Emergence of Jainism and Buddhism
- In the sixth–fifth centuries BC, a number of religious groups formed in the mid-Gangetic plains, and we know of as many as sixty-two of them. Many of these cults were founded on regional rituals and customs practiced by various ethnic groups in northeast India. The two important of these sects, Jainism and Buddhism, emerged as the most powerful religious reform movements.
- Brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas, and shudras were the four varnas of post-Vedic society. Each varna was given specific responsibilities. Despite the fact that varna was determined by birth, the two higher varnas gained power, prestige, and privileges at the expense of the smaller varnas.
- The brahmanas, who were given the roles of priests and instructors, claimed to be the most powerful people in society. They wanted a number of benefits, including receiving gifts and being immune from taxation and penalty. Many examples of similar privileges may be found in post-Vedic texts.
- The kshatriyas, who ranked second in the varna order, battled and ruled, and subsisted on peasant levies. Agriculture, livestock breeding, and trading were all important to the vaishyas. They were also the primary taxpaying citizens. They were, however, put in the dvija or twiceborn category, along with the two higher varnas.
- A dvija was allowed to study the Vedas and wear the sacred thread. Shudras, like women, were supposed to serve the three higher varnas and were forbidden from studying Vedic texts. In post-Vedic times, they worked as household slaves, agricultural slaves, craftsmen, and hired laborers. Their habits were described as cruel, greedy, and stealing, and some of them were considered untouchables. The greater a person’s varna, the more privileged they were; the lower an offender’s varna, the harsher the punishment set for him.
- Tensions appear to have arisen as a result of the varnadivided society. We have no way of knowing how the vaishyas and shudras reacted, but the kshatriya reaction to the brahmanas’ dominance, which claimed numerous rights, was one of the factors that led to the emergence of new religions. Vardhamana Mahavira, the true founder of Jainism, and Gautama Buddha, the true founder of Buddhism, were both kshatriyas who challenged the brahmanas’ authority.
- The emergence of a new agrarian economy in northeastern India, however, was the true reason of the rise of these new religions. Northeast India receives roughly 100 cm of rainfall, which includes eastern UP and northern and southern Bihar. These lands were densely forested before they were settled on a wide basis, and clearing them without the use of iron axes was difficult. Wide-scale habitations in the mid-Gangetic plains began towards the end of the sixth century BC, when iron was first employed on a large basis in this region.
- Clearing, agriculture, and big communities were all made possible by the usage of iron implements. Bullocks were necessary for the iron ploughshare agricultural system, which could not thrive without animal husbandry. The Vedic practice of indiscriminately slaughtering livestock in sacrifices, on the other hand, impeded the development of the new crop. However, if the new agrarian economy was to stabilize, the killing had to be stopped, as it was later by the ideologies of Buddhism and Jainism.
- In northern India, around 500 BC, a considerable number of cities emerge. Several of these cities were related with Vardhamana Mahavira and Gautama Buddha. Many artisans and traders worked there for the first time, using currencies. They were originally seen in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
- The introduction of coins naturally aided trade and business, enhancing the vaishyas’ role. As previously stated, the vaishyas were ranked third in the brahmanical society, behind the brahmanas and kshatriyas. Naturally, they looked for a religion that would help them improve their situation. The vaishyas, in addition to the kshatriyas, generously supported Mahavira and Gautama Buddha.
- The setthis, or merchants, lavished lavish presents on Gautama Buddha and his students. There were a variety of causes for this. To begin with, Jainism and Buddhism did not place much emphasis on the existing varna structure.
- Second, they preached the religion of nonviolence, which they claimed would stop battles between kingdoms and, as a result, increase trade and commerce.
- Third, the Dharmasutras, or brahmanical law texts, forbade lending money at interest and chastised anyone who lived on interest. As a result, the vaishyas who lent money as a result of increased trade and commerce were despised and sought higher social standing.
