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Buddhism and Jainism are the two branches of the Shramana tradition that still exist today. Jainism has been largely confined to Indiamarker, while Buddhism has largely flourished in countries outside of India. However the two traditions share notable similarities.


Buddhism separates itself from the Jain tradition by teaching an alternative to "extreme asceticism". Buddhist scriptures record that during Prince Siddhartha's ascetic life (before the great enlightenment) he undertook many fasts, penances and austerities, the descriptions of which are elsewhere found only in the Jain tradition (for example, the penance by five fires, plucking of hair, and the consumption of food using only one's cupped hands). Ultimately, Buddha abandoned reliance upon these methods on his discovery of the Middle Way (Majjhima-Magga in Pali; Madhyamaka in Sanskrit). However, it is interesting to note that even under the Jain tradition, there exists a non-extreme pathway, which is the path of the laymen with minor vows. Some Buddhist teachings, principles, and terms used in Buddhism are identical to those of Jainism, but they may hold different or variant meanings for each.

Although both Buddhists and Jains had nuns orders, Buddhist Pali texts record Buddha saying that a woman has the ability to obtain Nirvana in the Buddha Dhamma and Vinaya. Jain traditions differ on the issue of female enlightenment, with the Digambara sect stating that women are capable of spiritual progress but must be reborn male in order to attain final spiritual liberation; and the Shvetambara sect maintaining that liberation (Moksha) is attainable by both males and females. The issue of female enlightenment is, however, an academic one in the Jain context since in the current universal age of corruption, Moksha is nearly impossible for any soul to attain.

While the Jain Sadhu and Sadhvi are referred to as the Sramans and Sramanis, the Shravak and Shravika are the lay men and women (Grihastha), respectively, who have not abandoned worldly affairs, i.e., not having obtained "Diksha", but are still following the religious guidelines, in the given constraints. There are separate norms that have been prescribed for the Shravak and Shravika under the Jain tradition.

Whether or not it was an influence of Jain culture and philosophy in ancient Biharmarker that gave rise to Buddhism is unclear, but there are some striking similarities between the two traditions, and Buddhism may have adopted many of its ideas and traditions from pre-existing ones held by the Jains. The Buddha Nirvana calendar (with a zero point in 544 BCE) may actually be significantly older than the Kaliyuga calendar. And so, quite possibly, is the Mahavira Nirvana calendar of the Jains (with a zero point in 527 BCE).

Mahāvīra and Buddha were contemporaries. The Pali Canon does not record that the two teachers ever met, though instances of Mahavira's disciples questioning Gautama Buddha are to be found in various suttas. The Buddhists have always maintained that by the time Buddha and Mahavira were alive, Jainism was already an entrenched faith and culture in the region. Buddhist scriptures record philosophical dialogues between the wandering seeker Siddartha Gautama (who was to become the Buddha) and Udaka Ramaputta, and the first of several teachers that young Siddartha Gautama studied with before his enlightenment. Buddhist scriptures attest that some of the first Buddhists were in fact Jains (Nirgranthas as they were then called, meaning "the unbonded ones") who "converted", but were encouraged by Buddha to maintain their Jain identity and practises such as giving alms to Jain monks and nuns.

Buddhists recorded that Mahavira preached the "fourfold restraint" of the Nirgrantha tradition—a clear reference to the teachings of Mahavira's predecessor Lord Parshva (877-777 BCE), traditionally the 23rd Tirthankara of Jainism -- who propounded the four vows of Ahinsa (Ahimsa), Satya (truth), Aparigraha (non-possessiveness), and Asteya (non-stealing), which may have been the template for the Five Precepts of Buddhism. Additionally, the Buddhist Anguttara Nikaya scripture quotes the independent philosopher Purana Kashyapa (the sixth century BCE founder of a now extinct order) as listing the Nirgranthas as one of the six major classifications of humanity. The Pali texts mention the Buddha referring to the liberation of Mahavira (referred to as Niggantha Nataputta) at Pava.

Similarities and differences in Jain and Buddhist terminology

The common terms in Buddhism and Jainism:
  • Shramana
  • Samsara
  • Nirvana: (the definition is different in the two traditions)
  • Arhat: the term is used somewhat similarly.
  • Dharma
  • Jina
  • Acharya (chief of the orders)
  • Sutra (scriptures)
  • Indra/Shamkra (chief of the gods)

The terms that are used with different meanings:
  • Pudgala
  • Siddha

Common symbols:
  • Pratima, foot prints
  • Stupa
  • The dharma-chakra
  • The swastika
  • The trirathna
  • The ashta-mangalas
  • Minor devas

Vegetarianism is required for both monks and laity in Jainism. In Buddhism, the monks in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam are vegetarian; however strict vegetarianism is not required. By monastic tradition, a monk should eat whatever is placed in his bowl when begging food. The exceptions to not eat given meat were if the monk knew an animal was killed especially for him or he heard the animal being killed.

writings reflect that Jains had followers by the time Buddha lived. Suggesting close correlations between the teachings of the Jains and Buddha, the Majjhima Nikaya relates dialogues between Buddha and several members of the Nigantha (Jain) community, sometimes resulting in the latter's acceptance of Buddha as a teacher.

In many instances, both philosophies continue to share similar Prakrit terminology for important themes and teachings but may differ significantly in interpretation and meaning. This method of teaching adopted by the Buddha points to the pragmatic aspect of Buddha's style of teaching wherein the Buddha uses words and terms that are familiar to the audience instead of introducing new and complex technical jargon. In this way, Buddhism sought to appeal to a broad audience.

Jains consider Jainism to be an ancient religion and school of thought that predates Buddhism since they have records of other Jinas. Buddhism too can claim great antiquity as it records several Buddhas predating Sakyamuni Buddha in the "Buddhavamsa". Sakyamuni also clearly states that he is following the "tradition of the Buddhas",
"But it is the custom of my Buddha lineage. Several thousands of Buddhas have gone by seeking alms"

Both Buddha and Mahavira might have built upon the pre-existing meditative teachings in north-eastern India at that time, which also explains some of the similarities in terminolgy.

The last Tirthankara Mahāvīra (599 - 527 BC) was possibly a senior contemporary of the Buddha whose philosophy, sometimes described as dynamism or vitalism, was a blend of the earlier Jain teacher Pārśvanātha's (877-777 BC) order and the reforms instituted by Mahavira himself. Debates between Buddhists and Jains are recorded in Jain texts, and dialogues between Jains and the Buddha are included in Buddhist texts. (See also the "Origins" section, above.).

Indian Buddhist tradition categorized all non-buddhist schools of thought as "Pasanda" (pasanda means to throw a noose or pasha -- stemming from the doctrine that schools labelled as Pasanda foster views percieved as wrong because they are seen as having a tendency towards binding and ensnaring rather than freeing the mind). The difference between the schools of thought are outlined in the Samaññaphala Sutta of the Digha Nikaya.

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