Thinkers outside India in
times of Mahavira
Jaina ideas are confined, in modern times, to India. But that does not
seem to be the position in the past. As we have already noted, 6th Century
B.C. was the period of great intellectual fervor in Greece and countries
did not remain entirely isolated. Even before the dawn of history the
Indus valley culture of India was closely connected with the contemporary
cultures in Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. The commercial links between the
mouths of Indus and Persian Gulf was continuing even in times of Mahavira.
As early as 975 B.C. Phoenicians provided link between Mediterranean and
In about 510 B.C. Darius is said to have sent a Greek mercenary named
Seylax to the mouth of the Indus.
Heredotus (484 B.C.) who flourished round about the time of Mahavira
gives some details about the two races of India - one dark aboriginals and
the other fair looking Aryans. He also makes a reference to a religious
sect in India which ate nothing which had life and lived on grains. This
is a likely reference to Jainas.
In 580 B.C. Pythagoras was born. He seems to have been deeply
influenced by Jaina doctrines of Lord Parsva. H.G.Rawlinson notes in his
Essay on Early contacts between India and Europe as under :
"The most starting of the theories of Pythagoras was that of the
transmigration of the soul from body to body.... Almost all the theories
religious, philosophical and mathematical, though by the Pythagoreans,
were known in India in 6th cent. B.C. and the Pythagoreans, like Jainas
and Buddhists, refrained from the destruction of life and eating meat, and
regarded, certain vegetables, such as beans, as baboo."
He further records in the same essay :
"The theory of metapsychosis plays almost as great a part in Greek as
in Indian religious thought. Both Pythegoras and Empedocles claimed to
possess power of recollecting their past births. Metempsychosis is
referred to in the many passages in Pindat and with the contemporary
doctrine of Karma, it is the key-stone of the philosophy of Plato. The
soul is ever travelling through a ï¿½Cycle of necessity'.
About the Greek philosopher Empedocles, he records:
"Empedocles, besides believing in transmigration, held a number of
tenets which are curiously like those of Kapila, the author of Sankhya-system.
Empedocles, looks on matter as consisting of four elements, earth, water,
air and fire acted upon by the motive forces of love and hate."
During this time China witnessed the ideological impact of two great
personalities of the world, namely Lao-tse and confusius (born 551 B.C.).
Lao-tse's teaching was very much similar to that of Mahavira ï¿½The
wisest thing in life', he says, "...is never to get one self involved in
His philosophy was, "All things in nature do their work quietly. They
become nothing and they possess nothing. They fulfil their purpose and
they crave nothing. All things accomplish their ends; then we see them
recede again. When they have reached their prime they return to their
source. This withdrawal is peace and fulfilment of destiny. This ebb and
flow is an eternal law. To know that law is wisdom."
This, indeed, sounds very much like the sayings of Buddha.