History of Jainism

Published: 27.03.2012

This paper by Ramesh Chandra Dutt (1848-1909), a contemporary and companion of Swami Vivekananda, is an interesting source of interreligious studies and shows the view of a learned Hindu writer of the late 19th century on Jaina religion. The paper was reissued in April 1977 in Hindutva (Vol. VII, No. 1, pp. 21-29).

The Jaina religion has long been considered as an offshoot from the religion proclaimed by Gautama Buddha. Houen-Tsang, who traveled in India in the seventh century after Christ, viewed it in this light; and all that we have hitherto known of the tenets of Jainism justified this supposition.

Both Lassen and Weber denied, and with very good reasons, the independent origin of the Jaina religion, and both the scholars maintained that the Jainas were seceders from Buddhism, and had branched off from the Buddhists and formed a sect of their own. The scriptures of the Jainas were not reduced to writing till the fifth century A. D., and Barth held very plausibly that the traditions of the Jainas as to the origin of their religion were formed of vague recollections of the Buddhist tradition. Jaina architecture in India, too, is of comparatively recent date, and may be said to have commenced centuries after Buddhist architecture had declined and disappeared in India.

Doctors Bühler and Jacobi, however, have recently discovered facts on the basis of which they contend that Jainism had its commencement at about the same time as the religion of Gautama, and that the two religions flowed in parallel streams for long centuries, until Buddhism declined, while Jainism still continues to be a living religion in some parts of India. We will place before our readers the facts and traditions on which this opinion is based.

The Jainas, both Svetambaras (with white clothing), and Digambaras (without clothing), allege that Mahavira, the founder of the religion, was the son of Siddhartha of Kundagrama, and belonged to the clan of Jnatrika Kshatriyas.

Further, Mahavira's mother Trisala is said to have been the sister of Kataka, king of Vaisali, whose daughter was married to the renowned Bimbisara, king of Magadha.

Mahavira, at first called Vardhamana or Jnatriputra, was like his father a Kasyapa. At the age of twentyeight he entered into the Holy Order, and after twelve years of self-mortification, became a Kevalin or Jina, Tirthankara or Mahavira, i.e., a saint and prophet. During the last thirty years of his life he organised his Order of ascetics. He was thus a rival of Gautama Buddha, and is mentioned in Buddhist writings under the name of Nataputra as the head of the Niganthas (Nirgranthas, without clothing), already a numerous sect in Vaisali. Mahavira died at Papa.

The Jaina tradition goes on to say that in the second century after Mahavira's death there was a famine in Magadha. The renowned Chandragupta was then the sovereign of Magadha. Bhadrabahu, with a portion of his Jaina followers, left Magadha under pressure of the famine and went to Karnataka. During his absence, the Jainas of Magadha settled their scriptures, consisting of the eleven Angas and the fourteen Puvvas, which latter are sometimes called the twelfth Anga. On the return of peace and plenty, the exiled Jainas returned to Magadha; but within these years a difference in custom had arisen between those who had stayed in Magadha, and those who had gone to Karnataka. The former had assumed a white dress, and the latter adhered to the old rule of absolute nakedness. The former were thus called Svetambaras, the latter were called Digambaras. The scriptures which had been settled by the former were not accepted by the latter, and for the Digambaras therefore there are no Angas. The final division between the two sects is said to have taken place in 79 or 82 A.D.

In course of time the scriptures of the Svetambaras fell into disorder, and were in danger of becoming extinct. It was necessary to record them into writing; and this was done at the Council of Vallabhi (in Gujarat) in 454 or 467 A.D. The operations of the Council resulted in the redaction of the Jaina canon, in the form in which we find it at the present day.

Besides these facts and traditions, inscriptions have been discovered on the pedestals of Jaina statues at Mathura which, according to Dr. Bühler (who first discovered this evidence), proves that the Svetambara sect existed in the first century A.D. The inscriptions are dated according to the era of Kanishka, king of Kashmir, i.e., the Saka Era 78 A.D. One of the inscriptions, dated 9 of the Era (and therefore, corresponding to 87 A.D.), states that the statue was erected by a Jaina lay-woman Vikata.

