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Chapter: 9th Social Science : History : Intellectual Awakening and Socio-Political Changes

Jainism and Buddhism

In the Gangetic plain, iron plough agriculture required the use of bullocks. But the indiscriminate killing of cattle for Vedic rituals and sacrifices caused resentment.

Jainism and Buddhism

In the Gangetic plain, iron plough agriculture required the use of bullocks. But the indiscriminate killing of cattle for Vedic rituals and sacrifices caused resentment. The founders of Jainism and Buddhism did not prescribe killing as a religious rite. They secured their livelihood mostly by alms. Celibacy and abstinence from holding property made the new teachers much more acceptable than the Brahman priests. The people’s resentment about the expensive and elaborate Vedic rituals, animal sacrifice and the desire for wealth eventually took them towards Jainism and Buddhism.

Mahavira and Buddha lived a life of purity and exemplified simplicity and self-denial. They lived in the times of Bimbisara and Ajatashatru, the famous kings of Magadha. The commercial development of the northern cities like Kaushambi, Kushinagara, Benaras, Vaishali and Rajgir added importance to the Vaishyas who turned to Buddhism and Jainism in their eagerness to improve their social status.




Mahavira: Birth and Life

Vardhamana Mahavira was born in 599 BCE at Kundagrama near Vaishali. His mother was Trishala, a Lichchavi princess. He spent his early life as a prince and was married to a princess named Yashoda. The couple had a daughter. At the age of thirty, he left his home and became an ascetic. For over twelve years, Mahavira wandered from place to place, subjecting himself to severe penance and self-mortification. In the thirteenth year of his asceticism, he acquired the highest knowledge and came to be known as Jaina (the conqueror) and Mahavira (great hero). Jains believe that Mahavira came in a long line of Tirthankaras and he was the twenty fourth and the last of them. Rishabha was the first Tirthankara and Parshvanath the penultimate or the twenty third. Mahavira travelled extensively as a preacher in the kingdoms of Magadha, Videha and Anga. Magadha rulers Bimbisara and Ajatashatru were influenced by his teachings. Thousands of people became his followers. After 30 years of preaching, Mahavira died at Pawapuri in 527 BCE at the age of seventy two.


Teachings of Mahavira


The three principles of Jainism, also known as Tri-ratnas, are the following:


·        Right faith: Belief in the teachings and wisdom of Mahavira.

·        Right knowledge: Acceptance of the theory that there is no God and that the world existed without a creator.

·        Right action: It refers to the Mahavira’s observance of the five great vows: (a) ahimsa, (b) honesty, (c) kindness, (d) truthfulness and (e) not coveting or desiring things belonging to others.


Spread of Jainism


Inordertospreadhisnewfaith,Mahavira founded monasteries and engaged munis (Jaina monks) who led a very austere life. In North India, this new faith was patronised by rulers such as Dhana Nanda, Chadragupta Maurya and Kharavela. There was a notable following for Jainism in Karnataka and western India during the 4th century BCE. Jainism encouraged the public spirit among all who embraced it. Varna system practiced by Brahmans was challenged. People were spared from the costly and elaborate rituals and sacrifices. Mahavira believed that all objects, both animate and inanimate, have souls and various degrees of consciousness. They possess life and feel pain when they are injured.


Split in Jainism


In course of time, Jainism split into two branches, namely the Digambaras (sky-clad) and the Svetambaras (white- clad). The Digambaras were the orthodox followers of Mahavira. The Digambaras rejected clothes altogether. Svetambaras wore a white dress from head to toe.


Decline of Jainism


The lack of royal patronage, its severity, factionalism and spread of Buddhism led to the decline of Jainism in India.




Gautama Buddha: Birth and Life


Gautama Buddha was the son of Suddhodana, the chief of a Kshatriya clan of the Sakyas of Kapilavastu in present-day Nepal. His given name was Siddhartha. Gautama Buddha    As he belonged to the Sakya clan, he was also known as ‘Sakya Muni’. He was born in 567 BCE in Lumbini Garden, near Kapilavastu. His mother, Mayadevi (Mahamaya), died after a few days of his birth and he was brought up by his step-mother. In order to divert his attention towards worldly affairs, his father got him married at the age of sixteen to a princess called Yashodhara. He led a happy married life for some time and had a son by name Rahula.

