What brings Jainism and Buddhism together and what breaks them apart

Author S Radhakrishnan
Widgets Magazine
and deny the existence of an intelligent first cause, adore deified saints, possess practicing celibacy, and think it sinful to take the life of any animal for any cause. Their founders are men who made themselves perfect, though they were not always so. Both the systems are indifferent, if not opposed, to the authority of the Vedas. From the striking similarities in the lives and teachings of and Vardhamana, it is sometimes argued that the two systems of Buddhism and Jainism are one, and that Jainism is only an offshoot of Buddhism.

Barth writes: “The Legend of Vardhamana, or to apply to him the name which is most in use, Mahavira, the great hero, the Jina of the present age presents so many and so peculiar points of contact with that of Gautam Buddha, that we are instinctively led to conclude that one and the same person is the subject of both. Both are of royal birth, the same names recur among their relations and disciples. They were born and they died in the same country and at the same period of time. According to the accepted reports, the of the Jina took place in 536 BC, that of Buddha in 543 BC and if we make allowance for the uncertainty inherent in these data, the two dates may be considered to be identical. Coincidences quite similar occur in the course of the two religions.

Like the Buddhists,  the Jainas claim to have been patronized by the Maurya princes. A district which is a holy land for the one is almost always a holy land for the other, and their sacred places adjoin each other in Bihar, in the peninsula of Gujrat, on mount Abu in Rajasthan, as well as elsewhere. If we collate together all these correspondences in doctrine, organization, religious observances and traditions, the inference seems inevitable that one of the two religions is a sect and in some degree the copy of the other.

When in addition to this we think of the manifold relations which there are between the legend of Buddha and the Brahmanical traditions, relations which are wanting in the legend of Mahavira; when we reflect, moreover, that Buddhism has on its behalf the testimony of the edicts of and that from that time the third century before our era, I was in possession of a literature, some of the titles of which have been transmitted to us, while the most ancient testimonies of an unquestionable nature in favor of Jainism do not go farther back than the fifth century after Christ; when we reflect further that the chief sacred language of the Buddhists, the Pali is almost as ancient as these edicts, while that of the Jainas, the Ardha-Magadhi Is a Prakrit dialect obviously more recent; when we add to all these the conclusions, it is true in the present state of our knowledge, which are furnished by the internal characterstics of Jainism, such as its more mature systematisation, its tendency to expatiate, and the pains it is always taking to demonstrate its antiquity, we shall feel no hesitation in admitting that of the two, Buddhism is the one which is best entitled to the claim of originality.

Colebrooke, however, contends that Jainism is older than Buddhism, since it adopts the animistic belief that nearly everything is possessed of a soul. Either view goes against the Indian tradition which looks upon Jainism and Buddhism as two distinct faiths. The Hindu sastras never confuse them, and their testimony is confirmed by the researches of Guerinot, Jacobi and Buhler among others. It is now conclusively established that was a historical person distinct from Gautam Buddha and Jainism a system quite independent of Buddhism. Guerinot has emphasized five great points of difference between Vardhamana and Gautam Buddha relating to their birth, the deaths of their mothers, their renunciation, illumination and death.

Vardhamana was born at Vaishali about 599 BC, While Gautama was born at Kapilavastu about 567 BC. Vardhamana’s parents lived up to a good old age, while Gautama’s mother died soon after giving birth to him. Vardhamana assumed the ascetic life with the consent of his relatives, while Gautama made himself a monk against the wishes of his father. Vardhmana had twelve years of ascetic preparation while Gautama obtained illumination at the end of six years. Vardhamana died at Pawa in 527 BC, While Gautama died at Kusinagar about 488 BC. Jacobi attempts to prove the priority and independence of Jainism to Buddhism by several distinct lines of evidence which we shall briefly indicate here, referring the interested reader to this learned discussion.

The (those who have no bonds) of the Buddhist books are the followers of Vardhamaa, and must be at least as old as the fourth century BC, if not older. The Nathaputta of Pali Buddhist literature is Vardhamana. A reference to the doctrine of the Nigganthas, as given in Buddhist canonical literature, confirms the identity of the Nigganthas and the Jains. “The Niggantha Nathaputta…Knows and sees all things, claims perfect knowledge and faith; teaches the annihilation by austerites of the old karma and prevention by inactivity of new karma.

When Karma ceases, misery ceases. Asoka edicts refer to  the sect of the Jains. The Buddhist books themselves refer to the Jainas as the rivals of Buddhism. The Internal evidence confirms the view of Independence.  The Jaina theory of the soul and knowledge are so distinctive of Jainism and dissimilar to those of Buddhism that one cannot be a borrowed product of the other. The similarities in doctrine between the two on the questions of karma and rebirth prove nothing, since these are the common features of all Indian systems. For these reasons we look upon Jainism as an earlier creed than Buddhism. M. Poussin is of the opinion that the Jains were “a powerful mendicant order which originated or was reorgnaized a few years before Sakyamuni.

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