Learn the Three Jewels!

by Jason Lucas

What is Jainism?

Similar to Buddhism, Jainism teaches a path to spiritual enlightenment and purity. This is achieved through disciplined practices and faith; especially ahimsa, the practice of nonviolence to all creatures. The "Three Jewels" constitute the the basis of Jainism. These are: Right knowledge, Right faith and Right conduct. These all must be practiced together because none can be learned or practiced without the other. Right faith leads to perfection in the religion only when performed with right conduct, but there can be none without right knowledge; the clear distinction between the self and nonself. In other words, if one practices correctly and commits to it, one can be a perfect Jain, but if one does not know what he or she is studying, or if they do not understand the difference between the body and the soul, they will not gain enlightenment.

The picture at right depicts the Jain symbol. It is also used in other Indian religions. The four blue dots represent the four states that a soul can live in. The three green dots represent the Three Jewels required to achieve enlightenment.


Jainism is thought to have begun in the the 7th-5th century BCE in the Ganges Basin of India, a major point of religious speculation at the time. Buddhism was also apparent in this area, which was an obvious inspiration for Jainism. Jains generally believe that there is no historical founder, but the first Jain figure of historical significance was Parshvanatha, or Parshva. He was the first true Jain, and the 23rd Jain Tirthankara. Lord Mahavira, the 24th or last great Tirthankara, who is known to have established the central tenets of Jainism. The Medieval era was the time when Jainism had the greatest spreading and flowering. There were three main Jain dynasties: the Gangas in Karantaka, who ruled from the 3rd to the 11th Century; the Rashtrakutas, who ruled north of the Gangas, had power from the 8th to the 12th Century; and the Hoysalas in Karantaka, who ruled from the 11th to the 14th Century. By the 19th Century, image-worshipping monks had practically died out. Monastic life experienced a revival under the rules of charismatic monks like Atmaramji, (1837-1896) and the number of image worshipping monks grew to approximately 1500. In modern times, the Jains have devoted much energy into the upkeep of both their culture, and India's welfare. They have helped with drought relief in Gujarat, and as part of their philosophy of nonviolence and vegetarianism, the Jains have built shelters for old animals that will be slaughtered.

Jain Literature and Texts

Jain writings started to really appear around 500 CE, about one thousand years after Lord Mahavira's death. Jains started to find it extremely difficult to practice his teachings from memory, so they put them on paper. Jain literature is classified into two categories: Agam literature (original scriptures in the Prakrit language complied by either the Gandharas or Srut-kevalis) and non-Agam literature (these consist of explanations of Agam literature and independent writings, in many languages such as English, Sanskrit, German, Prakrit, and Hindi, and were complied by anyone else). The Digambar sect of Jainism believe that there were 25 Agam-sutras complied by Lord Mahavira himself. They were gradually lost, so the Digambar used these new texts as a basis for their teachings. The following were written by great scholars from 100 to 800 CE and are based on the original Agam-sutras. The two main texts are the Satkhandagama and the Kasay-pahud. There are also four Anuyogas, like the Vedas in Hinduism: the Pratham-anuyoga (religious stories), the Charn-anuyoga (conduct), the Karan-anuyoga (description of the universe), and the Dravy-anuyoga (philosophy).

The picture at right depicts a teacher instructing children about the way of Jainism. He is only wearing a cloth, hence living the simple lifestyle of a Jain.

Did You Know...

  • Jainism is one of the three most ancient Indian religions still is existence today, after Buddhism, and Hinduism, respectively
  • The name Jainism comes from the Sanskrit verb "ji"- to conquer. This refers to the inner battle to release your passions and desires to achieve enlightenment

Works Cited

"Jainism." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online School Edition.
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2013. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.<http://school.eb.com/eb/article-59009>.

Jupiter Infomedia Ltd. "Lord Parshvanatha, Twenty-Third Tirthankara." Lord Parshvanatha, Twenty-Third Tirthankara. India Netzone, 27 June 2012. Web. 28 Apr. 2013. <http://www.indianetzone.com/31/parshvanatha_twentythird_tirthankara.htm>.

Shah, Pravin K. "Jain Agama Literature." Jain Agama Literature. Jain Study Center of NC, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013. <http://www.cs.colostate.edu/~malaiya/agamas.html>.