Man is endowed with the faculty of
thinking. On gaining
self-consciousness, he tries to
understand the meaning of life and the nature of the universe around him.
He gropes in various directions. Such speculation culminates in systematic
reasoning. His quest produces some
results. He forms certain concepts and adopts a course of action for
advancement. Man has been involved in these exercises since the beginning
of time, Such an endeavor of human intellect gives rise to philosophy - a
theory of life and the nature of the universe, and religion - a code of
conduct for spiritual advancement.
The dawn of the "Historical Period"
sometime between the tenth and seventh centuries before Christ, is
remarkable in the
history of mankind. The period witnessed
an upsurge of human spirit and endeavor. Intense waves of activity of the
human intellect swept many lands where man had emerged from the Bronze
Age. Zoroaster gave a new creed to Iran; Confucius and Laotse taught
wisdom to China; Jews in their Babylonian captivity developed unflinching
faith in Jehovah; Greece emerged as the pioneer of European culture, and
her philosophers tackled the problems of life and existence; Rome was
At this time, the situation in India was
quite different. A highly complex civilization and a noble culture had
flourishing in the country for centuries
(1). There had been a continuous upheaval of mind and spirit, and an all
pervasive effervescence was weaving the fabric of Indian culture. The
centuries old dream of universal conquerors (chakravartis), both in
political as well as in religious fields, was in the process of being
realized. It is evident from the philosophy of the Upanishads that human
intelligence and metaphysical concepts had sufficiently developed in India
before the emergence of the so-called dawn of the "Historical Period". The
foundations had been laid down on which the six systems of Indian
philosophy were later built. The ideas developed by the sages of the
Upanishads led to expectations which
were fulfilled in later periods. They provide us with the evidence that
different points of view had begun to emerge. The considerable
intellectual activity going on in
different directions was awaiting its full philosophical maturity.
The sixth century B.C. marked the
beginnings of philosophical speculations in many lands, particularly in
Greece. However, in India, it was the age of considerable philosophical
progress. Elsewhere philosophy and religion pursued quite different and
independent paths. Although the two had, at times, crossed paths and one
had influenced the other, philosophy and religion never merged into one.
In India on the other hand, it was and still is not possible to
differentiate between the two. Unlike the Greek, the Indian philosophy was
not confined to the academies. It became the religion of the masses. While
the Indian sages and intellectual thinkers found solutions for the
problems of life and existence that were basically philosophical, their
teachings created and shaped components of a religious system. In course
of time, these thinkers became prophets and saints for their religious
DEVELOPMENTS IN INDIAN CULTURE
There have been two parallel
developments of thought in the main stream of Indian philosophy; one
emphasizing the principle of self-discipline and nonviolence (ahimsa), and
the other, the sacrificial duties, for the salvation of human beings.
There is evidence to suggest that the religious and philosophical ideas
were present in the consciousness of the people even before the arrival of
Aryan races in India.
In the sixth century B.C., there was an
upsurge of ideas leading to new philosophical tenets and religious
systems, often of a revolutionary character. The growth of the new
systems and philosophical doctrines
modified the outlook of the future. These systems had very little in
common with the Vedic rituals. Freedom of thoughts was their common
feature. The Brahminical scriptures have formulated four life stages
(ashrams); The student, the householder,
the hermit and the ascetic. In this scheme, the last two stages developed
a class of wandering ascetics, who freed themselves from the obligations
of prevailing religious ideas and practices, and thought out a new the
fundamental problems of life and existence. Their number increased and
their constant movements brought them into frequent association with one
another. The result was a vigorous reorientation of the religious life and
a twofold reaction ensued.
First, the thinking mind was in search
of higher knowledge (para vidya) which was indestructible (aksharam). The
philosophical mind of the Upanishads
turned to VEDANTA(2)
while revolting against the sacrifices.
