Jainism In Comparison With Hinduism And Buddhism

Posted: 30.06.2010
Updated on: 30.07.2015

1. Introduction

The history of India has witnessed two distinct traditions since pre-historic times. They can be viewed as the two parallel streams, one being the Vedic culture and the other being Shramanic culture. Vedic culture is sometimes called as Hinduism or Sanatan Dharma or Brahmanism. Whereas under the broad category of Shramanic culture, there are two distinct religions: Jainism and Buddhism. This paper will make an attempt to study the foundations, philosophy, sociology and theology of Jainism and provide comparisons with its counterparts, Hinduism and Buddhism.

2. Foundations

2.1 Definition of Jainism

The term “Jaina[1]”, similar to “Buddha”, is a designation, literally follower of a Jina. The Jinas are spiritual victors and human teachers said to have attained kevalajnana (omniscience or infinite knowledge) and to have preached the doctrine of moksha or libeation. They are also called Tirthankaras, literally means a builder of the ford that leads across the ocean of suffering. Hence a Jina or Tirthankara is not the founder of a new religion; he is rather a propagator of a truth and a path which have been taught in the same manner by all teachers of his ever-present, imperishable tradition. Each Jina reanimates this tradition for the benefit of the succeeding generations. These teachings are not received through divine revelation but are a culmination of an extremely strict penance which purifies the practitioner to be able to realize this truth within one’s soul.[2] The authority of the Jaina teachings rests ultimately on the fact that they were preached by an omniscient being; thus they are every bit as unverifiable and dogmatic as those accepted by an orthodox Muslim or Christian. Although Jainism and the Jaina society may appear to be much less diverse compared to Hinduism, on a deeper study one finds it as diverse and complex as any other tradition. The Jaina practitioners range from being ascetics to yogis, encyclopedists, tantrics, erotic poets, aesthetic theorists, kings, political theorists, temple builders, image worshippers, heroic warriors, religious women, business persons and scholars.[3]

Rishabha is considered the first Tirthankara of this present time cycle and is considered to be the founder of social institutions such as agriculture, caste system etc.[4] He is also mentioned in the Vedas. However, Hinduism considers Manu, an ancient sage, to be the founder of the social institutions. The last Tirthankara was Vardhamana Mahavira, born in 599 BCE in Vaishali, India and before him were Parshva and Nemi.

Unlike other religions, Jainism does not believe in the theory of a world-creating God based on two reasons. Firstly, creation is not possible without a desire to create which implies imperfection on the part of the alleged creator. Secondly, if Karma dictates the destinies of human beings, then God is irrelevant; if he rules regardless of the karma of beings, then he is cruel and capricious.[5]

In India, Jainas are grouped with Hindus in Indian constitution and the Hindu Marriage Act. However, Jainas have started actively opposing this. In May 2006, prominent Jain community leaders met with President of India with a request to declare Jainism as a minority religion of India.


2.2 Spread of Jainism[6]

The spread of both Jainism and Buddhism can be ascribed to their successful conversion practices using Sanghas and Viharas unlike Hinduism.[7] While it is well-known that kings such as Ashoka sent Sanghas to Asian countries to spread Buddhism, it is interesting to note that Jainism also marked its presence in many distant places across Asia.

    1. The first Tirthankara Rishabha had travelled to Bactrea, Greece, Sumatra (an Indonesian island) and also to Persia.[8]
    2. The 22nd Tirthankara Arishtanemi had travelled to Malaysia.[9]
    3. The 23rd Tirthankara Parshvanatha had travelled all over India from Kashmir in north to Karnataka in south and from Panchal in the west to Bengal and Orissa in the east. [10]
    4. In the North West India (today’s Afghanistan), there were many Jaina Viharas[11].
    5. Jaina Shramans were sent to the court of Roman emperor Julius Caesar in 25 BCE.[12]
    6. According to G F Moore, Jaina ascetics were found in West Asia, Egypt, Greece, Ethiopia, Iraq, and Palestine along with Buddhist mendicants.[13]
    7. Greek writers also write about Digambara Jaina ascetics in Egypt, Ethiopia and Abyssinia.[14]
    8. Sri Lanka had Jaina Shravakas in 430 BCE. [15]
    9. In the southern part of Arab, Eden port was called as Ardra-Desh. The royal prince of this kingdom was included in Mahavira’s Sangha.[16] Jaina scholars were invited in other Arabian royal courts.[17]
    10. In Babilonia, Jainism was present before Buddhism reached there.[18]
    11. Kalakacharya had travelled to Sumatra.
    12. According to Vishambhar Pandey, Jaina mendicants influcenced the Jewish community also. A new Jewish sect “Essini” emerged who followed the Jaina principles of non-violence, non-possession and tough penance. They were called Therapute, (literally silent non-possessors) in Egypt.[19]
    13. Another sect “Samania” in the middle-east Asia may be influenced by the Jaina Shramanas.[20]


