Modern Jainism Defined - Belief, History, Literature, & Facts - Arihanta Institute

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Modern Jainism Defined - Belief, History, Literature, & Facts - Arihanta Institute
By Christopher Miller, PhD


Jainism, one of the ancient spiritual traditions that originated in India, continues to thrive in contemporary society. With a rich history dating back thousands of years, Jainism is not only a religion but a way of life that emphasizes non-violence, truth, and asceticism. In this article, I will explore some key aspects of Jainism, from its core beliefs and historical roots to its literature and some other fascinating facts. 


Understanding Jainism: Core Beliefs

At the heart of Jainism are its core principles, often referred to as the Three Jewels: Right Belief, Right Knowledge, and Right Conduct. These principles guide the followers of the Jain tradition on their path towards spiritual enlightenment and liberation.


Within these Three Jewels are five core ethical principles which guide the Jain Way of Life:


  • Non-Violence (Ahimsa): Perhaps the most well-known tenet of Jainism is the principle of non-violence. Jains know that all living beings experience pain and therefore adhere to a strict code of non-harm. This extends not only to human life but also to animals and even microscopic organisms. Ahimsa is not just an action but a state of mind, requiring Jains to cultivate compassion and harmlessness in every aspect of their lives.


  • Truthfulness (Satya): Jains emphasize the importance of truth in thought, word, and deed. Practicing honesty and avoiding falsehoods are essential components of leading a righteous life according to Jain principles.


  • Non-Stealing (Asteya): Jainism advocates for the practice of non-stealing, which extends beyond material possessions to include not stealing of others' time, talents, and resources. Jains aim to cultivate a sense of contentment and to reduce the human passion of greed.


  • Chastity (Brahmacharya): In the context of Jainism, chastity is not limited to celibacy but extends to the responsible and ethical use of one's sexual energy. This principle emphasizes the importance of self-control and moderation in all aspects of life. Jain monks and nuns are celibate, while Jain householders marry one partner for life.


  • Non-Possessiveness (Aparigraha): Aparigraha encourages Jains to detach themselves from material possessions and avoid excessive accumulation. By practicing non-attachment, individuals reduce the negative impact of greed and foster a mindset of simplicity and contentment.


These ethical principles are not mere guidelines but form the foundation of Jain morality, guiding the actions and decisions of its followers in their daily lives.


Historical Roots of Jainism

Jainism has a long and illustrious history that traces its roots back to ancient India. The contemporary tradition is believed to have been founded by Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara, around the 6th century BCE. Tirthankaras are revered spiritual teachers who have attained enlightenment and guide others on the path to liberation.


Lord Mahavira: Born as Vardhamana, Mahavira renounced the material world at the age of 30 and embarked on a spiritual quest for self-realization. After years of intense meditation and ascetic practices, he achieved enlightenment, becoming a Tirthankara. Mahavira's teachings emphasized the importance of self-discipline, non-violence, and detachment from worldly desires.


Jainism shares historical and philosophical connections with another ancient Indian tradition, Buddhism. Both Jainism and Buddhism emerged within a similar socio-cultural context, contributing to a rich tapestry of spiritual exploration in ancient India.


Over the centuries, Jainism has experienced periods of growth and decline, yet it has endured as a distinct tradition with a dedicated following. The Jain community has played a significant role in India's cultural and economic history, contributing to trade, scholarship, and philanthropy.


Literature of Jainism

The literary heritage of Jainism is vast and diverse, encompassing sacred texts, philosophical treatises, and works of art. Jain literature is written in various languages, including Prakrit and Sanskrit. Some of the key texts that form the basis of Jain teachings include:


  • Agamas: The Agamas are the canonical scriptures of Jainism, consisting of the teachings attributed to Mahavira. These texts provide guidance on various aspects of religious practice, including rituals, ethical conduct, and meditation.


  • Tattvartha Sutra: Also known as the Tattvarthadhigamasutra, this foundational text was composed by the Jain philosopher Umasvati. It expounds on the fundamental principles of Jainism, elucidating the nature of reality, the soul, and the path to liberation.


  • Kalpasutra: The Kalpasutra is a biographical account of Lord Mahavira's life and teachings. It also contains narratives about the lives of other Tirthankaras and details about the monastic code for Jain monks and nuns.


  • Jain Epics: Jainism has its own set of epics, such as the Harivamsa Purana and the Trishashti Shalaka Purusha Charitra, which recount the stories of ancient heroes and heroines, including Tirthankaras and other special figures.


  • Commentaries and Philosophical Works: Jain scholars have produced a wealth of commentaries and philosophical treatises that explore and elaborate on the intricacies of Jain philosophy. Works by eminent philosophers like Kundakunda and Siddhasena Divakara have significantly shaped Jain thought.


The rich literary tradition of Jainism reflects the depth of its philosophical insights and the commitment of its followers to preserving and transmitting their cultural and spiritual heritage.


Modern Jainism: Adaptations and Practices

While rooted in ancient traditions, Jainism has adapted to the changing times, and contemporary Jain communities incorporate a blend of tradition and contemporary practices. Here are some aspects of modern Jainism:


  • Technology and Jainism: In the modern era, Jains have embraced technology as a means to connect, share information, and practice their faith. Social media platforms, websites, and mobile applications dedicated to Jainism provide a virtual space for the global Jain community to come together, share teachings, and participate in discussions. Arihanta Institute is one such prestigious online institution.


