one of a larger cycle of 24 tirthankaras (Ford-makers), religious pioneers who reveal the truth of Jainism to humanity. Mahavira stands as 24th in the sequence, the final tirthankara of this age.... Read more about Tirthankaras: “Ford-Makers”
The tirthankaras teach that all living beings possess a soul (jiva), each caught up in a nearly endless cycle of rebirth. The ultimate goal of Jainism is to free the soul from this cycle of rebirth, to attain moksha (liberation).
The word karma means “action,” but in Jainism it acts as a material substance that clouds the purity of the soul. The path to liberation requires one to cease the production of new karma, and to work to burn away the karma accumulated in previous lives.
Since all beings (humans, animals, and plants) in Jainism have a soul, the concept of ahimsa (nonviolence) is central to the tradition. The concept of ahimsa informs every aspect of Jain practice, behavior, and life. As a result Jains are vegetarians, and Jain monks and nuns often take precautions to avoid stepping on or injuring insects.... Read more about Ahimsa: Reverence for Life
Jains speak of “Three Jewels” that serve as their standard for a good life: right vision, right knowledge, and right conduct. Right conduct is often expressed through five basic vows: nonviolence, truth, never stealing, chastity, and nonattachment.
In the classical Indian world Jains, Buddhists, and Hindus fiercely debated the nature of reality. The Jain position argues for a broad view called anekantavada (“no-one-perspective-ism”), resisting philosophical dogmatism and recognizing the good qualities of many different points of view.... Read more about Anekantavada: The Relativity of Views
Two major branches of Jain monasticism emerged in the early centuries BCE. The Digambara (“sky-clad”) tradition renounces everything, even clothing. The Shvetambara (“white-clad”) tradition also renounces, but they wear two pieces of white cloth. Each group has their own distinctive scriptures and traditions.
Jain monastics depend on the laypeople for food and essentials. Possessing no permanent home, Jain monastics travel on foot and teach Jain tradition and scripture to laypeople. The monastics live a life of constant travel, with the exception of monsoon season, when they spend four months in one place.... Read more about Mendicants and Laity
Jain temples serve as vibrant centers for the interaction of monastics and laypeople. Here Jains pray, meditate, listen to sermons, sing religious songs, and perform rituals before images of the tirthankaras.
A symbol to represent the Jain community was chosen in 1975 as part of the commemoration of the 2500th anniversary of Mahavira’s attainment of nirvana. The stylized hand is in a gesture of blessing, and on the palm is inscribed “ahimsa,” which for many is the essence of Jain ethical teachings. The phrase at the bottom of the symbol states “all life is bound together by mutual support and interdependence.” ... Read more about The Jain Symbol
Jains have often worked as merchants, and their travels took them outside India. But because monastics travel exclusively on foot, the vast majority of Jain monastics remain in India. Creating strong communities with authoritative religious leadership outside of India has required innovation, and new patterns of Jain tradition have emerged.