Jainism: An Introduction

(Reality Based Ethics) (1)

by Duli Chandra Jain, Flushing, NY


A student of science studies, observes, performs experiments and develops a theory to explain the results of his observations and experiments. Then the scientist designs further experiments to test the theory. This is the scientific process. It is a rational approach to uncover the secrets of nature. The ancient Indian sages have followed a similar approach to decipher the nature of reality. The religions of Indian origin evolved in ancient times through open-minded, unbiased, philosophical endeavors. Consequently, highly sophisticated, philosophical systems form the basis of Indian religions. Jainism, like Hinduism and Buddhism, is based on a rational philosophical system. As is usual, a mantle of aberrations, myths and legends envelops the fundamental tenets of Jainism. For this reason, an individual has to look deep to get a glimpse of the pristine spirit of Jainism. Further, an individual has the liberty to select what conforms to his/her experience and common sense. Acharya Kundkund, who lived about 2000 years ago, writes:(2)

I am presenting a comprehensive knowledge of soul as differentiated from external objects based on my understanding and experience. Accept it if (in your estimation) it satisfies the condition of authenticity (PRAMAAN). But if I fail in my description, reject it.

The above observation of Acharya Kundkund, stating that an individual should understand reality from his/her own viewpoint, conforms to the Jain principle of relativism (SYAADAVAAD), which states:

Reality in its totality cannot be grasped by us. Only a universal observer (omniscient) can comprehend it completely. Yet even for an omniscient, it is impossible to know it and explain it without a standpoint or a viewpoint.(3)

As a result of rational philosophical inquests by various ancient sages, the great river of Indian religion and culture evolved two parallel strands, the tradition of the Vedas (VEDIC) and the tradition of the self-reliant (SHRAMAN). Jainism is a religion of the self-reliant (SHRAMAN). It believes in self-endeavor, as opposed to the hand of a supreme being, for spiritual uplift and happiness. The various schools of thought of the VEDIC system believe in a supreme being who regulates the events in the universe. Jainism, on the other hand, believes that all things and events in the universe follow the laws of nature and all transformations of the entities of the universe occur on account of their mutual interactions according to their respective intrinsic attributes. Acharya Kundkund writes:(4)

The qualities or attributes of one substance
cannot be generated by another substance.
Therefore, all substances of the universe
evolve in accordance with their own nature.

In ancient times, the VEDIC and SHRAMAN ideologies along with others, including atheism, have existed side by side. Terms like Hinduism and Jainism were not prevalent. There was no competition between the various schools of thought although there were healthy philosophical discussions and exchange of ideas among them. There was mutual understanding and respect for others' viewpoints. The ancient Indian sages saw no need for conversion. The great Jain Acharya Siddhasen Diwakar (5th century A.D.) writes,(5) "All schools of thought are valid when they are understood from their own standpoint, insofar as they do not discard the truth-value of others. The knower of non-absolutism does not divide them into true and false. They become false when they discard the truth-value of others." Thus the religions of Indian origin have been models of tolerance.

Rationalism is the cornerstone of the Jain religion. It is the essence of the religion and its practice. In the ancient Jain text, TATTVAARTH SUTRA, Acharya Umaswati writes:(6)

Rational perception (SAMYAK DARSHAN), rational knowledge (SAMYAK JNAAN) and rational conduct (SAMYAK CHAARITRA) together constitute the path to salvation.

In the next aphorism, Acharya Umaswati defines rational perception in the following words:(7)

Belief in reality, that is, substances ascertained as they are, is rational perception.

An individual adopts rational perception through insightful thinking as stated in the following aphorism of TATTVAARTH SUTRA:(8)

Rational perception is achieved through intuition (NISARG) or through acquisition of reasoned knowledge (ADHIGAM).

Insightful mental activity includes exercise of intuition and logical intellectual activity. This is further clarified by Acharya Umaswati in the following aphorism:(9)

Reasoned knowledge (ADHIGAM) of the aspects of reality is acquired through experimentation (PRAMAAN) and logical thinking (NAYA). Experimentation means information and evidence obtained through the study of scriptures, observation of nature and experience.

