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We have begun to describe Eastern religions which include Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism. These three religions all originate from the country of India and share much historical background. In this chapter we will review the remaining two religions in the Eastern section: Jainism and Sikhism.
Nataputta Vardhamana (or the title given to him, Mahavira = hero/great man) 599-527 BC. Lived in a palace with his father who was a Hindu raja in the Kshatriyas caste (second to Brahmans). After his father and mother died he gave his goods to the poor, joined Hindu monks and made the following vows:
- No maintenance of the physical body.
- Suffer quietly all calamities visited upon him by man or divine power.
Apparently, he left the monks after only a month and decided to reach moksha (merge with Brahma) using two main ideas:
- An individual can reach moksha more quickly by practicing severe asceticism.
- In order to maintain purity and avoid bad karma (evil influence that retards the soul's journey to moksha) one must not injure any living thing (ahimsa).
He pursued these two ideas tenaciously. For example, he would not spend more than one night in a small village and no more than five in a large village in order that he might not become attached to anyone or anything. This is one way that he rejected the basics of human comfort and denied his flesh. He also practiced extreme care in not killing any living thing. In the pursuit of this it was said that he strained his water before drinking it, swept the pathway before walking onto it, ate only left-overs or things killed by someone else, he allowed insects to crawl on him without disturbing them, did not bathe, wore no clothing, spoke to no one and meditated at all times. He eventually claimed to have reached moksha (or nirvana) in the 13th year of this extreme practice of his religious quest and, unlike others before him, continued to live on after he attained this state. This was a departure from the normal course of someone who would reach the state of moksha only at death.
After reaching moksha (freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth as a result of negative karma and the continual effort in life necessary to ultimately reach this state) he gathered and organized disciples. Mahavira died from self-starvation, willfully cutting himself free from this world to enjoy moksha (which is the non-participation of this world). His movement grew largely as a reaction against the Brahman caste.
The religion/movement was called Jainism because:
- The word "Jain" refers to those who conquer the flesh, which is what the founder is said to have done.
- Jain is the deified personification of the founder.
- He was added to the many other Hindu deities.
Two main branches of the religion:
- White clad: wear one white garment.
- Sky clad: naked, like the founder.
Devotees mainly follow individual teachers.
Jainism rejects the concept of a supreme being (Brahma). Man is the highest form of life. All things both living and inanimate are eternal.
Man is part of the physical world which is eternal (it has always been there, no creator). Woman is man's greatest temptation and cannot reach moksha until she is reincarnated as a man. Man's purpose is to withdraw himself from the physical world and reach moksha.
The moksha/nirvana for Jainism is different than that of Hinduism in that the individual is conscious of his bliss and detachment, whereas in Hinduism the ultimate state is total oblivion. This dramatic difference was this new religion's appeal to Hindus.
To become a Jain the initiate chooses one of two sets of vows:
- A Monk's Vow:
- Renounces injuring/killing any living thing.
- Renounces uncontrolled speech.
- Renounces possessions and receives only what is given (lives as a beggar).
- Renounces sex.
- Renounces personal attachments such as family or friends.
- Regular Followers:
- Vow not to kill.
- Vow not to lie.
- Vow not to steal.
- Vow not to be impure.
- Vow not to be greedy.
- Vow not to travel.
- Vow to limit the use of things.
- Vow to reject immorality.
- Vow to meditate.
- Vow to practice regular self-denial.
- Vow to spend one day as a monk on a regular basis.
- Vow to give alms to monks.
Jains reject knowledge as transient and ineffective as a way to reach moksha, practicing only self-denial as the true pathway toward that goal.
No services, worship or prayers. A memorial service is conducted to honor Mahavira. The "mathura" or memorial mound is the oldest building in India. There is a Jain temple in Calcutta (now known as Kolkata).
Writings by different leaders include the vows and comments on them. There have been many disputes over the authenticity of these by followers. Two principal works:
- Agamas: Precepts
- Prakrit: Special vernacular used to write Agamas. Many do not know this language so the writings are not available to most Jains. The commentaries about the Agamas are written in Sanskrit:
1,2,2,1: A wise man should remove any aversion (to control); he will be liberated in the proper time. Some, following wrong instruction, turn away (from control). They are dull, wrapped in delusion. While they imitate the life of monks, (saying), "We shall be free from attachment," they enjoy the pleasures that offer themselves. Through wrong instruction (would-be) sages trouble themselves (for pleasures); thus they sink deeper and deeper in delusion, (and cannot get) to this, nor to the opposite shore. Those who are freed (from attachment to the world and its pleasures), reach the opposite shore. Subduing desire by desirelessness, he does not enjoy the pleasures that offer themselves. Desireless, giving up the world, and ceasing to act, he knows, and sees, and has no wishes because of his discernment; he is called houseless.
