It’s likely that you’ve never heard of Jainism or met someone who identifies as a Jain. While it is not a major religion today, Jainism is one of the oldest belief systems in the world.
So why write a blog post on a “minor” world religion? While Jainism might not be the most popular religion worldwide, India has over 4.2 million followers of Jainism. Also, small populations of Jains live in other countries, including the United States.
During Secret Church 16: A Global Gospel in a World of Religions, we will spend time praying for India—its people and persecuted church. Though Jains make up only about 0.4 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people, several Jain people groups are unengaged, unreached groups with no one actively planting churches among them.
Read below to learn more about this little-known religion that leads more than 4 million souls toward eternity without Christ. As you read, please pray for Jains in India and around the world to believe in the gospel and have eternal hope.
Overview of Jainism
There is no single founder of Jainism but rather a collection of tirthankaras (teachers) who have revealed truth at different times. Jain comes from the word Jina, which means one victorious over self and worldly passions. Jains practice non-attachment to avoid enemies of the inner self such as pride, anger, and greed. They also believe in reincarnation and see karma as a physical thing that they must eliminate from their lives.
Teachers or Holy Men
Jainism has 24 tirthankaras who are believed to have reached the highest spiritual existence and then taught their ways to others. Tirthankaras appear in the world in order to teach others the way to moksha, or freedom from reincarnation. Jains do not believe that tirthankaras are gods but ordinary people who become tirthankaras through intensely disciplined lives of penance, equanimity, and meditation. To Jains, tirthankaras represent the purest developed state of the human soul.
Jains, God and the Soul
Jainism is a religion of self-help. They do not believe in a creator God and think that humans can become gods after they achieve perfection and liberate their own souls. While they do pay homage to Jinas, or people they believe have achieved perfection, Jains do not worship a god or gods the way many religions do. Each person, according to Jains, has the opportunity to achieve the status of god if they practice right faith, right knowledge, and right conduct. This kind of living rids the soul of karma, resulting in a pure, omniscient, and perfectly happy soul.
Two Major Sects of Jainism
Followers of Jainism are in two major sects—the Digambara (sky clad) and the Svetambara (white clad). While the two groups agree on the basics of Jainism, they tend to disagree on the following:
- Details of the life of Mahavira, the last known tirthankara
- Texts regarded as scripture
- Women’s spiritual status: Digambaras believe that women cannot achieve liberation (freedom from reincarnation) without first being reborn as men.
- Whether or not monks should wear clothes: Digambara monks live completely naked with no worldly possessions. Svetambara monks are allowed to have a few possessions including simple white clothing. Nuns of both sects wear clothing.
Community and Way of Life
Jains tend to live in isolation from other communities, and the two sects are rarely seen together. In India, Jains are some of the wealthiest and influential, especially in the worlds of business and finance. They have also made significant contributions to Indian arts and sciences.
Because of their fundamental beliefs in non-violence, Jains are some of the strictest vegetarians, excluding all meat and eggs. Some followers refuse to eat anything grown underground because the plant is harmed when it is uprooted. They avoid professions like farming because too many insects are killed in the process.
How to Pray for Jains
Jains in India and around the world are striving to help themselves reach true peace. Many of the Jain people groups still have not heard the gospel and have no one actively taking it to them. Please pray for Jains in India. Here are a few ways to begin:
- Pray for Christians in India to share the gospel with their neighbors who are Jains. Also, pray that God would make them bold witnesses.
- Pray for Jains who are in unengaged, unreached people groups. Ask God to send someone to them to tell them about Jesus.
- Pray for God to work in the hearts and minds of Jains to turn them toward the gospel when they hear it. Pray for their eyes to be opened to the truth and for their souls to truly find peace.