- On the other hand, we have a strong opposition to many types of private property. The use and collection of coinage consisting of silver, copper, and possibly gold were frowned upon by old-fashioned people.
- They despised new housing and clothing, as well as new opulent modes of transportation, as well as war and violence. The new forms of property exacerbated social disparities and led to widespread sorrow and suffering among the general public.
- As a result, the ordinary people desired to return to a more primal way of existence, to the austere ideal that forbade new forms of property and new ways of life. Both Jainism and Buddhism advocated for a life that was simple, puritanical, and ascetic.
- The Buddhist and Jaina monks were asked to give up the finer things in life, and they were not allowed to handle gold or silver. They could only accept as much money from their patrons as was necessary to keep body and soul together. As a result, they rebelled against the material benefits that came with the Gangetic basin’s new lifestyle.
- In other words, the reaction to changes in material existence in the mid-Gangetic plain in the sixth and fifth centuries BC was similar to the reaction to modern-day changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution.
Mahavira Vardhamana and Jainism
- Mahavira, the Jainas’ most prominent religious leader, was thought to have twenty-three predecessors known as tirthankaras. If Mahavira is considered the last or twenty-fourth tirthankara, Jainism’s origins can be traced back to the ninth century BC. Some Jainas think Rishabhadeve was the first tirthankara or teacher of Jainism, however he is linked to Ayodhya, which was only inhabited by 500 BC.
- Parshvanatha, the twenty-third tirthankara, who hailed from Banaras, abandoned royal life, and became an ascetic, is credited with the earliest important teachings of Jainism. His spiritual successor Vardhamana Mahavira, on the other hand, was the true founder of Jainism.
- Vardhamana Mahavira was born in 540 BC in a village near Vaishali in the Vaishali district in north Bihar, which is coterminous with Basarh. His father, Siddhartha, was the head of a powerful kshatriya clan, while his mother, Trishala, was the sister of Lichchhavi chief Chetaka, whose daughter Bimbisara married. Mahavira’s family was thus linked to Magadh’s royal dynasty, and his high standing made it simple for him to contact princes and nobles during his journey.
- Mahavira began his life as a commoner, but in his search for truth, he left the world at the age of 30 and became an ascetic. At the age of 42, he had travelled for twelve years and had acquired omniscience (kaivalya). He overcame both misery and bliss through kaivalya. He is known as Mahavira, or the great hero, or jina, or conqueror, as a result of this conquest, and his followers are known as Jainas. He traveled to Koshala, Magadha, Mithila, Champa, and other places to spread his religion for thirty years. In 468 BC, he died at the age of 72 in a place named Pavapuri in modern-day Rajgir.
- Five doctrines of Jainism were taught: I do not commit violence, (ii) do not lie, (iii) do not steal, (iv) do not hoard, and (v) maintain continence (brahmacharya). Mahavira is said to have added just the fifth doctrine, with the other four being taken up from prior instructors. Ahimsa, or non-harming of living beings, was extremely important in Jainism.
- Although Mahavira’s predecessor, Parshva, had instructed his disciples to cover both the upper and lower areas of their bodies, Mahavira instructed them to remove all clothing. This suggests that Mahavira encouraged his followers to live a more austere lifestyle. As a result, Jainism later separated into two sects: shvetambaras, or those who wore white clothes, and digambaras, or those who stayed nude.
- The gods were acknowledged in Jainism, but they were ranked lower than the jina, and the varna system was not condemned as Buddhism did. According to Mahavira, a person’s birth varna is determined by the crimes he has committed or the virtues he has acquired in prior lives. Even in a chandala, Mahavira looks for human values.
- Members of the lower castes, he believes, can gain emancipation by living a pure and meritorious life. The primary goal of Jainism is to achieve independence from worldly ties. For such release, no rite is required. It can be attained by having the proper information, having the correct faith, and taking the right actions. These three are regarded as Jainism’s three jewels, or triratna.
