Monday, May 28, 2012


Chapter 5 of the Hopfe/Woodward text discusses Jainism.  This is a religion that arose in India about the same time as Buddhism, in the 6th century B.C.  As with the other religions I'm discussing on this blog, I rely on the text to provide historical details, discussion of rituals, texts, and notable leaders.  My goal is to help bring these into focus in relation to the basic beliefs of the religion.

In the case of Jainism the text is very helpful in this regard.  On page 119 of the 12th ed., the authors say "The philosophical worldview of Jainism is dualistic.  According to Jainism, the world is comprised of essentially two substances--soul (jiva) and matter (ajiva).  Soul is life; it is eternal and valuable.  Matter is lifeless, material, and evil. . . . Jains have no need for a creator god because they believe that matter is eternal.  Thus there never was a creation of world.  It has been here forever and will continue to exist forever."

This kind of dualism is not unique to Jainism, and the idea that matter is evil or lesser while spirit is good and somehow higher has been very influential in the West.  I'd like to suggest that this view of release from the material world is not essentially different than the popular belief that the goal of life is to be good in order to go to heaven which is a spiritual realm.  Indeed, perhaps Jainism is preferable in that in this worldview one is given many attempts to attain release from the material world, whereas the standard story taught here in the West is that there is only one chance.

Furthermore, can someone who holds to this view of matter and spirit claim to also believe in God?  On this point Jainism also seems more consistent than much of what is taught in the West.  God is said to be the creator, and yet is distant and has little power in the world.  One must obey God's rules or else one does not get into heaven.  In Jainism, the system is inpersonal in the sense that if one does what is needed to be released from reincarnation then one will be released, but if not one continues in reincarnation until such a time as release is attained.

So we have a comparison of the popular forms of theism taught here in the West with Jainism, but we also have the comparison of the basic beliefs of theism (only God is eternal) with Jainism (matter and spirit are both eternal).  The final question is: if spirit is eternal and the individual has been striving for eternity to attain release from reincarnation, why hasn't this goal been attained?  If, after eternity, the goal has not been attained then it can never be attain and continued suffering is unjust.  On the other hand, if there is a chance for release then the implication is that the soul has not been striving for this from eternity.  Either the soul is not eternal or the system is not just like it claims to be.