Antiquity Of Jainism

Ancient history of India reveals that there were three major religions in India. They were the Brahaminism, the Buddhism and the Jainism (Nirgranthas). Latest research and excavation at Mohenjodaro and Harappa has shown that the Jainism existed five thousand years ago, however the Jains believe it to be eternal.

“There is truth in the Jain idea that their religion goes back to a remote antiquity, the antiquity in question being that of the pre-Aryan, so called Dravidian illuminated by the discovery of a series of great late stone-age cities in Indus valley, dating back to third and perhaps even fourth millennium B. C.” 1

Claims of Eternity

Naturally the followers of every religious faith proclaim their religion as having its source in antiquity and Jains are no exception to this. The traditions and the legendary accounts prove the existence of Jainism as eternal. Twenty-four Tirthankaras in each half cycle reveal Jainism again and again in every cyclic period of the universe. The Jains divide the whole span of time into two equal cycles, namely, Utsarpini and Avasarpini. During Utsarpini, there is a gradual increase in moral and physical state of the universe, while during Avasarpini, the case is just the opposite, i.e. the gradual decrease in moral and physical state of universe. Each of these two is subdivided into six aras each extending from twenty-two thousands of years to crores of years. These time-cycles go on forever and the humans like us rise to be Tirthankaras (Jina) at regular intervals. They, themselves, practice the eternal principles of Jainism and attain omniscience (Kevaljnan) and preach and expound us the same.

Pre-Aryan Roots

Almost all the scholars agree that Jainism has Pre-Aryan roots in the cultural history of India. As Dr. A. N. Upadhye remarked — “The origins of Jainism go back to the pre-historic times. They are to be sought in the fertile valley of Ganga, where they flourished in the past, even before the advent of Aryans with their priestly religion, a society of recluses who laid much stress on individual exertion, on practice of a code of morality and devotion to austerities, as means of attaining religious Summum Bonum.” 2

In the same vein Joseph Campbell, commented “Sankhya and Yoga represented a later psychological sophistication of principles preserved in Jainism. They together are theory and practice of a single philosophy.” 3

Other scholars such as Prof. Buhler4, H. Jacobi, J.G.R. Forlong, Dr. Hornell, Pt. Sukhalalji, Prof. Vidyalankara, Acharya Tulasi, Prof. G.C.Pandey and others believe that Jainism is one of the earliest known religious systems prevailing in India amongst the non-Aryan races which belonged to Indus valley civilization.

In the Buddhist scripture Majjima Nikaya, Buddha himself tells us about his ascetic life and its ordinances which are in conformity with the Jain monk’s code of conduct. He says, “Thus far, SariPutta, did I go in my penance? I went without clothes. I licked my food from my hands. I took no food that was brought or meant especially for me. I accepted no invitation to a meal.” Mrs. Rhys Davis has observed that Buddha found his two teachers Alara and Uddaka at Vaisali and started his religious life as a Jain.

In Dighanikaya’s Samanna Phal Sutta, the four vows of Lord Parshvanath (who flourished 250 years before Mahavira’s liberation) have been mentioned. Attakatha of Anguttara Nikaya has reference to Boppa Sakya a resident of Kapilvastu who was the uncle of Buddha and who followed the religion of the Nigganathas i.e. Jains. 5

Critical and comparative study has brought to light several words like ‘Ashrava’, “Samvara’ etc., which have been used by Jains in the original sense but which have been mentioned in Buddhist Literature in figurative sense. On the basis of these words Dr. Jacobi has concluded that Jainism is much older than the religion of Buddha and therefore it is incorrect to imagine Jainism as the offshoot of Buddhism. 5

Some historians think that Jainism existed, no doubt, much prior to Buddhism, but it is a protestant creed which revolted against the sacrifices of the Vedic cult. The advanced researchers show that the above stand has no foundation. The respectable and reliable sacred books of the Hindus themselves establish the most ancient nature of Jain thought. Rigveda, the oldest Hindu scripture refers to Lord Rishabha Deo, who was the founder of Jainism. It also talks about Vaman Avtar-incarnation, who is the 15th incarnation amongst the 24 incarnation. Rishabha’s name comes as the 9th incarnation Vishnu. Rishabha’s name occurs before Vaman or Dwarf Ram, Krishna, and Buddha incarnations. Therefore it is quite clear that Rishabha must have flourished long before the composition of Rigveda. The great scholar Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, ex-president of Indian Union, in his ‘India Philosophy’ had observed, “Jain tradition ascribes the origin of the system to Rishabhadeva, the first Tirthankara. There is no doubt that Jainism prevailed even before Vardhaman or Parsvanath. The Yajurveda mentions the name of three Tirthankaras-Rishabha, Ajitnath and Arshtanemi. The Bhagwat Puran endorses the view that Rishabhadeva was the founder of Jainism.” (Vol. II, p. 286) 5

