Below you will find our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on Jainism.

Have a question that isn’t answered?  Please visit one of our Jain Resources page or e-mail us at education@yja.org.

General Questions

Who was the founder of Jainism?
There is no founder of Jainism. Jains believe that our universe has always been and will always continue to be here, so there can be no founder. However, the level of devotion towards religious practices varies. Therefore, every few million years (the equivalent of one Jain time cycle [Kälchakra), a group of 24 saints/perfect role-models (known as Tirthankaras) re-establishes order and preach about ahimsa (non-violence) and other Jain tenets. The most well-known of the current saints is Lord Mahavira, the 24th saint, who was born in 599 BC in modern day Bihar, India. The first of the current group is Lord Rishabdev, who lived many years before Mahavira.
What is the Jain time cycle (Kälchakra)?
According to Jainism, time is infinite, neither beginning nor end. Time is divided into infinite time cycles (Kälchakras). These are divided into 12 Aras, or time periods.

One half of the Aras is classified under Utsarpini, which is the progressive cycle or the ascending order. In this half-cycle, the conditions of the world (including happiness, development, religious trends) go from the worst to the best. The other half is classified under Avasarpini, which is the regressive cycle or the descending order. In this half-cycle, the conditions of the world go from the best to the worst. The specific names for Aras are:

(1) Sukham Sukham Kal (happiness all the time).

(2) Sukham Kal (happiness).

(3) Sukham Dukham Kal (happiness with some unhappiness).

(4) Dukham Sukham Kal (unhappiness with some happiness).

(5) Dukham Kal (unhappiness).

(6) Dukham Dukham Kal (unhappiness all the time).
We are currently in the fifth Ara of the Avasarpini phase (Dukham Kal). When this half-cycle ends, Utsarpini will begin. This Kälchakra repeats infinitely.

How can one reconcile the scientific Big Bang Theory with the Jain concept of time?
Jains believe that the universe has no beginning or end. It has an infinite timeline. One can reconcile this with the Big Bang Theory as matter and time had to exist before the “Big Bang” as well. While time is infinite, the Jain point of view doesn’t dictate that the current state of the universe also has infinite existence.
Why are there only 24 Tirthankaras?

The answer to this question can be perhaps available from the 87th stanza of “Yashstilakchulikc” scripture written by Acharya Somdev Suri. He observes:

“There are indefinite number of Grahas (Planets) – Nakshatras – Stars (Heavenly elements in the sky). But their numbers are shown to be limited by the rule of nature. In the present era of Utsarpini time-span, there are 24 times only when these heavenly elements are positioned in the best location. This is a certainty. Therefore there are only 24 Tirthankaras only not a one less not a one more.”

Who are the new 24 Tirthankaras? When will they be established as our Tirthankaras?
The 24 Tirthankaras have been decided already, according to scriptures. However, there is limited information accessible to the Jain laymen about this topic. The Tirthankaras will be coming in the next time cycle (utsarpini kal), after the worst of this time cycle.
What are the core principles of Jainism?
Jainism is a religion and a way of life. Jains have five core practices that derive from the Anuvrata (lesser vows) that laypeople take and the Mahavrata (great vows) that monks and nuns take:

