Social Consciousness, Its Origin And Rejuvenation In Jainism

Posted: 08.05.2010
Updated on: 30.07.2015

1.0 Social Consciousness [1]

Social consciousness is consciousness shared within a society.[2] It can also be defined as social awareness; to be aware of the problems that different societies and communities[3] face on a day-to-day basis; to be conscious of the difficulties and hardships of society. Some people define social consciousness as a society's consciousness of itself.[4] Others argue against this definition, saying that society does not have a mind of its own, and therefore is not conscious: rather, the people that make up society are individually conscious.[5] Social consciousness is similar to collective consciousness.[6] In Jain philosophy society not only encompasses human beings but the entire eco-system also consisting of earth, plant, air, fire and water bodied living beings and animal kingdom. Similarly Jains describe consciousness as the distinguishing characteristic of living beings and it manifests as darśana (intuition or awareness) and jñāna (knowledge).[7]

Many studies have been done to examine the roots of social consciousness. It is believed to arise as a response to social injustice experienced by the individual or in the lives of others around the individual. There are three levels of social consciousness 8 namely acquired, awakened, and expanded.

Social consciousness brings moral implications. Often, people with an awakened social consciousness become socially active. A socially conscious person tends to be empathetic towards others regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, disability, class, or sexual identity.  In the context of Jainism, work by late Professor Vilas A. Sanghave (formerly of sociology department at Shivaji University Kolhapur) was of pioneering nature. Michael Carrithers and Caroline Humphery in their book ‘Assembly of Listeners Jains in Society’ (based on papers presented at the conference on ‘Jains in society’ held at Cambridge in June 1985) lists five criterions (namely: i. common culture, belief, practice and some interests; ii. significantly different from surrounding communities; iii. Be conscious of an identity; iv. Effective collectively in social, political and/or economic life; v. Able to reproduce itself) for considering Jains as a community in their position paper [9] We shall discuss social consciousness in Jainism keeping these in mind. There are also a number of other studies by John Cort (Jains in the world), Paul Dundas (The Jains), James Laidlaw (Riches and renunciation), among others which explore specific segments of Jain communities in Jaipur, Patan and Ahmedabad.


1.1 Jainism

The word Jain is derived from the word jina (spiritual conqueror). Jina is a perfect human being who has attained a pure soul state associated with the four primary qualities namely infinite perception-knowledge-energy and bliss. He is an ordinary human being at the time of birth but through his strenuous spiritual purification efforts, he attains this state.  Followers of the path shown by Jina are called Jains.

Reality: The definitive word for reality is ‘sat’ or existent. Each existent is with origination - decay and permanence simultaneously.[10] Thus reality is said to be persistence with change.  Existents are characterised by dravya (substance) and the realms of substances are classified as jīva (living beings with consciousness) and non living beings (ajīva or without consciousness). There are infinite jīvas in this cosmos. Each jīva has the potential to attain Jina status through his strenuous spiritual purification efforts. However all living beings help (cooperate) with each other[11]. Further jīvas are broadly divided as pure soul (siddha) and empirical souls (defiled souls or saṅsārī jīva). Empirical souls go through innumerable varieties of existences grouped in four categories namely hell, heaven, human and sub-human. They are also classified as mobile (two to five senses) and immobile (one sensed only).

Cosmos[13] and its contents are neither created by any one nor can they be destroyed by anyone. They change form continuously, according to Jainism’s understanding of reality.[12] Time periods, call ārās, are reckoned cyclically. Each araor epoch has two parts namely period of rising happiness (utsarpiṇī) and period of decreasing happiness (avasarpiṇī). Each epoch has six ārās. Each ārā is associated with a series of twenty four ford makers (tīrthakaras) who rejuvenate the religion so that the living beings can move forward to attain their worldly and spiritual objectives.

