Below you will find our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on Jainism.
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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.
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.”
- 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Lifestyle & Diet
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?
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.
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.
Important Rituals & Holidays
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?
- 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.
- 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
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.