  • Ahimsa (non-violence) is compassion and forgiveness in thoughts, words, and deeds towards all living beings. For this reason, Jains are vegetarians.
  • Aparigraha (Non-possessiveness) is the balancing of needs and desires, while staying detached from our possessions.
  • Astaya (Non-stealing) is the avoidance of taking that which does not belong to us or that we have not earned.
  • Satya (Truth) is to speak the truth, however when speaking the truth would lead to violence it is preferable to remain silent.
  • Bhramacharya (Celibacy) is the practice of reducing indulgence in order to reduce attachments in our lives.
What is karma?
In Jainism, karma is referred to as karmic dirt, as it consists of matter (Pudgal) that pervade the entire universe. Karmic particles are attracted to the soul on account of vibrations created by the positive and negative activities of the mind, speech, and body. Hence, karma is the subtle matter surrounding the consciousness of a soul. When these two components, consciousness (the soul) and karma, interact, we experience the life we know at present. It is possible to modify one’s karma and gain release from it through the purity of thoughts, speech, and action.
Do Jains believe in God?
Jainism is a non-theistic religion. This means that the presence or lack thereof of a supreme God is not vitally important in the context of Jain tenets. All Jains agree that because of the nature of karma (you are the controller of your own actions and thus the consequences), praying to a God would not yield any benefits or grant any wishes. Additionally, since Jains believe that the universe had no beginning (has existed eternally) there is no conception of a creator God in Jain philosophy.
There is a heaven (Devlok) in Jainism, though in that context, heaven refers to a place where celestial beings, after a period of time in heaven, must be reborn as humans in order to achieve nirvana.
So Jains believe in reincarnation?
Yes. Every soul has passed through countless lives whether as a plant, fish, hellish being, heavenly being, etc., carrying with it the accumulated effects (karma) of its deeds and passions, both good and bad. The ultimate goal of Jainism is to end this cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, by shedding all of your karma.
But the soul can become Godlike in time?
Every individual soul (one soul per living being) is potentially capable of breaking themselves from the cycle of birth and death and achieving nirvana (liberation). That is why Jains believe that each soul is capable of becoming ‘God’. The potential for each living being to break themselves from this cycle is why each living being should be treated with kindness and reverence.
What are the main Jain scriptures?
There are three main scriptures: Kalpasutra, Agamas, and the Tattvartha Sutra. The Kalpasutra contains biographies of Jain Tirthankaras, including those of Parshwanath Bhagwan and Mahavira. It was written 150 years after Mahavira attained Nirvana. It is read by monks during Paryushana.
The Agamas are a collection of sutras written based on Mahavira’s sermons. It guides the present day path of Jainism. The Tattvartha Sutra translates to “That Which Is.” It gathers the various facets of Jainism from ancient scriptures and delivers a complete picture of the Jain view of reality..
Jainism is divided into two sects: Digambar and Swetambar. What is the history of formation and the main differences between the two sects?
Originally, Lord Mahavira’s teachings were passed down only through oral memorization. 150 years after his nirvana, there was a long drought in which migration separated monks in the North and South. After the end of this 12-year drought, the monks met again to resolve any inconsistencies in the oral traditions which had developed. One set of monks could only compile the first 11 parts of Mahavira’s Agama from memorization and dropped the 12th part. The other set of monks didn’t agree with this compilation. This created the split in Jainism.

The split can still be seen in monks: Svetämbara monks wear white clothes while Digambara monks wear no clothes. For laymen, the distinction can be plainly seen in the Tirthankara idols: the Svetambara sect believes in idols with eyes, and the Digambara sect believes in idols with no eyes.

What about sub-sects?

The Digambara sect, in recent centuries, has been divided into the following major sub-sects: Bisapantha, Terapantha, and Taranapantha or Samaiyapantha.

  • Bisapantha: In their temples, the Bisapanthas worship the idols of Tirthankaras as well as the idols of Ksetrapala, Padmavati and other deities. They worship these idols with symbolic offerings of flowers, fruits, and other green vegetables. They sit on the ground and do not stand while worshipping.
  • Terapantha: In their temples, the Terapanthis install the idols of Tirthankaras and not of Ksetrapala, Padmavati and other deities. They worship the idols with sacred rice called ‘Aksata’, cloves, sandal, almonds, dry coconuts, dates, etc. While worshipping, they stand and do not sit.

Note: Even though the name Terapantha sub-sect appears both among the Digambara and the Svetambara sects. Still the two Terapanthis are entirely different from each other. While the Digambara Terapanthis believe in nudity and idol-worship, the Svetambara Terapanthis are quite opposed to both.

  • Taranapantha: Taranapanthis do not believe in idol worship or outward religious practices. Taranapanthis emphasize spiritual values and learning through sacred literature. Malharagarh, in former Gwalior State in Madhya Pradesh, is the central place of pilgrimage of Taranapanthis.

The Svetambara sect has also been split into three major sub-sects: Murtipujaka, Sthanakvasi, Terapanthi.

  • Murtipujaka: This sect worships idols through symbolic offerings and adornment. The monks cover their mouths with strips of cloth (muppati) while speaking and collect food from laymen’s houses. They eat and stay in temples or special buildings known as upasrayas. 
  • Sthanakvasi: The main principle of this sect was not to practice idol-worship. Sthanakvasi do not have their religious activities in temples, but carry on their religious duties in places known as Sthanakas which are like prayer-halls. Further, the ascetics always cover their mouths, not just while speaking, and only use white muppatis.
  • Terapanthi: This sect concentrates on 13 religious principles: (i) five Mahavratas (great vows), (ii) five samitis (regulations) and (iii) three Guptis(controls or restraints). The Terapanthis do not worship idols and emphasize meditation instead. All monks and nuns follow the instructions of their Acharya (religious head) and preach under his guidance.
What is the Jain point of view on Free will vs. Destiny?
The soul has certain qualities and characteristics attached to it (which could be attributed to “destiny”). These qualities can be modified given the right instrumental causes. The instrumental causes are created by the karmas associated with the soul and the presence of other living beings and material surroundings. However, a person can modify his/her reactions to such causes and thus alter the consequences of one’s karmas. (free will). Overall, this process heavily favors free will over destiny/determinism in Jainism. One can be born with certain characteristics (destiny), but can certainly alter the consequences of those characteristics (free will).

