Philosophical Foundations Of Jainism (An Introduction) ► [02] Jainism In Pre-Historic Times

Posted: 10.08.2008

Today, we live in an age known as "Atomic Age". The tremendous potential of the atomic weapons is capable to destroy the world a couple of times. But paradoxically speaking, this is also the age when man has once again started the search for peace through exploration of the power of non-violence.

The theory of relativity as discovered by Albert Einstein has revolutionised the field of science. On the other hand various political doctrines like Socialism, Communism, Capitalism have already been practiced and tested in various countries. Politicians belonging to different ideologies are preaching diverse theories about the welfare of mankind. Tn this context it would be quite Interesting to study what Jainism could offer to the welfare of the mankind.

The Jain philosophy as not only preached non-violence as a principle, it has also proved that it could be a practical proposition as.1 way of life. Today in the United Nations, diplomats from various countries are constantly engaged in exploring the ways and moans to achieve peaceful solutions to the problems of the disturbed world and to find ways for discarding use of deadly weapons, but the world seems to be proceeding in the opposite direction. In this context Jainism's stress on non-violence and disarmament are very significant. It was Lord Mahavira, who for the first time, as per known history, proclaimed that there should be a total ban on production of weapons and the mankind should follow the path of non-violence. The study of Jainism is, therefore a very relevant subject in the modern context i.e. when the world stands on the brink of catastrophe.

Naturally one would like to know who was the originator of Jainism and when did it originate. Lord Mahavira is known to be the propounder of Jainism, although about 250 years prior to him Lord Pārśvanātha had originally preached the basic tenets of Jainism. Both these names are historical figures. But traditionally, Jainism is believed to be conceived and practised much earlier than the period of the recorded history. The Jain tradition believes that there have been 22 Tīrthaṅkaras before Lord Pārśvanātha and the first among them was Lord Ṛṣabhadeva. He descended on earth in pre-historic times, thousands of years ago, when humans lived in forests. Organized community life was yet to take any shape. The civilization was in its cradle stage. People lived a very simple life and they survived solely on what the nature gave them of its own. Lord Ṛṣabhdeo in his young age worked assiduously for creating a social order to regulate the society. He also encouraged arts and crafts, promoted agriculture and commerce in order to make the man happy and prosperous. Having done that for the best part of his life, he became an ascetic and persued the spiritual course i.e. penance, meditation and other modes for realizing the "Ātmika self (i.e., the pure soul)." He then preached a religion, which was based on actual realisations rather than that which is conceived out of pure imagination.

The acid test for any religion is whether, what you preach, has first been realized by yourself. True religion is not based on mere lofty ideals which can be logically put forth. Between Lord Ṛṣabha and Lord Mahāvīra there is a tradition of 22 Tīrthaṅkaras. Thus Jainism has been evolved through the process of deep contemplation and realisation of 24 Tīrthaṅkaras. All of them had a common pursuit - i.e. to explore the truth and to show the ultimate path to achieve peace. All of them realised that only through non-violence one can achieve the lasting peace.

In addition to these twenty-four 'Tīrthaṅkaras', there is a galaxy of Ācāryas in Jainism. We must understand the difference between the two i.e. 'Tīrthaṅkaras' and 'Ācāryas'. While the former are the initiators of the tradition, the latter ones have been the temporal leaders of the faith, who guided the followers of Jainism in their respective times. Tīrthaṅkaras do not emerge by simply following a tradition set out by their forerunners. Having attained 'Bodhi through their own realisation, they preach the tenets of the Dharma. Thus there is a long tradition of Tīrthaṅkaras in Jainism, who are the initiators of the faith.

There is a famous aphorism in Jain Religion—

"Je ya buddhā aikaṅtā, je ya buddhā aṇāgayā,

Saṅti tesiṃ paiṭhāṇaṃ, bhuyāṇaṃ jagai jahā."