2.3 Schism in Jainism

Both Jainism and Buddhism split into a number of sects after the death of their great leaders Mahavira and Buddha respectively. And both religions had a number of controversies among the different sects in their history.[21] Two Jaina sects are Digambaras, literally sky-clad, and Shvetambaras, literally white(cotton)-clad[22]. In general, the former can be considered more orthodox system than the latter one. Let us examine some of the controversies between them.

    1. Jina: While both sects consider a Jina to be an omniscient being, the Shvetambaras view agrees more with the concept of Jeevan Mukta in Hinduism and Buddhism in that a Jina can perform the usual worldly activities such as eating, preaching in human language etc. But the Digambaras consider such worldly activities to be adversative to omniscient cognition and hence according to them, a Jina is not subject to any bodily activities, so much so that even his preaching is only via the magical “divine sound”.
    2. Nudity: Shetambaras allow their mendicants to wear white clothing whereas the Digambaras take the extremely orthodox approach and strictly prohibits any clothing for their mendicants. They consider any possession of cloth to be as bad as any other possession and hence an obstacle to attain Moksha. In fact they deny that Shetambaras monks are monks at all.
    3. Idol-worship: All Digambaras worship the idols in their temples. Two major sects of Shetambaras, Terapanthis and Sthanakvasis do not worship the idols.
    4. Mendicant practices: Shetambara mendicants are not allowed to enter a house for begging, but are required to collect the food and water in bowls to be taken back to the monastery and entirely consumed there. Digambaras mendicants can enter a house but offerings have to be accepted in upturned palms only. Digambaras are restricted to a single meal but Shetambaras can beg and take food two or three times a day.
    5. Feminine Issues:

Both sects agree on the following points:

      • During Mahavira’s career as a Tirthankara, the Jaina congregation grew to a large number: ostensibly 14,000 monks, 36,000 nuns, 159,000 lay-men and 318,000 lay-women. The preponderance of female followers probably resulted from the fact that many men had more than one wife, and that these wives became nuns when their husbands took the vows of a monk.[23]
      • Both share the notion that such vices as cheating, capriciousness, greed and cunningness are the fundamental causes of incarnating as a woman.[24]
      • Both do not allow its nuns to go about sky-clad. Only exception is Digamabara writer of 13th century,  Ashadhara, who approved of  administering vows of nudity to a woman on her death-bed.[25]

However, the two sects differ on the following points:

      • Digambaras  reject that women can attain Moksha due to their lack of adamantine bodies but Shetambaras do not agree with this.
      • Out of 24 total Tirthankaras, Shvetambaras consider the ninth Tirthankara Malli was a woman. Digambaras do not agree with this.


3. Philosophy

3.1 Anekantavada (The doctrine of manifold aspects)

Arvind Sharma has given one of the best one-line definitions of this doctrine - “Jainism accepts the reality of plurality, that is, a plurality of realities.”[26] The scholars have attributed the origin of this doctrine to two different ideas: soul’s existence and intellectual ahimsa.

According to some scholars, this doctrine arises of necessity from the Jaina theory of the soul (Jiva) [27]. In contrast to the Buddhists, the Jainas insisted on the definite existence and eternality of the soul. At the same time, in contrast to various schools such as Sankhya, Vedanta, Nyaya, Vaisheshika and Mimamsa which argued for the unchanging nature of the soul and said either that any changes were related to material nature (Prakrti) or that the perception of change was due to ignorance (avidya), the Jainas argued that the soul undergoes changes over time, both in terms of its various qualities such as knowledge, bliss and energy and in terms of its various states such as bound or free. Jainas insisted that both the statements are true: the soul is eternal and the soul undergoes change. As described by Padmanabh Jaini, citing the late-thirteenth century SyadvadManjari by Shvetambaras scholar Mallisena: [28]
Because the qualities are innumerable and their modes are infinite, stretching from beginningless past to the endless future, it is not possible for an ordinary (non-omniscient) person to perceive the existent in its entirety. At a single moment he can be aware either of the persisiting unity (ekatva) of the substance or the transient multiplicity (anekatva) of its modes. This complexity of the existent - its simultaneous unity and multiplicity, eternity and transience - finds expressioin in the Jaina term anekanta, manifold aspects, which purports to fully describe the existent’s nature.

