Jainism was founded by Mahavira in the 6th century B.C.E Mahavira was a son of a minor ruler in india.
While pregnant with him, his mother is said to have had a series of 14 dreams which were portents to Mahavira’s virtues. After his birth his family prospered. When grown, Mahavira married and his wife had a daughter. In spite of his family’s good fortune, Mahavira was not happy. After the death of his parents (at the age of 30) he left his family and turned his back on a life of luxury. He joined a group of ascetics.
He did not find what he was looking for with the ascetics and went off on his own to develop a more extreme asceticism. During this time he had the following experiences:
- He swept the path where he walked and strained the water he drank. One should not injure any form of life (ahimsa).
- He decided the path to enlightenment should also be through torment. He went naked and sought the coldest spots in winter and the hottest in summer.
- He begged for his food.
- He did not resist when beaten or attached.
- He never stayed more than one night in the same place.
- He became indifferent to all things.
During the thirteenth year of these practices, he achieved release (moksha) and attained Nirvana.
During this thirteen year period, Mahavira moved from being a solitary ascetic to a leader and teacher of monks. He preached that the world was made of tow substances, soul and matter. He believed that the cause of all misery is the connection of the contaminated material body to the pure eternal spirit. He believed the goal for all is to liberate the soul from matter and that the law of karma and reincarnation are closely linked to the drama of the flesh and spirit.
Mahavira believed that the salvation of the soul was each individual’s responsibility and could not be achieved through outside forces. To Mahavira, the Gods were of little consequence because they are living in a different plane and were not concerned with mankind’s reality. Therefore, he did not feel that there should be any worship or prayer. While Mahavira did not believe in prayer or worship, his followers worship and pray to him because it is believed that he was sinless, omniscient and incarnate as the last of the 24 Tirthankaras (saviours of men).
By 80 C.E., Jains were divided into two distinct sects. They were the Svetambara (white-clad) and the Digambara (sky-clad).
The Svetambara are mainly concentrated in Northern India and are more liberal in the interpretations of Mahavira with regard to nudity (they allow their monks to wear white garments). Women are also allowed in their religion and monasteries accept the possibility that they may find salvation.
The Digambara Jains are mainly in Southern India. They adhere to the old ideals and require their monks to go about naked. They also disagree with the Svetambara Jains on certain aspects of Mahavira’s life. The Digambara believe that women have no chance of salvation until they are reborn as men. Therefore, women are prohibited from entering monasteries and temples.
Jains are forbidden from entering all occupations that profit from taking life; which has resulted in most Jains working in commercial or “white collar” fields.