Beliefs and Practices

The universe exists as a series of layers, both heavens and hells. It had no beginning and will have no ending.
It consists of:
The supreme abode: This is located at the top of the universe and is where Siddha, the liberated souls, live.
The upper world: 30 heavens where celestial beings live.
Middle world: the earth and the rest of the universe.
Nether world: 7 hells with various levels of misery and punishments
The Nigoda or base: where the lowest forms of life reside
Universe space: layers of clouds which surround the upper world
Space beyond: an infinite volume without soul, matter, and time, medium of motion or medium of rest.
Everyone is bound within the universe by one's karma (the accumulated good and evil that one has done).
Moksha (liberation from an endless succession of lives through reincarnation) is achieved by enlightenment, which can be attained only through asceticism.

Jains follow a Vegetarian diet. (At least one information source incorrectly states that they follow a frutarian diet -- the practice of only eating that which will not kill the plant or animal from which it is taken. e.g. milk, fruit, nuts.) They read their sacred texts daily.
Jains are recommended to pass through four stages during their lifetime:
 a) Brahmacharya-ashrama: the life of a student
 b) Gruhasth-ashrama: family life
 c) Vanaprasth-ashrama: family and social services
 d) Sanyast-ashrama: life as a monk; a period of renunciation
Jain society is as dualistic as the Jain universe. On one hand, there are the monks, who practice severe asceticism and strive to make this life their last. On the other hand, there are the lay people, who pursue less rigorous practices, striving only to do good deeds and hoping for a better incarnation in the next life. Due to the strict ethics embedded in Jainism, the laity must choose a profession and livelihood that keeps with the faith, making the safe occupation of trade the number one occupation of choice. In their effort to attain their highest hope, which is the permanent release of the jiva from all involvement in worldly existence, the Jains believe that no spirit or divine being can assist them in any way. Hence Jainism is a non-theistic religion. The Jains consider that Gods (i.e., devas) and spirits can influence events of this world only. They cannot help the jiva to obtain release. This has to be achieved by individual through their own efforts. In fact, the Gods cannot even gain their own release until they are reincarnated as people and undertake the difficult life of a Jain monk.

For lay people, chastity means confining sexual experience to the marriage relationship. For monks, it means complete celibacy. Non-injury commonly means veganism, but some Jains have been known to starve themselves to death in order to avoid harming any living creature. There are even those who wear masks over their mouths and noses to avoid any possibility of breathing in tiny insects. Gandhi was deeply influenced by the Jain insistence on a peaceful, non-harming way of life which is common to the Hindu philosophy of ahimsa and made it an integral part of his own philosophy

According to Jainism, Soul (jiva) exists as a reality, having a separate existence from the body that houses it. Every living being – be it a human or a plant or bacteria – has a soul and has a capacity to experience pain and pleasure. The soul (Jiva) is differentiated from non-soul or non-living reality (ajiva) that includes matter, time, and space, principle of motion and principle of rest.

The Jaina beliefs on the soul can be summarized as under:-
 The souls are classified as – mundane which are non liberated souls and liberated souls who have achieved Godhood by burning their karmas.
 Mundane souls are further classified on the basis of evolution of senses and faculties that it possesses. For e.g. humans are classified as five sense souls and Plants and Microbes are classified as single-sensed souls.
 Consciousness characterized by Perception and Knowledge is the intrinsic quality of a Soul.
 In all there are 8.4 million species of life forms in four states of existence in which a soul transmigrates a continuous cycle until it achieves salvation.
 A Supreme Being as a creator and operator of this universe does not exist. A soul is the master of its own destiny. It is its own lord. The suffering and liberation of the soul are not dependent on any divine grace. It attains salvation by its own efforts.
 Every soul has the capacity to achieve Godhood in its human birth. This is achieved by burning the accumulated Karmas by following complete non-violence and non-attachment.
 Liberation is permanent and irreversible. The liberated soul which is formless and incorporeal in nature experiences infinite knowledge, Omniscience, infinite power and infinite bliss after liberation.
 Even after liberation and attainment of Godhood, the soul does not merge into any entity (as in other philosophies), but maintains its individuality.
a) Core Beliefs:

