Write a note on the origin, principles and decline of jainism.
The sixth century B.C. is considered a wonderful century in history. Great thinkers like Buddha, Mahavira, Heraclitus, Zoroaster, Confucius and Lao Tse lived and preached their ideas in this century. In India, the republican institutions were strong in the 6th centuryB.C. This enabled rise of heterodox sects against the orthodox religion dominated by rites and rituals. Among them the most successful were Jainism and Buddhism whose impact on the Indian society was remarkable.
Causes for the Rise of Jainism and Buddhism
The primary cause for the rise of Jainism and Buddhism was the religious unrest in India in the 6th century B.C. The complex rituals and sacrifices advocated in the Later Vedic period were not acceptable to the common people. The sacrificial ceremonies were also found to be too expensive. The superstitious beliefs and mantras confused the people. The teachings of Upanishads, an alternative to the system of sacrifices, were highly philosophical in nature and therefore not easily understood by all. Therefore, what was needed in the larger interests of the people was a simple, short and intelligible way to salvation for all people. Such religious teaching should also be in a language known to them. This need was fulfilled by the teachings of Buddha and Mahavira. Other than the religious factor, social and economic factors also contributed to the rise of these two religions. The rigid caste system prevalent in India generated tensions in the society. Higher classes enjoyed certain privileges which were denied to the lower classes. Also, the Kshatriyas had resented the domination of the priestly class. It should also to be noted that both Buddha and Mahavira belonged to Kshatriya origin. The growth of trade led to the improvement in the economic conditions of the Vaisyas. As a result, they wanted to enhance their social status but the orthodox Varna system did not allow this. Therefore, they began to extend support to Buddhism and Jainism. It was this merchant class that extended the chief support to these new religions.
Teachings of Jainism
The three principles of Jainism, also known as Triratnas (three gems), are:
- right faith
- right knowledge
- right conduct.
Right faith is the belief in the teachings and wisdom of Mahavira. Right Knowledge is the acceptance of the theory that there is no God and that the world has been existing without a creator and that all objects possess a soul. Right conduct refers to the observance of the five great vows:
- not to injure life
- not to lie
- not to steal
- not to acquire property
- not to lead immoral life.
Both the clergy and laymen had to strictly follow the doctrine of ahimsa. Mahavira regarded all objects, both animate and inanimate, have souls and various degrees of consciousness. They possess life and feel pain when they are injured. Mahavira rejected the authority of the Vedas and objected to the Vedic rituals. He advocated a very holy and ethical code of life. Even the practice of agriculture was considered sinful as it causes injury to the earth, worms and animals. Similarly the doctrine of asceticism and renunciation was also carried to extreme lengths by the practice of starvation, nudity and other forms of self-torture.
Decline of jainism
- Lack of Royal Patronage:
Firstly, the initial tempo of royal patronage of Jainism by Bimbisara, Ajatasatru, Udayin and Kharavela was not kept up by kings and princes of later times. Rather the zeal and determination of Asoka, Kanishka and Harsha to spread Buddhism came to eclipse Jainism. As such, lack of sincere and determined royal patronage came to relegate Jainism.
- Lack of Efforts
There was also a decline in the missionary zeal and sincerity of the Jaina mendicants. They were no more particular in undertaking the strain of spreading Jainism in villages and towns. The traders and businessmen still remained loyal to Jainism. But they had no time to do anything for the spread of Jainism.
- Severity of Jainism
Thirdly, the severity of Jainism boomeranged against it to bring about its decline. Unlike the ‘middle path’ of Buddhism, Jainism stood for severe penance, meditation, fasting and restraint etc. All these were too severe to endure. People soon became disillusioned with it. In course of time, Jainism, once adored, became alienated from the people.
- Unintelligible Philosophy
Fourthly, most of the Jaina philosophy was unintelligible for the masses. The concepts of Jeeva, Ajeeva, Pudgala, Syadbada etc. could not be understood properly by the people. Many could not accept the view that stone, water, tree or earth had a soul of their own. There was, thus, a gradual decline in popular faith for Jainism. This paved the way for its decline.
- Factionalism in Jainism
Factionalism among the Jainas after the death of Mahavira was the fifth cause of the decline of Jainism. Some now advocated to literally follow the teachings of Mahavira, while others wanted to tone down the severity of Jainism. As such, the rift led to a division in Jain ranks. They were now divided into ‘Digamvara’ and ‘Swetamvara’ groups.
The former, led by Bhadrabahu, gave up dress, adopted severe penance for self-purification and became indifferent to worldly life. The ‘Swetamvara’ group, led by Sitalabahu, wore white dress. The division weakened Jainism and as such, its spread came to be curtailed.
- Spread of Buddhism
Buddhism came as formidable obstacle in the path of the spread of Jainism. Buddhist was simple and intelligible. There was no severity in it. Even a householder could follow it.
- Role of Hindu Preachers
Hinduism posed threats to Jainism. Nimbarka, Ramanuja, Sankaracharya etc. came to make the foundation of Hinduism more solid and stronger. Rise of Vaisnavism, Saivism and Saktism paled Jainism into comparative insignificance. Decline of Jainism, thus, became inevitable and unavoidable. Thus, Jainism which gained momentum came to a declining stage after the spread of Budhism. The Hindu preachers put constant problem on the path of the spread of Jainism. So, it declined.