Obviously, rational perception entails study, observation and experimentation with an open unbiased attitude. It avoids all preconceived notions and blind adherence to any faith or individual. Knowledge obtained through such an approach is rational knowledge and the conduct conforming to rational perception and rational knowledge is rational conduct. This is the way to attain salvation (NIRVANA) - freedom from the miseries of the worldly existence. Although rationalism is considered to be the path to salvation - the ultimate goal of religious pursuit, Acharya Umaswati allows for an important variation in thinking of some individuals who may not believe in salvation or heaven or hell. In the text, PRASHAMARATI PRAKARAN, the insightful acharya states:(10)

The happiness of heaven is indirect - it is beyond our experience. Thus we may be disinterested in it. The happiness of salvation (NIRVANA) is even more indirect. Hence we may have doubts about it. On the other hand, the peace and calm brought about by religion can be directly experienced right here. We are free to attain this happiness, which is the fruit of freedom of spirit. We do not have to buy it with money. We achieve this happiness by taking a dip in the stream of satisfaction and balanced emotions.

This statement presents the epitome of the spirit of the Jain religion. If one's experience and common sense do not lead the self to believe in heaven (or hell) or in the state of salvation, one has the freedom not to accept these concepts. Nevertheless, one can attain the same equanimity and happiness in life as any other individual who believes in heaven and salvation. Other Indian philosophies harbor similar concepts as well.

Jain Concept of Reality:

According to Jainism, the aspects of reality are souls (JEEVs, animate entities), the inanimate entities (AJEEV) such as matter, energy, space and time, influx of karmic particles towards worldly souls (AASHRAV), bondage of karmic particles (BANDH), stoppage of karmic particles (SAMVAR), shedding of karmic particles by worldly souls (NIRJARA) and liberation from karmic bondage (MOKSHA).

Evidently, the last five aspects of reality involve mutual interactions between the living (JEEV) and non-living (AJEEV) entities. The Jain theory of karma is based on the interactions between worldly souls and their animate and inanimate environment. All worldly souls possess physical bodies and certain ultra fine particles of matter called karmas. When a worldly soul, through self-endeavor, frees itself from all material bondage, including that of karmas, it becomes liberated. A liberated soul does not interact with any other entity of the universe such as another liberated or worldly soul, matter, space or time. This is the concept of NIRVANA (MOKSHA) in Jainism. On the other hand, an exchange of material particles, including the karma particles, continuously goes on between a worldly soul and its environment, as stated by Acharya Nemi Chandra Siddhant Chakravarti:(11)

Due to the association of the body, karmic particles and pseudo-karmas are accumulated by a worldly soul at all times, just as a hot ball of iron attracts water.

The pseudo-karmas consist of animate and inanimate environment and the circumstances in the life of a worldly soul. At times, pseudo-karmas, which may be beyond anybody's control, may prove to be the determining factors (auxiliary causes, NIMITTA) in molding the course of the life of a living being.

The influx of karma particles is caused by the activities of body, speech and mind (YOGA) while the duration and intensity of fruition are determined by the four passions of anger, pride, intrigue and greed as described by Acharya Nemi Chandra Siddhant Chakravarti:(12)

The nature and quantity of the influx of karma particles depend on the thought-activity (YOGA), and duration and intensity of fruition of karmic bonding, by passions (KASHAAYA). In the spiritual states where deluding karmas exist in a passive or destroyed state, there is no cause for bonding of any kind.

In TATTVAARTH SUTRA, Acharya Umaswati has elucidated:(13)

The nature and intensity (TEEVRA-MAND) of desire or thought-activity, intentional or unintentional character of activity (JNAAT-AJNAAT), dependence of the act involving living and non-living substances (ADHIKARAN) and one's own potentiality (VEERYA) determine the kind of karma and the amount of karmic influx.

It should be emphasized that, as the interactions between matter and energy occur according to the laws of nature, so do the interactions between a worldly soul and material karma particles. The transformations in a soul occur due to the potentiality and intrinsic attributes of soul, while the transformations in karmic particles take place according to the innate qualities of matter. Acharya Kundkund has presented these concepts in the following quotations from PANCHAASTIKAAYASAAR:(14)

The emotional states of a living being are caused by karma particles and karma particles in their turn are caused by the emotional states. However, the soul is not the intrinsic cause and yet without intrinsic cause these changes cannot occur.

Soul which brings about changes in itself is the intrinsic cause of the mental states but the soul is not the intrinsic cause of the changes in the karma particles, which are material in nature. This is the teaching of JIN - the conqueror of passions.

The changes in karma particles occur due to the intrinsic nature of material particles. Similarly, the changes in a worldly soul occur due to the intrinsic characteristics of soul and through its own impure states of thought, which are conditioned by karma.

