On Nov. 13, the Jain community of Bakersfield will celebrate Diwali. Diwali is the day when the 24th and the last Tirthankar of Jainism, Mahavira, attained nirvana (freedom from the cycle of birth and death).
While most people celebrate Diwali with parties, fun and food, Jains celebrate Diwali with a somber tone. Much of the festival is spent fasting, praying and reading religious literature.
Jain religious scriptures are known as "agams" and bear equal importance to Jains just as the Bible's importance to the Christians and the Quran's importance to the Muslims.
Agams are texts of Jainism based on Mahavira's teachings. Mahavira's preachings were orally compiled by his disciples into various sutras (texts), which were collectively called Jain agamic literature.
Originally, these sutras were orally passed on from gurus to the disciples for several centuries. The earliest portions of Jain agams were composed around the fourth or third century B.C.
The agamic literature was passed from one head of the order to his disciples for around 170 years after the nirvana of Mahavirswami. However, with time, it became difficult to keep the entire Jain literature committed to memory.
A 12-year famine occurred around 350 B.C. and in that time frame it was extremely difficult for the Jain ascetics to survive.
Under such circumstances, they could not preserve the entire literature.
According to one Jainism sect, the agams were then collected on the basis of collective memory of the ascetics.
Jain literature is classified into two major categories:
Agam literature: This consists of original scriptures. They are written in the Prakrit language.
Non-agam literature: This consists of commentary and explanation of agam literature and independent works, complied by elder monks, nuns, and scholars. They are written in many languages such as Prakrit, Sanskrit, Old Marathi, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannad, Tamil, German and English.
Agams contains all the information related to soul, karmas and how karmas affect a person. The agam sutras show great reverence to all forms of life and stress the importance of strict codes of vegetarianism, asceticism and nonviolence.
The agam sutras teach eternal truth about right conduct, right knowledge, right faith, compassion, nonpossessiveness, equanimity, universal affection and friendship.
The agams lay out the path of the eternal truth on thinking and practicing the three principles of Jainism, which are nonviolence, multiplicity of viewpoints and nonpossessiveness.
Once these principles are adopted and enforced in a person's life, the road to Maksha is paved.