The statue of Gomateshwara of Digambar tradition in Shravanabelagola, Karnataka is the tallest monolith of its kind in the worldLike other Indian religions, knowledge of the truth (dharma) is considered to have declined and revived cyclically throughout history. Those who rediscover dharma are called Tirthankara. The literal meaning of Tirthankar is 'ford-builder', or god. Like Buddhism, the purpose of Jain dharma 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.
Having purified one's soul of karmic impurities, a tirthankar is considered omniscient, and a role model. Identified as god, these individuals are called bhagavan, (Bhagavan Rishabha, Bhagavan Parshva, etc.). There have been 24 Tirthankaras in what the Jains call the 'present age'. The last two Tirthankaras: Parsva and Mahavira, the 23rd and 24th are historical figures whose existence is recorded.
The 24 Tirthankaras, in chronological order are-
1. Adinath (Rishabhnath)
9. Pushpadanta (Suvidhinath)
21. Nami Natha
23. Parsva (Parshvanath) and
24. Mahavir (Vardhamana)
Jains believe that every human is responsible for his/her actions and all living beings have an eternal soul, jīva. Jains believe all souls are equal because they all possess the potential of being liberated and attaining moksha. Tirthankaras are role models only because they have attained moksha. Jains insist that we live, think and act respectfully and honor the spiritual nature of all life. Jains view God as the unchanging traits of the pure soul of each living being, described as Infinite Knowledge, Perception, Consciousness, and Happiness
Jains hold that this temporal world inflicts much misery and sorrow, thus to attain lasting bliss one must transcend the cycle of transmigration. The only way to break out of this cycle is to practice detachment through rational perception, rational knowledge and rational conduct.
Jain scriptures were written over a long period of time, but the most cited is the Tattvartha Sutra, or "Book of Reality" written by the monk-scholar, Umasvati almost 1800 years ago. The protagonists of this sutra are Tirthankaras. The two main sects of jainism are called Digambar and Svetambar, both sects affirm ahimsa (or ahinsā), asceticism, karma, sanskār, and jiva.
Though practice differs between the two sects, Jain doctrine is uniform, with great emphasis placed on rational perception, rational knowledge and rational conduct.
Compassion for all life, both human and non-human, is central to Jainism. Human life is valued as a unique, rare opportunity to reach enlightenment. To kill any person, no matter their crime, is considered unimaginably abhorrent.
Jainism's stance on nonviolence goes far beyond vegetarianism. Jains refuse food obtained with unnecessary cruelty. Many exclude root vegetables from their diets to preserve the lives of these plants. Potatoes, garlic and onions in particular are avoided by Jains. Devout Jains do not eat, drink, or travel after sunset, and prefer to drink water that is boiled and then cooled to room temperature. Many Jains abstain from eating green vegetables and root vegetables one day each week.
Digambars believe that women cannot attain moksha in the same birth, while Svetambars believe that women may attain liberation and that Mallinath, a Tirthankar, was a woman. The difference is because Digambar asceticism requires nudity. As nudity is impractical for women, it follows that without it they cannot attain moksha. This is based on the belief that women cannot reach perfect purity.
Digambars believe that Mahavir was not married, whereas Svetambars believe Mahavir was married and had a daughter. The two sects also differ on the origin of Mata Trishala, Mahavira's mother.
Sthanakavasis and Digambars believe that only the first five lines are formally part of the Namokara Mantra, whereas Svetambaras believe all nine form the mantra.
Anekantavada, a foundation of Jain philosophy, has tools for overcoming inherent biases in any one perspective on any topic or in reality in general. Anekantavada is defined as a multiplicity of viewpoints, for it stresses looking at things from others' perspectives.