According to another group of scholars, this doctrine developed as a direct result of the extension of the intellectual ahimsa. According to them[29], Jainism goes beyond advancing a two-prong, wrong or right analysis of arguments in the style of Aristotle or the fourfold analysis of reality in Hinduism and Buddhism. Within the Upanishads, we find a fourfold analysis of reality: waking, dreaming, deep sleep and the fourth state of Turiya, wherein one identifies with the highest self. Similarly, Nagarjuna’s Madhyamika school of Mahayana Buddhism rejects the four corners of reality: existence, nonexistence, both existence and nonexistence, neither existence nor nonexistence. Instead, the Jainas brought forth a sevenfold analysis of reality that specifically disallows the holding of any extreme view.


3.2 Syadvada and Nayas (Partial Truths)

Now, let us see the sevenfold views (Nayas) of reality of Jainism:[30]

    1. Naigama, the common point of view, is a generalized way of referring to an object in which the viewer does not distinguish between generic and specific characteristics. This results in a general, sufficient, and publicly acceptable description, for example of a table.
    2. Samgraha, the general point of view, describes an object in terms of its generic characteristics or the general categories into which it fits, such as the category of all tables or tableness.
    3. Vyavahahara, the specific or practical point of view, describes an object in terms of its specific characteristics and shows how the object differs from other objects in the same generic category, such as the specifics of this particular table.
    4. Rjusutra, literally, “straight thread”, is the immediate “here and now” point of view, in which the object is contextualized in terms of time and place. From this perspective the possibility of change over time and space is recognized. The table is viewed in terms of its existence at time x at place y.
    5. Shabda, the verbal point of view, looks at the word being used in terms of grammar, that is its placement and function in a sentence. From this perspective, in the sentence “The table is made of wood” the word “table” is the object of a preposition, and in the sentence “I move to table the motion”, the word “table” is a verb.
    6. Samabhirudha, literally the “subtle” point of view, is the etymological point of view, and makes an assumption in common with modern linguistic theory that few if any true synonymos exist. Here “table” is viewed as derived from the Latin tabula, “flat board”, and distinguished from other words such as desk, counter etc.
    7. Evambhuta, literally “thus happened”, restricts a word to a single unique meaning, which can be used only when that function is being carried out. Thus I cannot use the word “table” if I am sitting on it, but only if I am sitting at it.

Any one of these points of view is a relative, one-sided (ekanta) perspective and therefore presents a partial and imperfect view of the truth. A judgement based on one or a few of these perspectives is ultimately only partially true; a judgement is impartial only if it encompasses all seven points of view, and is thus adequately many-sided or not-one-sided (Anekanta).

The second part of anekantavada is the closely related tool known alternately as the doctrine of conditional assertion (Syadavada) and the doctrine of sevenfold predication (Saptabhangi naya). This tool is based on the recognition that the number of statements one can make about an object is limited, depeding on the possibility that the number of statements one can make about an object is limited, depending on the possibilities of positive and negative attribution, as well as the possibility that the nature of the object might be inexpressible. Combining these then can lead to there being only seven possible statements. This can be be tabulated as follows, with “+“ indicating positive attributions, “-“ indicating negative attributions, and “0” indicating inexpressibility:

    1. Positive attribution (+)
    2. Negative attribution (-)
    3. Positive and negative attribution (+)
    4. Inexpressibility (0)
    5. Positive attributions and inexpressibility (+0)
    6. Negative attributions and inexpressibility (-0)
    7. Positive attributions, negative attributions and inexpressibility (+0)

Jaina logicians nuanced these seven possibilities by prefacing each statement by the Sanskrit indeclinable particle syat, meaning that each statement is from a specific and therefore relative point of view, and thus should be stated in a conditional form. The resulting seven possible statements can be seen as follows:

