What is Jainism?
Jainism or Jain Dharma, is an ancient Indian religion. Followers of Jainism are called “Jains“, a word derived from the Sanskrit word jina (victor) and connoting the path of victory in crossing over life’s stream of rebirths through an ethical and spiritual life. Jains trace their history through a succession of twenty-four victorious saviours and teachers known as tirthankaras, with the first being Rishabhanatha, who according to Jain tradition lived millions of years ago, twenty-third being Parshvanatha in 8th century BC and twenty-fourth being the Mahāvīra around 500 BCE. Jains believe that Jainism is an eternal dharma with the tirthankaras guiding every cycle of the Jain cosmology.
The main religious premises of Jainism are ahiṃsā (non-violence), anekāntavāda (many-sidedness), aparigraha (non-attachment) and asceticism. Devout Jains take five main vows: ahiṃsā (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (not stealing), brahmacharya (celibacy or chastity), and aparigraha (non-attachment). These principles have impacted Jain culture in many ways, such as leading to a predominantly vegetarian lifestyle that avoids harm to animals and their life cycles. Parasparopagraho Jīvānām (the function of souls is to help one another) is the motto of Jainism. Ṇamōkāra mantrais the most common and basic prayer in Jainism.
Jainism has two major ancient sub-traditions, Digambaras and Śvētāmbaras; and several smaller sub-traditions that emerged in the 2nd millennium CE. The Digambaras and Śvētāmbaras have different views on ascetic practices, gender and which Jain texts can be considered canonical. Jain mendicants are found in all Jain sub-traditions, with laypersons (śrāvakas) supporting the mendicants’ spiritual pursuits with resources.