What Is Jaina?

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Jaina Definition

Jaina refers to a person who adheres to the religion of Jainism.

Jainism is an Indian religion dating back to about the mid-first century B.C.E.  

Jaina Deep Dive

Jainism shares similarities with Hinduism and Buddhism and is considered one of the Dharmic religions.

It is known for its extreme ascetic practices, but this is reserved for monks and nuns as most Jainas live householder lives and are not required to follow such strict rules.

Do Jains Believe in God?

There are no gods within the Jaina tradition. 

The religion is based on the actions of one’s self. There are, however, guides or teachers called Jinas or Tirthankaras.

The Tirthankaras are those who have been liberated from the cycle of rebirth and attained moksha (liberation) and are there to help others achieve the same.  

A Jaina manuscript page
A Jain manuscript page

Who Are Tirthankaras?

Jains believe that Jainism has always existed. They believe that the universe is eternal and is made up of cycles of one billion years each. There are 24 Tirthankaras in each cycle.

Tirthankaras are saviors and spiritual teachers of the Dharma.

Mahavira, who is the twenty-fourth Tirthankara in this cycle, lived around the same time as the Buddha and in a similar region. He is considered to be the man who gave Jainism its current form.

He is the last in a long line of Tirthankaras, who is believed to have created a thriving community of Jains before his death.

Each of the Tirthankaras is responsible for adapting the philosophy of Jainism according to the time period they live within. The texts which contain the teachings set out by Mahavira are the Agamas.

The Two Denominations Of Jainism

Practicing Jains are divided into two sects:

1. Digambara (“sky-clad”) They do not wear clothes because they are not permitted to have any possessions.

2. Svetambara (“white-clad”) Wear only white and are much more common than the Digambaras.

Because there is no God, there are no priests, but there are nuns and monks who adhere to ascetic lives and strict rules. You may have seen some Jainas even wearing masks; this is to prevent them from accidentally inhaling any bugs and harming them.

a jaina symbol of the seventh tirthankara
The Jain symbol of the seventh tirthankara

What are the main principles of the Jain tradition?

The three jewels form the guiding principles of Jainism.  They are:

  • samyak Darshanaright belief or clear perception
  • samyak jnanaright knowledge of the scriptures
  • samyak charitraright conduct and living a life of no harm and non-attachment

In addition to the three jewels are the five vows or mahavratas. You’ll notice that these are very similar to some of the yoga teachings that we find in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali.  The mahavratas are:

  • ahimsa or non-violence.  This is the most fundamental principle that runs through the tradition because Jain’s believe that all life is sacred.
  • aparigraha or non-attachment
  • satya or not lying
  • asteya or not stealing
  • brahmacharya or sexual restraint (celibacy)
The Jaina symbol of Ahimsa
The Jain symbol of Ahimsa

How do they practice?

Jains are strict vegetarians; some even exclude eating root vegetables because they are not grown above ground and therefore killed when picked.  They also adhere to the following:

  • fasting
  • prayers
  • festivals

What Do Jains Believe In?

With ahimsa at the heart of the religion, Jains believe in preserving the well-being of the universe.

They believe that “non-injury to all living beings is the only religion”  and that practicing ahimsa is central to their karma. This includes non-violence towards all of nature. 

You’ll find monks not even swatting a fly! 

Jains believe that all living things contain individual souls and that all souls should be treated with the same value and compassion. 

Jainism states that there are four deadly sins known as Kashaya.  They are anger, pride, deceitfulness, and greed and should be avoided at all costs.

You’ll notice some significant similarities between the Jaina tradition and that of yoga and Buddhism, especially regarding moksha.

a jain temple

Liberation and Karma

Jains believe that our karma determines our rebirth or reincarnation. 

The actions and decisions we make throughout life impact how we will be reborn. Liberation or Moksha is achieved by eradicating all “karma from the soul.”

Every karmic action has a reaction, and mortality is not excluded from this – how we act in life determines what kind of life we will be reborn into.

Jaina In Your Life

Jainism is still a significant part of Indian culture today, and while most Jains live in India, there are an estimated seven million practitioners worldwide.

The principle teachings within Jainism involve following a path of non-violence or ahimsa.  Whether we are practicing Jains or not, there is much to be learned from their commitment to non-harming, whether in how we treat others or what we eat.   

While we might consider making more ethical considerations in how we live our lives, it is essential to remember that, as householders, we do not need to participate in ascetic practices or harm ourselves.

“Live and allow others to live; hurt no one; life is dear to all living beings.”

– Mahavira
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To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.

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Sarah is a Brighton-based yoga teacher and teacher trainer with a passion for teaching self-inquiry and rest.

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