Jainism – Principles and Philosophy UPSC Notes

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Jainism is a mode of living and one of the world’s oldest religions. It believes in a cyclical nature of universe. It discourages superstition and blind faith and encourages free and rational thinking. Nonviolence (ahimsa) and discipline are central to Jainism. Here you will know about Principle and Philosophy of Jainism that will help you preparation for the UPSC and state competitive exams.


Jainism is an anadi religion which means it has always lived and is retold from time to time through tirthankaras. Rishabhdeva was the first of 24 tirthankaras, with Neminath coming in 22nd and Parshvanatha coming in 23rd. Parshvanath was the son of Banaras king Ashvasena and queen Vama. He abdicated the kingdom at the age of 30 and went into exile. He survived for 100 years and dedicated his life to the spread of Jainism. Vardhaman Mahavir was the 24th tirthankara and the most revered Jain speaker.

Vardhaman Mahavir (540 BCE to 474 BCE)

Vardhaman Mahavir

Vardhaman was born in Kundagrama in the Muzaffarpur district (in present Bihar). He was the son of Siddhartha, King of the Dnyatrik Republic, and Trishaladevi, Queen of the Lichchavi Republic. Vardhaman had been separated from worldly pleasures since infancy and had always been involved in meditation.

He was married to Yashoda and they had a daughter. After his parents died, at the age of 30, he obtained approval from his older sibling and committed himself to the life of sanyasa. (ascetic).

He wore clothes initially, but after 12 months, he stopped wearing them and went cloth-less. For 12 years, he turned to painstaking penance (tapas). On the 13th year, he attained enlightenment of supreme knowledge and became kevalin or arhat on the shores of Rijipalika in village Jrimbhika.

He was able to acquire control of all of his sense (indriyas). Thus, he is known as the Jina, or Jitendriya (the one who conquered his senses). Nigranth was his name after he was released from all bonds. He then spread his ideas in public for the next 72 years. Then he attained Nirvana at Pavapuri.

Mahavira revised the then existing ideology and code of conducts of Jainism. He added a new principle of nonviolence (ahimsa) to Parshvanatha’s four principles.

He revived Jain monachism (monasticism) and established guidelines for the order of Jain-preachers or Shramanas. Also, he gave principles that layman could understand.

Mahavira was able to effectively spread Jainism due to his straightforward standards of conduct and use of people’s vernacular, which gained support among ordinary masses as well as the kings and and merchants in a brief period of time. As a result, Mahavira is regarded as the actual founder of Jainism.

Basic Principles of Jainism

  • Negations of Vedas, Vedic rituals, sacrifices and its concept of God
  • To achieve moksha, one should control his own senses instead of depending on the favours of God
  • Universe is created due to jiva (soul) which is immortal
  • To achieve moksha, jiva should freed from actions
  • Belief in equality

The Philosophy of Jainism

The idea of atman is central to Jainism; the fundamental philosophical method stresses ahimsa, and its basis is anekantavada. Jainism, or Jain doctrine, centered around these fundamental ideas.

The idea of Aneka-anta-vada is the basis of Jaina thought, as well as a comprehensive way of looking at the universe. According to this notion, no single clear, definitive, or concluding aspect (ek- anta) of anything exists; rather, when we make a declaration about anything, various types of options or interpretations (aneka-anta) exist.

The Concept of jiva (soul) and Moksha (true knowledge)

According to Jainism, the Universe is eternal, but it is constantly in a cycle of repetition. Time is divided into two periods: ascending (Utsarpinee) and descending (Avasarpini). 24 Jinas were created in each of these two rounds (which are repeated indefinitely).

The first Jina is thought to have emerged approximately six trillion years ago. The cosmos contains both living (Jiva) and non-living (Ajva) entities. Karma is determined by how a Jiva interacts with other Jiva and Ajiva.

Every living creature on Earth, according to the Jain, has a jiva (soul) in its body. According to them, the soul is limited by different acts and thus begins impure.

To obtain real knowledge (Moksha), it must be pure or free of the activities that corrupt and dirty it. It gets information once it is liberated of all shackles (keval-dnyana). Only then will it be able to acquire real understanding of anything, i.e. the level of Moksha.

However, in order to achieve the stage of understanding real truth, the soul must pass through some phases, such as Jiva means soul, which is different from the body, which is full of senses. The soul encourages one to engage in activities, which are good or bad. It also suffers from the effects of its actions, good or bad.

Various Definitions associated with Jainism

A-jiva: A-jiva means lifeless and unconscious.

A-strava: Various types of actions/deeds (karma) flows (strava) to and contaminate the spirit (jiva). A-strava refers to the movement of activities or waste. However, if the acts that bind the spirit are beneficial (shubha), it is referred to as Punya. In other scenario, it is pap.

Bandha: Because of the influx of activities or contamination, the soul became restricted which is known as Bandha.

Sanvara: To control and stop the flow of such activities which pollutes and bound the soul
is called as Sanvara.

Nirjara: By stopping only the flow does not mean that the soul is freed from any bondage. It should clear those actions, which was already stored and bounded the soul. This is called as Nirjara. After a great penance, a nirjara can be achieved.

Moksha: After clearing the stored pollution (nirjara) and stopping the flow of activities or pollution (sanvara), the soul is freed from the bondage. This stage is called as ‘Moksha’.

Tools to achieve Moksha

Every soul that has been confined and polluted by deeds should always strive to liberate himself and attain real awareness of his being, i.e. Moksha. We comprehended its journey through different phases to accomplish its objective. Some instruments or techniques assist us on this path.

  • Samyaka Darshana: Belief in the knowledge of the tirthankara and the seven steps of the path to moksha as taught by him.
  • Dnyana Samyaka: A study or understanding of the natures of jiva and ajiva
  • Samyaka Charitra: Righteous behavior characterized by vrata (maha-vrata, anuvrata, gunavrata, and shiksha-vrata), samiti, and gupti. Samiti means to take measures to avoid violating principles or vratas, whereas Gupti means to impose limitations on ourselves in order to safeguard (gopan) our spirit. The samiti and gupti were only for Jain priests and women.

Types of Disciples

According to Jainism, there are five kinds of disciples:

  • Tirthankara (free)
  • Arhata (a soul flowing to nirvana)
  • Acharya (Great Disciple)
  • Upadhyaya (Teacher)
  • Sadhu (general disciple)

Jain Scriptures

Jain Scriptures

According to tradition, the original preaching of Mahvira compiled in 14 volumes, called as
Parva. In the first grand-assembly, held at Pataliputra, Sthulabhadra classified Jainism into 12 Anga.

These Angas included famous angas like Acharanga sutra and Bhagavati sutra. Further in the
second grand-assembly, held at Vallabhi, these supplemented by the Upangas.

The original Jaina canons (85) comprised of sutragrantha (41), prakirnakas (31), Niyukti/Bhashya (12), Mahabhashya (1). These are called as Agama, written in ardhamagadhi script.

Grand Assemblies

During the 12 year drought in Magadha, Bhadrabahu and his followers fled to Shravanbelagola in South India, while some Jain, mostly Shvetambaras, stayed in Magadha under the guidance of Sthulbahubhadra. He convened the first great council at Pataliputra around 300 BC. The gathering decided to categorize Mahavira’s teaching in 12 Angas.

When Jain from south India, primarily Digambaras, returned to Magadha, they disputed these Angas and claimed that all original text had been destroyed. After many years, the second great assembly was convened in 512 AD at Vallabhi (Gujarat), ruled over by Deavardhimani Kshamashramana.

Meanwhile, the 12th Anga had been lost. As a result, the council attempted to simplify and organize the text. They developed new writings, such as Upanga, and expanded the existing Angas.

Royal Patronage to Jainism

According to legend, Jainism existed prior to Mahavira. However, Mahavira was attributed as the actual founder of the Jaina religion due to his tenuous attempts and new additions such as consolidation, reworking of philosophy and codes of conduct, a distinct set of codes for laity, hierarchy systemized monachism.

Arya Sudharma was the first mainpreacher or thera among his 11 students or ganadharas. Sambhutavijaya promoted Jainism during the Nanda empire. Bhadrabahu, the sixth thera, lived at the same time as Chandragupta Maurya.

The primary cause for Jainism’s growth was the backing and favors of current authorities.

Jainism was recognized as a personal and regal faith by great kings such as Bimbisara, Ajatshatru, Chandragupta Maurya, Kharvela (north), and Ganga, Kadamba, Chalukya, Rashtrakuta, and Shilahara. They offered Jain their assistance in their growth and subsequent expansion.

The Jain were primarily centered in the Mathura area; however, due to the favour of Gujarat’s Chalukya kings and prominent South Indian kingdoms, it expanded throughout Gujarat and south India.

General Support for Jainism

The merchant and craftsman classes also embraced Jainism. It grew on the financial foundation given by these classes. Jaina writing and art thrived as a result of monarchs’ support. Vast volumes of Jaina writings written in public languages such as ardhamagadhi and then Sanskrit.

Also, caves-viharas-temples were built for big groups of worshippers. These locations served as educational centers where famous writings and study on Jainism were undertaken by different academics, with Mathura and Shravanbelagola being the most illustrious Jainism research schools.

The stress of Jainism on adherence of strict codes of conduct hindered its growth; however, by these, it was able to maintain its earliest form until today. The concepts of ‘ahimsa’ and ‘anekantavada,’ in particular, were the eternal gifts of Jainism to Indian civilization.

Important Readings:

Neolithic AgeTime Period of Harappan CivilizationVedic Civilization
Literary Sources of Ancient History of India16 MahajanapadasThe Rise of Magadha Empire
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