Jain Statues, Sculptures, and Symbols

Each religion has its symbols. Each of those symbols has inherent meaning when paired with religious history or practice. These represent a form of sub-culture within society. Jainism is no different in this manner. It is one of the oldest religions on the planet, and there are many statues, sculptures, and symbols that Jain believers find very important. These are a few of the most noteworthy creations.

Sculptures of the twenty-four Tirthankaras can be found dotted around India. Jains typically worship four of these god-like entities above all the rest (although it should be remembered that they do not promote a Supreme Being like other religions). Three of these stand out more often: Parshvanath, Rishabhanatha, and Mahavira. They are most often in the sitting position. 

These idols are generally sculpted in similar or same fashion, but can be identified by a specific symbol unique to each. Perhaps most noteworthy is Parshvanath, because the head is literally crowned with a snake!

Those who venture to Shravanabelagola, Karnataka will find a massive 59-foot-tall statue of Bahubali, which was erected by Chavundaraya, who was a Ganga minister and commander. It was built all the way back in 981 CE. 

A customary means of fashioning these sculptures and statues is known as “Ashtadhatu,” which means “eight metals.” These were bronze, brass, gold, silver, stone monolith, rock, and various other “precious stones.”

Those familiar with the history of the Nazi swastika will know that the radical group actually borrowed the symbol from other groups. One look at the Jain flag will turn some stomachs, but it’s important to recognize that the swastika is not inherently a symbol of hate — and truly, Jainism is one of the most resolutely pacifist religions in existence. 

The colors of the Jain flag are orange, yellow, white, green, and black. These represent the five vows that nearly all Jains take: ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, and aparigraha.

Does Jainism Conflict With Secular Law?

Secular law is defined in relatively simple, yet abstract, terms. Secular law governs the methods through which conflicts between particular groups of people — especially those with radically different religious beliefs, or those between religious and non-religious people — are solved. It seems a strange question, then, to ask whether or not a particular religion by itself conflicts with a concept meant to resolve, well, conflict.

But that’s the question we’ve asked, and so we’ll do our best to unpack the meaning behind it.

Several years ago, an Indian filmmaker named Shekhar Hattangadi made a movie exploring the reasons and ethical quandaries behind Jains who end their lives by purposefully abstaining from food and water over an elongated period of time. While this type of Jain end-of-life journey is somewhat uncommon in the modern world, it still happens from time to time. 

Hattangadi said the film is “about how a faith-based society deals with traditional practices that conflict with secular law.”

In essence, there are many moral questions that surround the practice of starving oneself to death in the name of religion. The act is generally taken when one decides he or she has done all that he or she is meant to do in life — that the journey is over, and it’s time to move on to the next phase of Dharma, or the journey to ultimate enlightenment through reincarnation. Critics of the practice believe that the practice is merely a manner by which the younger generation ensures its elders don’t become a burden on society when they can no longer produce or care for themselves.

One lawyer in the film asks, “Why is it that only those who are near death and terminally ill choose santhara?”

There is no easy answer to that question. But most Jains themselves believe that this end-of-life right of passage is more about spiritual purification.

Assistant Professor Ellen Gough in the Department of Religion is a Jain expert who explains that “Very early doctrine describes santhara as an ideal death. The monk who is tired of his body should lie down and gradually limit food to destroy karma so he doesn’t reincarnate.”

Keep in mind that Jains do not believe in suicide. All worth noting is that the Rajhastani High Court made a 2015 ruling describing some instances of santhara as suicide. The ruling suggested the state end the practice entirely, and treat these cases as criminal. 

Hattangati said, “The Supreme Court will distinguish between a legitimate religious practice and a custom that persecutes the elderly.”

One can see now why the question or whether or not Jain lifestyles conflict with Secular law is often asked. The state says one thing, while Jain practice sometimes orders another. 

