The History of Jainism

Jainism Sculpture

A Sonagir Engraving

by Jayaram V

The Nigantha Nataputta, sir, who knows and sees all things, who claims perfect knowledge and faith (in the following terms) : 'walking and standing, sleeping or waking, I am always possessed of perfect knowledge and faith' teaches the annihilation by austerities of the old Karma, and the prevention by in activity of new Karma. When Karma ceases, misery ceases ; when misery ceases, perception ceases ; when perception ceases, every misery will come to an end. In this way a man is saved by pure annihilation of sin (niggara) which is really effective. - Anguttara Nikaya

'The true ascetic should possess twenty-seven qualities, for he must keep the five vows, never eat at night, protect all living things, control his five senses, renounce greed, practise forgiveness, possess high ideals, and inspect everything he uses to make sure that no insect life is injured. He must also be self-denying and carefully keep the three gupti, he must endure hardships in the twenty-two ways, and bear suffering till death.' - A Magadhi Sloka

The history of Jainism is steeped in antiquity. It is not clear when the tradition began. Mahavira was the last of the Tirthankaras in a lineage of 24 Thirthankaras, which suggests that the tradition originated long before the birth of Mahavira. Some Jain scholars believe that Jainism might be older than the Vedic religion and probably existed during the Indus period. Jainism originated as an ascetic tradition. Just like the seers of the Upanishads, the early saints of Jainism preferred to live in seclusion and away from the public glare. Hence our knowledge of them is limited to the fragments of the ancient history of India that is currently available to us. The following are few resources available at about the history and antiquity of Jainism. Jayaram V

Suggestions for Further Reading

Translate the Page