Jainism Glossary Terms


A mendicant is one who renounces worldly life, is often a member of a monastic order, and is sustained by the alms of the laity.


A monastery is the residence of monks, or monastics; the term is commonly used in both the Christian and Buddhist traditions. Monasticism refers to the life of work, study, and discipline led by monks and nuns.


A monk is a man who renounces worldly life and is ordinarily a member of a monastic order or community, thereby undertaking a special commitment to study, service, asceticism, prayer, or disciplined spiritual practice. In the Buddhist tradition, fully ordained monks are called bhikkhus, those who beg alms, depending upon the laity for their food and support. In the Jain tradition, ordained monks are called sadhus or holy ones; they traditionally live in close interaction with Jain laity, depending upon them for food and sustenance. In the Hindu tradition, a sannyasi is one who renounces worldly life, but such renunciation has often been an individual matter, without a monastic community. However, the 8th or 9th-century sage Shankara is credited with organizing many sannyasis, though by no means all, into monastic orders. In the Christian tradition, there have been both individual monks (hermits) and monks who live in orders or communities following a specific rule of life, such as the Franciscans or Benedictines.


Both Hindus and Jains honor sacred images called murtis. The term murti means form or likeness, referring to the material form of a deity or divine being as a focus for worship. These images may be temporary or permanently installed, as in a temple. Through rites of consecration, Hindus understand the image as a dwelling of the Divine, whom worshippers honor with a daily round of hospitality rites. Jains understand their images of the Tirthankaras quite differently: the Tirthankaras are not gods and do not dwell in the image. By worshipping the murti of the Tirthankara, Jains emulate his qualities, purify themselves, and turn the mind toward liberation.

Murtipujak Shvetambara

The major division of Jains is between the Shvetambara and Digambara traditions. The majority of Shvetambaras are Murtipujaks who, as their name indicates, perform puja (worship) before the murtis (images) of the Jinas or Tirthankaras.


A nun is a woman who renounces worldly life and is ordinarily a member of a monastic order or community, thereby undertaking a special commitment to study, service, asceticism, prayer, or disciplined spiritual practice. In the Buddhist tradition, fully ordained nuns are called bhikkhunis, those who beg alms, depending upon the laity for their food and support. The early lineage of bhikkhunis died out long ago in the Theravada traditions of South Asia, but was preserved in the Mahayana traditions of East Asia where nuns outnumber monks today in Hong Kong and Taiwan. In the Jain tradition, ordained nuns are called sadhvis or holy ones; they have preserved monastic life for many centuries and their orders flourish in contemporary India. In the Christian tradition, there have been nuns since the 4th century, some communities living cloistered lives entirely apart from the world and others involved in the world in vocations of service and education.


Parshvanath, the 23rd Tirthankara of the Jain tradition, is said to have lived in the 9th and 8th centuries BCE. Traditional accounts state that Parshvanath, after reigning as king in Varanasi, took up the life of an ascetic, thereby attaining enlightenment. He spent the rest of his life teaching, until his bodily death and final liberation in 720 BCE.


Paryushana is the most important holy season in the Shvetambara Jain ritual calendar. This festival season, celebrated over eight days in September, is the climax of the four-month monsoon period when ascetics abandon the wandering life to settle down among the laity. During Paryushana Parva the entire Shvetambara Jain community focuses its attention on fasting, instruction, and the rites of Pratikraman in which each person asks forgiveness for the faults of the previous year.


Pathshala means “learning place” is traditionally used to describe the religious classes conducted by traditional teachers or gurus. In the Jain tradition in America, this term has been used to describe the religious education classes conducted by Jain laity for both adults and young people.


Prakrit is an ancient vernacular language of India, akin to the more classical Sanskrit. It is the language in which the Jain scriptures are written.


Pratishtha means establishment or installation and refers to the rites by which images are consecrated for worship in the Hindu and Jain traditions.


As part of his reforms to make the Jain tradition better able to address the challenges of 20th century life, the Terapanthi leader Acharya Tulsi has established a new, lower order of male and female ascetics, called samans and samanis. This order is specially charged with serving the Jain community abroad. Hence, unlike other Jain mendicants, they are granted a special dispensation to use mechanical means of transport and to eat food that was specially prepared for them. In their teaching, samans and samanis emphasis a new form of Jain meditation called Prekshadhyana.

