The Jains Today

While Jainism emerged as a protest against the Hindu caste system, Hinduism came to accept Jain asceticism and ahimsa. Still, Jainism doesn't claim many adherents, with slightly less than 4 million followers in the world today. Perhaps the strict requirements of Jainism keep it a minority religion.

No Jain can belong to any profession that takes a life or profits from slaughter. The off-limits professions include soldiers and butchers, leather workers and exterminators, and even farmers. Farming is forbidden because the profession involves plowing and tilling soil, which kills insects and worms that live in the soil. Since professions that involve killing are prohibited, Jains have entered less morally objectionable commercial professions.

Jains acknowledge no transcendent beings. In fact, they have no need for gods, since they embrace a secular ethic. They worship the twenty-four spiritual leaders or Tirthankaras who embody their philosophy. Some 40,000 temples in India worship these figures. One of the temples — erected on Mount Abu — is considered one of the seven wonders of India. In addition to temple worship, Jain worship extends to rituals in the home. This includes a broad variety of activities, including reciting the names of the first jinas (or saints), bathing their idols, and making offerings of flowers and perfume to these idols. Home ceremonies typically include meditation and the observance of vows, too.

The Jain's only religion is a kind of ethic, a way of life. The Jains might fall into two camps: a majority, who are immersed in their material lives and cannot give up their homes and accept the rigors of an ascetic life; and a minority, who become monks. They are quintessential Jains; their lives are guided by the five vows.

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