Religion is defined in a number of ways by different preceptors namely

  • Nature of an entity is its religion[14]; That, which removes the worldly pains of the living beings and leads them to the state of bliss is religion[15].
  • Supreme forgiveness, modesty, straightforwardness, purity, truthfulness, self restraint, austerity, renunciation, non attachment and celibacy constitute religion
  • Non violence is the supreme spiritual virtue[16];  Conduct is religion [17]

The cardinal principles of Jain way of life are:

  • Non violence for thought (ahiṅsā)
  • Non possession (Aparigraha); 
  • Multiplicity of viewpoints (Anekānta)
  • Responsibility for your actions and the results thereof (karma doctrine)
  • Potential for Self realization


1.2 Social Consciousness in Jainism, a view

The general perception in the academic community is that Jainism is the religion of asceticism i.e. withdrawal from the world (renunciation or nivtti) to lead an ascetic life to attain liberation. This view is perhaps based on the great emphasis placed on code of conduct for the ascetics in Jain canons and scriptures prior to first century AD. Also the story literature (purāṇas) of Jains, which is very vast, has the distinctive feature of evolving the entire story around one person (hero) and traces his/her life in many births till he/she achieves the ultimate objective of becoming an ascetic and liberation thereafter. This may also develop a feeling of greater emphasis being put on renunciation rather than engagement in the world. In the Śvetāmbara Jain canons, only the seventh limb i.e. Upāsakadaśānga gives life sketches of ten lay persons during Mahāvira’s time.

However from the 2nd century AD, the Jain holy literature emphasizing the conduct for laity and known as Śrāvakācāras started getting written by Jain preceptors. They emphasized not only the ultimate liberation of the individual laity but also the rules of social conduct for them as they remain tied to the world.  Perhaps Samantbhadra (2nd to 6th century AD) [18] a noted Jain preceptor and scholar from Southern India, was the first one to compose the text popularly known as Rattan Karanda Śravakācāra detailing the worldly and spiritual ethics of Jain laity.

Somdev Suri (Yaśastilakācampu in 943-960 AD), another important Jain scholar and preceptor, describes dharma for śrāvakas as of two basically different types namely laukika (worldly) and pārlaukika (other worldly or beyond the world). The pārlaukika dharma is the true path of liberation, or the Jain samaya as he calls it, which every Jain indeed should know and follow. Laukika dharma on the other hand consists of social norms, customs, laws, rules, institutions in which Jains live amongst themselves and others provided they do not undermine or distort the performance of pārlaukika dharma. [19]  We thus see the concept of mulaguas (basic virtues) six essential duties (āvasyakas), five aṇuvratas (with self imposed limits of observance by laity), three enhancing vows (guavratas) and four teaching vows (śikṣāvratas) coupled with eleven stages of spiritual development (pratimās) for laity leading him ultimately to ascetic life and liberation dovetailing laukika dharma with pārlaukika.

The pārlaukika dharma is called Mokṣamārga and consists of right belief-knowledge and conduct practiced together [20]. The essential and the first requirement of attaining liberation is right belief. It is of two types namely with attachment and without attachment. The first type is characterized by serenity (praśama), incessant fear of the miseries of transgression (samvega), compassion (anukampā) and existence of soul (āstikya) etc.

There are eight limbs of right belief. [21]  So a right believer of Jain metaphysics will demonstrate the above characteristics in his personal and social interactions. The social characteristics are very important as they reflect how Jains interact with the society they live even though the doctrine suggests that one is responsible for his condition and emphasize self improvement.

The story of the two sons of first Jain tīrthakara Ādināth, namely Bharat, the monarch and Bāhubali, the ascetic is an excellent example to show the practice and impact of both laukika (worldly) and pārlaukika (other worldly or beyond the world) dharmas. Bāhubali, the ascetic achieves liberation faster while Bharat, the emperor also achieves liberation but at a much later date while practicing his monarch-hood and keeping the pārluakika dharma always in his mind and actions. 

All tīrthaṅkaras organized their followers in a fourfold congregation, namely ascetics (śramaṇas) male and female and laity (śrāvakas) male and female.  The ascetics are required to follow pārlaukika dharma and guide the laity while the laity follows laukika dharma primarily but keep on progressing towards ascetic life ultimately. There is a difference between the muni’s path and the śrāvaka’s. The muni or śramaṇas path is the path of nivṛtti, of withdrawal from the world, of giving up. He is directly on the path of liberation. Yet there is a place for virtuous śrāvaka, even if his path is more circuitous. He follows the dharma of pravtti, or doing or action or engagement with the affairs of the world. This fits in well with the Jain notion of aṇuvratas which are the diluted versions of mahāvratas of the muni. His path, too, if he follows the Jain doctrine/samaya faithfully, would ultimately lead him to liberation.[22] This is also supported by the Anekānta doctrine of Jains which talks of looking at the reality from many view points and at least from the two viewpoints namely transcendental (eternal view or niścaya) and practical (present/practical or vyavahāra) views. The karma doctrine of Jains is also an important contributor to the Jain identity as it imposes on Jains the doctrine of work/effort to achieve their laukika and pārlaukika objectives rather than pray for some divine grace for everything and hold the destiny and divine grace as responsible for all their successes and failures.

