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A Jain is a follower of Jinas ("conquerors"),[1] specially gifted human beings who have rediscovered the dharma, became fully liberated and taught the spiritual path for the benefit of all living beings. Jains follow the teachings of 24 special Jinas who are known as Tirthankaras ('ford-makers', those who have discovered and shown the way to salvation). The 24th and most recent Tirthankar is Shri Mahavir, who lived from 599 to 527 BCE according to traditional history. The 23rd Tirthankar, Shri Parsvanatha, is now recognised as a historical person, who lived during 872 to 772 BC.[2]

Jainism encourages spiritual development through reliance on and cultivating one's own personal wisdom and self-control (vrata). The goal is realization of the soul's true nature. "Samyak darshan gyan charitrani moksha margah" is at the root of Jainism (triple gems of Jainism) . It means: "true/right perception, knowledge and conduct" provide the path for attaining liberation (moksha) from the samsara (the universal cycles of births and deaths). Moksha is attained by getting liberated from all karma. Those who have attained moksha are called siddha (liberated souls) and those who are attached to the world through their karma are called samsarin (mundane souls). Every mundane soul has to follow the path as described by the Jinas (Tirthankaras) to attain moksha.

Jaina tradition is unanimous in naming Rishabha (also known as Adhinath) as the First Tirthankar of this descending (avasarpini) kalachakra (time cycle).[3] The first Tirthankar, Rishabhdev/ Adhinath appeared prior to the Indus Valley Civilization. The Jain Swastika symbol and naked statues resembling the Jain monks amongst the remains of the Indus Valley Civilization, do substantiate claims.

Jainism believes that the Universe and Dharma have no beginning and no ending. However it goes through a process of cyclical change. The universe consists of living ("Jiva") and non-living beings ("Ajiva"). The samsarin (worldly) soul takes various forms of life. Human being, animal and plant, deity, and hell-being are the four forms of the samsari souls. All worldly relations of one's Jiva with other Jiva & Ajiva are based on its Karma.

As with Buddhism, Jainism differs from other religions in its concept of God. According to its belief, there is no overarching supreme divine creator, owner, preserver or destroyer. Every living soul is potentially divine and the Siddhas who have completely eliminated their karmic bonding, thereby ending their cycle of birth and death, have attained God-consciousness.

The main Jain prayer (Namokar Mantra) therefore salutes the five special categories of souls that have attained God-consciousness or are on their way to achieving it, so as to emulate and follow their path to salvation.

Jainism beliefs and practices are purely derived from the above fundamentals. For example, non-violence simply relates to minimizing new karmas that can potentially get attached to the soul. Jainism views every form of soul as worthy of respect as it has potential to become Siddha (Param-atma - pure soul). Since all living beings possess a soul, great care and awareness is required in going about one's business in the world. Jainism emphasizes this equality of all life, advocating the protection of even the smallest creatures. This goes as far as the life of microscopic organisms.

Another major characteristic of Jain belief is the emphasis on the consequences of not only physical but also mental behaviours.[4]

One of the most important philosophical doctrines of Jainism is Anekantavada or "Manysidedness". This states that truth and reality are perceived differently from diverse points of view, and that no single point of view is the complete truth. I relate Anekantavada to the modern Integral paradigm - MAK


[1] from Hindi Jaina, from Skt. jinah "saint," lit. "overcomer," from base ji "to conquer," related to jayah "victory."
[2] Jarl Charpentier: The History of the Jains, in: The Cambridge History of India, vol. 1, Cambridge 1922, p. 153; A.M. Ghatage: Jainism, in: The Age of Imperial Unity, ed. R.C. Majumdar/A.D. Pusalkar, Bombay 1951, p. 411-412; Shantaram Bhalchandra Deo: History of Jaina Monachism, Poona 1956, p. 59-60. and Mehta, T.U. "Path of Arhat - A Religious Democracy" (DOC). Pujya Sohanalala Smaraka Parsvanatha Sodhapitha. Retrieved on 2008-03-11.
[3] Singh, Ramjee Dr. Jaina Perspective in Philosophy and Religion, Faridabad, Pujya Sohanalala Smaraka Parsvanatha Sodhapitha, 1993.
[4] Tobias, Michael (1991). Life Force. The World of Jainism. Berkeley, California: Asian manush Press, 6-7, 15.

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