c. 599 BCE – 527 BCE
Reformations of Jainism compared to Christianityby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Vardhamana Mahavira is known as the reformer and organizer of Jainism. He was the 24th, and last, Tirthankar. In the Jain belief, there have been 24 Tirthankars in this cycle of time. A Tirthankar is someone who has achieved complete enlightenment. Vardhamana was born in the kingdom of Kundalpura in India. His father, Siddharta, was the Raja of Kundalpur and his mother was the Queen Trishala.
As a young boy, Vardhamana was said to have been very smart and cunning. This little prince, even as a boy, was interested in the Jain belief. He started meditation and yearned to be self-less.
Around the age of 30, he started a life of asceticism and meditation. Mahavira left all his wealth and lived in the wilderness. There, he wondered for twelve years, searching for knowledge and for a solution to all the world's miseries through deep meditation. He gave up all his possessions, including his clothes, to try and achieve enlightenment. Vardhamana continued to fast and meditate until he finally became a Tirthankar. He found enlightenment and became a Kevalin or "completed soul."
The rest of his life, he was dedicated to teaching his newly revealed philosophies to the people in India. His Jainism philosophy spread across the country, helping the high and low classes. Jainism consists of five core values, very similar to the five Pillars of Islam and the 8 Precepts of Buddhism: no violence, no stealing, no lying, chastity, and no earthly possessions.
Vardhamana lived an exemplary life that followed his teachings. He was a peaceful man who cared for and never intentionally harmed animals, including insects. Mahavira emphasized the importance of loving all the creatures around us, having compassion on them because of their tremendous value (their soul). He also stated that man and woman are equal.
Mahavira, although he was the most famous Tirthankar, was not the founder of Jainism. In the Jain belief there have been twenty-four people who have attained enlightenment; Vardhamana was the last. To have reached complete enlightenment means to be in complete control of all ones thoughts and desires and to have found a deep and rational knowledge of life.
Vardhamana also taught that man should live a good life, nevertheless realizing that each of our actions has an immediate consequence. This teaching is very unique about Jainism. He also encouraged the Indians to live with a positive attitude and stressed the value of our lives.
The common belief in Jainism is that the world goes in cycles and the only way to get out of the never-ending cycle of our world's misery is to achieve enlightenment and become part of "nirvana." This state of nirvana means that an all-knowing soul, a Siddha, becomes part of nature and part of the flow of life, having no physical body. Before becoming a Siddha, man must first become a Moksha, or a liberated soul, that has perfect knowledge. Jains state that the world has no beginning (nor a creator) and that it will not have an end. The world goes in an endless cycle from the farthest point of bliss to an extreme point of unhappiness.
Vardhamana is sometimes considered as the founder of Jainism, yet he followed the teachings of the twenty-three previous Tirthankars. Mahavira merely adapted the Jain belief to the traditions and culture of Indian people in the 6th century BCE and then spread its philosophy throughout the countryside.
Mahavira's teachings of Jainism greatly influenced Hinduism and Buddhism. The reason many Hindus are vegetarian is due to the Jain influence. The five core Jain values were probably common principles in India and in Asia because they show up in the Muslim, Buddhist, and even in the Christian beliefs.
Jainism has many similar ideas with the core of Christianity. Jesus taught his followers that they should love God and love their neighbors. He challenged man to live a life of love and compassion; caring for others. Leviticus 19 lists rules on how man should and should not act towards one another: do not deceive your neighbor; do not steal; do not lie. All of these values are shared by both Jains and by Christians. Mahavira taught that people should care for one another because each individual is valuable.
The core Jain value that states that no one should steal or take anything that was not properly given to them is a common moral that exists in most beliefs and religions. It is a principle rule in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity. In Exodus 20, God instructed his people in the Ten Commandments not to steal.
The command against lying is also a repeated moral throughout different cultures. In Matthew 5:36, the Bible states that we speak the truth. Honesty is a value reiterated throughout the whole Bible along with the works of Vardhamana. This tirthankar encouraged the Indians to speak the truth unless it caused harm to something or someone.
Another similarity in lifestyle is the idea of denying our human nature. Vardhamana spoke strongly against dwelling on our earthly belongings and desires. He took this idea so far out that he lived nude most of his life. He believed that those natural desires led to further suffering. Jesus spoke to his disciple about denying oneself. He told the rich man to give all that he had to the poor and to follow Him. Jesus also taught people to resist their natural inclinations of self-centeredness and thing about others; no longer focusing on their possessions, but rather on others.
Another Jain value that is shared by Christians is the respect and care for animals and for the earth. In Genesis 2, God ordered man to be the keeper of the earth and its creatures. In principle, Christians care for God’s creation. A difference, however, is that Jains refrain from eating any animal and hesitate to eat certain vegetables. Most Jains are vegetarian and some do not even eat root vegetables, like potatoes, because they are afraid of harming the plants around them. Christians, on the other hand, eat meat. In the Old Testament, God had animals sacrificed on many occasions. This is just one difference in beliefs.
Another dissimilarity is the philosophy of life and suffering. Mahavira
taught that meditation for a deeper knowledge and understanding was needed
in order to end one’s cycle of eternal suffering. In other words,
the purpose of our lives is to be liberated from suffering by becoming
a Saddha. A common Christian belief of life is that they should live happy
lives that gratify God. They accept suffering as a part of life and of
human nature. Christians try to live out life at its best and enjoying
the time they have on this earth and in this body.
A huge difference is the view of God. Christians believe in a god who created all things. They not only believe in His existence, but also strive to develop a strong relationship with Him. This entails a personal relationship and interaction with God. Jains believe there is no god or a creator. They believe in an eternal universe that is controlled by natural laws. They view and admire the characteristics that make up an enlightened soul, such as knowledge, perception, and consciousness.
The greatest distinction between Jainism and Christianity is in who saves
man from suffering. In Jainism, man has the ability to save himself. If
someone dedicates their life to knowledge and meditation, they will eventually
achieve complete enlightenment. In contrast, in Christianity, man depends
on God to be saved from suffering and from an eternity away from God’s
love. The Bible teaches that there is only one way to heaven and to the
full presence of God, and that is through Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Through Him, not ourselves, can we be saved. Through His sacrifice man
is able to enter the new covenant that God has planned for man. This distinction
makes all the difference.
Image available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/jainism/images/mahavira.jpg