The excavations made at Mohenjodaro and Harappa show that Jainism existed five thousands years ago, because the pose of the standing deities on the Indus seals resembles the pose of standing image of Rushabhadeo obtained from Mathura. The feeling of abandonment that characterizes the standing figure of the Indus seals, three to five (Plate II, I G.N.) with a bull in the foreground may be the prototype of Rishabha. (Modern review Agust 1932 – Sindha Five Thousand Years Ago). The poet Jinasena in his Mahapurana has spoken of Rishabha as Yogishwara. Therefore, the Indus valley excavated material glaringly establishes the fact that the founder of Jainism belonged to the pre-Vedic period. The nude Jain idol of 320B.C. in Patna Museum, of Lohanipur helps us to support the above contention. 5

The renowned Jain scholar Prof. A. Chakravarty’s researches have brought to light priceless material, which proves the most ancient nature of Jain thought. When the Aryan invaders had come to India, the Dravidians, who inhibited this land vehemently, opposed them. The Rigveda Aryan thinkers refer to these Anti-Aryan Dravidians as enemies and therefore, called them in uncomplimentary terms. They were called ‘Dasyus’. The Aryan god Indra is hailed as Dasyushatya, slaughterer of Dasyus. These enemies were styled as ‘Ayajvan’-non sacrificing, ‘Akraman’ without rites, ‘Adevaya’ indifferent to gods, ‘Anyavrata’ following strange ordinances and ‘Devapeeya’ reviling the gods. They are described as black skinned and ‘Anas’, snub-nosed. The other epithet was ‘Mridhravac’ unintelligible speech. Oriental scholars are of opinion, probably rightly, that these races of Dasyus who opposed the Aryans were the Dravidians, who inhabited the land, when the Aryans invaded the country. They are called ‘Sisnadevas’, because they worshipped the nude figure of man. 5

The critical study of some Vedic Hymns like Nadsiya Sukta shows that there must have been a peculiar current of thought existing in the pre-Vedic period which influenced the Vedas. Dr. Mangaldev feels that “Jain Philosophy might be a branch of the pre-Vedic current of thoughts. Some Jain terms like ‘Pudgal’ – matter supports the aforesaid point.” 5

A glance over the glorious past of Jainism reveals the fact that the lives of Rushabhadeo and the succeeding twenty-three Tirthankaras had deeply impressed the entire world culture. When the Alexander invaded India he came across a host of nude Jain saints in Taxila whom the Greek writers call ‘Gymnosophists.’ The Greek word connotes the nude philosopher. The mystic group of Israel, called the Essenes, was much influenced by these ‘Gymnosophists’, who were preaching their message of Ahimsa, the central truth in Jainism to the people of Alexandra in Egypt. Historical records tell us that the Greeks were much influenced by Jain thoughts. Alexander had taken one Jain saint, Calanes, with him to his country. 5

It is to be noted that the Essenes of Israel were ascetics who followed the tenets of Ahimsa. They had great hold upon the people and they commanded deep influence in Palestine. John the Baptist was an ascetic teacher of this school of Essenism. Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity was much influenced by John’s Non-violence group and other teachers of Essenism. In six hundred B. C. this group of Non-violence was progressing beyond Syria and Palestine. The Jain teachings have also influenced Pythagoras, the philosopher of pre-Socratic period, who flourished in 532 B. C. and led the non-violence way of life. During this period Lord Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara, whom the ignorant people called the founder of Jainism, was living. Perhaps Lord Mahavira’s teaching had influenced the people of far off countries. 5

In his book, The Magic of Numbers, E. T. Bell (p. 87) tells that once Pythagoras saw a citizen beating his dog with a stick, whereupon the merciful philosopher shouted, “Stop beating that dog. In this howls of pain I recognize the voice of a friend…For such sin as you are committing he is now the dog of a harsh master. By the next turn the wheel of birth may make him the master and you the dog. May he be more merciful to you than you are to him. Only thus can he escape the wheel. In the name of Apollo, My father, stop or I shall be compelled to say on you the ten fold curse of the Teteractyas.” This reveals the effect of Jainism. 5