From the discussions above, we can say that the Jain identity lays great emphasis on its path of spiritual purification based on the practice of non violence, non possessions etc is strongly concerned with lay identity. The social interactions of the laity are also derived from the same and emphasized for the laity also. The path to liberation is said to be right belief-knowledge-conduct practiced together till all kārmika bondages are annihilated from the defiled soul. This emphasis at times may lead to a separate identity of being Jain and a feeling of being purer as their souls are less defiled by kārmika impurities over non-Jains.

Translated into practical implications we can say practice of ahisā (like straining the water before use for drinking, not eating at night, putting a cover on mouth while speaking etc as primary Jain differentiators), aparigraha (non-possessiveness on the one hand and the feeling of donating/dāna or giving up and conservation or limiting consumption on the other) anekānta (existence of opposites, tolerance, co-existence etc) can be the core differentiators of Jain identity. As we have seen earlier the social consciousness can also be the collectivization of the consciousness of the individuals who make the society. Thus Jainism puts self improvement as the core value for its followers. There can be differences in different Jain communities (based on the religious practices influenced by the dominating religion of the region), economic and other engagements of the individuals as well as their own inclinations to pursue the Jain code of conduct. This leads to differences of practicing Jainism or leading their life as members of the immediate community/society they live in, say amongst Jains of different sects, of different regions of India and now overseas Jains, without undermining the pārlaukika dharma and keeping the same in mind to test the validity of their actions/behaviour.

It will be interesting to note that all Jain tīrthaṅkaras[23] were ordinary persons at birth (as against reincarnation of God in other religions); lived the life as ordinary persons even though born in rich families, with tīrthaṅkara karma created an impact on society they lived in before accepting renunciation and attaining omniscience and tīrthaṅkara status ultimately.   Similarly the later preceptors also made significant efforts to bring in newer interpretations of Jain doctrine for laity to keep them focussed on their pārlaukika dharma while practising laukika dharma and be good social citizens.  In this paper we shall study the first and latest (24th) tīrthaṅkaras, some preceptors of 2nd to 12th century and modern preceptors and religious leaders (laity) to see how they readjusted the social consciousness of Jains to meet the social needs of their times.


2.0 Ādināth / Ŗṣabha [24]

The end of third ārā of the avasarpiṇī period known as (Happy-Unhappy) was approaching resulting in decreasing potency of the wish fulfilling tress (kalpavrkṣa) which provided all the necessities of human beings without their making any effort. The twins born to parents who lived as brother sister and became husband wife later on was also approaching an end. They started thinking and trying to live as tribes with occasional fights erupting between them and others.  Further there were some signs of development of higher mental faculties amongst them, becoming inquisitive about the changes taking place. In the modern technological time we can roughly describe this as the stone-age. In philosophical terms we say the end of the period of enjoyment (bhoga) was approaching. People used to live carefree lives? They were grouped as kulas and the chief of the kula was called kulakara. There are fourteen famous kulakaras of whom Nābhi Raj was the ruling kulkara at that time.

Ŗṣabha was born to Nābhi and his wife Maru Devi. There was overall happiness and peace prevailing at the time of his birth. Ŗṣabha started displaying exemplary qualities since early childhood and became an object of adoration by all while growing to be a young boy/man. As he was born with superior qualities like clairvoyant knowledge, charming and strong body etc, Nābhi started directing the persons who came for problem resolution to Ŗṣabha. Ŗṣabha used to solve their problems fast and to their satisfaction. When Ŗṣabha became an adult, his father married him to two beautiful and virtuous girls named Sunandā and Sumangalā. Sumangalā (or Yaśaswati as per Ādipurāna and Digambar Jain’s story literature) gave birth to Bharat (who became the first sovereign emperor) and ninety eight more sons plus one daughter Brāhmi while Sunandā gave birth to Bāhubali and daughter Sundari.

