Jainism is an ancient religion from India that teaches that the way to liberation and bliss is to live lives of harmlessness and renunciation. The essence of Jainism is concern for the welfare of every being in the universe and for the health of the universe itself.
. Jains believe that animals and plants, as well as human beings, contain living souls. Each of these souls is considered of equal value and should be treated with respect and compassion.
. Jains are strict vegetarians and live in a way that minimizes their use of the world's resources.
. Jains believe in reincarnation and seek to attain ultimate liberation - which means escaping the continuous cycle of birth, death and rebirth so that the immortal soul lives for ever in a state of bliss.
. Liberation is achieved by eliminating all karma from the soul.
. Jainism is a religion of self-help.
. There are no gods or spiritual beings that will help human beings.
. The three guiding principles of Jainism, the 'three jewels', are right belief, right knowledge and right conduct. . The supreme principle of Jain living is non violence (ahimsa).
. This is one of the 5 mahavratas (the 5 great vows). The other mahavratas are non-attachment to possessions, not lying, not stealing, and sexual restraint (with celibacy as the ideal).
. Mahavira is regarded as the man who gave Jainism its present-day form.
. Jainism has no priests. Its professional religious people are monks and nuns, who lead strict and ascetic lives.
The five Mahavratas are the five great vows Jain monks observe. These are:
1. Non-violence (Ahimsa)
2. Truth (Satya)
3. Non-stealing (Asteya)
4. Chastity (Brahmacharya)
5. Non-possession/Non-attachment (Aparigraha) The vows for the Jain monks, as prescribed by the ancient texts like Acharanga, are quite strict, and have come down to our time from the teachings of Lord Mahavira. Jain monks are celibate, possess no property and are not attached to any specific place. They are thus required to wander, except for the four months during the rainy season (called chaturmasa).