The two branches of Jainism

There are two main branches of Jainism: Digambara and Svetambara. Digambara means "one who is naked" or "one who has the sky as his clothes." Only men can become Digambara monks. They believe that if you have anything to your name, you cannot realise the Highest. Therefore, they have renounced all material possessions. They keep only a single peacock feather to sweep the ground clear in front of them so that they do not tread on any living beings and a gourd for boiled water.

The Svetambara branch is more moderate. Svetambara means "clad in white." Both men and women can belong to this branch. They often wear white clothes and sometimes a mask across their nose and mouth so that by breathing in they do not kill any little organisms in the air. They lead a very simple life and also follow the teachings of Mahavira.

In abiding by the principle of ahimsa, both branches show their deep reverence for all living beings. In ahimsa they find their lasting joy and their true salvation. Mahavira said, "One who neglects or disregards the existence of earth, air, fire, water and vegetation disregards his own existence which is entwined with them."