Digest of terms

Jain ethics

Jainism is a very small religion thought by scholars to have emerged in Northeast India at roughly the same time as Buddhism, in the 6c BCE, although its own traditions trace it back to prehistoric times. It firmly subscribes to an ascetic ethic - a key dispute between the two main Jain groupings is over whether this requires complete nakedness, or whether wearing a single garment is compatible with non-attachment to the body.

Ahimsa, non-injury to all living beings, is the central value, and while this is found in both Hinduism and Buddhism, it is pursued more rigorously among the Jains, who may be seen wearing mouth and nose coverings in order to prevent accidental ingestion of insects, and sweeping the ground before them in order to avoid treading on tiny insects. Ahimsa is further construed as requiring the rejection of psychological and intellectual violence, and there is emphasis on the moral propriety of respecting both sides of any argument.

Like Buddhists, Jains have monks and nuns upon whom stricter demands are made than on the laity, though vegetarianism is required of all. Again as in Buddhism, the relationship between the monks and nuns is defined by dana, religious giving. The latter, homeless wanderers, are not permitted either to prepare food or to buy it (they are not allowed money), so they are completely dependent on lay support. The laity, in return, accumulate merit thus, given their belief in karma and samsara, enhancing the likelihood of better rebirths in future. Gifts extend beyond food to lodging, medicine, and - to the non-naked - robes. In return monks and nuns are seen as setting an ideal example, teach the laity, and may seek to convert others.

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