The word Jainism is derived from the root Ji (`to conquer'), and signifies the religion of those who have conquered the lust of living. Unlike Buddhism, which derives directly from the founder, Gautama, Jainism represents a teaching long antecedent to the career of its most distinguished teacher, Mahavira. Mahavira (467 BC) is regarded as its historical founder. Jains claims that their religion, is most ancient of Indian religions, long anterior to Aryan Hinduism, some of their scholars have produced evidence in support of the existence of Jainism in the Indus valley.
Jainism holds that it is not necessary to posit a creator or first cause. The universe has existed from eternity and will continue to exist so. Matter is eternal. The infinite changes in the world are due to the forces inherent in nature and not to any divine interference. According to Jain belief the universe runs in immense alternating cycles of advancement (utsarpini, up-serpentiming) and retrogression (avasarpini, down-serpentini) eternally recurring, each of incalculable duration, one ascending and one descending cycle make an age.
Even though Jainism dispenses with divine agencies the Jains are not materialists, but rather pluralistic realists. They accept the dualistic principle of jiva (eternal soul) and ajiva (eternal element) everywhere. The jiva acts and is affected by acts; it is a knowing self; the ajiva is atomic and unconscious. Ajivas exist in various relationships, five categories or tattva of ajiva being distinguished, namely
1)akasha, ether or space, in its universal aspect and not the space in which we live; the world only exists in one specialized segment of the space conditions;
2)dharma (not to be confused with the term as used in Hinduism) a condition of movement, a sort of secondary space which permits a fish to swim;
3)adharma, a tertiary space which permits of rest;
4)kala or time; and
5)Pudgala, matter; what is perceived by the senses. In Jainism ahimsa is carried to extreme lengths.
The influence of Jainism is to be seen also in the other religious literatures of India, both north and south. In central India there was a very definite attempt made to turn Chandragupta, founder of the Mauryan dynasty, into a believer and even to claim him as a pious Jain monk.