Jainworld
Jain World
Sub-Categories of Passions - ASPECTS OF JAINA RELIGION

Front Page

Fore Word

Preface
CONTENTS
Illustrations
ANTIQUITY OF JAINISM
FUNDAMENTALS OF JAINISM
DOCTRINES OF JAINISM
  SALVATION - PATH OF JAINISM
  ETHICS OF JAINISM
  DISTINCTIVENESS OF JAINA ETHICS
  DIVISIONS IN JAINISM
  STATUS OF JAINISM IN INDIA
  CONTRIBUTION OF JAINISM TO INDIAN CULTURE
  JAINISM AND OTHER RELIGIONS
  SIGNIFICANCE OF JAINISM
  GLOSSARY OF JAINA TERMS

ANTIQUITY OF JAINISM




1. MEANING OF JAINISM

Literally Jina means a conqueror, that is, one who has conquered the worldly passions like desire, hatred, anger, greed, pride, etc. by one�s own strenuous efforts and has been liberated himself from the bonds of worldly existence, the cycle of births and deaths. Jina, therefore, is a human being and not a supernatural being or an incarnation of an all mighty God. Hence the term Jina is applied to a person who is a spiritual victor.

Further, human beings have the potentiality to become Jinas and, as such, Jinas are persons of this world who have attained supreme knowledge, subjugated their passions and are free from all sorts of attachment and aversion. Jainism is thus a set of principles preached by the Jinas. Hence Jainism is not an apauruseya religion, i.e., a religion propounded by a non-human being or based on a sacred book of non-human origin. On the contrary it is a religion of purely human origin and is preached by one who has attained omniscience and self-control by his own personal efforts. In short, Jainism is the substance of the preachings of those perfect souls who have attained the state of Jinas.

Again, the term Jainism, connotes the religion professed by the Jainas. i.e. the followers of the path practised and preached by the Jinas. This term Jainism is an English rendering of the original Sanskrit word Jaina-dharma or Jina-dharma. That is why some German Jainologists, like Leumann, Winternitz and Schubring, prefer the term Jinismus or Jinism. Both the terms are, however, correct since Jainism means the religion followed by the Jainas and Jinism means the religion of the Jina. But between the two terms, Jainism and Jinism, the former is more popular and in current use both in literature and common parlance.



2. TRADITION OF TIRTHANKARA

As the Jinas possessed the supreme knowledge, they are called the Kevali-Jinas, i.e. the Jinas who attained the kevalajnana. that is, the infinite knowledge. These Kevali-Jinas are also of two kinds, viz., samanya-kevali and tirthankara-kevali. While the samanya-kevalis are those Jinas who are mainly concerned with their own salvation, the tirthankara-Kevalis. are the Jinas who after the attainment of kelvala�jnana. i.e. the infinite knowledge. are not only concerned with their own salvation but are also concerned with showing the path of libera�tion to all. These tirthankara-kevalis are generally known as Tirthan�karas, because they are builders of the ford which leads human beings across the great ocean of eixstence. The term Tirthankara literally means: Tarati samsara-maharnavam yena nimittena tat Tirtham, Tirtham karoti iti tirthartakarah

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That is, the contrivance which helps Ls to cross the great ocean of worldly life is known as Tirtha and the person who makes the Tirtha is termed as a Tirthankara. Hence the Tirthankaras are the personages who delineate the path of final liberation or emancipation of all living beings from a succession of births and deaths.

As per Jaina tradition there were 24 such Tirthankaras, i.e. Great Guides, in the past age, there have been 24 in the present age, and there will be 24 in the future age. In this tradition the names of 24 Tirthankaras, i.e. Great Preachers, of the present age are :
 

1. Rsabha-natha or Adi-natha. 2. Ajita-natha.
3. Sambhava-natha. 4. Abninandana-natha.
5. Sumati-natha 6. Padma-prabha.
7. Suparsva-natha. 8. Chandra-prabjha.
9. Puspadanta or Suvidhi-natha 10. Sitala-natha.
11. Sreyamsa-natha 12. Vasi[ikua
13. Vimala-natha 14. Ananta-natha.
15. Dharma-natha 16. Santi-natha.
17. Kunthu-natha 18. Ara-natha.
19. Malli-natha 20. Muni-suvratanath.
21. Nami-natha 22. Nemi-natha.
23. Parsva-natha 24. Mahavira. Vardhamana or Sanmati



Thus the tradition of Tirthankaras in the present age begins with Rsabha, the first Tirthankara, and ends with Mahavira, the twenty�-fourth Tirthankara. Naturally, there is a continuous link among these twenty-four Tirthankaras who flourished in different periods of history in India. It, therefore, means that the religion first preached by Rsabha in the remote past was preached in succession by the remaining twenty-three Tirthankaras during their life-time for the benefit of living beings.

As seen above Mahavira is the twentyfourth Tirthanakara in this line of Tirthanakaras. As Mahavira happens to be the last Tirthanakara he is regarded by the common people as the founder of Jaina Religion. Obviously this is a misconception. Now the historians have come to accept the fact that Mahavira did not found Jaina religion but he preached the religion which was in existence from the remote past.


