Ahimsa, one of the five vows of Jainism, is the heart of the religion. This strong belief in non-violence is aimed at the well being of all living creatures, not merely man. Jainism teaches its followers that inflicting pain or injury to any living thing is like inflicting pain to one's own self. The concept has evolved from experience. Violence begins as a thought and continues as a concept, then a deed. While characteristics of non-violence are found in every religion of the world, Jainism is the only religion having this principle as its main doctrine. Ahimsa forms the backbone of Jain philosophy and serves as basis for their ethical code. The meaning of Ahimsa goes much deeper than physical harm. It also includes violence of the mind, the speech and the body. It includes lying, desiring and evil toward others. It includes accidental violence, occupational violence, protective violence but most of all, intentional violence. As Matthews has stated, "The Jains, including laypeople as well as ascetics, hold that all forms of violence, including passions, keep the soul from attaining perfection." Those who are fanatic Jain believers have been known to go so far as to strain water so as not to kill any organisms, wear masks, so as not to breathe in insects, and to only eat fruits that have fallen off trees without having been picked. .
The justification for these practices is actually rooted in the Jain belief in the importance of the soul. Respect for life is respect for the soul. The soul is immortal and living things are the souls" physical forms in the present life. Ahimsa is the avoidance of physical harm to any of these living things. Because of this, Jains believe that all possible kindness should be given to all living things. .