Jainism dates to the 6th century B.C.E. in India. The religion derives its name from the jinas ("conquerors"), a title given to twenty-four great teachers (tirthankaras or "ford-makers"), through whom their faith was revealed. Mahavira, the last of the tirthankaras, is considered the founder of Jainism. The ultimate goal of Jainism the liberation of the self (jiva) from rebirth, which is attained through the elimination of accumulated karma (the consequences of previous actions). This occurs through both the disciplined cultivation of knowledge and control of bodily passions. When the passions have been utterly conquered and all karma has been removed, one becomes a Jina ("conqueror"), and is no longer subject to rebirth. Jainism conceives of a multi-layered universe containing both heavens and hells. Movement through these levels of the universe requires adherence to the Jainism doctrines emphasizing a peaceful and disciplined life. These principles include non-violence in all parts of life (verbal, physical, and mental), speaking truth, sexual monogamy, and the detachment from material things. As part of the disciplined and non-violent lifestyle, Jains typically are strict vegetarians and often adhere to a quite arduous practice of non-violence, which restricts the sorts of occupations the may follow (no farming, for instance, since insects are inadvertently harmed in plowing). Jainism's ethical system is based on the idea that right faith, knowledge, and conduct must be cultivated simultaneously.
Shefali Ajmera explains what it means to be a Jain in today's world.