    1. From a certain perspective, the table exists. (+)
    2. From a certain perspective, the table does not exist. (-)
    3. From a certain perspective, the table exists and from another perspective it does not exist (+)
    4. From a certain perspective, the nature of the table is inexpressible (0)
    5. From a certain perspective, the table exists and from another perspective, the nature of the table is inexpressible (+0)
    6. From a certain perspective, the table does not exist and from another perspective, the nature of the table is inexpressible (-0)
    7. From a certain perspective, the table exists, from another perspective, the table does not exist and from the third perspective, the nature of the table is inexpressible (+0)


3.3 Jaina-criticism of non-Jaina philosophies [31]

Jainas claim that non-Jaina systems are defective in that they view Being (sat) in only a single aspect (ekanta), either as eternal (nitya) or noneternal (anitya), unchanging (aparinamin) or changing (parinamin). The monistic (Advaita) school of the Vedanta system maintains that Being is unitary (eka) and that this Being, called Brahman, is eternal and absolutely unchanging. It denies the existence of the phenomenal world, that is, multiplicity and change, relegating it to the realm of illusion (vivarta). Another Vedic school Samkhya is dualist and postulates two kinds of Being: one an eternal but constantly changing (parinamin-nitya) mind-matter complex (prakrti), unchangeable (kutastha-nitya) souls (purushas). Here prakrti is conceived in a manner very similar to the Jaina view of the total range of Being, but purusha resembles the Brahman of Advaita. Consequently, the Samkhya too ends up saying that “bondage” of purusha by the prakrti is illusory and not to be taken as real. Jainism maintains that both these schools can be categorized as “extremist” (ekantavada) since they propound a onesided dogma of eternalism (nityavada). They are said by the Jainas to perceive only the substance aspect of the existent, denying its modal aspect; thus they cannot explain the true nature of bondage and are unable to teach the path of liberation.

The Buddhists - particularly the Abhidharmikas, who uphold a doctrine of discrete (niranvaya) and momentary (kshanikata) elements (dharmas) - are also considered ekantavadis of opposite type, following the dogma of noneternalism (anityavada). They deny the reality of an abiding substance (dravya or Atman), accepting the existence of only of what would in Jainism be called modes. This denial of substance, according to Jaina critique, makes it impossible for the Buddhists to explain logically either bondage or karma (samsara) or the release from this bondage (nirvana). Hence, Jainas reject this annihilationist (ucchedavadin) doctrine.

Now, all these objections raised by Jainas are generally found in the writings of Ramanuja and Madhva. Also, some of the Advaitic trends are crept into Jainism.  And there was trend to reconcile Jainism with Advaita and other systems of Indian philosophy. For instance, Yoshovijaya, a 17th century Jaina stalwart proclaims that Jainism does not have any quarrel with any other system of Indian thought.[32]


3.4 Comparative philosophies of Jainism, Hinduism and Buddhism

The three religions Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism can be seen as the middle path between the other two:

  • Hinduism:
    The householder Brahmins can be seen as a middle-way between the two extremes of celibate-ascetics of Shramanic culture and the completely materialistic outlook of Charvakas. Bhagavad Gita’s Karma Yoga can be considered to be a middle-way between the life of action (Karma) and total renunciation (Sanyasa).[33]
  • Buddhism:
    It claims to be the middle way between the tough austerity of Jaina penance and the relaxed worldly lives of the Hindu householders.
  • Jainism:
    1. Renunciation: - In Buddhism, one can renounce the family without caring for their emotions, the way the Buddha did. Hinduism generally allows renunciation only in the Sanyasa Ashram around the age of seventy five. Jaina idea of renunciation is somewhere in between these two ideas. As an example, Vardhamana Mahavira neither rejected his parents’ consent nor waited until his old age for renunciation. He became a wandering mendicant around the age of thirty, before renouncing his worldly life.[34]
    2. Scriptures for laity: - Most of the Vedic scriptures have elaborate instructions and rules for common people apart from those for kings and Brahmins. The scriptures of Buddhism seem to have ignored laity and focused solely on the monks. Jaina scriptures may fall once again in the middle of both Hindu and Buddhist scriptures as demonstrated by the large number of Shravakacaras (books for the discipline of lay-people)[35].
    3. Karl H Potter puts Jainism at the center of the “progress philosophy” between the two ends of “leap philosophy” of Charvakas and Ajivikas[36].
    4. Atman: - Hinduism accepts the existence of both Atman and Brahman, most clearly in the Dvaita system of Madhva. Buddhism denies the ultimate reality of both and propounds the concept of Shunyata. Jainism can be seen as a mid-point between these two views; it accepts the existence of Atman but rejects the concepts of Brahman and Shunyata.


