One of the best-known Svetambara Jain ceremonies is the eightfold puja (eightfold offering). This involves the worshipper making eight symbolic offerings to the image of a tirthankara.The worshipper walks three times clockwise round the images
Some of the symbolism is outlined below, but there is no official code of symbolism, so different Jain groups will have different ideas about it.
One idea common to many groups is that the various offerings are not so much a gift to the tirthankara (which would be pointless) but a giving up of them by the worshipper in a gesture of renunciation.
Before the ritual the worshipper washes themselves and puts on clean unstitched clothes that are normally used only for worship. These clothes are never used when eating or going to the toilet.
On the way to the temple the worshipper stops thinking of worldly things and prepares themselves mentally for worship.
At the temple
Worshippers enter the temple and say "nisihi". This means "giving up" and indicates that they are moving from the secular activities into spiritual ones. They say it again as they enter the inner room that contains the images of the tirthankaras.
A worshipper making the eight symbolic offerings
The worshipper walks three times clockwise round the area containing the images to symbolise the three jewels of right faith, right knowledge, and right conduct. There are set texts to be chanted during this.
Then the worshipper makes 8 offerings:
- Water: poured on the image, to cleanse it and to symbolise purity
- Sandalwood and saffron paste: dabbed on the key parts of the image. Sandalwood is thought to cool fever, so this action symbolises cooling the passions
- Flowers: a garland round the image symbolises faith in the teachings, or forgiveness, or the fragrance of the three jewels
- Incense: waved at the image to symbolise the removal of ignorance and desire, or the burning away of karmic particles
- Light: a lamp is waved towards the image to symbolise enlightenment destroying the darkness of ignorance, or the suppression of activity
The last three offerings are made at a distance from the image:
The food offerings are arranged symbolically on a table:
Rice is shaped into a swastika: the four corners of the swastika symbolise the four states into which a soul can be born - human, plant/animal, heavenly being, hell being.
Three dots are made above the swastika to symbolise the three jewels of right faith, right knowledge and right conduct. Above those comes a crescent with a dot above it, which symbolises the liberated beings at the very top of the universe.
The worshipper then adds fruit and other food, and money to the offering.
Finally each worshipper spends time in prayer and contemplation of the image.
Purpose of worship
The motive and purpose of Jain worship is very different from worship in many other religions - in fact it would seem that Jain principles make worship both unnecessary and futile.
Jain worship seems to contain elements similar to Hindu worship
Jains don't worship to please gods, or in the hope of getting something from gods in return. But nevertheless, Jains do worship
At a superficial level Jain temple worship seems to contain elements similar to worship in Hindu temples. This is the result of the cultural influence of other Indian religions on the Jain community, and not a reflection of the Jain philosophy.
A key difference between Jain and Hindu worship, which seems similar on the surface, is that although Jains appear to worship the tirthankaras in particular they don't worship them as persons: what they worship is the ideal of perfection that the tirthankaras have achieved.
The purpose of Jain worship
Jain worship provides the individual with a discipline that helps them concentrate on the Jain ideals, and cultivate detachment.
The worshipper concentrates on the virtues of the tirthankaras and other pure souls, in order to help them follow their example.
The worshipper concentrates on the virtues they want to emulate
So for Jains worship is only a means to an end and not a spiritual end in itself. And worship is not a sufficient means to that end.
Social effect of Jain worship
Worship in the temple, although mostly individual, does have the social benefit of binding the Jain community together, but this isn't a religious benefit, merely a side-effect.
Problems and benefits
Worship and prayer
Jain worship and prayer are radically different to the worship and prayer found in many other faiths. There are three main reasons for this:
Jain worship and prayer are different to the practices of many other faiths
Jainism is action, not devotion
Jainism is a religion where the follower is expected to help themselves towards salvation, through thinking and acting in the proper way. Some say that it is a religion "of action, not devotion", although others say that devotion and action can be the same thing.
Nonetheless, many Jains in India worship at their temple every day, and join forces for community worship on festival days.
There's no point in praying to gods in order to get anything but spiritual benefit
Jains say that if a person takes part in prayer or worship (or gives to charity) because they want to get something then they won't get any spiritual benefit from that worship, let alone any material benefit.
Jains have little reason to pray to gods out of self-interest since only devas can give help, siddhas cannot; and the operation of karma, which sets the quality of a being's life, is completely automatic and cannot be influenced by prayer.
Prayer cannot benefit the being who is worshipped
Jains know that spiritual beings can't benefit from being worshipped, because:
- Such beings are beyond human contact
- Such beings have been liberated from all desires and passions and so they cannot be pleased by worship or anything else
The act of worshipping brings about spiritual purification
So on the face of it, there is no reason for Jains to worship. Yet they do.
Why Jains worship
Despite everything said above, Jains have good reasons for worshipping:
- It improves the spiritual state of the worshipper.
- The very act of worshipping brings about spiritual purification - rather as going to the gym improves the body.
- It can destroy bad karma attached to the soul.
- It provides a focus for spiritual activity.
- It acknowledges the worshipper's own inherent divinity.
- It reminds the worshipper of the life-example they want to follow.
Jain prayers aren't like the God-focussed prayers found in Christianity. Instead Jain prayers tend to recall the great acts of the tirthankaras and remind the individual of the various teachings of Mahavira.
Jain prayers recall the tirthankaras and Mahavira's teachings
Jain prayer is part of a being's spiritual development; it is a means to an end and not an end in itself.
Jains do not pray to ask the tirthankaras for grace or material favours, but to inspire them in their practice.
