Jain World
Sub-Categories of Antiquity of Jainism
Meaning of Jainism
Tradition of Tirthankara
Historicity of the Jaina tradition
Jaina tradition and Buddhism
  Jaina tradition and Hinduism
  Jaina tradition & archaeological evidence
  Fundamental principles of Jainism
  Philosophy of Jainism
  Tattvas of Jainism
  Doctrines of Jainism
  Three-fold path of Salvation
  Prescription of Ethical Code
  Private distinctiveness of Jaina Ethics
  Importance assigned to five vratas
  Prominence given to Ahimsa
  Easy practicability of ethical code
  Commoness of ethical code
  Rise of sections in Jainism
  The Great Schism of Jainism
  The Digambara and Svetambara sects
  The Digambara sub-sects
  The Svetambara Sub-sects
  Jainism in East India
  Jainism in Northern India
  Jainism in Western India
  Jainism In South India
  Contribution of Jainism to Indian Culture
  Jainism and other religions
  Significance of Jainism
  Glossary of Jaina terms



7. Significance of Jainism


The contribution of Tirathnkara Mahavira and Jaina Acharyas of a revolutionary nature consisted in completely changing the attitude of the people towards God and thereby inculcating the spirit of self-reliance among the minds of the people. The common belief, held by the people according to the prevalent ideology, was that this world has been created by God and the work of controlling the events in this world in also carried out by God. This popular belief engendered a feeling of divine dispensation in the kinds of the people because it was firmly held by the people that God can do and undo anything in this world in accordance with his wishes. Naturally this feeling created a sense of complete dependence on God by the people in the conduct of their daily activities and in securing happiness in this world as well as in the next world. Obviously this sense of dependence on God urged people to find out ways and means so as to obtain in abundant measure the favors of God in mundane and spiritual matters and also to avoid the displeasure or wrath of God which, it was thought, would not only bring several difficulties in the normal course of life but also would lead to complete disaster. As a result of this attitude, people began to place entirely blind faith on the omnipotent God and to secure his favors by practicing certain rites and rituals laid down for the purposes. These prescribed rituals are so elaborate that they did require the services of priests who were supposed to have the special knowledge about these rites and who were also specifically authorized to perform these rituals in a proper manner. In this way the entire code of conduct of the people was fully dominated by the practice of various rituals throughout the course of life and by the priests whose help and assistance were considered most essential to work as intermediary between people and God for securing desired favors from God.

Tirthankara Mahavira and Jaina Acharyas launched an intensive attack on this attitude of complete submission to God by the people for attaining their final objective in life. viz. liberation. In this regard Tirthankara Mahavira firmly asserted that this world is eternal and has not been created by any power like God and that the happenings in this world are not controlled by God. He clearly proclaimed that nothing here or elsewhere depends on the favors of God but everything depends on the actions of the people. He confidently stated that all persons, irrespective of their ultimate objective in life, by relying on themselves and through the observance of an ethical code of conduct and not by merely performing some rituals with the help of others. For this purpose he laid down a path to liberation which consisted of right faith, right knowledge and right conduct and appealed to the people to follow this path on their individual initiative and efforts and not with the help of any intermediary.

Further, he impressed on the people the theory of karma which is based on the principle of self-reliance. This doctrine explains the reasons lying behind or causes leading to effects. It maintains that every happening in this world is the result of some antecedent causes. Since the individual soul is the doer of actions, it must bear the consequences of these actions sooner or later. The is no way out of it. The responsibility of consequences cannot be shifted nor exemption from the consequences of these actions sooner or later. There is no way out of it. The responsibility of consequent cannot be shifted nor exemption from the consequences be given by anybody. The soul has to enjoy the fruits of the karmas in this life or in subsequent lives. There is no salvation until the soul stops the influx of karmas and gets rid of existing karmas and this it will have to do by its own deliberate efforts without expecting any help form an outside agency like God. There is no use in asking the favor of God or his representative because they do not have the power of determining the consequence of the karmas and have no authority to forgive people form future consequences of past actions.

This theory of karmas has been an original and integral part of the Jaina ideology, and Tirthankara Mahavira convinced the people of the necessity of adopting this doctrine and of molding their entire life on the foundation of this theory. Naturally Tirthankara Mahavira laid full stress on individual action and completely denied the existence of divine dispensation. He emphasized that man is the architect of his destiny and that there is no external power which can come in the way of getting the fruits of one�s actions, whether good or bad. He assured the people that the attainment of liberation, the ultimate object in life, is within their reach and it depends entirely on one�s own efforts in the march on the path liberation. In this way Tirthankara Mahavira wanted every individual to become a true hero on the battlefield of self-conquest. Thus Tirthankara Mahavira inculcated a spirit of reliance among the people in place of the feelings of utter dependence on God. This basic change in attitude brought an over-all change in the course of life of the people who began of lay stress more on the ethical aspects than on the ritualistic aspects of their conduct.


