This book is designed to be an introduction to Jainism as a religious tradition and way of life. It opens with a retelling of Lord Mahavira, whom Jains revere as the most recent of their great omniscient teachers, and stresses the key role his life-story plays as a charter for Jain belief and practice. This is followed by chapters dealing with Jain teachings as they are manifested in varying contexts: as formal doctrines but also as guideposts shaping the way of life of lay Jains as well as the monastic spiritual elite. No discussion of Jainism would be complete without a description of its extremely complex systems of biological and cosmographic knowledge, and the book devotes a chapter to showing how these systems express basic Jain concepts and values.
In an Afterword, the author reflects on the question of the relationship between Jain and Hindu religious identities.
Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism are grouped together as ancient Indic religions. All three religions have similarities as well as differences as they have coexisted together for thousands of years, influencing and in turn being influenced by each other.
The relationship between these three faiths may be understood by this analogy.
Three magnificent palaces were built close to each other, using the same raw materials. Despite obvious similarities, all three are distinct and unique. These palaces may be understood as Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.
As an introduction to Jainism as a religious tradition and way of life, this book pays due attention to Jainism’s history and doctrinal basics. However, the author also traces the ways in which formal Jain teachings are manifested in the practices of both laity and the monastic elite, explores the distinctive Jain systems of cosmographic and biological knowledge, and describes how Jainism is woven into the social identities of Jain communities in modern India.
The author, Lawrence A. Babb is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Asian Studies at Amherst College, Massachusetts. He is the author of several prestigious books and a renowned scholar of South Asian Studies.