Jainism is one of the oldest religions that originated in India. Jains believe that every soul is divine and has the potential to achieve God-consciousness. Any soul which has conquered its own inner enemies and achieved the state of Supreme Being is called jina. Jainism is the path to achieve this state and is often referred to as Jain Dharma or the religion of Nirgantha.
Jainism was revived by a lineage of 24 enlightened ascetics called tirthankaras culminating with Parsva (9th century BCE) and Mahavira (6th century BCE).
Jains have sustained the ancient Shraman or ascetic religion and have significantly influenced other religious, ethical, political and economic spheres in India.
Principles and beliefs
Jainism differs from other religions in its concept of God. Accordingly, there is no overarching supreme being, divine creator, owner, preserver or destroyer. Every living soul is potentially divine and the Siddhas, those who have completely eliminated their karmic bonds to end their cycle of birth and death, have attained God-consciousness.
A Jain is a follower of Jinas who identifies specially gifted human beings who rediscover the dharma, become fully liberated and teach the spiritual path to benefit all living beings. Practicing Jains follow the teachings of 24 special Jinas who are known as Tirthankaras (those who have discovered and shown the way to salvation).
Jainism encourages spiritual development through reliance on and cultivation of one's own personal wisdom and self-control. The goal of jainism is to realize the soul's true nature. Moksha is attained by liberation from all karma. Those who have attained moksha are called siddha, "liberated souls", and those who are attached to the world through their karma are called samsarin "mundane souls".
Jains hold that the Universe and Dharma are eternal, without beginning or end. However, the universe undergoes processes of cyclical change. The universe consists of living beings and non-living beings. The worldly soul incarnates in various life forms. Human, animal, plant, deity, and hell-being are the four forms of the samsari souls. All worldly relations of one's Jiva with other Jiva and Ajiva are based on Karma.
The main Jain prayer (Namokar Mantra) therefore salutes the five special categories of souls that have attained God-consciousness or are on their way to achieving it, to emulate and follow these paths to salvation.
Another major characteristic of Jain belief is the emphasis on the consequences of not only physical but also mental behaviours.
Jainism views every soul as worthy of respect because it has the potential to become Siddha (Param-atma - "pure soul"). Because all living beings possess a soul, great care and awareness is essential in one's actions in the incarnate world. Jainism emphasizes the equality of all life, advocating harmlessness towards all, whether these be creatures great or small. This policy extends even to microscopic organisms. Jainism acknowledges that every person has different capabilities and capacities and therefore assigns different duties for ascetics and householders.
There are five basic ethical principles prescribed. The degree to which these principles must be practiced is different for renunciant and householder.
1. Non-violence (Ahimsa) - to cause no harm to living beings.
2. Truth (Satya) - to always speak the truth in a harmless manner.
3. Non-stealing (Asteya) - to not take anything that is not willingly given.
4. Celibacy (Brahmacarya) - to not indulge in sensual pleasures.
5. Non-possession (Aparigraha) - to detach from people, places, and material things.