Just as in the Bible there are 10 commandments, Jains believe in 5 major principles that underpins the entire philosophy which are as follows:
(i) Ahimsa (non-violence) by thought, word or deed. This should not be construed from a narrow perspective i.e. refrain from violence, but from a broader positive outlook, in terms of universal compassion, peace, love, etc. What is unique about Jains, is that this concept extends to not only humans but all life forms including plants, animals and elements of nature (air, water, fire & earth).
(ii) Satya (truth).
The Sikh greeting sat sri akaal (truth is eternal; sat referring to truth, kaal referring to time and the “a” in from of time negating it which implies eternity) is quite an appropriate term to understand the principle of satya. Truth can be relative or eternal. For instance, at one point pilgrims had to pay tax for the Palitana pilgrimage which is not the case now. Hence, the truth is that at present there is no tax levied, but it was imposed in the past. However, natural laws or physical laws and more importantly spiritual tenets are eternal truth. For instance, in the Acharanga Sutra, the first of the Jain holy books (Aagams), the following verse states a universal truth that all the enlightened souls of the past and all the enlightened souls of the future proclaim that peace is the basis of life just as the earth is the resting place of all living beings.
Every one loves peace and harmony is an eternal truth (there cannot be any period of time when people do not love peace or harmony). The concept of truth encapsulates the unique theories of Anekantvada and Syadvada which ensures that even in speech and thought the essence of truth is not violated.
(iii) Asteya (non-stealing). This concept simply states do not take / consume what is not yours. For instance, if principled Jains found money lying on the road, they will not use it for their own personal use, but give it to charity as it was not rightfully theirs.
(iv) Aparigraha: Pari means from all directions, graha means to accumulate and the “A” in front is negation. Therefore, the term means do not accumulate from all directions. This is a very pertinent vow in the current materialistic era we are all living in. It advocates one to be content for one’s sustenance and not to be greedy or hoard items.
(v) Brahmacharya (chastity). The general connotation is to maintain chastity. However, in a broader sense it means to restrain / control various sense organs (touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing). This leads to moderation in life and gratitude towards all what we are blessed with.
There are two categories for all of the above vows. One is called Mahavratas (major vows) followed by Jain ascetics who adhere to the above principles in the strictest sense possible.
The other category is Anuvratas (minor vows) followed by Jain laity. This acknowledges that it is not possible for everyone to follow all of the above principles diligently and resolutely and thus gives the degree of freedom for people to choose to follow them to the best of their ability and yet striving for perfection.
The holistic utility of all of the above fundamental tenets of the Jain philosophy has unfathomable positive impact in terms of economic, environmental and ecological sustenance leading to mutually beneficial independent and interdependent coexistence.
Intertwined with the above principles, is a concept of The Three Jewels:
(i) Samyak Darshan (right faith or viewpoint)
(ii) Samyak Gyana (right knowledge)
(iii) Samyak Charitra (right conduct)
In Tattvartha Sutra, the starting stanza mentions that the path to liberation is through the above three jewels.