- Because both involve the destruction of living creatures, Jainism forbade its adherents from engaging in war or even farming. Eventually, the Jainas focused mostly on commerce and mercantile operations.
Jainism is gaining popularity.
- Mahavira formed an order of his disciples that included both males and women in order to disseminate the teachings of Jainism. He delivered his sermons in Prakrit, the common people’s tongue. Jainism failed to reach the masses because it did not properly distinguish itself from the brahmanical faith.
- Despite this, Jainism quickly spread throughout India’s south and west, where the brahmanical faith was weak. Chandragupta Maurya (322– 298 BC) is credited for spreading Jainism in Karnataka, according to a late tradition. The emperor converted to Jainism, abdicated his throne, and lived the last years of his life as a Jaina ascetic in Karnataka.
- The catastrophic famine in Magadha 200 years after Mahavira’s death is considered to have been the second cause of Jainism’s growth in south India. The famine lasted twelve years, and many Jainas went to the south under Bhadrabahu’s guidance, while the others stayed in Magadha under Sthalabahu’s leadership.
- Jainism was disseminated throughout south India by emigrant Jainas. They returned to Magadha at the end of the famine, where they clashed with the native Jainas. Those who returned from the south said that they had adhered to religious norms even throughout the hunger. They further claimed that the Magadha-based Jaina ascetics had broken the norms and had become slack.
- A council was formed in Pataliputra, contemporary Patna, to resolve these disputes and compile the main teachings of Jainism, but the Jainas who had returned from the south boycotted it and refused to accept its judgments. The southerns were now referred to as digambaras, while the Magadhans were referred to as shvetambaras. Drought is mentioned as a possible cause, however this is a later tradition that is questioned.
- Numerous Jaina monastic establishments, known as basadis, sprung up in Karnataka in subsequent decades, especially after the fifth century, and were awarded land by the king in exchange for their assistance.
- In the fourth century BC, Jainism moved to Kalinga in Orissa, and in the first century BC, it was supported by Kalinga ruler Kharavela, who had fought the princes of Andhra and Magadha. It also appears to have reached the southern parts of Tamil Nadu in the second and first centuries BC.
- Later years saw Jainism spread to Malwa, Gujarat, and Rajasthan, and these places now retain a sizable Jaina population engaged primarily in trade and commerce. Although Jainism did not receive as much state support as Buddhism and did not spread as quickly in its early years, it still holds sway in the areas where it did. Buddhism, on the other hand, has all but vanished from the Indian subcontinent.
- The first real attempt to alleviate the faults of the varna order and ritualistic Vedic religion was made by Jainism. The early Jainas abandoned the Sanskrit language, which was primarily used by brahmanas. Instead, they preached their beliefs in Prakrit, the common people’s language.
- Their holy literature was composed in Ardhamagadhi, and the books were eventually gathered in Gujarat’s Valabhi, a great center of learning, in the sixth century AD. The Jainas’ acceptance of Prakrit aided the language’s and literature’s development. Prakrit spawned a slew of regional languages, including Shauraseni, from which the Marathi language arose.
- The Jainas wrote the first important Apabhramsha writings and developed the first grammar. Epics, Puranas, novels, and theater are all examples of Jaina literature. A considerable portion of Jaina writing is still preserved in manuscripts that have yet to be published and can be found in Jaina shrines in Gujarat and Rajasthan.
- The Jainas used Sanskrit extensively and created several writings in it during the early medieval period. Last but not least, they aided the development of Kannada, a language in which they wrote extensively.
- The Jainas, like the Buddhists, did not worship images at first. They eventually began to revere Mahavira as well as the other twenty-three tirthankaras. For this reason, beautiful and sometimes huge stone images were fashioned, particularly in Karnataka, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and MP. Although Jaina art was not as rich as Buddhist art in ancient times, Jainism had a significant impact on art and architecture in medieval times.
