1. RISE OF SECTIONS IN JAINISM
From the history of Jaina religion upto Mahavira it appears that
sects and sub-sects had not arisen till that time. But later on we find
that various schisms arose in Jaina religion as a result of which Jainism
was divided into several sects and sub-sects. There were various reasons
which contributed to the splitting of Jainism in small sects and
1. Increase in the extent of Jainism
In the first place it may be mentioned that during the lifetime
of Mahavira the spread of Jainism was limited, but after the Nirvana of
Mahavira. his successors and followers succeeded to a large extent in
popularising the religion throughout the length and breadth of India, so
that it did not fail to enlist for a long period the support of kings as
well as commoners. As the number of adherents to the Jaina religion fast
increased and as they were scattered practically in all parts of the
country, the Acharyas, that is, the religious leaders, and the
religious pontiffs must have found it very difficult to look after and
organise their followers. Naturally, different conditions, customs,
manners and ways of life prevailing in different parts of the country in
different periods of time might have influenced in giving rise to various
religious practices which might have ultimately resulted in creating
factions among the followers of Jainism.
2. Interpretation of Jaina Canons
Secondly, the religious doctrines, principles and tenets of
Jainism of they were enunciated and taught by Mahavira were not committed
to writing during the lifetime of Mahavira or immediately after his
Nirvana. The important fact was that the religious teachings of Mahavira
were memorised by his immediate successors and they were thus handed down
by one generation to another, till they were canonised at the Council of
Pataliputra in the early part of the 3rd century B.C. By this time much
water had flown down the Ganges and what was canonised wag not acceptable
to all, who vigorously maintained that the canon did not contain the
actual teachings of Mahavira.
Again, there was the question of interpreting what had been
canonised. As time passed on differences of opinion regarding the
interpretation of many doctrines arose and those who differed established
a separate school of thought and formed themselves into a sect or
3. Revolts against Jaina Religious Authorities
Thirdly, it may be maintained that sects and sub-sects arise as
a direct result of the revolts against the actions and policy of ruling
priests or religious authorities including the heads of the Church. Those
who an at the helm of religious affairs are likely to swerve from their
prescribed path and debase themselves or they are likely to be too strict
in maintaining and preserving the religious practices in a manner they
think it proper, without taking into account the needs of the changing
conditions. In both the cases natural indignation is bound to occur on the
part of the thinking population and there should not be any surprise if
this accumulated indignation and discontent take a turn in formulating and
organising a separate sect. For example, Martin Luther revolted against
the high-handed policy of Popes and Priests in Christian religion and
founded the section of Protestants in that religion. Generally, the same
thing happened in Jaina religion also.
As a result of these factors the Jaina religion which was one
and undivided upto the time of Tirthankara Mahavira and even upto the
beginning of the Christian Era got divided first into the two major sects,
viz. Digambara and Shvetambara, and later on into many sub-sects in each
sect. This has given rise to a number of sections and sub-sections in
Jainism and the process, in one form or another, is still going on.
2. THE TWO MAJOR SECTS
It is worthwhile to see what is the exact difference between the
Digambara and Shvetambara sects of Jainism. Literally Digambara. means.
�sky-clad� and Shvetambara means �white-robed�, that is, the monks of the
Digambaras are naked while those of the Shvetambaras wear white clothes.
In fact, there are no �fundamental doctrinal differences between the two
sects. For example, the most Authoritative sacred text of the Digambaras,
viz. �Tattvarthadhigama Sutra� by Umasvati, is one of the standard texts
also of the Shvetambaras. However, there are some major as well as minor
points on which the two sects are opposed to each other.
(A) Major Points of Differences
The three major points of differences between the Digambaras and
Shvetambaras are as follows:
(i) Practice of Nudity
Digambaras stress the practice of nudity as an absolute
prerequisite to the mendicant�s path and to the attainment of salvation.
But the Shvetambaras assert that the practice of complete nudity is not
essential to attain liberation.
(ii) Liberation of Woman
Digambaras believe that a woman lacks the adamantine body and
rigid will necessary to attain Moksha, ie. liberation; hence, she must be
reborn as a man before such an attainment is possible. But the
Shvetambaras hold the contrary views and maintain that women are capable,
in the present lifetime, of the same spiritual accomplishments as men.
(iii) Food for Omniscient
According to the Digambaras, once a saint becomes a
�Kevali� or �Kevala-jnani�,
that is, omniscient, he needs no
food and he can sustain life without eating. But this view is not
acceptable to the Shvetambaras.
(B) Minor Points of Differences
Leaving aside the trivial differences in rituals, customs and
manners, the following are some of the minor points on which the two,
sects of Digambara and Shvetambara do not agree:
(1) Embryo of Mahavira
The Digambaras assert that Mahavira was born of
Kshatriya lady, Trishaladevi. But the Shvetambaras hold that the embryo of
Mahavira was changed from the womb of Devananda, a Brahmin lady, to that
Marriage of Mahavira
The Digambaras firmly assert that Mahavira remained unmarried
throughout his life. But the Shvetambaras contend that Mahavira was
married to Princess Yashoda at a fairly young age.