Jainism is a religion propounded by a Jina. Principles emaciated by a Jina, constitute Jainisms, and the follower of Janism is known & Jaina (or Jain, the editor). Further, a Jina is neither a supernatural being nor an incarnation of an all-powerful God. The word Jina means the conqueror or the victorious, that is, one who has conquered the worldly passions by one’s own strenuous efforts. Human beings are entitled to become Jinas and as such Jinas are persons of this world who have attained supreme knowledge, subjugated their passions and are free from any sort of attachments. Jainism is nothing but a set of principles preached by such persons known as Jinas. Hence Jainism is not an apaurusheya religion, that is, a religion pro- pounded by a non-human being or based on a sacred book of non-human origin. On the contrary, Jainism is a religion of purely human origin and it has emanated from the mouth of a dignitary, a Jina, who has secured the omniscience and self-control by his own personal efforts.
Thus, the people who worship the Jina or the Tirthankara and who follow the religious tenets proclaimed by the Jina are called the Jainas and their religion is Jainism.
As the Jinas possessed the supreme knowledge, they are called the Kevali-jinas, that is, the Jinas who attained infinite knowledge. These Kevali-Jinas are also of two kinds, viz., samanya-kevali and tirthankara-kevali. While the samanya-kevulis are those Jinas who are mainly concerned with their own salvation, the tirthankara- kevalis are the Jinas who after the attainment of infinite knowledge are not only concerned with their own salvation but are also concerned with showing the path of liberation to all. These tirthankara-kevalis are generally known as Tirthankaras (“fordmakers”), because they are the builders of the ford (tirtha) which leads human beings across the great ocean of existence
Emphasis on non-violence
The most distinctive contribution of Tirthankara Mahavira and Jaina acharyas (heads of mendicant groups) consists in their great emphasis on the observance of ahimsa, that is, non-injury to living beings, by all persons to the maximum extent possible, Ahimsa in full significance was realised and preached by twenty-three Tirthankaras preceding Tirthankara Mahavira who lived 2500 years ago in North India. In fact, the philosophy and rules of conduct laid down in Jaina religion have been based on the solid foundation of ahimsa which has throughout and consistently been followed to its logical conclusion. That is why the Jaina religion is considered as the religion of ahimsa. The significance of this principle of ahimsa was very powerfully reiterated by Tirthankara Mahavira as the practices of committing violence on different pretexts had become rampant at that time.
During the later Vedic period utmost importance was attached to the performance of sacrifices with a view to secure the favours of God and to avert His anger. The sacrifices were very elaborate, complicated and hedged with variis restrictions. The peculiar characteristic of these offerings to a deity was that they were usually accompanied by the slaughter of animals. Along with this practice, the flesh-eating or non-vegetarian diet was extremely popular among the different sections of the people.
Tirthankara Mahavira launched a vigorous attack against meat-eating and the performance of sacrificial rites by propagating the principle of ahimsa. He therefore asserted that as no one likes pain, one should not do unto others what one does not want others to do unto oneself. Since all living beings possessed a soul the principle of non-injury was obviously extended to cover all living beings. He considered injury or violence of three kinds, firstly, physical violence, which covered killing, wounding and causing any physical pain, secondly, violence in words which consisted in using harsh words, and, thirdly, mental violence, that implied bearing ill-feeling to- wards others. Further, he made it clear that violence or injury should be avoided in three ways, that is, it should not be committed, commissioned or consented to.
All these teachings of Jaina religion regarding the strict observance of the principle of ahimsa to the maximum extent possible by every individual in society produced far-reaching effects in social fields. The practice of performing sacrificial rites and especially the slaughter of animals at the time of making offerings to a god considerably fell into disuse. Similarly killing of animals for hunting, sports and decoration purposes was greatly reduced. Further, the slaughter of animals and birds with a view to use their flesh as a form of diet slowly became unpopular. In this way injury to living beings was greatly reduced and the practice of vegetarian diet was adopted by large sections of population in different regions of the country.
Thus Tirthankara Mahavira emphasised the basic fact that every living being has a sanctity and a dignity of its own and therefore one must respect it as one expects one’s dignity to be respected by others. He also firmly insisted that life is sacred irrespective of species, caste, colour, creed and nationality. In this way Tirthankara Mahavira convinced the people that the practice of ahimsa is both an individual and a collective virtue and showed that ahimsa has a positive force and a universal appeal.