 

Lifestyle & Diet

Considering the principal of non-violence, can Jains defend themselves from violent attacks?
If unavoidable, a layperson (Shravaka [male] and Shravika [female]) may defend him or herself. It is also the duty of Jain laypeople to defend their country when called upon to serve. Monks (Sadhus) and nuns (Sadhvis) cannot defend themselves, but take every possible opportunity to make sure that they are not in a position to be attacked in the first place.
Why are one or two-sensed organisms (touch or touch and taste) considered living? And why is it acceptable to eat plants? Aren’t they living as well?
As scientifically defined, anything with a cell is considered living. For example, the simplest living forms (unicellular organisms) are bacteria. Bacteria have many of the same capabilities that human cells do. Therefore, they are living organisms just like us. That is why you see sadhus and sadhvis (monks and nuns) covering their mouth while speaking. This is in order to prevent their breath from killing bacteria in the air.
Realistically, we are killing millions of bacteria every day. However, it is important to try to do our best to minimize such violence.
In regard to plants, again, they have an entire cellular network capable of energy production and waste excretion, just like us. Therefore, it is important that we do not purposelessly walk on grass. Playing sports outdoors on grass is acceptable. [Namokar Mantra recitation for the organisms you are harming while stepping on grass is recommended.] However, activities such as cutting through people’s lawns while walking is not necessary and should be avoided in order to refrain from injuring plants and small insects who reside in these lawns.
For consumption purposes, we must sustain ourselves through food. Food can come from two sources: animal or plant. Since plants do not have a nervous system and have limited capability to feel pain, it is more acceptable to eat plants and plant products than it is to use animal products. Ultimately, killing small plants and animals is unavoidable due to our lifestyle. However, decreasing this violence is a priority for all Jains.
What is the reason Jains don’t eat after sundown?
The most fundamental tenet of Jainism is Ahimsa (non-violence), which extends to not harming ANY living being. Eating after sundown involves a higher risk of accidentally killing innocent insects that come out at night. While some believe that this extension of Ahimsa was more applicable before the advent of electricity, there are a certainly a number of small bugs attracted to light bulbs. These wonderful creatures are at greatest risk of being harmed at nighttime.
In addition, avoiding meals after sundown has many health benefits as well. Your body’s circadian rhythms (day-and-night cycle) are designed for maximum energy efficiency - http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090312140840.htm – and disruption of these rhythms can lead to myriad health problems, all of which are described in the linked article.
Why don't Jains eat root vegetables (ex. onions, garlic, ginger, potatoes, and carrots)?
Jains don’t eat root vegetables as its harvesting causes harm to the plant and underground living beings. With most root vegetables, the process of uprooting kills the entire plant. This process also causes harm to living beings in the ground. Also, the bulb of root vegetables is able to sprout and create another plant; thus, by eating it, we are causing harm to a potential life. With non-root (terrestrial) vegetables, the consumption doesn’t kill the entire plant (the plant either lives on or seasonally withers away in a natural process).

 

Important Rituals & Holidays

What is the Jain view on alcohol?
Jains refrain from alcohol for two main reasons. First, due to the influence of alcohol on one’s mind and actions, Jains feel that drinking alcohol is a form of self-harm. Second, alcohol processing can often involve non-vegetarian additives, such fish glue, gelatin, or egg whites. These ingredients are not required to be declared on labels. Thus, alcohol consumption directly violates a fundamental principle of Jainism: non-violence to oneself and other living beings.
What are Paryushana/Das Lakshana?
Paryushana is the most important Jain religious observance of the year.  For both Shvetambars, who observe the festival over a period of eight days, and Digambaras, for whom Das Lakshana lasts ten days, this is a time of intensive study, reflection, and purification.  It takes place in the middle of the four-month rainy season in India, a time when monks and nuns cease moving about from place to place and stay with one community.  Paryushana means, literally, “abiding” or “coming together.”
What do Jains do during Paryushana/Das Lakshana?
All Jains, from householders to monks/nuns, take on various temporary vows (Pacchkan) of study and fasting. In this respect, it bears comparison with periods of rigorous religious practice in other traditions such as the Christian observance of Lent. Paryushana/Das Lakshana conclude with a ritual of confession and forgiveness for the transgressions of the previous year – this ritual is called Samvatsari Pratikramana.
I’d like to be able to take Pacchkhan (a vow) but do not know how to. What are my options?
Fortunately, there is a hotline where you can hear a recorded version of Pacchkhan. Just dial (630) 213-JSMC for the Jain Automated System for Mangalik and Pacchkan. Listening to Mangalik or taking the Pacchkan of your choice was never so easy!

Whether it’s taking Navkarsi Pacchkhan (a vow to not eat until 48 minutes after sunrise to allow nighttime insects to clear out of visible spaces) or self-made vows such as not eating dairy products for a week or not raising your voice in anger for a few days, any vow can do wonders in regard to increasing your self-control and mental stamina.

