Summary: We know that Christ loves the Jains and died for them and desire them to have eternal life. We should know something about the Jains to pray intelligently for the Jains and to share our faith with Jains.
Jainism is one of the major world religions, but in reality Jains are a people group formed around a common set of shared values. There are only a few known believers among the Jains. Many Jains are only aware of Christ through the filter of their Jain community perceptions, which can leave a very unattractive view of Christians. We know that Christ loves the Jains and died for them and desire them to have eternal life. We should know something about the Jains to pray intelligently for the Jains and to share our faith with Jains.
I) Who are the Jains?
Jains are considered one of the oldest religions of the world. Jainism originated in India about 500 BC at almost the same time and place as Buddhism. The founder of Jainism (Mahavir) is reported to have interacted with the founder of Buddhism. There is some evidence that Jainism is even older (9th century BC) than this. Jains have their own unique sacred scriptures in the Prakrit language and according to Jain mythology their religion is traced to the beginning of time. Jains have contributed much to the arts and sciences of India. Today the adherents of Jainism are about 3.5 million.
Jain comes from the word Jina, or one victorious over self, and worldly passions. A Jain is a conqueror of inner enemies. These inner enemies are anger, greed, pride and deceit. They believe these arise out of attachment and they practice non-attachment. Fundamental to Jainism is the concept of Ahimsa. Non-violence. This strong emphasis in non-violence has led Jains to be one of the strictest vegetarian communities anywhere.
There are two major divisions among Jains, the Digambara (sky clad) and Swetambara (white clad). These sects differ on the idea of whether the monks should where white robes or wander naked. The founder Mahavir was an ascetic who did not wear clothes and pulled out his hair in renunciation of worldly pleasures.
Jains view of God has led many to label them as atheistic. They do not see God as being active as creator and believe a human can become God. Jainism is a religion of self-help: with out any outside agency - even god coming to the rescue of the soul. For Jains the soul is its own destroyer or liberator.
Jains hold that every living being has a potential to become God. They believe in reincarnation and seek moksha (salvation) or release from the cycle of rebirths. Jains conceive Karma as an actual physical substance that weighs down the soul. They rid themselves of Karma through renunciation and practicing, right faith, right knowledge and right conduct.
Jains are a very wealthy community and many Jains keep an image of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi the goddess of wealth. This keeping of Lakshmi idols is widely practiced despite it being outside of orthodox Jain beliefs.
Jains remain very isolated from other communities. They are one of the wealthiest and most influential communities of India and are often involved in the business and financial sectors. Jains avoid professions such as farming contradicts ahimsa because so many insects are killed when plowing the fields.