In the Indian subcontinent, there was another group of humans, who instead of creating gods to explain the natural forces, observed nature and described it scientifically through oral tradition. They came to the conclusion, nature and universe has been in existence forever, there is no conquest to win, all were creations of nature, all had an equal right to live, everything that lives has to die, death anxiety can be mitigated by one’s effort to follow a certain path which includes respect for all living creatures.
As humans, we are able to describe what we feel, those that can’t experience anxiety too just can’t talk about it and so we become guardians for those that can’t speak for themselves. The first such human to describe this solution and to organize the people was Adinath. This way of living was later called as Jainism in 6-5 BCE, the people, living this way of life were later called Jains and Adinath became the first Tirthankar. To Attain Moksha or Nivana is the way to conquer death anxiety.
Jainism, Organized Atheism
Indian school history books claim, Jainism and Buddhism started in revolt to Hinduism by Lord Mahavir who existed in 6-5 BCE [Before common era] . Buddhist texts refer to Mahavir as a reformer of a tradition that already existed in the subcontinent. And Jain texts talk of Jainism starting with the first tirthankar, Rishabhdev.
Buddhism started with Buddha a century later than the last tirthankar.
Indian historians claim, historical evidence points to Jainism as coming into existence at the time of the 23rd tirthankar, Parshvanath[ 9-7BC] and 24th Tirthankar, Mahavir [6-5BC]. And all tirthankars except the 23rd, Parshvanath and 24th, Mahavir are considered mythical legendary figures since there is no evidence of the existence of previous 22 tirthankars except in texts and because they are written to have unusually long life spans.
What do Jains believe about the origin of Jainism?
Jains claim that Jain belief is eternal and was started with the first tirthankar [tirtha in Sanskrit means fordable passage across the sea of interminable births and deaths, and tirthankar is a ford maker, someone who has conquered this sea and developed a path for others to follow.
Rishabhadev, the first tirthankar is followed by 23 others, spanning more than a million years.
So where is the evidence for something like this?
Hard to show when only oral tradition existed of passing information from one generation to the next and the only written texts give the life spans of these tirthankars to be unusually long.
What do we know about Jainism?
- Everything in nature is living including air, water, fire and rocks.
- Everything that lives is sacred.
- Everything that lives has an equal right to live and any harm to the living needs to be minimized. So not only are humans required not to take, subjugate or control other life forms, they need to practice non violence.
- Non violence in thought, word and deed is important to decrease the Karmic matter attaching itself to the soul as thoughts become words that lead to deeds/ actions.
There are 24 tirthankars. Mahavir, the 24th, has most extensively described Jain yoga/ right conduct[ Charitra] or path to liberation after attaining Moksha. 23 tirthankars before him described the same experience, with each of the 24 tirthankars being ford or path makers. Since each tirthankar has the same qualities and virtues after their Nirvana or Moksha, to differentiate between them, they are represented with different animals.
Mahavir saw fame, fortune and power as harbingers of unhappiness and suggested a path which included
Right perception, Right knowledge and Right conduct.
Right conduct has 5 essentials:
- Non violence, [Ahimsa] in thought word and deed, and compassion to all living beings
- Truthfulness, [Satya] accepting principle of anekantwad
- Non stealing, [Asteya] refraining from acquiring goods/ services beyond one’s essential needs, asking ourselves on a daily basis what our essential need and greed. e.g. if we take more than what we need from the forest that is stealing from nature, using more resources or taking more from society and depriving others is stealing.
- Celibacy [Brahmacharya] is associated with proper sexual conduct, it means abstinence for the monks and fidelity in marriage for lay person.
- Non possession and non attachment [Aparigraha].
He shared that the human form is the abode of the soul: characteristics of which are:
Perfect perception [Anant darshan],
Perfect strength [ Anant virya],
Perfect bliss [ Anant sukh], and
Perfect knowledge [ Anant gyan].
Mahavir travelled extensively and established the order of
He believed men and women had equal right to path of Nirvana.
This Jain symbol was accepted by all Jain sects as symbol of religion in 1974.