- The Ayaranya Sutra
Since Mahavira was from a high caste, many of his followers were also from the higher classes which meant they were city dwellers, merchants, leaders and bankers who controlled the commerce in the south.
There are approximately three million adherents in the Mumbai (formerly Bombay) area. Jainism is a very exclusive, closed and non-evangelistic religion.
Sikhism began as an attempt to harmonize Islam and Hinduism (the monotheism of Islam with the concept of karma within Hinduism). The term Sikh means disciple.
Nanak (1469-1558 AD).
Nanak was a Hindu of the Kshatriyas caste born near what is today Pakistan (northwest India). He was influenced by an earlier writer called Kabir who wrote about the Muslim and Hindu religions. Nanak lived in a place where Hindu and Muslim peoples were settled side by side and this influenced his thinking. He is said to have had a vision from God declaring that there was no Hindu or Muslim, only those who loved God (the true one) and one another. After Nanak's death, successors called Gurus were appointed to lead his followers. There were nine successive Gurus appointed as heads of the Sikh religion until modern times.
The history of this religion can be traced through the lives of the successive Gurus as it developed in northwest India, which is now Pakistan. Here is a brief history of some of these leaders and their contributions:
- Angad (1539-1552): Developed the alphabet and formed the Sikh scriptures.
- Amar Das (1552-1574): A social reformer who fought for equal rights for men and women.
- Arjan (1581-1601): Formed a guerrilla army to protect Sikhs from Muslim attack.
- HarGobind (1606-1645)
- Gobind Singh (1675-1708): An especially important leader who was responsible for establishing modern Sikhism and served as the religion's last Guru. He outlawed the caste system, organized villages into military units, required all devotees to attach "Singh" to their names (means lion). He fought to have their area become independent from India and did so, becoming the country named Pakistan in 1947, but the nation was not ruled by the Sikhs.
His most significant achievement was to open the Sikh religion to men of all castes in order to form a new culture. This was done through the "Baptism of the Sword." The equality of men and women in the Sikh religion made it very appealing to those who were endlessly trapped at the bottom caste of Hindu society.
Gobind Singh initiated five disciples by making them drink a mixture of nectar and water stirred with a sword and then sprinkled on each man five times on their hair and eyes. These men then added the title Singh (lion) to their names and were charged to wear the five K's throughout their lifetimes as a symbol of their religion:
- Kesh: Long hair/beard
- Kangha: Comb (turban)
- Kachha: Shorts
- Kara: Steel bracelets
- Kirpan: Sword
Not all Sikhs became Singhs (some remained pacifists), but those who did became skilled in military arts.
Gobind Singh left instructions that after his death there were to be no other Gurus, but that the followers were to use their holy book as a religious guide which they do to this day.
Sikhs are monotheists. "Truth" is the name of God. They rejected the Hindu concept of formless diety and adopted the sovereign God concept of the Muslims.
They believe in the universal brotherhood of all men. Man was created by God. They accept the idea of moksha and karma (except the experience of moksha is life with God). They place great value on the individual and his social responsibilities.
Repeating the name of God is worth more than all the rituals, "There is one God, and truth is his name." The love of God and man is the way to moksha. The difference between Hindus and Sikhs is that for Sikhs the avoiding of bad karma (by doing good) is how one reaches moksha, however, union with God is a perceived and conscious thing whereas in Hinduism it is not.
Sikhs reject ritualism. Their only ceremony is the baptism of the sword. The Golden Temple at Amritsar houses the original holy Granth (Sikh holy book).
The "Granth" = the book.
The original Granth was composed in 1604 by the 5th Guru which came to have the same authority as the Adi Granth. This later work was also a compilation of many authors. These were written in different languages and not many people have been able to read the complete works because of this. Only a few have been translated into English. For example, the following is a key document written by Nanak. They must memorize it and Orthodox Sikhs repeat it in the morning.
REPEAT HIS NAME
The True One was in the beginning; the True One was in the primal age. The True One is now also, O Nanak; the True One also shall be.
By thinking I cannot obtain a conception of Him, even though I think hundreds of thousands of times.
Even though I be silent and keep my attention firmly fixed on him, I cannot preserve silence.
The hunger of the hungry for God subsideth not though they obtain the load of the worlds.
If man should have thousands and hundreds of thousands of devices, even one would not assist him in obtaining God.
- The Japji
The Punjab region of northwest India. Most (8-10 million) live there, but many have migrated to the West.
Their reaction to the Muslim threat gave rise to the militaristic sect of the Singh (lions). These became great soldiers and bodyguards in the British army later on. They only used their military prowess to preserve themselves and did not try to conquer other nations or groups. Their movement elevated the position and condition of the rejected social "outcastes" as well as the position of women in Indian society.