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Spread of Jainism and Buddhism: Part III

Spread of Jainism and Buddhism: Part III

Similarities between Jainism and Buddhism

  • Both Jainism and Buddhism originally derived their ideas from the Upanishadas and both had a common background of Aryan culture.
    • Both of them were products of the prevailing pessimistic spirit of the time.
    • Both appeared as revolts against orthodox Brahmanical Hinduism.
  • Both Buddhism and Jainism sprang in Eastern India where the Aryan culture had no sweeping influence.
    • Although Aryanism had penetrated in Eastern India, yet some latent aspect of pre-Aryan culture remained in the region.
    • They contributed to the rise of the revolutionary anti­-Brahmanical creeds of Buddhism and Jainism in Eastern India.
  • In respect of their basic philosophical concepts, Buddhism and Jainism were indebted to the Sankhya philosophy.
    • The Buddhists and Jainas equally believe that the world is full of misery, that the object or religion is to deliver the soul from the miseries of this world by eliminating rebirth.
    • This concept of the Jainas and the Buddhists that world is a misery and that man is subjected to the result of Karma was borrowed from the Upanishadas and the Sankhya philosophy.
  • Both Mahavira and Buddha rejected the authority of the Vedas and the efficacy of Vedic rites.
  • Both denied the existence of God and upheld ascetic life, moral and ethical codes.
  • Both the teachers upheld non-violence as means of salvation.
  • Both dismissed caste system.
  • Jainism and Buddhism had largest number of followers among the mercantile class.
  • Both Mahavira and Buddha preached their doctrines in the language of the people.

Differences between Jainism and Buddhism

  • Jainism was an ancient creed which existed before the advent of Mahavira.
    • There were at least 23 Tirthankaras before Mahavira.
    • The latter was the last of the Tirthankaras.
    • Mahavira did not found any new religion. He merely introduced certain reforms in Jainism.
    • But Buddhism was entirely a new creed. It had no existence before Buddha.
  • The Jaina conception of soul differed from that of the Buddhists.
    • The Jainas ascribe life to plants, stone and water, which the Buddhists reject.
    • Their concept of Jiva (soul) and Ajiva (matter) is entirely different from the Buddhist concept of soul.
  • The Jainas practice rigorous asceticism and self- mortification.
    • Mahavira himself practiced tremendous physical hardships to realize the Truth. He advised his followers to starve and undergo physical suffering.
    • But Buddha was opposed to extreme penance and privations. He advised a “Middle Path”.
  • While, Mahavira advised his followers to discard garments, Buddha denounced that practice.
  • The Jainas practice extreme form of Ahimsha or non-violence.
    • They do not tolerate the killing of insects and germs even. They ascribe life to inanimate objects like stone, wood etc.
    • The Buddhists although believe in Ahimsa, do not observe it in such an extreme form.
  • Jainism seeks to destroy the evil effects of Karma by rigorous penance, self mortification and non-violence.
    • They do not accept the Buddhist concept of Nirvana.
    • The Buddhists believe that the evil effects of Karma cannot be extinguished in this life. They rather try to destroy the vicious impulses that produce the Karma.
  • In their attitude towards Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism differ.
    • The Jainas do not entirely reject the caste system and do not entirely sever contacts with Hinduism.
    • They are more accommodating to Hinduism than the Buddhists and employ Brahmanical priests for worship.
    • But Buddhism has completely cut itself off from Hinduism and rejects caste system in any form.
  • In the Buddhist literature there is severe criticism of the Jaina doctrines which pre-supposes a great rivalry between both the creeds.
  • In their later developments, while Buddhism became a world religion, Jainism had little progress beyond India.
  • The Buddhists displayed a great missionary zeal. But the Jainas never attempted to get large number of converts in and outside India.
  • While Buddhism has practically vanished from India, Jainism is still a strong living faith having influence upon millions of Indians. Jainism had a great centre at Mathura and Ujjaini. Large numbers of Jaina inscriptions have been found at these places.
Q. Briefly discuss: Buddhist and Jain attitude towards the caste system.
Ans:
It has been recognised that Buddhism and Jainism were not movements for social reform directed against the caste system, and that the there doctrine did not aim at transformation or improvement of the social conditions. However, there attitude towards caste system was different from the Brahmanical concept for varna system.
Buddhist attitude towards the caste system:
  • Buddhism attacked the varna system. The Buddhist tradition considered varna a man-made ordering, unlike the divine sanction conferred on it by the Brahmanical tradition.
    • In the Samyutta Nikaya, when asked about his origins by the Brahmana Sundarika, the Buddha replies, ‘Do not ask of the origin (jati), ask of the behaviour. Just as fire can be born out of any wood, so can a saint be born in a kula of low status.’
  • He said that  a person does not become a Brahmana by birth, but by deed. Birth in a high or low family is often explained as the result of actions in previous lives, but the potential for achieving nibbana is there in all. He puts forward ideal, philosophical, definitions of brahmana and chandala.
    • Not by birth does one become an outcaste, not by birth does one become a brahmana; by deeds or karma one becomes an outcaste, by karma alone one becomes a brahmana.
    • He said: I call no one a brahmana from parentage; the man who has nothing, no possessions, who is free from grasping or covetousness, I call him a brahmana.
    • Likewise, he defines a chandala:  a layman pursuing five things is an outcaste; he is without faith; without morals; is a diviner; believes in luck, not deed; and  seeks outside (the order) for a gift-worthy person.
    • The above saying of Buddha have been interpreted to mean that the Buddha had repudiated the Indian caste system.
      • However, some scholar have interpreted the karmas referred by Buddha are not current karmas, but past deeds, karmas done in previous lives. And a shudra could be reborn in the Brahma-world, that is, attain this status of a brahmana, only after his death.
      • A person born as a brahmana continues to belong to that caste even though he may be vile in his conduct; it is only in the next  birth that he is born according to his deeds—his earlier birth as a brahmana does not protect him against a fall in his caste status.
