Buddhism and Jainism

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Buddhism and Jainism are two branches of the Shramana tradition that still exist today. Jainism has historically been largely confined to India, whereas Buddhism originated in India but subsequently flourished in other Asian countries during the Middle Ages. Mahavira and Siddhartha Gautama (a.k.a. Buddha, or Enlightened One) were contemporaries and according to the Pali scriptures Siddhartha Gautama was aware of Mahavira's existence as well as his community of monks. Jainism and Buddhism share many features including much of the same terminology.


Buddhism separates itself from the Jain tradition by teaching an alternative to "extreme asceticism". Buddhist scriptures record that during Prince Siddhartha's ascetic life (before the great enlightenment) he undertook many fasts, penances and austerities, the descriptions of which are elsewhere found only in the Jain tradition (for example, the penance by five fires, plucking of hair, and the consumption of food using only one's cupped hands). Ultimately, the Buddha abandoned reliance upon these methods on his discovery of a middle way. In Jainism, there exists a non-extreme pathway for Sravaka laypersons with minor vows. Some Buddhist teachings, principles, and terms used in Buddhism are identical to those of Jainism, but they may hold different or variant meanings for each.

Although both Buddhists and Jain had orders of nuns, Buddhist Pali texts record the Buddha saying that a woman has the ability to obtain Nirvana in the Buddha Dhamma and Vinaya. Jain traditions differ on the issue of enlightenment for women, with the Digambaras stating that women are capable of spiritual progress but must be reborn male in order to attain final spiritual liberation and the Svetambara sect maintaining that liberation is attainable by both males and females.[1]

The Jain community is composed of four sections: sadhus,[citation needed] sadhvis (also referred to as shramanas and shramanis), and laymen and laywomen (or grhastins "householders") who have not abandoned worldly affairs.

Buddhism has a similar organization: the community consists of renunciate bhikkhus and bhikkhunis and male and female laypersons who take limited vows.

Whether or not it was an influence of Jain culture and philosophy in ancient Bihar that gave rise to Buddhism is unclear, but there are some striking similarities between the two traditions, and Buddhism may have adopted many of its ideas and traditions from preexisting ones held by the Jains. The Buddha Nirvana calendar (with a zero point in 483 BCE) may actually be significantly older than the Kaliyuga calendar. And so, quite possibly, is the Mahavira Nirvana calendar of the Jains (with a zero point in 527 BCE).[2]

The ancient texts Ashokavadana and the Divyavadana mention that the Buddhist king Ashoka ordered killings of several Nirgranthas, after being informed that two Nirgrantha followers had drawn pictures depicting the Gautama Buddha bowing at the feet of Nirgrantha Jnatiputra (identified with Mahavira, the founder of Jainism).[3][4]

Leadership of the sangha[edit]

Mahavira and Gautama Buddha were contemporaries. The Pali Canon does not record that the two teachers ever met, though instances of Mahavira's disciples questioning Gautama Buddha are to be found in various suttas. The Buddhists have always maintained that by the time the Buddha and Mahavira were alive, Jainism was already an entrenched faith and culture in the region. Buddhist scriptures record philosophical dialogues between the wandering seeker Siddhartha Gautama (who was to become the Buddha) and Udaka Ramaputta and the first of several teachers that he studied with before his enlightenment. Buddhist scriptures attest that some of the first Buddhists were Jains (Nirgranthas) who "converted", but were encouraged by the Buddha to maintain their Jain identity and practises such as giving alms to Jain monks and nuns.

Buddhists recorded that Mahāvīra preached the "fourfold restraint" of the Nirgrantha tradition—a clear reference to the teachings of Mahāvīra's predecessor Parshva (877-777 BCE), traditionally the 23rd Tirthankara of Jainism—who propounded the four vows of Ahimsa, Satya (truth), Aparigraha (non-possessiveness), and Asteya (non-stealing), which may have been the template for the Five Precepts of Buddhism. Additionally, the Buddhist Anguttara Nikaya scripture quotes the independent philosopher Purana Kashyapa (the sixth century BCE founder of a now-extinct order) as listing the Nirgranthas as one of the six major classifications of humanity. The Pali texts mention the Buddha referring to the liberation of Mahavira (referred to as Niggantha Nataputta) at Pava.[citation needed]

Jain vegetarianism is required for both monastics and laity. In Buddhism, monks in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam are vegetarian; however, strict vegetarianism is not required. By monastic tradition, a monk should eat whatever is placed in his bowl when receiving food. The exceptions not to eat given meat were if the monk knew an animal was killed especially for him or he heard the animal being killed.

