Jainism is an age-old tradition that focuses its efforts on being peaceful, gentle and respectful towards any living being, whether human, plant or animal. The basic belief is that there is a spiritual ladder, which eventually leads to divine consciousness, or equality with the divine beings. This ladder can only be climbed by relying on one’s self and one’s own efforts to develop the positive qualities of the soul. When this soul has overcome its enemies (which are not physical but mental and emotional), the person has achieved divine consciousness and is called a Jina, which means ‘conqueror’.
Jainism is also called Jain Dharma and has extended around the world. Only about half a percent of Indians follow Jainism but, with a population of over 1.1 billion people, this remains a significant number of followers. It was in the ninth century Before our Common Era (BCE) that the 24 tirthankaras (or Jinas) revived this religion. These ones were considered to be ascetics that enjoyed a special spiritual enlightenment. Even today, Jains continue to influence other religions, political parties and economic elements of the country.This religion is considered by many to be the most peaceful of all. Jains follow Jinas, which are human beings that have rediscovered dharma (“the eternal law”), become completely freed from the confines of worldly thoughts and actions, and have undertaken to teach others to do the same. The most recently living Jina, Shri Mahavir, lived between 599 and 527
Another important teaching of Jainism is that the Universe and its laws (Dharma) were never created and will never die or be destroyed. There are four types of living souls – human, subhuman (animals and plants), superhuman (gods and Devas, which are the Jain equivalent of angels) and those that are condemned to hell. Non-living entities comprise the conscience, thoughts, speech and actions. So, the principle of non-violence has been implemented with the intention of protecting the karma against punishment.
Jainists have to agree to practice five main principles. These are:
1. Never to harm a living thing (Ahimsa) – this includes insulting or injuring others by speech, thought or deed. This is also the reason that Jains are vegetarians or vegans. They do not even eat food that has been grown underground (such as potatoes) as the increased bacteria living on and in these are deemed to be life forms that they must protect. The same is true of yoghurt with live bacteria and of fruits and vegetable containing many seeds, as these are also considered to be sources of life.
2. Speak the truth without harming another (Satya).
3. Not to steal (Asteya) – this includes not taking anything that has not been offered directly, paying others fairly for their work, avoiding pyramid schemes, taking items that have been dropped or forgotten, etc...
4. Abstain from any sexual or sensual activities (Brahmacarya).
5. To separate themselves from people and material things (Aparigraha), renouncing their emotional attachment to such things.
Jains celebrate several festivals, some of which involve fasting, e.g. Paryushan Parva, Mahavir Jayanti, and Veerashasana jayanthi.