Jun 15, 2008

Development of Jainism in Bihar

Ancient Period of History of Jainism

Mrs. N. R. Guseva



The community which was founded by the 23rd Tirthankar, Parshva (or Parshvanath) was called 'Nirgrantha' (or Niggantha), which means 'free from fetters' (from attachments). Both men and women could be members of the community.

Parshva preached four truisms, adherence to which can, according to his teachings, secure cognition. Those are: not to kill, not to steal, no attachment to earthly things, and complete truthfulness. For securing salvation, he prescribed strict asceticism.

All the members of the community were divided in 'laymen' (Shravaka-men and Shravika-women) and 'Ascetics' (yati, muni or sadhu-males and arjika or sadhvi-females). These four groups had their leaders, who observed the conduct of their members and this means that the community had a clear-cut organisation. Thus admittedly, Jainism as a system of religious and ethical views and likewise as a community of Jains was formed long before Mahavir Jeena became the head of the community.

According to Jain legends, Mahavir was born in the beginning of the sixth century B.C. on the territory of Bihar. As regards Mahavir's father, it is said that he belonged to a kinship which was equal among the equal ruling Kshatriya kinships', in Kumdagamma, near to Vaishali (capital of the vaishali republic). Mahavir's mother belonged to the Lichhavi tribe.

Mahavir added one more precept to the four precepts of his predecessor Parshva. This precept was expectation of complete chastity. In the course of 12 years he performed ascetic feats, living without clothes and almost without food. At the age of 42 he secured 'enlightenment' and until his death was the spiritual head of the community.

He was very active in propagating Jainism and noticeably extended the borders of the community. During his life and after his death, this religion was widely known in the territory of modern Varanasi (Kashi or Banaras), Bihar and West Bengal. The rulers of many eastern Gangetic states supported Jainism and encouraged the spread of Jainism.

The Jain monks were not tied to monasteries, as the Buddhist monks. Nude ascetics lived in forests, in mountains and in caves (the monks lived compulsorily separate from the nuns); but usually near towns and settlements, so that the laymen-Jains paid respect to their ascetic feats and learnt from them.

Strict conjugal loyalty, observance of the five basic precepts (they were required to live one day in a month, as monks), restrictions regarding worldly enjoyments, and support to the community-those were the claims made on the laymen.

One of the reasons why Jainism is more steadfast to life in comparison to Buddhism is the close contact of monks with laymen.

Mahavir had 11 pupils, but only two of them-Sudharman and Indrabhuti-survived their teacher. Sudharman continued to preach the faith. From him the canon was adopted by his pupil, Jambuswami, who is considered the last of the teachers of Jainism. He secured the state of enlightenment and became 'keval'. From Jambuswami canon was transferred (it was transformed by word of mouth) in turn to the four heads of the Jain temples. The last amongst them, Bhadrabahu, started for south of India during the rule of Chandragupta Maurya and it seems reached Ceyclon (Lanka). In the Buddhist 'Mahavamsha', it is said that when the son and daughter of Ashok Maurya went to Ceylon to preach Buddhism, they saw Jain ascetics there.
Soon after Mahavir's death, a split started in the community. With the spread of the religion in new regions, its preachers started to incorporate their own in the unwritten Jain canon, and serious differences arose amongst them. Out of several sects, which arose, two sects played great role in the whole of the history of Jainism and continue to do so even at present. These sects are Digambara and Shvetambara.

The Digambara sect is closer to initial Jainism. First of all, it stands for the ritualistic nudity (the very word 'digambara' means 'clothed in space' or 'clothed in cardinal points') and demands that the images of Tirthankars should not be even adorned. The Shvetambaras i.e. 'clothed in white' protest against full nudity and do not insist on the images of Tirthankars without ornaments.
The Digambaras are more orthodox also in regard to austerity of the ascetics. They consider that a human being, having reached the 'path of salvation', the condition of enlightenment' or 'keval-jnana' does no longer need food and drink and must completely forget all about his body. The Shvetambaras do not agree with this.

In the third century B.C. in Pataliputra an all-Jain synod was held and the first version of the written canon was prepared.

The Digambaras do not accept this canon, affirming that the real ancient canon, created according to the legend by Rishabha is lost. The Shvetambaras adhere to the canon which was accepted in Pataliputra and consider it the right one.

Digambaras do not agree that Mahavir was married and elevate chastity to the level of a dogma of his whole life. Shvetambaras consider that he was married but assume that he became a real ascetic only after he left his family at the age of 30.

As distinct from Shvetambaras, Digambaras consider that a woman cannot secure full freedom on way to salvation (as regards this notion, the Shvetambaras are nearer to the teaching of Mahavir than Digambar).

Amongst both the Digambaras and the Shvetambaras, there are castes but the former do not observe caste-restrictions. When marriages are effected, they regard their set as one common sect. Shvetambaras adopt rather more caste prohibitions and observe caste endogamy.
The friendship of Mahavir with Makhali Gosala, the head of anti-brahmin sect of Ajivikas, who came from slave origin, speaks of the great liberalism of ancient Jainism and possibly of active counteraction to it.

