Buddhism and Jainism

Buddhism and Jainism are two branches of the śramaṇa tradition that still exist today. Mahavira and Gautama Buddha were contemporaries.[1] Jainism and Buddhism share many features, including much of the same terminology.

Jainism and Buddhism agree that release from the cycle of births and deaths can be accelerated through effort.[2]


Buddhism separates itself from the Jain tradition by teaching an alternative to Jain asceticism. Buddhist scriptures record that during Prince Siddhartha's ascetic life (before attaining enlightenment) he undertook many fasts, penances and austerities, the descriptions of which are elsewhere found only in the Jain tradition. In Majjhima Nikaya, Buddha shares his experience:[3]

Thus far, SariPutta, did I go in my penance? I went without clothes. I licked my food from my hands. I took no food that was brought or meant especially for me. I accepted no invitation to a meal.

These are in conformity with the conduct of a Digambara monk. Ultimately, the Buddha abandoned reliance upon these methods on his discovery of a Middle Way.[4] In Jainism, there exists a non-extreme pathway for śrāvakas (lay practitioners) with minor vows. Some Buddhist teachings, principles, and terms used in Buddhism are identical to those of Jainism, but they may hold different or variant meanings for each.

Although both Buddhists and Jain had orders of nuns, Buddhist Pali texts record the Buddha saying that a woman has the ability to obtain nirvana in the dharma and Vinaya. According to Digambaras women are capable of spiritual progress but must be reborn as a man in order to attain final spiritual liberation. The religious texts of the Śvētāmbaras mention that liberation is attainable by both men and women.[5]

The Jain community (or Jain sangha) consists of monastics, munis (male ascetics) and aryikas (female ascetics) and householders, śhrāvaks (laymen) and śrāvakīs (laywomen).[6]

Buddhism has a similar organization: the community consists of renunciate bhikkhus and bhikkhunis and male and female laypersons, or śrāvakas and śrāvikas, who take limited vows.

Whether or not it was an influence of Jain culture and philosophy in ancient Bihar that gave rise to Buddhism is unclear, but there are some striking similarities between the two traditions and Buddhism may have adopted many of its ideas and traditions from preexisting ones held by the Jains, including calendrical systems.

In fact, it is even possible that among the surviving calendars today, the Buddha Nirvana calendar (with a zero point in 544 BC) may actually be significantly older than the Kaliyuga calendar. And so, quite possibly, is the Mahavira Nirvana calendar of the Jains (with a zero point in 527 BC).
Amartya Sen, India through its Calendars [7][8]

Jainism in Buddhist Texts

Pāli Canon

The Pāli Canon does not record that Mahavira and Gautama Buddha ever met, though instances of Mahavira's disciples questioning Gautama Buddha are to be found in various suttas. The Buddhists have always maintained that by the time the Buddha and Mahavira were alive, Jainism was already an entrenched faith and culture in the region. According to the Pāli Canon, Gautama was aware of Mahavira's existence as well as the communities of Jain monastics

Buddhist texts refer to Mahavira as Nigaṇṭha Jñātaputta.[9] Nigaṇṭha means "without knot, tie, or string" and Jñātaputta (son of Natas), referred to his clan of origin Jñāta or Naya (Prakrit).[10]

The five vows (non-injury, truth, non-attachment, non-thieving, celibacy/chastity) propounded by the 23rd Jain Tirthankara, Pārśva (877-777 BCE),[9] may have been the template for the Five Precepts of Buddhism. Additionally, the Buddhist Aṅguttaranikāya scripture quotes the independent philosopher Purana Kassapa, a sixth century BCE founder of a now-extinct order, as listing the "Nirgranthas" as one of the six major classifications of humanity.

Buddhist writings reflect that Jains had followers by the time the Buddha lived. Suggesting close correlations between the teachings of the Jains and the Buddha, the Majjhima Nikaya relates dialogues between the Buddha and several members of the "Nirgrantha community".

Indian Buddhist tradition categorized all non-Buddhist schools of thought as pāsaṇḍa "heresy" (pasanda means to throw a noose or pasha—stemming from the doctrine that schools labelled as Pasanda foster views perceived as wrong because they are seen as having a tendency towards binding and ensnaring rather than freeing the mind). The difference between the schools of thought are outlined in the Samaññaphala Sutta[11] of the Digha Nikaya.


The ancient text Divyavadana (Ashokavadana is one of its sections) mention that in one instance, a non-Buddhist in Pundravardhana drew a picture showing the Buddha bowing at the feet of Mahavira. On complaint from a Buddhist devotee, Ashoka, the Maurya Emperor, issued an order to arrest him, and subsequently, another order to kill all the Ājīvikas in Pundravardhana. Around 18,000 Ājīvikas were executed as a result of this order.[12] Sometime later, another ascetic in Pataliputra drew a similar picture. Ashoka burnt him and his entire family alive in their house.[13] He also announced an award of one dinara (silver coin) to anyone who brought him the head of a Jain. According to Ashokavadana, as a result of this order, his own brother, Vitashoka, was mistaken for a heretic and killed by a cowherd. Their ministers advised that "this is an example of the suffering that is being inflicted even on those who are free from desire" and that he "should guarantee the security of all beings". After this, Ashoka stopped giving orders for executions.[12]

According to K. T. S. Sarao and Benimadhab Barua, stories of persecutions of rival sects by Ashoka appear to be a clear fabrication arising out of sectarian propaganda.[13][14][15]

Buddhist Texts in Jain Libraries

Several Buddhist texts have been found in Jain libraries, suggesting that Jain scholars sometimes studied Buddhist texts also.

