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Jainism is an ancient Indian religion prescribing a path of non-violence for all forms of living beings in this world. Its philosophy and practice relies mainly on self effort to progress one's soul on the spiritual ladder to God consciousness. Any soul that has conquered its inner enemies and achieved the state of supreme being is called jina (Conqueror or Victor). Jainism is the path to achieve this state. Jainism is commonly referred to as Jain Dharma or Shraman Dharma or the religion of Nirgantha by ancient texts.

Jain Symbol

Jainism was revived by a lineage of 24 enlightened ascetics known as tirthankaras culminating with Parsva (9th century BCE) and Mahavira (6th century BCE). In the modern world, it is a small but very influential religious minority with as many as 4 million followers in India, and successful growing immigrant communities in North America, Western Europe, the Far East, Australia and other countries. Jains have sustained the ancient Shraman or ascetic religion and have significantly influenced other religious, ethical, political and economic spheres lying in India.

Jains have an tradition of scholarship and have the highest degree of literacy in all of India. Jain libraries are the oldest libraries in the country.


Jainism differs from different religions in its concept of God. Jainism regards all living souls as potentially divine. When the soul sheds its karmic bonds completely, it then attains God-consciousness. It prescribes a path of non-violence to progress the soul to achieve this ultimate goal.

Take a Bible quiz to learn how the views of God differ in christianity.

A Jain is a follower of the Jinas ("conquerors"). Jinas are spiritually advanced human beings that rediscover the dharma, become fully liberated and teach the spiritual path for the benefit of all living beings. Practicing Jains follow the teachings of 24 special jinas who are known as the Tirthankaras "('ford-makers", or "those who have discovered and shown the way to salvation"). Tradition states that the 24th, (most recent), Tirthankar is Shri Mahavir, who lived from 527 to 599 BC.

The main Jain prayer (Namokar Mantra) therefore salutes the five categories of souls that have attained God-consciousness or are on their way to achieving it, to emulate and to follow these paths to salvation.

There are five basic ethical principles (vows) that are prescribed. The degree to which these principles must be practiced is varies for renunciant and householder. Thus:

  • Non-violence (Ahimsa) – to cause no harm to living beings.
  • Truth (Satya) – to always speak the truth in a harmless manner.
  • Non-stealing (Asteya) – to not take anything that is not willingly given.
  • Celibacy (Brahmacarya) – to not indulge in sensual pleasures.
  • Non-possession (Aparigraha) – to detach from people, places, and material things.

Main Points

  • Every living being has a soul.
  • Every soul is divine, with innate, though typically unrealized, infinite knowledge, perception, power, and bliss.
  • Therefore, regard every living being as yourself, harm no one, and manifest benevolence for all living beings.
  • Every soul is born as a celestial, human, sub-human or hellish being according to its own karmas.
  • Every soul is the architect of its own life, here or hereafter.
  • When a soul is freed from karmas, it becomes free and god-conscious, experiencing infinite knowledge, perception, power, and bliss.
  • Right View, Right Knowledge and Right Conduct (triple gems of Jainism) provide the way to this realization. There is no supreme divine creator, owner, preserver or destroyer. The universe is self-regulated and every soul has the potential to achieve the status of god-consciousness (siddha) through one's own efforts.
  • Non-violence (Ahimsa) is the foundation of right View, the existence of right Knowledge and the kernel of right Conduct. Non-violence is compassion and forgiveness in thoughts, words and actions toward all living beings. It includes respecting views of others (Non-absolutism).
  • Control of the senses.
  • Limit possessions and lead a pure life that is useful to yourself and others. Owning an object by itself is not possessiveness; however attachment to an object is. Non-possessiveness is the balancing of needs and desires while staying detached from our possessions.
  • Enjoy the company of the holy and better qualified, be merciful to those afflicted and tolerate the perversely inclined.
  • Four things are difficult for a soul to attain:

