What would happen if every living creature had a soul? In addition to humans, cows and pigs, ants and mosquitoes, trees and flowers, corn and tomatoes, fungi, and microscopic germs are all part of the natural world. Because all souls are equally precious and deserving of respect and compassion, Jainism (pronounced “Jane-ism”), an ancient Indian faith, believes every living creature to be endowed with a soul.
Ascetic monks and nuns in India practice Jainism in its strictest form, which includes renaming all worldly things, covering their mouths with a white cloth, and carrying a soft brush or feather duster while walking to sweep away any little souls (in insects) on their path.
Jains in India (estimated at 4.5 million) and around the world (an additional 250,000) practice their faith in a modern context. When it comes to spiritual emancipation, Jainism’s key beliefs — nonviolence, non-possession, and a plurality of opinions — don’t just guide the road to moksha. Still, they also point the way to good human behavior and environmental stewardship.
More than 150,000 Jains live in the United States, a tiny proportion of the country’s religious population but enough to support flourishing Jain communities around the country, including dozens of ornate Jain temples.
“Eternal” Faith a devoid of a god
Hinduism and Buddhism, with which Jainism shares a belief in rebirth, karma, and the pursuit of the soul for enlightenment (keval Gyan) and liberation, are regarded to be the two first religions to arise from India’s subcontinent (nirvana without the “a”). Jainism, in contrast to Hinduism and Buddhism, does not believe in the existence of any gods or goddesses.
As with the universe, the Jains believe their religion, like the universe itself, has neither beginning nor end. The soul (jiva) is also eternal and unique, unlike the Hindu concept of Brahman, which is a bigger universal “divine.”
According to Harshita Jain, director of education for Young Jains of America and Rutgers student, our “gods” are the Tirthankars. They are “not superhuman,” unlike the traditional concept of a god. It should be noted that both Jain and Shah are prevalent surnames among Jains, and two people with the surname Jain are quoted in this narrative. Thus their first names will be used to avoid misunderstanding.)
The 24 Tirthankars had to purify their souls of all karma to reach enlightenment and liberation. Maharishi Lord Mahavir was the most recent and final Tirthankar active in the sixth century BCE. Because their souls gained limitless knowledge and happiness, the Tirthankars are “god-like,” but they do not answer prayers or use other divine powers.
The Adams, a collection of Jain scriptures, includes Lord Mahavir’s teachings. Jains don’t have any clergy of their own, but they have a group of monks and nuns who devote their lives to studying the Adams, meditating on Lord Mahavir’s teachings, and preaching the way to enlightenment.
Every individual soul has the potential to reach the state of “gods” (a perfected person who has shed all of their past sins) in Jainism, according to public relations and media expert Savita Jain, who works with the non-profit JAINA, which provides services to the Jain community in the United States, Canada, and other parts of the world.
In Jainism, all souls are considered equal, and nonviolence is practiced toward all living beings because of this potential to be freed from the cycle of birth and death and become a deity.
Jainism, as the average person practices it.
A vegetarian or vegan diet is mandatory for all Jains, although some vegetables are outlawed to minimize harm to living creatures. For example, all root vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, and ginger, are prohibited. There are supposedly “infinite souls” in these veggies; therefore, eating them causes a lot of violence.
It’s also not a good idea to eat after the sun goes down, as bugs are attracted to lights in the dark and could end up in your meal. Even in the refrigerator, food from the day before has accumulated unacceptably high germs; thus, no leftovers are allowed.
In the words of Harshita, “Jains are instructed to avoid altogether eating fish,” eggs,” mushrooms,” booze,” honey,” and butter.” “It’s up to you to include root vegetables in your diet. Everyone adheres to the food limitations to the best of their ability, so we don’t hold grudges.”
Jains must also avoid killing insects (including mosquitoes and cockroaches) to adhere to the ahimsa (nonviolence) precept. Making sure there isn’t any stagnant water in the area where mosquitoes can develop is a Jains’ extra care to avoid this.
Holidays and Festivities of the Jain Religion
There are several significant and extensively observed “holy days” among Jains, who use the lunar calendar to keep track of the year. Both major Jain sects conduct long periods of fasting and self-reflection known as Paryushan (Shwetambar) and Das Lakshan (Das Lakshan) in the late summer (in the Digambar tradition). Every festival lasts for more than a week, and during that time, most Jains abstain from work or school to fast or otherwise disconnect from the outside world.
Ruchi Vora, a student at Oregon State University and the director of public relations for Young Jains of America, believes it’s okay that not everyone can fast for days.
Vora emphasizes the need to develop a strong sense of self-control. “When I’m fasting, my health suffers, so I try to restrict how much time I spend on screens by logging off social media and putting away my phone. It’s my way of calming my mind and heart.”
The Hindu festival of Diwali, also known as Deepavali, is honored by Jains and Sikhs in India as the Festival of Lights. Since Lord Mahavir was liberated on this day, Diwali has special importance for Jains. During the Diwali Hindu festival, Jains decorate their homes with lamps and candles to show their devotion to the teachings of Lord Mahavir.