Ancient Indian History Notes [Part 5] Jainism & Buddhism

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In this Part, We will study about 6th Century BCE and Beyond.

Reasons for rise of Jainism and Buddhism
Reasons for rise of Jainism and Buddhism
Political Context
  • Monarchies under Mahajanapadas were in constant conflict with the heterodox nature of Gana Sanghas.
  • The earlier egalitarian system of tribal clans was giving way to organized monarchy and Varna hierarchy. Thus, the Gana Sanghas were already harbouring a spirit to challenge Vedic orthodoxy.
  • Moreover, the Brahmana-Kshatriya alliance in maintaining orthodoxy unsettled many.

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Economic Context
  • The clearing of forests in Gangetic plains and introduction of wet rice farming led to agricultural surplus.
  • The growth of surplus supported crafts and trade through rivers and Uttarapatha. This also led to urbanization with names like Nagara, Nigama and Mahanagara becoming prominent.
  • Trade ensured the Vaishya class grew leaps and bounds. The Grihapati became a chief patron of supporting Vedic religion. However, the subservience to Brahmanas and Kshatriyas made Vaishyas unhappy.
  • RS Sharma gave one more reason that farmers supported because cattle slaughter harmed agriculture
Social Context
  • The sole reason was the Varna system. The preferential treatment given to the Brahmins and upper castes in general infuriated the lower castes.
  • Rituals became a rigid affair, often humiliating to the lower Varnas. It became complex, time consuming and affordable only to the rich.
  • An attitude of escapism became prominent in the society. Thoughts like Uchhedavada or fatalism became prominent. People tried to escape this rigid society.
  • Relevance of Vedic religion- It was set in the background of rural agropastoralism with natural forces being Gods. This old setup couldn’t attract the new urbanized society after 6th century BCE.
  • The philosophy of the Atman and one indestructible God failed to reduce the differences in the society.
  • The proponents Mahavira and Buddha were Kshatriyas and supported by the wealthy merchant class
Development of Sramana Tradition
Sramana Tradition upsc
  • Ascetism was not new in Vedic age. Wandering ascetics in forests had composed the Aranyakas which dealt with more philosophical explanations of Vedic rituals. But the baseline was the same- there was an attitude of escapism, a challenge to traditional Vedic rituals and society.
  • By 6th century BCE, the ascetics became prominent. Philosophies like Uchhedavada or fatalism became prominent.
  • Of all the prominent ascetic sects, the Sramanas or Parivajrakas became prominent given their organized nature. Rest all ascetics were individual in nature. Sramanas had their Kutuala-Shalas to debate the new ideas
  • Their beliefs- They considered Vedas as irrational and a conspiracy to supress the society. They rejected the authority and tried to have their own independent investigations. Their belief was that universe is a natural phenomenon governed by natural laws. Humans are a part of it. If at all Gods exist, they are too subject to these natural laws of life and death. They believed in transmigration of soul to justify the cycle of birth and death
Jainism upsc ias

The earliest proponent was Parshvanath sometime from 9th to 7th century BC.

Mahavira (599 BC to 527 BC) was the last proponent. He was a kshatriya born in Kundagrama near Vaishali.. His mother was a Lichhavi princess. He renounced the material world in search of the supreme truth. He attained the perfect knowledge or Kevalajnana at Jrimbhikagrama. He was the winner of happiness or sorrow. Hence called Jina. His followers became Jaina. He died at age of 72 at Pavapuri near Patna.

Principles of Jainism
  • Ahimsa or non-violence is the core of Jainism
  • Jainism aims at attaining Moksha.
  • It believes that Jiva or soul (consciousness) is independent and different than body (matter)
  • Triratnas or 3 jewels of Jainism- Right Conduct or Samyaka Charita, Right Knowledge or Samyaka Jnana, Right Faith or Samyaka Darshana
  • It believes that 24 Tirthankaras grace the world to teach the Triratnas, first being Rishabha and last being Mahavira.
  • It refutes the idea of Brahman or a supreme creator but puts its belief in the theory of Karma and transmutation of soul.
  • Anekantavada– Doctrine of multiple nature of reality. Jainism believes that reality is complex and we can look at only few aspects of reality. Thus, it is impossible to grasp the reality in its entirity. At most we can get multiple statements that are partially true.
  • Syadavada– Jainism believes that all judgments are conditional, holding good only in certain conditions, circumstances, or senses, expressed by the word syat (“may be”). Thus, reality is conditional to Dravya or being, Kshetra or location, Kaal or time and Bhava or state.
  • Although it did not separate itself from Varna system, it held the view that anyone born in the lower caste can rise by penance and knowing the truth. There are many common gods in Hinduism and Jainism which failed to get support for the Jainas.

