Jainism and other religions

Jainism and other religions

As Jainism, in all respects, is a religion of India, it has very close relations with other main religions of India like Hinduism and Buddhism. Formerly, it was thought that Jainism was a branch either of Buddhism or of Hinduism. But now it is an established fact that Jainism is a distinct religion of India and not a branch of any other religion. Similarly, it is also accepted that Jainism is an ancient religion of India and that it is older not only than Buddhism but also older than Vedic religion of the Hindus.

Since Jainism, Hinduism and Buddhism, the three important ancient religions of India, have been living side by side for the last so many centuries, it is natural that they have influenced one another in many respects. It is also a fact that with the advent of Islam in India during the medieval period, Jainism and Islam came in contact and began to influence each other. In this way, intimate relations were established between Jainism and other major religions of India like Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. It is, therefore, worthwhile to see the nature of these relations so that our understanding of these religions will be more clear and our conception of Jaina religion will be more perfect.


In matters like theories of rebirth and salvation, descriptions of heaven, earth and hell, and belief in the fact that the prophets of religion take birth according to prescribed rules, we find similarities between Jainism and Hinduism. Since the disappearance of Buddhism from India, the Jainas and Hindus came closer to each other and that is why in social and religious life the Jains on the whole do not appear to be much different from the Hindus. In matters like dress and ornaments, occupations and professions, games and amusements, language and literature, outlook on life and behavior, superstitions, beliefs and practices, religious festivals and fasts, sacraments and rituals, there are various common things between Jainas and Hindus, and especially the vegetarian Hindus, in various geographical regions of India. In fact there are certain castes whose members are found in both the Hindus and the Jainas and to some extent marital relations are still maintained between the Jaina and Hindu sections of the same caste.

From these similarities between the Jainas and the Hindus, it should not be considered that the Jainas are a part of the Hindus or Jainism is a branch of Hinduism. On the contrary, if we compare Jainism and Hinduism, we find that the differences between them are very great and that their agreement is in respect of a few particulars only concerning the ordinary mode of living. Even the ceremonies which appear to be similar are in reality different in respect of their purport if carefully studied.

Hence the significant differences between Jainism and Hinduism can be briefly noted as follows:


The sacred books of the Hindus like Vedas, Smrtis, Puranas etc. are not accepted by the Jainas and the Hindus also do not recognize even a single scripture of the Jainas.

Origin of the world

While the Jainas regard the world as eternal, the Hindus hold it to have been made by a creator.

Objects of worship

In Jainism, worship is not offered to an eternal and eternally pure God, but to those great ones who have realized their high ideal and attained Godhood for themselves; in Hinduism worship is performed of many forms of one God who is the creator and the ruler of the world.

Purpose of worship

The significance of worship in Hinduism is also not the same as that in Jainism. In Jainism, there is no offering of food and the like, nor is a prayer made to the deity for boons. On the other hand, in Hinduism the attainment of the desired object is by the will of certain divine beings who are to be propitiated.

Practice of sacrifices

As Hinduism is a sacrificial religion, the performance of several sacrifices for a variety of reasons and for different duration has got an important place in it. This is not the case with Jainism and especially the animal sacrifices practiced by the Hindus have absolutely no place in Jainism.

Attainment of Salvation

While the Hindus believe that Gods alone can attain salvation, the Jainas consider that it is, the right of human beings only.

Path of salvation

The path of salvation prescribed by Jainism is only one and it is known as Ratnatraya-marga, i.e., the threefold path of Right Belief, Right Knowledge and Right Conduct, which is to be simultaneously pursued by all persons. But in Hinduism, there is no prescription of one single, definite and clear path of salvation. Instead, in Hinduism different ways have been laid down for the attainment of salvation by various religious preachers in different periods of time.

Idea about karma

The Hindus regard Karma as an invisible power but the Jainas think it as a form of matter which can stick to the soul.

Religious concepts

In Jainism there are various concepts like dharma, adharma, lesya, gunasthana etc., which are not found in Hindu spiritual ideology.

Principles in Logic

In the systems of Jaina logic there are distinctive principles like Syadvada, Nayavada, Niksepa etc.. which are not found in the Hindu system.

The liberated soul

According to Hinduism, the liberated soul enjoys eternal happiness in heaven or gets merged with Brahman i.e., the Primeval Being, the originator of the world. But as per Jainism, the soul after liberation remains for ever at the top of the loka, i.e., universe.

Religious objects

The Jaina deities, temples, places of pilgrimage, holy days, fasts, festivals, rituals and ceremonies are quite different from those of the Hindus.

Religious Practices

The peculiar Hindu practices like niyoga, i.e., levirate and sati, i.e., ascending the funeral pyre of the husband, are not approved by the Jainas. Further, a large number of Hindu religious practices. which are repugnant to Jainism, have been termed as mudhatas or stupid customs and beliefs and the true Jainas are required to be absolutely free from them. They are sun-worship, bath during eclipses, giving away money at the end of eclipses, fire-worship, the worship of edifices, ceremonial bathing in rivers and the ocean, adoration of trees, sacred offerings of boiled rice, religious suicide by falling from a precipice, bowing at the tail of a cow and taking cow’s urine, etc.

