Jainism contains many mythological narratives and short stories, designed to explain doctrinal teachings and impart valuable life-lessons. For example, the difficulty of freeing oneself from karma is one of the central Jain beliefs, which is explained in many different ways in Jain literature. The following story, called The Human Condition, is one of the intricate analogies that are used to explain the suffering of the soul in the world:
In a dense forest, a man was pursued by an elephant. He turned to flee, but a demon with a sword barred his path. He tried to climb a great tree, but its trunk was too slippery and he fell into a deep well. At the edge of the well was a small clump of roots, which he just managed to grasp to prevent his fall, but looking down he saw snakes, including a great python, ready to devour him. When he raised his head again, to his horror he saw mice nibbling at the roots to which he was clinging. Meanwhile the enraged elephant had dislodged a wild bees’ nest, disturbing the bees which began to sting the man. However, a single drop of honey fell upon his tongue and he immediately forgot his perils and thought only of getting another drop of honey.
The man is the soul and the forest represents samsara, the endless wheel of reincarnation. The elephant is death, while the demon is old age. The well represents human life; the serpents are passion; and the python is hell. The tree represents enlightenment, far too difficult for an ordinary soul to achieve. The bees are disease and pain, while the honey represents the trivial pleasures of life, distracting from the true suffering of existence.
Analogies such as this one are often passed down orally in the Jain tradition.
Besides short stories, Jains also write poetry to depict religious themes of reincarnation and moksha, or liberation. The Banarasivilasa, for example, is a popular anthology of Digambara religious poetry. The original manuscript is kept in India and is especially important, as the work is hardly found anywhere else in the world.
Original Banarasivilasa manuscript
Below, please find other examples of Jain poetry, translated into English.
Jaina Dharma, my divine path to Moksha or salvation
to achieve my soul’s ultimate liberation;
through self-effort, non-violence, non-absolutism, non-possessiveness,
renunciation, retrospection, introspection, serenity, and stillness.
I bow in veneration to those already liberated,
traveling on the prescribed paths Lord Jina advocated.
My soul deeply yearns to break through enslaving barriers
of worldly attachments and material desires.
Seeking freedom from the enduring bondage of Karma,
I desire release from the cycle of reincarnation and achieve Nirvana;
to transform to a bodiless state of enlightenment attaining perfection,
infinite knowledge, bliss, power, and perception.
The Jaina & His Jainism:
O, you tell me about the Jainas and their Jainism,
Lord Mahavira and his Jainism,
Born to King Sidhartha and Queen Trishala
At Kundalagrama (modern Hajipur) ,
The Licchavi crown prince from Vaishali,
Had been virtuous
And earthly possessions could not tempt him
And he renouncing the life of worldly pleasures and attraction
And taking to the recourse of austere sadhna
Rarely to be seen in the history of man
And attaining his siddhi
Under a shal tree
The Jina, the victorious one over attachment and aversion,
The one telling of
Non-violence, truthfulness and self-control in such a way!
The Lord in meditation under a tree,
Doing austere sadhna
For the attainment of knowledge,
Renouncing the world,
But none telling about the pains
Of Yasoda and Priyadarshana,
The internal pains of the wife and the daughter
As the father on a greater mission no doubt,
But the prince not
Into the bonds of maya-moha,
Going the way of his own,
Consolidating the foundation-stone of
The Jains and Jaininsm,
As he is the 24th Tirthankara,
Carrying the message of the lineage
Of the great ascetics.
Lord Mahavira in meditation,
Seated under a tree,
In a posture of his own
With the hands on the knees,
And the body straight upwards
But the eyes closed
And he lost in a sadhna,
The posture artistic
Which the stone statues trying to capture them,
As the relics of artistic excellence.
Banarasivilasa Manuscript. Photograph. http://ogimages.bl.uk/images/033/033ORI000022393U00002VRB[SVC1].jpg