Such is the substance of the evidence on which it is contended that the Jaina religion is coeval with Buddhism, and not an offshoot from that religion. From the mention of “Nataputra” and of the “Nirgranthas” in the Buddhist Scriptures, it is reasonable to suppose that the Jaina sect of unclad ascetics had its origin too about the same time. Indeed, we have repeatedly stated before that various sects of ascetics lived in India at the time when Gautama Buddha lived and taught and led his sect of ascetics. What we find difficult to accept is that the Jaina religion, as we have it now, was professed by the Nirgranthas of the sixth century B.C.

The story that the Jaina canon was settled in a Council in Magadha at the time of Chandragupta is probably a pure myth; and even if that story was true, the canon settled in the third century B.C. would be very different from the canon recorded in the fifth century A.D. For there can be little doubt that the early tenets of the first Nirgranthas have long since been modified, and completely transformed; and that the more cultured section of that body, who adopted a white garment, continuously borrowed their maxims and precepts, their rules and customs, their legends and traditions from Buddhism, which was the prevailing religion of India after the third century B.C. Thus the Jainas drifted more and more towards Buddhism for long centuries, until they had adopted the substance of the Buddist religion as their own, and very little of the early tenets of the unclad Nirgranthas was left. It was then, in the fifth century A. D. that their scriptures were recorded, and it is no wonder that those scriptures appear like a copy of the Buddhist Scriptures recorded six centuries before. Admitting, then, the independent origin of the Nirgranthas in the sixth century B. C., we hardly think Houen-Tsang was very far wrong, when he described the Jaina religion, as he saw it in the seventh century (and as we see it in the present day), to be an offshoot from Buddhism.

Among the other sects of ascetics which flourished side by side with the Buddhists and the Nirgranthas in the sixth century B. C, the Ajivakas founded by Gosala were the best known in their days. Asoka names them in his inscriptions, along with Brahman and Nirgranthas. Gosala was therefore a rival of Buddha and Mahavira; but his sect has now ceased to exist.

It follows from what has been stated before, that the religious tenets of the Jainas differ but slightly from that of the Buddhists. Like the Buddhists, the Jainas have their Monastic Order, and they refrain from killing animals, and praise retirement from the world. In some respects they even go further than the Buddhists, and maintain that not only animals and plants, but the smallest particles of the elements, fire, air, earth and water, are endowed with life or jiva. For the rest, the Jainas, like the Buddhists, reject the Veda, they accept the tenets of Karma and of Nirvana, and believe in the transmigration of souls. They also believe in 24 Tirthankaras, as the early Buddhists believed in 24 Buddhas who had risen before Gautama Buddha.

The sacred books or Agamas of the Jainas consist of seven divisions, among which the Angas form the first and most important division. The Angas are eleven in number of which the Acharanga Sutra, setting forth the rules of conduct of Jaina monks, has been translated by Dr. Jacobi, and the Upasakadasah, setting forth the rules of conduct of Jaina laymen, has been translated by Dr. Hoernle.

We will now present our readers with some extracts relating to the life of Mahavira from the Acharanga Sutra. Hermann Jacobi, the learned translator of the work, assigns to it the third or fourth century B.C., but from the verbose and artificial language of the work, many readers will be inclined to assign to it a date as many centuries after Christ. The entire work reads like a very distant and very perverted imitation of the simple Buddhist accounts of the life of Gautama.

“When the Kshatriyani Trisala, having seen these fourteen illustrious great dreams, awoke, she was glad, pleased and joyful, rose from her couch and descended from the footstool. Neither hasty nor trembling, with a quick and even gait like that of a royal swan, she went to the couch of the Kshatriya Siddhartha. There she awakened the Kshatriya Siddhartha, addressing him with kind, pleasing, amiable, tender, illustrious, beautiful, lucky, blest, auspicious, fortunate, heart-going, heart-easing, well-measured, sweet and soft words 'O beloved of the gods, I was just now on my couch and awoke after having seen the fourteen dreams, to wit, an elephant, etc. What, to be sure, O my Lord, will be the happy result portended by these fourteen illustrious great dreams?'



