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Antiquity of Jainism

    Ancient history of India reveals that there were three major religions in India. They were Brahaminism, Buddhism and Jainism (Nirgranthas). Latest research and excavation at Mohenjodaro and Harappa has shown that Jainism existed before five thousands year ago, even though Jains believe it to be eternal. We will try to explore the various dimensions of the antiquity of Jainism in the ensuing lines.

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

    Claims of Eternity : Naturally the followers of every religious faith proclaim their religion as having its source in antiquity and Jainas are no exception to this. The traditions and the legendary accounts prove the existence of Jainism as eternal. Jainism is revealed again and again in every cyclic period of the universe by forty-eight hirthankaras (twenty-four in each half cycle). The Jainas divide the whole span of time into two equally spanned cycles, namely, Utsarpini and Avasarpini. During Utsarpini, there is a gradual ascendancy in moral and physical state of the universe, while during Avasarpini, the case is just reverse, i.e. the gradual descent of moral and physical state of universe. Each of these two is subdivided into six aras each extending from over crores of years to twenty-two thousands of years. This time-cycle goes on endlessly and 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.

    Foreign Scholars – Many foreign scholars have contributed immensely towards the Jaina studies and in the study of the antiquity of Jainism. Below are some of the examples of the work that has happened in this regard.

    • Colin Mackenzie (1753–1821) and Francis Buchanan (1762–1829) – These two men were among the first and most significant Europeans to discover the rich heritage of Jainism in south India, especially Karnataka (Orr 2009 and Howes 2010).
    • James Burgess (1832-1916) and Henry Cousens (1854-1933) – British archaeologists, such as James Burgess and Henry Cousens – visited and reviewed the Jain monuments in western India and carried out systematic tours cataloguing items of interest during the 19th century, including the famous temple-city of Mount Shatrunjaya.
    • Georg Buhler (1837-1898) and Herman Jacobi (1850-1937) were the pioneers to have laid a firm foundation proving the antiquity of Jainism in the western world. They have done a thorough investigation of old Jain canonical texts and have also compared it with the Brahmin and Buddhist texts.
    • Herman Jacobi (1850-1937)
      • Jacobi in his introduction to the edition of the Kalpa-sūtra in 1879 for the first time provided textual evidence that the Jain tradition was distinct from both Hindu and Buddhist traditions. In the introduction Jacobi pointed out how Jains are referred to in Hindu and Buddhist scriptures not as ‘Jaina’ but under the name niggantha – without knot – that is, free from possessions and attachment.
      • Secondly, he proved that Jains have always claimed the founder of their religion in this era to be Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha. This helped clear the misconception among the western scholars that as a near contemporary of Buddha, Mahāvīra had been thought of as the founder of Jainism.
      • Jacobi undertook an extensive study of the Digambar and Swethambar Jain manuscripts.
      • Before Jacobi’s findings, Jains were considered to be a Buddhist or Hindu offshoot and not as an independent tradition. Thus Jacobi played a pivotal role in establishing the antiquity of Jainism.

    Pre-Aryan Roots : Almost all the scholars when speaking about the antiquity of Jainism agree that Jainism has Pre-Aryan roots in the cultural history of India. As Dr. A. N. Upadhye based on his studies on the antiquity of Jainism remarked – “The origins of Jainism go back to 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.”

    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 singlephilosophy.”

    Other scholars such as Prof. Buhler4, H. Jacobi, J. G. R. Forlong, Dr. Hornell, Pt. Sukhalalji, Prof. Vidyalankara, Acarya 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.

    Buddhist References
    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, Sari Putta 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 Jaina.

    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.

    Critical and comparative study has brought to light several words like ‘Asrava’, “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 off-shoot of Buddhism.

    Some historians think that Jainism is, 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)

    Indus Valley Civilization
    The excavations made at Mohenjodaro and Harappa plays an important role in proving the antiquity of Jainism. They 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 as bull in the foreground may be the prototype of Rishabha. (Modern review Agust 1932 – Sindha Five Thousand Years Ago). Rishabha has been spoken of as Yogishwara by the poet Jinasena in his Mahapurana. 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.

    The renowned Jain scholar Prof. A. Chakravarty’s researches related to the antiquity of Jainism 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.

    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.” This is another important aspect that adds to the antiquity of jainism.

    A glance over the glorious past of Jainism reveals the fact that the lives of Rushabha dec and the succeeding twenty-three Tirthankaras had deeply impressed the entire world culture. Some of the Greek references adds further weight to the antiquity of Jainism. When the Alexander invaded India he came across a host of nude Jain saints in Taxila whom the Greekwriters 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.

    It is to be noted that the Essenes of Israel were ascetics following 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 cult and other teachers of Essenism. In six hundred B. C. this cult of Non-violence was progressing beyond Syria and Palestine. The Jain teachings has 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.

    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.

    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 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 civilizationsof 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.

    Aryan invasions of India dated approximately before 1500 B. C., i.e., about three to four thousand years ago from today, practically coincided with the Hellenic invasions 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 elaborate 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 much social prominence and virtually dominated the society. During this period the Aryans had completely settled and had fully vanquished the non-Aryan races. These were being absorbed in their social structure principally as Dasyus’ absorbed in their social structure principally as Dasyus’ (labor class) and were treated as second class citizens. However, the Aryans had tremendous capacity to absorb and to assimilate all new things of life. They not only adopted many cultural and philosophical thinking of their non-Aryan brothers, 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 Chandogya Upanisad Rsi 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). Naciketa 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 Rsis of Upanisadas began to challenge the usefulness of sacrificial rituals and began to apply their mind 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 Jainas, 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 `Caturyama’ of four principles namely Non-violence (Ahimsa), Truth (Satya), Non-stealing (Asteya) and Restrictions on possession (Aparigraha). His Sramana teachings had great influence on contemporary thinking. And with the advent of Mahavira (526 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. that, but for the advent of the great Sankara, who assimilated Sramana 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 Jaina and a Hindu towards life’s problems, individual or social. These attitudes are so identical that unless one tells you that he is a Jaina by religion you cannot make out from his behavior that he is a non-Hindu by faith.

    All these proofs have been successful in proving the antiquity of Jainism that Jainism existed since time immemorial with a unique and distinct identity as an independent religion and that is existed much before Hinduism and Buddhism. It also speaks about the ways in which the community has evolved over the centuries with its own distinctiveness.

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