Some Jainas wanted absolute and pure implementation of Mahavira’s principles to such a level that they sacrificed their clothes too. Such Jainas were called Digambaras and those who wore white clothes are called Shwetambaras.

Earliest Jain texts include Kalpataru, Sutrakritanga, etc. However, they were written down after the council of Valabhi which makes them ridden with interpolations.

During Mahavira’s times, Jainism was limited to Magadha, Vaishali, Kosala and Malla areas. After his death, Jainism spread to many places, although very few evidences exist. The earliest proof is of king Kharvela of Kalinga in 2nd century BC. Inscriptions at Hathigumpha at Udaygiri caves are of special mention. Jain manuscripts say Chadnragupta Maurya spread Jainism in Karnataka although no evidence exists. In the medieval, Jainism spread in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Evidence of Jainism as a cult can be seen from Jaina images at Mathura, a Jaina stupa found at Kankali Tila at Mathura dating to 2nd century BCE. Sangam text Maduraikkanchi describes a magnificent temple of Nirgranthas at Madurai.

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Buddhist text Mahavamsa talks of temples built for Jainas at Anuradhapura in 4th century BCE.

Jains used Prakrit as their language. The most important being Saurseni from which Marathi evolved. Jains have also contributed to Kannada literature.

Digambara Shwetambara schism
difference between digambara and svetambara

Sthulabhadra wearing clothes in north and Bhadrabahu naked in south. Since Bhadrabahu is assumed to be the mentor of Chandragupta Maurya, it’s assumed the schism might have taken place in 3rd century BCE. This story ia from Digambara tradition. However, there is very little proof of an abrupt schism. All Tirthankara images of Mathura are naked till 5th century CE after which a lower garment can be seen. All older texts dont mention the word Digambara but use Nirgrantha instead. A 5th century land grant in South also mentions Nirgrantha. Historians believe that a schiam might have taken place in 5th century at the council of Vallabhi where only Shwetambaras were present.

Jaina Sangha
  • Jaina Sangha was open for all sections of society including women. Uttaradhyayana Sutra narrates the story of Harikeshiya who was a Chandala but became a Jaina monk.
  • The Jaina texts criticize Brahmanas and their sacrifices, way of life and arrogance. Medieval text Adi Purana tries to undermine Brahmins by saying that Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras were born from Rishabhdeva himself while Brahmins are born from his son. In spite of this, Brahmins formed most of the disciples and acharyas like Bhadrabahu, Haribhadra, Jinasena, etc.
  • Women had a special place in Sangha. Kalpa Sutra mentions that when Mahavira died, there were 14000 monks and 36000 nuns in the Sangha. The acceptance of women in Sanghas became one of the most liberating factors for woman
  • However, Jainism believes presence of a woman as danger to the celibacy of the monk. Digambaras did roam naked but did not allow women to do so. They considered a woman’s body as the biggest hindrance in her salvation. But women did form a part of Digambaras and were respectfully called as Aryika and Sadhvi.
  • Shwetambara tradition considers wearing or not wearing clothes as optional. It believed that women could attain Moksha in their lifetime.
  • Like the Buddhist Sangha, Jaina Sangha too had discrimination. Nuns must be respectful of monks even if they are younger. Nuns could confess their misdemeanors to monks and get censured but not the opposite
  • Digamabaras did not believe that a woman could attain Jinahood. She must be reborn as a man to do that. Shwetambaras did believe in that. The 9th Tirthankara was a woman called Malli. But it says she was born as a woman because in her past life she had shown greed, etc.
  • Nevertheless, Jaina nuns did continue unlike Buddhist Bhikkuni Sangha that nearly vanished.

Siddhartha Gautama (563 BC to 483 BC) was a prince of Kapilvastu. His mother was a Kosala princess. He was born at Lumbini. He left his home in search of an answer to the sorrows and miseries of the world. He attained enlightenment at Bodhgaya and propounded his theory first time at Sarnath. He died at Kushinagar in UP.