Arguably, someone affected by this practice through the death of a loved one could file a lawsuit for wrongful death — especially if someone was persuaded into fasting to death by other family members or those within the Jain community. More info here. Most Jains, however, believe that self-defense from physical attack is unjustified. Defending oneself (or attacking others) through legal means might simply be a slippery slope to others.

What Do Jain Meditation And Ritualistic Worship Mean?

Much of the Jain daily grind involves prayer and meditation in order to fit into the vast paradigm of nature. They adopt rules to prevent them from doing harm to other natural creations, no matter how small. Each action a Jain takes showcases the utter devotion to this cause — from the foods they eat, to the jobs they avoid. What does meditation mean for a Jain? What rituals are involved in Jain worship?

First, meditation is generally considered mandatory to a Jain, much like five daily prayers are considered mandatory to those of Islamic faith. Jains don’t meditate in order to gain insight, self-realization, or anything else that might be easily attributed to “similar” Indian religions like Buddhism or Hinduism. Instead, Jains meditate to prevent karmic attachment that might prevent them from end-of-life liberation. 

Padmanabh Jaini said these periods of meditation were usually brief, and the goal is equanimity. The ritual generally occurs three times daily by those who follow the practice (not all do). Many choose to perform this action inside a Jain temple instead of home. They might also include volunteer or charity work as part of the routine. 

Jains worship a number of deities, but they don’t believe in a Supreme Being above all the rest. In fact, they might not be considered deities at all, depending on who you ask. Most of those worshipped are Tirthankaras present in the Jain texts, or those who achieved spiritual liberation at the end of their lives here on Earth. 

One strange ritual (that the Indian Supreme Court has ruled criminal) is the practice of slowly starving oneself with the intention of eventually dying. Called sallekhana, it is not often performed anymore. 

Another ritual involves mantras, one of which is the “five homage.” This mantra (or prayer) has been performed since the beginning of the Jain faith. Notably, it is the oldest in the world!

Are Jains Medically Allowed Vaccination?

We say it over and over: The core tenet of Jainism is pacifism. The belief system is all about living in harmony with every living being on the planet and doing as little harm to other life as possible, from the smallest microorganism to the biggest. And Jain “law” has plenty to say on modern healthcare, most of which is perfectly okay. On occasion, a Jain follower might have to rely on his or her own judgement, or ask for advice from a Jain leader. 

But what do these beliefs say about vaccinating — especially against coronavirus, which has already led to the deaths of over two million people (and counting). One might be justified in thinking that because vaccinating against a deadly disease helps prevent the deaths of other people. But others might also be justified in thinking that a “virus” could also constitute life in one form or another, and that immunizing against such a form of life could lead to its destruction.

Which is right, and which is wrong?

First things first: The vast majority of scientists and biologists do not classify viruses as living entities. That means that the belief that vaccination could lead to the eradication of a particular virus probably doesn’t make a difference in Jainism. You can’t hurt them or live in harmony with them if they aren’t even alive!

However, not everyone agrees with the sentiment that viruses are not alive. They put themselves together from organic matter, which Jains try to spare. Jains still allow certain forms of cooking, soap, and antibiotics even though these activities kill millions of microorganisms. They are allowed because at the end of the day, human survival is important too.

That’s why Jains don’t ban vaccination even though they follow a path of lifelong non-violence. Those Jains who feel like the choice to vaccinate is a difficult one should seek council from their religious leaders.

Everything You Should Know About Jain Pilgrimages

Pilgrimages in the Jain style might refer to actual physical journeys or they might refer to a more spiritual journey. There are many such pilgrimages. A “Tirtha” comes from the Sanskrit word for ford, and refers to both aspects of journey. The purpose of this type of pilgrimage is inspiration, especially when considering the reincarnation of one’s soul. Tirtha sites are located mostly throughout India. They include places like Ashtapada Hill, Girnar, Champapuri, Kundalpur, Aharji, Rajgir, etc. The list goes on.

One of the most important points to visit on a Jain Tirtha is Parasnath Hill, the highest mountain in Jharkhand. According to Jain texts, this is the site where nearly all of the 24 Tirthankaras (saviors) attained Moksha (the salvation of one’s soul). There are two routes, the shorter of which takes about 12 hours. The longest is about 44 kilometers!

