Jainism is a religion originating in India (6th century B.C.), teaching liberation of the soul by right knowledge, right faith, and right conduct.

Jains practice non-violence, follow a strictly vegetarian diet, and belief in respecting multiple worldviews.

The word “jain” is derived from “jina” – a person said to have conquered all the passions.

Though relatively small — with about 4 million adherents — it is considered a world religion.

The Encyclopedia Britannica describes Jainism as

a religion of India that teaches a path to spiritual purity and enlightenment through a disciplined mode of life founded upon the tradition of ahimsa, nonviolence to all living creatures. Beginning in the 7th–5th century BCE, Jainism evolved into a cultural system that has made significant contributions to Indian philosophy and logic, art and architecture, mathematics, astronomy and astrology, and literature. Along with Hinduism and Buddhism, it is one of the three most ancient Indian religious traditions still in existence.

While often employing concepts shared with Hinduism and Buddhism, the result of a common cultural and linguistic background, the Jain tradition must be regarded as an independent phenomenon. It is an integral part of South Asian religious belief and practice, but it is not a Hindu sect or Buddhist heresy, as earlier scholars believed.

The name Jainism derives from the Sanskrit verb ji, “to conquer.” It refers to the ascetic battle that it is believed Jain renunciants (monks and nuns) must fight against the passions and bodily senses to gain omniscience and purity of soul or enlightenment. The most illustrious of those few individuals who have achieved enlightenment are called Jina (literally, “Conqueror”), and the tradition’s monastic and lay adherents are called Jain (“Follower of the Conquerors”), or Jaina. This term came to replace a more ancient designation, Nirgrantha (“Bondless”), originally applied to renunciants only.

Jainism has been confined largely to India, although the recent migration of Indians to other, predominantly English-speaking countries has spread its practice to many Commonwealth nations and to the United States. Precise statistics are not available, but it is estimated that there are roughly four million Jains in India and 100,000 elsewhere.

– Source: Jainism Encyclopedia Britannica

Jainism – religious system of India practiced by about 5,000,000 persons. Jainism, Ajivika, and Buddhism arose in the 6th cent. b.c. as protests against the overdeveloped ritualism of Hinduism, particularly its sacrificial cults, and the authority of the Veda. Jaina tradition teaches that a succession of 24 tirthankaras (saints) originated the religion. The last, Vardhamana, called Mahavira [the great hero] and Jina [the victor], seems to be historical. He preached a rigid asceticism and solicitude for all life as a means of escaping the cycle of rebirth, or the transmigration of souls. Thus released from the rule of karma, the total consequences of past acts, the soul attains nirvana, and hence salvation.

– Source: Jainism, The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition

There are two main branches in Jainism, a gradual split that solidified in the 1st Century C.E. (By coincidence, that same era produced the basic forms of Christianity and rabbinical Judaism that have existed ever since.) In the Digambara (“sky-clad”) branch, monks take renunciation of material possessions to the ultimate. They own no clothing and therefore are totally naked, and lack bowls so will beg for daily food with just their hands. The Svetambara (“white-clad”) branch, larger and more organized, allows monks to have simple clothing and basic possessions.

The two branches use different scriptures, with the larger Svetambara canon consisting of 32 (or 45) treatises. The Digambara believe souls embodied as women cannot achieve salvation, while the Svetambara disagree and allow communities of nuns. There are also some minor sects, some of which renounce temples and the worship of images.

– Source: Richard Ostling, What is Jainism? Religion Q and A, June 11. 2006