The Jains are, strictly speaking, ‘the followers of the Jinas’, a series of 24 founding figures who lived over eons of mythical time, although the last of them at least, Mahavira, is regarded by scholars as historical and relatively contemporaneous with the historical Buddha. The Jinas practiced severe austerities to attain liberation from the round of rebirth (saṃsāra) ostensibly a soteriological goal that defines Jainism as a religion.

Jainism is, then, one of India’s most ancient religious traditions and is comparable, in many ways, to Buddhism as a sister tradition. But unlike Buddhism, Jainism has maintained a continuous presence in India. And unlike the Buddhists, the Jains were probably always a very small minority in India (today they represent no more than about 0.4% of the ...

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