Jainism is an Indian ascetic religion, with influences from both Hinduism and Buddhism. Jains follow the teachings of Mahavira (c540-468 BC). They are best known for their doctrine of ahimsa, which forbids the causing of harm to any living being, including some plants. Mahatma Gandhi was deeply influenced by Jain teachings, and was a keen believer in non-violence.

Jains believe that individuals must ensure their karma is not weighed down by evil actions in order that their soul, or jiva, may obtain release from worldly suffering.

Jains follow a strict ethical code, summarised in the Five Vows:

  1. non-injury (ahimsa)
  2. non-lying (satya)
  3. non-stealing (asteya)
  4. non-possession (aparigrah)
  5. chastity(brahmcharya)

Jainism is a non-theistic religion, believing that spirits and deities cannot help the jiva escape worldly existence.

Jainism has two main sects: Digambaras and Svetambaras. The Digambaras, or 'sky-clad ones', advocate the giving up of all possessions, including clothes, and stipulate maleness as a prerequisite for attaining an enlightened state. The sect's monks go naked as they advance on their spiritual path. The Svetambaras, or 'white-clad ones', believe that neither nudity nor maleness are required, and that both sexes can gain enlightenment.

Jains try to choose careers which do not clash with their strict beliefs - they often choose a trade as merchants.

The Hutchinson Encyclopedia, Helicon Publishing Ltd, 1996
The World's Religions, Cambridge University Press, 1992