History

Who: Jainism is an eternal religion, whose origin is untraceable. Jainism believes the universe to be eternal, its constituents, such as living and non-living things, may change form, but they are basically eternal, and are not created by any Supreme Being. Time rotates in a cycle, like a wheel moving clockwise, descending and ascending. In each half of the time cycle (aeon), descending and ascending, twenty-four tirthankaras establish the fourfold order and teach the path of bliss and perfection to all the living beings in the language they understand. The first tirthankara was Risabhdeva, who is traditionally believed to have lived thousands of centuries ago, and to have founded Jainism in this aeon. The twenty-third tirthankara was Parsvanatha (c 870 BCE to 770 BCE) and the twenty-fourth (and last) was Vardhamana Mahavira, who lived, according to generally accepted dates, from 599 to 527 BCE and who revived Jainism as practised today.

What: Jains are the followers of the Jinas or tirthankaras (Jina means conqueror). Jinas are those humans who, through their personal effort and self-realisation, have conquered their desires and passions and have become omniscient by shedding the obstructive karma attached to the soul. They teach a simple pathway for eternal bliss and liberation (moksa) to all and attain liberation by shedding all karma. Moksa is the state of liberated souls who are no longer in bondage to the karmic cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Jains follow the philosophy and teachings of the Jinas to attain moksa for themselves.

When: Jains believe their religion has always existed. It was, however, codified in the time of Mahavira (late 6th century BCE), the last of the 24 tirthankaras from this aeon. The first tirthankara, Risabhdeva, is mentioned in the Rig Veda, the oldest Hindu scripture, thought to be over 5,000 years old. Historically, Jainism is therefore one of the oldest organized religions in the world, if not the oldest.

Where: Jainism started in India, and spread throughout Southeast Asia. It has adherents throughout the world, mainly due to immigration, though most adherents still live in India. Because of the vow of total non-violence Jain ascetics travel on foot and are only found in India.