Skip to Main Content

Religious Studies: Jainism

Religion 101


"Non-injury to all living beings is the only religion. In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self, and should therefore refrain from inflicting upon others such injury as would appear undesirable to us if inflicted upon ourselves.” (Yogashastra)


Jainism is a transtheistic religion and one of the oldest religions in the world, "originating in India at least 2,500 years ago." The main goal that Jainism revolves around "is to become liberated from the endless cycle of rebirth and to achieve an all-knowing state called moksha. This can be attained by living a nonviolent life, or ahimsa, with as little negative impact on other life forms as possible."

Starr, Kelsey J. (2021). 6 facts about Jains in India.

Arose alongside Buddhism in the 6th century as a protest against the "overdeveloped ritualism" of Hinduism. "The traditions of Jainism were largely carried forward by a succession of 24 tirthankaras, or teachers, most notably Vardhamana Mahavira, the last of the tirthankaras and likely a contemporary of Gautama Buddha. Both Mahavira and Buddha emphasized the importance of self-discipline, meditation and ascetic life as the key to salvation. Their teachings often stood in contrast to those of Vedic priests (Hindu) of the time who emphasized ritual practices and their own role as intermediaries between humanity and the gods."

Starr, Kelsey J. (2021). 6 facts about Jains in India.

12 Vows of Lay-People (non-monks)

  • Five Main Vows of Limited Nature (Anuvratas): the primary vows monks undertake, and that lay-people must follow to a certain extent.

    1. Ahimsa: Non violence

    2. Satya: Truthfulness

    3. Achaurya: Non stealing

    4. Bhramacharya: Chastity

    5. Aparigraha: Non attachment

  • Three Merit Vows (Guna vrats):

    6. Dik: Limit unnecessary travel

    7. Bhoga Upbhoga:  Limit use of consumable and non consumable items

    8. Anartha danda: Avoidance of purposeless sins

  • Four Disciplinary Vows (Siksha vratas):

    9. Samayik: Meditation

    10. Desavakasika: Limit the duration of outside activity

    11. Pausadha: Live like a monk for a day

    12. Atithi Samvibhaga: charity

Terms & Concepts

Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word meaning "non-violence". For Jains, it is "the law of compassion in body, mind, and spirit." Ahimsa is the first of the five ethical duties Jain monks proclaim to take on during initiation. To take a vow of ahimsa is to practice live towards and cause no harm to other living beings - primarily humans and other animals. For this reason, many Jains are vegetarians. 

Iannone, A. (2001). Ahimsa. In Dictionary of World Philosophy. Routledge.

 "[T]he assertation that everything is many-sided.” The principle of anekantavada asserts that "no ordinary human can have a full view of anything" and that "all views are partial and subject to many-sided analysis."

Jones, C. A., & Ryan, J. D. (2016). Anekantavada. In C. Jones & J. Ryan (Authors), Encyclopedia of World Religions: Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Facts On File.

In Jainism, as in Hinduism, this is the principle of "detachment from all possessions and desires", or the prevention of greed.

Aparigraha. Oxford Reference. Retrieved 7 Dec. 2023

In Jainism, asceticism refers to "a life-style characterized by abstinence from various sorts of worldly pleasures (especially sexual activity and consumption of food and drink) often with the aim of pursuing religious and spiritual goals." Out of the South Asian religions, Jainism likely has the strongest ascetic tradition, practicing traditions like renouncing all relations and physical possessions, crossing large areas barefoot (like forests and deserts), sleeping on the floor with no coverings, and bringing a broom/wearing masks to prevent accidental injury of insects (to follow the principle of ahimsa.)

The primary spiritual goal of Jains, similar to most Hindus, moksha refers to "the desire to be released" from the cycle of birth and rebirth (samsara) or the release from rebirth itself, and is the culmination of following Jain principles. Often used interchangeably with the Buddhist concept of nirvana in Jain texts.

Jones, C. A., & Ryan, J. D. (2016). Moksha. In C. Jones & J. Ryan (Authors), Encyclopedia of World Religions: Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Facts On File. Retrieved December 6, 2023.


Photo by Manav Jain on Unsplash

©2022 Houston Community College Libraries