Sculpture of the two Jain tirthankaras Rishabha (left) and Mahavira (right). Photographed at the British Museum

Buddhist writings reflect that Jains had followers by the time the Buddha lived. Suggesting close correlations between the teachings of the Jains and the Buddha, the Majjhima Nikaya relates dialogues between the Buddha and several members of the "Nirgrantha (Jain) community", sometimes resulting in the latter's acceptance of the Buddha as a teacher.

In many instances, both philosophies continue to share similar Prakrit terminology for important themes even though meaning may differ a bit, for example the term nirvana where its meaning is same in both the traditions but the state of nirvana described is somewhat different. The teachings may differ significantly in the interpretation. This method of teaching adopted by the Buddha points to the pragmatic aspect of his style of teaching wherein the Buddha uses words and terms that are familiar to the audience instead of introducing new and complex technical jargon. In this way, Buddhism sought to appeal to a broad audience.

The last Tirthankara, Mahavira (599 - 527 BC), whose philosophy, sometimes described as dynamism or vitalism, was a blend of the earlier Jain teacher Pārśva's (877-777 BC) order and the reforms instituted by Mahavira himself. Debates between Buddhists and Jains are recorded in Jain texts, and dialogues between Jains and the Buddha are included in Buddhist texts.

Indian Buddhist tradition categorized all non-Buddhist schools of thought as "Pasanda" (pasanda means to throw a noose or pasha—stemming from the doctrine that schools labelled as Pasanda foster views perceived as wrong because they are seen as having a tendency towards binding and ensnaring rather than freeing the mind). The difference between the schools of thought are outlined in the Samaññaphala Sutta[5] of the Digha Nikaya.


The Nilakesi is a text of Jains which was written to counter the Buddhist doctrines.[6] In the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra the Jains did not want a king to convert into Buddhism, lest they might lose the royal support.[7] Several times in scriptures such as the Piûakas,[8] Jains are mentioned as rivals of Buddha and his disciples. There was even an argument between The Buddha and Jains wherein the Jains defeats them in debate and rebuke them."[9]

Utheesi-Thevar of Thondai, who composed the Tiru Kalambakam had a crusade against Buddhism.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Padmanabh S. Jaini, Gender and Salvation Jaina Debates on the Spiritual Liberation of Women UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS Berkeley · Los Angeles · Oxford © 1991 The Regents of the University of California http://content.cdlib.org/xtf/view?docId=ft138nb0wk&brand=eschol
  2. ^ India through its calendars Vol I : issue 1 by Amartya Sen http://www.littlemag.com/2000/senfooter.htm
  3. ^ John S. Strong (1989). The Legend of King Aśoka: A Study and Translation of the Aśokāvadāna. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. p. 232. ISBN 978-81-208-0616-0. Retrieved 30 October 2012. 
  4. ^ Beni Madhab Barua (5 May 2010). The Ajivikas. General Books. pp. 68–69. ISBN 978-1-152-74433-2. Retrieved 30 October 2012. 
  5. ^ Samaññaphala Sutta, accesstoinsight.org, retrieved 2009-11-30
  6. ^ Glimpses of Art, Architecture and Buddhist Literature in Ancient India By K. Krishna Murthy
  7. ^ [Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, Chapter 20 http://nirvanasutra.buddhistisksamfund.dk/ch21.html]
  8. ^ Work by H. Jacobi
  9. ^ Note on Vajrapani-Indra By Sten Konow
  10. ^ P. 320 Tamil Literature By M. S. Pūrṇaliṅgam Piḷḷai

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