History of India/Volume 1/Chapter 31

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THE Jain religion was long considered an offshoot from the religion proclaimed by Gautama Buddha, but it is now known to be an independent faith which began about the same time as the religion of Gautama, the two creeds flowing in parallel streams for long centuries, until Buddhism declined, while Jainism still continues to be a living faith in some parts of India.

The Jains, both of the Svetambara (with white clothing) and the Digambara (without clothing) sect, allege that Mahavira, the founder of the religion, was the son of Siddhartha of Kundagrama, and belonged to the clan of Jnatrika Kshatriyas. This Kotigrama is identified with the Kundagrama of the Jains, and the Natikas mentioned in the Buddhist Scriptures are identified with the Jnatrika Kshatriyas. Further, Mahavira's mother Trisaa is said to have been the sister of Kataka, King of Vaisali, whose daughter was married to the renowned Bimbisara, King of Magadha. The Jain saint and the Buddha preached, therefore, in Magadha during the reign of the same ruler.

Mahavira, at first called Vardhamana or Jnatriputra, entered the Holy Order at the age of twenty-eight, and after twelve years of self-mortification became a saint and prophet. During the last thirty years of his life he organized his order of ascetics. He was thus a rival of Gautama Buddha, and is mentioned in Buddhist writings under the name of Nataputra as the head of a numerous sect in Vaisali. Mahavira's death occurred some time after 500 b. c., probably shortly before the decease of Buddha.

Jain tradition goes on to say that in the second century after Mahavira's death at Papa there was a famine in Magadha. The renowned Chandragupta was then the sovereign of Magadha. Bhadrabahu, with a portion of his Jain followers, left Magadha under pressure of the famine and went to Karnata. During his absence, the Jains of Magadha settled their scriptures, consisting of the eleven Angas and the fourteen Puvvas, the latter sometimes called the twelfth Anga. On the return of peace and plenty, the Jains again sought Magadha; but within these years a difference in custom had arisen between those who had stayed in Magadha, and those who had gone to Karnata. The former had assumed a white dress, and the latter adhered to the old rule of absolute nudity. The former were accordingly called Svetambaras, and the latter Digambaras. The scriptures which had been settled by the former were not accepted by the latter, and the Digambaras therefore have no Angas. The final division between the two sects is said to have taken place in 83 a. d.

In course of time the scriptures of the Svetambaras fell into confusion, and were in danger of becoming extinct. It was necessary to record them in writing, and this was done at the Council of Valabhi in Gujarat in 454 or 467 a. d. The operations of the council

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resulted in the redaction of the Jain canon in the form in which we find it at the present day.

Besides these facts and traditions, inscriptions have been discovered on the pedestals of Jain statues at Mathura which prove that the Svetambara sect existed in the first century a. d.

Such is the substance of the evidence on which it is contended that the Jain religion is coaeval with Buddhism, and not an offshoot from that religion. From the mention of "Nataputra" and of the "Nirgranthas" in the Buddhist scriptures, it is reasonable to suppose that the Jain sect of unclad ascetics also had its origin about the same time. Indeed, we have already stated repeatedly that various sects of ascetics lived in India at the time when Gautama Buddha lived and taught and led his sect of ascetics. It is difficult to believe, however, that the Jain religion, as we have it now, was professed by the Nirgranthas of the sixth century b. c. The story that the canon was settled by a council in Magadha at the tune of Chandragupta is probably a myth; and even if the legend be true, the canon settled in the third century b. c. would be very different from that recorded in the fifth century a. d. For there can be little doubt that the early tenets of the first Nirgranthas had long since been modified and completely transformed, and that the more cultured section of that body, who adopted a white garment, borrowed their maxims and precepts, their rules and customs, their legends and traditions, from Buddhism, which was the prevailing religion of India after the third century b. c. Thus the Jains drifted more and more towards Buddhism for long centuries, until they had adopted the substance of the Buddhist religion as their own, and very little of the early tenets of the unclad Nirgranthas was left. It was then, in the fifth century a. d., that their scriptures were committed to writing, and it is no wonder that those sacred texts read like a copy of the Buddhist scriptures made six centuries before. Like the Buddhists, the Jains have their monastic order, and they refrain from killing animals, and praise retirement from the world. In some respects they go even further than the Buddhists, and maintain that not only animals and plants, but the smallest particles of

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the elements, fire, air, earth, and water, are endowed with life. For the rest, the Jains, like the Buddhists, reject the Veda, they accept the tenets of karma and of nirvana, and believe in the transmigration of souls. They also believe in twenty-five Tirthakaras, or Jinas, as the early Buddhists believed in twenty-four Buddhas who had risen before Gautama Buddha. The sacred books, or Agamas, of the Jains consist of seven divisions, among which the eleven Angas form the first and most important division.

Among the other sects of ascetics which flourished side by side with the Buddhists and the Nirgranthas in the sixth century b. c., the best known in their day were the Ajivakas founded by Gosala. Asoka names them in his inscriptions, along with the Brahmans and Nirgranthas. Gosala was therefore a rival of Buddha and Mahavira; but his sect has now ceased to exist.

The great religious movements that had their rise in the latter part of the sixth century b. c. have been traced here with some attention to detail, not only because of the importance of religion throughout all of India's development, but especially because of the prominent part which Buddhism played in the history of the greatest kings of India during the next thousand years after the date with which this volume closes.