Prayers are spoken in the ancient dialect of Ardha Magadhi (which is as old as Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ).
The daily prayer
One of the most important Jain prayers is the Namaskara Sutra which praises the five great beings of Jainism:
This prayer does not worship any particular individual. It worships the virtues of the arihantas, the siddhas, the acharyas, the upadhyayas and sadhus.
This prayer is learnt by all Jain children. It is often the first prayer a Jain will say when rising in the morning and the last prayer said before going to sleep for the night.
The prayer of forgiveness
This prayer begins by forgiving all beings for anything they may have done to the person praying, it goes on to ask forgiveness of all beings (including the tiniest insect) for anything that the person praying may have done to them.
The order of the prayer is very typical of Jainism - the person praying begins with the things they can change in themselves, rather than asking for changes in others.
The prayer of forgiveness begins by forgiving all beings for anything.
A modern Jain prayer expresses the same idea:
And a posting to an email list offered this variation which is both modern in expression and eternal in attitude:
Svetambara Jain images are always decorated
There are some beautiful Jain temples in India, although the majority of Jain temples are much plainer structures.
Jain temples contain images of tirthankaras; either in seated meditation, or standing. A seated image or images is usually the focus of a temple interior. Jains make offerings to the images as part of their worship.
Jain temples range from the immense and elaborate to the very plainest of worship rooms.
The two largest Jain sects decorate their temples in different ways.
Digambara Jain temples have tirthankara statues that are undecorated and unpainted.
In Svetambara Jain temples the images are always decorated - with painted or glass eyes and sometimes ornaments of gold, silver, and jewels on the forehead. Further decoration is common.
Digambara Jain tirthankara statues are undecorated and unpainted
Svetambara Jains decorate images richly for festivals using flowers, paints, and jewels, and make decorative offerings of flowers, leaves, sandalwood, saffron, camphor, gold or silver leaf, pearls, precious stones or costume jewellery.
These offerings are renewed daily as a gesture of devotion.
Laity, monks and temple worship
Temple worship is of more importance to lay Jains than to Jain monks and nuns.
Many lay Jains focus their everyday religious life more strongly on devotional activities and temple worship, than on strictly following the Jain vows, probably because it is a great deal easier to go to the temple than to follow the Jain code strictly.
Although monks and nuns are often involved in temple life - particularly as teachers - they do not run temples in the way that the priests of other religions do. Some Jain communities (Sthanakavasis and Terapanthis in particular) are opposed to temple worship.
Svetambara monks wear thin white robes
Priests in temples
Svetambara Jain temples may have priests, but these are unlike the priests of many other religions in that they are only there to help with the rituals, and don't have the special status in the eyes of divine beings that some religions give their priests.
Some Jain temples give the task of helping with ceremonies to low grade ritual assistants called pujaris. Pujaris are rarely Jains themselves.
Monks and nuns in the Jain sects
Each of the two main Jain sects has their own monks and nuns.
Svetambara monks wear thin white robes while the Digambara monks reject any form of clothing whatsoever and live naked, or 'sky clad'. Nuns of both sects are clothed.
The life of a nun or monk
Jain monks and nuns should live the simplest and most austere lives, as this prescription of the qualities of a monk shows.
Lay Jains and ascetics
Jain lay people will show their monks and nuns great respect and veneration, inviting them to give teachings and confessing their faults before them.
Monks and nuns depend on charity and are permitted to seek their food. Lay Jains regard it as a duty to provide food and other necessities of life for monks and nuns, but monks and nuns will only accept food that has not been specially prepared for them.
Monks of this sect reject all worldly possessions in order to live a totally ascetic life.
Because they are allowed no possessions whatsoever they live without clothes and go "skyclad", which means naked. (Digambara nuns wear simple white clothes.)
Digambara monks reject all worldly possessions
Their nakedness is also a statement that they are beyond feelings such as modesty and shame.
But nakedness is not enough - it has to be nakedness for the right purpose and with the right attitude. Acharya Kundkund wrote:
Digambara monks live on the charity of others, but since they are not allowed even to own a bowl, they receive contributions in their cupped hands.
The religious life
There are great differences in the way of life of Digambara and Svetambara mendicants.
But in general, Jain monks and nuns live a hard life, with no or few worldly possessions. Although they are separated from their birth family they regard the whole world as their family.
They live in small groups of five or six, not in big monastic communities, and spend their day in meditation and study. The senior monk of the group will teach each morning to an audience of monks, nuns and lay people.
The monks depend on food that is given to them by local people, but only eat between sunrise and sunset.
Daily spiritual practices
Jains try to carry out certain spiritual acts every day. These are:
- honouring the tirthankaras
- paying respect to monks
- repenting for sins
- self-control through sitting meditation for 48 minutes
- going without something pleasurable
Daily routine for image-worshipping lay Jains
What follows is an outline of the spiritual routine of a particularly observant lay Jain - most Jains won't carry out all of this, although they will try to include as much as possible.
- Morning prayers - before dawn
- Panca Namaskara Sutra:
I bow to the enlightened souls
I bow to the liberated souls
I bow to religious leaders
I bow to religious teachers
I bow to all the monks in the world
- Pratikramana - repentance for harm done during the night.
- temple visit for worship and hearing teaching
- care for others
- greetings and donations to monks and nuns
- care for people in need
- prayer before lunch
- eat last meal of day before darkness falls
- temple visit for worship (these visits are often replaced by ceremonies in the home)
- Pratikramana - repentance for harm done during the day
- reading of scriptures
At some point in the day, lay Jains try to fit in a 48 minute period of self-study and static meditation.