  • According to Buddha, everything in this universe is transitory and ephemeral. Sarvam Anityam.
  • The main theory of Buddhism does not revolve around the complex Atman and Brahman concepts of Upanishads.
  • He said that sorrow and suffering is what ails humans.
  • The 4 noble truths mainly involve the acceptance that humans have desires, which give rise to sorrows, humans must give up desires to attain Nirvana and it is attained by following the 8 fold path.
  • The ultimate aim of a Buddhist must be Nirvana which is a feeling of complete bliss, infinite love, compassion and serenity.

The Buddhist ideology took into consideration the local conditions. Hence slaves and debtors were not allowed in the Sangha, monks were to carry out family duties and respect the current ruling lineage.

  • Buddhism also introduced the practice of rationalism in its followers. Superstitions were replaced by logic.

As lay people or Upasakas increased, places of worship like Stupas and Chaityas came up. One at Lauriya-Nandangarh is considered to be the oldest.

Buddhist Sangha

• Signs of an organized religion. Importance- Sangham Sharanam Gachhami.

  • The concept of Sangha was a novel one. This was the sole reason for the spread of Buddhism which Jainism lacked.
  • The Sanghas were disciplined and admitted women too. Women composers of hymns and poems compiled in Therigatha.
  • The Sanghas were responsible or spreading the religion to all the corners of subcontinent even till Afghanistan.
  • Wealthy merchants and Gahapatis readily donated to Sangha. Hence, it’s monks and nun were supported by society.
  • However,slaves and debtors were not allowed in the Sangha
  • Another biggest advantage it got was royal patronage.
  • There is a debate on whether the Sangha life was wandering or sedimentary, Sukumar Dutt has argued that that earlier monks used to wander but later on, they felt the need to rest during monsoons which gave rise to concept of Viharas. Mohan Vijayaratne however has proven that in the lifetime of Buddha himself, Sangha used to get land grants.
  • Vinaya Pitaka and rules for Sangha. Patimokkha ceremony where monks and nuns confessed tl their misdoings.
  • Sangha was responsible for survival of Buddhism for long.
Councils of Buddhism
  • First one at Rajagriha around 487 BC under king Ajatashatru of Haryanka dynasty. It was convened under Mahakassyapa for finalizing canonical texts of Buddha. Vinaya Pitaka and Sutta Pitaka were finalized.

Second one was at Vaishali in 4th century BC. Certain monks were not following rules under Vinaya Pitaka. Hence, the council was called to decide upon the future course of action.

  • Third one at Pataliputra was convened by Ashoka. It is important due to emergence of the Theravada school of Buddhism associated with Ashoka. It was conevened under Moggaliputra Tissa. It added Abhidhamma Pitaka to canonical texts.
  • Fourth council is said to be held in Thambapani in Sri Lanka by Theravada sect and one by Sarvastivada in Kashmir in 78AD convened by Kanishka. The Sarvastivada sect is said to be centered at Gandhara with it spreading to Central Asia along with Dharmaguptaka tradition. It has many teachings in Sanskrit. The 4th council is important for the emergence of Hinayana and
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Mahayana sects. Hinayana Buddhism found its strongholds in Sri Lanka,

Myanmar and the countries of south-east Asia, whereas Mahayana Buddhism had its major following in central Asia, Tibet, China and Japan.

Buddha also said that “undue importance should not be attached to the dialect of a particular janapada, i.e., a monk should be accommodating to dialectical variations”

Many theorists put forth their own new theories like that of Nagarjuna’s Shunyata theory which says everything around is zero, for what we see is only an illusion. Buddhism is also said to have assimilated many local theories. For eg- It mixed with Zoroastrianism in central asia.

New things were introduced like image of Buddha, Bodhisattva, transferring of merit, etc. Bodhisattva is defined as continuous work for the mankind selflessly, even forgoing Nirvana until one’s task is complete. The Bodhisattvas were developed in a complex theory with multiple heavens overlapping each other with each Bodhisattva living in a particular heaven.

Buddhism spread due to
  • Buddha’s philosophy was simple, lucid and could be easily followed by people and in local languages like Pali.

No complex rituals or elaborate spending on middlemen and priests was required

  • All were welcomed in the fold including women and Shudras. It increased the acceptability.
  • Buddha himself roamed large distances and created many disciples
  • Well organized Sangha
  • Viharas also became educational instituions that attracted students all over. Eg- Nalanda
  • Royal patronage of Ashoka, Kanishka, Harsha
  • Under Kushana rule, Sanghas used silk route to set up monasteries and resting places and spread into China and central Asia
  • Mahayana school made idols of Buddha that made it possible for people to visualize Buddha.

