By Ken Wu
Jainism is a religion with 9 million believers. It first started in east India. Practitioners believe nonviolence and self-control are the means to liberation, so nonviolence is a primary principle. Many religions practice nonviolence but Jainism extends this principle to all living beings. They believe that not only humans and animals, but everything else in this world should be treated with respect. They only eat food which does no harm.
When one truly achieves the goal of liberation in Jainism, your soul is freed from reincarnation. However, in Jainism, there is no beginning and no end to life. One always lives in a circle. Jains don’t believe in hell and heaven as Christians do. Instead, practitioners believe that if you do bad things in this life, it will hurt you in your next life. However, there is no evidence, so this is based on blind faith.
Jainism is divided into two sects, the Digambara and Svetambara. The Digambara believe that a person should give up all their possessions, including the things they wear. According to a story, they wear nothing and use only a peacock feather to brush away insects, so they do not harm them. Digambaras beg and eat food only once a day and maintain a vow of nudity. Women cannot attain salvation, but being reborn as men can change their destiny.
Svetambaras are given three pieces of clothing to wear, a bowl and a wool whisk. They ask for food and travel the countryside eight months of the year. Women can become Svetambara nuns. Svetembaras wear plain white robes and nudity is optional. Novice monks or nuns receive a whisk of yarn to remove insects from their way. Some wear a cloth on their mouth to prevent insects from being swallowed.
Jains follow several beliefs, most having to do with peace and nonviolence. The beliefs include ahimsa, a religious concept which advocates no violence and a respect for life. All kinds of life include animals and most plant life, which are considered precious and must not be harmed. The meaning of no harm is applied to things like fruit, animals, humans, plants and eating at night, which is forbidden.
Buddhism has some common points with Jainism. Both religions do not worship a deity and are more focused on life teaching. Buddhism believes actions have consequences with karma. Jainism believes in karma as well. Jains believe one’s spirit will remain until you become pure and clean.
Jain scriptures read, “May peace rule the universe; may peace rule in kingdoms and empires; may peace rule in states and in the lands of the potentates; may peace rule in the house of friends and may peace also rule in the house of enemies.” As a non-Jain, I agree with its primary teaching of peace and respect for every living being. However, I think it is too strict about nonviolence. Jainism is the oldest religion that predates Buddhism, coming about when killing was common due to the lack of law. People killed for survival, seeing violence often, which made them feel it was time for change. This is how I think the religion started. Nowadays, some industries must kill. It may cause a huge change when the world has no more killing, but it seems impossible to reach that goal. But the concept of respecting every living thing is something we should practice. When you respect others, there’s no killing and that’s how you achieve real peace.