Gautama Buddha and Buddhism
- Mahavira’s contemporaries included Gautama Buddha, also known as Siddhartha. He was born in 567 BC into a Shakya kshatriya family in Lumbini, Nepal, near Kapilavastu, which is connected with Piprahwa in Basti district and is close to Nepal’s foothills, according to legend.
- Gautama’s father appears to have been the Shakya republican clan’s elected ruler of Kapilavastu. His mother belonged to the Koshalan dynasty and was a princess. Gautama, like Mahavira, was born into a noble family. He inherited certain egalitarian views from his upbringing in a republic.
- Gautama had a meditative bent of mind when he was a toddler. He was married young, yet he was uninterested in marital life. He was moved by the suffering of people around the world and set out to find a solution. He, like Mahavira, left home at the age of 29. He roamed from place to place for almost seven years before attaining enlightenment under a pipal tree in Bodh-Gaya at the age of 35. From this point on, he was referred to as the Buddha, or the Enlightened One.
- At Sarnath near Banaras, Gautama Buddha preached his first speech. For forty years, he wandered, preached, and meditated continuously. During this time, he met many ardent adherents of competing sects, notably the brahmanas, but in arguments he overcame them. He made no distinction between the affluent and the poor, the high and the low, or male and woman in his missionary work. In 487 BC, Gautama Buddha died at the age of 80 in a place called Kusinagara, which is coterminous with the village of Kasia in the Deoria region in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
- The Buddha was a pragmatic reformer who recognized the circumstances of his time. He did not become involved in the pointless debates about the soul (atman) and Brahma that raged at the period, instead focusing on earthly issues. He claimed that the world was full of sadness and that people were suffering because of their desires. When wants are defeated, man achieves nirvana, or freedom from the cycle of birth and death.
- For the abolition of human misery, Gautama Buddha advised an eight-fold way (ashtangika marga). In a passage from the third century BC, he is credited with this road. Right observation, right decision, right speech, right action, right living, right effort, right consciousness, and right concern were all part of it.
- If a person follows this eightfold road, he will be free of the priests’ intrigues and will arrive at his destiny. Gautama taught that a person should avoid both excesses of luxury and austerity, and that the medium road should be followed.
- In the same vein as the Jaina instructors, the Buddha established a rule of conduct for his followers. The main tenets are: I do not use violence, (ii) do not desire others’ property, (iii) do not use intoxicants, (iv) do not lie, and (v) do not engage in sexual misbehavior or adultery. Almost all religions enjoin their followers to follow these principles in their social behavior
Spread of Buddhism
- Buddhism denies the existence of god and the soul. This can be considered a watershed moment in the history of Indian faiths. Because early Buddhism avoided philosophical debates, it appealed to ordinary people, particularly the lower classes, who supported it because it opposed the varna system. The Buddhist order accepted everyone regardless of caste, and women were also admitted to the sangha, putting them on an equal footing with men. Buddhism was liberal and democratic in compared to Brahmanism.
- Buddhism was especially appealing to people in non-Vedic places, where it found fertile ground for conversion. Because they were despised by the orthodox brahmanas, the people of Magadha were quick to embrace Buddhism. Magadha was situated outside the pale of the holy Aryavarta, the Aryas’ homeland, which encompassed modern-day Uttar Pradesh. The traditional custom survives, and the inhabitants of north Bihar prefer not to be cremated in Magadha, which is located south of the Ganges.
- Pali, a kind of Prakrit that dates back to roughly 500 BC, was essential in the development of Buddhism. It made it easier for Buddhist beliefs to proliferate among the general public. Gautama Buddha also established the sangha, or religious organization, which was open to all, regardless of caste, creed, or gender. Slaves, soldiers, and debtors, on the other hand, were not permitted to enter. The monks were expected to follow the sangha’s norms and regulations to the letter.
- They had to take the vows of chastity, poverty, and faith once they were accepted into the Buddhist church. Buddha, dhamma, and sangha are the three main components of Buddhism. Even during Buddha’s lifetime, Buddhism advanced rapidly as a result of organized preaching under the aegis of the sangha. This religion was accepted by the monarchs of Magadha, Koshala, and Kaushambi, as well as various republican governments and their people.
