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Obscure religion review: Jainism

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Jainism is perhaps one of the most interesting obscure religions out there. It is one of the world's oldest religions, and it survives in parts of the world where Islam and Hinduism are big. This is especially amazing considering the fact that Jainism distinguishes itself among other religions by its commitment to nonviolence.

The Jain diet is strictly vegan. It is so vegan, in fact, that many Jains don't even eat potatoes, onions, garlic, or other root vegetables because they are seen as high enough forms of life to deserve protection from violence and because digging up roots harms subterranean animals like insects. For the most part, they don't even farm. They don't even eat honey because that would be violence against bees. Jains acknowledge that some harm must be done to plants in order to sustain human life, but they minimize it as much as they can, and they set up a hierarchy of life forms based partially on the number of senses different things have. The more senses an animal has, the more protection from violence it deserves.

Jains avoid going outside at night because that is a time when it is easy to unintentionally do harm to living things in the darkness. Unintentional harm is seen as little different from intentional harm. They also take care not to speak harsh words, as that would also be a form of violence. But strangely, they will accept military violence that is committed in their defense.

Jains are very into self control. Ascetics take five vows.

  1. Ahimsa - This means nonviolence, or minimizing intentional and unintentional harm done to living things. Nonliving things are apparently on their own. Sorry, rocks.
  2. Satya - This means truth. Jain ascetics are just like Jim Carey in Liar Liar, except they are able to lie if the truth leads to violence. It's a bit like the three laws of robotics. Lower vows can be ignored if they come into conflict with higher ones.
  3. Asteya - This one means that Jain ascetics do not take anything that is not willingly offered. To do otherwise is considered theft.
  4. Brahmacharya - This basically means no sex. It has to do with self control and the senses.
  5. Aparigraha - This one means detachment from other people. Ascetics eschew property and social relations.
  6. There is no sixth vow. Why are you reading this? Move on to the next paragraph.

Jains believe in an immaterial soul or spirit inhabiting every individual. Each soul is intrinsically pure, but they get impurities that can be purged by observing the rules of the religion. Since it's a religion, that means there are lots of rules and principles that adherents have to know and agree with. Because of its coexistence in a part of the world dominated by Islam and Hinduism, it is among the smallest of the world's current religions with 4.2 million followers.

However, for anybody in Houston looking for a Jain community, they have a community and a website right here. Just don't expect to meet any ascetics. It seems like a pretty nice religion. It's certainly as harmless as any religion should be, and the wikipedia article about them says they are against dogmatic thinking. They're into meditating, and some sects even forbid clothing. Just for the men though. The women in those sects still have to cover up. Ah well.

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