A study of the philosophy of Jainism

by Deepa Baruah | 2017 | 46,858 words

This page describes the Historical background of Jainism from the study of the philosophy of Jainism: one of the oldest religions in India having its own metaphysics, philosophy and ethics. Jainism is regarded as an ethical system where non-violence features as an important ethical value.

Chapter I.a - Historical background of Jainism

The exact time of Jainism cannot be determined. The Jainas themselves believe that Jainism has existed since eternity and it has no beginning and no end. Most of the saints of Jainism belonged to remote ages; millions and billions years ago. The word Jaina is derived from the word jina which means conqueror, i.e., one who has conquered his passions and desires. Jaina religion may be described, in its very elemental features, as a Ārya or Indian sectarian religion. In the Census of India, it is stated that “The Jaina religion like Buddhism is held to have been originally an offshoot from Hinduism, and many Jainas still continue to consider themselves as members of the Hindu community, will intermarry with Hindus and take part in their festivals”. The origin and growth of Jainism were the consequence of both pre-Āryan and Āryan influence. However, the influence of the Brāhmaṇic thought and practices also cannot be denied.

Scholars like Colebrooke, E. Thomas etc. believe that Jainism is older than Buddhism. There are, on the other hand, some scholars like Wilson, Weber etc. who believed that Jainism is an off-shot of Buddhism. But another scholar Jacobi denies the later view. He stoutly refuted that Jainism is not an off-shoot of Buddhism. He wrote, “notwithstanding the radical difference in their philosophical notions, Jainism and Buddhism, being originally both orders of monk outside the pale of Brāhmaṇism present some resemblance in outward appearance, so that even Indian writers occasionally have confounded them. It is, therefore, not to be wondered at that some European scholars who became acquainted with Jainism through in adequate samples of Jaina literature easily persuaded them that it was an off-shoot of Buddhism. But it has since been proved beyond doubt that this theory is wrong, and that Jainism is at least as old as Buddhism”. Jacobi had tried to prove the view on the basis of literary evidence. For the sake of his arguments, he had explained that Mahāvīra and Gautama Buddha, both were contemporary. Gautama Buddha was the founder of the Buddhism, while Mahāvīra was only the reformer of the other

Tīrthaṅkaras views rather than profounder of Jainism. It is believed that twenty-four Tīrthaṅkaras are the guide and supervisor of this philosophical system, where Ṛṣabhadeva was the first and Vardhamāna or Mahāvīra was the last.

The Jainas maintain that the main propounders of Jainism are the twentyfour Tīrthaṅkaras. The first Tīrthaṅkara Ṛṣabhadeva is considered as the founder of this system. The last Tīrthaṅkara Vardhamāna, who is also known as Mahāvīra is said to have lived in the 6 century B.C. during the time of Gautama Buddha. All the twenty-four Tīrthaṅkaras are also known as jinas. It is because they have conquered all passions (rāga and dveṣa) and have attained liberation.These Tīrthaṅkarasappeared in the world in different cosmic periods, which consist of an age of evolution and growth, followed by an age of dissolution and decay. The former is called utsarpiṇī and the latter is called avasarpiṇī. All the twenty-four Tīrthaṅkarasappeared in the period of avasarpiṇī.

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