- Ashoka, the legendary Maurya ruler, converted to Buddhism two hundred years after the Buddha’s death. This was a watershed moment in history. Ashoka established Buddhism into a world religion by spreading it over Central Asia, West Asia, and Sri Lanka through his missionaries. Buddhism is still practiced in Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Myanmar), Tibet, and parts of China and Japan. Despite the fact that Buddhism has vanished from its birthplace, it is still widely practiced throughout South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia.
The Reasons for Buddhism’s Decline
- By the eleventh century, Buddhism had almost vanished from India. Buddhism survived in Bengal and Bihar in a modified form until the eleventh century, but after that it virtually totally faded from India. What went wrong? Every religion is inspired by the spirit of reform at first, but it inevitably succumbs to the rituals and rites it first condemns.
- Buddhism went through a similar transformation. It succumbed to the ills of Brahmanism, which it had previously battled. The brahmanas modified their faith to meet the Buddhist challenge. They emphasized the need of preserving the livestock wealth and guaranteed women and shudras that they would be admitted to heaven. Buddhism, on the other hand, underwent a significant transformation.
- Buddhist monks were gradually walled off from the rest of society; they abandoned Pali, the people’s language, in favor of Sanskrit, the language of intellectuals. They practiced idol worship on a massive scale from the first century onwards, receiving copious offerings from believers. Monks’ lives were made easier by the plentiful donations, which were complemented by significant royal grants to Buddhist monasteries. Some monasteries, like as Nalanda, received revenue from up to 200 villages.
- By the seventh century, Buddhist monasteries had become overrun by easeloving individuals and had become hotbeds of corrupt practices that Gautama Buddha had forbade. Vajrayana was the name given to the new Buddhist school. The monasteries’ vast wealth, along with increased sexual activity, resulted in further deterioration. Buddhists began to regard women as lustful objects.
- The Buddhists are claimed to have been oppressed by the brahmana monarch Pashyamitra Shunga. Persecution occurs several times between the sixth and seventh century. Hundreds of Buddhists were slaughtered by the Huna ruler Mihirakula, who was a Shiva worshipper. The Bodhi tree at Bodh-Gaya, where the Buddha had acquired enlightenment, was destroyed by the Shaivite Shashanka of Gauda.
- Thousands of monks and lay followers were slain, according to Hsuan Tsang, who claims that 1600 stupas and monasteries were demolished. Buddhist deities trample brahmanical deities in various pantheons, demonstrating the Buddhist reaction. In early medieval India, the Shaivites and Vaishnavites were ardent enemies of the Jainas and Buddhists. Conflicts like these may have undermined Buddhism.
- The Turkish invaders coveted the monasteries because of their wealth, and they became special targets of the invaders’ greed. In Bihar, the Turks massacred a considerable number of Buddhist monks, however some managed to flee to Nepal and Tibet. In any case, by the twelfth century, Buddhism had all but vanished from its birthplace.
Importance and Influence of Buddhism
- Despite its demise as an organized religion, Buddhism has left an indelible mark on Indian culture and economy. The materialistic culture of the time resulted in the accumulation of money, resulting in significant social and economic inequities. As a result, Buddhism advised individuals not to amass wealth. Poverty, it claims, generates hatred, brutality, and violence. To combat these ills, the Buddha advocated that farmers be given grain and other resources, traders be given wealth, and the unemployed be given work. These steps were suggested as a way to end global poverty.
- The monks’ rule of conduct reflects a reaction to the material conditions in northeast India around the fifth and fourth centuries BC. It places limits on the monks’ food, clothes, and sexual behavior. They couldn’t accept gold or silver, and they couldn’t sell or buy anything. These laws were relaxed after the Buddha’s death, but the early rules reflect a return to a basic communism, which was common in tribal societies that did not practice trade or modern agriculture. Part of the monks’ code of behavior reflects a revolt against the use of money, private property, and luxury living that swept northeast India in the fifth century BC.