Mahavir travelled with him for six years, preaching truth about the futility of reliance on the posthumous life of the soul, about uselessness of sacrificial offerings and about the necessity for the ascetic to expose his body. This preaching was similar to the teaching of Ajivikas.
Many a scholar considered that Mahavir and Buddha were one and the same person and Buddhism and Jainism were two branches of the same teaching, out of which Buddhism originated earlier.

Herman Jacobi, a profound scholar of Jain and Buddhist literature thoroughly compared all legends connected with Mahavir and Buddha and also the basic tenets of their teachings and showed that they preached independently of each other (although in the historically close period).

According to Jacobi, similarity in names of the parents of Mahavir and Buddha testifies to the fact that such names were very much widespread amongst Kshatriyas.

The facts of lives of both, as described in the works of ancient Indian literature are completely different. Thus, Jacobi writes that Buddha and Mahavir were born in different geographical spots (let us add: and also at different periods). Buddha's mother died soon after his birth. Mahavir's parents lived for 30 years after his birth. Buddha became an ascetic against the will of his father and when he was alive, mahavir became an ascetic after his father's death and with the consent of Kshatriyas. Buddha was a devotee for six years, Mahavir, twelve years. Buddha did not appreciate the ascetic feats (neither his own nor of others). Mahavir considered that these were necessary (to this day the Jain ascetics spend 12 years as devotees for 'securing perfection'). In the early Buddhism, worship of statues and other portrayals of preachers of religion was censured. In Jainism, such worship was always taken for granted. The names of Buddha's pupils do not coincide with those of Mahavir. The two died at different times and at different places.

Moreover, the word 'Tirthankar' (boatman across the ocean of existence), used by the Jains as the most venerable epithet for their ancient preachers of religion, signifies in Buddhism founders of heretics. The fact that amongst both Buddhists and Jains such epithets as buddha, sarvajnya (all-knowing), mukta (liberated), jeena (conqueror) etc. were prevalent, only shows that these attributes, applied to religious preachers, were widespread. Besides, Jacobi observes that Buddhists used one group of such attributes, while Jains preferred other ones.

Many scholars (Colebrooke, Radhakrishnan, etc.) attempt to show that Jainism existed before Buddhism. Colebrooke justifies his viewpoint by saying that the teaching of Jains about the existence of soul in each living being is traced back to primitive animism.

Jacobi considers that although the Buddhist and Jain Communities arose and developed independently of each other, they borrowed much from Brahmin ascetics, not only from philosophy and moral prescriptions, but also from the custom of using the same obligatory things. It is true, he makes a reservation there viz., that the author of the Sanskrit treatise Baudhayana' in which all the prescriptions to the ascetics are collected, lived after Buddha (and this also means after Mahavir).

In order to express her disagreement with the viewpoint that the Brahmanic ascetics served as an example for the creation of Jain monastic community, and to express her own reflections in this context, the writer of the present book had already cited all the proofs which were accessible to her.

Many rulers of ancient Bihar rendered patronage to the Jain community, which possibly testifies to the long acquaintance of its population with Jainism. Chetaka, the most famous ruler of Lichhavi gave his sister Trisala to Jain Siddhartha in marriage, and from this marriage Mahavir was born. Representatives of the dynasty of Shaishunaga (sixth century B.C.)- Bimbisara and Ajatshatru-were, according to legend, related to Mahavir and professed Jainism. The members of the Nanda dynasty (fifth-sixth centuries B.C.) were Jains. According to Jain legends Chandragupta Maurya was also a Jain and lived as an ascetic for 12 years and died in Shravanbelgol in Mysore. Some others consider that Ashoka Maurya also professed Jainism in youth and introduced this religion in Kashmir (confirmation of this is found in the Kashmirian chronicle 'Rajatarangini'). Samprati, grandson of Ashoka greatly contributed to the spread of Jainism.

Kharavela the illustrious ruler of the Kalinga state (whose people knew Jainism from the time of Parshva, i.e. from the eighth century B.C.), living in the second century B.C. was one of the warmest patrons of Jainism. In Kalinga, Jainism was known as far back as the eighth century B.C. and evidently, it penetrated in southern India through Kalinga.

This religion had spread also in Bengal before the seventh century A.D. Suan Tsyan writes that there were many nude ascetics, called 'nirgrantha' (even at present in several places in Bengal statues of Tirthankaras are worshipped but they are called not Jeena but Bhairav i.e. Shiva).
Thus we see that this religious faith had spread widely in the first millennium B.C. precisely in the eastern regions of India, populated mainly by non-Aryan peoples. But the establishment of Aryan domination, the spread of the institution of varna and caste-structure and also the institution of Brahmanism, led to the departure of Jains and their religious teachers from Bihar. The teaching of Digambaras spread in South India and of Shvetambaras mainly in North India and gradually became more known in its western regions.

Suan Tsyan observes that in the seventh century A.D., Jainism was strong only in the homeland of Mahavir, i.e. in Vaishali but in the succeeding centuries Brahmanism forced it out from there also and this religion was practically forgotten in the eastern regions of India.

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