Samvatsari Pratikraman

For Shvetambaras, the final day of the eight-day festival of Paryushana is Samvatsari Pratikraman, the “Annual Confession.” On this day every member of the Shvetambara Jain community confesses any infringement of the five great vows to his or her teacher, family, friends, and, in fact, all living beings. The culmination of confession is receiving forgiveness from all living beings and granting forgiveness to them.


Seva means service, a religious obligation of both renunciants and laity in the religious traditions of India.


The Shvetambara tradition is one of the two major branches of Jain monasticism, the other being Digambara. Each has its own community of lay followers. The two monastic groups began to emerge as early as the 4th century BCE, although the split was not finalized until many centuries later. Unlike their Digambara counterparts, the monks of the Shvetambara or “white clad” tradition do not practice complete ascetic nudity. Instead, they don two pieces of white cloth.


Siddha means accomplished or perfected, one who has attained spiritual realization. In the Jain tradition, an enlightened and liberated soul is called a Siddha. Such a soul does not need a body, but transcends the cycle of life and death and dwells in moksha, complete freedom, having regained its original state of pure energy.

Siddhachalam Ashram

Siddhachalam, which means literally “Abode of the Siddhas,” is described by American Jains as the first Jain tirtha (place of pilgrimage) outside of India. It was founded by Sushil Kumar (1926–1994) in 1983 and is situated on 108 acres of land in the Pocono Mountains of western New Jersey near Blairstown.

Snatra Puja

Snatra Puja, the bathing the image of Mahavira, occurs during Mahavira Jayanti, i.e. the annual celebration of the “Birthday of the Great Hero.”


The Sthanakvasis are members of a Shvetambara Jain sect which regards image-worship as contrary to the teachings of the Tirthankaras. They are called Sthanakvasis (“Dwellers in Halls”) because their monks and nuns do no. stay in monasteries attached to temples, as do other Shvetambara mendicants. Sthanakvasi monks and nuns can be recognized by their practice of permanently wearing a cloth to cover their mouth and nose, lest they inadvertently harm invisible life forms by inhaling them.


Svadhyaya means self-study. Because of the rules prohibiting Jain monastics from traveling by mechanical means, the lay community in the United States has had to take greater responsibility for its religious education. It has done so by forming lay-led svadhyaya study-groups which meet in family homes or Jain centers to discuss commentaries on Jain scriptures or to listen to lectures given by Jain scholars.


Terapantha sect means "path of thirteen" and refers to an 18th century Jain reform movement, severely puritanical, launched by a monk named Bhikanji and twelve followers. Today, under the leadership of Acharya Tulsi, the Terapanths have taken their commitment to reform to the wider society with a more general reform movement called Anuvrata, "small-vows." It is based on making and keeping small, attainable vows as a step toward lifting the moral tone of the society


A tirtha is a spiritual “ford” or “crossing place,” and, by extension, a place of pilgrimage, often situated on a riverbank, a hilltop, or in a place of special natural beauty. There are many Hindu and Jain tirthas in India and, increasingly, in the United States.


In the Jain tradition, a Tirthankara, literally a “ford-maker,” is a spiritual pioneer who has crossed beyond the perpetual flow of earthly life. In each cycle of time, there are twenty-four Tirthankaras. They differ from other Jinas in that, in addition to liberating themselves, they spend their lives as teachers, sharing their knowledge with others. The twenty-fourth Tirthankara of the current age was Mahavira, who is said to have lived in the 6th century BCE.


In the religious traditions of India, an upadhyaya is a teacher or preceptor.

World Jain Congress

The World Jain Congress is an international organization of Jains, bringing members of the Indians, European, and North American Jain communities together for periodic conventions.

Young Jains of America

Young Jains of America was formed in 1989 during the fifth biennial convention of JAINA. YJA held its first national convention in Chicago in 1994 and plans to hold such conventions biennially. In addition to organizing conferences, YJA also encourages Jain centers to create on-going youth forums, contributes articles to JAINA’s Jain Digest, publishes its own magazine, Young Minds, and has a website on the Internet.
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