Minority religions in India – A short introduction to Sikhism and Jainism

amritsar

You cannot believe in God until you believe in yourself.

Swami Vivekananda

Today, when one is discussing India, the people speak about the Indian culture as it would only be the Hindu culture. But India is home to a vast variety of religions. According to the Census of India the majority (80.5%) of the Indian population is Hindu, but there are also approximately 19,215,730 Sikhs (1.9%) and 4,225,053 Jains (0.4). 75% of all Sikhs are located in Punjab, as is their famous religious site, the Golden Temple of Amritsar. Jains are mainly located in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. Even that India is officially a secular country, which means that religion and politics must not interfere each other, ethics and religion has always been a major topic in election campaigns since Independence. This article intends to provide a very brief overview of the major beliefs and principles of the Sikh and Jain religion in order to gain a more fundamental understanding of India’s diversity.

SIKHISM

sikhism

Sikhism has been founded by Guru Nanak in 15th century in Punjab has since then been a monotheistic religion. This usually indicates that either no or only one god is worshipped. In the case of Sikhism, God has neither form nor gender. Furthermore everyone is treated equally before god and hence everyone has direct access to god. Sikhs belief that spirituality and religion is about living a good life rather than carrying out empty rituals. A good life can be most easily be execute as part of community life, as in caring about beloved ones and living an honest life.

In Sikhism there are three main principles, that give guidance to all religious fellows and intend to evoke the best of the people:

  • Pray (Nam Japna): Keep God always in mind, think about him all the time
  • Work (Kirt Karna): Work hard and earn a honest living. This does also include abstaining from gambling, begging or working in the alcohol and tobacco industry.
  • Give (Vand Chhakna): One should share one’s earnings with others. This principle consist of two pillars, such as giving charity to the less fortunate, but also expressing honest caring about others.

As the main core of Sikh religion is living a good life, every kind of violation of this principle must be prevented. Violation is mainly caused because of self-centered behavior, such as pride, greed, attachment to worldly things, anger and lust. According to the Sikhs such misbehavior hinders a life with god and therefore must not be conducted.

As mentioned before, another basic principle of the Sikhs is equality among the society and before got. Hence they have always emphasized the importance of it. In order to prevent caste selection according to the surname as it happens in Hinduism, they decided to rename everyone. Men were from then on bearing the name Singh and women the name Kaur. Even though Sikhism is an independent religion and therefore is not originally part of the caste system, the Hindu religion was so ubiquitous, that they had to be included somehow. From the beginning on Sikhs were always depicted as good fighters and rulers. That is why till this day the rulers and the majority of army soldiers has always been Sikhs. In fact, from the moment on Sikhs enter the community they must carry the 5 K’s and one of them is a sword symbolizing they strong sense of defense. The 5 K’s: Kesh (long hair), Kangha (comb), Kara (iron bangle), Kaccha (under garnment) and the Karan (sword).

5Ks

JAINISM

Jainism was founded in 550 B.C. by  Mahavira from Bihar, India. He was born to a Hindu family, but he himself disagreed in certain aspects with the Brahmanic philosophy and hence established a new religion. There are still similarities to the Hinduistic principles, such as the belief in karma and liberation. What what makes Jainism special from all other religions in India are the strict, ascetic beliefs and the concept of non-violence as a main core of the religion. The principle of non-violence can also be found in Buddhism, but in Jainism all behavior evolves from this concept. For instance, Jains believe that every soul is potentially divine. One must only shed the karmic bonds in order to evolve divine consciousness. Non-violence is the only key to reach the stage of divine consciousness, which is the ultimate goal of life. But the spiritual development can only proceed if one is reliant on one’s self-control and wisdom. This is particularly in Jainism of importance, because the believe that any violation of moral principles will naturally evoke consequences is widely spread. This means, that not only physical behavior, but also mental behavior can have consequences to one’s life. Only a life according to the moral principles, will decrease the Karma and hence will lead to long-lasting happiness. Special about this aspect of of Jain religious believe is, that no behavior can be made forgotten. For instance, Christians can confess there sin’s in order to regain a pure image before god or Muslims can undergo intensive fasting and praying during the Ramadan to purify their soul, but in Jainism the concept of Karma (every behavior has action and reaction) disables the backdoor of purification of one’s sins. Besides non-violence, Jain religion gives three gems as guidance to liberation. With the right perception, knowledge and conduct a life with god and at the end of the life cycle, liberation can be achieved.

I can live as I like; but my voice is irrevocable, and I cannot escape the consequences of it. The soul alone is responsible for all it does.
-Basic principle of Jainism-

mahavira

As before in Sikh religion, the Jains also believe in certain ethical principles that form the frame of moral perception within Jain religion:

  • Non-Violence (Ahimsa): No living soul should be harmed
  • Truth (Satya): Always speak the truth in a harmless manner
  • Non-Stealing (Asteya): Do not take anything that is not willingly given to you
  • Celibacy (Brahmacaya): Do not indulge in sensual pleasures
  • Non-Possession (Aparigraha): Detach from people, places and worldly things

The concept behind no living soul being harmed is the main core of Jainism. The belief is that almost everything has life, that also includes sand, stones and trees. This leads to the very strict form of vegetarianism among Jains, because no living soul should be killed for nutrition purposes. Furthermore, while sunset Jains wear mouth masks as in not to hurt insects or other animals in the air. The religion also has strong influence on the job profession one will be involved in. Usually they pick non-violent professions, such as working at a bank.

As a last interesting fact, even the symbol of Jainism depicts the concept of non-violence. The wheel in the hand symbolizes the Dharmachakra, which halts the cycle of liberation through the pursuit of truth.

dharmachakra

“God has no religion”

-Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi-

Check out The Asian Network

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s