He is credited as the forerunner of modern day society, establishing work culture, form of governance, social systems but he ultimately renounced all his worldly belongings (giving them to his sons) to attain omniscience and become the first tīrthakara. He established the four fold congregation while teaching his followers how to attain liberation. While designing the society, its norms and constituents, he had in his mind the welfare of all as the topmost concern. Being the first in all walks of life he is called as Ādināth also. Listed below are some of the innovative social reforms he is credited with. 


2.1 Establishing a Societal System

He explained to all the people who came to him for guidance that their physical endurances as well as of the wish fulfilling tress are decreasing. So they (the people) have to change their lifestyle and think of living in houses (rather than forests) collectively so that they can help each other and face the problems united. Concepts of family, co-existence, co-operation, tolerance, brotherhood/fraternity etc were extremely importance for survival. The first locality (which became his capital city also) established was called Vinita which later on became popular as Ayodhyā. He then made different groupings of such primary localities as villages and then their classification as towns/cities and grouping them as states (collection of towns) with separating and defending boundaries and chiefs of each grouping to administer them. Thus the role of a king, council of ministers, security systems, heads of villages/towns and cities were established for administration.

Work culture and division of the society into sub groups (castes): The days of enjoyment without work because of nature’s bounty or divine grace are over. He said that from now onwards you have to work to get your food, shelter, protection etc. He asked the people to choose anyone of the six types of work namely asi, masi, kṛṣi, vidhyā, vāṇijya and śilpa[25]. Thus the people opting for one of these six types of works were grouped as Kṣatriya, Brāhmaṇa, Vaiśya and Śudra varṇas (castes). The grouping as Brāhmaṇas is credited to his son Bharat, the first emperor/monarch. He also established the rules of work, of staying within their limits and not to cause problems to others.

Institution of family: To avoid conflicts concerning rights and duties, inheritance and sex related and other marriage issues, he established the concept of brother, sister, husband and wife, parents etc. He told that marriage between a boy and girl of the same parents cannot take place and thus bringing an end to the era of twins and assigning the right for living together and transfer of inheritance etc. 

He established the penal code consisting of four classes namely: oral punishment i.e. reprimand in angry tone; detention in town for a specified time period, detention in a jail for a definite time and lastly to impart physical punishment like beating/making the offender physically hurt.

He was thus called Prājapati and his coronation as the first king took place.


3. Education and Training of his subjects:

Ŗṣabha knew that the people have to be taught in order for the changes he introduced to be effective and hence established the importance of education and training. Accordingly he taught his eldest son Bharat seventy two arts, his second son Bāhubali martial arts and other similar arts, his eldest daughter Brāhmi eighteen alphabets and younger daughter Sundari, the mathematics. Both the daughters were also taught the arts of music, dance, adornment etc. Similarly he taught other arts and crafts to his other ninety eight sons. His children, then, started teaching their skills to others’ thereby spreading the knowledge, skills etc to the common people. In this way he institutionalized the imparting of education and skills to the masses.

Through these education programmes, the people came to know of the use of fire to cook, to make pots, tools and implements for farming, defence etc, making cloth, skills of barbers, eating the food after its proper treatment of food (like cleaning, peeling the skins, cooking etc) to stay healthy.


4. Self Improvement and Realization

After implementing a social order and seeing his subjects happily settled as a society and enjoying prosperity, he realized that such prosperity will cause further problems of greed, discontent and associated pains. Being endowed with clairvoyant knowledge, he knew of his past lives and associated pains and pleasures of transmigration. He now started looking at his own self realization as the highest goal. He therefore renounced his kingship after anointing his eldest son Bharat as the king of the major part of his kingdom,  Bāhubali as king of a different part of his kingdom and giving small pieces of land to his other ninety eight sons and distributing remaining wealth to all the people who came to him for seeking his blessings.

For himself, he gave up everything including his family, clothes and all worldly possessions. He even pulled all his hair to develop detachment from his own body (as a mark of a feeling to his soul, the real self and to his body as other). He accepted the vows of total non violence, self restraint and complete meditation on his self to realize its true nature. He left for the forests nearby in order to meditate on his self. He established a number of important concepts during his ascetic life and prior to his becoming an omniscient, namely

  • Worldly happiness is temporary and there is something beyond, known as eternal happiness/bliss to be achieved.
  • Concept of dāna/charity. As an ascetic, he went without food for six months as no one knew how and what to offer him for food when he went out on his begging rounds until Śreyānsa of Hastināpur, due to his past life experiences, knew what to do. After observing proper rituals of inviting Ŗṣabha for food, he offered him sugarcane juice in his folded palms. This day is celebrated as Akṣayatrtyā and is the forerunner of the institution of charity.
  • Essentiality of the concept of non possession: By giving up every worldly possession and not staying at one place so that he does not develop attachment to the place and its people.
  • Practice of detachment, non violence, self restraint, austerities and meditation all through his ascetic life.

After attaining omniscience, he then started preaching the Mokṣamārga, setting up the four fold congregation so that others could also attain the liberation from the pains of transmigration and achieve bliss.

Thus he established the social system and its consciousness keeping the welfare of one and all in mind i.e. based on engagement with the worldly life for the laity and keeping in mind the ultimate objective of attaining bliss and freedom from transmigration of soul in various existences.


5.0 Mahāvira’s Social Engineeering [26]

The time period from the 1st to 23rd tīrthakaras is considered to be a period when people were simple and followed the leader’s commands. However with the approach of the end of the fourth ārā, the tendencies of the people increasingly became tainted with passions. So Mahāvira, the present pre-siding deity of Jains, who was born towards the end of the 4th ārā and attained liberation in  527BC (some 2535 years ago), realized these social changes and initiated certain actions to rejuvenate the social and spiritual consciousness amongst his followers.

Before discussing Mahāvira, I will like to mention contribution of 22nd tīrthakara Neminātha to promote non violence (refusing to marry when he came to know of the animals being brought to be butchered and served to the marriage party) and the 23rd tīrthakara Pārśvanātha who showed how to handle enemies (Kamatha stories) and also help animals attain heavenly existence (Padmāvati and Dharendra).

Even though Mahāvira hailed from a rich family, he gave up all his worldly wealth to activate divine knowledge associated with his soul and free himself from the cycle of birth-death-birth.  Some of the examples of his actions/sermons with social overtones are discussed below.


5.1 Metaphysical

His definition of reality as endowed with permanence, origination and destruction i.e. persistence with change or being and becoming was remarkable in bringing various monist thinkers together with the aim of eliminating or minimizing the violence indulged in by followers of different faiths. He thus declared both materialistic and mental things as everlasting existents.


5.2 Socio-Ethical Method

He affected tremendous social change through the promulgation of the socio-ethical values of ahisā, Anekanta and Aparigraha.


In Ācāranga he says ‘None of the living beings ought to be killed or deprived of life ought to be ruled or enslaved or possessed or put to unrest’. Further in Praśnavyākaran he designates social ahisā as kindness, compassion, security, love, friendship, fearlessness and so on. Social ahisā of Mahāvira begins with the awareness of the existence of others and their right to exist like one’s own. He says that all living beings, like you, do not wish to have pain nor do they wish to die resulting in the current Jain slogan ‘Live and let live’.  Paraspargraho jivānāma7or living beings cooperate with each other is another Jain slogan reflecting this doctrine of social ahisā of Mahāvira.


Mahāvira realized that differences in opinions/viewpoints amongst different people emanate from their intellectual capabilities. These affect the social harmony more than economic or social inequalities. He thus said that differences in viewpoints emanate from the differences in the nature of things. This doctrine is based on existence of opposites (i.e. good and bad simultaneously) and the plurality of truth necessitating the futility of rigidity in thoughts.  These different aspects of things are to be understood as different aspects of the TRUTH giving rise to his doctrine of Nayavāda or Anekānta.


Mahāvira knew that the root cause of all ills associated with economic inequalities is disproportionate possession of wealth by few individuals. Thus he gave religious cum social overtones to non possession and asked his householder disciples to limit their possessions and consumption (forerunner of today’s conservation philosophy being in vogue in the West among other places) and share the rest (surplus) with others; while monks were asked to be free of any type of possessions (external or internal).