3. HISTORICITY OF THE JAINA TRADITION

The historicity of the Jaina tradition is amply borne out both by literary and archaeological evidences. This traditional history of Jainism from the earliest times to the age of the last Tirthanakara Mahavira (6th Century B.C.) can be consistently traced from the facts maintained by Jaina religion. In this regard, Jainism primarily assumes that the universe, with all its constituents or components, is without a beginning or an end, being everlasting and eternal, and that the wheel of time incessantly revolves like a pendulum in half circles from the descending to the ascending stage and again back from the ascending stage to the descending stage. Thus, for practical purposes, a unit of the cosmic time is called kalpa, which is divided into two parts viz. the avasarpini (i.e. descending) and the utsarpini (i.e., ascending), each with six-divisions known as kalas i.e., periods or ages. It means that at the end of the sixth sub-division of the avasarpini (i.e., desending half circle) part the revolution reverses and the utsarpinr (i.e., the ascending half circle) part commences where the steps are reversed like the pendulum of a clock and that this process goes on ad infipitum. Hence the utsarpini part marks a period of gradual evolution arfd the avasarpini part that of gradual decline in human stature, span of life, bodily strength and happiness and even in the length of each kala or age itself (i.e., the first age being the longest and the sixth age being the shortest). Moreover, the life in the first age, the second age and the third age is known as the life of bhoqabhumi (i.e., natural, happy, enjoyment-based life without any law or society); while life in the remaining three ages viz.; the fourth age, the fifth age and the sixth age, is called the life of karmabhumi (i.e., life based on individual and collective efforts).


In accordance with this wheel of time, the avasarpini (the descend�ing half circle) part is continuing at present and we are now living in this part�s fifth age which commenced a few years (3 years and 3 1/2 months) after Tirthankara Mahavira�s nirvana in 527 B.C. As per Jaina scriptures, the first age of the present avasarpini part was of enormous, incalculable length and it had the conditions of bhoga-bhumi when human beings lived in the most primitive stage which was entirely dependent on nature. In the second age, therefore, the condition began to show some signs of gradual decline, but still they were of a happy bhoga-bhumi stage and in the third age, the process of degeneration continued further inspire of the prevailing bhoga-bhumi stage. But towards the end of the third age, man began gradually to wake up to his environments, to feel the effects of deteriorating condi�tions and to have desire, for the first time, for the necessity of seeking guidance. Hence to satisfy this need, the fourth age produced, one after the other, fourteen law-givers or preliminary guides of human beings known as the Kulakara.c or Alanus. In the fourth age, the conditions greatly deteriorated since nature was not benevolent as before and conflicts among men had begun to appear and the Kulakara.c, in succession, as the earliest leaders of men, tried to improve the conditions in their own simple ways.


In the succession of fourteen Kulakaras or Manus the 14th Manu by name Nabhiraya and his wife Marudevi gave birth to R.cabha or Adinatha who later on became the first �Tirthankara or expounder of Jaina religion. This Lord Rsabha is considered as the harbinger of human civilisation because he inaugurated the karma-bhumi (the age of action); founded the social institutions of marriage, family, law, justice, state etc. taught mankind the cultivation of land, different arts and crafts, reading, writing and arithmetic; built villages, towns and cities; and in short, pioneered the different kinds of activities with a view to provide a new kind of social order meant for increasing the welfare of human-beings. Lord Rsabha had two daughters and one hundred sons. After guiding human beings for a considerable period of time, Lord Rsabha abdicated his temporal powers in favour of his eldest son, Bharata, who in course of time, became the Chakravarti i.e., Paramount soverign of this country; led a life of complete renunciation, got kevala jnana, i.e., supreme knowledge, preached the religion of ahirrasa, became the first prophet of salvation and in the end attained nirvana, i.e., liberation at Mount Kailasa.


After Lord Rsabha, the first Tirthankara, there was a succession of 23 other Tirthankaras, who came one after the other at intervals varying in duration. In this way, the Jaina tradition of 24 Tirthankaras was established in the course of historical times beginning from the first Tirthankara Lord Rsabha and ending with the 24th Tirthankara Lord Mahavira.


Thus it is now an accepted fact that Mahavira (599-527 B.C.) was the last Tirthankara or prophet of Jaina religion and that he preached the religion which was promulgated in the 8th century B.C. by his predecessor Parsvanatha, the 23rd Tirthankara. The historicity of Tirthankara Parsvanatha (877-777 B.C.) has been established. Parsvanatha, the son of king Visvasena and queen Vamadevi of the kingdom of Kasi, led the life of an ascetic, practised severe penance, obtained omniscience, became a Tirthankara propagated Jaina religion and attained nirvana or salvation at Sammed Shikhar, i.e. Parsnath Hill in Hazaribagh District of Bihar State. Eminent historians like Vincent Smith, R.C. Majumdar and R.K. Maokerji regard Parsvanath as a historical personage and a great preacher of Jaina religion.