Jainism is a religion based on the belief that a path of nonviolence will lead to liberation and happiness. The current doctrine of Jainism’s beliefs was set forward more than 2,500 years ago by Mahavira, who was not the religion’s founder but is considered one of its teachers or prophets. While the vast majority of Jainism’s roughly four million followers are based in India, its devotees are found across the world. Aside from non-violence, Jainism’s main beliefs include a reincarnation cycle dictated by karma, an ethical code known as the three jewels, a commitment to twelve vows and a disbelief in God.
Reincarnation and Karma
As with Hinduism, a core belief in Jainism is that the soul is reincarnated in a continuous cycle of birth, death and rebirth that is governed by karma. Different from other religions, however, Jains believe karma is a physical substance that can cling to the soul. Souls can attract good or bad karma depending on a devotee’s actions, which dictates whether their following life cycle will experience happiness or suffering. The goal is to remove all karma from the soul by following Jainism’s ethical code. This is believed to release the soul from the sufferings found in the world.
The Three Jewels
In order to release their souls from the cycle of reincarnation, Jains follow an ethical code known as the three jewels. They are Samyak darshana (right faith): clearing the conscience in order to attain truth; Samyak jnana (right knowledge): acquiring a true knowledge of the universe and Samyak (right conduct): doing no harm to others and abstaining from attachment to worldly things. Jains believe that right faith and right knowledge are needed before achieving right conduct.
Related to the three jewels, Jains are expected to follow 12 vows that are divided into three sections. They are the five anuvratas: living a life of non-violence, eating a vegetarian diet, never telling lies, never stealing or cheating, being sexually monogamous with one’s married partner and only possessing necessary objects; the three gunavratas: restricting travel in order to do less harm to the environment, avoiding sins and limiting the use of resources such as food; the four siksavratas: meditating for 48 minutes each day, limiting how long an activity is done, regularly living like a monk for a day and giving to charity.
Belief in Gods
Jains don’t believe in any gods. Some scholars, such as Heinrich Zimmer and Emma Salter, however, say that this doesn’t necessarily make Jains atheists. For instance, Jains do believe that the souls released from the reincarnation cycle are divine beings. Jains worship these souls, which they consider perfect. Followers of Jainism, however, do not believe that one god created and oversees the universe. Instead, they believe that the universe has always existed.