This introduced a new element of of enlightenment (Jnana marg) through
meditation (Dhyan) instead of the traditional approach of sacrificial work
(karma marg). Meditation was assigned a higher value in the new scheme of
philosophical development. As a result, more intrepid thinkers arose, some
who wanted to disregard the Vedas completely and who openly rebelled
against them. Jainism and Buddhism, among others, reflected a powerful
systematic and philosophical departure from the massive and elaborate
Vedic sacrifices and ceremonies.
Second, there grew a monotheistic
movement which denied the necessity, if not also the reality, of the Vedic
gods together with the preeminence of the Brahmins in spiritual matters,
and accepted devotion (bhakti marg) as the way of pleasing Gods such as
Vishnu or Shiva.
The intellectuals, while rejecting the
Vedas as a source of knowledge and devotion, emphasized a vigorous system
discipline based on a code of moral and
spiritual behavior. They were also averse to the inequities of the caste
system, particularly to the high pretensions of the Brahmins. They were
termed by the defenders of tradition and orthodoxy as
"heterodox" thinkers. They believed that
life was full of ills, and escape could be effected only through
meditation on devotion to the highest truth.
With the rise of the heterodox movement,
the mass of sacrifices and ceremonies which were inculcated and supported
authority of the Vedas began to fade
away. A new and powerful religious current of the quest of the Absolute
originated. This idea progressively acquired a predominant character of
the Indian culture in future generations.
Dr. K. M. Munshi has described its
development in the following words:
Long before the dawn of the "Historical
Period" a central idea was already becoming clear from a mass of
incoherent urges which went under the generic name of dharma. Man was not
a struggling worm but a `self', of an essence with a supraphysical destiny
which can only be attained by a mastery over the misery which was man's
lot on earth; this mastery in its turn can only be achieved by integrating
personality by self-discipline so as to raise the `self' above the flux of
passing sense experience. The discipline implied a double process, the
relinquishment of the greed for life and the broadening of the personal
self into a universal self. The end of this discipline was variously
emancipation (mukti, moksha)
In substance it was absolute integration
of human personality (kaivalya) freed from the limitations of attachment
It was this experience of different
philosophical theories and interpretations that Mahavir inherited. A stage
was reached when the problems of life and mysteries of the universe could
be unraveled without presupposing the existence of God or the revelation
of His will. Vardhamana Mahavir and Gautama Buddha provided the strong
base for this intellectual make up of the country. Bhagwan Mahavir
attempted to build a logical system of intellectual pursuit and religious
organization based on
individual experience, by individual
effort and for individual salvation.
Jainism contains the traces of the
earliest developments of philosophical thinking in the history of mankind.
It has been generally recognized that Jain philosophy was sufficiently
advanced before the tenth century B.C. Earlier glimpses of Jainism have,
however, been lost in the antiquity, and the available sources of
information do not provide hope of
recovering them. According to the
traditional Jain literature, there have been twenty-four Tirthankaras who
reinstated the religious order at various times. The historical details of
the first twenty-two Tirthankars are not known, although traditional
account of them found in Jain literature is not altogether insufficient to
understand the line of Jain thought. According to traditional information,
Jainism was propagated by the
kshatriya (of warrior class) princes. It
repudiated, explicitly or implicitly, the Brahminical claim that the Vedas
infallible sources of spiritual truth
and the rituals prescribed therein, the means of salvation.
The lives and teachings of the last two
Tirthankars, Bhagwan Parshvanath and Bhagwan Mahavir, are historical
facts. From their times onwards, we get an accurate outline of the growth
of Jain religion and philosophy. Historically, it is recognized that long
before the Christian Era, Jain metaphysical thought had crystallized into
a definite school of philosophy. It marked a considerable departure from
the Vedic system and was, therefore, looked upon as a heterodox system. It
was not merely a reform of the orthodox religion, but an altogether
separate religious system.
1. The Story of Civilization: Part I.
Our Oriental Heritage by Will Durant, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1935,
2. The essence of the Vedas, which is
the last portion of the Vedic literature.
3. The History and Culture of the Indian
People: The Age of Imperial Unity, Vol, II. R. C. Majumdar, General
Bharatiya Vidya Bhayan, Bombay, 1968.