Right knowledge, right faith, and right conduct are the three most essentials for attaining liberation.
In order to acquire these, one must observe the five great vows:
Non-violence is the supreme religion (Ahimsa parmo dharma)
It is repeatedly said by all Tirthankaras in Jain literature
"Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being."According to Jainism all living beings, irrespective of their size, shape, or different spiritual developments are equal. No living being has a right to harm, injure, or kill any other living being, including animals, insects, and plants. Every living being has a right to exist and it is necessary to live with every other living being in perfect harmony and peace.
Nonviolence is based on love and kindness for all living beings. Nonviolence in Jainism is not a negative virtue. It is based upon the positive quality of universal love and compassion. One who is actuated by this ideal cannot be indifferent to the suffering of others.
Violence of every type should be completely forbidden. Mental tortures by way of harsh words, actions, and any type of bodily injuries should also be avoided. Even thinking evil of some one is considered violence in Jainism.
Practically, it is impossible to survive without killing or injuring some of the smallest living beings. Some lives are killed even when we breathe, drink water, or eat food. Therefore, Jainism says that minimum killing of the lowest form of life should be our ideal for survival.
In the universe, there are different forms of life, such as, human beings, animals, insects, plants, bacteria, and even smaller lives which cannot be seen even through the most powerful microscopes. Jainism has classified all the living beings according to their senses as follows:
It is more painful if a life of the higher forms (more than one sense) are killed. All non-vegetarian food is made by killing a living being with two or more senses. Therefore, Jainism preaches strict vegetarianism, and prohibits non-vegetarian foods.
Jainism explains that violence is not defined by actual harm, for this may be unintentional. It is the intention to harm, the absence of compassion, and the ignorance that makes an action violent. Without violent thought there can be no violent actions.
Non-violence is to be observed in action, speech, and thought. One should not be violent, ask others to do so, or approve of such an activity.
One should remain silent if the truth causes pain, hurt, anger, or death of any living being.
Truth is to be observed in speech, mind, and deed. One should not utter an untruth, ask others to do so, or approve of such activities.
When accepting alms, help, or aid one should not take more then what is minimum needed. To take more than one's need is also considered theft in Jainism.
The vow of non-stealing insists that one should be totally honest in action, thought, and speech. One should not steal, ask others to do so, or approve of such activities.
Monks are required to observe this vow strictly and completely. They should not enjoy sensual pleasures, ask others to do the same, nor approve of it. There are several rules laid down for observing this vow for householders.
Lord Mahavir has said that wants and desires have no end, and only the sky is the limit for them.Attachments to worldly objects results in the bondage to the cycle of birth and death. Therefore, one who desires of spiritual liberation should withdraw from all attachments to pleasing objects of all the five senses.
Monks observe this vow by giving up attachments to all things such as:
Jainism has laid down and described in much detail these five great vows for the path of liberation. These are to be observed strictly and entirely by the monks and nuns. Partial observance is laid down for the householders with an additional seven vows.