Jainism is considered one of the oldest religions of the world. Jainism consists of 24 Tirthankaras (fordfinders, i.e. holy men) the last of which was Mahavir who was born around the time of the founder of Buddhism about 500 BC.
Jain comes from the word Jina, or one victorious over self, and worldly passions. A Jain is a conqueror of inner enemies. These inner enemies are anger, greed, pride and deceit. They believe these arise out of attachment and they practice non-attachment. Fundamental to Jainism is the concept of Ahimsa or non-violence. This strong emphasis in non-violence has led Jains to be one of the strictest vegetarian communities anywhere. Jains have a strict diet which excludes all meats and eggs. The strictest adherents will not eat anything grown underground for it is their belief they are harming the plant if they uproot it.
Two Major Divisions:
There are two major divisions among Jains, the Digambara (sky clad) and Swetambara (white clad). These sects differ on the idea of whether the monks should where white robes or wander naked. The founder Mahavir was an ascetic who did not wear clothes and pulled out his hair in renunciation of worldly pleasures. The Jain monks and nuns are assigned temple rotations and travel on foot from temple to temple where followers make their pilgrimages. Digambara and Swetambara should be considered separately since they rarely meet together.
View of God:
Jains view of God has led many to label them as atheistic. They do not see God as being active as creator and believe a human can become God. Jainism is a religion of self-help: without any outside agency – even god coming to the rescue of the soul. For Jains the soul is its own destroyer or liberator. Jains hold that every living being has a potential to become God. They believe in reincarnation and seek moksha (salvation) or release from the cycle of rebirths. Jains conceive Karma as an actual physical substance that weighs down the soul. They rid themselves of Karma through renunciation and practicing, right faith, right knowledge and right conduct.
Jains remain very isolated from other communities. They are one of the wealthiest and most influential communities of India and are often involved in the business and financial sectors. Jains avoid professions such as farming which contradicts ahimsa because so many insects are killed when plowing the fields. Jains have contributed much to the arts and sciences of India. The 2001 Indian Census records 4+ million Jains in India. However, it should be noted that many Jains were counted as Hindus and one Jain site states there are as many as 10 million followers of Jainism.
Outside of India there are significant Diaspora Jain populations. These areas of Jains include United Kingdom, especially Belgium (in the diamond business) Kenya and theUnited States. In the USA there are 26 Jain Temples. To see the location visit the web link: http://www.adherents.com/largecom/templjain_statesUS.html