5.3 Uplift of women/according them and the downtrodden freedom for religious pursuits

His acceptance of food from a slave and destitute woman (Candanā) and making her the head of the community of nuns in addition to creating a separate community of nuns to practice religious activities was revolutionary in giving women the right to study and freedom to practice religion which was till then denied to them. This act greatly enhanced the prestige of women in the society and diverted the oppressed widows from the ills like self burning (sati prathā) on husband’s pyre or leading an oppressed life.

Similarly he declared that all living beings are equal rejecting the prevailing thinking of four fold societies into warriors, brāhmanas, traders and śudras by birth. He said one becomes great by his acts and not by birth. He opened his creed to all classes of not only human beings but all living beings. Samantabhadra rightly described his doctrine as Sarvodaya i.e. enlightenment of all.


5.4 Others

  • Mahāvira propagated the doctrine of Karma to hold the individuals responsible for their acts and the results thereof rather than someone else up above.
  • He used Prākrat language or the language of commoners and women, to deliver his sermons so as to make them accessible to the masses and not just a few learned scholars.
  • He extended the four fold vows (i.e. ahisā, satya, acaurya and aparigraha) to five fold i.e. bifurcate aparigraha into aparigrahabrhamcarya. He realized the importance of stressing celibacy as the men and women were becoming more prone to sexual attractions and indulgences. These were detailed for adoption by laity in the later texts called Śrāvakācāra written by Jain preceptors.
  • Making vegetarian and simple food in minimal quantities for sustenance as essential for spiritual and social uplift. Thus he rejected animal sacrifice or wanton killing of animals or destroying environment for physical pleasures or likes.


6. Jain Preceptors and significant laity up-to 18th centuries AD

Sixty four years after Mahāvira’s nirvāna, existence of Jinas stopped. The era of preceptors/ācāryas started. They tried to retain the teachings of Mahāvira, document them and add new interpretations of social overtones so that the laity can practice them and perform their day to day worldly duties. Naturally, differences in the interpretations of the holy texts started showing differences by different ācāryas resulting in bifurcation of the creed and associated schisms.

In the tradition of the first tīrthakara Ādināth, emperor Candragupta (In the fourth century BC, first emperor of historical India and grandfather of Emperor Asoka) renounced his empire and accepted the Jain muni life under the guidance of Bhadrabāhu. Later he became an ācārya as Bhadrabāhu’s successor also.  

The period starting 2nd century AD marked the beginning of writing the code of conduct for the laity, known as śrāvakācāras. Samantabhadra was the pioneering ācārya who wrote Rattan Karanda Śrāvakācāra, the code of conduct for laity along with practical limitations and flaws of the vows prescribed for the laity (109 verses organized in four chapters) along with explaining the three jewels (right belief, right knowledge and right conduct for the laity). Somadevasuri wrote Upāsakādhyayana and Yaśastikācampu defining lukika and pārlaukika dharmas of householders with a life story of Yaśasvi. Afterwards more than sixty such texts were written by different preceptors indicating minor changes here and there. Āśādhara wrote conduct for munis and laity. Thus the whole period saw interpretation and adoption of the Jain canons to maintain harmony with the dominating religion/s of the time but keeping the fundamental tenets of Jainism in mind.

Simultaneously a number of preceptors also started writing story literature of various tīrthakaras, 63 luminary persons to describe social interactions and adopting local non Jain customs in Jain religious and social rituals. Ādipurāna by Jinasena (818-867AD) is a sort of guide for all rituals for Jains not documented so far by adopting the Vedic rituals prevailing in South India at that time.  Māntunga (Bhaktāmbara stotra) and other ācāryas started composing devotional poetry for tīrthaṅkaras and Jain pujās for use in the temple rights as devotion and bhakti were becoming the most popular forms of religiosity. Haribhadra tried to bring a reconciliatory approach amongst Jain concepts and Vedic explanations. He wrote a number of texts on Anekānta, different philosophies and their reconciliatory approaches etc. Other notable ācāryas who worked closely with the rulers/influential persons in not only ensuring continued practice of Jainism by their followers but also strengthening Jain identity are RatnaPrabh, four Dādāgurus and Hem Candra. On the other hand, lay persons Banarasi Dass and Todar Mull in Agra and Jaipur emphasized mysticism and condemned excessive temple rites.

