The purpose of a symbol is to provide an identity or image to an entity. It is an abstract view of the core values that uniquely identify an entity.
The entities can be various things. For instance, a flag is the symbol that uniquely identifies a country and may have some special core values associated with that country.
In the context of religion, it becomes a bit difficult to find a unique universal symbol or emblem, partly because there are a lot more concepts and values that may not be easy to abstract in one image and also because there is not a single governing body which dictates a religion.
In reality, a religion can have multiple symbols, which are considered important and provide a symbolic view of various core values and concepts. It is possible for a religious symbol to have multiple meanings or may be shared among multiple religions.
The Jain Emblem is a congregation of various symbols, each having a deeper meaning. This symbol was adopted by all sects of Jainism while commemorating the 2500th anniversary of the nirvana of Lord Mahaveera as an emblem for the Jain religion in 1975.
Since then, this emblem is used in almost all of the Jain magazines, wedding invitation cards, Jain festival cards, and every magazine with links to events related to Jain society.
Use of this emblem helps to create a culture showing dedication and trust for the religion and the values that are represented by the emblem.
The Jain emblem presents many fundamental concepts and symbols. The outline of the image represents the universe as described in Jain scriptures.
The Loka (Universe) is fourteen Rajus high at the base; with a thickness at the base is seven Rajus, then gradually decreases to one Rajus at a height of seven Rajus, i.e. at the middle of the Universe where the middle world or the region of the human and subhuman being is situated.
Then it gradually grows to a thickness of five Rajus at the point where the sixth Heavens ends, and which marks the Middle of the Upper World, or the region of the heavenly beings; finally, it gradually decreases to a thickness of one Rajus at the top of the Universe.
It is here, that the ‘Sidha Ksetra’ or the region of the eternally liberated souls is situated.
Thus, the Jai Emblem consists of three Loks (realms). The upper portion indicates heaven (Uadhvalok). It contains the heavenly abodes (Devloka) of all the celestial beings and abode of the Siddhas (Siddhashila).
The middle portion indicates material world (Madhya lok). It contains ‘Manushyalok’ the Earth and other planets.
The lower portion indicates hell ‘Adholok’. It contains the seven hells (Naraka). Jainism says that this universe was neither created by anyone, nor can it be destroyed by anyone. It may change its form, but otherwise, it has always been and will always be here.
At the top part of the Jain Universe symbol is a small curved arc. This semi-circular topmost portion symbolizes ‘Siddhshila’, which is a zone beyond the three realms.
All of the Siddhas (liberated bodiless souls) reside on this forever, liberated from the cycle of life and death. Nirvana in Jainism means final release from the karmic bondage.
An Arhat becomes a siddha, the liberated one, after attaining nirvana. It is the final resting place of the liberated souls. In order to achieve this stage, a soul must destroy all attached karmas.
Every living being should strive for this state of the Salvation or Liberation. The terms moksa and nirvana are often used interchangeably in the Jain texts.
The Swastika (all is well) is a cross with four arms of equal length, with the ends of each arm bent at a right angle. Sometimes dots are added between each arm. In the top portion of Emblem, there is a symbol of swastika.
It is a symbol of the seventh Jina (Saint), the Tirthankara Suparsvanath. It consist of two parts. One part includes the Red and Blue part of the image. Four arms of ‘Swastika’ symbolizes the four Gati (destiny): ‘Narak’ (demon), ‘Triyanch’ (animal), ‘Manushya’ (human) and ‘Dev’ (heavenly beings).
The crescent of the moon represents the region known as Moksha. This region is beyond the three worlds and it is the permanent place where the liberated souls reside and the dot i.e. the yellow part of the image represents the abode of the liberated souls (Siddha – Loka or Siddhashila or Moksha) which is a zone beyond the three realms (loks).
It represents the perpetual nature of the universe in the Madhyalok (material world), where a creature is destined to one of those states based on their Karmas (deeds). It also represents the four columns of the Jain Sangh (community): Sadhus, Sadhvis, Shravaks and Shravikas – monks, nuns, female and male laymen.
