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Jainism (play /ˈdʒeɪnɪzəm/) is an Indian religion that prescribes pacifism and a path of non-violence towards all living beings. Its philosophy and practice emphasize the necessity of self-effort to move the soul towards divine consciousness and liberation. Any soul that has conquered its own inner enemies and achieved the state of supreme being is called Jina (Conqueror or Victor). Jainism is also referred to as Shraman (self-reliant) Dharma or the religion of Nirgantha (who does not have attachments and aversions) by ancient texts. Jainism is commonly referred to as Jain Dharma in Hindi and Samanam inTamil.

Jain doctrine teaches that Jainism has always existed and will always exist,[1][2][3] Historians date the foundation of organized Jainism to sometime between the 9th and the 6th centuries BCE.[4][5] Some have speculated that the religion may have its roots in much earlier times, reflecting native spirituality prior to the Indo-Aryan migration into India.[6][7][8] In the modern world, it is a small but influential religious minority with as many as 4.2 million followers in India,[9] and successful growing immigrant communities in North America, Western Europe, the Far East, Australia and elsewhere.[10]

Jains have successfully sustained this longstanding religion to the present day and have significantly influenced and contributed to ethical, political and economic spheres in India. Jains have an ancient tradition of scholarship and have the highest degree of literacy for a religious community in India.[11][12]Jain libraries are the oldest in the country.[13] Tamil Jains and Kannada Jains who are native to their regions, residing in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka respectively since 1st century BCE,[14] are distinguishable from North Indian Jains in some of their routines and practices, but the core philosophies and belief systems are the same for all Jain communities.



Core beliefs

§                     Every living being has a soul.[14]

§                     Every soul is potentially divine, with innate qualities of infinite knowledge, perception, power, and bliss (masked by its karmas).

§                     Therefore regard every living being as you do yourself, harming no one and being kind to all living beings.

§                     Every soul is born as a heavenly being, human, sub-human or hellish being according to its own karma.

§                     Every soul is the architect of its own life, here or hereafter.[15]

§                     When a soul is freed from karmas, it becomes free and attains divine consciousness, experiencing infinite knowledge, perception, power, and bliss.[16]

§                     Right View, Right Knowledge, and Right Conduct (triple gems of Jainism) provide the way to this realisation.[17] There is no supreme divine creator, owner, preserver, or destroyer. The universe is self-regulated, and every soul has the potential to achieve divine consciousness (siddha) through its own efforts.

§                     Non-violence (to be in soul consciousness rather than body consciousness) is the foundation of right view, the condition of right knowledge and the kernel of right conduct. It leads to a state of being unattached to worldly things and being nonjudgmental and non-violent; this includes compassion and forgiveness in thoughts, words and actions toward all living beings and respecting views of others (non-absolutism).

§                     Jainism stresses the importance of controlling the senses including the mind, as they can drag one far away from true nature of the soul.

§                     Limit possessions and lead a life that is useful to yourself and others. Owning an object by itself is not possessiveness; however, attachment to an object is possessiveness.[18] 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 afflicted souls, and tolerate the perversely inclined.[19]

§                     Four things are difficult for a soul to attain: 1. human birth, 2. knowledge of the laws governing the souls, 3. absolute conviction in the philosophy of non-violence, and 4. practicing this knowledge with conviction in everyday life activities.

§                     It is, therefore, important not to waste human life in evil ways. Rather, strive to rise on the ladder of spiritual evolution.

§                     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.

§                     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 in respect to liberated souls still in human form (Arihantas), fully liberated souls forever free from re-birth(Siddhas), spiritual leaders (Acharyas), teachers (Upadyayas) and all the monks and nuns(sarva sadhus [monks], sadhvis [nuns][20]). By saluting them saying "namo namaha", Jains receive inspiration from them to follow their path to achieve true bliss and total freedom from the karmas binding their souls. In this main prayer, Jains do not ask for any favours or material benefits. This mantra serves as a simple gesture of deep respect toward beings that are more spiritually advanced. The mantra also reminds followers of the ultimate goal of reaching nirvanaor moksha.[21]

§                     Jains worship the icons of Jinas, Arihants, and Tirthankars, who have conquered their inner passions and attained divine consciousness, and study the scriptures of these liberated beings.

§                     Jainism acknowledges the existence of powerful heavenly souls (Yaksha and Yakshini) that look after the well-beings of Tirthankarars. Usually, they are found in pair around the icons of Jinas as male (yaksha) and female (yakshini) guardian deities. Even though they have supernatural powers, these deities are also souls wandering through the cycles of births and deaths just like most other souls. Over time, people started worshiping these deities as well.[22]

Principles and other beliefs

Five Mahavratas of Jain ascetics

See also: Mahavrata

Jainism encourages spiritual development through cultivation of one's own personal wisdom and reliance on self-control (by means of व्रत, vrata= vow).[23] Right perception, Right knowledge, and Right conduct (triple gems of Jainism) provide the path for attaining liberation (moksha) from the cycles of birth and death (samsara). When the soul sheds its karmic bonds completely, it attains divine consciousness. The goal of Jainism is to realize the soul's true nature. Jainism prescribes a path of non-violence to progress the soul to this ultimate goal. Those who have attained moksha are called siddha (liberated souls), and those attached to the world through their karma are called samsarin (mundane souls). Every soul has to follow the path, as explained by the jinas (victors) and revived by Tirthankaras, to attain complete liberation or Nirvana.

