[Jain image]

  • Sanskrit: jina, conqueror


A religious and monastic system of India intermediate between Brahmanism and Buddhism. It is a heresy of the former with such resemblance to Buddhism, in monastic system, teaching and texts, that some classify Jainism as an offshoot originating c.300 B.C. The prevailing view considers it as independent of Buddhism, and possibly older. The few details known of its founder so resemble Buddha’s life that a legend is suspected. Tradition states that Jina, 6th century B.C., was the son of a local raja, with family name of Jnatriputra (in Prakrit, Nattaputta) near Benares. He sacrificed all to follow Brahman asceticism, and was called Mahavira, hero, and Jina, conqueror. He rejected the Vedas and Vedic rites, and became a heretic. With disciples he went about preaching his doctrine, and organized his converts under austere monastic discipline. Less ambitious followers became lay Jainists. The propriety of living naked later split Jainism into two sects. The White-Robed Sect of Northwest India is more numerous and includes communities of nuns. The naked ascetics are in Southern India. The total number of Jainists is not over 500,000. The Jainist creed consists of the so-called three jewels, Right Belief, Right Knowledge, Right Conduct. Right Belief embraces faith in Jina as the true teacher, and acceptance of the Jainist scriptures. The White-Robed Sect’s canon consists of 45 Agamas or sacred texts in Prakrit with estimated origin c.300 BC. Right Knowledge embraces religious views and the end of man. It accepts the Brahmanistic doctrine of Karma, and its implied rebirths, and views all earthly, bodily existence as misery. Freedom from rebirth is the goal sought. Its affirmation of a final unending conscious state of positive bliss, stamps it as distinctive. Personal effort applied to purifying the soul by austerity, alone attains man’s end. The accepted gods are of no help, hence their worship is rejected. Twelve years as a monk and eight rebirths are necessary. Veneration of Jina and other saints constitutes the sole worship. To these, temples are erected. Right Conduct concerns ethical precepts, and the monastic system. It enforces a strict regard for the preservation of all sensitive life; but permits self-destruction to a monk after long efforts at self-control prove vain.

MLA Citation

  • “Jainism”. New Catholic Dictionary. CatholicSaints.Info. 22 August 2010. Web. 4 May 2015. <http://catholicsaints.info/jainism/>