Eastern Religions: Jainism and Sikhism

These two religions are from the subcontinent.  They are closely related to Hinduism, as is Buddhism.

Jainism

There are between 6 -7 million Jains in the world.  Most live in India.  There are about 80,000 in the U.S.A. (Countries with the Largest Jain Populations, worldatlas.com).

The history of the religion seems to begin with Vardhamana aka Mahavira (“great man”).  [Though, the Jains believe that the principles of Jainism is eternal].  Mahavira (c. 599 B.C. – 527 B.C.) was born in northeastern India.  He was a prince and lived for a while in luxury.  Then, he became an ascetic.  He spent twelve years (Age 30-42) searching for enlightenment.  He discarded his robe and wandered naked through India.  He spent time in self-denial and meditation.  He claimed to have found enlightenment at the age of 42 – He then began to teach his beliefs (Josh McDowell & Don Stewart, Handbook of Today’s Religions, p. 296-ff; BBC-Religion:Jainism, bbc.co.uk).

The name “Jain” is from the Sanskrit “Jina,” meaning “victor” or conquerer.” “The designation was given to Mahavira for his achievement of victory over his bodily desires.  His disciples were thus “Jains” (McDowell & Stewart).

What do Jains believe?  Here are some of their beliefs:

  1.  They do not believe in a God or Creator. However, Mahavira has become an object of worship and prayer, as have the other twenty three Tirthankara (literally, “ford maker”; that is one who leads the way across the stream of rebirths to salvation).
  2. They believe that the universe is eternal.
  3. They believe in a casteless society, rejecting the Hindu caste system.
  4. They believe in Karma and reincarnation, much like the Hindus. However, they believe that the soul maintains individual identity after liberation (Moksha).  This is different from Hinduism.
  5. They believe in living by Five Great Vows (Five Nahavratas) (a) Non-violence (Ahimsa). Jains vow to harm no living being, including human, animal, and even plant.  Some sweep the dirt before them when walking to keep from stepping on bugs and small creatures.  Some wear cover their noses and mouths with cloth to prevent accidentally breathing in small creatures like gnats.  They are vegetarians and vegans.  Some avoid eating roots and subterranean produce, lest they harm or kill the plant.  They tend to avoid occupations in agriculture, and other such occupations which might result in harming or killing something.  (b) Truth (Satya).  They vow to speak the truth, and not lie.  (c) Not stealing (Asteya).  Nothing is to be taken without permission.  (d) Celibacy (Brahmacharya).  This means no sex for monks and nuns.  This means fidelity to one’s spouse for all others.  (e) Non-possessiveness (Aparigrapha).  Non-attachment to material things is the meaning.  Monks and nuns renounce property.  (McDowell & Stewart, Britannica Vol. 10 c. 1979, BBC; Jainism, Wikipedia).

Ahimsa seems impossible.  How can one go through life without harming or killing any living thing?  Remember that there are even micro-organisms.  Drink water and you will kill something.  However, the idea seems to be to seek to do all you can to avoid harming anything (BBC).  Self-defense is allowed (ibid).

There are two major sects: (1) Digambara (skyclad).  Monks wear no clothes.  Nuns wear plain white sarees.  Women cannot reach liberation (Moksha) without being reincarnated as a man.  (2) Suetambara (white clad).  Monks and nuns wear white clothes (Britannica, BBC, Wikipedia).

Sikhism

Some believe that this should be counted as the sixth major world religion (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism).  There are about 24 million Sikhs in the world.  Most live in Punjab, India.  There are about 250,000 Sikhs living in the U.S.A. (Countries With the Largest Sikh Populations, worldatlas.com).

The history or the religion begins with Guru Nanak Devji (1469-1539 A.D.).  He was born in Punjab, Pakistan to a Hindu family.  At the age of 18, he married.  They would have two sons.  He worked as an accountant and manager of a grainery.  At the age of 30, he claimed to have had a vision.  He declared, “There is no Hindu and no Musalman” (Muslim, B.H.).

He began to proclaim the message of Sikhism.  Some describe it as an attempt to harmonize Hinduism and Islam (Bio info- McDowell & Stewart, p. 400-ff; Nanak Biography, biographyonline.net).

There is a Sikh legend concerning Nanak’s death.  There was a controversy as he neared death.  His muslim friends wanted to bury him.  His Hindu friends wanted to cremate him.  He said, “Let the Hindus place flowers on my right, and the Musalmans on my left.  They whose flowers are found fresh in the morning, may dispose of my body.”  He then drew a sheet over himself and sent them away.  The next morning, nothing was found under the sheet.  However, the flowers on both sides were still fresh (McDowell & Stewart; Guru Nanak, Sikhs.org).  There are a couple of issues with this story.  First, who watched the body?  Second, this story is known from later Sikh writings.  Where is the supporting evidence?

The name “Sikh” means “disciple” (McDowell & Stewart).  They are disciples of the Guru (teacher) Nanak.

What do Sikhs believe?  Here are some of their beliefs:

  1. They believe that there is only one God. He is the Creator, Sustainer, and Destroyer.  He is the same God of all people and all religions.  He is not to be represented by pictures or idols.  He does not take on human form.
  2. They reject the Hindu caste system, but some may maintain their own.
  3. They believe in full equality of the sexes, and of the races.
  4. They believe in Karma and reincarnation.
  5. They believe that one should abstain from alcohol, tobacco, and narcotics.
  6. They believe in serving others, not asceticism.
  7. Their holy book is Adi Granth. It is a collection of nearly 6,000 hymns from Sikh Gurus, and devotional songs from Hindus and Muslims.  The first version appeared in 1604 A.D..
  8. The Khalsa (Pure) order are baptized, and observed the 5 K’s: (1) Kesh (uncut hair). The hair of the head, the beard, and body are allowed to grow uncut.  This is to show acceptance of God’s perfect creation. (2) Kangha (wooden comb).  A wooden comb is placed in the topknot of hair which is covered by a turban.  This represents discipline, cleanliness, and care of God’s creation.  (3) Kachera (short trousers).  This is usually worn as undergarments, today.  It symbolizes modesty and chastity.  (4) Kirpan (sword).  This is worn as a reminder to be courageous, and to be willing to defend one’s faith, the weak, and the oppressed.  Sikhs are big on serving in the police and military.  (5) Kara (bangle or bracelet).  A steel or iron bangle is worn on the right hand.  This is worn to remind one that God has no beginning or end.  It is a slave’s bangle reminding one that he belongs to God.  (Sources: McDowell & Stewart; Brittanica; Sikhs, H.A. “Buster” Dobbs; Sikhs.org; The 5 K’s, amritsar.com; What are the Five K’s of Sikhism?, thoughtco.com; Wearing the 5 K’s, Sikhdharma.org; Five K’s, Sikhiwiki.org).  Male of this order wear the name Singh (Lion), and the females Kaur (Princess).

Thoughts

It is helpful to know that basics of what others believe.  This is especially true if you are involved in evangelism.

However, one does not have to know everything about other religions.  Nor, should one feel that he has to always refute the details of another religion.  These things are not necessary.

What is needed for one to make a strong case for Christianity.  Take them to the evidence.  No other religion provides such abundant evidence.

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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