Introducing World Religions

A Christian Engagement

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4. Jainism

Discussion Questions

  1. Despite Jainism being one of the most severe ascetic religious traditions, are there aspects of the tradition that you find appealing? Why?
  2. The story about a farmhouse has been used by Jains as an analogy to explain the various aspects of the Jain theory of karma. Can you create a story that might convey the important themes of Christianity? What elements would seem essential to the story?
  3. Jains affirm that the heat (tapas) generated by austerity produces spiritual power while burning down the accumulated karma that binds the soul to existence. Who or what does the “work” or, comparatively, generates the heat (tapas), to make Christian faith efficacious? For instance, is the efficacy a work of the Christian believer, God, or a combination? Explain. What Bible verses and theological concepts help guide your thinking?
  4. The concept of jiva (soul) is central to a Jain view of the world. Compare and contrast a Christian view of soul considering the biblical and theological affirmations about all people, regardless of religion, politics, or ethnicity, bearing the image of God (imago Dei).
  5. On what biblical and theological grounds might Christians affirm the Jain doctrine of ahimsa (non-violence to any living thing)? What biblical and theological arguments might serve to challenge ahimsa? For instance, does Christianity allow or disallow the use of physical force? If so, under what conditions may violence be employed?
  6. According to Jain cosmology, the universe runs on its own cosmic laws, with no creator deity who initiated the creative act. Compare and contrast the Jain and Christian views of cosmology and discuss the implications of these perspectives to our understanding of the cosmos, world, God, and one another.
  7. The Jain tradition emphasizes the physical nature of karma, as though karma is a substance that weighs down the soul, keeping the soul in the bondage of existence. Are there any parallels between the Jain notion of karma as burdening the soul and a Christian understanding of action as impeding the soul?
  8. What elements of Jain thinking did Mahatma Gandhi adopt in his struggle against the British Raj? What features of Christianity did Gandhi incorporate into his thinking and actions?
  9. The Jain daily prayer invokes the five classes of superior beings (i.e., spirits, patriarchs, ascetic leaders, living saints, and all ascetics). How do prayers within the Christian tradition function in the same way to remind Christians of superior people or “saints”? Or, in contrast, how do Christian prayers differ from Jain prayers?
  10. The South Asian religious traditions (i.e., Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism) each affirm the importance of understanding karma (mental and physical action) in relationship to liberation. How do Christians (e.g., Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant) interpret the role of action in salvation?