Process of Synthesis

Evidently, with the emergence of Upanisada era (about 800 B. C. and after) the process of synthesis of non-Aryan Sramana and Aryan Vedic cultures started. The social, economic and political interaction between Aryan settlers and their more advanced non-Aryan counter parts, enriched their knowledge of the former. They began to interpret their Vedas in the light of this enhanced knowledge. At this stage, a recapitulation of periodic division of early Indian history would be of some interest to understand the long process of integration of the non-Aryan and Aryan cultures, Roughly, the period corresponding to 3500 B. C. to 1500 B. C. is considered to be the period of Indus valley civilization of non-Aryan races in India. This coincides with the Sumerian and Akkad civilizations of Middle east, prospered in about 2300 B. C. (They were also river valley civilizations) and Minoan civilization of Crete. Thus the period corresponding over two thousand years can be carved out for River valley civilization which spread over northern and western parts of India extending upto Saurastra in Gujrat. It is a story which is five to six thousand years ago. 6

Aryan invasion of India dated approximately before 1500 B. C., i.e., about three to four thousand years ago from today, practically coinciding with the Hellenic invasion of Greece. They seem to have brought some portions of Rigveda and other Vedas with them From 1500 B. C. to 800 B. C. — a period of about 700 years may be termed as Vedic and subsequent Brahmana period. Brahmanas expanded the rules and details for the employment of the Mantras or hymns at various sacrificial rituals. As a result of which the priestly class, with sole and exclusive right of performing rituals gained too much social prominence and virtually dominated the society. During this period the Aryans had completely settled and had fully vanquished the non-Aryan races. Non-Aryans were being absorbed in their social structure principally as Dasyus’ (labor class) and were treated as the second class citizens. However, the Aryans had tremendous capacity to absorb and to assimilate all the new things of life. They not only adopted many cultural and philosophical thinking of their non-Aryan counter parts, but also enriched the same by their own original thoughts. They realized that beyond this mundane existence as well as after life, there is something distinct. For attaining that “something” the propitiation of gods by sacrifices and offerings of livings beings is not the way. When acquainted with the non-Aryan theories of austerities, non-violence, Karma and soul, they realized that “something”, the aim of their pursuit could be apprehended by working on these theories. This becomes quite evident when in Chhandogya Upanisad Risi Aruni explains to his son the newly found secret of the real nature of the self, not taught to him during the course of the long term of his education in existing Vedas (Ref. to the dialogue between Aruni and his son Svetaketu in Chapter on “Ontology of Atman” in this book). Nachiketa of Kathopanisad goes to Yama (God to Death) to learn the science of Atman (soul) by asking the question “When a man dies, does he still exist or not? ” Thus there was a fervent intellectual agitation in the post-Brahmanic period when the Risis of Upanishadas began to challenge the usefulness of the sacrificial rituals and began to apply their minds objectively to the teachings of Sramana traditions of ancient India. This trend had started long before Upanisadic period but it gained momentum only during that period. Twenty-third Tirthankara of Jains, Parsvanatha, recognized now as a historical person, flourished during 872 to 772 B. C., the time when the Upanisadas were getting on full swing. Like his successor Mahavira, Parsva also had a great organizing capacity. He organized the Sramanic order and propounded Chaturyama’ of four principles namely Non-violence (Ahimsa), Truth (Satya), Non-stealing (Asteya) and Restrictions on possession (Aparigraha). His Shramana teachings had great influence on contemporary thinking. And with the advent of Mahavira (527 B. C.) the time became ripe for the final and decisive assault on priestly Brahmanic culture of rituals and violent sacrifices. Both Mahavira and his contemporary Buddha (563 B. C.) led a relentless crusade against the social and cultural evils prevalent at the time. This crusade went on with such a vigor till 8th century A. D., but for the advent of the great Sankara, who assimilated Shramana ideas of Buddhism with his brilliant exposition of Vedanta. Vedic culture would have been practically eclipsed throughout India. Now the Sramanic ideas of non-violence, karma and soul have become so much identified with the Vedic culture that there is absolutely no difference between the attitude of a Jain and a Hindu towards the life’s problems, individual or social. These attitudes are so identical that unless one tells you that he is a Jain by religion one cannot make out from his behavior that he is a non-Hindu by faith. 6

1. Prof. Zimmer: Myths and symbols in India Art and Civilization.

2. See: A Cultural History of India, Clarendon Press, Oxford, P. 100

3. Prof. Zimmer: Philosophies of India, Ed. Joseph Campbell, see editorial, p. 60

4. Prof. Buhler: Indian Sect of Jainism

5. Diwakar S. C., Glimpse of Jainism, Published by Shri Bharatvarshiya Digambar Jain Mahasabha

6. Mehta T. U., The Path of Arhat A religious Democracy, Published by Parsvanath Sodhapitha