 •    Every living being has a soul.
 •    Every soul is potentially divine, with innate qualities of infinite knowledge, perception, power, and bliss (masked by its karmas).
 •    Regard every living being as you do yourself, harming no one and being kind to all living beings.
 •    Every soul is born as a heavenly being, human, sub-human or hellish being according to its own karma.
 •    Every soul is the architect of its own life, here or hereafter.
 •    When a soul is freed from karmas, it becomes free and attains divine consciousness, experiencing infinite knowledge, perception, power, and bliss.
 •    Right Faith (right vision), Right Knowledge and Right Conduct (triple gems of Jainism) provide the way to this realization. There is no supreme divine creator, owner, preserver or destroyer. The universe is self-regulated and every soul has the potential to achieve divine consciousness (siddha) through its own efforts.
 •    Navakar Mantra is the fundamental prayer in Jainism and can be recited at any time of the day. Praying by reciting this mantra, the devotee bows in respect to liberated souls still in human form (Arihantas), fully liberated souls (Siddhas), spiritual leaders (Acharyas), teachers (Upadyayas) and all the monks (sarva sadhus). By saluting them saying "Namo Namaha", Jains receive inspiration from them to follow their path to achieve true bliss and total freedom from the karmas binding their souls. In this main prayer, Jains do not ask for any favours or material benefits. This mantra serves as a simple gesture of deep respect towards beings that are more spiritually advanced. The mantra also reminds followers of the ultimate goal of reaching Nirvana or Moksha.
 •    Non-violence (to be in soul consciousness rather than body consciousness) is the foundation of right view, the condition of right knowledge and the kernel of right conduct. It leads to a state of being unattached to worldly things and being nonjudgmental and non-violent; this includes compassion and forgiveness in thoughts, words and actions toward all living beings and respecting views of others (non-absolutism).
 •    Jainism stresses on the importance of controlling the senses including the mind, as they can drag one far away from true nature of the soul.
 •    Limit possessions and lead a life that is useful to yourself and others. Owning an object by itself is not possessiveness; however attachment to an object is. Non-possessiveness is the balancing of needs and desires while staying detached from our possessions.
 •    Enjoy the company of the holy and better qualified, be merciful to afflicted souls and tolerate the perversely inclined.
 •    Four things are difficult for a soul to attain:
 1. Human birth,
 2. Knowledge of the laws governing the souls,
 3. Absolute conviction in the philosophy of non-violence and
 4. Practicing it in everyday life activities.
 •    It is therefore important not to waste human life in evil ways. Rather, strive to rise on the ladder of spiritual evolution.
 •    The goal of Jainism is liberation of the soul from the negative effects of unenlightened thoughts, speech and action. This goal is achieved through clearance of karmic obstructions by following the triple gems of Jainism.
 •    Jains worship the icons of Jinas, Arihants and Tirthankars, who have conquered the inner passions and attained divine consciousness, and study the scriptures of these liberated beings.
 •    Jainism acknowledges the existence of powerful heavenly souls (Yaksha and Yakshini) that look after the well beings of Tirthankars. Usually, they are found in pair around the icons of Jinas as male (yaksha) and female (yakshini) guardian deities. Even though they have supernatural powers, these deities are also souls wandering through the cycles of births and deaths just like most other souls. Over time, people started worshiping these deities as well.

b) Principles and other beliefs:

Five Mahavratas of Jain ascetics
Jainism encourage spiritual development through cultivation of one's own personal wisdom and reliance on self-control.  Right perception, Right knowledge and Right conduct - Triple gems of Jainism provide the path for attaining Liberation (Moksha) from the cycles of birth and death (Samsara). When the soul sheds its karmic bonds completely, it attains divine consciousness. The goal of Jainism is to realize this soul's true nature. Jainism prescribes a path of non-violence to progress the soul to this ultimate goal. Those who have attained Moksha are called Siddha (liberated souls), and those who are attached to the world through their karma are called Samsarin (mundane souls). Every soul has to follow the path, as explained by the Jinas (victors) and revived by Tirthankars, to attain the complete liberation.
Jains believe that to attain enlightenment and ultimately liberation, one must practice the following ethical principles (major vows) in thought, speech and action. The degree to which these principles are practiced is different for householders and monks. They are:
•    Non-violence (Ahimsa) – to cause no harm to living beings. This is the fundamental vow from which all other vows stem. It involves minimizing intentional and unintentional harm to any other living creature. "Non-violence", is sometimes interpreted as not killing, but the concept goes far beyond that. It includes not harming or insulting other living beings, either directly or indirectly through others. There can be even no room for thought to injure others, and no speech that influences others to inflict harm. It also includes respecting the views of others (non-absolutism and acceptance of multiple views).
•    Truthfulness (Satya) – to always speak the truth in a harmless manner. A person who speaks the truth becomes trustworthy like a mother, venerable like a preceptor and dear to everyone like a kinsman. Given that non-violence has priority, all other principles yield to it, whenever there is a conflict. For example, if speaking truth will lead to violence, it is perfectly ethical to be silent.
•    Non-stealing (Asteya) – to not take anything that is not willingly given. Asteya, "non-stealing", is the strict adherence to one's own possessions, without desire to take another's. One should remain satisfied by whatever is earned through honest labour. Any attempt to squeeze material wealth from others and/or exploit the weak is considered theft. Some of the guidelines for this principle are:
            (1) Always give people fair value for labour or product.
            (2) Never take things which are not offered.
            (3) Never take things that are placed, dropped or forgotten by others
            (4) Never purchase cheaper things if the price is the result of improper method
                  (e.g.pyramid scheme, illegal business, stolen goods, etc.)
•    Celibacy (Brahmacharya) – to control the senses including mind from indulgence. The basic intent of this vow is to conquer passion and to prevent the waste of energy. In this vow, the house holder must not have a sensual relationship with anybody other than one's own spouse. Jain monks and nuns should practice complete abstinence from sex.
•    Non-possession or Non-materialism (Aparigraha) – to detach from people, places, and material things. Ownership of an object itself is not possessiveness; however attachment to an object is possessiveness. For householders, non-possession is owning without attachment, because the notion of possession is illusory. The reality of life is that change is constant; thus, objects owned by someone today will be property of someone else in future. The householder is encouraged to discharge his or her duties to related people and objects as a trustee, without excessive attachment or aversion. For monks and nuns, non-possession is complete renunciation of property and relations including home and family.
Jains hold that our universe and its laws of nature are eternal, without beginning or end. However, it constantly undergoes cyclical changes. Our universe is occupied by both living beings ("Jīva") and non-living objects ("Ajīva"). The samsarin (worldly or mundane) soul incarnates in various life forms during its journey over time. Human, sub-human (animal, insect, plant, etc.), super-human (heavenly being), and hell-being are the four macro forms of the Samsari souls. A living being's thoughts, expressions and actions executed with intents of attachments and aversions, give rise to accumulation of karma. And these influxes of karma in turn contribute to determine our future circumstances that are both rewarding and punishing. Jain scholars have explained in depth on methods and techniques that will clear the past karmas accumulated as well as stopping the flow of fresh karmas.
A major characteristic of Jain belief is the emphasis on the consequences of not only physical but also mental behaviours. One's unconquered mind with anger, pride (ego), deceit, greed and uncontrolled sense organs are the powerful enemies of humans. Anger spoils good relations, pride destroys humility, deceit destroys peace and greed destroys everything. Jainism recommends conquering anger by forgiveness, pride (ego) by humility, deceit by straight-forwardness and greed by contentment.
The principle of non-violence seeks to minimize karmas which limit the capabilities of the soul. Jainism views every soul as worthy of respect because it has the potential to become Siddha (Param-atma – "highest soul"). Because all living beings possess a soul, great care and awareness is essential in one's actions. Jainism emphasizes the equality of all life, advocating harmlessness towards all, whether the creatures are great or small. This policy extends even to microscopic organisms. Jainism acknowledges that every person has different capabilities and capacities to practice and therefore accepts different levels of compliance for ascetics and householders. The "Great vows" (Mahavrata) are prescribed for monks and "Limited vows" (Anuvrata) are prescribed for householders. In other words, the house-holders are encouraged to practice the five cardinal principles of Non-violence, Truthfulness, Non-stealing, Celibacy and Non-possessiveness with their current practical limitations while the monks have to observe them very strictly. With consistent practice, it will be possible to overcome the limitations gradually, accelerating the spiritual progress.

