The great French scholar Louis Renou, in his 1953 lectures on the religions of India, observed that "the Jaina movement presents evidence that is of great interest, both for the historical and comparative study of religion in ancient India and for the history of religion in general." For various reasons, however, Western scholarship dealing with this tradition has never attained to a degree of development commensurate with the importance of its subject in the sphere of Indological studies.
There remains, in other words, a definite need for a work that can introduce Jainism, not only as a religious tradition, but as a literary and sociohistorical one as well, to those with only a
general knowledge of India and its major faiths. The present work is an attempt to fill this need.
Although doctrinal explanations have been kept as simple as possible, it has nevertheless been
necessary to introduce a number of Sanskrit and Prakrit technical terms. Each of these is italicized and defined at the point of its initial appearance in the text; thereafter, the reader is referred to the Glossary of Sanskrit and Prakrit Words, wherein short definitions and page references for such terms are to be found. I have included a large amount of canonical and commentarial material, in the original languages, among the footnotes. This has been done to
partially overcome the difficulty of finding such material in libraries outside of India. It is hoped that the passages thus made available will be of benefit to those specialists who wish to consult them.
The religious tradition of the Jainas, unique in many respects, presents a fascinating array of doctrinal and social structures that stem from the anti-vedic movements of ancient times. Drawing extensively on primary sources, Professor Jaini provides a comprehensive introduction to the Jaina experience. Beginning with the Life of Mahavira the author elucidates the essentials of Jaina cosmology and philosophy as well as of the "path of purification" through which the soul may escape from its Karmic defilements and attain eternal salvation. This path constitutes the integral element within the broader frame-work of Jaina literature, lay ritual and the socio-historical factors, which enabled Jainism to survive and prosper to the present day. In particular, the author has examined the cardinal doctrine of ahimsa (non-harming), both in its impact upon Jaina religious consciousness and as a standard in applying its sacred principles to the conduct of every day life.