Jainism as a religious tradition was established in India about the same time as Buddhism. Mahavira, one of the jinas (conquerors) preached the Jain philosophy around the same time that Buddhism began. Like Buddhism, Jainism opposed the corruption in the interpretation of Hinduism and questioned practices like casteism. The underlying philosophy of Jainism is that renunciation of worldly desires and self-conquest leads to perfect wisdom. This faith believes in total abstinence and asceticism as practised by the Jinas and the Tirthankars ("crossing-makers"). The "crossing refers to the passage from the material to the spiritual realm, from to freedom. Followers of this faith accept the popular gods of Hinduism but they are placed lower than the jinas.

The focus of this religion has been purification of the soul by means of right conduct, right faith and right knowledge. This faith also enunciates complete non-violence and the Jain monks can be seen with their nose and mouth covered by a cloth mask to ensure that they do not kill any germs or insects while breathing. Today, Jainism has more than 3 million adherents in India and finds wide acceptance because of its philosophy of sympathy for all living beings.

The fundamental principles of Jainism can be briefly stated as follows:

  • Man's personality is dual. The first fundamental principle of Jainism is that man's personality is dual, that is, material and spiritual. Jaina philosophy regards that every mundane soul is bound by subtle particles of matter known as karma from the very beginning. It considers that just as gold is found in an alloyed form in the mines, in the same way mundane souls are found in the bondage of karma, from times immemorial. The impurity of the mundane soul is thus treated as an existing condition.
  • Man is not perfect. The second principle that man is not perfect is based on the first principle. The imperfectness in man is attributed to the existence of karma embodied with soul. The human soul is in a position to obtain perfection and in that free and eternal state it is endowed with four characteristics, viz., ananta-darsana, ananta-jnana, ananta-virya and ananta-sukha, i.e. infinite perception or faith, infinite knowledge, infinite power and infinite bliss.

  • Man is the master of his material nature. Even though man is not perfect, the third principle states that by his spiritual efforts man can and must control his material nature. It is only after the entire subjugation of matter that the soul attains perfection, freedom and happiness. It is emphatically maintained that man will be able to sail across the ocean of births and achieve perfection through the control of senses and thought processes..
  • Man alone is responsible for his future. The last basic principle stresses that is only each individual that can scientifically separate his own soul from the matter combined with it. The separation cannot be effected by any other person. This means that man himself, and he alone, is responsible for all that is good or bad in his life. He cannot absolve himself from the responsibility of experiencing the fruits of his actions.