Jainism and Buddhism

Ancient India saw the rise of two very important religions, Jainism and Buddhism which left a lasting influence on Indian life and culture. Vedic religion was earlier also known as Brahmanism because the Brahmins played a major role in it. Later it came to be called Hinduism.

The Brahmins had developed a vested interest demanding large charities at the end of the scarifies. As a result, the sacrifices became very costly. Moreover, the Brahmins considered themselves superior to the other varnas and became arrogant. This led to the unpopularity of Brahminism and a need for reforms was felt.

There were other factors like the reaction of the Kshatriyas to the Brahmin claim for supremacy and the Vaisya’s demand for an improved social position. The Vedic religion had become very complex and ritualistic. The reforms led by the Kshatriyas and aided by the poorer masses who could not afford the high cost of sacrifices, resulted in the emergence of Jainism and Buddhism around sixth century BC.

These new religions that is Jainism and Buddhism also influenced the religious beliefs and several practices of Hinduism.

Jainism

The founder of Jainism is believed to be Rishabhadeva, the first of the twenty four tirthankaras and as the last tirthankara Vardhamana Mahavira developed and gave final shape to the Jain doctrines.

He was a kshatriya prince of the Lichchhavis, a group that was part of the Vajji sangha. At the age of thirty, he left home and went to live in a forest. For twelve years he led a hard and lonely life, at the end of which he attained enlightenment. Followers of Mahavira were known as Jains.

The Jains lay great emphasis on severe penance and asceticism. Lord Mahavira asked them to take five vows (five cardinal principles)not to tell lies, not to injure life, not to own property, not to steal, and to maintain chastity (celibacy or Brahmacharya). He also asked the Jains to follow the three-fold path (three jewels, Triratna) of Right belief or vision, Right conduct and Right knowledge.

Later, the Jains were split into two sects - the Shvetambaras (white clothed ones) and the Digambaras (the naked ones).

Buddhism

The other movement was led by Gautama Buddha (563 - 483 BC), a younger contemporary of Mahavira. He taught the Four Noble Truths (Arya Satya). He believed that there is sorrow in this world and that desire is the cause of that sorrow and it can be conquered by following the Eight Fold Path (ashtangika marga).

According to Buddha:

  1. the world is full of misery (dukkha)
  2. desire (trishna) is the cause of this misery
  3. if desire is conquered, then all sorrows can be removed
  4. this can be done by following the Eight fold Path

The eight fold path comprises:

  1. Right understanding
  2. Right thought
  3. Right speech
  4. Right action
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

Buddha suggested a 'Middle Path' - away from both extreme luxury as well as extreme austerity. He also laid down a code of conduct such as non-killing and nonstealing for his followers. He died at the age of 80 (483 BC) at Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh.

Later, Buddhism was also split into two divisions - the Hinayana and the Mahayana to which a third called Vajrayana was added subsequently. Buddhism spread to a very large part of the world - Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Japan, Thailand, Korea, Mongolia and Afghanistan.

Story of Buddha

Siddhartha, also known as Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, was born about 2500 years ago. The Buddha belonged to a small gana known as the Sakya gana, and was a kshatriya.

When he was a young man, he left the comforts of his home in search of knowledge. He wandered for several years, meeting and holding discussions with other thinkers. He finally decided to find his own path to realization, and meditated for days on end under a peepal tree at Bodh Gaya in Bihar, where he attained enlightenment.

After that, he was known as the Buddha or the Wise One. He then went to Sarnath, near Varanasi, where he taught for the first time. He spent the rest of his life travelling on foot, going from place to place, teaching people, till he passed away at Kusinara.

The Sangha

Both the Mahavira and the Buddha felt that only those who left their homes could gain true knowledge. They arranged for them to stay together in the sangha, an association of those who left their homes. Men and women who joined the sangha led simple lives. They meditated for most of the time, and went to cities and villages to beg for food.

Those who joined the sangha included brahmins, kshatriyas, merchants, labourers, barbers, courtesans and slaves. Many of them wrote down the teachings of the Buddha.

Monasteries

Both Jain and Buddhist monks went from place to place throughout the year, teaching people. The only time they stayed in one place was during the rainy season, when it was very difficult to travel. Then, their supporters built temporary shelters for them in gardens, or they lived in natural caves in hilly areas.

As time went on, many supporters of the monks and they themselves, felt the need for more permanent shelters and so monasteries were built. These were known as viharas.