What are the main practices of Jainism?

To understand the main practices of Jainism, it is important to understand the main sects of Jainism. Just as in Christianity there are Protestants & Catholics, in Islam there are Sufi and Sunni, in Jainism the two main sects are Shwetambaras and Digambaras. Although they unanimously believe in the teachings of Lord Mahaveer, there are various minor differences in their scriptures and practise of religion. One of the most prevalent differences in the sects are that the male monks of the Digamabaras do not have any possession whatsoever (not even clothes), whereas the monks of the Shwetambaras sect do wear clothes. Moreover, the idols of the Shwetambaras have eyes fully open and are ornately decorated, whilst the idols of the Digambaras are undecorated in their natural form with eyes semi-closed in meditation.

Within the Shwetambaras there are again two main sects – Murti Pujak and Sthanakvasi. Although there can be various nuances in their practise of religion, the fundamental difference is that murti pujak believe in various rituals, decorations, offerings to the Lord whereas Sthanakvasi believe in purification of the soul through reading scriptures and meditation. In simple parlance, Murti Pujak focus on “form”, whereas Sthanakvasi focus on the “formless”. Therefore Sthanakvasis do not tend to go to temples and perform various rituals, instead they would gather in a hall or at homes and engage in self realisation through reading scriptures, contemplation and concentration on the purification of the soul.

All sects unequivocally believe in the practise of Samayika which is considered to be one of the Avashyakas (essential duties). The essence is to remain in equanimity for 48 minutes during which devotees can do various things (dhyana or meditation), pratikramana (repentence of sins), mantra jaap (recitation) or using rosaries, kayotsarga (non-attachment to the body), pratyakhyana (taking religious vows), etc.
Another practise prevalent in all sects is listening to the spirtual discourses by monks and nuns. This is a very effective way of the revered ascetics to pass on their deep understanding of the scriptures and guide the laity on how to live a spiritual life.

There are two forms of puja (worship):

(i) Anga Puja – this is done by anointing the idol with water, sandalwood paste, flowers, crown, etc

(ii) Agra Puja – this is done by placing incense, lamp, rice, fruit and sweets in front of the idols each having a special spiritual significance.

Both of these forms of worship is collectively known as Ashta Prakari Puja. Since this form of worship involves use of various materials it is called Dravya Puja (physical worship). On the other hand, worshipping on the Lord’s qualities and contemplating on imbibing such qualities in our lives constitues Bhava Puja. All these forms of worhship are mainly performed by the Shwetambara sect. Performing tapa (austerities) is also a common practise during the year. The 9 day fasting of Ayambil occurs twice a year and the most important festival of forgiveness called Paryushan occurs annually.

The main Digambara forms of worship are abhishek (anointing the idol), reciting prayers, adoration the virtues of the enlightened souls. Their festival of forgiveness is called Das Lakshana in which 10 supreme attributes of the Lord are reflected upon deeply.

Whilst all of the above describes the various ritual and forms of worship, the emphasis from many spiritual gurus nowadays is to primarily focus on how to become a better person by renouncing vices, adopting virtues and learning the Art of Living. Externally diligently performing all the various forms of worship, but being very greedy, angry, deceitful, proud nullifies the benefits of the rituals.

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