Jainism – Brief Overview

In the midst of the great religions of India, Jainism appears to hide in the background of the other spiritual giants. The focuses of Jainism’s teachings appear to revolve around the sacredness of life and asceticism, while also holding onto a reshaped version of the Brahmanic teachings on reincarnation and karma (McKay et al., 2015, p. 74).

Karma is summarized well as the “cosmic scorecard”, which determines “the quality of life” (“BBC – Religions – Jainism: Karma,” 2009. p. 1). BBC explains the Jainism’s view on karma is more detailed and physical than the views held by other religions from the East that hold to it. “Jains believe that karma is a physical substance that is everywhere in the universe” and that “Karma particles are attracted to the jiva (soul) by the actions of that jiva” (“BBC – Religions – Jainism: Karma,” 2009. p. 7). Karma particles are attached to the body through immoral actions and the only way to have those particles removed are by living according to the Jain Code. A History of World Societies’ explains regarding the role of karma particles, “If a soul at last escape from all the matter weighing it down, it becomes lighter than ordinary objects and floats to the top of the universe, where it remains forever in bliss” (McKay et al., 2015, p. 74). Because of this karma theory and the topic of rebirth, everything has a soul “even a rock has a soul locked inside it, enchained by matter but capable of suffering if someone kicks it” (McKay et al., 2015, p. 74).

Karma, ultimately, is a means to explain good and evil without the existence of gods or a God. Interestingly enough, Karma only seems to explain the consequences of good and evil, but fails to define good and evil. In some sense, Karma is a run around when examining good and evil, at least in Jainism, as what is “good” is only found in the Jainism Code. Marhavira, who can be traced as the beginning of Jainism, in sacred texts stated made it clear that his followers should avoid attributing anything to gods for a god is not necessary (Mueller, 1879-1910. p. 22:152). Furthermore, Marhavira also taught subjectivism meaning that each individual needs to define and seek truth out for him or herself.

Jainism goes beyond pacifism in that the Jain code teaches in the realm of non-violence that, “Jains must do their best to avoid any intentional hurt to living things. In daily life harm can be minimized by filtering drinking water, not eating at night, and so on” (“BBC – Religions – Jainism: The lay Jain code,” 2009. p. 6). Though, according to this code violence is permissible under the circumstance of self-defense. Another manner of ridding yourself of karma to achieve perfection is the act of willful suffering (McKay et al., 2015, p. 74). In this code we see the teaching that all life is sacred, that Jains should avoid evil thoughts and actions, the practice of asceticism and vegetarianism. Again, though, we encounter difficulty in defining what is considered good and evil here.

Jainism is one of the least popular religions coming from India, but I hope to expand on others such as Buddhism and Hinduism.


BBC – Religions – Jainism: Karma. (2009). Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/jainism/beliefs/karma.shtml

BBC – Religions – Jainism: The lay Jain code. (2009). Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/jainism/living/layjaincode.shtml

McKay, J. P., Hill, B. D., Buckler, J., Ebrey, P. B., Beck, R. B., Crowston, C. H., … Dávila, J. (2015). A history of world societies (10th ed.). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Mueller, F.M. (1879-1910) Sacred Books of the East, vol. 22. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ward, W. D., & Gainty, D. (2012). Sources of world societies: Vol. 1. to 1600. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.


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