Jainism is an Indian religion that prescribes a path of non-violence towards all living beings and emphasises spiritual independence and equality between all forms of life. The essence of Jainism is concern for the welfare of every being in the universe. Practitioners believe that non-violence and self-control are the means by which they can obtain liberation. Currently, Jainism is divided into two major sects– Digambara and Śvētāmbara.
Jains believe in the notion that truth and reality are perceived differently from diverse points of view. This doctrine is formally called anekantavada. According to it, human beings are limited in their perception and knowledge about the reality. They can thus have only partial information. Philosophical and theological disputes arises only because of the partial knowledge of human beings. The Jain doctrine stresses on the existence of soul. According to Jainism, every living being is a soul and have separate existence from the body that houses it. This soul undergoes a cycle of reincarnations. Jainism postulates the existence of fine particles of matter called karma. These karmic particles sticks to the soul on account of the soul’s interaction with universe and it is through these karma the soul is reincarnated and feels pleasure and pain.
The word Jainism is derived from a Sanskrit verb Ji which means to conquer. It refers to a battle with the passions and bodily pleasures that the jaina ascetics undertake. Those who win this battle are termed as Jina (conqueror). The term Jaina is thus used to refer to laymen and ascetics of this tradition alike.
Jainism is one of the oldest religions in the world. Jains traditionally trace their history through a succession of twenty-four propagators of their faith known as tirthankara with Ādinātha as the first tirthankara and Mahāvīra as the last. For long periods of time Jainism was the state religion of Indian kingdoms and widely adopted in the Indian subcontinent. The religion has been in decline since the 8th century CE due to the growth of, and oppression by, the followers of Hinduism and Islam.
Jainism is a religious minority in India, with 4.2 million followers, and there are small but notable immigrant communities in Belgium, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, and the United States. Jains have the highest degree of literacy of any religious community in India, and their manuscript libraries are the oldest in the country.