  • Buddha maintained that maintains that all four castes are equal and describes the brahmanas’ claim to superiority as an empty boast.
  • In Madhura Sutta, Majjhima, he refutes the claim of higher castes to superiority—but on metaphysical grounds: after death, they shall be reborn in accordance with their karmas and not in accordance with their caste (jati).
    • “a man who is a murderer or a thief or a fornicator, or a liar, or  a slanderer, or of violent speech or tattles or covets or is malevolent or holds wrong views, he will, after death at body’s dissolution pass to the state of misery and woe, whether he be a brahmana, a ksatriya, a vaisya or a Sudra.”
  • Regarding the concept of the purity of caste blood, in the Assaldyana Sutta of the Majjhima, the Buddha maintains that all castes are of equal purity:
    • But he attacks the claims of the caste conscious brahmana to social superiority on the ground that his purity of blood might be suspect:  “Do you know for certain that your mother’s mother and your grandmother for seven generations had intercourse with brahmanas only and never with non-brahmanas?”  The Buddha goes on to repeat the same for the father’s side
  • In the Ambaitha Sutta of Dighanikaya III, the Buddha recognises the caste-superiority of ksatriyas over brahmanas by pointing out that the ksatriyas do not admit a child born of an anuloma, or pratiloma marriage into their caste, even though the mother or father might be a ksatriya and the other a brahmana.
    • Such a child was admitted to the brahmana caste.
    • The Buddha therefore concludes that when one compares women with women or men with men, the ksatriyas are superior to the brahmanas, who are lower (hina).
  • Again, in the Esukdri Sutta, the Buddha’s reaction to occupational restrictions and rigidity in relation to various castes is equivocal:
    • He emphasises is that “if the service makes a man bad and not good, it should not be rendered but if it makes  him better and not bad, then it should be rendered.”
    • He further emphasises:  “I assert that uccakulina, high class family, does not enter into a man’s being either good or bad, nor do good looks or wealth, for you will find a man of noble birth who is a murderer, a thief, a fornicator; therefore I assert that noble birth does not make a good man”.
    • In other words, the Buddha recognises the existence of the caste system and only emphasises that it is the moral conduct of a person and not his caste that determines whether he is good or bad. This is saying the obvious; it is no challenge to the caste system.
  • There is direct evidence in the suttas that the Buddha recognised caste distinctions.
    • Buddha once observed that there are four castes, khattiyds, brahmanas, vessds and suddds. “Among these four castes . . . two are pointed to as chief, the nobles (khattiyd) and the brahmanas.
  • Regarding the participation of sudras and outcastes in religious life:
    • it is significant that the Buddha’s sermons are addressed to ksatriyas, brahmanas, grhapatis  (respectable householders) and sramanas or their parisds (assemblies).
    • At Anguttaranikaya, the Buddha describes the goals in life of the three upper castes and makes no mention of the goals of the sudras and outcastes.
    • In other words, the Buddha ignored the Sudras and outcastes while encouraging religious life among the people.
  • There is also no evidence that the Buddha ever denounced the discriminatory caste system based penal laws.
    • In fact, the Buddhist texts do not even show any awareness of such a discrimination.
  • Again, in Jataka, Buddhas take birth only in two castes, ksatriya and brahmana.
  • The later Mahayana doctrine of the bodhisattva expressed no special concern for the under-privileged and the depressed.
    • According to another source,  the Buddha tells Subhuti that the bodhisattva who trains beings to extricate themselves from samsara is not reborn in hell, or as an animal, is free from physical deformities, and also is not reborn among outcastes.
    • Thus,  the bodhisattva was concerned with the alleviation of individual suffering and not with the oppression suffered by the mass of sudras and outcastes.
  • However, Buddhist Monks were a class sui generis, not bound by the caste restrictions,  who had renounced lay life for good.
    • Unlike outcastes, they commanded the respect of all the lay castes.
    • This group and this group alone the Buddha had proclaimed free from caste distinctions: it was casteless.
    • In the Madhura Sutta, it is emphasised that whosoever renounces household life and joins the order of monks—be he a brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya or Sudra—and abstains from stealing, falsehood, etc., and observes the good law, would be entitled to respect and honour irrespective of his caste prior to renunciation.
      • i.e. caste ceases to have relevance when a person attains sainthood.
    • On the other hand, slaves and debtors were not admitted to the samgha unless the slaves had been freed by their masters and the debtors had discharged their debts.
      • This could only restrict any scope for breakdown of the caste system via the samgha.
  • The Buddha emphasises that it is their deeds that divide people into high and low and explain the disparities in life.
    • Buddha says that a person belonging to any caste, including the superior castes of the brahmana and ksatriya, who commits murder, theft, sexual misconduct, is covetous, is malevolent, etc., will “after death, at the body’s dissolution pass to a state of misery and woe.
    • Likewise,  one who observes the panchasila would “after death, at the body’s dissolution” “attain heaven irrespective of whether he be a brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya, or sudra.”
  • In short, Buddhists recognised caste distinctions in the present life as the product of a man’s past karmas and not an accident of birth.
    • Thus, he established a link between caste and karma.
    • What the Buddha taught was that caste does not enter into the moral quality of a person, either good or bad, nor his physical features (good looks) nor his wealth.
    • The Buddha emphasises that past karmas determine the present caste of a human being and the current karmas  determine the caste status in future births.  In this manner, the Buddha found an apparently rational and firm foundation for the caste system in the doctrine of karma.
  • Thus, the Buddha promoted the formation of a casteless samgha recruited from amongst laymen belonging to various castes,  who lost their caste on renouncing lay life.
    • The bhikkhus were supposed to accept food from everyone, regardless of class or caste. It can be seen as a deliberate disregard for current social practices.  The Buddha himself did not maintain any restrictions about accepting food.
  • He did not condemn or repudiate lay observance of the caste system, even the practice of untouchability. He accepted the caste system among laymen as a fact of life; he only emphasised that the law of karma operated impartially, irrespective of the caste of a doer, and that karmic law was not discriminatory like man-made law codes.
