Jainism traditionally known as Jain Dharma, is an ancient Indian religion. Followers of Jainism are called “Jains”. The word is derived from the Sanskrit word jina (victor), connoting the path of victory in crossing over life’s stream of rebirths through an ethical and spiritual life.
The history of the Jains includes a succession of twenty-four victorious saviours and teachers known as tirthankaras. The first was Rishabhanatha, who according to Jain tradition lived millions of years ago. The twenty-fourth tirthankara was the Mahāvīra around 500 BCE. Jains believe that Jainism is an eternal dharma–laws and customs (Hinduism); doctrine of the Buddha (Buddhism)–with the tirthankaras guiding every cycle of the Jain cosmology.
The main religious premises of Jainism are ahimsā (“non-violence”), anekāntavāda (“many-sidedness”), aparigraha (“non-attachment”) and asceticism. Devout Jains take five main vows: ahimsā (“non-violence”), satya (“truth”), asteya (“not stealing”), brahmacharya (“celibacy or chastity”), and aparigraha (“non-attachment”). These principles have impacted Jain culture in many ways. Jainists are predominantly vegetarian. They avoid harm to animals. Parasparopagraho Jīvānām (“the function of souls is to help one another”) is the motto of Jainism. Namōkāra mantra is the most common and basic prayer in Jainism.
Jainism has between four and five million followers, with most Jains residing in India. Outside India, some of the largest Jain communities are present in Canada, Europe, Kenya, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Suriname, Fiji, and the United States.