Question: "What is Jainism?"
Answer: Jainism began in the 6th century as a reformation movement within Hinduism. It is based on the teachings of its founder, Mahavira. Believing that a life of self-denial was the way to achieve “enlightenment,” Mahavira wandered naked and mute through India for 12 years, enduring hardship and abuse. After this, he took on disciples, preaching his newfound belief. Mahavira was vehemently opposed to the idea of acknowledging or worshipping a supreme being. Although Mahavira denied that any God or gods existed to be worshipped, he, like other religious leaders, was deified by his later followers. He was named the 24th Tirthankara, the last and greatest of the savior beings. According to Jain writings, Mahavira descended from heaven, committed no sin himself, and through meditation, freed himself from all earthly desires.
Jainism is a religion of extreme legalism, for one attains his own salvation only through the path of asceticism (rigid self-denial). There is no freedom in this religion, only rules, primarily the Five Great Vows, which mandate the renunciation of (1) killing living things, (2) lying, (3) greed, (4) sexual pleasure and (5) worldly attachments. Women are to be avoided entirely because they are thought to be the cause of all kinds of evil.
Like all false religion, Jainism is incompatible with biblical Christianity. First, the Bible condemns the worship of any god apart from Jehovah, the true and living God. “I am the Lord your God…You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:2, 3). “I am Jehovah, and there is none else, no god beside Me” (Isaiah 45:5). Mahavira was not a god at all, but a man. Like all men, he was born, he sinned, and he died. He did not reach sinless perfection. Only one Man lived perfectly, the Lord Jesus Christ who “was in all points tempted just as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Second, the Bible makes it clear that following laws and teachings, even those from the true and living God, will never result in the righteousness required for salvation. “For by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16). The Bible teaches that salvation is by grace through faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9) who bore our sin on the cross so that we could bear His righteousness. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The faith Jesus taught alleviates the burdens of people while Jainism only adds to them.
Finally, two of Jainism’s “great vows” directly contradict the revealed Word of God. While avoiding greed, lying and worldly attachments is commendable, avoiding sexual pleasure, if taken to its extreme, would be the end of mankind. In order to assure the continuation of the generations of man on the earth, God granted the gift of sexual impulse to us. Within the constraints of holy marriage, the sexual impulse finds its complete fulfillment, and the future of our species is assured (Genesis 1:28; 2:24; 9:1). In addition, one of the tenets of Jainism is ahimsa, the forbidding of taking life in any form. This directly contradicts both the Old and New Testaments where God gave animals to mankind for food (Leviticus 11 and Acts 10).
Like all false religions, Jainism is another lie from Satan whose desire is to entrap us in a system which focuses our attention on ourselves, the turning inward of our minds and spirits in an attempt to make ourselves worthy through self-denial and the keeping of rules. Jesus commanded us to die to self, to live for Him and, through Him, for others. The failure of Jainism to advance much beyond certain areas of India speaks to the fact that it does not meet universal human need. This is in stark contrast to Jesus Christ, whose impact is universal.