Jainism: Origin, Doctrines, Spread, and Causes of Decline

Cause of origin:

The primary cause of the origin of the religion was the religious unrest in India in the 6th Century B.C. In society, many complex rituals and sacrifices were advocated during the Later Vedic period which was not acceptable to the common people.

The sacrificial ceremonies were too expansive, and the superstitious beliefs and mantras confused people. These are not easily understood by all people.

The Brahmans stated themselves as upper Varna with the highest status in society and demanded several privileges, including those of receiving gifts and exemption from taxation and punishment.

  • In the Varna hierarchy the Kshatriya ranked second, they fought and governed, and lived on the taxes collected from the peasants.
  • The Vaishyas were engaged in agriculture, cattle-rearing, and trade. They were principal taxpayers, and the Sudras were meant for serving the three higher Varnas.
  • The Vaishyas wanted to enhance their social condition, therefore they began to extend support to Buddhism and Jainism.
  • The higher Varna was more privileged and purer; the lower Varna of an offender, the more severe the punishment scribed for him.

Thus, these systems naturally divided society and generated tensions. The Kshatriyas reacted strongly against the ritualistic domination of the Brahmans, this seem to had a movement against the Varna system.

On the other hand, Buddhism and Jainism did not give any importance to the Varna system.

So these religious, social, and economic factors also contributed to the rise of new religions like Buddhism and Jainism.

Mind Map of Jainism UPSC EXAMs, Jainism origin, rise and causes of decline

Mind Map of Jainism

List of 24 Tirthankars and their symbol:
S. N. Name of Tirthankars Symbol
1 Rishabhnath (Adinath) Bull
2 Ajitnath Elephant
3 Sambhav Nath Horse
4 Abhinandan Nath Monkey
5 Sumatinath Curlew
6 Padmaprabha Red Lotus
7 Suparshavnath Svastika
8 Chandra Prabha Crescent
9 Pushpadanta (suvidhinath) Dolphin
10 Shitalnath Wishing Tree
11 Shreyamsanath Garuda
12 Vasupujya Buffalo
13 Vimalnath Bear
14 Anantanath Bear
15 Dharmanath Vajardanda
16 Shantinath Deer
17 Kunthunath Goat
18 Aranath Fish
19 Malinath Water pot
20 Munisuvarta Tortoise
21 Naminath Blue Lotus
22 Aristnemi Conch
23 Parshvanath Serpent
24 Mahavira (Vardhamana) Lion

Insights of Life of Vardhamana Mahavira: (540-468 B.C)

Vardhaman Mahavira was the 24th Tirthankar of Jain tradition.

The first Tirthankara is believed to be Rishabhdeva who was born in Ayodhya. Prashvanath was the 23rd Tirthankara who was born in Varanasi.

  • Mahavira was born in 540 B.C. in Kundagram near Vaishali in a Kshatriya family, the name of the parents is Siddharth and Trisala (the sister of Lichchhavi chief Chetaka).
  • He married Yashoda and gave birth to a daughter.
  • At the age of 30, he became an ascetic and wandered for 12 years.
  • In the 13th year of his penance, at the age of 42 years, he attained the highest spiritual knowledge called Kaivalya (Juan). After getting Kaivalya he is known as Mahavira or great hero or Jina i.e. the conqueror, and his followers are known as Jainas.
  • He died at the age of 72 in 468 B.C. at Pavapuri near Rajagriha. According to another tradition, he was born in 599 B.C. and passed away in 527 B.C.
The teaching of Mahavira:

The three principles of Jainism are also known as Triratnas (three gems), or three jewels are:

  1. Right faith: It is the belief in the teaching and wisdom of Mahavira.
  2. Right Knowledge: It is the acceptance of the theory that there is no god and that the world has been existing without a creator and all objects possess a soul.
  3. Right conduct (action): It refers to the observance of the five great vows.

Jainism taught five doctrines (the five great vows):

  1. Do not commit violence
  2. Do not speak a lie
  3. Do not steal
  4. Do not acquire property
  5. Observe continence (Brahmacharya) (only the 5th doctrine was added by Mahavira, the other four were taken over by him from previous teachers.)

Jainism strictly follows the doctrine of ahimsa. Mahavira rejected the authority of the Vedas and objected to the Vedic rituals. He advocated a very holy and ethical code of life. Agriculture was also considered sinful as it causes injury to the earth, worms, and animals.

The doctrine of asceticism and renunciation was also carried at extreme length by the practice of starvation, nudity, and other forms of self-torture.

Jainism recognized the existence of god but placed them lower than the Jina. It did not condemn the varna system, as Buddhism did.

According to Mahavira, a person is born in a high or in lower varna as a consequence of the sins or the virtues acquired by him in the previous birth.

Spread of Jainism:

Mahavira organized the Sangha to spread his teaching which included both men and women. The rapid spread of Jainism was due to the dedicated work of members of the Sangha.

  • It spread rapidly in Western India and Karnataka.
  • Chandragupta Maurya, Kharavela of Kalinga, and royal dynasties of South India such as the Gangas, the Kadambas, the Chalukyas, and the Rastrakutas patronized Jainism.
  • The early Jainas adopted the Prakrit language of the common people to preach their doctrines.

By the end of the fourth century B.C. (200 years after the death of Mahavira), there was a serious famine in the Ganges valley. In order to protect themselves, many jaina went to the South under the leadership of Bhadrabahu, and the rest stayed back in Magadha under the leadership of Sthulabahu. This led to the division of Jainism into two sects:

  1. Svetambaras (White clad): the monks stayed in Magadha and violated the rules and accepted royal luxuries. The Shvetambaras put on white dresses.
  2. Digamabaras (Sky clad or Naked): these monks went to the south during times of famine, and observed the religious rules strictly. Digambaras keep themselves naked.

Literature of Jainism:

  • 14 Purvas: Old Jain scriptures
  • 12 Angas: Jain doctrines
  • 12 Upangas: Appendix to 12 Angas
  • 10 Parikarnas: Deals with doctrinal matters
  • 6 Chhedasutras: Deals with monastic life
  • 4 Mulasutras: Basic principles of Jainism
  • Kalpsutra: History of Jainism by Bhadrabahu
  • Acharanga: Oldest Jain text containing monastic rules.
Jain’s Architecture: 

Some important architecture of Jain are:

  • Caves Hathigumpha; Bhagagumpha; Udaigiri and Khandagiri (Orissa)
  • Dilwara Templenat Mount Abu, Vimaa Vasahi and Tejpala temples.
  • Girnar and Palitana temples (Gujarat)
  • Pavapuri and Rajgriha temple (Bihar)
  • Statue of Gomateshwar/Bahubali; at shravanabelagola in Mysore (Karnataka)
Jain Councils:
Number of councils Time Period  Place &Head Consequences
1st council About 300 BC Patliputra

The head was Sthulbahu

Compilation of 12 Angas to replace the last 14 Purvas
2nd Council AD 512 Vallabhi

The head was Devardhi Kshamasramana

The final compilation of 12 Angas and 12 Uapangas

Causes of Decline:

Various factors were responsible for the decline of Jainism in India;

  • As the Jains took the concept of Ahimsa too far and also advised one should not take medicines in sickness, because they kill germs. Such practices were not possible to practice for a common man.
  • Jainism did not win as much state patronage as Buddhism and did not spread very fast.
  • The split of Jainism was a result of a conflict among its monks and was also a cause of the decline.

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2 Comments

Er Hare Krishna · August 19, 2022 at 1:41 pm

Very useful content 👍

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