  1. Human birth
  2. Knowledge of the law
  3. Faith in the law
  4. Practicing the right path

  • It is important not to waste human life in evil ways. Rather, strive to rise on the ladder of spiritual evolution.
  • Navakar Mantra is the fundamental prayer in Jainism and can be recited at any time of the day. Praying by reciting this mantra, the devotee bows with respect to liberated souls still in human form (Arihantas), fully liberated souls (Siddhas), spiritual leaders (Acharyas), teachers (Upadyayas) and all the monks. By saluting them, Jains receive inspiration from them for the right path of true bliss and total freedom from the karma of their soul. In this main prayer, Jains do not ask for any favors or material benefits. This mantra serves as a simple gesture of deep respect towards beings who are more spiritually advanced. The mantra also reminds followers of the ultimate goal, nirvana or moksha.
  • The goal of Jainism is liberation of the soul from the negative effects of unenlightened thoughts, speech and action. This goal is achieved through clearance of karmic obstructions by following the triple gems of Jainism.


Jains believe that knowledge of the truth (dharma) have declined and revived cyclically during history. Those who rediscover dharma are known as Tirthankara. The literal meaning of Tirthankar is 'ford-builder'. Jains, like Buddhists, compare becoming a pure human to crossing a swift river, an endeavour that requirs patience and care. A ford-builder has already crossed the river and therefore can guide others across. One is called a 'victor' (Skt: Jina) because one has achieved liberation by their own efforts. Like Buddhism, the purpose of Jain dharma is to undo negative effects of karma through the process of mental and physical purification. This process leads one to liberation accompanied by a great natural inner peace.

Having purified one's soul of karmic impurities, a tirthankar is considered to be omniscient, and also role model. Identified as god, these individuals are called bhagavan, lord (e.g., Bhagavan Rishabha, Bhagavan Parshva, etc.). Tirthankar are not regarded as gods in a pantheistic or polytheistic sense, but rather as examplars who have awakened divine spiritual qualities that lie dormant within each of us. There have been 24 Tirthankaras in what the Jains refer to as the 'present age'. The last two Tirthankaras: Parsva and Mahavira are historical figures that have their existence recorded.

Jain Statue
Jain Carving

Jains believe that every human is responsible for their actions and all living beings have an eternal soul, jīva. Jains believe that all souls are equal because they all possess the same potential of being liberated and attaining moksha. Tirthankaras are the role models only because they have attained moksha.

Jains insist that we live, think and act respectfully honoring the spiritual nature of all life. Jains view God as unchanging traits of the pure soul of each living being, described as Infinite Knowledge, Perception, Consciousness, and Happiness (Ananta Jnāna, Ananta Darshana, Ananta Cāritra and Ananta Sukha). Jains do not believe in an omnipotent and supreme being, creator or manager (kartā), but rather in the eternal universe governed by natural laws.

Jains hold that this temporal world inflicts much misery and sorrow; therefore, to attain lasting bliss, one must transcend the cycle of transmigration. Otherwise, one will remain eternally caught up in a never-ending cycle of transmigration. The only way to break out of this cycle is practicing detachment through rational perception, rational knowledge and rational conduct.

Creation and Cosmology

According to Jain beliefs, the universe was never created, and it will ever cease to exist. Therefore, it is shaswat (infinite), having no beginning or end, but time is cyclical with progressive and regressive spirituality phases.

Jain philosophy is completely based upon eternal, universal truths. During the first and last two Aras, these truths lapse among humanity and later reappear through the teachings of enlightened humans, those who have reached moksa or total knowledge (Kevala Jnana), during the third and fourth Aras. Traditionally, in this universe and time, Lord Rishabha (ऋषभ) is regarded as the first to realize the truth. Lord Vardhamana (Mahavira) was the verry last Tirthankara to attain enlightenment (599-527 BCE). He was preceded by 23 others, making 24 Tirthankaras.

According to Jainism, the universe holds an infinite amount of Jiva (life force or souls), and the design resembles a man that is standing with his arms bent while resting his hands upon his waist. The narrow waist part comprises various Kshetras, for vicharan (roaming) for humans, animals and for plants. We are currently in the Bharat Kshetra of Jambu Dweep (dweep means island).

