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Buddhism, Jainism and Heterodox Sects

1. Rise of Heterodox Sects

In  Post Vedic age, there was emergence of 62 heterodox sects, which raised voice against prevalent Bramhinical order and brought about an intellectual revolution.  Also called as Shramana movement, these sects denied the efficacy of sacrifices, rejected Vedas as eternal, rejected caste system and denied the existence of God. While many sects held the view that samsara is full of suffering, the beliefs varied from one sect to another. These various sects, including Buddhism and Jainism are together known as heterodox sects.

1.1 Factors for Rise of Heterodox Sects

Religious factor – The religion had turned complex, costly and rigid with rituals and ceremonies acquiring center-stage. The violent religion emphasising on killing of animals was against the need of the masses who wanted liberal and progressive religion. This urge of masses led to rise of heterodox sects.

Social factors – The Bramhinical order had high degree of rigidity and new social groups like traders, merchants and craftsmen, having attained high economic status could not rise in social ladder. Their urge to rise led to the emergence of heterodox sects.

Dichotomy between needs of economy and old order – Due to rapid expansion of agriculture, peasants were aspiring to use their bulls and cows on agricultural activities such as ploughing, driving carts etc. But Bramhinical religion was demanding the sacrifice of bulls and cows in rituals and ceremonies.

The religion had turned violent and the need for non-violent religion was responsible for emergence of heterodox sects. The rapidly growing secondary economic activities demanded regular investment of resources but the Bramhinical religion was against the practice of usury and urbanizing houses. Thus emerging classes took refuge to heterodox sects.

2. Various Heterodox Sects

2.1 Buddhism

2.2 Jainism

2.3 Ajivikas

Founded by Makkali Ghoshala in 5th century BC. It Revolves around niyati doctrine. According to Ajivika philosophy, there is no use of karma, everything is predicted. Ajivikas did not believed in God. According to them, the world is composed of atoms. It also Rejected Vedas. Mauryan king Ashoka’s father Bindusara was follower of this tradition. Ajivikas led ascetic life without clothes and material possession.

2.4 Charvaka

Eat, Drink, Make merry. There is no ‘other’ world. There is no God or Bramha. Man is at the centre of universe, he should eat, consume and enjoy sensual pleasures.
It was Propounded by Brihaspati.
It is also called Lokayata school of philosophy. i.e. derived from common people.

यावत् जीवेत् सुखम् जीवेत्।
ऋणं कृत्वा घृतं पिबेत्।
भस्मिभूतस्य देहस्य पुनरागमनं कुतः।

As long as you live, live happily. Take debt and drink ghee. Once the body is reduced to ashes, how can it come back!

A popular Charvaka sloka

2.5 Ajananas

Believed in ignorance. It is impossible to attain knowledge and even if possible, it is useless.

3. Buddhism

Gautam Buddha

3.1 Gautama Buddha

Founder of Buddhism. Originally named Siddhartha. He belonged to clan Shakya of Kapilvastu region. Hence he was also called Shakyamuni. The mother of Buddha was a Licchavi princess. He took birth in 563 BC at Lumbini.
At the age of 35/40 (disputed) he attained Nirvana in Bodhgaya under Peepal tree. He delievered 1st sermon in Sarnath. And at the age of 80, Buddha passed away in 483 BC in Kushinagar, UP.

Every event of Buddhas life is represented by one symbol. (5 in total)

Great RenunciationHorse
Nirvana (attainment of knowledge)Bodhi Tree
First SermonDharma Chakra (Wheel)
Parinirvana (passing away)Stupa

Lord Buddha emphasised the ‘middle path‘ as the balance between austerity and materialism. Buddhism does not believe in infallibility of Vedas and priestly domination.

It is said that Lord Buddha practiced gender discrimination when he did not allow women in his sangha. However, afterwards on instigation of his mother he allowed women to enter sangha. But number of restrictions called ‘Guru dhamma‘ were imposed on women.

Further, slaves were not allowed in Sanghas, which shows the approval of slavery. Buddhism did not practice untouchability because there are references to chandala teachers in Buddhist monasteries.  Buddhism does not believe in existence of soul. Buddhism also rejects varna system.

Interestingly, Buddha did not say anything about God. He neither denied existence of God, nor did he approve of it.

4. Buddhist Philosophy

4.1 Three Jewels of Buddhism

Buddha himselfThe enlightened one
DhammaThe teachings of Buddha
SanghaMonastic order of Buddhism

4.2 Three basic Principles of Buddhism

AnniccaNothing is permanent
AnattaDenial of self
DukhaThis world is full of sorrow

4.3 Four Noble Truths of Buddism

  1. World is full of sorrow
  2. There is cause of sorrow
  3. The cause of sorrow is desire. (tanha)
  4. By ending desire, you can end sorrow. This can be done by following moderation in everything one does.

4.4 Eightfold Path to Attain Liberation / Astanga Path

  1. Right vision by removing ignorance. (samyak drishti)
  2. Right resolve – strong will power to destroy thoughts and desires that harm others. (samyak sankalpa)
  3. Right speech – to avoid false and unpleasant words. (samyak vani)
  4. Right conduct – to avoid activities like theft, excessive eating etc. (samyak karmat)
  5. Right means of livelihood – to earn bread and butter by right means. (samyak ajivika)
  6. Right effort – to avoid bad feelings and to have self control. (samyak vyayam)
  7. Right mindfulness – to keep one’s body, heart and mind in right form. (samyak smriti)
  8. Right concentration – If a person pursues above 7 rights, he will be ablet to concentrate and attain nirvana. (samyak samadhi)

Please note that the Astanga path of Buddhism is different from the Vedic concept of Astanga Yoga i.e. Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi

4.5 Ten Activities which Buddha asked People to Abstain from

  1. Eating at forbidden times.
  2. False speech.
  3. Evil behaviour.
  4. Dance and music.
  5. Sleeping on broad bed.
  6. Receiving gifts in gold and silver.
  7. Using jewellery, perfumes and garlands.
  8. Consuming alcoholic drinks.
  9. Not to harm living beings.
  10. Not to take what is not given.

Different Buddhist councils were held from time to time under different rulers. These councils mark important stages in evolution of Buddhist literature.

4.6 Important Buddhist Councils

Buddhist CouncilRuler who held itTimePlaceOutcome of Council
1st Buddhist CouncilAjatasatru483 BCRajagrihaSuttapitaka and Vinayapitaka were compoed.
2nd Buddhist  CouncilKalashoka383 BCVaishaliBuddhism divided into Theravada and Mahasanghikas.
3rd Buddhist CouncilAshoka250 BCPataliputraAbhidham Pitaka was composed.
4th Buddhist CouncilKanishka72 ADKashmirDivision of Buddhism into Mahayana and Hinayana.

5. Different Variants of Buddhism

5.1 Therawada Buddhism

School of elder monks. Predecessor of Hinayana school.
Would teach in Pali language, famous in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand etc.
Vishuddhi marg by Buddhaghosa – would be a treatise on Therawada Buddhism.
Seven stages of purification is suggested by Therawada Buddhism to attain salvation.

5.2 Mahasanghika

Means ‘great order of monks’. It emerged during the second Buddhist council.
It said that Buddhist monastic community should observe a regulatory framework of conduct which included 10 restrictions like
Drinking unfermented wine.
Accepting Gold and Silver
Making a monastic decision with an incomplete assembly and later on receving approval of other monks.

5.3 Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism

Lesser WheelGreater Wheel
Pali LanguageSanskrit Language
Each man should work out his own salvationTeachers like Bodhisatvas would help in salvation.
The religious guru is Arhat. Who strives for his own salvation.Bodhisatva, who is concerned with the salvation of others.
Did not believed in idol worship.Would believe in idol worship.
Buddha was just great man.Buddha was God.
Spread in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand and parts of South East AsiaChina, Japan and Central Asia

5.4 Vajrayana Buddhism

Influenced by Hinduism. Main deity – Tara.
Believed in Tantra, Mantra, Yantra as faster vehicle to liberation.
No need of purification.
It was famous in Tibet, Bhutan, Mongolia etc.

6. Prominent Bodhisatvas (Saints)

6.1 Avalokiteshwara / Padmapani

He is representative of Buddha’s compassion.
Also known as Padmapani – Painting in Ajanta caves, where he is holding Lotus.

6.2 Vajrapani

Representative of Buddha’s power.
Also depicted in Ajanta caves and said to posses all powers of Buddha

6.3 Manjushri

Representative of Buddha’s wisdom.
One of protective deities with a weilding sword.

6.4 Maitreya

He is called future Buddha who will appear on earth in future.

6.5 Tara

Associated with Vajrayana Buddhism and represents virtue of success in worth and achievement.
Tara is said to be wife of Buddha.

6.6 Padmasambhava

Founder of Tibetan Buddhism (Vajrayana Buddhism). Born and brought up in Odisha, he is also called as Second Buddha. Recently in 2019 Odisha govt. unveiled statue of Padmasambhava.

7. Buddhist Literature

Buddhist literature can be divided mainly into two parts

  1. Canonical (authentic, religious text) and
  2. Non-Canonical (secular literature).

7.1 Canonical Literature

7.1.1 Suttapitaka

Teachings, dialogues, speeches of Buddha

7.1.2 Vinayapitaka

Rules and regulations to be followed by monks.

7.1.3 Abhidampitaka

Philosophical discources on Buddha’s teachings.
Covering topics like ethics, theory of knowledge, psychology etc.

7.2 Non Canonical Literature

7.2.1 Jataka Stories

Compilation of the stories from the previous births of Buddha.

7.2.2 Dipavamsa, Mahavamsa

Buddhist chronicles talking about visit of Buddha to Sri Lanka.
Mahavamsa discusses about Ashoka killing his 99 brothers to come to throne.

7.2.3 Milinda Panho

It is a dialogue between Greek king Menander and saint Nagasena.
King Menander got converted to Milinda

7.2.4 Buddhacarita by Asvaghosa

Vishuddhi Marg by Buddhaghosa – would be a treatise on Therawada Buddhism.

7.2.5 Lalita Vistara Sutra

It is related to Mahayana Buddhism, contains stories about life of Buddha.

8. Jainism

8.1 About Vardhaman Mahaveer

Born in 540 BC at Kundli Gram at Vaishali. His father was Siddhartha, belonging to Kshatriya clan, Vajji sangha.
Mother – Trishla, Licchavi princess.
He left home at the age of 30.
After 12 yrs, He attained Kaivalya (perfect knowledge) under Sal tree.
Died in 468 BC at Pabapuri near Rajagriha

It is important to note that Mahavira did not found Jainism. He was 24th Tirthankara (spiritual teacher) in Jainism.

8.2 24 Tirthankaras in Jainism

1st Tirthankara – Rishabhdev / Adinath (founder of Jainism)

22nd Tirthankara – Neminath. He was kinsmen and contemporary of Lord Krishna

23rd Tirthankara – Parshavanath

24th Tirthankara – Vardhaman Mahavira

9. Jainism Philosophy

Jain adopted Prakrit language. The term Jaina is derived from root word ‘Ji – to conquer’ and Jainism signifies religion of those, who have conquered lust for life.

Jainism believes in soul and salvation. And everything, including non living object has soul.

Jainism says that the universe does not need God to sustain itself. And it continues automatically through cycles of rise (Uttasarpini) and fall (Avasarpini).

During each cycle of rise and fall, there would be 63 sakhapurushas to guide man in universe. 24 Tirthankaras would be part of these shakhapurusas.

Jainism also believes in Varna system saying that person is born in high or low varna due to sins or virtues of previous births. But through pure and meritorious life, members of lower caste can attain salvation.

9.1 Two Important Ideas

9.1.1 Anekantavad

Accomodation of various perspectives of different people at the same object.

9.1.2 Syadvad

There is always limitation of human knowledge.
‘May be’ doctrine.
It emphasizes on limitation of human knowledge saying that attainment of perfect knowledge is not possible for man.

9.2 Three Jewels of Jainism

  1. Right knowledge
  2. Right faith
  3. Right conduct

// You can use the acronym KFC (Knowledge, Faith, Conduct) to remember it.

9.3 Five vows (vrata) of Jainism

  1. Ahimsa (Non violence)
  2. Satya (truth)
  3. Asteya (non stealing)
  4. Aparigraha (non accumulation of wealth)
  5. Bramhacarya (celibacy)

Jainism follower are categorised into two types i.e. Anuvrata (Householders)  & Mahavrata (Monks).
The last vow was to be understood as ‘loyalty to partner’ for householders and ‘complete celibacy’ for monks.

9.4 Important Practices in Jainism

Sallekhana / Santhara – Voluntary casting unto death.

Pratikramana – Jaina people would repent for their sins during their daily life.

10. Two Sects of Jainism

It is said that there was 12 year crisis during 4th century BC. During that period, Bhadrabahu, the then leader of Jain community, went south to Karnataka region, while Sthalabahu remained behind. Those who went south continued their austerities, including not wearing clothes, while those who remained behind made some compromises like wearing white cloth. This gave rise to two sects in Jainism i.e. Digambar and Svetambars.

Led by BhadrabahuLed by Sthalabahu/Sthulabhadra
Monastic rules were moer rigidLess rigid than Digambar
Monks do not wear any clothMonks wear white cloth.
Women cannot become tirthankar and hence cannot attain salvationWomen can become tirthankar and attain salvation
Would follows all 5 vratas.Would compromise on 5th vow (bramhacarya)
Original texts of Mahavira are lost.They are preserved.
Mahavira never married.Mahavira married a Ksatriya princess and they had a daughter before he renounced the world.

10.1 Various Sub-Sects of Digambar

  1. Mulasangha – old /original order.
  2. Bispanthi – worshipping only Tirthankaras.
  3. Terapanthi – Would worship both Tirthankaras and Yaksha Yakshinis (demigods and goddesses). Probably influenced by Hinduism.

10.2 Svetambar Sects

1] Sthanakavasi – would not worship idol, would worship saints.
2] Murtipujak – idol worship allowed.

11. Jaina Literature

Jain literature is not as organized as buddhist literature and it is mainly written in Prakrit language.
Two categories – Canonical (authentic, religious) & Non-Canonical (secular, disputed authenticity)

11.1 Canonical Literature

Agamas – They are the sacred texts and are said to be the teachings of Jain tirthankaras, compiled by Gandharas, who were immediate disciples of Mahavira.

12 Angas

11.2 Non Canonical

  1. Hemchandra Suri composed Prakrit and Sanskrit grammars.
  2. Jinasena wrote Mahapurana and Harivanshapurana.
  3. The three gems of Kannada literature Pampa, Ponna, Ranna are the famous writers related to Jainism.

11.3 Important Jaina Councils

No.LocationHeaded byTimeSignificance
1stPataliputraSthalbahu (Digambara)3rd Century BCCompliation of 12 angas.
2ndVallabhi, GujaratSvetambaras6th Century ADCompilation of 12 angas and 12 upangas.

12. Sample Questions & Answers

Que. Why Buddhism became more popular and widespread than Jainism?
Que. Mention the factors which led to the rise of popularity of Buddhism.
Que. The rise of Buddhism was fast, its decline was faster. Comment.
Que. Comparison of Jainism and Buddhism.

1] Royal patronage to Buddhism as evident from steps taken by King Ashoka, who appointed Dhamma-mahamatra to spread Buddhism and also used his inscriptions to popularize the ideas of Buddhism.
2] Liberal progressive ideas of Buddha, focusing on middle path, which was easier to be followed as compared to Jainism, which talked about austerity and extreme non-violence.
3] Buddhism was more in according with the aspiration of masses on the other hand, Jainism’s extreme focus on austerity made it difficult to be followed by common people life farmers.
4] Sangha played a very significant role in rise of Buddhism, whereas such monastic organization was absent in Jainism.
5] Buddhism evolved with the time in accordance with the changing people’s needs whereas Jainism would remain more rigid.

1] Jainism on the other hand, could not get royal patronage like Buddhism.
2] Jainism did not made compromises like Buddhism. Hence it did not included masses, it remained limited for few practitioners who could perform rigid austerities.
3] Buddhism was a missionary religion, Jainism never showed missionary spirit.
4] The preachings of Jainism like non-violence, non-accumulation were impractical for farmers, traders. Farmers could commit violence while ploughing and other agriculture work. It was not possible for traders to conduct business without accumulation of money. These classes remained away from Jainism.

Factors responsible for rise of Buddhism
Use of vernacular language like Pali by Buddha. Common people could also relate.
Other factors related to degeneration of Vedic culture

Decline of Buddhism.

Buddhism declined to such an extent that people didn’t even knew that it originated in India. Only after Britishers came we understood about it.

  1. Loss of royal patronage e.g. Rulers like Pusyamitra Sunga were against Buddhism. He demolished many Buddhist Stupas.
  2. Guptas also gave more patronage to Hinduism than Buddhism.
  3. Flaws of Hinduism like superstition, idol worship, orthodoxy against which Buddhism has started as movement, these flaws later on arrived in Buddhism as well. E.g. Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism.
  4. Degeneration and corruption in Sanghas and monastic order led to moving away from purity of teachings of Buddhism. These saints also got attracted towards privileges and materialistic life rather than propogating philosophy of Buddha.
  5. Sanskrit replaced Pali language, which made it difficult for common people to follow.
  6. Regeneration and revival of Hinduism itself with saints like Sankaracarya giving liberal touch to Hinduism as well as defeating Buddhist monks in arguments and discussions.
  7. Decline of secondary economic activities which had given boost to Buddhism. As the urban centres were the flourishing ground for Buddhism and the decline of these urban centres also contributed towards decline of Buddhism.
  8. Final blow to already declining religion was given by foreign invasions, which led to attack on Buddhist structures like Stupas, Universities etc.
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