c) Customs and practices:
The hand with a wheel on the palm symbolizes the Jain Vow of Ahimsa, meaning Non-violence. The word in the middle is "Ahimsa." The wheel represents the dharmachakra, to halt the cycle of reincarnation through relentless pursuit of truth. Jain monks and nuns practice strict asceticism and strive to make their current birth their last, thus ending their cycle of transmigration. The laity, who pursues less rigorous practices, strives to attain rational perception and to do as much good as possible and get closer to the goal of attaining freedom from the cycle of transmigration. Following strict ethics, the laity usually chooses professions that revere and protect life and totally avoid violent livelyhoods

Jains practice Samayika, which is a Sanskrit word meaning equanimity and derived from samaya (the soul). The goal of samayika is to attain equanimity. Samayika is begun by achieving a balance in time. Samayika is especially significant during Paryushana, a special period during the monsoon, and is practiced during the Samvatsari Pratikramana ritual.
Jains believe that demi-Gods or celestial beings cannot help jiva to obtain liberation, which must be achieved by individuals through their own efforts. In fact, Devas themselves cannot achieve liberation until they reincarnate as humans and undertake the difficult act of removing karma. Their efforts to attain the exalted state of Siddha, the permanent liberation of jiva from all involvement in worldly existence, must be their own.
Common men and women also have the five vows of non-violence, truth, non-stealing, celibacy and non-possession. It is not possible to observe these vows completely in day-to-day life and therefore followed to a limited extent. As these vows are limited in their scope, they are called 'Anuvratas'. Jains are expected to be non-violent in thought, word, and deed, both toward humans and toward all other living beings, including their own selves. Jain monks and nuns walk barefoot and sweep the ground in front of them to avoid killing insects or other tiny beings. Even though all life is considered sacred by the Jains, human life is deemed the highest form of life.
While performing holy deeds, Shwetambar Jains wear cloths, muhapatti, over their mouths and noses to avoid saliva falling on texts or revered images. True spirituality, according to enlightened Jains, starts when one attains Samyak darshana, or true perception. Such souls are on the path to Moksha, striving to remain in the nature of the soul. Attachment to worldly life collects new karmas, and traps one in birth, death, and suffering.
Along with the Five Vows, Jains avoid harboring ill will and practice forgiveness. They believe that atma (soul) can lead one to becoming Parmatma (liberated soul) and this must come from one's inner self. Jains refrain from all violence (Ahimsa) and recommend that sinful activities be avoided.