Ancient Religions Of India Essay

1409 words - 6 pages

India’s three primary religions; Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism are all responses to the Aryan religion of Brahmanism. The Aryans came into power in Indian around 1000 B.C.E., and as their political influence spread, their religious beliefs followed in its wake. Two fundamental beliefs of Brahmanism are samsara and karma. Samsara deals with the cyclical nature of the soul and how death only brings rebirth into a new form. Depending upon the tally of a person’s good and bad deeds, which is considered karma, determines whether or not the next reincarnation will be an improvement or a disappointment. However, if one were able to completely understand that life was actually an illusion and that the only way to escape the endless cycle of reincarnation was to realize that reality is unchanging one could ascend above the endless cycle of birth, life and death. According to the Aryan priests, those that transcend the cycle of life will become one with Brahman and enter into an eternity of blissful non-being.
From Brahmanism, emerged Jainism, which adopted both the beliefs of karma and reincarnation, but expanded the realm of what life forms were eligible for rebirth and ultimately enlightenment. The founder of Jainism was Vardhamana Maharvira who became an ascetic, giving up his privileged status as a son of regional chieftain, and took on the role of a wandering holy man. After twelve years of wandering under austere conditions, Maharvira achieved enlightenment and became a “completed soul.” However, rather than ascend above the karmic chaos of the world, Maharvira remained on Earth to share his teachings for the next thirty years. The subsequent followers of Jainism believed that everything that inhabits the world has a soul, humans, animals, plants, and even rocks. According to Jainism, souls are bound to this world by the matter that has entrapped them through the consequences karma. So depending on the density of karma that envelope it, a soul will either float or sink. Followers of Jain believe that the way for a person to shed the karma that is weighing down their soul is by willingly taking on suffering and endeavoring to do no harm to any other creature through both thought and action. The most extreme followers chose to starve themselves in order to shed the karmic weight on their souls, as it is impossible to eat without doing harm to either plant or animal. The more moderate followers took the view that there is a hierarchy of life and, while all life is sacred, it is better to live and be a vegetarian than to be so strict as to avoid taking life in any form. However, even the moderate Jain would take pains not to kill any insects, to include those that live in the earth and help the soil, therefore, even the act of farming to produce the food that a Jain adherent would eat had to be avoided. The ultimate goal of those who followed the precepts of Jainism was to avoid violence of any kind; as a violent act will harm the...

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