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Jainism is one of the oldest religions of the world. The Rig Veda mentions the names of two Jain tirthankaras, Rishaba and Aristanemi. The Vishnu Purana and the Bhagwat Purana describe Rishaba as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. According to the Kalpasutra of Bhadrabahu, Rishabhadeva or Adinatha was the first Tirthankara. Parsvanatha is considered as the 23rd Tirthankara who imparted great strength to Jainism. The modern founder of Jainism is accepted as Vardamana Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara, who existed over 2500 years ago in Kundapura near Vaishali in the present-day Bihar. All the 24 Jain Tirthankaras were Kshatriyas and belonged to royal families. The teachings of the 24 Tirthankaras form the basis of Jainism. A Tirthankara is a person who reestablishes the religion and the fourfold society of Sadhus, Sadhvis, Shravaks, and Sharavikas. Like Buddhism, Jainism also originated as a reaction to the excessive ritualism and rigid social systems prevalent in Hinduism at that time. There are an estimated 4 million Jains in India today, living mostly in Gujarat and Karnataka.

Fundamental Principles

There is no Supernatural being that creates or sustains the Universe. Reality has two categories, jiva (soul) and ajiva (without soul). It believes in the Law of Karma. Karma means the fusion of the pure soul with matter. Hinsa (violence), nirdaya (lack of compassion), krodha (anger), mada (pride), maya (infatuation), lobha (greed), dvesha (hatred), trishna (craving) are the primary causes of suffering and injustice in the world. The ultimate goal for every individual is to become a perfect soul or paramatma. As defined by Jainism, kevala or moksha is liberation, freedom from action and desire, and freedom from karma and rebirth. Moksha is attainable in this world or at the time of death. This can be achieved by following the Triratnas i.e. Samyakcharitra or right conduct, Samyagdarsana or right faith and Samyakgyana or right knowledge. Jainism advocates ahimsa, the doctrine of non-killing, non-violence and non-injury.Samyadarsana or right faith means belief in seven tatvas or propositions made by Mahavira: Jiva, Ajiva, Asvana, Bandha, Smvara, Nirjara and Moksha or Mukti.

Samyagcharitra or right conduct can be achieved by following the Five Great Vows or>Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truth), Asteya (non-stealing), Aparigraha (non-possessing) and Brahmacharya (celibacy).

Sects in Jainism

There are two sects in Jainism - the Svetambaras and the Digambaras. Both believe in the same basic tenets and worship images of the tirthankaras. The Digambaras are the older and more conservative of the two sects. A Digambara saint does not wear any clothes and leads an extremely austere life. The Svetambaras represent the newer school of Jainism. They believe in the same goal of moksha but their way of attaining that goal is not as rigid as that of the Digambaras. The Svetambaras wear white clothes and always cover their nose and mouth with a white cloth.

Major Scriptures

The Jain scripture is known by different names like Ganipidaga, Shrutagyana, Siddhantas and Agamas. Written in Prakrit it is a compilation of the tenets of the religion, the various rules and the teachings of the tirthankaras and has 45 sections. The first and the most important section called Anga is divided into 11 parts. The Acaranga Sutra is the first part of the Anga. It deals with the Jain philosophy and rules of conduct for members of the order, especially monks and nuns.

Jain Councils

The First Jain Council was held at Pataliputra about 300 BC under the leadership of Sthulabhdra. The Jain canons were compiled in this council. The Second Jain Council was held at Valabhi in the 5th century AD by the Svetambaras under the leadership of Devardhi Kshamasramana. During this Council, the 12 Angas and 12 Upangas were finally compiled here in Ardh Magadhi language.

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