Jainism was founded in India by Vardhamana Mahavira and twenty-three others, who are known as the Tirthankaras, approximately 1200 years ago. The sacred texts of Jainism are written in Prakit and contain the teachings of the 24 Tirthankaras.
They include the basic Jain doctrines, codes of practice, and narrative literature. The term Jain comes from the Sanskrit word jina, which means “he who conquers.” Specifically, it refers to one who has conquered the human tradition of suffering and has found a type of liberation.
As with many Eastern Religions, Jains believe that the soul is eternal and experiences many consecutive births in order to work toward complete enlightenment. The path to enlightenment for Jains, however, is different from that of Hindus and Buddhists. For Jains, this path begins with ahims- the non-harming of others.
Jains believe in the concept of karma, but in Jainism, karma has substance to it; it is matter that sticks to the soul. The souls collect the karma, either good or bad. The state of one’s karma ultimately determines one’s ability to gain enlightenment.
This enlightenment that leads to liberation is obtained by following or believing in the nine tattvas, or principles, which are: jiva (soul); ajiva (non-soul); asrava (the concept of souls collecting karma); papa (bad karma); punya (good karma); bandha (bonding of karma to the soul); samvara (stopping the soul from collecting bad karma); nirjara (getting rid of bad karma); and moksa (complete liberation).
Understanding the Jain concept of space is essential to one’s ability to obtain moksa . The Cosmos consists of the heavens, earth, and hell, and is known as the triloka.
The heavens consist of various levels, the highest being where the tirthankaras reside. Below the realm of the tirthankaras is the devaloka where the gods reside.
Hell consists of seven levels, and as the levels drop, the moral quality of the karma in that region decreases. At the center of the Universe is Bharata, the place in which people live. It is the only place in the cosmos where moksa can be achieved.
Just as space is important to moksa, so too is time. For Jains, the cosmic time cycle consists of six ascending and six descending eras of unimaginable length. The first six eras in these cycles represent the happiest times and the last six eras represent the most miserable times.
Moksa can only be achieved when there is a mixture of happiness and sadness.
The largest concentration of Jains is found in India, with over 4 million practitioners spread throughout the country. There are 75,000 Jains in the United States and significant populations in the United Kingdom.
The fastest growing population of Jains outside of India is found in Leicester, Britain. There are approximately 21,000 Jains in Africa and 5,000 in Asia.