Trishala's dreams


He grasped the meaning of those dreams with his own innate intelligence and intuition, which were preceded by reflection, and addressing the Kshatriyani Trisala with kind, pleasing, etc. words, spoke thus: 'O beloved of the gods, you have seen illustrious dreams etc., you will give birth to a lovely, handsome boy, who will be the ensign of our family, the lamp of our family, the crown of our family, the frontal ornament of our family, the maker of our family's glory, the sun of our family, the stay of our family, the maker of our family's joy and fame, the tree of our family, the exalter of our family'.

Surrounded by many chieftains, satraps, kings, princes, knights, sheriffs, heads of families, ministers, chief ministers, astrologers, counsellors, servants, dancing masters, citizens, traders, merchants, foremen of guilds, generals, leaders of carvans, messengers, and frontier-guards, he the lord and chief of men, a bull and a lion among men, shining with excellent lustre and glory, lovely to behold, like the moon emerging from a great white cloud in the midst of the flock of the planets and of brilliant stars and asterisms left the bathing-house, entered the exterior hall of audience, and sat down on his throne with the face towards the east. 'Quickly, O beloved of the gods, call the interpreters of dreams who well know the science of prognostics with its eight branches, and are well versed in many sciences besides. 'When the interpreters of dreams had heard and perceived this news from the Kshatriya Siddhartha, they glad, pleased, and joyful, etc. fixed the dreams in their minds, entered upon considering them, and conversed together.”

In that night in which the venerable ascetic Mahavira was born, there was a divine lustre originated by many descending and ascending gods and goddesses, and in the universe, resplendent with one light, the conflux of gods occasioned great confusion and noise. Before the venerable ascetic Mahavira had adopted the life of householder (i.e. before his marriage), he possessed supreme, unlimited, unimpeded knowledge and intuition that the time for his Renunciation had come He left his silver, he left his gold, he left his riches, corn, majesty and kingdom, his army, grain, treasure, storehouse town, seraglio and subjects, he quitted and rejected his real, valuable property, such as riches, gold, precious stones, jewels, pearls, conches, stones, corals, rubies etc.; he distributed presents through proper persons. He distributed presents among indigent persons. The venerable ascetic Mahavira for a year and a month wore clothes; after that time he walked about naked, and accepted the alms in the hollow of his hand. For more than twelve years the venerable ascetic Mahavira neglected his body and abandoned the core of it; he with equanimity bore, underwent and suffered all pleasant or unpleasant occurrences arising from divine powers, men, or animals. “

During the thirteenth year, in the second month of summer, in the fourth fortnight, the light (Fortnight) of Vaisakha, on its tenth day, when the shadow had turned towards the east and the first wake was over, on the day called Suvrata, in the Muhurta call Vijaya, outside of the town Jrimbhikagrama on the bank of the river Rijupalika, not far from an old temple, in the field of the householder Samaga, under a sal tree, when the moon was in conjuction with the asterism Uttaraphalguni (the Venerable One) in a squatting position with joined heels exposing himself to the heat of the sun, after fasting two and a half days without drinking water, being engaged in deep meditation, reached the highest knowledge and intuition, called Kevala, which is infinite, supreme, unobstructed, unimpeded, complete, and full.”

In that period, in that age, the venerable ascetic Mahavira stayed the first rainy season in Asthikagrama, three rainy seasons in Champa and Prishtichampa, twelve in Vaisali and Vanijagrama, fourteen in Rajagriha and the suburb of Nalanda, six in Mithila, two in Bhadrika, one in Alabhika, one in Paritabhumi, one in Sravasti, one in the town of Papa, in king Hastipala's office of the writers; the venerable ascetic Mahavira died, went off, quitted the world, cut asunder the ties of birth, old age, and death; became a Siddha, a Buddha, a Mukta, a maker of the end (to all misery), finally liberated, freed from all pains.”