Jain Painting

Deva Loka (Heavens) are at the symbolic "chest" of Creation, where all of the Devas (demigods) reside. Similarly, beneath the "waist" contain the Narka Loka (Hell). There are seven Narka Lokas, each for a different degree of suffering a jiva has to go through to face the consequences of one's paap karma (sins). From the first to the seventh Narka, the degree of suffering gradually increases and light reaching it gradually decreases (with no light in the seventh Narka).

The sidhha kshetra or moksha is situated in the symbolic forehead of the creation, where all the jivas that have attained nirvana reside in a state of complete peace and eternal happiness. Outside the symbolic figure of this creation there is nothing but aloka or akaasha (sky) that exists.

Jain Monks and Nuns (Sadhu or Muni Maharaj)

In India are thousands of Jain Monks, in varying categories like Acharya, Upadhyaya and Muni. The trainee ascetics are known as Ailaka and Ksullaka in the Digambar tradition.

There are two different categories of ascetics, Sadhu (monk) and Sadhvi (nun). They practice the five Mahavratas, three Guptis and five Samitis:

Five Mahavratas

  • Ahimsa: Non-violence in thought, word and deed
  • Satya: Truth which is (hita) beneficial, (mita) succinct and (priya) pleasing
  • Acaurya: Not accepting anything that has not been given to them by the owner
  • Brahmacarya: Absolute purity of mind and body
  • Aparigraha: Non-attachment to non-self objects

Three Guptis

  • Managupti: Control of the mind
  • Vacanagupti: Control of speech
  • Kayagupti: Control of body

Five Samitis

  • Irya Samiti: Carefulness while walking
  • Bhasha Samiti: Carefulness while communicating
  • Eshana Samiti: Carefulness while eating
  • Adana Nikshepana Samiti: Carefulness while handling their fly-whisks, water gourds, etc.
  • Pratishthapana Samiti: Carefulness while disposing of bodily waste matter

Male Digambara monks will not wear any clothes and are nude. They practice non-attachment to the body and therefore, wear no clothes.The Shvetambara monks and nuns wear white clothes. Shvetambaras believe that the monks and nuns may wear simple un-stitched white clothes as long as they are not attached. Jain monks and nuns travel upon foot. They do not use any mechanical transport.

Digambar followers will take up to eleven Pratimaye (oath). Monks will take all eleven oaths. They only eat once a day. The Male Digambar monk (Maharajji) eat while standing at one place in their palms without using any utensil.

Palitana Tirtha, a Religious Jain City

Jain Worship and Rituals

Every day most Jains will bow and say their universal prayer, the "Namokara Mantra", also known as the Navkar Mantra, Parmesthi Mantra, Panch Namaskar Mantra, Anadhi Nidhan Mantra. Jains have built many temples, or Basadi or Derasar, where idols of tirthankaras are revered. Rituals may be elaborate du to symbolic objects being offered and Tirthankaras being praised in song. But some sects will refuse to enter temples or revere any images. All Jains accept that images of Tirthankaras merely are symbolic reminders of their paths to attain moksha. Jains are clear that the Jinas reside in moksha and that they are completely detached from the world.

Jain rituals include:

  • Pancakalyanaka Pratishtha
  • Pratikramana
  • Samayika
  • Guru Vandana, Chaitya Vandana, and other sutras to honor ascetics.

Over time, some sections of Jains also pray deities, known as yakshas and yakshinis.

Jain Cuisine

Jains practice a very unique concept of restricted vegetarianism. They do not consume root vegetables such as potatoes, garlic, onions, carrots, radishes, cassava, sweet potatoes, turnips, and so forth. However, they will consume turmeric, ginger, and peanuts. Brinjals are also not consumed by some Jains due to the large number of seeds in the vegetable, as a seed is taken to be the carrier of budding life. Strict Jains do not consume food that has been left overnight, such as yogurt which may have been set overnight, and have all their meals before sunset.

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