"All the Tīrthaṅkaras have preached Peace in the world as the basic element of existence. It is like the mother Earth, that sustains the life." Today our biggest problem is lack of peace in the world. We are threatened by the deadliest arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, which are capable of destroying the world a couple of times. Hence, teachings of Jainism are much more relevant today for the survival of the mankind. It is pertinent to know that throughout the tradition, whichever period we refer to i.e. ancient age of Lord Ṛṣabha or the historical times of Lord Mahavira, Jainism reflects three basic features. It is based on Truth, it is 'Kaivalika' and it promises to redeem the humans out of worldly sorrows. Dharma has to be realistic and not imaginary. A religion which motivates its followers through 'Bhaya' (fear of hell) or 'Pralobhana' (greed for heaven) is not at all Kalyāṇakāri (i.e., leading to the ultimate beatitude). Lord Mahavira has, therefore, been very aptly revered as the shining jewel among 'Nirvāṇavādis' or those who profess the doctrine of nirvāṇa, i.e., final emancipation (Nivvana vadi ṇiha nāyaputte).

There seem to be two distinct streams in Indian Philoso­phical tradition—(a) 'Svargavādī' (professing the path to the heaven) and (b) 'Nirvāṇvādī' i.e., breaking of all worldly bondages and ultimately realising the purity of the soul. The former is related to gaining of matter (padārtha), which effects the Jīva through fear (bhaya) and greed (pralobhana). So the dharma related to that is not able to lift the follower from the material worldly plane.

'Nirvāṇavāda' means leaving behind all the feelings related to the matter. Therefore, it is effective in bringing about the desired change in the sphere of consciousness, which is beyond any physical matter. In that sense dharma lifts you to a higher plane of the soul, where there are no attachments to any feelings. Jainism is Nirvāṇvādī (believer in ultimate deliverance) and therefore it relates to a state higher than the heavenly pleasures. Naturally therefore there is no scope in Jainism for fears about hell or greed for heaven. The third attribute of any dharma is its power to alleviate the soul of all the sorrows that get attached to it. It shows the way to cut the chains of bondage.

Jainism is also known as 'Kaivalika', in the sense that it has been preached by only those who have experienced the kingdom of the soul. The logicians have questioned the veracity of the above statement by saying—"how is it possible for any one at any given time to know the truth in its entirety"?. "Jain Ācāryas answered this" - yes, Tīrthaṅkaras were 'sarvajña' (omniscient).

When and how such a religion was known as Jainism? The name might have been coined much later but the principles contained therein date back to the most ancient era of history. Jainism must have also been subject to many changes in its name and form over the long period of its history, though its foundation has always remained in "Nirvāṇavāda". The name 'Jainism' was not prevalent in Lord Mahavira's time. It was then known as 'Nirgrantha Pravacana' and prior to that Jainism was known as "Arhat Dharma" or "Śramana Dharma".

In Jain literature, Lord Rsabha was called—'Arhat', a term which continued to be in vogue till 'Pārśvanāth'. Lord Mahavira was known as 'Sramana'. It is thus logical that Mahavira being the last of 24 Tīrthaṅkaras, a new pattern seems to have set in and its followers were thereafter called 'Jains'. It is quite possible that in the span of thousands of years between Rsabha and Pārśva, there must have been numerous changes in language, idiom of presentation and the attire of Jain monks. What remained consistent was the message of Jainism i.e. "Nirvāṇavāda" or "Yathārthavāda" (i.e., realism).

Share this page on:



This is an edited version of the author's work:
Jain I Darshan ke Mool Sutra
Translated by Prof. M. P. Lele under the guidance of Muni Mahendra Kumar ji and Muni Dulahraj ji, Senior disciples of Acharya Mahprajna.

© Adarsh Sahitya Sangh. New Delhi

Published by:
Kamlesh Chaturvedi
Adarsh Sahitya Sangh
210, Deendayal Upadhyay Marg
New Delhi - 110002 (India)

Printed at:
R-Tech Offset Printer Delhi-110032

Get this book at