Attempts are sometimes made by students of Jainism to represent it as a revolt of the critical fair-minded Kshatriya, against the clever, unscrupulous Brahmin, who disallowed to all others the privilege of entering on the fourth order of the sannyasins and claimed exclusive control of the sacrifices.
Such a theory cannot be sustained when we realize that the Brahmin made no such claim as regarding the order of the sannyasin, for all the upper classes were allowed to pass through the asramas. Were the exclusiveness of the Brahmin the cause of revolt, it should have been led not by the Ksatriyas, who were as good or as bad as the Brahmins in this respect, but by the other classes. We have no reason to believe that the suffering of the common people led to the rise of Jainism.
It is an expression of the general ferment of thought which prevailed at the beginning of the epic period, and we need not invent any anti-Brahmin prejudice for an explanation of its rise. When different views of life and doctrine professed by different peoples come into touch with each other, there is bound to be an interpretation of thought, giving rise to an extraordinary development of feeling and belief and Jainism is one manifestation of is mental unrest.
The doctrine of rebirth enunciated in the Upanisads, sometimes in an extravagant form, led to the idea that all things in the world possessed souls. Naturally the Jaina believed hat every material thing fire, wind and plant also had a spirit in it. On such a view the simple joy of the earlier peoples in sacrifices could not last. The times were ripe for revolt. The belief that all things, animals and insects, plants and leaves were possessed of souls when coupled with the idea of rebirth, led to a horror of taking life in any form.
Vardhamana insisted that we should not injure life, whether in sport or in sacrifice. To strengthen the position of protest, the Jains denied God for whose propitiation the sacrifices were being offered. God cannot be held responsible for the sorrows of life. Jainism seeks to show a way out of the misery of life by austerity inward and outward. When we become perfect, we do not escape into a nirvana of nothingness, but enter into a state of being without qualities and relation, and removed from all chances of rebirth.
The Jain system is looked upon as unorthodox (avaidika), since it does not accept the authority of the Veda. It is not therefore possible for it to look upon its own system of thought as a mere revelation by the Jina. Its claim to acceptance is its accordance with reality. Its scheme of the universe is said to be based on logic and experience. In their metaphysics, the Jainas accept the Vedic realism, though they do not systematize it in the spirit of the Upanisads.
Prakriti is analyzed and given an atomic constitution. The Purusas cease to be passive spectators, but become active agents. The central features of Jaina Philosophy are its realistic classification of being, its theory of knowledge, with its famous doctrines of Syadvada and Saptabhangi, or seven fold mode of predication d its ascetic ethics. Here, as in the other systems of Indian thought, practical ethics is wedded to philosophical speculation. The realistic metaphysics and ascetic ethics is may have come down to Vardhamana from his predecessors, but the theory of knowledge is probably due to him, and is not without its interest to the modern student of he history philosophy.