Before we understand the meaning of the Jain dharma, it is absolutely necessary that we should have a thorough knowledge of the word, dharma or religion because for thousands of years, innumerable wrong notions about dharma hace been nourished and held by people. Dharma or religion is neither a cult nor a creed; nor it is a reserved ystem of any community. Dharma is not entirely related either to an individual or to a society; nor is it confined to any area. Dharma is the essential nature of an individual or an object. Shramana Bhagawan Mahavir has explained the meaning of dharma clearly thus:-
"Vatthu Sahavo Dhammo"
Dharma is nothing but the real nature of an object. Just as the nature of fire is to burn and the nature of water is to produce a cooling effect, in the same manner, the essential nature of the soul is to seek self-realization and spiritual elevation.
If we examine the matter thus, we find that dharma acquires different definitions in different contexts but here is a simplpe and clear meaning of it; "Dharma is the name that can be given to all the elaborate codes of conduct and ideologies that enable life to attain nobility and spiritual exaltation". Dharma can be the only means to understand and realize the true meaning of life. Dharma in its real sense is that which leads the soul on the path of felicity, peace and spiritual bliss; and impels it to be active and progressive. The great Jieshwaras have defined dharma thus:-
- Arhat dharma - the dharma of Ariantas or the destroyers of the inner enemies namely Karmas.
- Anekanta darshan - the ideology that is comprehensive and is not limited to a single point of view.
- Vitaraga marg - the dharma that has been expounded by the Paramatma who is devoid of all attachments and hatred.
Thus, Jainism is known by various names.