  • Vegetarianism and Jain Diet: The principle of non-violence is reflected in the dietary practices of Jains, who adhere to a strict vegetarian diet. Many Jains also avoid certain root vegetables and consume food mindfully, considering the impact of their choices on all living beings. More recently, many Jains have started to transition to a vegan lifestyle and diet in light of the scientifically proven, manifold and unavoidable harms of dairy to cows, their babies, the climate and environment, and human health and wellbeing.


  • Jain Temples and Institutions: Jain communities worldwide have established temples and cultural institutions that serve as centers for worship, education, and community activities. These institutions play a crucial role in preserving Jain traditions and fostering a sense of unity among followers.


  • Jain Festivals and Rituals: Jain festivals, such as Mahavir Jayanti and Paryushana, are celebrated with great fervor. Paryushana, in particular, is a period of self-reflection, fasting, and intensified spiritual practices. Rituals like Pratikramana, a form of repentance and forgiveness, are observed by Jains to purify the mind and soul.


  • Education and Philanthropy: Modern Jainism places a strong emphasis on education and philanthropy. Jain educational institutions, both traditional and modern, aim to impart knowledge and values to the younger generation. Additionally, Jains are actively involved in charitable activities, supporting causes related to education, healthcare, and social welfare.


The adaptability of Jainism to contemporary contexts highlights its enduring relevance and the ability of its principles to resonate with individuals in diverse settings.


Fascinating Facts about Jainism


  • Symbol of Ahimsa: The contemporary symbol of Jainism is the Ahimsa hand, often depicted with a wheel at the center. This symbolizes the importance of non-violence (Ahimsa) and its central role in the Jain way of life.


  • Jain Cosmography: Jain cosmography envisions the universe as eternal and uncreated. The cycle of birth, death, and rebirth is a fundamental aspect of Jain cosmography.


  • Meditation and Self-Realization: Jainism places a strong emphasis on meditation as a means to attain self-realization and liberation. Meditation is considered a path to purify the soul and eliminate karmic obstacles.


  • Renunciation and Asceticism: Jain monks and nuns lead a life of renunciation and asceticism, forsaking worldly attachments and possessions. They follow a disciplined lifestyle, practicing non-violence and austerity.


  • Digambara and Svetambara Traditions: Jainism is divided into two major traditions: Digambara and Svetambara. The Digambara tradition practices nudity as a form of renunciation, while the Svetambara sect allows the use of white robes.


  • Anekantavada: Anekantavada, the principle of non-absolutism, is a key feature of Jain philosophy. It acknowledges the multiplicity of viewpoints and encourages a tolerant and inclusive approach to understanding reality.


Arihanta Institute: Nurturing Jain Wisdom

Arihanta Institute stands as a beacon of Jain wisdom, dedicated to preserving and disseminating the teachings of Jainism. Established with a vision to promote spiritual education and holistic development, the institute plays a vital role in nurturing the values of non-violence, truth, and compassion in everyday life.


  • Spiritual Guidance: Arihanta Institute provides a platform for spiritual seekers to deepen their understanding of Jain philosophy. Through lectures, conferences, and interactive sessions, we offer guidance on incorporating Jain principles into daily life.


  • Academic Excellence: The institute is committed to academic excellence, offering certificate and graduate level courses that delve into the rich literary and philosophical, historical, and anthropological dimensions of Jainism. Students have the opportunity to explore the scriptures, engage in scholarly discussions, and gain a comprehensive understanding of the Jain tradition.


  • Community Engagement: Arihanta Institute actively engages with the Jain community and the wider society, organizing events, seminars, and cultural programs. By fostering a sense of community and inclusivity, we contribute to the vibrant tapestry of Jain life.


  • Research and Publications: In its pursuit of knowledge, Arihanta Institute encourages research on Jainism and related subjects. Our faculty regularly publish scholarly books, journal articles, and book chapters that contribute to the academic discourse on Jain philosophy and culture. We also have an accredited, remotely available Master’s Degree Program in Engaged Jain Studies in collaboration with Claremont School of Theology.


  • Promotion of Ahimsa: At the core of Arihanta Institute's mission is the promotion of Ahimsa, the principle of non-violence. Through online educational initiatives, conferences, and events, we strive to create a more compassionate and harmonious world.


Arihanta Institute stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of Jainism and its ability to inspire individuals on their spiritual journey. 



In conclusion, Jainism is an ancient tradition that continues to inspire millions of people worldwide. Its core principles of non-violence, truthfulness, and non-possessiveness provide a moral compass for navigating the complexities of modern life. From its ancient roots to its contemporary adaptations, Jainism remains a beacon of wisdom and compassion.


As we explore the beliefs, history, literature, and facts surrounding Jainism, it becomes evident that this ancient tradition is not confined to the pages of history but is a living, evolving philosophy that addresses the perennial questions of human existence. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and many other advocates of non-violence found the Jain tradition inspirational for their work. Whether practiced in the solitude of meditation or celebrated in the vibrant rituals and festivals of a community, Jainism stands as a testament to the enduring quest for truth and liberation from our shared world of suffering. Through institutions like Arihanta Institute, the legacy of Jainism is nurtured, ensuring that its profound teachings continue to illuminate the path to enlightenment and a better world for generations to come.