Our Wisdom of the Ages section attempts to demonstrate the continuous stream of the ancient Wisdom Tradition throughout human history. As we continue to build the section we will regularly bring to the fore selections highlighting individuals, systems of thought, schools, movements, etc.. We now highlight our section on Jainism, complete with a selection of works and articles drawn from theosophical periodicals.
Jains are an exceedingly practical sect, centering their spiritual lives largely around the core concept of ahimsa (non-violence) and the exemplification of this concept in practice. As expressed in a featured article on Jainism:
Mahavira [the 24th Tirthankara; the latest great Jain reformer] dedicated his life to the propagation of the ethical philosophy based on the principle of non-injury or Ahimsa. The followers of Jainism abstain from causing injury even to the tiniest creatures, and always strictly adhere to the command that one should not kill. There are hundreds of didactic ballads in the vast Jain literature which illustrate the predominance of this virtue over all others.
An example of one such ballad follows:
Ahimsa is like a loving mother of all beings,
Ahimsa is like a stream of nectar in the desert of samsara,
Ahimsa is a course of ram-clouds to the forest fire of suffering,
The best healing herb for the beings tormented by the disease
Called the perpetual return of existence is Ahimsa.
The king of hills may waver
And cold the fire may grow,
The rock may swim in the water,
And the moon send forth rays of heat
The sun may rise in the West
But in the killing of beings
Religion can never consist.
H. P. Blavatsky refers to Jainism as:
“A large religious body in India closely resembling Buddhism, but who preceded it by long centuries. They claim that Gautama, the Buddha, was a disciple of one of their Tirtankaras, or Saints. They deny the authority of the Vedas and the existence of any personal supreme god, but believe in the eternity of matter, the periodicity of the universe and the immortality of men’s minds (Manas) as also of that of the animals. An extremely mystic sect.”
Jainism centers around virtue and the application of the highest morals. Their literature is teeming with the most practical yet strict advice for the life a Jain ascetic ought to live. To follow the discipline extolled in one of their central texts, the Uttarâdhyayana Sûtra, is to follow the highest code of practical asceticism.
Ultimately, the Jain is after Wisdom; the path to that wisdom being the development and reliance upon one’s own self-control, which is aided by the taking of vows. The five chief Jaina vows are typically enumerated as follows:
- Ahimsa (Non-violence)
- Satya (Truthfulness)
- Asteya (Non-stealing)
- Brahmacharya (Celibacy)
- Aparigraha (Non-possession, Non-materialism)
Those drawn to the ascetic life will find much worth considering and practicing in the Jain tradition.
To aid in one’s exploration of Jainism we present our growing collection of works and articles: