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Antecedents of Jainism

    – Mr. Anand Prakash Jain

    Vardhamana Mahavira, is not the founder of Jainism, but a reformer of Jainism. Through self example and his life time teachings, he revived the religion and made it popular in ancient India. He is regarded by Jains as the 24th Thirthankara, or Prophet of Jainism. Legend records that Rishabhadeva was the first Thirthankara and founder of Jainism. Rishabhadeva must have lived atleast 30-40 generations before Mahavira, probably around 1500 BC or even earlier.

    Parsvanatha, the 23rd Thirthankara, lived some 200-250 years before Mahavira and gave his followers a definite identity as a distinct sect of dedicated ascetics. Before he renounced his princely life and became a monk, Vardhamana seems to have derived inspiration from this sect.

    After Mahavira attained liberation and established the Order, most of the followers of Parsvanatha joined him . We have reasons to believe that this group was responsible for sowing the seeds of dissention among the members and the subsequent schism in the Order.

    Historically, there is little doubt that Jainism existed before Mahavira. The Yajurveda mentions the names of three Thirthankaras, namely Rishabha, Ajithanatha, and Aristanemi. The Bhagavatha Purana acknowledges Rishabhadeva as the founder of Jainism. The Buddhist texts refer to Mahavira as Niggantha Nathaputta.

    Jainism did not arise as some kind of a reaction of the princely classes against the Brahmanical society or as a revolt against Brahmanism. It existed for long on the Indian soil as a distinct sect, with a set of beliefs and philosophy of its own.

    Jainism Vs Hinduism : Some how unlike Buddhism, Jainism never drew itself into some kind of confrontation with Hinduism or Brahmanism, though both religions differed fundamentally on almost every issue, from God to the concept of matter and karma.

    It also did not undergo any major change over time, nor its followers ever compromised with Hinduism or any other religion the way Mahayana Buddhists did in the post Gupta period. The followers of Hinduism on their side remained somewhat indifferent to Jainism, as they probably did not perceive any serious threat or competition from the latter.

    The followers of Hinduism acknowledged the Buddha as a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, but largely ignored Vardhamana Mahavira. Besides there wasn’t much in Jainism that could attract the attention of the masses as Buddhism had. Jainism offered no instant solace to the masses, unless they were willing to lead very austere and disciplined lives, which was not an easy task even for the strong willed.

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