There is a group of temples atop Mount Girnar, which is another important pilgrimage destination. Of all the Jain sects, this location is most meaningful to those belonging to Digambara and Svetambara (which are the two main sects). Jain texts teach that the 22nd Tirthankara devoted his life to asceticism when animals were slaughtered for his wedding. He then traveled to Mount Girnar, where he attained Moksha at his death. Coincidentally, his bride also became a nun.

Temples atop Mount Girnar include those at Neminath, Adabadji Adinatha, Panchmeru, Meraka-vasahi, Sangram Soni, Kumarapala, Mansingha Bhojaraja, Vastupala-vhiara, and Samprati Raja.

A group of Svetambara temples called the Dilwara Temples are near the Mount Abu settlement, and mark another pilgrim’s point of interest. Those traveling to this group of temples will be able to pray at sites that date between the eleventh and sixteenth centuries. These include the Vimal Vasahi Temple, and others at Luna Vasahi, Pittalhar, Shri Parshvanath, Shri Mahaveer Swami, and Jirnoddhar.

There are many other points to which a pilgrim might travel located throughout India.

Are There Jain Temples And Resources Located In Florida?

Jainism is practiced almost everywhere in the world — even though few people know that such a resolutely pacifist religious even exists. Those who live in or are traveling to the southern United States can relax knowing that there are many avenues through which to study the religion. Many temples and resources are located in Florida. These places of worship see a lot of traffic, though, and proceed with caution while the pandemic rages.

The Jain Society of Central Florida is presided over by Denish P. Vardhan and headquartered at 407 W. Citrus Street in Altamonte Springs. The Federation of Jain Associations in North America heads 72 smaller Jain Centers with around 150,000 members scattered about the United States and Canada. One can research this organization using the acronym JAINA.

The JAINA mission is “to preserve, practice, and promote Jain Dharma and Jain Way of Life. With the blessings of Acharya Sushil Kumarji and Gurudev Chitrabhanuji, JAINA was founded in 1981 and formalized in 1983.”

Notably, JAINA is the biggest umbrella conducting such activities outside of mainland India. A number of committees help determine the order of operations. It also represents Jains from all around the world.

What does JAINA actually do? There are many services provided. These include activities related to education, humanitarian, publication, production, community outreach, administrative, religion, government, public relations, youth, and environment. The Jain faith is especially concerned with protecting the global environment, as it practices awareness of Ahimsa. Jains typically follow a plant-based diet to do as little harm as possible — even to microorganisms we cannot see.

JAINA also organizes a Biennial Convention in order to help the Jain community foster new relationships and increase networking. “Biennial” means once every two years.

The magazine “Jain Digest” can also be obtained through JAINA — and we urge believers to look into this if they cannot visit a temple. Articles are devoted to teaching readers the importance of spiritual growth while fostering important values and principles related to the Jain faith.

There are Jain Centers located in Fort Myers, Miami (JCSF), Northeast (JANEF), Orlando (JSOCF), Palm Beach, Panama City Beach, and Tampa Bay (JSTB). Those traveling to other Southeast states can find centers in Atlanta and Augusta, GA; Southern Louisiana and Northwest Louisiana; Charlotte (JCGC) and Raleigh (JSCNC) in North Carolina; and Memphis and Middle (JSMT) in Tennessee.

There are a number of affiliates that support Jaina, including the Jaina India Foundation (JIF), the International School for Jain Studies (ISJS), the International Alumni Association of Shri Mahavir Jain Vidyalaya (IAAMJV), and Siddhachalam. 

Parents who wish to introduce children to Jainism can join or support the Young Jains of America, whose members are usually aged fourteen to twenty-nine. Another group, the Young Jains Professionals, works to foster comprehension of relevant Jain principles while teaching Jain history. Both groups work to increase networking between Jains.