4. Theological Comparison of Jainism and Hinduism [37]

Both Hinduism and Jainism are quite different based on their basic soteriological foundation. While in the former case, the grace from God is the main factor in individual’s spiritual progress, Jainism advocates one’s own effort for that goal. This difference is demonstrated in the theologies of both the religions. In a recent book on Jainism, Open Boundaries, Lawrence A. Babb has painstakingly compared the rituals in a major Vaishnava-Hindu sect, Pushtimarg and the Jaina sect Shvetambaras. Babb goes on to show the many similarities in the rituals of Shaivism and Jainism. Again, here the deity Shiva is ascetic similar to the Jaina Tirthankara and hence no transaction between the deity and the devotee. However, in the same book, other scholars such as Richard H Davis and Indira Viswanathan Peterson show significant hostility of Tamil Shaivites against Jainas.[38]

The major differences in the rituals of Pushtimarg and Shvetambaras are as follows. For simplicity, I will refer to the first as Vaishnavism and the latter as Jainism.

    1. Vaishnavism places a strong emphasis on transactions between worshippers and worshipped, but Jainas do not transact with their temple deities Tirthankaras in their rituals. Worship in the first is “dense” while that in the other is “null”.
    2. Both have food-offerings to the deities. However, in the first case, it is offered to God and is accepted back as a Prasad (grace) that nourishes and supports the devotee. While Jainas use food in the worship as a ritualized renunciation of food which is turned to the non-Jaina priest of the temple eventually and not to the deities as Tirthankaras cannot accept anything being ascetic themselves. Also, the Jaina devotees trying to symbolize renunciation cannot accept anything back from deities.
    3. In Jainism, the connection between worshipper and worshipped ranges from metaphorical to analogical. It cannot be tangible or substantial. Closure between worshipper and worshipped is brought about only by a tightening of metaphor into analogy resulting into resemblance but not contact. Vaishnavism stresses intimacy between the two. It recognizes four principal emotional attitudes that the devotee can assume in relation with the God: that of servant to master, friend to friend, parent to child and lover to beloved. 


5. Social Issues
5.1 Caste System

Jainism considered that Kshatriya, the warrior class, is higher than that of the Brahmin. According to the Jaina myth, Mahavira was originally going to be born of a Brahmin mother but the womb was transplanted to a Kshatriya mother. This demonstrates that the Kshatriyas are higher than the Brahmins and hence a Brahmin mother was not preferred.[39] This can be compared with Hindu view in a way. Hindus also believe that the major incarnations of Vishnu, viz., Rama, Krishna and Buddha to have taken place among the Kshatriya class and not among the Brahmins. Shatapath Brahmin also acknowledges the importance of Kshatriya more than that of the other three varnas.

Both Jainism and Buddhism opposed the caste rigidity at many places in their scriptures and tried to reform this system as best as they could.[40] However, there are some evidences of caste restrictions present in Buddhism and Jainism also. Mahavira’s first direct disciples were all Brahmins and were called as Ganadharas.[41] It could be in accordance with the prevalent Vedic social custom of a Kshatriya monarch surrounded by Brahmin ministers. Shudras were denied the possibility of becoming monks by the 8th century Jaina Acharya Jinasena. Even today, the Jaina society follows the caste rules in marriages and for other traditions. Moreover, there is no evidence in contemporary Jaina society to show that low-caste people are accepted within Jaina society or Jaina temples. Similarly the Buddhist monasteries were practically limited to the higher castes.[42]

It is widely claimed that Mahavira spoke in common people’s language Prakrit, and not the “elitist” language Sanskrit, to spread the Jain doctrines in masses. However, it is interesting to note the irony that Sanskritic mythologies today are much more widely spread in Indian masses and Jain doctrines seem to be restricted to rich Jain “elites”. A supposedly revolution for masses by Mahavira ultimately emerged only as an elitist religion whereas Brahminical stories were embraced by local languages for thousands of years.

All the above examples show that both Jainism and Buddhism could not reject and reform the Vedic caste system completely.


