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Teachings From My Faith - Jainism

By Prankul Jain, IACO Council Member

I am a representative on the IACO council from the Jain Center of Central Ohio.

Jainism is an ancient religion from India that teaches that the way to liberation and bliss is to live lives of harmlessness and renunciation. Jain religion traces its spiritual ideas and history through a succession of twenty-four leaders or tirthankaras. Lord Mahavir was the last amongst twenty four Tirthankar.

The Jain Code of Conduct:

All Jains are expected to follow a code of conduct that focuses on the aspect of do no harm. The life code is succinctly described in the Three Jewels and Vows that they take.  3 Jewels

  1. Right Perception: It is the process of facing and dispelling doubts about the reality of existence.

  2. Right Knowledge: It is the process of learning about the element of existence and how they function together.

  3. Right Conduct: It is a collection of vows and discipline one undertakes on the path to spiritual liberation.

5 Vows:

1. Non-violence: It is the cardinal principle of Jainism and hence it is known as the cornerstone of Jainism. Non-violence is the supreme religion. It is repeatedly said in Jain literature: "Do not injure abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being."

According to Jainism all living beings, irrespective of their size, shape, or different spiritual developments are equal. No living being has a right to harm, injure, or kill any other living being, including animals, insects, and plants. Every living being has a right to exist and it is necessary to live with every other living being in perfect harmony and peace.

Violence of any kind should be completely forbidden. Mental tortures by way of harsh words, actions, and any type of bodily injuries should also be avoided. Even thinking evil of someone is considered violence in Jainism.

Practically, it is impossible to survive without killing or injuring some of the smallest living beings. Some lives are killed even when we breathe, drink water, or eat food. Therefore, Jainism says that minimum killing of the lowest form of life should be our ideal for survival. In the universe, there are different forms of life, such as, human beings, animals, insects, plants, bacteria, and even smaller lives, which cannot be seen even through the most powerful microscopes. Jainism has classified all the living beings according to their senses.

The five senses are touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing.

  • Living being with five senses - humans, animals, birds etc. 

  • Living being with four senses - flies, bees, etc.

  • Living being with three senses- ants, lice, etc.

  • Living being with two senses - worms, leaches, etc.

  • Living being with one sense - plants etc.

It is more painful if a life of the higher forms (more than one sense) is killed. Hence Jainism allows laypeople to use only vegetables as a food for survival. All non-vegetarian food is made by killing a living being with two or more senses are forbidden. Therefore, Jainism preaches strict vegetarianism, and prohibits non-vegetarian foods.

2. Truth: Anger, greed, fear, and jokes are the breeding grounds of untruth. To speak the truth requires moral courage. Only those who have conquered greed, fear, anger, jealousy, ego, and frivolity can speak the truth.

Jainism insists that one should not only refrain from falsehood, but should always speak the truth, which should be wholesome and pleasant. One should remain silent if the truth causes pain, hurt, anger, or death of any living being.

3. Non-stealing : Stealing consists of taking another's property without his consent, or by unjust or immoral methods. Further, one should not take anything which does not belong to him. One should observe this vow very strictly, and should not touch even a worthless thing, which does not belong to him. The vow of non-stealing insists that one should be totally honest in action, thought, and speech. 

4. Celibacy / Chastity: Total abstinence from sensual pleasure and the pleasure of all five senses are called celibacy. Sensual pleasure is an infatuating force, which sets aside all virtues and reason at the time of indulgence. This vow of controlling sensuality is very difficult to observe in its subtle form. One may refrain from physical indulgence but may still think of the pleasures of sensualism, which is prohibited in Jainism.

5. Non-attachment / Non-possession : Jainism believes that the more worldly wealth a person possesses, the more he is likely to commit sin to acquire and maintain the possession, and in a long run he may be unhappy. The worldly wealth creates attachments, which will continuously result in greed, jealousy, selfishness, ego, hatred, violence, etc. Lord Mahavir has said that wants and desires have no end, and only the sky is the limit for them.

Jainism has laid down and described in much detail these five great vows for the path of liberation. These are to be observed strictly and entirely by the monks and nuns. Partial observance is laid down for the householders with additional seven vows.    

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