The Jain Society of Central Florida has conducted many Zoom chats in order to employ social distancing during this trying time:

How Jains Perceive Modern Law

Jainism is one of the world’s most complex — and peaceful — religions. While your average American might never have heard of it, Jainism is practiced in nearly every major country in the world. This includes the United States. Because most people don’t understand the religion’s nuances (they don’t worship a deity, for example), Jain law might be something of an enigma. But they have long-standing perceptions of how to approach law. Here are a few things you might find interesting about Jains and modern law.

Many religions — Christianity included — were popularized during a time when wealth inequality was very high (and notably comparable with today’s). That means they acquired new followers by preaching the benefits of poverty, which wasn’t something to be shunned or stigmatized. Rather, it was to be celebrated. Material wealth was the thing to be shunned! That might sound strange considering how many of us seek to add to our material collections even while we preach Christianity to those around us. 

Jainism grew to become popular for the same reasons. But unlike most followers of most big religions around the world, Jain followers still hold to those beliefs even today. The concept of bankruptcy, for example, would sound strange to a Jain both a thousand years ago and today, because Jains basically practice bankruptcy as part of their core beliefs.

Jains believe in five types of marriage, which differ somewhat from Hindu marriages. Although most Jains will possess very little wealth, property, or other assets, the assets they do have will pass to the widow if a man dies with or without a son. Passing the wealth to the wife is one of the cultural traditions that deviates from most of the world’s other major religions (and common practice even when religion isn’t a factor). 

Jain couples are allowed to adopt when they cannot have children. The rights of succession hold true even when the children are not biological. When a Jain couple has two twin sons, the one who is born first will ultimately be considered the eldest son by Jain law.

One of the strangest Jain practices revolves around death: Sallekhana. This is the practice of fasting oneself to death. This process does not occur all at once, but gradually over time. The Jain will slowly reduce food consumption and drink less water. This is considered a spiritual process in order to increase good karma and reduce passion in the human world. 

Interestingly, Jain law does not treat this form of killing oneself as a legal suicide. The reasons why are semantic at best: the killing of oneself in this way does not occur through an act of passion, and the subject does not use poison or other tools. 

When we say the process is slow, we mean it! This act of fasting until death can take years.

Modern humanitarian groups have placed a stigma on this practice. Perhaps this is why Sallekhana is rarely adopted in the modern era. 

Terrorism Continues Unabated Despite COVID-19 Restrictions

One might think that even terrorist organizations would take heed of COVID-19 preventative measures to ensure they live to fight another day — but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, terrorism continues to plague countries like India. Indian Permanent Representative to the U.N. T.S. Tirumurti believes that India is home to nearly every religion in the world and that many pacifist religious communities (such as those who believe in Jainism) are among them.

Tirumurti said, “We now have countries taking advantage of the ongoing pandemic and spreading divisive hatred to other parts of the world on the basis of religion. COVID has not prevented them from supporting cross-border terrorism to kill innocent people and spread religious hatred.”

He acknowledged that anti-semitism was a large part of the problem in other countries, but not India. He explained: “I also come from a country which does not have any trace of anti-semitism.”

He was referring to India’s large Jewish community, which has thrived inside the country’s borders since before the birth of Jesus Christ.

Jain followers believe in peace more than anything else, and strive to live in harmony with all creatures big and small. They are notorious for this peace, and very few followers in Jainism ever turn to more radical beliefs — especially those that condone violence and terrorism.

Speaking of active terrorists around the world, Tirumurti said, “We ask them to look inwards to promote harmony within their own societies, stop sectarian violence and ensure the protection of minorities. We believe it is important for the United Nations to speak decisively and not take sides with one group of religions vis-a-vis the others or justify terrorism in any way.”

Are you interested in joining the fight against terrorism? The first step begins at home! Put out your hand for members of other communities and educate yourself and others on the various differences that make us unique — because we are stronger when we embrace those differences and the ones who hold them.

Does Jainism Provide Insight About Medical Treatments?