5.2 Social impact of the doctrine of Ahimsa

Jaina scholars have criticized the Hindu notions of caste-based svadharma (one’s own duty) which inspired Arjuna to indulge in the Mahabharata war.[43] They claim that the shramanic notion of ahimsa is a better virtue than svadharma and hence Jainas enjoined the doctrine of ahimsa to all the varnas. They exhorted Brahmins to stop the animal sacrifices in rituals, the Kshatriyas not to indulge in any wars or huntings and the Vaishyas and the Shudras to stay away from violent professions and jobs. Obviously, this transformation was a healthy development in the society.


6. Interaction of Jainas with people of other religions
6.1 Tolerance of Jainism

Jainism is often considered to be one of the most tolerant religions based on the lofty ideals of Ahimsa and Anekantavada. Especially, the doctrine of Anekantavada is often seen as taking Ahimsa to the intellectual level by respecting the opponents’ views and ideologies. According to some Jainas, this places Jainism as one of the most open and tolerant religions.

Here are some examples that demonstrate the tolerance and broadmindedness of Jainas.

  1. Jainas have been the foremost in collecting and preserving the texts of the diverse traditions of philosophies of India since ancient times. Many Hindu and Buddhists texts are extant solely because they were preserved by Jainas. These texts were not just preserved but were extensively read and commented on by Jaina scholars and authors such as Haribhadra, Hemacandra, Devendrasuri, Devasundarasuri, Somasundarasuri, Ratnashekharasuri and Mahopadhyaya Yashovijaya among the Shvetambaras and Jinasena, Somadeva, Camundaraya and Ashadhara among the Digambaras.
  2. The Jaina thinkers were able to exhibit a degree of tolerance for other philosophies because they saw a degree of commonality among all darshanas. This is a position all too rarely found in the history of human interreligious understanding.[44]
  3. Views of some of the Shvetambaras mendicants[45]
    1. Hemacandra: “A wise person should obtain salvation by supporting all religious traditions, even though no one could say with absolute certainty which tradition it was that brought about the salvation.”
    2. Haribhadra: “I do not have any partiality for Mahavira, nor do I revile people such as Kapila [the founder of the Hindu Sankhya system]. One should instead have confidence in the person whose statements are in accord with reason.”
    3. VijayaVallabha Suri: “I am neither Jaina nor Buddhist, Vaishnava nor Shaiva, Hindu nor Muslim, but rather a traveller on the path of peace shown by the Supreme Soul, the God who is free from passion.”
    4. VijayaDharma Suri: “All religions are the same and the adherents of different faiths had to have respect for the truths which were to be found in other traditions.”
  4. In the tenth century, the Digambara monk Somadeva acknowledged the existence of a type of Hindu-Jaina syncretism when he conceded that Jainas could engage in any form of popular or regional custom provided it did not infringe on any of the basic tenets of Jainism.[46]
  5. Jaina scholars such as Kundakunda and Yashovijaya have compared the Bhagavad Gita favorably with Mahavira’s teachings.[47]
  6. In Haribhadra’s two works on Yoga, he evinces a willingness to acknowledge the areas in which Jainism and Buddhism show similarities and in a number of instances his attitude towards Buddhism is a respectful one.
  7. In spite of Jainas being a minority in India, they never adopted the ghetto strategy. History has shown that unlike Jainas, many religious groups have dealt with their minority status by walling themselves off from the surrounding society. Jainas were quite actively engaging with the kings such as Akbar.


6.2 Intolerance of Jainism

Although for the most part, Jainas were tolerant of non-Jainas. According to Paul Dundas:

“In Jaina hands, this method of analysis became a fiercesome weapon of philosophical polemic with which the doctrines of Hinduism and Buddhism could be pared down to their ideological bases of simple permanence and impermanence respectively and thus be shown to be one-pointed and inadequate as the overall interpretations of reality which they purported to be. On the other hand, the many-pointed approach was claimed by the Jainas to be immune from criticism since it did not present itself as a philosophical or dogmatic view.”[48]

John Cort quotes Paul Dundas and says:

“By basing the truth of the tradition on the omniscience of the Jinas that is then transmitted through the textual tradition, Jainism “shows many of the characteristics of the Judaeo-Christian-Moslem type” (Dundas 1992, p. 77), and the Jainas remove the possibility of subjecting their own metaphysics’ a priori to the relativizing logic of Anekantavada.”

