XVI. Diversity among Religions: The Jains

A no less radical challenge to narrow western conceptions of what constitutes religion is provided by Jainism, a recognized religion in India, and one that is normally included in the list of (usually eleven) great religions. Of it, Sir Charles Eliot has written, “Jainism is atheistic, and this atheism is as a rule neither apologetic nor polemical, but is accepted as a natural religious attitude.” Jains do not, however, deny the existence of devas, deities, but these beings are, no less than human beings, considered to be subject to the laws of transmigration and decay, and they do not determine the destiny of man. Jains believe that souls are individual and infinite. They are not part of a universal soul. Souls and matter are neither created nor destroyed. Salvation is to be attained by the liberation of the soul from the foreign elements (karmic elements) that weight it down. These elements gain admission to the soul by the individual’s acts of passion. Such actions cause rebirth among animals or inanimate substances: meritorious acts cause rebirth among the devas. Anger, pride, deceit, and greed are the main obstacles to liberation of the souls, and in resisting or succumbing to these, man is master of his own destiny. By subduing the self and by doing harm to no being, even to harmful insects, and by leading an ascetic life, a man may achieve rebirth as a deva. The moral rules for the devout believer are to show kindness without hope of return; to rejoice in the welfare of others; to seek to relieve the distress of other people; and to show sympathy for the criminal. Self-mortification is believed to annihilate accumulated karma. Jainism embraces an ascetic ethic, but this is asceticism of quite a different kind from that canvassed in the Christian tradition, being at once more passive and more fatalistic.

XVII. Diversity among Religions: Hinduism