During this period, there were a number of exemplary Jain laity who contributed through their conduct and use of their influence, their contributions to Jain art/literature and support to ācāryas to preserve and enhance the social consciousness of Jainism. Notable amongst them are Cāmunda Rāi (960AD), BhāmāŚāha (1568Ad, Prime minister of Mahārānā Pratāp).


7.  Twentieth Century and onwards

In the late nineteenth century, Srimad Rajcandra, a Śvetāmbara lay-man practiced Jain Mokṣamārga as a householder and became the spiritual teacher of Mahatma Gandhi. He emphasized strict practice of Jain code of conduct by laity.  Gandhi practised the five minor vows of laity to achieve social objectives and led the country to freedom from the British Empire.

Towards the beginning of twentieth century we saw the emergence of ŚāntiSāgar as the first Digambara monk after centuries. He reinstitued the institution of Digambar(sky cald) mendicanct and today there are several hundred such monks. A number of these monks have started studying seriously and are contributing scholarly works while others have moved towards greater use of rituals, temple buildings and idol veneration to attract the laity in the creed and be popular.

Notable changes which took place in India are its independence, spread of science and technology, widespread movement of educated people (including Jains) to cities in India as well as to wealthy countries of the west. These changes brought the need for more and wider dispersal of canonical literature to educated Jains to retain Jain identity amongst the community elders)  and check drifting away of Jains from its root values under the influence of western culture. New urban Jain communities started getting formed which were primarily temples centric or profession centric or at times caste centric. These were formed primarily due to displacement of people to exploit their economic potential and be seen in the world as a distinct community/identity.

Kānji Swāmi, a Śvetāmbara monk studied Kunda Kunda extensively and became a detached householder within a Digambar community emphasizing the mysticism of Kunda Kunda. Tulsi preached the doctrine of Anuvrata and gave the slogan ‘If the individual person improves, the family will improve. If the family improves, the community will improve. If the community improves the city - state –country –world improves’. He thus emphasized main thrust of the self improvement of Jainism and the practical adoption of Anuvratas by laity. MahāPrajna brought the scientific temperament into dialogue with the Jain canonical literature and made Prekṣā meditation a tool for treating physical ailments as his primary vehicle for self improvement and realization.   Celanā (ācārya nun) started undertaking large social work projects.  Jain research and education institutions started mush-rooming to write old canons and their commentaries and new explanations.

Jain householders started forming various social and trade organizations (Jain Milan, Jain Social groups, JAINA, JITO and other smaller trade and location oriented organizations like Young Jains of America and its branches like Young Jains of India, Jain doctors forum, Jain Professionals and so on). A number of weekly and monthly newspapers and magazines began being published. A number of sect oriented social organizations at national levels also started coming up to protect the interests of specific sect. Temple building and their rehabilitation, organizing group pujās under the auspices of a monk, became a major source of creating Jain identity.  Some Jains started institutions to educate common people, provide medical services (hospitals and dispensaries), rehabilitate the disabled etc.

We thus see that the social conscious in Jainism is manifesting consciously in various forms but never leaving its focus of a mix of laukika and pārlaukika dharma based on its Ahinsā, Aparigraha and Anekānta doctrine. The Jain identity of being different is well recognized and getting increasingly visible. This is evident by using the word Jain before every social or professional or religious organization to bring together the cause of the profession/business and enhance the religious values simultaneously. Specific sociological studies are needed to go deeper in the subject to confirm the basic factors which contribute to the social consciousness emanating from Jainism and its individual followers and present the ongoing trend of new manifestations of social consciousness of Jains.


8. Conclusion

As discussed above, we can see how social consciousness evolves around the central theme of ‘self realization (nature of self being knowledge and bliss) as enunciated by the tīrthaṅkaras and updated by Jain preceptors from time to time. Each individual is a part of a core group of beings, which may be defined as community which merges with regional and national bodies called societies. Here the importance is to be given to the constituents of community to include the entire eco system also and just human beings. Since individuals form the building blocks, we find small communities being very local and governed by their needs and guided by Jain doctrine but also getting influenced by different non Jain communities around them. At times these Jain communities may look very different from each other but when the question of integration comes, they unite together to give the society its consciousness and identity.  We will therefore feel surprised to see a number of Jain communities either temple centric or some preceptor or monk/nun centric or some economic activity centric mushrooming even in a small Jain population in the country. More sociological and anthropological studies are needed to understand fully the subject under discussion.