Jainism is a non-theistic belief that, along with Hinduism and Buddhism, is one of the three oldest Indian religious traditions, dating to the 6th century B.C. It remains an important part of South Asian religious beliefs and practices. Although it shares some attributes with Hinduism and Buddhism as the result of common cultural and linguistic backgrounds, Jainism is a distinct tradition. Jains believe all living things – including animals and plants – have living souls and they show concern for every living thing, as well as the health of the universe itself. Jains are strictly vegetarian and seek to minimize their use of the world's resources. They believe that the path to spiritual purity and enlightenment is achieved through disciplined nonviolence (or “noninjury”) to all living creatures.
Jains did not begin arriving in the United States until the 20 century, with their most significant period of immigration in the early 1970s. There are an estimated 150,000 Jains in the U.S. Jains practice asceticism (strict, severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence), fasting and meditation. They celebrate many rituals and festivals.
The swastika is an important Jain symbol, but it has no relation to Nazism. The four arms of the swastika symbolize for Jains the four realms of existence in which rebirth occurs: humans, heavenly beings, hellish beings and non-humans (plants and animals).
While Jains have monastics (monks and nuns), these individuals do interact with lay men and women rather than live in isolation.
Look to local Jain temples and practitioners to explain practices, rituals and festivals.