CHAPTER – 3
THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF JAIN RELIGION
Seen in the broad universal perspective, Jainism is among the oldest living world religions with a truly magnificent heritage, profound philosophy, all-life inclusive spirituality, knowledge-based scientific temper and remarkable synergy of faith and reason. As such it has had an abiding impact on the ethical orientation of Indian culture and development of its moral dimensions in terms of compassion, tolerance and cooperative interdependence.
The calligraphed edition of the Constitution of India carries the portrait of Vardhaman Mahavir in a meditative posture with the tribute that Jainism is another stream of spiritual renaissance which seeks to refine and sublimate man’s conduct and emphasizes Ahimsa (non-violence) as the means to achieve it.
India, the birth place of Jain religion has, indeed, been home to all the great religions of the world. In addition to Jainism, Hinduism and Buddhism and later Sikhism that had their origin in India, Islam and Christianity came from abroad and have flourished in India. While Jainism remained confined to India, Buddhism spread to south-east Asia, China, Mongolia, Korea and Japan. In the pre-vedic era, the Jain “Shramana Sanskriti” ran parallel to the “Shaiva Sanskriti” in an ambience of complementing one another.
For quite some time it was erroneously assumed that both Jainism and Buddhism were offshoots of Hinduism, and came up as reformation movements for abating increasing violence, greed and lust of power by asserting the power and potential of the culture of non-violence. This happened in the 7th century B.C. in the life time of Mahavir, the last Tirthankar of Jain religion in the present time cycle and Gautam Buddha, founder of Buddhism who were contemporaries.
Both led their respective religions, inter-alia, as reformation movements inspired by their non-violence oriented spiritual philosophy. Gautam Buddha was junior to Mahavir, and sourced a lot of inspiration from Mahavir’s teachings while charting out his middle path approach in place of intense austerity and penance prescribed in Jainism. Ancient Jain religion was rejuvenated by Mahavir, while Buddhism was founded as a new religion by Buddha. Both emphasized the relevance of their respective religions as reformation movements for correcting violence-oriented rituals and customs that had overtaken Hinduism.
Jain asceticism greatly influenced the philosophical speculations of the Upanishadic period such as through the philosophy of Nivritti (turning away from worldly life), trigupti ( total abstinence by body, mind and speech) pravrajya or sanyas (reclusive renunciation), and the concept of samlekhana or santhara(voluntarily casting one’s body by prolonged fasting. This has led to emphasis on penance as the means of liberation from the bondage of karma and rebirth.
Thanks to the pioneering research of noted western Jainologists like Hermann Jacobi, Buhler, James Ferguson, N.R. Guseva, Vincent Smith and others as well as Indian scholars like , C.J. Shah, P.C. Nahar, Banarsidas Jain, Kamta Prasad Jain, J.L. Jaini. Barrister Champatrai, H.D. Sankalia, A.N. Upadhye, H.R. Kapadia, A. Chakravarty, B.C. Bhattacharya and others in the late 19th and early 20th century that the image of Jainism was established as an ancient religion by linking together archaeological, religious, literary and historical information.
(to be continued)