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

Human beings have limited knowledge and inadequate expression. That is why different doctrines are inadequate, at the most they are one-sided views of Truth which cannot be duly enclosed in words and concepts. Jainism has always held that it is wrong, if not dangerous, to presume that one's own creed alone represents the truth. Toleration is, therefore, the characteristic of Jaina ideology as propounded by Tirthankara Mahavira. Even the Jaina monarchs and generals have a clean and commendable record to their credit in this regard. The political history of India knows no cases of persecution by Jaina kings, even when Jaina monks and laymen have suffered at the hands of other religionists of fanatical temper. Dr. B.A. Saletore has rightly observed in this regard that "The principle of ahimsa was partly responsible for the greatest contribution of the Jainas to Hindu culture--that relating to toleration. Whatever may he said concerning the rigidity with which they maintained their religious tenets and the tenacity and skill with which they met and defeated their opponents in religious disputations, yet it cannot be denied that the Jainas fostered the principle of toleration more sincerely and at the same time more successfully than any other community in India".


Along with the maximum emphasis on the actual observance of ahimsa, Tirthankara Mahavira and the Jaina acharyas greatly extended the implications of ahimsa. They invariably stressed both the negative and the positive aspects of ahimsa . They strongly advocated that the concept of ahimsa should not be confined only to the negative side of it, that is, the avoidance of injury to the living beings of different categories, but should be consistently applied in the positive way, that is, in the direction of increasing the welfare of all living beings. They always appealed to the people to bear good intentions about the prosperity of others, to show active interest in the welfare of the needy persons, and to take practical steps to ameliorate the miserable conditions of afflicted living beings including insects, birds, animals and men. This positive encouragement to social welfare activities has been the most useful and noteworthy contribution of Jainism to Indian Culture.

This humanitarian approach to lessen the miseries of living beings was included in the vrata, i.e. vow, of aparigraha, i.e. abstention from greed of worldly possessions. The vow of aparigraha is the fifth of the five main vows which must be consistently followed by all persons. Aparigraha involves avoiding the fault of parigraha which consists in desiring more than what is needed by an individual. Accumulating even necessary articles in large numbers, expressing wonder at the prosperity of others, excessive greed and changing the proportions of existing possessions are all forms of parigraha i.e. worldly attachments. This vow aims at putting a limit on the worldly possessions by individuals according to their needs and desires. That is why this vow of aparigraha is many times termed as parigraha-parimana-vrata, i.e. the vow to limit one's worldly possessions.

This vow of parigraha-parimana is very noteworthy as it indirectly aims at economic equalization by peacefully preventing under accumulation of capital in individual hands. It recommends that a householder should fix, beforehand, the limit of his maximum belongings, and should, in no case, exceed it. If he ever happens to earn more than that he must spend it away in dana, i.e. charities. The best forms of charities prescribed by religion are ahara-abhaya-bhaisajya-sastra-dana, i.e. giving food to the hungry and the poor, saving the lives of people in danger, distribution of medicines and spreading knowledge. These charities are called the chaturvidha-dana i.e. the fourfold gifts, by Jaina religion and it has been enjoined on the householders that they should make special efforts to give these charities to the needy irrespective of caste or creed.

From the beginning the Jaina householders made it one of their cardinal principles to give these four gifts to all persons who are in need of such help. In fact this help was extended to the protection and well-being of insects, birds and animals also. For this the Jainas established alm-houses, rest-houses, dispensaries and educational institutions wherever they were concentrated in good numbers. The annachhatralayas, i.e. alm-houses, were conducted at pilgrim and other centers for the benefit of poor people. In the dharmasalas, i.e. rest houses, lodging arrangements were provided without any charges or at nominal charges at important towns, cities and pilgrim places. The ausadhalayas, i.e. dispensaries, provided free medicines to the afflicted persons. Along with the dispensaries for men, the Jainas conducted special institutions known as Pinjarapolas for the protection and care of helpless and decrepit animals and birds. In unusual times of flood and famine these pinjarapolas carry out various activities for animal protection. There is hardly any town or village of Gujarat or Rajasthan, where a pinjarapola is not present in some form or other. the spread of education the Jainas took a leading part in the education of the masses. Various relics show that formerly Jaina ascetics took a great share in teaching children in the southern countries, viz. Andhra, Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra. In this connection Dr. A.S. Altekar rightly observes (in his book Rastrakutas and Their Times) that before the beginning of the alphabet proper the children should be required to pay homage to the deity Ganesha, by reciting the formula Sri Ganesaya namah, it is natural in Hindu society, but that in the Deccan even today it should be followed by the Jaina formula 'Om namah siddham', it shows that the Jaina leaders of medieval age had so completely controlled the mass education that the Hindus continued to teach their children this originally-Jaina formula even after the decline of Jainism. Even now the Jainas have rigorously maintained the tradition by giving freely these Chaturvidha-danas, i.e. four types of gifts, in all parts of India. In this manner the legacy of Mahavira has been continued to the present day.

Thus there is an immense value attached to this vow of aparigraha or parigraha-parimana from social point of view. At the same time this vow has got a great significance in preparing a proper mental attitude towards material possessions, in forming a true scale of values, and in developing a right sense of proportion for individual possessions. This vow emphasizes that one should not feel too much attachment towards his own possessions and should resist all temptations. It teaches that one may keep wealth and commodities to satisfy one's requirements but one should not lose oneself in the pursuit of material gain. In this manner it appeals that one should rise above greed, vanity, lust, etc. Thus the vow of aparigraha inculcates a particular mental attitude of self-restraint in the face of pleasures, of stoicism before temptations and of detachment from superfluities and super-abundances. This attitude of mind is perhaps more necessary today than ever before.