It should be remarked that the Jain theory of karma is much more sophisticated than 'as you sow, so you reap'. In the first place, it is not just the action but also one's emotional states (thoughts, feelings and passions) that determine the kind of karma accumulated by a worldly soul. Further, the consequences (fruition) of karma associated with the soul can be modified by an individual by regulating his/her emotional states. Thus, in most cases, the consequences of past or present karmas can be transformed by a worldly being. For example, in GOMMATASAAR KARMAKAAND, Acharya Nemi Chandra Siddhant Chakravarti describes five kinds of transference:(15)

The following five kinds of transference (SANKRAMAN) of karmas take place through the thought-activities of the worldly being:

1. Quality (UDVELAN) transference - transference of one subclass of karma into another subclass without the following three kinds of thought-activities: downward (ADHAH), new (APOORVA) and advanced (ANIVRITTI)

2. Fruition (VIDHYAAT) transference - reduction in duration and intensity occurring on account of slight purity of thoughts

3. Subclass (ADHAHPRIVRITTI) transference - transference of one subclass of karma into another subclass of karma of the same kind during bonding

4. Quantity (GUNA) transference - transference in which the number of karma particles changes by several orders of magnitude

5. Total (SARVA) transference - transference of all material karma particles associated with soul

An interesting example of transformation of karmas presented in the Jain scriptures is that an individual, through his/her thought-activity, can transform pleasant-feeling-producing karma into unpleasant-feeling-producing karma and vice versa.

Code of Ethics:

The Jain code of ethics is a natural consequence of a rational approach based upon the fundamental tenets of Jainism. It is not a 'system of laws' or commandments handed down by a higher authority. Jains are expected to study the scriptures and grasp the concepts of rational perception, rational knowledge and rational conduct. Then they should consider their own experiences and realize that passions such as anger, pride, deception and greed make a major impact on their lives. It is observed that if an individual accepts success and failure, pleasure and pain, sickness and health, union and separation, victory and defeat as part of the worldly existence, he/she has mild passions. This leads to contentment and peace of mind. In this manner, an individual can transform unpleasant-feeling-producing karma into pleasant-feeling-producing karma. On the other hand, one who is upset, discontent, angry, egotistic, selfish, conniving, greedy or vindictive has no peace of mind. Such an individual might transform pleasant-feeling-producing karma into unpleasant-feeling-producing karma. Fear of the legal system or some higher authority or karma involves passion - the cause of painful karmic bondage. Even philanthropy tarnished with ego, intrigue, exploitation and greed for tax relief leads to the influx of undesirable karma. Here is an interesting example. The celebrated TV personality, Andy Rooney, observed,(16) "A woman who inherited a lot of money from the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company has given $100 million of it to a poetry magazine. I'm happy for the poetry magazine but maybe this woman should have thought about giving the money back to some of the people who paid too much for Eli Lilly's products in the first place." Jains are expected to avoid such hypocritical altruistic practices tainted with profiteering, exploitation and materialism.

All individuals aspire to genuine happiness and peace of mind. All realize from their experiences that happiness arises from contentment and equanimity. Anger, revenge and violence only fuel the cycle of violence. In an article, it was observed,(17) "Many political figures of the world have repeated threats of fighting terrorism. They have shown mistrust of the followers of other religions or political ideologies. This has led to more terrorism and more wars, the ills which the world community wants to eliminate." Thus Jainism believes that no overall good of individuals or society can arise from violence. Jainism promotes a culture of nonviolence in which an individual's thoughts and actions originate from a rational mind and pure heart, without any ego, pride, fear, intrigue or greed. A culture of nonviolence is the process of improving and refining our lives through our practice of nonviolence.

Violence is of two kinds: physical violence and mental violence. Physical violence is killing or causing bodily injury to a living being. It is gross violence. Mental violence is the violence of thoughts, feelings and emotions. It is subtle, abstract, and intangible. It consists of causing anxiety, suspicion, fear, etc. Thus anger, pride, intrigue and greed constitute abstract violence. Fear, suspicion, hatred, lies, thievery, cheating, possessiveness and taking more than one's fair share lead to violence of thoughts, feelings and emotions; of self and of other individuals. It should be pointed out that violence aimed at others is invariably accompanied by mental violence of self. Further, Jainism teaches that untruth, stealing, unchastity and possessiveness are also aspects of violence. Thus the foundation of the culture of nonviolence is laid on the following five vows:

1. Nonviolence (AHIMSA) which consists of not obstructing the life processes of self or of any other living being. This embodies the principle of freedom and equality of all living beings.

2. Truth (SATYA) which means always speaking the truth and supporting what is true according to one's own perception and experience.

3. Non-stealing (ACHAURYA) which entails not taking anything which does not belong to us, accepting only one's fair share, and, being honest in business dealings.

4. Purity of body and mind (BRAHMACHARYA), which entails total celibacy for monks and nuns, and, partial celibacy - no premarital or extramarital sexual activity, for laypersons.

