Jainism was essentially an atheistic religion where the concept of God was irrelevant. They, however, believed in the Tirthankaras who preached the religion. They did not deny the existence of God but placed them lower than Jina. God, according to them, was ‘only the highest, the noblest and the fullest manifestation of the powers which lie latent in the soul of man.’ The world was not created, maintained or destroyed by a personal deity but functions only according to universal law. They believed in the existence of the Soul or Jiva in every object, animate as well as inanimate. The Navatattva of Jainism meant there were nine substances : Jiva (conscious soul), Ajiva (unconscious soul), Punya (merit), Papa (demerit), Asrava (flow into jiva), Samvara (stoppage of flow into jiva), Bandha (bondage), Nirjara (destruction of effects of deeds) and Moksha (liberation).
The world consisted of two eternal, uncreated, co-existing but independent categories, such as the conscious (Jiva) and the unconscious (Ajiva). The conscious being or Jiva corresponds to what we call soul (Atma). It knows and feels. It acts and is acted upon. It suffers by its contact with matter and is born again and again, only to suffer. Its highest endeavour is to free itself from this bondage which is called nirvana or salvation. This can be attained by higher knowledge and meditation upon the great truth. Jiva could inhabit in a plant, an animal or in a human body. Jiva is supposed to vary in size and according to the body it lives in. The great pupose of life was purification of the soul, which can be attained by following the Three Jewels of Jainism as Right Faith, Right Knowledge and Right Action.
There is no God or creator. Man’s emancipation from suffering does not depend upon the mercy of the creator. Man is the architect of his own destiny. By living an austere life of purity and virtue, he can escape the ills of life. The best life is the life of renunciation. It was the shortest way to salvation. Mahavira generally recommended penance, extinction of desire, disciplined conduct and renunciation.
2. Karma :
The link between Jiva and Ajiva is Karma. Since the Jiva existed in physical or material form it got bound to action or Karma. The Atma was subjected to karma. It is the karma, which decided the future of Atma. If man did not do the right karma through his mind, speech and body then the unending cycle of rebirth would continue. The karma was the eternal law – bad or good karma would be followed by bad or good results. No amount of prayer or worship was to save the Atma from rebirth. Man was bound to suffer punishment for the sins committed. Hence, as per Jaina Triratna right conduct was the only way out.
The universe functions though interaction of living souls (Jiva) and five categories of non-living (Ajiva) entities as Akas (ether), Dharma(Religion), Adharma, Kala(time) and Pudgala (matter).
3. Nirvana :
Mahavira believed that rigorous punishment to the body would free the human soul from the painful cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Following the Three Jewels of Jainism, Right Faith, Right Knowledge and Right Action one can attain Moksha or liberation. According to Jaina conception, full salvation (Nirvana) was not attainable by lay followers. For attaining the supreme and ultimate state it was necessary that one must abandon all bonds, trammels and worldly things including clothes observing fasting and mortification, ascetic discipline and monastic life. Mahavira himself discarded all clothing though Parsva had permitted the use of three garments. When the soul has finally set itself free it rises above the highest heaven to the top of the universe where it remains in inactive omniscient bliss for eternity. This is Jaina Nirvana.
Jainism practised non-injury or Ahimsa to a point of absurdity. They would not drink water without straining it for the fear of killing insects and covered their mouth with muslin to save any floating life in the air. Jainism prohibited war and even agriculture as both involved killing of living beings. Eventually the Jainas confined themselves to trade and commerce. Acts of violence and killing, whether intentional or not were to be particularly avoided. The Jain monks usually carried feather dusters to brush ants and insects being trampled on the path.
Later Jainism was divided into two groups. The strict and orthodox followers of Mahavira under Bhadrabahu who retained the principle of nudity were called Digambaras (space-clad).Those who believed in Parsvanath and used white cloth under Sthulabhadra were known as Svetambaras(white-clad). It is said that towards the end of Chandragupta Maurya’s reign period Magadha was gripped by a famine lasting for 12 years. Some Jaina saints under the leadership of Bhadrabahu fled to south India and some others stayed back under the leadership of Stulabhadra. It is believed that Chandragupta Maurya himself joined Bhadrabahu’s march to south. Subsequently, there developed difference in opinion among these two groups and the more orthodox group that went to south under Bhadrabahu began to be called as Digambaras and the group that stayed back under Stulabhadra became Swetambaras. There never were any fundamental doctrinal differences between the two. Later most Digambar monks took to wearing robes in public but the division persists down to the present day.