It also represents the four characteristics of the soul: Infinite knowledge (Anant Jnan), infinite perception (Anant Darshan), infinite happiness (Anant Sukh), and infinite energy (Anant Virya).
The swastika is an ancient symbol found worldwide, but it is especially common in India. The swastika’s Indian name comes the Sanskrit word ‘Svasti’, meaning ‘good fortune’, luck and well-being. In Hinduism, the right-hand (clockwise) swastika is a symbol of the sun and the god Vishnu, while the left-hand (counterclockwise) swastika represents Kali and magic.
The Buddhist swastika is usually clockwise, while the swastika adopted by the Nazis is counterclockwise. It can be seen in the art of the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Celts, Native Americans, and Persians as well Hindus, Jains and Buddhists.
Swastikas used in this context can be either left or right facing. It is known as The Heart’s Seal. The swastika appears on the chest of some statues of Gautama Buddha and is often incised on the soles of the feet of the Buddha in statuary.
Because of the association of the right-facing swastika with Nazism, Buddhist swastikas (outside India only) after the mid-20th century are almost universally left facing.
Today the symbol is used in Buddhist art and scripture and represents dharma, universal harmony, and the balance of opposites.
The three dots above the swastika represent the three jewels (Triratna) of Jainism: Samyak Darshan (Right Faith), Samyak Jnan (Right Knowledge), and Samyak Charitra (Right Conduct). The three dots represent the Jain path of liberation:
The right knowledge means having the knowledge that soul and body are separate and that the soul, not the body attains the salvation.
The right faith means one must have faith in what is told by Jinas, who were omniscient.
The right conduct means that our actions should be void of attachment and hatred.
Every creature in this world can become free from the cycle of life and death by adopting. This gives the message that it is necessary to have Triratna in order to attain ‘Moksha’.
Palm of the Hand
The ‘Palm of the Hand’ in the lower portion shows ‘do not be afraid‘, (fearlessness). It indicates that human beings suffering due to karmic bondage do not need to be disheartened.
It also symbolizes the feeling of Ahimsa (non-violence) towards all the creatures in this world. Another meaning is “stop and think before you act to assure that all possible violence is avoided.”
This gives us a chance to scrutinize our activities to be sure that they will not hurt anyone by our words, thoughts, or actions. We are also not supposed to ask or encourage others to take part in any harmful activity.
The wheel in the middle of the hand symbolizes ‘Samasarm’ (reincarnation cycle). It shows that if we are not careful, ignore these warnings, carry on violent activities, then just as the wheel goes round, and round, we will go round and round through the cycles of birth and death.
The 24 spokes represents the preaching from the 24 Tirthankars (enlightened souls), which can be used to liberate a soul from the cycle or reincarnation.
It reminds us that worldly souls undergo a continuous cycle of birth, suffering, and death in these four forms.
The Dharma Wheel, ‘Dhamma chakka’, is one of the most well-known symbols of Buddhism. The wheel symbolise the Wheel of Buddhist Law, the endless cycle of birth and rebirth.
“The wheel (Dharmachakra), as already mentioned, was adopted by Buddha’s disciples as the symbol of his doctrine. The rim, which holds the spokes, refers to mindfulness or samadhi, which holds everything together.
“Ambedkar, as a member of Nehru’s first cabinet, proposed the use of the Buddhist dharmachakra or “wheel of the law” on the new flag of India and the Ashokan lion-capital on the national currency.
The hand with a wheel on the palm symbolizes the Jain Vow of Ahimsa. The word in the middle is “Ahimsa“. In Jainism, the understanding and implementation of ahimsa is more radical, scrupulous, and comprehensive than in any other religion.
Non-violence is seen as the most essential religious duty for everyone Ahimsa Paramo Dharmah, a statement often inscribed on Jain temples).
The Jain concept of ahimsa is characterized by several aspects. It does not make any exception for ritual sacrificers and professional warrior-hunters.
Killing of animals for food is absolutely ruled out. Jains also make considerable efforts not to injure plants in everyday life as far as possible.