5. Non-possessiveness (APARIGRAH) which entails limiting our material possessions and desires.

These vows help us minimize all violence, physical and mental, direct and indirect, intentional and unintentional, which we are apt to commit through the activities of body, speech and mind. We also create an atmosphere of trust and goodwill in society by practicing these virtues.

Jains believe that vegetarianism is the first essential feature of the culture of nonviolence. Vegetarianism not only helps eliminate intentional and avoidable physical violence of animals but also the violence of self. Poor health and illness lead to mental violence. It has been established by many researchers that a non-vegetarian diet is not good for health. One can maintain a well-balanced, protein-rich, low-fat, low-cholesterol vegetarian diet, which is good for health. Thus vegetarianism is essential for minimizing physical as well as mental violence. Everybody knows that alcohol, tobacco and drugs are the roots of considerable violence, physical as well as mental. Alcohol and drugs impair the ability to think and discriminate between undesirable and desirable actions. This is violence of the subtle life processes which may lead to violence of others as well. Alcohol and drugs are not 'clean fun' by any standards. Hence one must stay away from them at all costs. Jainism teaches to avoid all situations and actions which may lead to violence.

The Jain texts present a number of vows that essentially promote the practice of nonviolence. For example, a householder is expected to follow the augmenting vow (GUNAVRAT) of limiting needless activities (ANARTHADAND VRAT), which essentially promotes conservation of natural resources and environmental protection.


The basic tenets of Jainism are summarized in the following prayer:

May we follow in the footsteps of JINs, the victors,
those who have conquered their passions
of anger, pride, intrigue and greed.

May we follow the ideal of VEETARAAG,
of being free from attachment (RAAG) and aversion (DWESH).

May we minimize our passions, and practice the virtues of
nonviolence, truth, non-stealing, purity of body and mind,
and non-possessiveness; and promote fairness and equity among all.

May we eliminate delusion, misconceptions and blind faith,
adopt a rational outlook by accepting ideas and concepts
based on our study, observation, experience and common sense.

May we understand the universal truth that
everything happens according to the laws of nature;
in the affairs of the universe, there is no hand of
the supreme being or supernatural phenomena;
our lives are shaped by our own thoughts and actions,
and by the animate and inanimate environment around us.

Further, the function of all living beings is to assist each other;
we all depend on each other and on our environment for our survival.

Therefore, may we minimize violence of various kinds,
and fulfill our duties toward each other and toward nature.

May we restrain our desires and limit our needs, and protect
the environment by avoiding the waste of natural resources.

We believe in multiplicity of viewpoints.

So may we look at things from others' viewpoints as well
and be tolerant of other religions, ideologies and customs.

We believe that no overall good of mankind can result from violence.

Nonviolence, selfless purpose and contentment lead to happiness.

May we inculcate these virtues in our lives.

In sum, the culture of nonviolence originates from a rational mind and a pure heart. Jains believe that this is the path to contentment and mental peace.


1. Reprinted from "Religious Ethics: A Sourcebook", edited by Dr. Arthur B. Dobrin, published by Hindi Granth Karyalaya, Mumbai, 2004.

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SAMAYASAAR, couplet 5

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3. AVASHYAK NIRYUKTI, 544; VISHESHAAVASHYAK BHAASHYA, 2748, L. D. Institute of Indology, Ahmehabad, 1968.

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5. SANMATI PRAKARAN 1/28, Siddhasen Jnanodaya Trust, Ahmedabad, 1963.

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16. CBS Television Program 60 Minutes of December 1, 2002.

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17. "Culture of Nonviolence" by Duli Chandra Jain, Jain Study Circular, Volume 9, No. 4, October 1988, page 14.

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* * * * * * *

A Ray Of Hope . . .

(Based on a news item broadcast on BBC News, November 17, 2003)

A Jewish school was firebombed in France. President Jacques Chirac took immediate steps to deal with the problem. France has both the biggest Jewish community in western Europe - of about 600, 000 - and the biggest Muslim population - of around five million people. He and other members of his administration realized that among other things, ⤘disaffection⤙ is at the root of the problems of hatred and violence among various religious/ethnic groups. The French government inferred that poverty and alienation have been generated by the economic marginalisation of communities - particularly Muslim communities. Unemployment among Muslim youth, many of whom live in poor housing estates on the edge of major French cities, is three times the national average. These realities appear to be fueling anti-Semitism.

Needless to say, the French prime minister vowed to hand down heavy penalties to those found guilty of anti-Semitic or racist acts. More importantly, after a meeting with key ministers, to alleviate the situation, Mr. Chirac unveiled a new urban regeneration programme targeting mainly Muslim areas in French cities.


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