Jain attitude towards the caste system:
  • Unlike Buddhism, Jainism did not condemn the varna system but like Buddhism attempted to mitigate the evils of the varna order.
    • According to Mahavira, a person is born in higher or lower varna as the consequence of the sins or the virtues in the previous birth.
    • Thus, like Buddha, Mahavira also linked varna system with Karma theory.
  • Jaina texts reflect the idea of the superiority of the Kshatriya varna over all others.
    • The early medieval Adi Purana attributes the creation of the Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra varnas to the first tirthankara Rishabha. The Brahmana varna is described as having been instituted by Rishabha’s son Bharata, the first chakravarti ruler.
  • Like the Buddhist texts, Jaina texts criticize the Brahmanas, their sacrifices, way of life, and arrogance. But they also talk of the ‘true’ or ideal Brahmana, giving the word new content, shifting the emphasis from birth to conduct.
    • Thus re-defined, only a Jaina monk was worthy of being called a Brahmana.
  • People of all varnas and social backgrounds could enter the Jaina sangha.
    • The Uttaradhyayana Sutra narrates the story of a monk named Harikeshiya who came from a Chandala family.
  • Notwithstanding the theoretical position, all the chief disciples (ganadharas) of Mahavira were Brahmanas belonging to Magadha area, described as having entered the sangha with hundreds of their disciples.
    • There was also a strong Brahmana representation among the Jaina acharyas (Bhadrabahu, Siddhasena Divakara).
Q. Bring out the main points of agreement and difference between Buddhism and Brahmanical Hinduism.  
Ans:
Buddhism and Hinduism have common origins in the Ganges culture of northern India during the “second urbanisation” around 500 BCE. They have shared parallel beliefs that have existed side by side, but also pronounced differences.
Buddhism attained prominence in the Indian subcontinent as it was supported by royal courts, but started to decline after the Gupta era and virtually disappeared from India in the 11th century CE, except in some pockets. It has continued to exist outside of India and has become the major religion in several Asian countries.
Similarity:
  • Many scholars concede that Buddhism was deeply influenced by the Vedic thought in its origin and it was a heresy of Brahmanism.
    • Certain Buddhist teachings appear to have been formulated in response to ideas presented in the early Upanishads – in some cases concurring with them, and in other cases criticizing or re-interpreting them.
    • The influence of Upanishads, the earliest philosophical texts of Hindus, on Buddhism is seen by many scholars.
  • The concept of Nirvana is applicable to both Hinduism and Buddhism.
  • Royal support: Both Buddhism and Hinduism were supported by Indian rulers, regardless of the rulers’ own religious identities. Buddhist kings continued to revere Hindu deities and teachers and many Buddhist temples were built under the patronage of Hindu rulers.
    • This was because Buddhism has never been considered an alien religion to that of Hinduism in India but as only one of the many strains of Hinduism.
  • Basic vocabulary:
    • The Buddha approved many of the terms already used in philosophical discussions of his era; however, many of these terms carry a different meaning in the Buddhist tradition. e.g.
    • Notion of the “three knowledges” (tevijja) is used in both Hinduism and Buddhism.
      • In Brahmanism, a priest who has mastered the three Vedas was said to have a threefold knowledge, in Sanskrit trayãvidyà.
      • In Buddhism, same term is used to denote the insights that emerge just prior to enlightenment.
    • Doctrine of Karma is a central part of Buddhist teachings. In Buddha’s teaching, karma is a direct intentional result of a person’s word, thought and/or action in life. However, Buddhist teachings carry a markedly different meaning from pre-Buddhist conceptions of karma.
    • Dharma (Pāli Dhamma): means Natural Law, Reality or Duty, and with respect to its significance for spirituality and religion might be considered the Way of the Higher Truths.
      • Hindu appellation for Hinduism itself is Sanātana Dharma, which translates as “the eternal dharma.” Similarly, Buddhadharma is an appellation for Buddhism.
      • The general concept of dharma forms a basis for philosophies, beliefs and practices originating in India.
      • The four main ones are Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism (Jaina Dharma), and Sikhism (Sikha Dharma), all of whom retain the centrality of dharma in their teachings.
      • In these traditions, beings that live in harmony with dharma proceed more quickly toward Moksha, or Nirvana (personal liberation).
      • Dharma can refer generally to religious duty, and also mean social order, right conduct, or simply virtue.
    • The term “Buddha” too has appeared in Hindu scriptures before the birth of Gautama Buddha.
      • In the Vayu Purana, sage Daksha calls Lord Shiva as Buddha.
  • Similar symbolism:
    • Mudra: This is a symbolic hand-gesture expressing an emotion. Images of the Buddha almost always depict him performing some mudra.
    • Dharma Chakra: is a Buddhist symbol that is used by members of both religions.
    • Rudraksha: These are beads that devotees, usually monks, use for praying.
    • Tilak: Many Hindu devotees mark their heads with a tilak, which is interpreted as a third eye. A similar mark is one of the characteristic physical characteristics of the Buddha.
    • Swastika: is a sacred symbols seen in Hinduism and Buddhism.
  • Similar practices:
    • Mantra: A mantra is a religious syllable important in both Buddhism and Hinduism.
    • Yoga: The practice of Yoga is intimately connected to the religious beliefs and practices of both Hinduism and Buddhism.
    • Meditation: the concepts of dhyana and samadhi are common to meditative practices in both Hinduism and Buddhism.
  • Tradition of renunciation of Buddhism is also found in Hinduism. Similar idea existed in Vedic tradition too.
    • e.g.  Use of terms like Vanaprasthi, Tapasi, Sanyasi etc. in Vedic text have renunciatory connotation.
    • Sanyasa (total renunciation) is one of the four ashrama of varnashrama system.
  • In later Mahayana literature, however, the idea of an eternal, all-pervading, all-knowing, uncreated and deathless form of Buddha is mentioned. Such idea is similar to Hindu God.
  • The newness, which was most prominent in the earlier form of Buddhism in religious practices, gradually weakened in later days. The Mahayana form of Buddhism appeared nearer to Brahmanical system in several ways.
    • When the Mahayana Buddhism made Buddha into God. Brahmanic Hinduism made Buddha an Avatar of Vishnu. When the people of both the faiths regarded Buddha as their God, and when the Hindus showed utmost reverence to the Buddhist doctrines and the ways of life, the distinction between the two religions began to disappear, and philosophies and forms continued to merge.
    • Both Mahayana Buddhism and Hinduism share common rites, such as the purification rite, prayers for the ancestors and deceased etc.
  • Idol worship began in Buddhism and was adopted by Hinduism.
  • Vajrayana form of Buddhism was highly influenced by the Tantrcism sect of Hinduism.
  • Buddhism is said to have emerged from the depth of the ancient Aryan spiritual faith. The principles which Buddha propounded were already there in one form or the other in the ancient scriptures of the Hindus.
    • In the words of Mr. Rhys Davids, “Gautam was born and brought up and lived and died as a Hindu”.
Differences:
  • Buddhism may have been influenced by some Upanishadic ideas, it however discarded their orthodox tendencies.
  • Buddha had rejected authority of Veda and Vedic rituals.
  • Condemned Sacrifices.
  • Existence of God: Gautama Buddha was very ambiguous about the existence of a Creator Deity (Brahman) and Eternal Self (Atman) and rejected them both.
    • Sources from the Pali Canon and others suggest that the Buddha taught that belief in a Creator deity was not essential to attaining liberation from suffering.
    • The Buddha did not deny the existence of the popular gods of the Vedic pantheon, but rather argued that these devas, who may be in a more exalted state than humans, are still nevertheless trapped in the same sansaric cycle of suffering as other beings and are not necessarily worthy of veneration and worship.
  • Buddha didn’t believe in existence of soul.
    • The Buddha denies the existence of the cosmic Self, as conceived in the Upanishadic tradition.
    • This rejection of God and soul can be taken as a kind of revolution in the history of Indian religions.
  • Buddha attacked the varna system. People were taken into the Buddhist order without any consideration of caste.
  • Women were also taken into sangha and thus brought on par with men, unlike Hinduism where they were debarred from studying Veda.
  • While Buddhism says retirement into forest was open to everyone above the age of twenty regardless of caste
    • Hinduism allows for this to happen at the fourth stage of ashrama system i.e. only after performing all dharmas or duties of one’s life, starting from studying scriptures, working to support children and family and taking care of aged parents and lastly after all the dharma done retire to the forest and slowly meditate, fast and perform rituals and austerities (tapas), until physical disintegration & to reach the ultimate truth or Brahman.
    • Buddhism by contrast emphasises realisation by the middle way (avoiding extremes of luxury or austerities), seeing limited value in the rituals and tapas
  • Buddhism explained that attachment (desire) is the cause of sorrow in society. Therefore, Buddhism’s cure for sorrow was detachment.
    • Hinduism on the other hand explained that both sorrow or happiness is due to ‘Karma‘ or past actions and bad karma can be overcome and good karma can be obtained by following dharma or righteous duty which will ultimately provide ‘Moksha’ i.e. overcoming the cycle of life and joining Brahman.
  • Since the Hindu scriptures are essentially silent on the issue of religious conversion, the issue of whether Hindus proselytize is open to interpretations.
    • Those who view Hinduism as an ethnicity more than as a religion tend to believe that to be a Hindu, one must be born a Hindu. However, those who see Hinduism primarily as a philosophy, a set of beliefs, or a way of life generally believe that one can convert to Hinduism by incorporating Hindu beliefs into one’s life.
    • Buddhism spread throughout Asia via proselytism and conversion. Buddhist scriptures depict such conversions in the form of lay followers declaring their support for the Buddha and his teachings, or via ordination as a Buddhist monk.
  • Soteriology: Upanishadic soteriology is focused on the static Self, while the Buddha’s is focused on dynamic agency. In the former paradigm, change and movement are an illusion; to realize the Self as the only reality is to realize something that has always been the case. In the Buddha’s system by contrast, one has to make things happen.
  • Nonduality: Both the Buddha’s conception of the liberated person and the goal of early Brahminic yoga can be characterized as nondual, but in different ways:
    • in early Brahminism , the nondual goal was that into which one merges after death.
    • But in Buddhism, it is in more radical sense. Here, the liberated sage is defined as someone who has passed beyond conceptual dualities. For the Buddha, propositions are not applicable to the liberated person, because language and concepts, as well as any sort of intellectual reckoning (sankhaa) do not apply to the liberated sage.
  • Brahman: The Upanishads largely consider, Brahman is ultimate reality in the universe. It is final cause of all that exists. It is pervasive, infinite and eternal truth that do not change.
    • In Buddhism, they form a class of superhuman beings, and rebirth into the realm of Brahmas is possible by pursuing Buddhist practices.
  • Brahmin: The Buddha redefined the word “brahmin” so as to become a synonym for arahant, replacing a distinction based on birth with one based on spiritual attainment.
    • Buddha states: “Not by birth is one an outcast; not by birth is one a brahmin. By deed one becomes an outcast, by deed one becomes a brahmin.”
  • Further, The word “Hindu” does not occur in the statement of Buddha; nor does he refer to Vedic sages or Indo-Aryan seers or brahmanas (priests) as the teachers of that ancient path which he followed and practised.
    • The word Hinduism began to be used for Indian religious traditions usually with a view to distinguish them from Christian and Islamic traditions in India.This word came to be used at much later time.
  • Many rulers in ancient time said to have persecuted Buddhist monk and patronized Brahmanism. e.g.  Pushyamitras sunga, Shasanka of Bengal etc.
  • Buddha challenged the systems where they deviated from original intentions and laid the greatest emphasis on the principles of absolute morality, purity, virtue, equality and human values which the ancient seers had preached but the later society did not observe.
Many scholars, including Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, has claimed that the Buddha did not look upon himself as an innovator, but only a restorer of the way of the Upanishads, despite the fact that the Buddha did not accept the Upanishads. But, According to some other scholars, Buddhism can’t be treated merely as a heresy against a prevailing Brahmanical orthodoxy, but, on the contrary, Buddhism should be considered as a historical and independent practice –the way of life – and that has nothing to do with the so called the more ancient faith of Hindus.
Q. Buddhist ideas and Upanishadic thoughts shows many similarities but also some differences.” Comment.
Ans:
Buddhist ideas and Upanishadic thoughts have common origins in the Ganges culture of northern India during the “second urbanisation” around 500 BCE. During this period new ideas developed both in the Vedic tradition in the form of the Upanishads, and outside of the Vedic tradition through the Sramaṇa movements (to which Buddhism was a part).  Both these thoughts emerged as resistance to the existing socio-economic and religious scenario. Since the causes for the emergence of the two ideas are common in nature, there are some similarities in the principles adopted by these religions. However, they differ completely on some of the basic principles.
Similarity:
  • Some of the early Upanishads- the Brhadaranyaka, the Chandogya and the Aitereya- were pre-Buddhistic. Many scholars concede that Buddhism was deeply influenced by Upanisadic thought.
    • Certain Buddhist teachings appear to have been formulated in response to ideas presented in the early Upanishads – in some cases concurring with them, and in other cases criticizing or re-interpreting them.
    • The influence of Upanishads, the earliest philosophical texts of Hindus, on Buddhism is seen by many scholars.
  • The goal of both the Upanishads and the Buddha is escape from the cycle of birth and death – samsaara – from this world of suffering. i.e. Nirvana is acceptable to both. Thus, both believed in undesirability of worldly existence.
  • Both believe that it is desire that is at the origin of suffering and state that we should overcome desire to put an end to suffering.
  • Both are against Vedic sacrifices as a means to salvation.
  • Both stress ethical improvement and knowledge as the true means.
    • For ethical improvement both are in agreement that control, charity and compassion should be practiced.
    • But it is with respect to knowledge that there seems to be a difference between the two.
  • The doctrine of rebirth (transmigration of soul) and the doctrine of Karma is acceptable to Both.
  • The renunciant discipline was propagated by by both Upanishads  and Buddhism.
    • e.g. the Sannyasa ashrama as a separate stage is mentioned in Aruni Upanishad.
  • The Buddha’s teachings utilized much of the same vocabulary of the Upanishas.
    • For example, Dharma for Hindus explains why things are and why they should be. For Buddhists, Dharma came to be defined as the teachings of the Buddha.
  • The values of vegetarianism or nonviolence toward animals is promoted by both Buddhistic and Upanishadic idea.
  • Buddhism is said to have emerged from the depth of the ancient Aryan spiritual faith. The principles which Buddha propounded were already there in one form or the other in the Upanishad.
    • In the words of Mr. Rhys Davids, “Gautam was born and brought up and lived and died as a Hindu”.
Differences:
  • Buddhism may have been influenced by some Upanishadic ideas, it however discarded their orthodox tendencies.
  • Buddha had rejected authority of Veda, while Upanishad is the last part of veda.
  • The concepts of Brahman (ultimate reality) and Atman (soul, self) are central ideas in all of the Upanishads. Buddhism does recognise such construct.
    • Gautama Buddha was very ambiguous about the existence of a Creator Deity (Brahman) and Eternal Self (Atman) and rejected them both.
      • Sources from the Pali Canon and others suggest that the Buddha taught that belief in a Creator deity was not essential to attaining liberation from suffering.
      • The Buddha did not deny the existence of the popular gods of the Vedic pantheon, but rather argued that these devas, who may be in a more exalted state than humans, are still nevertheless trapped in the same sansaric cycle of suffering as other beings and are not necessarily worthy of veneration and worship.
    • Buddha didn’t believe in the permanence of soul.
      • The Buddha denies the existence of the cosmic Self, as conceived in the Upanishadic tradition.
      • This rejection of God and soul can be taken as a kind of revolution in the history of Indian religions.
  • While the renunciant discipline propagated by the Upanishads lent itself to seeking some seclusion from public life, this particular path for avoiding rebirth did not yet approach the level of renunciation later associated with Buddhists.
  • Buddha attacked the varna system. People were taken into the Buddhist order without any consideration of caste. It is not the case with Upanishad.
  • Buddhist teachings carry a markedly different meaning from pre-Buddhist conceptions of karma.
    • In the Brahmanical tradition, karma refers to ritual action and prayers.
    • In the Buddha’s teaching, karma means intentions which lead to actions of body, speech, or mind.
  • While Buddhism says retirement into forest was open to everyone above the age of twenty regardless of caste
    • While Upanishad allows for this to happen at the fourth stage of ashrama system i.e. only after performing all dharmas or duties of one’s life, starting from studying scriptures, working to support children and family and taking care of aged parents and lastly after all the dharma done retire to the forest and slowly meditate, fast and perform rituals and austerities (tapas), until physical disintegration & to reach the ultimate truth or Brahman.
    • Buddhism by contrast emphasises realisation by the middle way (avoiding extremes of luxury or austerities), seeing limited value in the rituals and tapas
  • Buddhism explained that attachment (desire) is the cause of sorrow in society. Therefore, Buddhism’s cure for sorrow was detachment.
    • For Upanishad, on the other hand explained that both sorrow or happiness is due to ‘Karma‘ or past actions and bad karma can be overcome and good karma can be obtained by following dharma or righteous duty which will ultimately provide ‘Moksha’ i.e. overcoming the cycle of life and joining Brahman.
  • Since the Upanishads are essentially silent on the issue of religious conversion.
    • Buddhism spread throughout Asia via proselytism and conversion. Buddhist scriptures depict such conversions in the form of lay followers declaring their support for the Buddha and his teachings, or via ordination as a Buddhist monk.