The most distinctive contribution of Tirthankara Mahavira and Jaina acharyas consists in their great emphasis on the observance of ahimsa, i.e. non-injury to living beings, by all persons to the maximum extent possible. Ahimsa in its full significance was realized and preached by twenty-three Tirthankaras preceeding Tirthankara Mahavira. In fact, the philosophy and rules of conduct laid down in Jaina religion have been based on the solid foundation of ahimsa which has throughout and consistently, been followed to its logical conclusion. That is why Jainism has become synonymous with ahimsa and Jaina religion is considered as the religion of ahimsa. The significance of this basic principle of ahimsa was very powerfully reiterated by Tirthankara Mahavira as the practices of committing violence on different pretexts had become rampant at that time.

During the later Vedic period utmost importance was attached to the performance of sacrifices with a view to secure the favors of God and to avert His anger. The sacrifices were very elaborate, complicated and hedged with various restrictions. The sacrifices became a regular feature of the religious life of the people. The peculiar characteristic of these sacrifices was that they were usually accompanied by the slaughter of animals. As the sacrifices were mainly animal sacrifices they involved the practice of himsa to a considerable extent. Along with this practice, the flesh-eating or non-vegetarian diet was extremely popular among the different sections of the people. The people in those days were fond of meat-eating and practically all the important ceremonies were attended with the slaughter of animals. Offerings of flesh were frequently made to the Gods by worshippers.

Tirthankara Mahavira and Jaina Acharyas launched a vigorous attack against meat-eating and the performance sacrificial rites by propagating the principle of ahimsa, i.e. non-injury to living beings. In fact in all his preachings Tirthankara Mahavira invariably laid great stress on the observance of ahimsa because the principle of ahimsa is the logical outcome of the basic Jaina metaphysical theory that all the souls are potentially equal. He therefore asserted that as no one likes pain, one should not do unto others what one does not want others to do unto oneself. Since all living beings possessed a soul, the principle of non-injury was obviously extended to cover all living beings. He explained the doctrine of ahimsa systematically and to the minutest detail. He considered injury or violence of three kinds: (i) physical violence, which covered killing, wounding and causing any physical pain, (ii) violence in words consisted in using harsh words, and (iii) mental violence, which implied bearing ill-feeling towards others. Further, he made it clear that violence or injury should be avoided in three ways, that is, it should not be committed, commissioned or consented to. Moreover, among the five main vratas, i.e. vows, the first place was given to the observance of ahimsa. In addition, ahimsa was regarded as the principal vow, and the other four vows were considered to be merely details of the principal vow.

All these preachings of Jaina religion regarding the strict observance of the principle of ahimsa to the maximum extent possible by every individual in society produced far-reaching effects in social fields. The practice performing sacrificial rites and especially the slaughter of animals at the time of sacrifices considerably fell into disuse. Similarly killing of animals for hunting, sports and decoration purposes was greatly reduced. Further, the slaughter of animals and birds with a view to use their flesh as a form of diet slowly became unpopular. In this way injury to living beings was greatly reduced and the practice of vegetarian diet was adopted by large sections of population in different regions of the country. In this connection Dr. N.K. Dutt (in his book Origin and Growth of Caste in India) observes that "Animal sacrifice had been so long standing among the Aryans and such was the respect for the authority of the Vedas, which made it obligatory to sacrifice with flesh offerings, that the abolition of sacrifices, even of cows, became a very slow process effecting only a very small minority, the intellectual section of he people; and might not have succeeded at all, if Jainism and Buddhism had not overwhelmed the country and the mass of the people with the teachings of ahimsa and inefficacy of sacrificial rites."

Thus Tirthankara Mahavira emphasized the basic fact that every living being has a sanctity and a dignity of its own and therefore one must respect it as one expects one�s own dignity to be respected by others. He also firmly emphasized that life is sacred irrespective of species, caste, color, creed or nationality. On this basis he advocated the principle of �Live and let live�. In this way Tirthankara Mahavira convinced the people that the practice of ahimsa is both an individual and a collective virtue and showed that ahimsa has a positive force and a universal appeal.


Advocacy of the principle of religious tolerance has been the characteristic contribution of Tirthankara Mahavira and the Jaina Acharyas. When Tirthankara Mahavira promulgated Jaina religion, he never deprecated other religions and never tried to prove that other religions are false. In fact he propounded the doctrine of Anekantavada, i.e., many-sidedness, and showed that a thing can be considered from many points of view. That is why he always advised the people to find out the truth in anything after taking into account several sides or aspects of that thing. This obviously broadens the outlook of the persons as they are made to look at a thing from different angles. At the same time the principle of Anekantavada does not engender the feelings of enmity or hatred towards the other religionists because it believes that other religions also would be having some truth from their points of view. Hence by enunciating the principle of Anekantavada, Tirthankara Mahavira and the Jaina acharyas advocated the principle of tolerance and asserted that it could be applied to intellectual, social, religious and other fields of activities. As a result we find that Anekantavada has definitely a bearrng on man's psychological and spiritual life and that it is not confined to solve a mere ontological problem. It has supplied the philosopher with catholicity of thought, convincing him that truth is not anybody's monopoly with tariff walls of denominational religion. It also furnished the religious aspirant with the virtue of intellectual toleration which is a part of ahimsa.