Jainism and Buddhism

In the Gangetic plain,iron plough agriculture required the use of bullocks. But the indiscriminate killing of cattle for Vedic rituals and sacrifices caused resentment. The founders of Jainism and Buddhism did not prescribe killing as religious rite. They secured their livelihood mostly by alms. Celibacy and abstinence from holding property made the new teachers much more acceptable than the Brahman priests. The people’s resentment about the expensive and elaborate Vedic rituals, animal sacrifice and desire for wealth eventually took them towards Jainism and Buddhism. Mahavira and Buddha lived a life of purity and exemplified simplicity and self-denial. They lived in the times of Bimbisara and Ajatshatru,the famous kings of Magadha. The commercial development of the northern cities like Kaushambi, Kushinagara, Benaras, Vaishali and Rajagriha added importance to the Vaishyas who turned to Buddhism and Jainism in their eagerness to improve their social status.


Mahavira : Birth and life


Vardhamana Mahavira was born in 599 BC (BCE) at Kundagrama near Vaishali. His mother was Trishala, a Lichchavi princess. He spent his early life as a prince and was married to a princess named Yashoda. The couple had a daughter. At the age of thirty ,he left his home and became an ascetic. For over twelve years, Mahavira wandered from place to place, subjecting himself to severe penance and self-morification . In the thirteenth year of his asceticism ,he acquired the highest knowledge and came to be known as Jaina (the conqueror) and Mahavira (great hero). Jains believe that Mahavira came in a long line of Tiruthankaras and he was the twenty fourth and the last of them. Rishabha was the first Tiruthankara and Parshvanath the penultimate or the twenty third. Mahavira travelled extensively as a preacher in the kingdoms of Magadha. Videha and Anga. Magadha rulers Bimbisara and Ajatshatru were influenced by his teachings. Thousands of people became his followers. After 30 years of preaching,Mahavira died at Pawapuri in 527 BC (BCE) at the age of seventy two.

Teachings of Mahavira

The three principles of Jainism,also known as Tri-ratnas, are the following:
         1. Right faith : Belife in the teachings and wisdom of Mahavira.
         2. Right knowledge : Acceptance of the theory that there is no God and that the world existed without a creator.
         3. Right action : It refers to the Mahavira’s observance of the five great vows: (a) ahimsa, (b) honestly, (c) kindness, (d) truthfulness and (e) not converting or desiring things belonging to others.

Spread of Jainism

In order to spread his new faith, Mahavira founded monasteries. The Jaina monks who led a very austere life. In North India, this new faith was patronised by rulers such as Dhana Nanda, Chandragupta Maurya and Kharavela. There was a notable followers of Jainism in Karnataka and western India during the 4th century BC (BCE). Jainism encouraged the public spirit among all who embraced it. Varna system practiced by Brahmas was challenged. People were spared from the costly and elaborate rituals and sacrifices. Mahavira believed that all objects,both animate and inanimate,have souls and various degress of consciousness. They posses life and feel pain when they are injured.

Split in Jainism

In course of time, Jainism split into two branches,namely the Digambaras (sky – clad) and the Svetambaras (white – clad).

Decline of Jainism

The lack of royal patronage,its severity ,factionalism and spread of Buddhism led to the decline of Jainism in India.


Gautama Buddha : Birth and life

Gautama Buddha

Gautama Buddha was the son of Suddhodana, the chief of a Kshatriya clan of the Sakyas of Kapilavastu in present-day Nepal. His given name was Siddhartha. As he belonged to the Sakya clan, he was also known as’Sakya Muni’. He was born in 567 BC (BCE) in Lumbini Garden, near Kapilavastu. His mother, Mayadevi ( Mahamaya) ,died after a few days of his birth and he was brought up by his step-mother. In order to divert his attention towards worldly affairs, his father got him married at the age of sixteen to a princess called Yashodhara. He led a happy married life for some time and had a son by name Rahula.One evening, while Siddhartha was passing through the city, he came across an old man who had been abandoned by his relatives, a sick man crying with pain and a dead body surrounded by weeping relatives. Siddhartha was deeply moved by these sights. He also saw an ascetic who had renounced the world and found no sign of sorrows. These ‘Four Great slights’ prompted him to renounce the world and search for the cause of suffering. In 537 BC (BCE), he left his palace and went into the forest in search of truth. In the course of his wanderings, he sat under a peepal tree for several days untill he attained enlightenment. The place where he attained enlightenment,the Mahabodhi temple, still exists in Bodh Gaya (Bihar). After his enlightenment,Buddha decided to impart his knowledge to the people. He went to Varanasi and gave his first sermon at Sarnath. He preached in the kingdoms of Magadha and Kosala. A large number of people became his followers including his own family. After forty five years of preaching,he breathed his last in 487 BC (BCE) at Kushinagar (near Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh)at the age of eighty.

Teachings of Buddhism

(I) Four Great Truths : (1) There is suffering and sorrow in this world. (2) The cause of human suffering is desire and craving. (3) This pain or sorrow can be removed by suppressing desire and craving. (4) This is to be achieved by leading a disciplined life or by following what Buddha called the ‘ Noble Eight – fold path’.

(II) Attainment of Nirvana: According to Buddha, a person should aim at attainment of Nirvana or the highest bliss, and it could be achieved by any person by leading a virtuous life and by following the Noble Elight-fold path.

(III) The noble Elight – fold path: Buddha preached a new path to attain the purest state of mind: (1) right views,(2) right aspirations,(3) right speech,(4) right action,(5) right livelihood,(6) right effort ,(7) right mindfulness (8) right contemplations or meditation. Buddha preached that he who practices the eight-fold path can attain the highest and purest state of mind.

Spread of Buddhism

Buddha,in order to carry his message to different parts of India, established the Buddhist sangha or the Holy order of Monks. The bikshus (monks) and the bikshunis (nuns) were enlisted for spreading the faith and they were required to lead a life of purity and poverty. Buddhism spread to Central Asia, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Southeast Asia,as well as the eastern countries of China, Mongolia ,Korea, Japan and Vietnam.

The split in Buddhism

During the reign of Kanishka, the Buddhist monk Nagarjuna initiated reforms in the way Buddhism was followed. As a result, Buddhism was split into two as Hinayana and Mahayana.

( I )The Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle) was the original creed preached by Buddha. The followers of this form regarded Buddha as their guru and did not worship him as God. They denied idol worship and continued with the people’s language,Pali.

(II) In Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) ,Buddha was worshipped as God and Bodhisattva as his previous Avatar. The followers made images and statues of Buddha and Bodhisattva and offered prayers,and recited hymns (mantras) in their praise. Later, they wrote their religious books in Sanskrit. This form of Buddhism was patronised by Kanishka.

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