- Although Buddhism attempted to ameliorate the problems brought on by the new material life in the fifth century BC, it also attempted to consolidate the people’s social and economic improvements. The rule that debtors were not allowed to join the sangha benefited moneylenders and the wealthier elements of society, from whom the debtors could not be rescued. Similarly, the restriction prohibiting slaves from joining the sangha benefited slave owners. As a result, Gautama Buddha’s laws and teachings took into consideration and ideologically enhanced the new changes in the material existence of the period.
- Despite having left the world and continually criticizing the selfish brahmanas, the Buddhist monks resembled the brahmanas in some respects. Both of them were not directly involved in production and relied on alms or donations from society to survive. They emphasized the need of honoring familial commitments, safeguarding private property, and deferring to political authority. Both supported a social structure based on classes; the monks’ varna was based on action and characteristics, while the brahmanas’ varna was based on birth.
- Without a doubt, the goal of Buddhist teaching was to achieve individual redemption, or nirvana. Those who found it impossible to adjust to the disintegration of the old egalitarian society and the growth of enormous social disparities as a result of private property were given a way out, but it was only available to monks. There was no way out for the lay followers, who were trained to accept the situation as it was.
- Women and shudras were welcomed into Buddhism, which had a significant impact on society. Because Brahmanism lumped women and shudras together, they were neither given the sacred thread or allowed to read the Vedas. Their conversion to Buddhism liberated them from such stigmas. Manual labor was not frowned upon in Buddhism. The Buddha is shown plowing with oxen in a second-century artwork from Bodh-Gaya.
- Buddhism increased the country’s livestock wealth by emphasizing nonviolence and the sanctity of animal life. Cattle are declared to be givers of food, beauty, strength, and happiness (annada, vannada, balada, sukhada) in the earliest Buddhist literature, Suttanipata, and hence advocate for their preservation.
- This doctrine occurred at a time when non-Aryans murdered animals for food and Aryans sacrificed animals for religious reasons. The brahmanical emphasis on the holiness of the cow and nonviolence appears to have been influenced by Buddhist teachings.
- In the fields of intellect and culture, Buddhism established and nurtured a new awareness. It taught people not to take things for granted, but to debate and evaluate them on their own merits. To some extent, reasoning took the role of superstition, fostering rationalism among people.
- The Buddhists developed a new sort of literature in order to communicate the doctrines of the new faith, greatly improving Pali with their writings. There are three types of Pali literature from the beginning. The first contains the Buddha’s sayings and teachings, the second discusses the norms that sangha members must follow, and the third is a philosophical analysis of the dhamma.
- By combining Pali and Sanskrit in the first three centuries of the Christian period, Buddhists created a new language known as Hybrid Sanskrit. Buddhist monks continued to write in the Middle Ages, and some of the most notable Apabhramsa works in east India were written by them. Buddhist monasteries have evolved into tremendous learning centers that can be compared to residential institutions. Nalanda and Vikramashila in Bihar, as well as Valabhi in Gujarat, are worth mentioning.
- Buddhism left an indelible mark on ancient Indian art. The Buddha’s statues were most likely the first human statues revered in India. The major events in the Buddha’s life were depicted in stone by devout followers of the religion. The panels in Bihar’s Bodh-Gaya and MP’s Sanchi and Bharhut are excellent instances of artistic work.
- Representations of Gautama Buddha began to be made in the first century. On India’s northwestern border, Greek and Indian sculptors collaborated to develop Gandhara art, a new kind of art. Images captured in this region reveal both Indian and foreign influences. Rooms were hewn out of the rocks for the monks’ habitation, and thus cave architecture began in the Barabar hills in Gaya, as well as in western India around Nasik. In the Krishna delta in the south and Mathura in the north, Buddhist art flourished.