Jainism & Sikhism: Characteristics & Development

Instructor: Charles Kinney, Jr.
Jainism and Sikhism are often misunderstood religions common to India. Although similar in beliefs, there are very surprising differences between the two religions.

Two Religions Born Out of Hinduism

Jainism and Sikhism are religions originating from what today is India. Although they are similar, there are noticeable differences in religious habits and world views.

Both Jainism and Sikhism were born out of Hinduism and rejection of the Vedas, or the main scripture of the Hindu faith. For the Jains, Mahavira (ca. 599-527 BCE) is the 24th and last of the tirthankaras, or teachers of the way to enlightenment, a religious path to nirvana. Unlike the band from Seattle, nirvana is a state of bliss and selflessness in which the practitioner has achieved unity with Brahman, the creator of existence. The Jains believe there is no real god, and that everything has always been and always will be, without a beginning and an end. No one really knows how many Jains there are in the world, as many Jains identify themselves as Hindu.

Jain temple Manas Mandir

For Sikhs, Guru Nanak, in the late 15th century, founded Sikhism based on universal love and people who followed his ideas. Sikhism has ten gurus, or people who created texts and beliefs of the religion. Their beliefs are codified in the Guru Granth Sahib. Sikhism is based in the Punjab region of India, and is personified in the magnificent golden temple of Harmandir Sahib (1574) in the Punjab city of Amritsar, the Sikhs' spiritual center. This temple was made for all religions and both sexes to come and worship God equally. Sikhs believe in one god, also sometimes referred to as Allah, like in Islam. There are as many as 30 million Sikhs in the world, with one of the largest Sikh communities outside of India based in Canada.

Harmandir Sahib


While the Jains and Sikhs have mutually supported each other, there is a very big difference on how the religions view the world and their relation to it. Jainism is often referred to as the most peaceful religion on Earth, referred to as the belief of ahimsa. Jains have been known to wear masks so as not to injure small bugs they might inhale, and sometimes even brush the path in front of them so as not to step on and injure small life. Jains are usually strictly vegetarian and will fast (not eat) to continue the path to enlightenment.

Unlike the Jains, Sikhs have a long tradition of being capable warriors, although they believe seeking peace is the only true way to enlightenment. When that path is blocked, weapons are an acceptable form of self-defense. Sikhs are bound by honor to tell the truth. Although many Sikhs are vegetarians, they are not against eating meat and usually do not fast. Sikhs also usually carry a kirpan, a ceremonial sword. The kirpan is a symbol that Sikhs have spiritual wisdom. The sword is a metaphor for cutting away the self and egoism. With this sword, Sikhs are reminded that they can metaphorically remove the human condition of self and ego, which slows or stops the process of enlightenment. Sikhs will be quite offended if the sword is referred to as a weapon.

Sikh children with their kirpans, which are ceremonial swords.

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