The Jain religion never spread beyond the limits of India. Being thus much less widely known, it has never stood high, like Buddhism, in the estimation of foreigners. Even in India itself, after flashing like a meteor across the religious sky for a short time, it long since grew comparatively dim. As a matter of course, it has failed to command any considerable degree of notice from beyond.
Arhata was the founder of the Jain religion, and was a king of the Benkata hills in the South Carnatic. Early retiring from the world, he went about exhorting the people to follow the example of Rishabha Deva, whose character he held up as a model to imitate.
The Degambar and Switambara sects of the Jains diverged and came into notice long afterwards.
Rishabha Deva is mentioned in the fifth book of Srimat Bhagavata. He is, according to the Hindus, a part-incarnation of Vishnu. The Jains acknowledge him as the first Arhata, and he is styled Arhata, because, following in the wake of Resava, he attempted to effect a religious reformation. According to the Puranas, Rishabha was father of Bharata, and flourished in very early times. The Jains do not deny the existence of God; but they hold the Arhata themselves to be that God. It is said in Vitara gastati, a Jain work, that “there is only one Creator of the world, and no other, who is eternal and omnipresent; and besides him, everything else here is a source of evil, and unsubstantial even as a dream. O Arbata! There is nothing in this world, which thou hast not created.” The attributes of the Jain God are different from those of the Vaidantic God. With them God is omniscient, conqueror of anger, envy, and of every evil passion; revered in the three worlds and the speaker of truth; Arhata only is the true God.
In their opinion virtue is the only avenue to salvation. Virtue absolves man from the bonds of action and thereby restores him to his original purity of nature.
Salvation is in its very nature ever up-lifting. The Jains have it thus: There is a limit beyond which even the sun, moon, and the planets cannot rise; and, when they reach their point of climax, they come down again. But the souls that have once attained to perfection, never come down again. The very tendency of the soul is ever to rise high. It grovels below, only because of its mortal tenement that holds it in; or, because it is weighted down with its clayey environment. As soon as this mortal coil is shuffled off, it resumes its original nature. Infinite is space. Infinite so is the progress of the soul; or infinite is the improvement the soul is capable of. A pumpkin, for instance, though in itself light enough, would, if enveloped in clay, or weighed heavily otherwise, sink to the bottom of the sea; but, if it could disburthen itself there, it would steadily work its way up to the surface again. Even so is the nature of the soul.
The Jain moralists say:—
Wisdom is an attribute of man. Wisdom only can lead to salvation, or enable man to sail safely over the solemn main of life. Wisdom only can dispel the gloom of false knowledge, like mists after sun-rise. Wisdom only can absolve man from the consequences of action. Wisdom is Supreme; and no action can equal wisdom. Wisdom is joy. Wisdom is summum bonum. Wisdom is Brahma himself.
Further on, in the ethical part of the Jain religion, it is said:—
“A man should dwell only where virtue, truth, purity and good name are prized, and where one may obtain the light of true wisdom.
Man should not dwell where the sovereign is a boy, a woman, or an ignoramus; or, where there are two kings.
A man should go nowhere without an object in view.
A man should not travel alone; nor sleep alone in a house or on an elevated place; nor enter any man’s house suddenly.
A good man should not wear torn or dirty clothes; nor put on his body a red flower, except it be a red lily.
A wise man should never deceive gods or old men; and neither should be a prosecutor or a witness.
When you come back from a walk, you should take a little rest, then put off your clothes, and wash your hands and feet.
A grinding mill, a cutting instrument, a cooking utensil, a water jar, and a water pot, are the five things that bring men to sin; which, again, in its turn, causes them to deviate from the paths of virtue. For these are the sources of envy. Take what care you will, they are sure to give rise to envy.
The ancients prescribed several virtues to enable man to escape from this sin. Hence men should always practise virtuous actions.
Kindness, charity, perfect control over the passions, worshipping the gods, reverence to the Guru, forgiveness, truth, purity, devotion, and honesty:—these are the virtues that every house-holder should possess.
Virtue is too extensive. Its most prominent feature, however, is doing good to mankind.
There are two kinds of virtues—that which atones for our sins, and that which secures or brings about salvation. The first-mentioned virtue embodies the redemption of the fallen, benevolence, humility, perfect control over the passions, and mildness. These virtues destroy sin.
Priests, gurus, guests, and distressed persons, when they come to our house, should first be welcomed, and then fed to the best of our means.
We should relieve and soothe as much as we can the sick, the hungry, the thirsty, and the frightened.
Being so fortunate as to have been born men, we should always be engaged in something useful either to ourselves or to others.”
There is very little difference between the Hindu and the Jain systems of morality. This is owing to the Hindus and Jains living together and in the same country, and to the fact that most of the ethics of the Jains were derived from the Aryan code of morality.