The Upasakadasah, as its name indicates, details the duties of Jaina laymen in ten lectures. The first lecture details the vows and observances that must regulate a layman's conduct; the next four lectures detail various kinds of temptations arising from external persecutions; the sixth lecture treats of temptations from internal doubts, and specially from the antagonism of other religions, like that of the Ajivikas founded by Gosala; the seventh shows the superiority of the Jaina religion; the eighth dwells on the temptations to sensual enjoyments; and the ninth and tenth give examples of a quiet and peaceful career of a faithful Jaina layman.

We are unable to make room for extracts from Dr. Hoernle's translation of this work, but we will glean some facts from the portion which treats of Ananda's conversion, which will be interesting, as detailing many articles of luxury in which a Hindu householder indulged in the olden times. Ananda does not become a monk, but only becomes a Jaina layman, and he therefore takes the five lesser vows, anu-vratani, in contrast with the maha-vratani of monks, as also the disciplinary vows.

Ananda renounces all gross ill-usage of living beings, all gross lying, and all gross theft. He contents himself with one wife, saying, “excepting with one woman, Sivananda my wife, I renounce every other kind of sexual intercourse.” He limits himself to the possession of a treasure of four kror measures of gold deposited in a safe place, of a capital of four kror measures of gold put out on interest, and of a well-stocked estate of the value of four kror measures of gold. Similarly he limits himself to the possession of four herds, each consisting of ten thousand head of cattle; to the possession of 500 ploughs and land at the rate of 100 nivartanas for each plough; to the possession of five hundred carts for foreign traffic, and five hundred carts for home traffic; and lastly, to the possession of four boats for foreign traffic and four boats for home use. The above enumeration gives us a very fair idea of a Hindu capitalist land owner, money-lender, and merchant of olden days, a Seth, such as Jains have always been in India. We now turn to the articles of household use and luxury.

Ananda limits himself to one kind of red-tinted bathing towel, to one kind of green stick for tooth-cleaning, to one kind of fruit, the milky pulp of Amalaka, to two kinds of oil as unguents, to one kind of scented powder, to eight gharas of ashing water, to one kind of clothes, viz., “a pair of cotton clothes” to perfumes made of aloes, saffron, sandal, and similar substances, to one kind of flower, the white lotus, to two kinds of ornaments, viz., ear pendants and a finger-ring engraved with his name, and to certain kinds of incense.

With regard to food, he limits himself in his use of beverages to a decoction of pulses or rice, and in the use of pastry to such as are fried in clarified butter or turned in sugar. He confines himself to boiled rice of the cultivated varieties, to dal made of kalai, mug, or mas, to clarified butter produced from cows' milk in autumn, to certain kinds of curry, to one kind of liquor made from palanga, to plain relishes or sauces, to rain water as drinking water, and lastly, to betel with its five spices. Many of our readers will be inclined to think that our friend Ananda with his broad acres and large trade and with the articles of use and luxury left to him, was not so badly off after all.




Compiled by PK

Share this page on:
Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharanga
  2. Agamas
  3. Anga
  4. Angas
  5. Bimbisara
  6. Body
  7. Brahman
  8. Buddha
  9. Buddhism
  10. Chandragupta
  11. Digambaras
  12. Equanimity
  13. Fasting
  14. Gautama
  15. Gujarat
  16. Hermann Jacobi
  17. Hindutva
  18. JAINA
  19. Jacobi
  20. Jaina
  21. Jaina Canon
  22. Jainism
  23. Jina
  24. Jiva
  25. Karma
  26. Karnataka
  27. Kevalin
  28. Kshatriyas
  29. Life of Mahavira
  30. Magadha
  31. Mahavira
  32. Mathura
  33. Meditation
  34. Muhurta
  35. Nalanda
  36. Nirvana
  37. PK
  38. Papa
  39. Rajagriha
  40. Ramesh Chandra Dutt
  41. Science
  42. Siddha
  43. Sutra
  44. Svetambara
  45. Svetambaras
  46. Swami
  47. Swami Vivekananda
  48. Tirthankara
  49. Tirthankaras
  50. Trisala
  51. Vallabhi
  52. Vardhamana
  53. Veda
  54. Vivekananda
Page statistics
This page has been viewed 2015 times.
© 1997-2020 HereNow4U, Version 4
Contact us
Social Networking

HN4U Deutsche Version
Today's Counter: