A Living Portrait of India
Jainism is an ancient, Indian-born philosophy, dating back to Vedic times. 24 preachers known as `Jinas' (conquerors) or `Tirthankaras' (fordmakers) propounded it across the river of life. Its first founder or `Tirthankara' was one Rishabhadeva mentioned in the Yajur Veda. The 24th and last Tirthankara was Mahavira. It is a Nastik (Atheist) philosophy and does not accept the Vedas to be revelations from God. In fact, it does not believe in a God, though it does believe in re-birth. The ethical doctrines of Jainism are based on the path of liberation, comprising right belief, right knowledge and right conduct. The prescriptions or rules of Jainism are about the way to achieve this liberation. They apply both to ascetics and householders. The householders have twelve Vratas or codes of conduct, five Anuvratas (small vows) and seven Shilavratas (supplementary vows). If the Anuvaratas are strictly performed, they become Mahavratas (Great vows).
The Jains have two major sects, Digambara (Sky-clad or naked) and Shvetambara (White-clad). Digambara Jains are more austere and go about nude or free from all material trappings and social inhibitions. They allow for voluntary death in order to attain Kavalajnana or final liberation. In the later and less austere sect Shvetambara, people can use a simple white cloth. The difference in the two sects is more in rituals than in doctrines.
Jains believe in Anekantavada, or the theory that reality is many-sided. They subscribe to Syadavada, that is, prefix the word `syad' to every proposition as a check against dogmatism. They do not believe a statement to be complete unless all its varying conditions have been fully stated, and this has led to an expanded form of Syadavada known as Saptabhanginaya.