Here are some examples of Jainism’s intolerance:

  1. Todarmal, a writer from the beginning of the modern period, insisted on the impossibility of anybody from another faith achieving the correct attitude (Samyaktva) necessary for the ultimate achievement of spiritual deliverance owing to an inevitable inability to accept the authority of monks or the veracity of the Jaina analysis of the workings of the universe.
  2. Jinadasa, a seventh century Shvetambaras mendicant, opposed religious giving to those who followed non-Jaina religions.
  3. Jainas consistently criticized the traditions and symbols of Hinduism as follows:
    1. They rejected the scriptural authority of the Vedas. Some Jaina writers even claimed that Hindus did not know their own scriptures because they were unfamiliar with references to the Tirthankaras in the Veda.[49]
    2. They opposed animal sacrifices in rituals (They termed those religious verses Himsashastra) and any other forms of fighting, e.g., Arjuna’s duty as a warrior. Akalanka remarked “if killing can bring about a religious goal, then one should best take up a life of hunting and fishing.”[50]
    3. The Hindu gods were denied the divine status and their worldly activities were not seen conducive to spiritual deliverance. Sixth century Digambara mystical writer Yogindu mocked Hindu gods Vishnu and Shiva.[51]
    4. Jinadasa ridiculed Shiva’s birth, his third-eye and his behavior in considerable graphic detail.[52]
    5. Digambara storyteller Harisena performed the remarkable feat of devalorising Shiva by presenting him as a degraded Jaina monk and at the same time giving Jainism the credit for the universal presence of the phallic emblem throughout India.[53]
    6. Jainas ridiculed the Hindu claims about the omnipresence of Vishnu and his mythological existence in water.[54]
    7. Another popular Hindu figure Krishna was initially treated respectfully by Shvetambaras but he was later portrayed as a devious and immoral schemer. Jaina mythology placed him in the hell due to his controversial role in the Mahabharata. Similarly, In the Jaina versions of Ramayana, Rama was spared from killing Ravana but his younger brother Lakshamana had to do that violent act, and hence Rama was placed in heaven but Lakshamana had to suffer in hell.[55]
    8. Hindu Puranas were not spared either by Jaina authors such as Haribhadra who wrote moderate satires as a means of inculcating piety amongst the Jaina community and subverting the authority of Hinduism.[56]
    9. The Hindu epics such as Mahabharata and Ramayana were termed as MithyaShastras, by the Shvetambaras canonical text Nandisutra, since they conveyed “a message of violence[57]
  4. Jainas criticized the Buddha and Buddhism also as per following examples:
    1. The tenth century Digambara monk Devasena dismisses the Buddha as a lapsed follower of Parshva who could not accept that living entities were embodied souls and so, having taken to the wearing of orange robes, promulgated a path in which there were no dierary restrictions and a doctrine which stated that the man who performed an action is not the same as the man who experiences its results, as a consequences of which he went to hell.[58]
    2. Classical Jainism refused to credit the Buddha with any authority because his knowledge was only partial and incomplete unlike that of the omniscient Jaina Tirthankaras, and the epithet ‘Jina’, conquerer, which the Buddhists also applied to the Buddha was regarded as totally inappropriate.[59]
    3. A well-known verse satirising the Buddhist monastic life as involving ‘a soft bed, food and drink, gambling and at the end of it all deliverance’ encapsulates the Jaina contempt for Buddhism whose followers they regarded as no more than householders.[60]
    4. Haribhadhra is narrated to have responded to the killings of his two nephews by the Buddhist monks by arranging to have seven hundred or 1440 of the monks scalded to death by boiling oil.[61]
    5. In the fourth century, the Jaina logician  Mallavadi engaged in a public debate with a Buddhist monk. At the end of the sixth day of uninterrupted speech by the former, the Buddhist opponent dropped dead.[62]


8. Conclusion

The biggest contribution of Jainism to India and to the world is the doctrine of Ahimsa. Jainas have applied Ahimsa in every sphere of life by promoting the vegetarian food, non-violent professions and rituals etc. Another unique feature of Jainism is the doctrine of Anekantavad which tends to make Jainism one of the least dogmatic religions of the world. This tolerant nature of Jainas has undoubtedly influenced Indian society to a great degree although Jainas were always in minority in India.

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Originally published in Jain Manjari, May 2009, a journal edited by Bhuvanendra Kumar in Canada. The issue, which published this article, was guest edited by Sarah Hadmack (minnis(at)hawaii.edu).