Though they admit that plants must be destroyed for the sake of food, they accept such violence only inasmuch as it is indispensable for human survival, and there are special instructions for preventing unnecessary violence against plants.
Jains go out of their way so as not to hurt even small insects and other minuscule animals.
In their view, injury caused by carelessness is like injury caused by deliberate action. Eating honey is strictly outlawed, as it would amount to violence against the bees.
Some Jains abstain from farming because it inevitably entails unintentional killing or injuring of many small animals, such as worms and insects, but agriculture is not forbidden in general and there are Jain farmers.
In contrast, Jains agree with Hindus that violence in self-defense can be justified, and they agree that a soldier who kills enemies in combat is performing a legitimate duty.
Jain communities accepted the use of military power for their defense, and there were Jain monarchs, military commanders, and soldiers. Though, theoretically, all life forms are said to deserve full protection from all kinds of injury, Jains admit that this ideal cannot be completely implemented in practice.
Hence, they recognize a hierarchy of life. Mobile beings are given higher protection than immobile ones. For the mobile beings, they distinguish between one-sensed, two-sensed, three-sensed, four-sensed and five-sensed ones; a one-sensed animal has touch as its only sensory modality.
The more senses a being has, the more they care about its protection. Among the five-sensed beings, the rational ones (humans) are most strongly protected by Jain ahimsa.
In the practice of ahimsa, the requirements are less strict for the laypersons who have undertaken Anuvrata (Lesser Vows) than for the monks and nuns who are bound by Mahavrata (Great Vows).
The aphorism ‘Parasparopagraho Jivanam’ has been accepted as motto of Jainism. It stresses the philosophy of non-violence and ecological harmony on which the Jain ethics and doctrine especially the doctrines of Ahmisa and Anekantavada are based.
Parasparopagraho Jivanam is a Sanskrit sutra or aphorism of the Jain text. It is translated as: Souls render service to one another.
It is also translated as: All life is bound together by mutual support and interdependence.
The etymological root of the phrase Parasparopagraho Jivanam lies in the compound of three Sanskrit words: paraspara (mutual), upagraha (assistance) and jiva (living beings jivanam is plural of jiva).
Mahavira proclaimed a profound truth for all times to come when he said: “One who neglects or disregards the existence of earth, air, fire, water and vegetation disregards his own existence which is entwined with them.”
Jain cosmology recognizes the fundamental natural phenomenon of symbiosis or mutual dependence, which forms the basis of the modern day science of ecology.
The ancient Jain scriptural aphorism ‘Parasparopagraho Jivanam’ is refreshingly contemporary in its premise and perspective.
It means that all aspects of nature belong together and are bound in a physical as well as a metaphysical relationship. Life is viewed as a gift of togetherness, accommodation and assistance in a universe teeming with interdependent constituents.
Compassion and reverence for life are the sheet-anchor of the Jain quest for peace, harmony and rectitude, based on spiritual and physical symbiosis and a sense of responsibility and restraint.
The term Ahimsa is stated in the negative, but it is rooted in a host of positive aims and actions which have great relevance to contemporary environmental concerns.
It is a principle of compassion and responsibility, which should be practised not only towards human beings, but towards all animals and nature.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi strongly believed in this principle. Avoidance of verbal and physical violence is also a part of this principle, although ahimsa recognizes self-defense when necessary, as a sign of a strong spirit.
The overall symbol depicts the belief that living beings of all the three worlds (heaven, hell, and earth) suffer from the miseries of transmigratory existence.
They can follow the path of true religion, which is Right Faith, Right Knowledge, and Right Conduct as expounded by the Tirthankars. This will bring auspiciousness to them, minimize suffering to others, and help them to obtain perfection, after which they will live forever as perfected beings.
Thus, the Jain emblem represents many important concepts to show the path to enlightenment by following the basic principles of ‘Ahimsa’ (non-violence), ‘Triratna’ (right belief, right knowledge and right conduct) and helping others.
It is important that an emblem is used consistently in the same format to preserve its value and the meaning.