Compare and Contrast Hinduism and Jainism Term Paper

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Jainism and Hinduism

Jainism, along with Hinduism and Buddhism, constitutes the three central religious and philosophical traditions of India. In many ways the linkages and evolution of these three religions are inextricably intertwined and can be seen to be coterminous and related to each other. Jainism and Buddhism emerged from within the growing and evolving matrix of Hindu doctrine and philosophy.

Jainism in particular developed in reaction to various aspects of Hindu worldview, particularly with regard to the Brahmanistic stratification of society and its ritual theism.

A comparison of these two faiths also brings attention to bear on the various interpretations of Hinduism. It should also be noted that Hinduism is not one homogenous body of clear-cut practice and doctrine, it is in fact a complex amalgam of various interpretations and views that form a sometimes contradictory whole. Jainism also cannot be seen in isolation from the cultural and philosophical substratum from which it broke away.

A those new religions did not, any more than other religions elsewhere, spring full-grown from the brains of their founders, nor are they out of organic relation to the speculation and the devotion that precede them, as though they were, to use the metaphor of the Sanskrit schoolmen 'flowers in the sky' or 'horns on a hare'. Both Jainism and Buddhism are after all phases of the long Hindu development, absorbing elements from its complexity and responding to certain demands of the spirit it expresses.

MacNicol 62)

The Veda and Brahmanism

The differences between Jainism and Hinduism can best be seen in the reason for the emergence of the Jainist worldview and epistemology as it developed in opposition to the Hindu view of reality. An essential point of difference between Jainism and Hinduism is the rejection of the Vedas as essential and foundational doctrine. For the Hindu faith, at least in theory, the Vedas are the source of Hindi doctrine. However, Jainism views the Vedas as "not particularly sacred and cannot be used as agencies of release from rebirth."

Noss, J.P.99)

This also refers to a central tenet of Jainism, which emphasizes the drive towards release from Samsara to the word of birth, generation and death and the release or Moksha from Karmic return to the earthly plane of existence.

Another difference with Hinduism is that rather than referring to authorial Gods and supernatural referents, Jaina theory asserts that there is no objective God or entity to rely on, but rather that salvation should come from "Within himself." (ibid) This brings Jainism closer to the views of Buddhism. Coupled with the rejection of the Vedas was the rejection of Brahmanism and the Brahmanic stratification of society which was to develop into the caste system.

In the sixth century B.C. The stratification of society and the hardening of religious ritual provoked a simmering discontent that found an outlet in several protest movements... because these protests were directed against the extravagant claims of the Brahmans, they assumed at the outset a heretical and even anti-religious form." (Lerner R, p. 128)

This denial of the authority of the Vedas was a very significant difference and introduced the separation from the mainstream of Hinduism.

The Veda has been considered in Hinduism as the sole source of true religion and rejection of its authoritativeness was a major factor in turning Buddhism and Jainism into separate religions. But, despite the fact that study of the Veda was made an absolute duty for men of the three higher classes, an accurate knowledge of it was lost at an early date and the works of mediaeval commentators give ample evidence of incomplete understanding.

Brockington 5/6)

These protests resulted it the development of Jainism and Buddhism. The essential difference in both Buddhism and Jainism was the rejection of the priestly authority of the Brahman priests.

Each repudiated the authority of priests and Vedas, rejecting all the paraphernalia of religion and replacing it with a system of philosophy. (Ibid) Jainism moved way from the dependence on ritual and gods and towards a sense of religious independence. This movement implied the necessity of finding enlightenment or release from the world within oneself and not in organized ritual and doctrine. This is one of the main aspects that differentiate Jainism from Hinduism. This belief was supported by the examples of those who had accomplished enlightenment in the past. These were the "Jinas."

The Jaina tradition rests on one fundamental fact, namely that human beings are in a position to be omniscient and that this view is based on the teaching of omniscient beings who have taught the basic ideas after having become enlightened through a strict ascetic discipline. These beings are called "Jinas" or victors, who have conquered the passions that bind human beings to worldly life. Since such beings have seen through reality as such, their teaching is regarded as authoritative by the tradition, and Jaina-thinkers throughout the ages have striven to reiterate their views in the hope of arriving at the same insight as the Jinas.

Karma and Rebirth

However, it should also be understood that Jainism cannot be said to be totally separate from its Hindu traditions and many of these aspects were incorporated into Jainism. One of the central elements that are common to both Hinduism and Jainism is the concept of Karma and the rebirth of the soul through reincarnation.

The Jainist view of the need to release one's soul from entrapment within the world of Samsara is much more extreme in concept and practice than either Hinduism or Buddhism. The following extract outlines this philosophical severity and rigid faith that forms a central aspect of Jainism faith and marks it as essentially different to more compromising faiths like Hinduism

Jainism says that the cause of bondage is karma, the product of all activity, thought of as a real but subtle substance which builds up layers of matter round the j-va to form a special body that weighs the j-va down and prevents it resuming its rightful and natural state of free and inactive existence in perpetual isolation, kaivalya, the usual Jain term for the state of release. Release can only therefore, be achieved by dispelling existing karma, while preventing as far as possible the acquisition of more; this is achieved by various elaborate penances, culminating in certain circumstances in self-starvation, and modes of conduct. This materialistic and somewhat mechanistic interpretation of karma leads therefore to an emphasis on extremes of austerity, which is in marked contrast to the Buddhist emphasis on moderation, a mean between indulgence and masochism conducive to detachment.

Brockington 81)

Central to the entire Jainist view of religion is the need to escape the "Karmic Wheel" of recurrence. This also implies a concept of extreme duality between the soul and the body, which is more pronounced than the Hindu philosophy. And doctrines.

Although the universe is pluralistic and contains an infinite number of j-vas, it is a mistake to think that life is either the product or the property of the body, for the principle of life, the j-va, is absolutely distinct from the body, though tied to it by its karma. In its true nature, to be regained in release, the j-va possesses infinite knowledge, insight, bliss and power; knowledge and insight together constitute consciousness, which distinguishes j-va from inanimate matter.

Brockington 82)

Another central aspect of difference between the two religions is the Jainist denial of a "God" or "Supreme Being." This brings Jainism more in line with the Buddhist views and while they differ in many respects they are "both at one in denying a personal Supreme Spirit."

MacNicol 62)


Another central aspect of Jainism that bears some relation to Hindu doctrine, but which is much more extreme, is the doctrine of Ahimsa or non-injury to all living entities. This aspect also relates to the view of the commonality of all life and their connection to the living force of the universe. Ahimsa is defined as the "...ethical principle of non-injury to both men and animals, common to Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism." (The Columbia Encyclopedia) However, while both Hinduism and Jainism agree on the principle of non-violence there are also significant differences within the areas of agreement. The worldview of Jainism is characterized by an extreme form of "biocosmology." (Birodkar, S)

For true Jainism all of life is sacred. It is rather the inner life force that exists independently of the living form that is the focus of this attention. The philosophy of extreme non-violence and non-injury to other life forms integrated with the other aspects of Jainist philosophy.

At the core of Jaina faith lies five vows that dictate the daily life of Jaina laypersons, monks, and nuns. These five vows, which inspired and influenced Mahatma Gandhi, are non-violence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), not stealing (asteya), sexual restraint (brahmacarya), and non-possession (aparigraha). One adheres to these vows in order to minimize harm to all possible life-forms. (ibid)

While there are many areas in which Jainism agrees in principle with Hinduism there…

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