I've decided upon Jainism as the Religion of the Month for 1/03. Jainism is a small religion, relatively speaking, observed and practiced by some 5 million believers, primarily in India. Jainism is one of the oldest religions to be found in India. Jainism was established around 600 B.C. and arises from a long tradition, preceding that date, taught by the "Tirthankaras", that teaches a path to religious awakening by renouncing the world through strict austerity. The main sacred writings of Jains are called Agamas, claimed to be handed down from Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, who codified and consolidated the traditional teachings of the "Tirthankaras". Followers of Jainism, known as Jains, do not believe in a creator. They strive to break the cycle of reincarnation (implying that they believe in the existence of it) by minimizing their impact on the world, thus reducing the amount of karma they accumulate. By thus reducing their accumulated karma, which drives reincarnation, they free their jiva, or soul, from the cycle of reincarnation. In practice, this means that Jains live ascetic lives, living very frugally, eschewing material possessions and wealth. Additionally, their religion is founded upon a strong belief in "ahimsa", or non-injury, to all living beings, even down to the smallest micro-organism. Jains take special measures, sometimes wearing cloths over their mouths to avoid ingesting flying insects, to keep from harming other living beings. This means, of course, that they are strict vegetarians. Two useful links are Jainism.org and http://www.religioustolerance.org/jainism.htm Questions: Could Jainism thrive in Western societies, focussed as we are upon material gain? Is asceticism a valid path to religious enlightenment, or just a very difficult lifestyle? Is <u>all</u> life equally important, even down to the microbic level?