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Part 2: Jain Reform Movement

Survival of Jainism Through Ages

Both royal and popular support gave a good opportunity to the Jaina monks to establish various centers of learning viz. monasteries, libraries, and temples.  Besides royal patronage, the Jaina leaders of both these sects occupied hold over the middle and the trading classes in the society. The monks kept constant contact with these classes and thus were able to build up a solid organization of Jaina laity.

R. Willams in his book ‘Jaina Yoga says, “To the early period – the dark age covering the first millennium – belong the whole world of Swetambara canon and such fundamental Digambara works as the Prabhrtas of Kundakunda and the Tattvartha Sutra. The middle or mediaeval period extending from the fifth to the end of the thirteenth century is the most important historically and sees the greatest achievements in art and literature. Jaina groups and individuals in various parts of western and southern India are found exerting at times considerable influence on political developments until the renaissance of Shaivism (especially in the form of Virasaivism) in the South and the expansion of Islam in the North shatter the flourishing Jain communities.”[1]

In the course of migration from eastern to western and southern India, many changes have occurred in Jaina religion. Because of migration vast number of sects and sub-sects arose in both Swetambara and Digambara traditions. “Constant dissensions amongst themselves divided the Jaina community into numberless sects such as the Punamiyagaccha, the Khartaragaccha, the Ancalagaccha, the Sardhapunamiyagaccha, the Agamikagaccha and the Tapagaccha”.[2] (These are sub sects of Swetambara). The Swetambaras further divided into Lonkagaccha, Sthanakavasi, and the Terapantha sects. The Digambara Mulasamgha also got further divided into Nandi Samgha, Dravida Samgha, Sena Samgha, and in mediaeval ages it got further sub – divided into Taranpanth, Totapanth, Bisapantha, Bhattarakas, Terapantha and the latest is the Kanjipantha.

“However, the essential change in Jainism during the mediaeval period is its transformation from a philosophy, a darsana to a religion. All the new trends are in one sense or another movement towards a fuller way of life.”[3] Each sect claims its sole right to moksa and regards the teachings of other sects as mithyatva. “Hindu influences are at work throughout Jaina history though the Digambaras are significantly affected by them at an earlier date than the Swetambaras. The main line of hinduization runs through Jinasena, Camundaraya and Asadhara. On the basis of the Hindu Samskaras an ambitious fabric of Jaina kriyas was set up and at the same time mantras intruded more and more into the continually enriched ritual, yogic techniques were adopted and the Manu Smrti, the Vatsyayana Kamasutra and the Ayurvedic texts show, Hindu Sastras gained wider currency. In case of the Swetambara community the opening up of new and wider horizons was largely the work of Hemachandra.”[4]  “Early Jainism knows no rules for eating, for bathing, for excretion save those which are designed to avoid destruction of life, and none at all for copulation, which theoretically should not take place, but the later Sravakacara took over from Hinduism minute instructions on these points. Puja, which initially has little importance because it does not affect the survival of the jaina religion as such, comes to be given a greater significance than dana, which is essential since without it the monks could not live.”[5] “Jainism had no special doctrines. The domestic rites of the laymen such as birth, marriage and death, were those of the Hindus.”[6]

With the adoption of ritualism from Hinduism Jaina religion became more and more ritualistic. Excessive importance to the rituals related to temple worship led to the rise of another sect, viz. lonkagaccha which denounced such rituals and which later on developed into Sthanakavasi.

One of the most puzzling of the many enigmas that characterize Indian history is the decline and disappearance, of the religion of the Buddha from its native land between the seventh and thirteenth centuries AD. P. S. Jaini remarks, and quotes R. C. Mitra, “Numerous theories have been put forth in the attempt to explain this phenomenon; these are summarized as follows by R. C. Mitra in his excellent work, The Decline of Buddhism in India:

  1. Exhausation
  2. Withdrawal of royal patronage
  3. Brahmanical persecution
  4. Muslim invasion
  5. Internal corruption and decay
  6. Divisive Effect of Sectarianism
  7. Insufficient cultivation of the laity

Both movements actively sought and often gained royal patronage, and typically migrated along the trade routes (often one behind the other) in its pursuit; both developed extensive bodies of philosophical literature and were vilified for propounding anti-Vedic doctrines.  Most important, both lived in what might be called a constant state of siege, struggling to preserve their integrity amidst a veritable sea of more or less hostile Hindu custom and belief.  Thus, while Jainas and Buddhists often engaged in heated polemics against each other, we are nevertheless justified in viewing them as “cousin” traditions occupying an equivalent position relative to the surrounding environment. Serious as their neglect of the need for lay involvement was the Buddhists committed an even greater error by failing to respond meaningfully to the threat posed by the waves of bhakti that swept across India from the fourth or fifth century onwards. The popularity of the various Hindu devotional sampradayas, and particularly of those associated with Rama and Krsna, must have engendered a great many lay defections from the Buddhist ranks.  This problem was compounded by the depiction of the Buddha himself, in the Mahabharata, certain Puranas, and Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda, as nothing more than another avatara of Visnu.  Buddhist monks were perhaps unaware of the grave dangers represented by these developments; not a single extant text shows any attempt either to assimilate the popular Hindu deities’ into mythology or to refute the notion of Buddha as avatara. The latter point was perhaps most crucial, for by their silence Buddhist writers seemed to lend tacit support to the Hinduization of their founder; this process certainly contributed to the undermining of whatever sense of uniqueness of the laity may have felt.”[7]

A. L. Basham says, “It has been suggested that Jainism survived in India, whereas Buddhism perished because the former sect took better care of the lay folk. In Jainism the laymen was a definite member of the order, encouraged to undertake periodical retreats and to live as far as possible the life of the monk for a specific period.”[8]

Thus the Jaina religion is quite ancient whose known history extends over three millennia. This fact shows, on the one hand, that it has the tenacity to survive so long and on the other that there are many elements which are not consistent with the present times and which are outdated and hence are required to be pruned. This double aspect of an ancient institution presents a dilemma as to what is to be retained and what is to be changed.

An utmost care is required to be taken to see that its eternal, atemporal spirit is retained while its outward/ external dress changes according to times. But normally in the case of religious institutions the spirit gets lost and the external rituals and practices are blindly followed without any significance. It is, therefore, necessary for the religious leaders to be on the constant vigil, to be watchful to see that the eternal spirit of religion is not lost while the outward forms go on changing according to material conditions, places, times, and changes in culture and civilization. Left to itself, the religion has the natural tendency to deteriorate spiritually while retaining the outdated external unessential.

[1] R. Williams, Jaina Yoga, p.xii.

[2] S. Stevenson, The Heart of Jainism, pp 86-87.

[3] R. Williams, op. Cit. , p. xx.

[4] Ibid, p. xxiii

[5]Ibid. p. xxiv.

[6] A. L. Basham, The Wonder That was India, p. 296.

[7]P.S.Jaini,  The Collected Papers of Buddhist Studies, pp.139-145.

[8] A. L. Basham, Op. cit., p. 296.

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