Jains do not believe in the concept of a God-head responsible for the manifestation of the Creation and Maintenance of Creation. The universe however keeps changing due to interactions between matter and energy in the course of time and governed by laws of nature with no necessity of a co-ordinator/regulator. It also believes that there is life in other parts of universe other than earth. Jains have extensive knowledge and classifications of various living organisms including micro-organisms that reside in mud, air and water. It teaches respect for all forms of life and encourages minimising harm to other living beings by practicing five major ethical principles.

Jains believe that to attain enlightenment and ultimately liberation, one must practice the following ethical principles (major vows) in thought, speech and action. The degree to which these principles are practiced is different for householders and monks. They are:

§                     Non-violence (Ahimsa) – to cause no harm to living beings. This is the fundamental vow from which all other vows stem. It involves minimizing intentional and unintentional harm to any other living creature. "Non-violence" is sometimes interpreted as not killing, but the concept goes far beyond that. It includes not harming or insulting other living beings, either directly, or indirectly through others. There can be even no room for thought to injure others, and no speech that influences others to inflict harm.[24] It also includes respecting the views of others (non-absolutism and acceptance of multiple views).

§                     Truthfulness (Satya) – to always speak the truth in a harmless manner. A person who speaks the truth becomes trustworthy like a mother, venerable like a preceptor and dear to everyone like a kinsman. Given that non-violence has priority, all other principles yield to it, whenever there is a conflict. For example, if speaking truth will lead to violence, it is perfectly ethical to be silent.

§                     Non-stealing (Asteya) – to not take anything that is not willingly given. Asteya, "non-stealing", is the strict adherence to one's own possessions, without desire to take another's. One should remain satisfied by whatever is earned through honest labour. Any attempt to squeeze material wealth from others and/or exploit the weak is considered theft. Some of the guidelines for this principle are:

(1) Always give people fair value for labor or product.
(2) Never take things that are not offered.
(3) Never take things that are placed, dropped or forgotten by others.
(4) Never purchase cheaper things if the price is the result of improper method (e.g., pyramid scheme, illegal business, stolen goods, etc.)

§                     Celibacy (Brahmacharya) – to control the senses including mind from indulgence. The basic intent of this vow is to conquer passion and to prevent the waste of energy. In this vow, the house holder must not have a sensual relationship with anybody other than one's own spouse. Jain monks and nuns should practice complete abstinence from sex.[25]

§                     Non-possession or Non-materialism (Aparigraha) – to detach from people, places, and material things. Ownership of an object itself is not possessiveness; however, attachment to an object is possessiveness. For householders, non-possession is owning without attachment, because the notion of possession is illusory. The reality of life is that change is constant; thus, objects owned by someone today will be property of someone else in future. The householder is encouraged to discharge his or her duties to related people and objects as a trustee, without excessive attachment or aversion. For monks and nuns, non-possession is complete renunciation of property and relations including home and family.[26]

Jains hold that our universe and its laws of nature are eternal, without beginning or end. However, it constantly undergoes cyclical changes. Our universe is occupied by both living beings ("Jīva") and non-living objects ("Ajīva"). The samsarin (worldly or mundane) soul incarnates in various life forms during its journey over time. Human, sub-human (animal, insect, plant, etc.), super-human (heavenly being), and hell-being are the four macro forms of the samsari souls. A living being's thoughts, expressions and actions executed with intents of attachments and aversions, give rise to accumulation of karma. These influxes of karma in turn contribute to determine our future circumstances that are both rewarding and punishing. Jain scholars have explained in depth on methods and techniques that will clear the past karmas accumulated as well as stopping the inflow of fresh karmas.

A major characteristic of Jain belief is the emphasis on the consequences of not only physical but also mental behaviours.[27] One's unconquered mind tainted with anger, pride (ego), deceit and greed joined with uncontrolled sense organs are the powerful enemies of humans. Anger spoils good relations, pride destroys humility, deceit destroys peace and greed destroys everything. Jainism recommends conquering anger by forgiveness, pride (ego) by humility, deceit by straight-forwardness and greed by contentment.[28]

The principle of non-violence seeks to minimize karmas that limit the capabilities of the soul. Jainism views every soul as worthy of respect because it has the potential to become Siddha (Param-atma – "highest soul"). Because all living beings possess a soul, great care and awareness is essential in one's actions. Jainism emphasizes the equality of all life, advocating harmlessness towards all, whether the creatures are great or small. This policy extends even to microscopic organisms. Jainism acknowledges that every person has different capabilities and capacities to practice and therefore accepts different levels of compliance for ascetics and householders. The "great vows" (mahavrata) are prescribed for monks and nuns. "Limited vows" (anuvrata) are prescribed for householders. In other words, the house-holders are encouraged to practice the five cardinal principles of non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, celibacy and non-possessiveness with their current practical limitations while the monks and nuns have to observe them very strictly. With consistent practice, it will be possible to overcome the limitations gradually, accelerating the spiritual progress.


The purpose of life is to undo the negative effects of karma through mental and physical purification. This process leads to liberation accompanied by a great natural inner peace. A soul is called a 'victor' (in Sanskrit/Pali language, Jina) because one has achieved liberation by one's own efforts. A Jain is a follower of Jinas ("conquerors").[36][37] Jinas are spiritually advanced human beings who rediscovered the dharma, became fully liberated from the bondages of karma by conquering attachments and aversions, and taught the spiritual path to benefit all living beings. Jains follow the teachings of 24 special jinas who are known as Tirthankars ("those who have shown the way to salvation from the river of births and deaths"). Jains believe that knowledge of the true living Jain dharma has declined and revived cyclically throughout history. Those who rediscover and preach Jain dharma are called Tirthankara. The literal meaning of Tirthankar is 'ford-builder'. Jains compare the process of becoming a pure soul to crossing a swift river, an endeavour requiring patience and care. A ford-builder has already crossed the river and can therefore guide others.