Jainism is one of the world’s most enigmatic and misunderstood religions, which isn’t so surprising. Although the religion is popular in much of the eastern world, the west knows virtually nothing about it. Jains have strong beliefs regarding a person’s journey through life and death, and these beliefs help guide and advise followers on how to best make difficult decisions. So what do Jains believe regarding best practices surrounding medical treatments?

First and foremost, Jains believe that all forms of life are important — but that human life is of paramount importance. This provides some guidance on the most controversial types of medical treatment, but Jains have the opportunity to interpret some texts in their own way. This allows them to make decisions that are best suited to them individually.

The belief that life is so important means that medical procedures like abortion are unacceptale. More controversial is the fact that Jains are urged to protect the baby’s life even when the mother’s is in danger. Although the practice of aborting a pregnancy when the mother’s life might otherwise be lost is frowned upon, it is accepted in some circumstances so long as the mother continues to repent. In addition, contraceptive action is frowned upon in most Jain circles.

When the situation is dire — such as when traumatic brain injury makes lifelong debilitation or mental impairment more likely — then the individual in question may decide what actions should be taken under which circumstances. These actions are dependent on the advice of Jain spiritual leaders, though, and should not be taken lightly. It should be noted that assisted suicide is unacceptable.

Strangely, autopsy is acceptable in Jain culture. Other procedures before or after death, such as blood transfusion and organ transplantation, are acceptable and done only in accordance with an individual’s wishes. Certain medical procedures are not performed on many Jain patients because of how they are derived from animal products. Remember, Jain’s hold all life sacred — down to the smallest microbe. Even some foods are banned due to the high likelihood that microscopic life will be damaged. 

Because of this same belief in protecting all life, Jain’s will accept care or end-of-life caregiving only when it does not cause harm. Jain medical providers should always understand these beliefs, and try to administer medicine in accordance with them. 

When a Jain follower reaches the end of his or her life, it is perfectly normal to expect a great deal of visitation by friends, family members, and other pillars of the community such as religious leaders. Community is an important part of Jain philosophy, and Jains do their best to provide comfort to those who are about to take the next step of their journey from life into death. 

Many daily rituals performed by Jain followers occur due to these beliefs. The Jains do not pray to one god in particular — instead, they worship life in all its forms.

Possible Jain Artifact Discovered In Tiruvallur

A rock sculpture depicting the Jain successor of the 23rd Tirthankara — known as Mahavira or Vardhamana — was recently discovered in the Tiruvallur district of India during an excavation of a temple located near Puliyur village. Based on the physical characteristics of the statue, scholars have placed it in or around the 11th century AD, but more work must be done to make these initial speculations more conclusive. Most notably, Mahavira was sitting.

Scholars also believe the statue was lost because of shifting philosophies surrounding the concept of Jainism.

The temple is known as Bajanai Koil by locals. Scholar Sridhar Appandairaj and Jain Priest K Jeevakumar made the pilgrimage to analyze the potential finding for themselves. According to locals, the statue was assumed to characterize Buddha. Sridhar said, “A senior citizen in the village would perform puja on the sculpture until two years ago. He told the villagers it was the idol of Buddha and they still believe so. The priest is no more today. We told the villagers that it’s the sculpture of Mahavira, not Buddha.”

He added, “The stylistic pattern shows it was sculpted during the later period of Jainism, say after the 10th century AD. Many ancient sculptures of Jain Tirthankaras have been found abandoned in Tamil Nadu. We have constructed shelters for those sculptures in many places. After we talked, Puliyur villagers have said they will protect it.”

The finding proves a point long argued by Indian scholars: while the country is home to over a billion people, many live in remote areas where poverty is more transparent than efforts to industrialize or modernize. That helps preserve artifacts thought unimportant before they can be discovered by scientists. 

Jeevakumar said, “The image is placed on a pedestal, a reason why it remains intact. But the features on the face have been lost due to lack of care. We have district administration and we hope that they will take immediate action to preserve the sculpture.”