From the facts mentioned above, it is evident that there are several items of religion on which there are basic differences between Jainism and Hinduism. It is also pertinent to note that these differences are persisting even up to the present day.


Regarding the relation between Jainism and Buddhism, the opinion of early European scholars was divided. While one group consisting of E. Thomas, Stevenson, Colebrook and others thought that Jainism is older than Buddhism, yet the other group of orientalists like H.H. Wilson, Lassen and others hold that Jainism was an off-shoot of Buddhism because outwardly certain points were common to both and their land of origin and early activities was the same. This question whether Jainism was a precursor to Buddhism or not, was settled for good in a scholarly manner by the researches of two great German orientalists, namely, Jacobi and Buhler. It is now an established fact that Jainism is not a branch of Buddhism but is an independent religion and that it was flourishing when Lord Gautama Buddha founded his new religion.

There are many similarities between Jainism and Buddhism. Both are Indian religions in every sense of the term and both are representatives of Sramana culture in India; while Hinduism is the representative of Brahman culture in India. As such both Jainism and Buddhism:

  1. do not regard Vedas of the Hindus as authoritative and binding;

  2. do not accept the permanent power of God as the creator of the world;

  3. do strongly oppose the violent or animal sacrifices;

  4. do assign prominent place of sadhus and sadhvis, i.e., religious ascetic organizations. Further, both Tirthankar Mahavira and Lord Gautama Buddha hailed from Magadha, i.e., modern Bihar, were contemporaries and had many common points in their lives and activities.

In spire of these similarities, we do find that there are some basic differences between Jainism and Buddhism as follows:

Nature of Religion

Buddhism belongs to the category of ‘Founded Religion’ as it was founded by a specific person viz.. Lord Gautama Buddha, at a particular period of time i.e.. in the sixth century B.C. But this cannot be said about Jainism which is a traditional religion continuously existing in India from remote Past.

Concept of Soul

Jainism is an atmavadi religion in the sense that it is based on the existence of soul and that it deals, in detail, with various aspects, conditions and progress of the soul till it reaches its highest position after getting liberated from the bondage of karmas. But Buddhism holds completely contrary views. Buddhism is, therefore, termed as anatmavadi; religion i.e., a religion which does not give any importance to the soul. According to Buddhism, soul is not a permanent thing and that it will wither away in due course.

Principles of Ahimsa

Even though Buddhism and Jainism are regarded as religions based on the fundamental principle of ahimsa still there is a significant difference in the treatment and application of the principle of ahimsa in actual practice by both religions. Buddhism deals with the principle of ahimsa in a limited way in the sense that it enjoins upon its followers not to commit himsa themselves only. That is why a Buddhist can eat fish caught by others. But Jainism not only considers the principle of ahimsa in all its aspects, but also makes it obligatory on its followers to abstain from committing himsa in nine possible ways. In other words, it is expected of a devout Jaina that he should not commit himsa through manas (i.e., mind), vachana (i.e., speech) and kaya (i.e., body) and each through the manner of krta (i.e., personally committed), karita (i.e., commissioned through others) and anumodita (i.e., giving consent for commitment by others).

Practice of Penance

It is true that both Jainism and Buddhism are considered as ascetic religions as they attach prominence to the ascetic way of life and to the practice of penance. But there is a great difference in the extent of practice of penance in both religions. Jainism always lays utmost stress on the strict observance of the practice of asceticism in all possible ways. In fact, Jaina asceticism is considered as most difficult in the world and for its proper observance in practice, elaborate rules and regulations have been laid down giving rise to what is known as monastic jurisprudence. But Buddhism has shown complete aversion to extreme asceticism and in its place, it has laid down madhyam-marga i.e.. the ‘Middle Path’ lying between complete laxity and extreme asceticity.


In contrast to Jainism, Islam is a religion of non-Indian origin and that too of a mono-theistic type. But it is a fact that Islam flourished in India for many centuries as a religion of the rulers of India. As such, both Jainism and Islam came in close contact with each other for a long time and naturally influenced each other. As a result we find that there was a great impact of Muslim Architecture and Painting on the Jaina Architecture and Painting. Similarly, the arts of the architecture and painting developed by the Jainas had exerted their influence on the Muslims. This is why Muslims found it very convenient and easy to convert the Jaina temples into mosques. Many examples of such conversion are found in Rajasthan and Gujarat. But the most prominent and lasting impact ofIslam on the Jainas was in the field of their practice of idol-worship. Considering the strict opposition of the Muslims to idol-worship and their policy of destruction of idols, some Jaina thinkers like Lonka Shah began to show their inclination towards non-idolatry in Islam and ultimately it gave rise to the establishment of non-idolatrous sub-sects of Sthanakvasis among the Svetambara sect and of Taranpatha among the Digambara sect of Jainism during the medieval period of Muslim domination in the central and western regions of India.