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Five Vows and Six Avashyakas - The Fundamentals of Jaina Ethics [9]

Published: 05.07.2005
Updated: 20.08.2008


In conclusion, a reference to the relationship of Jainism to general Indian culture helps to view the situation in a still wider perspective.

Even the "practical" or "pragmatic" literature of Jainism discussed or alluded to in our paper (ethics, monastic discipline, ritual, primitive karman doctrine) is of a scope which specialists themselves might easily underestimate. This is not to mention the additional scope of Jaina dogmatics and Jaina philosophy, of Jaina myths and Jaina legends. A German scholar [1] highlighted the proficiency of the Jaina authors in the "secular sciences", viz. in "philosophy, grammar, lexicography, poetics, mathematics, astronomy and astrology, and even in the science of politics". The oldest sources originated in pre-Christian ages, but Jaina literature reaches all the way into modern times, as is for instance the case of Jaina literature in Old Gujarati. Prakrit and Sanskrit are the most important but by no means the only languages of Jainism. There are literally mountains of manuscripts, and even the text editions published to this day could fill several shelves. Some of the works may be read by specialists effortlessly. Others require distinct research for every passage and verse. Furthermore, a large portion of this literature has parallels in non-Jaina Indian literature, a fact which must also be considered.

Jaina art reaches back to the beginnings of the Christian age. Tirthankara representations are the most familiar: The meditating Tirthankara appears standing or sitting, stark naked or, less often, clothed. This all seems quite simple (so much more so since the seated Tirthankara bears a resemblance to the better known seated Buddha), but the iconography of the Tirthankara is by no means as uniform as it appears at first glance. In addition, various representations of Jaina deities introduce supplementary themes. Parties interested in becoming more familiar with this art may find in many museums of Asian art Jaina miniatures portraying holy legends, especially those surrounding the Tirthankaras. With these, one may also find relatively old Jaina bronzes, mostly Tirthankara images. Various illustrated volumes concerning Jaina art, as found in libraries if not available on the market, form an additional source of information. Viewing Jaina art in situ is quite another experience, however. Examples of such art are to be found almost everywhere on the sub- continent. At Khajuraho, there are not only Hindu temples but also Jaina temples; at Ellora, there are both Hindu cave temples and cave temples of the Jainas; in Tamilnadu one might find not only rock-cut reliefs showing Hindu gods and goddesses but also rock-cut images of Tirthankaras and Jaina deities. Unique and particularly impressive are the Jaina temple cities built around hills -- especially those of Shatrunjaya (near Palitana) and Girnar (near Junagadh), both on the Kathiawar peninsula of Gujarat State.

In general, Jainism is far beyond our powers of fantasy and organisation. It reveals an explosive expansion of simple religious beliefs and practices into a theoretical/practical system whose details escape our full comprehension. At the same time Jainism develops into a significant subculture within the general Indian culture. To a considerable degree it incorporates elements of the broader culture while it simultaneously develops that broader culture further. In both cases it plays a meaningful qualitative and quantitative role in the Indian world. Jainism is a realm unto itself, a religious and a cultural microcosm. It stands for the ahimsa and other things, but as is so often the case, its reality is many-sided, corresponds less to our mental habits than we might expect and is more complicated than the thin cover of abstraction might lead us to believe.


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