Few religions or systems of belief can coexist without enduring their fair share of criticism, whether fair or unfair, and Jainism is no different. The ancient Indian religion is still practiced by millions even today, with smaller non-Indian communities located within Canada, the United Kingdom, Europe, Kenya, Asia, and even the United States. If you’ve ever read about festivals called Paryushana, Daslakshana, Mahavir Jayanti, or Diwali, those are Jain events.
The word “Jain” itself comes from the Sanskrit word for “victor” and signifies a Jain’s ethical and spiritual journey through life and a continuous number of rebirths.
Most criticism of Jainism is levied intellectually and is based on whether or not the religion’s beliefs and practices remain consistent with those who teach them.
The Jain theory of Karma supposes that karma is a physical substance found everywhere and that the substance is attracted to a person’s soul dependent on the actions of the person. In other words, the more harmonious someone is with the civilization or natural world around them, the more karma he or she would attract. Critics often question the lack of oversight by a god. How can the fate of your soul be governed entirely by your own actions without any connection to a Supreme Being? Critics believe that at the very least, that which you receive for your good actions must be administered by a Supreme Being, and not by the supposedly tangible substance they call karma.
The ideas fuelling any religion thrive because they offer solutions, but critics of Jainism suggest that certain Jain doctrines promote hesitancy or uncertainty among followers, and therefore create new problems over solutions.
Other critics believe that the very idea of Jainism undoes itself because Jain epistemology can’t deny doctrines that contradict its own. Jainism posits a complex reality that cannot possibly be described or comprehended by a single doctrine, and therefore its own must not adequately articulate that which it must articulate in order to make universal sense. The Jain doctrine itself would prefer to reconcile rather than contradict or refute, but perhaps this is a reason for the religion’s popularity, to begin with.
Other Jain practices are more heavily criticized, and by a larger swath of the population where Jains thrive. Minors are often inducted into Jain monastic orders, Jains routinely fast to a purposeful death, and women seem to be capable of less authoritative positions than men. Some sects of Jainism believe that women must be reborn as men before they can achieve these higher positions or true liberation. Naturally, some people in the 21st century take issue with these practices–but really, they aren’t too dissimilar from the practices of religions all over the world, nor are they more radical.