Since Jains follow the principle of non-violence – ahiṃsā – they are vegetarians. They do not eat meat or fish or anything else that has a soul or potential life. Traditionally, this includes eggs, root vegetables such as onions and potatoes, and vegetables such as aubergines. Root vegetables are thought to have souls because when a piece of onion, garlic or potato falls to the ground, a new plant can grow. Plants such as aubergine are full of seeds, which each constitute a soul.
Jains eat cheese, yoghurt and other dairy products, rice, bread, lentils and most vegetables and fruit that do not fall into the categories mentioned above. Some contemporary Jains have turned to veganism as they believe that modern farming methods involve violence towards animals.
Jains do not drink alcohol because it is made from fermented yeast. Yeast is full of microscopic beings that would be harmed if they were drunk. Therefore the principle of non-violence does not allow Jains to drink alcohol.
Jain offerings in a temple in Mumbai
Image by Cactusbones – Sue Ann Harkey © CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0
The various sects of Jains worship in different ways. Prayer or worship can be:
All Jains perform mental worship. The sects that worship images carry out external worship too. However, mendicants of all sects perform only mental worship.
An external worship ceremony may consist of several rites. It frequently includes reciting a mantra or singing a hymn at certain points. Common rituals include that of anointing or bathing a statue with certain substances and placing offerings in front of it. These may include incense, flowers, sweets, fruits, nuts and uncooked rice, often arranged in patterns of auspicious symbols.
When mūrti-pūjaka Jains pray, they do not worship the image itself or a spirit within it or ask for anything. Praying is always joyful and means reverencing the qualities and example of the Jina.
Sthānaka-vāsin Jains, who reject image worship, practise mental worship by reciting prayers and meditating.
The chief prayer for all sects is the Namaskāra-mantra or Navkār-mantra, which is a daily homage to the five types of beings that have reached the highest stages of spirituality.