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Jīva (Skt., ‘living’). In Hinduism, the living self which is engaged in the world and which identifies itself with mind and body as empirically real. The true self is ātman, which is the One pervading all appearance. It is an issue in Hinduism whether jīva and ātman are, in the end, identical or whether some distinction remains between them: see JIVĀTMAN.

In Jainism, jīva is one of two categories into which all existing things must fall, the living as opposed to ajīva. The concept of jīva is central to an understanding of Jainism, because of the way in which it credits all human beings, animals, insects, vegetation, and even earth, stones, fire, water, and air with living souls (jīvas). The universe is seen as being vibrant with innumerable jīvas, each of which is real, independent, and eternal, and characterized by consciousness (caitanya), bliss (sukha), and energy (virya). The Jain path of purification offers a means of purifying the jīva through the pursuit of the ratnatraya (the Three Jewels) of right faith, knowledge, and conduct; and with the help of strict ascetic discipline, the Jains believe that association with karma can be halted. This teaching accounts for the enormous respect for life in all its forms which characterizes Jainism and is expressed in the keystone of Jain faith, ahiṃsā.