Example of spread of Buddhism in Afghanistan- Water pots found in eastern Afghanistan in 1-2nd century CE have engravings on them. They were donated to Sarvastivadin teachers and one to Dharmaguptakas.

Buddhism declined due to
  • Buddhist monks became luxury loving people who enjoyed the riches donated by people. Sanghas had internal quarrels
  • They introduced idol worship and rituals and even elements of Tantricism.
  • Hindusim cane back in vogue after the time of Guptas.
  • Impact of Shankaracharya and his Advaita doctrine.
  • Buddhists split as Hinayana and Mahayana
  • Women were seen as a source of lust
  • The final blow came when Turkish invaders destroyed Buddhist centers of learning like Nalanda.
  • Another drawback was that Buddhism taught rising above the sorrows and attain Nirvana to only it’s monks but the layman was left in lurch to cope and adjust with his problems.
  • Although Shudras were allowed entry, Buddhism and Jainism did not do much to weed out the treatment given to the Shudras.
  • Finally, Buddha himself was assimilated as tenth avatar of Vishnu.
Buddhist concept of Varna and Jati

Rhy Davids feels that Buddhism could never come out of the Jati/Varna system. Vinaya Pitaka mentions two-fold classification Hina Jati (low Jati) and Ukkata Jati (higher Jati). A Buddhist text Purana Kassyapa

even classified society into 6 Jati with “black” Jati of people doing menial talks like cobblers, smithers, hunters, fishermen. Moreover, texts mention that a person with noble deeds is born as Kshatriya, Brahmana and Gahapati while criminals are born in low Kulas of Chandalas, Nishadas, etc.

  • Oldenburg has also noted that even though Buddhist Sangha prescribed equality, one cannot escape the aristocratic nature of Sangha
  • Fick and Charles Eliot also point out that while Buddhism was successful in opposing Brahminical rituals, Buddha cannot be called a social reformer given his ambiguous stand on Jatis
Growth of Mahayana Buddhism
  • It is generally believed that the 4th Buddhist Council in Kashmir was where the schism or Sangha Bheda took place resulting in the formation of Mahayana or Greater Vehicle.
  • However, Heinz Bechert believes that it was not particularly a schism since Mahayana had issues only with monastic discipline and not basic doctrinal issues
  • It is proved from the fact that when Fa Xian and Xuanzang visited India, they saw Mahayana and non-Mahayana monks living together.
  • Also, the Sutras of Mahayana include teachings of Buddha. They draw inspiration from them and dont represent any radical break from earlier traditons. Eg- Lalitavistara contains passages from Pali canon.
  • Bodhisattva assumed a greater importance in Mahayana. Thus, the difference between an Arhat and Bodhisattva is that an Arhat strives for Nibbana and disappers from cycle of Samsara while a Bodhisattva is the one who has attained great wisdom but forgoes his Nibbana to help others achieve it.
  • The second issue was of trasnfer of merit. Mahayana sutras say that one can transfer one seventh of his merit to a deceased love one in order to reduce his suffering in next birth.
  • Third issue was of idol worship. Earlier Buddhists considered venerating Stupa and relics as meritorious nut not compulsory. In Mahayana, they started to worship idols of Buddha and Shakya Muni, Bodhisattvas, etc. This can also be a reason for the successful spread of Mahayana more than Hinayana.
  • Mahayana had two basic schools- Madhyamaka and Yogachara
  • Madhya Maka was put forth by Nagarjuna in 2nd century CE through his Mula-Madhyamaka-Karika. It believes in Shunyata. It doesn’t mean nothing exists but the appearances are illusory and misleading.
  • Yogachara school has texts like Lankavatara. It mainly deals with meditation as an approach to gain knowledge.
  • More focus on Sanskrit than Pali.
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Contributions of Buddhism
  • Easy and intelligible doctrine without existence of priestly class. However, it is an irony that most of Buddha’ s followers and monks were Brahmins.
  • A diversion from abstract philosophy of Upanishads
  • Explicit idols and symbols like Bodhisatvas in Mahayana Buddhism.
  • Need for Prayer and resting places gave rise to Viharas and Chaityas
  • Gave space for women and Shudras. Therigatha. Monk Upali was a barber of Shakyas.
  • Vast and varied literature in spoken language. Jatakas as Buddhist stories.
  • Gandhara, Mathura, Amravati, etc schools of art.
  • Helped establish connections with foreign countries
  • Helped in political discourse like in case of Ashoka and also indianized tribes like Indo Greeks and Kushanas
Buddhism and women
  • On the lines of Bhikku Sangha, Buddha also created a Bhikkuni Sangha for women.
  • However, Buddhists texts suggest he was not in favor of it. He was pressurized and when he relented, he said that he reduced the life of Sangha by 500 years. Women were thus considered source of lust and passion according to Buddhist texts.
  • Sanghas also did not allow women of unwed children, pregnant women and rebellious women to enter.
  • Vinaya Pitaka also shows the lower status accorded to nuns. A nun was to greet a monk even jf she is elder to him by age and experience. A monk could give an advice to a nun but a nun couldnt.
  • However, nuns were respected by the society. Samyutta Jataka tells that king Prasenjit bowed before Khema, a nun, after she finished her talk.
  • Therigatha or verses of elderly nuns talks of Nirvana experiences of women and also their general experiences.
  • Overall, by the standards of the society then, Buddha opened up considersble space for women.

