Jainism begins with a serious concern for the human soul in its relationship with the laws governing existence in the universe,with other living beings, and to its own future state in eternity. First and foremost, it is a religion of the heart: the golden rule is Ahimsa or nonviolence in all parts of a person-- mental,verbal, and physical. Jains have deep compassion for all forms of life
Jainism offers a quiet, overwhelmingly serious way of life, a cultural insistence on compassion, a society of ethics that has dramatically changed the world and will continue to effect change. Jainism is an ecologically responsible way of life which is nonviolent in thought, action, and deed.
Jina and the Soul
The "Jains" are the followers of the Jinas. "Jina" literally means "Conqueror." He who has conquered love and hate, pleasure and pain, attachment and aversion, and has thereby freed `his' soul from the karmas obscuring knowledge, perception, truth, and ability, is a Jina. The Jains refer to the Jina as God.
Origins of Jainism
Originating on the Indian subcontinent, Jainism -- or, more properly, the Jain Dharma -- is one of the oldest religions of its homeland and indeed of the world. Jainism has prehistoric origins dating before 3000 BC, and before the beginning of Indo-Aryan culture.
Jain religion is unique in that, during its existence of over 5000 years, it has never compromised on the concept of nonviolence either in principle or practice. It upholds nonviolence as the supreme religion (Ahimsa Paramo Dharmah) and has insisted upon its observance in thought, word, and deed at the individual as well as social levels. The holy text Tattvartha Sutra sums it up in the phrase "Parasparopagraho Jivanam" (all life is mutually supportive). Jain religion presents a truly enlightened perspective of equality of souls, irrespective of differing physical forms, ranging from human beings to animals and microscopic living organisms. Humans, alone among living beings, are endowed with all the six senses of seeing, hearing, tasting smelling, touching, and thinking; thus humans are expected to act responsibly towards all life by being compassionate, egoless,fearless, forgiving, and rational.
The Jain Code of Conduct
In short, the code of conduct is made up of the following five vows, and all of their logical conclusions: Ahimsa, Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Aparigraha (non-possessiveness), and Brahmacharya (chastity). Jain religion focuses much attention on Aparigraha, non-possessiveness towards material things through self-control, self-imposed penance, abstinence from over-indulgence, voluntary curtailment of one's needs, and the consequent subsiding of the aggressive urge.
Vegetarianism is a way of life for a Jain, taking its origin in the concept of compassion for living beings, Jiva Daya. The practice of vegetarianism is seen as an instrument for the practice of nonviolence and peaceful, cooperative coexistence. Jains are strict vegetarians, consuming only one-sensed beings, primarily from the plant kingdom. While the Jain diet does, of course, involve harm to plants, it is regarded as a means of survival which involves the bare minimum amount of violence towards living beings. (Many forms of plant material, including roots and certain fruits, are also excluded from the Jain diet due to the greater number of living beings they contain owing to the environment in which they develop.)
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Last updated November 15, 1997
Comments and suggestions to E. Erickson