Handbook of Jainism

Jain Books


Life is dear to all, even though it may contain misery as well as happiness. Man's desire for an explanation of the existence of misery, for its relief to extinction, and for a consequent increase of happiness, is the ground of religion. The work of relieving misery, explaining its existence, and of increasing the happiness of life, is the function of religion.

The means that religions generally enjoy for the relief of misery and the increase of happiness are to live and let live, be truthful, honest, chaste, content, respectful to parents, reverent to the spiritual teachers and obeisant to the Deity. But to follow these injunctions is not the line of least resistance, and requires some positive belief as to the necessity for such a course of conduct.

The religions of the world differ very widely in their beliefs, faiths, and theories regarding good and evil, happiness and misery, and account with different degrees of satisfaction for the existence of the evil and the misery. An alternative to the doctrine of a kind and almighty Creator governing the universe, is the theory of soulless materialistic atheism which affirms that life and consciousness are the outcome of the massing and activity of material atoms, to be dissipated at death; but for those who find neither of these theories satisfactory there is the theory roughly outlined in this book - a theory which neither denies the existence of the soul, nor starts with the presupposition of a Creator; but makes each individual the master of his own destiny, holds out immortality for every living being, and insists upon very highest rectitude of life up to final perfection, as a necessary means to permanent happiness now and hereafter.

The belief into which we happen to be born is the one which is generally adopted until, through questioning, criticism, and reconstruction it is replaced by the development of a better understanding. At the first disturbance of one's unquestioned beliefs there arises the inquiry : Whom are we to believe? Of all the possible living beings, visible or invisible, whose word can we trust to be the truth ? If we answer : 'God's word' , it raises the question : What are the characteristics possessed by the Deity by which we know or believe that his word is the truth ? If we do not know these characteristics we may believe the words of an arbitrary and tyrannical law-giver. The only possible source of teaching, whether spoken, written, or inspired, is knowledge. And whoever the authority may be, if he has not true knowledge he cannot give true teaching. It is the opinion of Jainism that only that knowledge is true which is purged of the infatuating elements of anger, hatred, or other passions; that only he who is all-knowing is able to map out the path of rectitude which shall lead to final beatitude in life everlasting; and that omniscience is impossible in any in whom the infatuating elements are found to exist.

It is claimed of the Jain spiritual leaders that they were omniscient, and free from every weakness and passion. The Jain scriptures are claimed to be the historical record of the lives and teachings of those omniscient, spiritual leaders; and it is from these scriptures that the Jain doctrines are taken. The Jain spiritual leaders lived in the flesh of earth as men. Thus we have the source from which the following views are taken.

Apart from any question as to whence the doctrines have come, however, they stand on their own merits and are in themselves comforting and satisfactory. They protect the soul from evil, they fulfill the requirements of the heart, will bear the severest scrutiny of the intellect, and they give freedom to the individual - there are no commands to obey. Religion is the act of bringing one's own life up to an accepted standard of excellence morally and spiritually, and these doctrines offer such a standard; they are a serious concern to man in his relations with his fellow beings, an in relation to his own future state of life in eternity; and they show him how to relieve others and himself of misery, and how to increase happiness in himself and in others. Thus the doctrines are not only a philosophy but emphatically a religion. And first and foremost they are the religion of the heart, their motto and golden rule is non-injury (ahimsa); and the whole structure is built upon love (daya) and "religion is the only thing that can afford true consolation and peace of mind in the season of affliction and the hour of death" . The truth of a religion is still true whether there are any who follow it or not.

The subject of this book is the solution afforded by Jainism to the problem of life; and, to make a general statement of the subject, we may say : we and all other beings living on this earth are from one point of view un-created, self-existent, immortal, individuals souls, alive with feeling and consciousness, and never to loose our own identity (jiva). We are each of us responsible to ourselves for our own condition. In whatever degree we are ignorant, in pain, unhappy, unkind cruel, or weak it is because since birth and ever previously in the infinite past, we are and have been acquiring and incorporating into ourselves (asrava, bndha) by the attraction and assimilation of subtle, unseen though real physical matter (pudgal), - energies (karma) which clog the natural wisdom, knowledge, blissful, love, compassion, and strength of the soul, and which excite us to unnatural action.

Until we leave off (samvara, nirjara) this unnatural kind of life, by refusing to obey impulses and prompting which by our own conscience and understanding we believe to be wrong and which are only the blind operation of those unnatural though sometimes powerful energies in us (karma), the peace of mind which is said to be inseparable from a life of rectitude, and the final pure natural state of existence in everlasting blissfulness (moksa) must remain nothing more than matters of faith and hearsay.

This is the teaching of the Jain Arhats, according to the present understanding of the writer; and in any case it is rational theory of good, evil, and immortality.

The idea that we have fallen from a state of purity is not held; for it is possible to fall from a final state of purity, there is no guarantee that the mental and moral discipline, austerity, and rectitude of life will result in everlasting happiness; and, further, in a pure state there are no impurities, and nothing else would move us to fall into a state where we hurt and injure others.

This, then, is the presentation of the subject in a vague general statement. We may now pass on to the analysis of the subject into parts. The subject falls naturally into four parts, namely :

  1. The Universe
  2. Man as he actually is.
  3. Man as he may become.
  4. Means to that end.

each of which is considered in some detail in the following pages.