By Dr. Vasupal Parikh
Jainism is one of the oldest living spiritual philosophies. However, it is little known, probably because Jainism is really neither a faith nor a religion in the sense in which most of us now understand these terms.
Jains do indeed follow the teachings of the Jinas – a series of twenty four Tirthankaras, or teachers, spanning the period 8,500 BCE to 600 BCE. These Tirthankars preached that the universe governs itself by a set of natural laws, and that - everyone can shape his/her destiny. Theydeveloped a spiritual path for mastering one’s own destiny, but did not claim that they preached an unalterable truth, nor did they demand that their concept of natural theology be accepted through the mere act of faith. On the contrary, they insisted that anyone who wished to attain the enlightenment and bliss they had attained should experiment for themselves, by embarking on the suggested spiritual path and retaining what was useful and abandoning what was not. The ultimate reward is complete understanding of “Absolute Reality” and Moksha, (total liberation). Moksha empowers one’s soul with unlimited perception, knowledge, happiness, and unlimited energy. However, those who could not complete the journey would still reap the rewards of unprecedented happiness, peace, and tranquility.
Thus, Jainism is an experiment-based logical system. It shows a proven path to liberation, but advises us to develop our faith in it on the basis of personal intuition (rational vision), critical or rational study of the vision (rational knowledge), and personal experimentation and experience of the journey (rational lifestyle). These three – Rational Vision, Rational Knowledge, and Rational Lifestyle – form the core of Jainism and are called ‘the Three Jewels.”
Jain philosophy is classified as ‘natural theology’ because its world vision is based on a self-governing Nature (or Universe) as a superpower. Its laws and natural principles apply not just for humans and not just locally, but far beyond throughout the entire universe. The universe in this vision consists of six eternal entities - Soul, Matter, Space, Time, the Principle of Change and the Principle of Resistance to change (stability). Every thing in the universe results from the natural interaction of these six entities. Every living being (regardless of its form) is a soul entangled with matter, and ‘moksha’ (liberation) is simply a freeing of the soul from its entanglement. This world vision has the soul as the most important entity and has given rise to the three principal doctrines, known as the ‘Triple ‘A’s of Jainism. These are:
- A himsa (non-violence) - respect and reverence for every living being
- A nekantwada (multi-faceted reality) - consideration of different opinions and viewpoints to gain a better understanding of the truth (reality), which has many facets, and
- A prigraha - limiting personal needs and possessions, because these not only harm the environment but also generate unreasonable attachment to objects that impede spiritual progress.