  • Soteriology: Upanishadic soteriology is focused on the static Self, while the Buddha’s is focused on dynamic agency. In the former paradigm, change and movement are an illusion; to realize the Self as the only reality is to realize something that has always been the case.
    • In the Buddha’s system by contrast, one has to make things happen.
  • Nonduality: Both the Buddha’s conception of the liberated person and the goal of early Brahminic yoga can be characterized as nondual, but in different ways:
    • in early Brahminism , the nondual goal was that into which one merges after death.
    • But in Buddhism, it is in more radical sense. Here, the liberated sage is defined as someone who has passed beyond conceptual dualities. For the Buddha, propositions are not applicable to the liberated person, because language and concepts, as well as any sort of intellectual reckoning (sankhaa) do not apply to the liberated sage.
  • Brahman: The Upanishads largely consider, Brahman is ultimate reality in the universe. It is final cause of all that exists. It is pervasive, infinite and eternal truth that do not change.
    • In Buddhism, they form a class of superhuman beings, and rebirth into the realm of Brahmas is possible by pursuing Buddhist practices.
  • Brahmin: The Buddha redefined the word “brahmin” so as to become a synonym for arahant, replacing a distinction based on birth with one based on spiritual attainment.
    • Buddha states: “Not by birth is one an outcast; not by birth is one a brahmin. By deed one becomes an outcast, by deed one becomes a brahmin.”
    • While Vajrasuchi Upanishad recognize Brahmin as a varna.
Many scholars, including Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, has claimed that the Buddha did not look upon himself as an innovator, but only a restorer of the way of the Upanishads, despite the fact that the Buddha did not accept the Upanishads. But, According to some other scholars, Buddhism can’t be treated merely as a heresy against a prevailing Brahmanical orthodoxy, but, on the contrary, Buddhism should be considered as a historical and independent practice –the way of life – and that has nothing to do with the so called the more ancient faith of Hindus.

Non-Buddhist Ascetic Orders: 

  • There were, no doubt many individual Parivrajakas wandering through the country, but it is doubtful if there were many distinct sanghas, orders or organizations of these ascetics on the lines of the Jain and Buddhist organization.
  • In many passages of the Buddhist scriptures we read of mainly six unorthodox teachers, each of whom was the leader of an important body of ascetics and lay followers.
    • The first of the teachers mentioned, Purana Kassapo was an ‘antinomian’ who taught the doctrine of Akirtya-vada (Non-action) i.e. the absence of merit in any virtuous action and of demerit in the worst of crimes. He was called Purano for his fullness of knowledge.
    • The second heretic, Makkhali Gosala, was the leader of the Ajivikas sect, whose doctrine was the denial of both karma and its effect.
      • According to him, the whole universe was conditioned and determined to the smallest detail by an impersonal cosmic principle, Niyati or destiny.
      • It was impossible to influence the course of transmigration in any way.
    • The third heterodox teacher, Ajita Kesakamblin, a contemporary of the Buddha, was the earliest known teacher of complete materialism. His doctrine was that there was annihilation at death, which shut out the possibility of any effect to be achieved by karma.
    • Pakudha Kachchayana, the fourth teacher, was an atomist, a predecessor of the Hindu Vaishesika School. His doctrine is stated to be: “What is cannot be destroyed: out of Nothing emerges Nothing”. His theory thus excludes Responsibility.
    • The fifth teacher, Nigantha Nataputta, was none other than Vardhaman Manavira, the founder of Jainism.
    • The sixth, Sanjay Belatthaputta was a sceptic, who denied the possibility of certain knowledge altogether.

The Ajivikas

  • The Ajivika sect seems to have been quite old, as there are allusions to prececessors of Makkhali Gosala, its most important leader. Apart from Gosala, Buddhist tradition also connects the Ajivika doctrines with Purana Kassapa and Pakudha Kachchayana.
  • There are many scattered references to this sect. Jaina and Buddhist traditions give accounts of the birth and parentage of Makkhali Gosala, but these seem aimed at giving an etymology for his name and ascribing a low social origin to him, and may therefore have no historical basis whatsoever.
  • Ajivika philosophy of niyati:
    • A central Ajivika idea was that of niyati (fate), the principle that ultimately determined and controlled everything. Human effort was of no consequence in this strictly deterministic doctrine.
    • Karma and transmigration existed, but human effort played no role in it, as the paths for souls over thousands of years had already been mapped out.
  • The Ajivikas had regular places (known as sabhas) where meetings were held and important ceremonies performed. This suggests that they had a corporate organization.
  • They had canonical texts, and Buddhist and Jaina texts contain quotations or paraphrases from them.
  • The Ajivikas practised severe asceticism, often eating very little food (though the Buddhists accused them of eating secretly).
  • They seem to have practised ahimsa (non-injury, non-violence), but apparently not as strictly as the Jainas, since the Bhagavati Sutra mentions that they were allowed to eat meat.
  • They practised complete nudity.
  • Jaina texts criticize them for not observing celibacy.
  • The Ajivika sect did not practice discrimination on the basis of caste or class, and its ascetics and laity came from various sections of society.
    • Some, for instance, a certain relative of king Bimbisara, were Kshatriyas.
    • The ascetic Panduputta was the son of a wagon-maker (considered low in the social hierarchy).
    • Makkhali Gosala used the workshop of a woman potter Halahala as his headquarters at Shravasti.
  • Patrons:
    • Prasenajit, king of Kosala, seems to have been a patron of the Ajivika order.
    • Apart from royalty, urban and trading groups were prominent members of the laity.
  • The severe criticism of the Ajivikas in Buddhist and Jaina texts indicates that they were considered worthy rivals:
    • In the Anguttara Nikaya, the Buddha describes Makkhali Gosala as a foolish man who had brought grief and sorrow to gods and men. Clearly, the Buddhists considered his doctrine the worst and most dangerous of samana doctrines.
    • Jaina texts too reflect bitter rivalry and conflict with the Ajivikas. The Bhagavati Sutra describes a violent quarrel between Makkhali Gosala and Mahavira.