Story of Buddha being asked about his lineage, he answers- just as fire can be born from any wood, a saint can be born in any Kula.

Vajrayana school

It is based on influence of Tantra.

  • Vajrayana or Diamond Vehicle was the Tantric form of Buddhism mainly relaTed to magic, rituals and meditation. Vajrayana refers to power and strength of a person who has attainted Siddhi or enlightenment.
  • 5-6th century texts like Manjushrimulakalpa and Guhyasamaja are earliest proponents of Vajrayana.
  • Sexual element- Hevajra Tantra advocates using sexual energy for liberation. One had to have sex with a low caste girl at night in a cemetry after drinking alcohol and consuming meat.
  • Sacred Mantras- Vajrayana also considers chanting of mantras as a way to attain enlightenment. The most sacred six syllable mantra is described as heart of Avalokiteshvara. Mantra is Om Mani Padme Hum or jewel in the lotus.
  • Women- Vajrayana is special because it gives special place to a woman goddess Tara. Tara is Buddhist form of Kali. Tara is worshipped as the Shakti or power of Buddha. The inscription dedicated to Tara has been found in Karnataka which dates to the times of Hoysala king Veerballala II in 13th century. It also probably shows the influence of Shakti cult on Buddhism.
  • However, position of lay women is debatable. Miranda Shaw believes men and women were integral to Tantric way of life with their relationship being non-destructive and mutually enlightening.
  • However, the kind of position Hevajra Tantra gave to low caste women raises questions.
  • Overall, Vajrayana had an impact on society in early medieval India as seen from the fact that it was taught along side Mahayana and Theravada in Nalanda and Vikramshila.
  • It also reflects the fact that Buddhism as a sect was built on the premise of challenge to orthodox Hinduism but it ended up accepting many practices like in case of Vajrayana.
  • Ajivika is among the Nastika sects of ancient India propounded by Makkali Gosala and others like Purana Kassyapa. The sect is as old as Buddhism since Buddhist canonical texts make a mention of Makkali.
  • Basic tenets- Ajivika thought revolves around idea of Niyati or fate because it believes everything is predecided and controlled. Human effort has no significance or effect on fate. It does believe in Karma and transmigration of soul but says that path of souls gave been mapped for a thousand years. Thus, it is a deterministic doctrine.
  • The Ajivikas practised severe ascetism and even ate very few food. They believed in Ahima and even practised nudity.
  • There was no discrimination on the basis of Varna or class. Makkali Gosala himself took shelter in a woman potter’s house during his Shravasti visit.
  • Buddhist criticism- Anguttara Nikaya calls Makkali a foolish man who has brought grief and sorrow to gods and men. Buddhist even said Ajivikas ate secretly.
  • Jaina Criticsim- Bhagavathi Sutra talks of a fight between Makkali and Mahavira where former cursed the later. Moreover, Jainism were furious because Ajivikas did not practice celibacy.
  • Overall, the criticism shows that Ajivikas was quite an influential sect.

Mahavamsa says it had even spread to Sri Lanka.

  • Royal Patronage- This also shows their influence. Barabar hill cave inscription talks of Ashoka granting caves to Ajivikas. Adjoining Nagarjuni hill caves were granted by Dasharatha Maurya. However, later text of Ashokavadana talks of Ashoka ordering the slaughter of 18000 Ajivikas from Pundravardhana for insulting Buddha. But this account seems highly suspicious.