One evening, while Siddhartha was passing through the city, he came across an old man who had been abandoned by his relatives, a sick man crying with pain and a dead body surrounded by weeping relatives. Siddhartha was deeply moved by these sights. He also saw an ascetic who had renounced the world and found no sign of sorrows. These ‘Four Great Sights’ prompted him to renounce the world and search for the cause of suffering. In 537 BCE, he left his palace and went into the forest in search of truth. In the course of his wanderings, he sat under a peepal tree for several days until he attained enlightenment. The place where he attained enlightenment, the Mahabodhi temple, still exists in Bodh Gaya (Bihar).

After his enlightenment, Buddha decided to impart his knowledge to the people. He went to Varanasi and gave his first sermon at Saranath. He preached in the kingdoms of Magadha and Kosala. A large number of people became his followers including his own family. After forty five years of preaching, he breathed his last in 487 BCE at Kushinagar (near Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh) at the age of eighty.

Teachings of Buddhism


i.            Four Great Truths: (1) There is suffering and sorrow in this world. The cause of human suffering is desire and craving. (3) This pain or sorrow can be removed by suppressing desire and craving. (4) This is to be achieved by leading a disciplined life or by following what Buddha called the ‘Noble Eight-fold Path’.

ii.            Attainment of Nirvana: According to Buddha, a person should aim at attainment of nirvana or the highest bliss, and it could be achieved by any person by leading a virtuous life and by following the Noble Eight-fold Path.

iii.            The Noble Eight-fold Path: Buddha preached a new path to attain the purest state of mind: (1) right views, right aspirations, (3) right speech, right action, (5) right livelihood, right effort, (7) right mindfulness and (8) right contemplations or meditation. Buddha preached that he who practices the eight-fold path can attain the highest and purest state of mind.

iv.            Middle Path and Salvation: Buddha advised his followers neither to indulge in material pleasures and luxuries nor to practice austere penances. He said that by following the ‘Middle Path’, people could attain moksha or salvation, that is freedom from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.

v.            Ahimsa or Non-violence was another fundamental belief of Buddha. He condemned bloody sacrifices in the yajnas. According to him, love for all living beings was an essential disposition for a good practitioner of Buddhism.

vi.            Emphasis on Morality: Buddha advised his followers to do good deeds and lead a moral and disciplined life. He appealed to them to refrain from lying, from killing living beings, from taking intoxicants, from stealing and from leading a sensual life.


Spread of Buddhism


Buddha, in order to carry his message to different parts of India, established the Buddhist sangha or the Holy Order of Monks. The bikshus (monks) and the bikshunis (nuns) were enlisted for spreading the faith and they were required to lead a life of purity and poverty. Buddhism spread to Central Asia, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Southeast

Asia, as well as the eastern countries of China, Mongolia, Korea, Japan and Vietnam.


The Split in Buddhism


During the reign of Kanishka, the Buddhist monk Nagarjuna initiated reforms in the way Buddhism was being followed. As a result, Buddhism was split into two as Hinayana and Mahayana.


I.        The Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle) was the original creed preached by Buddha. The followers of this form regarded Buddha as their guru and did not worship him as God. They denied idol worship and continued with the people’s language, Pali.

II.            In Mahayana (Greater Vehicle), Buddha was worshipped as God and Bodhisattuva as his previous avatar. The followers made images and statues of Buddha and Bodhisattuva and offered prayers, and recited hymns (mantras) in their praise. Later, they wrote their religious books in Sanskrit. This form of Buddhism was patronised by Kanishka.


Decline of Buddhism


Buddhism declined in India due to the following reasons:


1. Buddhism was popular in the beginning because it was preached in people’s language (Pali). The later texts were written in Sanskrit, which was difficult for the common people to understand.

2. The split in Buddhism into Hinayana and Mahayana was another vital reason. Image worship in Mahayana made no difference between Hinduism and Buddhism.

3. Buddhism lost its royal patronage during the reign of Guptas.

4. Further, the invasions of Huns and Turks almost wiped out Buddhism.


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