  • The Ajivika sect continued to be influential during later centuries as well:
    • The Mahavamsa suggests that its influence had spread as far south as Sri Lanka.
    • The Divyavadana tells the story of an Ajivika fortune-teller in the Maurya king Bindusara’s court, who prophesied the future greatness of Ashoka.
    • Inscriptions in the Barabar hills record Ashoka’s dedication of some caves to Ajivika ascetics.
    • In the nearby Nagarjuni hills, inscriptions record the dedication of three caves to them by Ashoka’s successor, Dasharatha.
    • Ashoka’s seventh pillar edict urges officers known as the dhammamahamatas to busy themselves with the affairs of sects, including the Ajivikas.
    • The Maurya period may have been the heyday of the Ajivika sect, but references to it continue in various sources till the early medieval period.
Q. Discuss: Rise the Sramana Movement in the 6th century B.C. 
The Sramana Movement
  • The Sramana Movements in the 6th century B.C. refer to several non-Brahmanical ascetic movements parallel to but separate from the Vedic religion. The sramaṇa refers to a variety of renunciate ascetic traditions. The sramaṇa tradition includes Jainism, Buddhism and others such as the Ajivikas, Ajnanas and Charvakas.
  • The sramaṇa movements arose in the same circles of mendicants in ancient India that led to the development of yogic practices, as well as the popular concepts in all major Indian religions such as saṃsara (the cycle of birth and death) and moksha (liberation from that cycle).
  • The Sramaṇic traditions have a diverse range of beliefs, ranging from accepting or denying the concept of soul, fatalism to free will, idealization of extreme asceticism to that of family life, wearing dress to complete nudity in daily social life, strict ahimsa (non-violence) and vegetarianism to permissibility of violence and meat-eating.
Rise the Sramana Movement in the 6th century B.C.:
  • Several sramaṇa movements are known to have existed in India before the 6th century BCE (pre-Buddha, pre-Mahavira), and these influenced both the astika and nastika traditions of Indian philosophy.
  • Martin Wiltshire states that the Sramaṇa tradition evolved in India over two phases:
    • In first phase, the tradition of individual ascetic,
    • In second phase, there were the tradition of disciples, and that Buddhism and Jainism ultimately emerged from these as sectarian manifestations.
    • Wiltshire states that these traditions drew upon already established Brahmanical concepts to formulate their own doctrines.
  • Reginald Ray concurs that Sramaṇa movements already existed and were established traditions in pre-6th century BCE India, but disagrees with Wiltshire that they were nonsectarian before the arrival of Buddha.
  • The sixth century B.C. was an important stage in Indian history as far as the development of new religions is concerned. In this period, we notice a growing opposition to the ritualistic orthodox ideas of the Brahmanas. This ultimately led to the emergence of many heterodox religious movements in the middle Gangetic plains. We hear of as many as 62 religious sects.
    • Among these Buddhism and Jainism developed into most popular and well organised religions.
  • Towards the end of the Vedic period when the Brahmanic and Sramanic traditions intermingled, there existed a “great religious ferment”. This was an appropriate condition for the origin of various movements.
  • Major sramana movements:
    • The Buddhist text of the Samannaphala Sutta identifies six pre-Buddhist sramana schools (heterodox schools), identifying them by their leader.
      • Sramana movement of Purana Kassapa (Amoralism):
        • It believed in antinomian ethics.
        • This ancient school asserted that there are no moral laws, nothing is moral or immoral, there is neither virtue nor sin.
      • Sramana movement of Makkhali Gosala (Ajivika):
        • It believed in fatalism and determinism that everything is the consequence of nature and its laws.
        • The school denied that there is free will, but believed that soul exists.
        • Everything has its own individual nature, based on how one is constituted from elements.
        • Karma and consequences are not due to free will, cannot be altered, everything is pre-determined, because of and including one’s composition.
      • Sramana movement of Ajita Kesakambali (Lokayata-Charvaka):
        • It believed in materialism.
        • Denied that there is an after-life, any samsara, any karma, or any fruit of good or evil deeds.
        • Everything including humans are composed of elemental matter, and when one dies one returns to those elements.
      • Sramana movement of Pakudha Katyayana (Anunada):
        • It believed in atomism.
        • Denied that there is a creator, knower.
        • Believed that everything is made of seven basic building blocks that are eternal, neither created nor caused to be created.
        • The seven blocks included earth, water, fire, air, happiness, pain and soul.
        • All actions, including death is mere re-arrangement and interpenetration of one set of substances into another set of substances.
      • Sramana movement of Mahavira (Jainism):
        • believed in fourfold restraint, avoid all evil.
      • Sramana movement of Sanjaya Belatthiputta (Ajnana):
        • believed in absolute agnosticism.
        • Believed in the theory of uncertainty.
        • Believed in the doctrine of ‘Not approval and nor denial’ of the existence of anything. i.e. Refused to have any opinion either way about existence of or non-existence of after-life, karma, good, evil, free will, creator, soul, or other topics.
    • Similarly, Buddhism too was part of sramana tradition. It was as a sramaṇa that the Buddha left his home and practised austerities.
  • Factors behind rise: The new religious ideas during this period emerged out of the prevailing social, economic and religious conditions. Following are some of the basic reasons which contributed to their emergence:
    • Social condition:
      • In post-Vedic times society was clearly divided into four varnas:  brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas and shudras.
      • Each varna was assigned well-defined functions, although it was emphasised that varna was based on birth and the two higher varnas were given some privileges.
        • The brahmanas, who were given the functions of priests and teachers, claimed the highest status in society. They demanded several  privileges,  including those of receiving gifts and exemption from taxation and punishment.
          • In post-Vedic texts we have many instances of such privileges enjoyed by them.
        • The kshatriyas ranked second in the varna hierarchy. They fought and governed, and lived on the taxes collected from the peasants.
        • The vaishyas were engaged in agriculture, cattle-rearing and trade.
