A study of the philosophy of Jainism

by Deepa Baruah | 2017 | 46,858 words

This page describes the Two sects of Jainism (Shvetambara and Digambara) 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.d - Two sects of Jainism (Śvetāmbara and Digambara)

The Śvetāmbara and the Digambara are the two sects of the Jainas. They are again sub-divided into three sub-sects. The sub-division of Śvetāmbaras is: Mūrtipūjaka, Sthānakavāsī, and Terāpanthī. Bīsapanthī, Terahapanthī, and Tāraṇapanthī are the sub-divisions of Digamgbaras. Among them, Mūrtipūjakas are those who worship images of Tīrthaṅkaras etc. Sthānakavāsīs and Terāpanthīs are non-worshipper. Bīsapanthīs and Terahapanthīs are the believers of the idolworship, but Bīsapanthīs use fruits, flowers etc., while Terahapanthīs use lifeless articles for the same. Tāraṇapanthīs worship scriptures in place of images.

There is no fundamental difference of doctrines between the two divisions. Both the sects have same religious and philosophical beliefs and practically the same mythology. However, some minor differences have been seen even amongst these sub-divisions. The differences were only on some minor details of Jaina religious faiths and practices. The teachings of the jinas are accepted by both the sects. The monks belonging to the Śvetāmbara group wear white clothes and Digambara group wear no clothes. The literal meaning of the word Śvetāmbara is white–clad, whereas Digambara is sky-clad. The following are the main points of differences among them:

1. Two sects have different opinions regarding the food of the kevalī (omniscient). The Digambarasmaintain that a kevalī does not need any intake of food, while the Śvetāmbarasthink that they do. However, this point has no practical value and is only academic, for both the sects are unanimous that nobody is going to become a kevalī in the foreseeable future.

2. Another difference between the two sects is that the Digambarasthink that all Jainaascetics should follow the example of Mahāvīra and remain nude, while the Śvetāmbaras think that the practice of remaining nude known as jinakalpa was given up by the great teachers of the church within a few generations after Mahāvīra and they had started wearing white garments. This practice was known as sthavirakalpa. The present-day ascetics according to the Śvetāmbaras need follow only these great teachers (sthaviras), and it is not necessary to practices the jinakalpa.

3. The Digambara group believes that women cannot obtain liberation but the Śvetāmbara do not believe in it.

4. The Śvetāmbaras believe that Puṣpadanta, who was the ninth Tīrthaṅkara, had a dolphin as a symbol but the Digambaras think that it was the crab.

5. The Śvetāmbaras believe Malli, the nineteenth Tīrthaṅkara, was a woman. The Digambaras believe that as it was not possible for a woman to become a Tīrthaṅkara, so Malli was a male.

6. The Śvetāmbaras hold that there were originally two kind of sacred books, viz., the fourteen Pūrvas and the twelve Aṅgas. While the canonical literature of the Digambaras is divided into two groups, viz., Aṅgapraviṣṭas and Aṅgabāhyas.

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