Buddhism and Jainism, even though they have their similarities based on the fact they are both derived from Hinduism in one way or the other- have their differences; whether it be their history, their principles or their extent of influence during the reign of majestic kings.

Jainism and Buddhism are the offshoots of their common mother, Hinduism.  With their origin set in India, both the religions draw greatly from Hindu concept and thoughts. Although very similar to each other, the two religions have significant differences. Let’s dig their common ancestral roots.

The beginning

Gautam Buddha, also Buddha Shakyamuni was born in the royal Kshatriya family of Shakya at Lumbini, near Kapil Vastu. The area comes in the present border between India and Nepal. At the age of 35, he attained enlightenment after 49 days of meditation near Bodh Gaya and became Buddha. Throughout the years in between 532 and 487 B.C., he standardized the elementary principles of his thinking, which later came to be well known as “Buddhism.”

512px Mahabodhitemple Jainism and Buddhism: Comparison and Contrast

The Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, India. Two monks are meditating in front of it. The tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment is on the left, behind the monks. This temple is the number 1 pilgrimage site of Buddhism in the world.

Vardhmana Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, too was born in a royal family in Vaishali, an ancient city in Bihar. At the age of 30, he left his home and after wandering for almost 12 years, he attained supreme knowledge at the age of 42. This valuable epoch of his religious life can be placed in between 497 and 467 BC. However, Jainism claims to be much older than this time. Jains estimate that there were 23 tirthankara (teachers) before Vardhaman and that he was the very last tirthankara. Jains have a prosperous custom of tales woven around their 24 tirthankaras.

Characteristics and Principles

Buddhism revolves around the principles of good conduct and doesn’t acknowledge the existence of a supreme deity. In Buddhism, the only way to reach the peak of salvation/nirvana, i.e. permanent liberty from the birth and death cycle is by following a set of ethical and moral principles. It does not acknowledge the principles of the Hindu social order i.e. jati and varna system or maintain the system of animal sacrifice.

Upadesamala2 Jainism and Buddhism: Comparison and Contrast

The text is a Prakrit didactic work of how best to live a proper Jain life.

Jainism also contains several elements that are similar to Buddhism. It defends the practice of non violence- ahimsa, which is its main philosophy. Jainism believes that every individual’s soul is eternal and so gives a lot of value to follow practices such as fasting which ‘cleans’ human beings.

Kings and Kingdoms

During the reign of Emperor Ashoka (273-236), the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, Buddhism, obtained a leading position in India. Under Ashoka’s support, Buddhism not only spread all over India but also far outside of its borders. With the supremacy and spread of Buddhism Jainism lost its grip in eastern India, but found refuge in the western and southern India.

Cambodia 08   132   Angkor Thom   Bayon 3228948006 Jainism and Buddhism: Comparison and Contrast

The stunning temple complex of the Bayon in Angkor Thom. Devoted to Mahayana Buddhism originally, then HInudism and then Theravada Buddhism. What makes this temple unique and spectactuar is the over 200 gigantic, smiling faces looking out in all direction is a mass of serene complexity.

The Nanda Kings and then, the first Mauryan King, Chandragupta Maurya (321-296) brought impetus to Jainism. During Chandragupta’s rule, Jainism started spreading all over India. However, its extension was marked by the materialization of two sects, that is Digambara, where followers remained sky-clad (i.e. naked), and Svetambara, where they wore white robes.

Although the origins of both religions, Buddhism and Jainism are identical, their growth and expansion have a different tale to tell. Buddha is considered an avatar of Vishnu and Buddhism got state patronage. Emperor Ashoka played a vital role in spreading the religion. On the contrary, Jainism could never get state patronage. The strict religion, therefore appealed to less, but you will find that Jains, if not in the world, are spread all over India in small groups.

By Deepti Verma

Also See:
Bagan: The Ancient Lost Temple City of Myanmar
The Spirit of True Sacrifice In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

Image Source: By Myself (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons, By Art from 17th c manuscript [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, By McKay Savage from London, UK [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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