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Ethics and Community

Community Organization

In addition to the sectarian division of Jains into Digambar and Svetambar, the community is fourfold: renunciants both male (munis) and female (sadhvis), and male and female householders. There is no central religious authority but several individual spiritual leaders (acharyas).


Renunciants are the cultural heroes and role models of Jainism. These mendicants own nothing and travel continually for food and shelter (during the rainy season) provided by the laity. They do not teach directly but rather lead by example.

Principles of Moral Thought and Action

Jainism's three paramount principles are Ahimsa (non-violence), Anekantevad (many-sidedness or non-dogmatism), and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness). Thoughts and actions of all Jains should be guided by dispassionate detachment and compassion in an effort to burn off existing karma and prevent its accrual.

Vision for Society

In theory, society should not exist. All existence is mired in violent suffering: the doctrinal ideal is to escape. The practical expression of this among householders translates to a non-violent society that values animal and plant life alongside that of humans.

Gender and Sexuality

The body, a source of attachment and violence, must be strictly controlled. For Digambar Jains, one cannot attain salvation from a female body, as these are inherently more violent. Svetembar Jains permit the ordination of women while Digambar Jains do not.