Padmanabh Jaini has reported that Vasudhara Dharani, a Buddhist work was still in among the Jainas of Gujarat in 1960s, and a manuscript was copied in AD 1638.[16] The Dharani was recited by non-Jain Brahmin priests in private Jain homes.

Shared Terminology

In many instances, both philosophies continue to share similar Prakrit terminology for important themes even though meaning may differ a bit, for example the term nirvana where its meaning is same in both the traditions but the state of nirvana described is somewhat different.

The shared terms include Sangha, Shramana (monk), Shravaka (Householder in Jainism, Buddha's disciple in Buddhism), Jina (Tirthankara in Jainism, Buddha in Buddhism) and Arhat (somewhat similar meaning in both), Chaitya, Stupa, Pudgala (Matter in Jainism, soul in Buddhism) etc.

The teachings may differ significantly in the interpretation. This method of teaching adopted by the Buddha points to the pragmatic aspect of his style of teaching wherein the Buddha uses words and terms that are familiar to the audience instead of introducing new and complex technical jargon. In this way, Buddhism sought to appeal to a broad audience.


In Jainism, the way of liberation is the ford (tirtha), and Tirthankaras "those making the ford" (from samsara to moksha) are supreme teachers.[17] Same concept is found in Buddhism which says that through enlightenment (bodhi) an individual crosses the river of samsara and attain liberation. Both religions deny the existence of a creator god.[18] Buddhism and Jainish evince a shared belief in the existence of geographical regions beyond the parameters of Bharatvarsha, access to which could not be gained by ordinary human beings.[19]

Karakandu, a Pratyekabuddha in both Jainism and Buddhism, is a rare personality that is shared between Jainism and Buddhism.[20] The Jain text Isibhasiyam mentions Vajjiyaputra, Mahakashyap and Sariputra among the rishis.[21]


Jain vegetarianism is required for both monastics and laity. In Buddhism, Mahayana monks in China, Japan (see Shojin-ryori), Korea and Vietnam are vegetarian; however, vegetarianism is not required for lay Buddhists. In Theravada monastic tradition, a monk should eat whatever is placed in his bowl when receiving food. The exceptions not to eat given meat were if the monk knew an animal was killed especially for him or he heard the animal being killed.

Jainism regards the existence of an eternal Jiva (Atman), Buddhism while denying Atman, uses the term Pudgala for the entity that is reborn (see anatta).[22]

Jainism discourages monks and nuns from staying in a single place for a long time, with the exception of 4 months in the rainy season (chaturmas). Thus most of the time the Jain monks and nuns keep wandering staying in a place for just a few days. Some Theravada Buddhist monks also observe vassa rules, but often they stay in one monastery.

See also


  1. Dundas, Paul (2003). Jainism and Buddhism, in Buswell, Robert E. ed. Encyclopedia of Buddhism, New York: Macmillan Reference Lib. ISBN 0028657187; p.383
  2. Zimmer 1953, p. 266.
  3. Pruthi, R.K. (2004). Buddhism and Indian Civilization. Discovery Publishing House. p. 197. ISBN 978-81-71418664. Retrieved 1 April 2015.
  4. Jain & Upadhye 2000, p. 58.
  5. Jaini, Padmanabh S. (1991). Gender and salvation : Jaina debates on the spiritual liberation of women. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520068209.
  6. Sangave 2001, p. 64.
  7. Sen, Amartya (May 2000). "India Through its Calendars". The Little Magazine (1).
  8. India through its calendars Vol I : issue 1 by Amartya Sen http://www.littlemag.com/2000/senfooter.htm
  9. 1 2 Sangave 2001, p. 21.
  10. Zimmer 1953, p. 223.
  11. Samaññaphala Sutta, accesstoinsight.org, retrieved 2009-11-30
  12. 1 2 John S. Strong (1989). The Legend of King Aśoka: A Study and Translation of the Aśokāvadāna. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. pp. 232–233. ISBN 978-81-208-0616-0. Retrieved 30 October 2012.
  13. 1 2 Benimadhab Barua (5 May 2010). The Ajivikas. General Books. pp. 68–69. ISBN 978-1-152-74433-2. Retrieved 30 October 2012.
  14. Steven L. Danver, ed. (22 December 2010). Popular Controversies in World History: Investigating History's Intriguing Questions: Investigating History's Intriguing Questions. ABC-CLIO. p. 99. ISBN 978-1-59884-078-0. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
  15. Le Phuoc (March 2010). Buddhist Architecture. Grafikol. p. 32. ISBN 978-0-9844043-0-8. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
  16. Vasudhara dharani A Buddhist work in use among the Jainas of Gujarat, Padmanabh S Jaini, Mahavir Jain_Vidyalay Suvarna_Mahotsav Granth Part 1, 2002, p. 30-45.
  17. Zimmer 1953, p. 474.
  18. Sangave 2001, p. 139.
  19. Patrick Olivelle 2006, p. 396.
  20. [Ascetic Figures Before and in Early Buddhism: The Emergence of Gautama as the Buddha, Issue 30 of Religion and reason, ISSN 0080-0848, Martin G. Wiltshire, Walter de Gruyter, 1990p. 112]
  22. Sangave 2001, p. 140.


Further reading

External links

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