There are several Tithi in any given month, what should we do during those days? What’s the importance?
Tithi translates to “lunar day.” Due to the lunar hightide on certain days of the month, it is believed that green leafy vegetables retain more water and therefore, more living beings. To limit violence against these beings, Jains may abstain from consuming green vegetables on the days of Tithi. This is a practice of discipline over the attachment to taste.
What is the significance of Diwali in the Jain context?
Diwali (Deepavali or festival of lights) is usually celebrated in late October or early November (on the new moon day of Kartik). On this day, Mahavir, the last Tirthankar, attained Nirvana; he was liberated from karmic bondage and the cycle of life and death. During the night of Diwali, holy hymns are recited to honor Mahavir. The New Year is celebrated on the next day.
What are the different types of Jain Pujas (prayer rituals)?
There are basically two types of prayers:

  • Dravya Puja (with symbolic offerings of material objects).
  • Bhav Puja (with deep feeling and meditation).

There are two main pujas in Jainism. The Ashta Prakari Puja involves the offering of eight symbolic objects: Jal (water), Chandan (sandal-wood), Pushpa (flower), Deepak (oil), Akshat (rice), Naivedya (sweets), and Fal (fruit). (Click here for more information on each offering’s meaning)
The Dev Shastra Guru Puja is a prayer honoring Arihants, Siddhas, scriptures, and teachers. It involves the offering of three cloves.

Can you provide me with more information on the Ashta Prakari Puja?
  • Jal Puja (Water): Water symbolizes the life’s ocean of birth, struggle and death. Every living being continuously travels through the cycles of birth, life, death and misery. This prayer reminds the devotee to live with honesty, truth, love and compassion toward all living beings.
  • Chandan Puja (Sandal-wood):Sandal wood paste symbolizes Right Knowledge. The devotee reflects on Right Knowledge with clear, proper understanding of reality from different perspectives.
  • Pushpa Puja (Flower): Flowers symbolize Right Conduct. The devotee remembers that conduct should be like a flower which provides fragrance and beauty to all living beings without discrimination.
  • Dhup Puja (Incense): The incense stick symbolizes renunciation. While burning itself, it provides fragrance to others. This reminds the devotee to live life for the benefit of others, which ultimately leads to liberation.
  • Deepak Puja (Oil Lamp): The flame of the oil lamp represents pure consciousness or a soul without any karmic bondage. The devotee is reminded to follow the five major vows so as to attain liberation.
  • Akshat Puja (Rice): One cannot grow rice plants by seeding with household rice. Symbolically it means that rice is the last birth. With this prayer, the devotee strives to make all effort in this life to get liberation.
  • Naivedya Puja (Sweet food): With this prayer, the devotee strives to reduce or eliminate attachment.
  • Fal Puja (Fruit): Fruit symbolizes moksha or liberation. The devotee is reminded to perform duties without any expectation and have love and compassion for all living beings so as to attain the ultimate fruit,moksha.

 

Jainism in the Community

How does Jainism interact with the other major religions of the world?
Jains believe that the teachings of Tirthankaras have been developed over many years and present excellent guides to the nature of life. The various philosophies and practices will ultimately lead to the liberation from the cycle of life and death. However, one of these core practices is Anekantvaad, or the multiplicity of viewpoints. Jains believe that different perspectives on truth must be respected as only those who have achieved Kevalgnan can see the ultimate truth. Thus, confidence in Jainism does not correlate to intolerance of other religions, but instead respect for their approaches to truth.
What are Jainism’s major contributions / impacts on society? (non-violence, gandhi)
Jainism has impacted the Indian and global society in many ways. In India, Jains had a major influence in the fields of philosophy and ethics through concepts such as Karma, Ahimsa, Moksha, and reincarnation. Jains in the wealthier classes also contributed to the development of society through investment in schools, colleges, and hospitals. Their major presence in the state of Gujarat has also influenced the Gujarati cuisine to be predominantly vegetarian.

Globally, the most well-known impact of Jainism is its influence on the life of Gandhi. While Gandhi grew up in the Hindu religion, his household was strongly influenced by Jainism. He learned the concepts of non-possessiveness, non-violence, and self-control to lead a simple personal life. His peaceful campaign of civil disobedience led millions of people to freedom in India as well as influenced future leaders to utilize the strength of non-violence.

 

Additional Questions

Is there a difference between Gujarati Jains and Marwari Jains?
Marwari means people of Rajasthan, while Gujaratis are from Gujarat. In the practice of Jainism, the two cultural groups do not differ much. While Gujarati Jains tend to be Swetamber, Marwari Jains tend to be a mix of Digamber and Swetamber. Marwari Jains may have prayers/rituals in Hindi, but the meanings are the same.