The Faiths of 500,000 British Citizens – Part 3: Jainism

As you might know already, this month has been totally dedicated to the study of religious history. So far everything that has been covered, was closely linked with the Christian traditions and belief throughout time. This made me think about the situation of religious belief in general in the UK, and so I did some research on census and polls on religious practices of the British people. It was interesting though to find out that the second largest group of the population of the Uk according to the survey results is the one corresponding to those that consider to not have a religious affiliation whatsoever. Interesting, yes, but not surprising. What did surprise me and interested my, due to my own ignorance, is that almost 500,000 people in the Isles are part of religions that most of the people have not even heard about, and yet they are quite significant and outstanding in the rest of the world, especially in the Middle East. For this reason today, I am introducing you to these four faiths: Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism and the Baha’i Faith. In this brief introduction I will present you some of the basic details about their beliefs and practices, places of worship, rituals and their place in the modern world.

Jainism

This faith has traditionally been seeing as an extreme version of aesthetic behaviour, combined with a life style that follows a very restricted diet and a somehow almost pathological ideal of non-violence. But let’s try to leave the stereotypes on the side and understand the nature of this religion. It seems that Jainism emerged in the north of India during what some scholars call the Vedic period (sometime between the 1100 and 150 BC). Most of the sources suggest that the practice was consolidated by the 8th/7th century BC, being the basin of river Ganges its cradle. From a western point of view it was a man called Mahavira the founder of the religion, but for the Jains he was just another of the many teachers and preachers they have had. There are also different sects of Jainism, the most relevant being the Svetambara and Digambara, being the last one more traditional and strict.

The Jains , it is true, follow the path of amisha (non-violence). The believe that every living form, including plants and animals, have a soul (jiva), and that these souls are attached to the rules of Karma. For them , the Karma is a physical substance that affects everything. There are two types of Karma, harming and non-harming. Due to this, and as the universe works in a action-reaction system, violence against anything can only produce “bad” karma, hence their pacifist ideas. Also, the Jains belief in a set of rules that are important for their development and achievement of enlightenment. These are the Three Jewels: right knowledge, right faith and conduct. For them, faith is not blind belief but the correct disposition to view and understand things. In this way, enlightenment is achieved by the following: non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, celibacy, and non-materialism. Also, it is considered that those that are enlighten have achieved to get rid off harmful karma. The Jains, belief that there is even a step afterwards enlightenment which they called deliverance where not only bad karma, but good karma have expired and therefore the being exists in perfect harmony.  Finally, Jainism promoted the idea of rebirth. Nonetheless, the next life form adopted by the jiva depends strongly on the mental state and karma of the deceased creature before the soul departs from its physical form.

The Jains have, as many other faiths, a sacred calendar and places, but most of them vary depending on the different sects. nonetheless, they have some common elements. For example, all the Jains have a day devoted to silence called Maunekadasi, which falls the eleventh day of the month of Margasirsa (western november/december). They also celebrate the birthday of Mahavira (13th apr./march) which is regarded as a public expression of their  religious adherence. Also, pilgrimages are very important, especially for lay people as they allow them to become ascetic in a sense for a period of time. Most of the sites visited during such a journey are related to places where the foremakers reached enlightenment, or sites that are linked with any other aesthetic process. For the Svetambara sect the holy places are located in Gujara and Rajasthan, as well as Maharashtra. For the Digambara, however, the most important place of pilgrimage is in Karnataka. In addition, the Jains have a tendency to practice fasting in different degrees and ways.

What is the place of Jainism in the Modern World?

As we have already seen with the previous faiths treated during the last days, Jainism has gone through some changes in the new age. It has to be considered that, despite being relatively well-known, the Jains only constitute a 0.41% of the total population of India, and there are only 3000 followers elsewhere in the world. So, in order to prevail, they need to adapt, and so different perceptions have modified the faith lately. The main issue is perhaps the development of two different lines of practice. There is an orthodox side of Jainism, which is mainly performed in its motherland, and there is a neo-orthodox path which is the one that incorporate most of the changes. For the “neo-jains” science and religion go side-by-side. Their progressive ideas still accept vegetarianism as their lifestyle, as well as non-violence, but they have given importance to other aspects of religious practice, such as meditation . Also they seem to have freed themselves from the metaphysical complications of their belief, and adopted a relativist view of life. Furthermore, they do not believe that Jainism should follow a set of rituals, nor do they promote a division in sects.

To conclude, I would like to quote Paul Dundas in here, in order to explain better why the Jains do still have an impact in the modern world and why their faith is still popular;

“It is the capacity of Jains to adapt themselves to changing circumstances while remaining true to certain principles viewed as eternally valid which is one of the clues to the tenacity of their religion and mode of life over two and a half millennia”

If you would like to know more about the Jains, you can check some of the following resources:

Dundas, P., The Jains (London and New York, 1992)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/jainism/– BBC website about the faith.

Von Glasenapp, H., Jainism: an Indian Religion of Salvation (Dehli, 1999)

AND TO KNOW ABOUT THE FOLLOWERS OF THE BAHA’I FAITH KEEP AN EYE ON THE UPDATE FOR TOMORROW!

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