This statement was prepared on behalf of the Institute of Jainology by its president, Dr. L. M. Singhvi. The Institute of Jainology is the main body bringing together the three distinct traditions of the Jains.Jainism is one of the oldest living religions. The term Jain means “follower of the Jinas.” The Jinas, or spiritual victors, are human teachers who attained omniscience. They are also called Tirthankaras (ford-makers), those who help others escape the cycle of birth and death. The twenty-fourth Tirthankara, called Mahavira, was born in 599 B.c. At the age of 30, he left home on a spiritual quest, and after 12 years of trials and austerities, he attained omniscience. Eleven men became his ganadharas, or chief disciples. At 72 Mahavira died and attained nirvana, that blissful state beyond life and death. Mahavira was not the founder of a new religion. He consolidated the faith by drawing together the teachings of the previous Tirthankaras, particularly those of his immediate predecessor, Parsva, who lived about 250 years earlier at Varnasi.
Initially the followers of Jainism lived throughout the Ganges Valley in India. Around 250 B.c., most Jains migrated to the city of Mathura on the Yamuna River. Later, many traveled west to Rajasthan and Gujarat and south to Maharashtra and Karnataka, where Jainism rapidly grew in popularity. The Jain population throughout the world is less than 10 million, of which about 100,000 have settled overseas in North America, the United Kingdom, Kenya, Belgium, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan.
Jains believe that to attain the higher stages of personal development, lay people must adhere to the three jewels (ratna-traya), namely, enlightened worldview, true knowledge, and conduct based on enlightened