          • They appear as principal taxpayers.
          • However along with the two higher varnas they were placed in the category of dvija or the twice-born. A dvija was entitled to wearing the sacred thread and studying the Vedas from shudras were kept out.
        • The shudra were meant for serving the three higher varnas, and along with women were barred from taking to vedic studies. They appear as domes tic slaves, agricultural slaves, crafts-men and hired labourers in post-Vedic times.
          • They were called cruel, greedy and thieving in habits, and some of them were treated as untouchables.
      • The higher the varna the more privileged and purer a person was. The lower the varna of an offender, the more severe was the punishment prescribed for him.
      • Naturally the varna-divided society seems to have generated tensions.
        • We have no means to find out the reactions of the vaishyas and the shudras.
        • But the kshatriyas, who functioned as rulers, reacted strongly against the ritualistic domination of the brahmanas, and seem to have led a kind of protest movement against the importance attached to birth in the varna system.
        • The kshatriya reaction against the dominalion of the priestly class called brahmanas, who claimed various privileges, was one of the causes of the origin of new religions.
          • Vardhamana Mahavira, who founded Jainism, and Gautama Buddha, who founded Buddhism belonged to the kshatriya clan, and both disputed the authority of the brahmanas.
    • Economics Condition:
      • The real cause of the rise of these new religions lay in the spread a new agricultural economy in north-eastern India.
        • North-east India, including the regions of eastern Uttar Pradesh and northern and southern Bihar, has about 100 cm of rainfall.
        • Before these areas came to be colonized on a large scale, they were thickly forested. The thick jungles could not easily be cleared without the aid of iron axes.
        • In the middle Gangetic plains, large-scale habitations began in about 600 B.C., when iron came to be used in this area. The use of iron tools made possible forest clearance, agriculture and large settlements.
        • The agricultural economy based on the iron ploughshare required the use of bullocks, and it could not flourish without animal husbandry.
        • But the Vedic practice of killing cattle indiscriminately in sacrifices stood in the way of the progress of new agriculture.
          • The cattle wealth slowly decimated because the cows and bullocks were killed in numerous Vedic sacrifices.
          • The tribal people living on the southern and eastern fringes of Magadha also killed cattle for food.
        • But if the new agrarian economy had to be stable, this killing had to be stopped.
      • The period saw the rise of a large number of cities in north-eastern India.
        • We may refer, for example, to Kaushambi near Allahabad, Kusinagar (in Deoria district of Uttar Pradesh), Banaras, Vaishali (in the newly created district of the same name in north Bihar), Chirand (in Saran district) and Rajgir (situated at a distance of about 100 km south-east of Patna).
        • Besides others these cities had many artisans and traders, who began to use coins for the first time.
          • The earliest coins belong to the fifth century B.C. and they are called punch-marked coins.
          • They circulated for the first time in eastern Uttar Prådesh and Bihar.
        • The use of coins naturally facilitated trade and commerce, which added to the importance of the vaishyas.
          • In the brahmanical society the vaishyas ranked third, the first two being: brahmanas and kshatriyas.
          • Naturally – they looked for some religion which would improve their position.
          • Besides the kshatriyas, the vaishvas extended generous support to both Mahavira and Gautama Buddha.The merchants, called the setthis made hand- some gifts to Gautama Buddha and his disciples.
        • There were several reasons for it.
          • First, Jainism and Buddhism in the initial stage did not attach any importance to the existing  varna system.
          • Second, they preached the gospel of non-violence, which would put an end to wars between different kingdoms and consequently promote trade and commerce.
          • Third, the brahmanical law books, called the Dharmasutras, decried lending money on interest. A person who lived on Interest was condemned by them.
        • Therefore, the vaishyas, who lent money on account of growing trade and commerce, were not held in esteem and were eager to improve their social status.
      • On the other hand, we also notice a strong reaction against various forms of private property.
        • Old-fashioned people did not like the use and accumulation of coins made certainly of silver and copper and possibly of gold. They detested new dwellings and dresses, new systems of transport which amounted to luxury, and they hated war and violence.
        • The new forms of property created social inequalities, and caused misery and suflering to the masses of the people.
        • So the common peopie yearned to return to primitive life. They wanted to get back to the ascetic ideal which dispensed with the new forms of property and the new style of life.
        • Both Jainism and Buddhism preferred simple, puritan ascetic living. The Buddhist and Jaina monks were asked to forego the good things of life. They were not allowed to touch gold and silver. They were to accept only as much from their patrons as was sufficient to keep body and soul together.
        • They, therefore. rebelled against the material advantages stemming from the new life in the Gangetic basin.
          • In other words, we find the same kind of reaction against the changes in material life in the mid- Ganga plain in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. as we notice against the changes introduced by the Industrial Revolution in modern times. The ad- vent or the Industrial Revolution made many people think of return to the pre- machine age life; simijarly people in the past wanted to return to the pre- iron age life.
    • Religious conditions:
      • Vedic religious practices had become cumbersome, and in the context of the new society of the period had become in many cases meaningless ceremonies. Sacrifices and rituals increased and became more elaborate and expensive.
        • With the breakup of communities, the participation in these practices also became restricted and as such irrelevant to many sections in the society.
        • The Growing importance of sacrifices and rituals established the domination of the Brahmanas in the society. They acted both as priests and teachers and through their monopoly of performing sacred religious rites, they claimed the highest position in the society which was now divided into four varnas.
      • The Vedic ritualistic practices had ceased to be of much relevance to this new social order.
    • Political conditions:
      • The Kshatriyas, whether in the monarchies or in the gana-samghas, came to wield much more political power than before. SO, resisted the Brahman’s domination.
      • Constant wars among emerging kingdoms, discontented merchants. So. they look for peaceful, non-violent religions.
Thus sramana movements emerged out of the prevailing scenario during later vedic period and highlighted the evils of the Vedic religions. They also developed new ideas on life and God. New philosophies were also being preached. However, it was Buddha and Mahavira, who provided an alternative religious order.

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