Jainism is one of the oldest religions of India. We do not know exactly when it was founded. The Jains themselves say that Jainism has existed since eternity and it had like the Jain universe no beginning and would have no end. Most of the saints of Jainism belonged to remote ages, millions and billions of years ago. However, for practical purposes we may take Mahavira, their last great saint, as a historical figure. He was a contemporary of the Buddha.


     Mahavira was the twenty-fourth and last of the Tirthankara (ford-makers) of this age. The twenty-third Tirthankara was Parshvanatha. He is said to have lived two hundred and fifty years before Mahavira. The historicity of Mahavira is difficult to prove from Jain sources alone because these were reduced to writing quite late. In fact one of the two main sects of the Jains, the Digambaras think that no records of the period of Mahavira have survived. The other sect, the Svetambaras assert that the oral traditions of the time of Mahavira were actually put down in the written form in the fifth century AD, i.e., a thousand years after Mahavira. Some account of the life of Mahavira, can be obtained from this literature. According to the Svetambaras, Mahavira was born in Vaishali a place about 45 km. from Patna on Chaitra, Shukla Trayodasi in 599 BC. He was Kshatriya prince belonging to Jnatra clan. He died in 527 BC in Pavapuri near Rajagriha. King Shrenika and his son Kunika were the rulers of Magadh during his time.


     The historicity of Mahavira is sought to be proved by comparing these facts with those obtained form the Buddhist sources. The Pali Buddhist texts on the life and sayings of the Buddha are claimed to have been compiled shortly after his death. They mention quite often a Nataputta who belonged to the sect of the Niganthas (free from bonds.) According to these sources Nataputta died in Pava thirty years before death of the Buddha. The rulers of Magadh during the Buddha's time were Bimbisara and his son Ajatashatru.


     It is asserted that the person mentioned as Nataputta in the Buddhist texts was the same as Mahavira, the Jnatraputra of the Jains. The name of the place where he died is the same in both the sets of sources. Shrenika and Kunika, the two kings mentioned in the Jain sources were Bimbisara and Ajatashatru mentioned in the Buddhist (as well as in the Hindu Purana) texts. In fact the full name Shrenika Bimbisara is mentioned in the (Jain) Dasasruta Skandha.1


     Ajatashatru's son according to the Buddhist sources was Udayabhadda. According to the Jain sources Kunika's son was Udayin. Since the names of the sons also are similar Kunika is identified with Afatashatru.


     Jain, as the name of this particular sect does not occur in the Buddhist sources. The reason is that both Mahavira and the Buddha were called Jina by their respective followers, and the term Jain would thus technically denote both the sects. However, the Niganthas according to the Buddhists were known for extreme asceticism. This is a characteristic, which differentiates the Buddhists and the Jains. There is little doubt, therefore, that the Niganthas are the same people who were known as the Jains in later days. In fact the old Jain literature such as the Acharanga Sutra and the Kalpa Sutra describe their own community as that of Nigganthas.


     However, the historicity of Mahavira is not crucial to the history of Jainism. Mahavira was not the founder of Jainism in the sense that the Buddha was the founder of Buddhism. As stated earlier the Jains claim that their religion had existed from time immemorial, and Mahavira was the last great saint and reformer of the religion. The most important of these reforms was the introduction of five vows in place of the four obtaining in the system of Parshva ( the twenty-third Tirthankara of the Jains).


     The later history of Jainism is marked by a number of schisms. But one might say that different groups existed among the Jains even at the time of Mahavira himself. There was an ascetic called Keshi who followed the system of Parshvanatha.2 He had a long discussion with Gautama, a disciple of Mahavira, and finally accepted the latter's views and sincerely adopted the "Law of the five vows".3 Thus Parshva's group and Mahavira's group, originally separate, were united. However, new schisms appeared according to the Svetambaras, even during Mahavira's lifetime. The first schism was by his own son-in-law Jamali 14 years after Mahavira's enlightenment. The various schisms are known as nihnavas.


     The most important schism, the eighth nihnava according to the Svetambaras, occurred among the Jains a few centuries after Mahavira. At that time the community broke into the two sects, the Digambaras (the sky-clad) and Svetambaras (the white-robed). It is interesting to note that the two sects describe the life of Mahavira differently. The Svetambaras say that Mahavira lived as a prince up to the age of thirty. He had married and had a daughter, Anojja or Priyadarshana. His granddaughter Yashovati was born after Mahavira had left home. Digambaras on the other hand believe that Mahavira never married.


     Before we come to the difference among the sects, we may consider the basic religious philosophy of the Jains. These are practically the same for both the sects and have remained almost unchanged from very early times.


"According to Jain philosophy, matter, which consists of atoms, is eternal, but may assume any form, such as earth, wind, and so on. All material things are ultimately produced by combination of atoms. Souls are of two kinds: those, which are subject to mundane transmigration (samsarin), and those, which are liberated (mukta). The latter will be embodied no more they dwell in a state of perfection at the summit of the universe; being no more concerned with worldly affairs they have reached Nirvana."


     The souls (Jiva) with which the whole world is filled are different from matter; But being substances they are also eternal. Subtle matter coming into contact with the soul causes its embodiment; being then transformed into eight kinds of karma and thus forming as it were a subtle body, it clings (ashrava) to the soul in all its migrations. The theory of karma is the keystone of the Jain system. The highest goal consists in getting rid (nirjara) of all karma derived from past existences, and acquiring no new karma (samvara). One of the chief means of this end is the performance of asceticism (topas). The Jain system differs from Buddhism in emphasizing asceticism to a greater extent, even to the point of religious suicide: and in the total evidence of taking life of any kind, such avoidance being described as the highest duty."4


The methods by which a Jain could get rid of the acquired karma and attain Nirvana have been prescribed. He should posses right faith, right knowledge and right conduct. These are called tri-ratna. He should also observe the following five vows:


1) Ahinsa (non-killing).

2) Sunrita (truthful speech).

3) Asteya (non-stealing).

4) Brahmacharya (celibacy), and

5) Aparigraha (non-possession).


     As mentioned earlier Parshvanatha had prescribed only four vows. Mahavira splits Parshvanatha's fourth vow, which was perhaps Aparigraha into two. It is said that Brahmacharya was already included in Aparigraha, but Mahavira made it explicit so as to remove any misunderstanding.


     It is clear that these vows are difficult for a layman to practice. Laymen were, therefore, required to observe these vows to the extent permitted by the conditions of their lives.


     It will be noticed at once that the Jain point of view of human life and its end are completely different from the Vedic ideals. There is no mention of transmigration of soul or of the theory of karma or Nirvana in the Rigveda. The Vedic view of life is joyful. The Vedas prescribe the performance of Yaga, where animals were sacrificed. These were done to please the gods and also for taking the sacrificer to paradise after his death. The paradise itself was a delightful place where there was no death. Vedic heaven was full of light and all desires were fulfilled there.5 Drinking of Soma (perhaps as an intoxicant) was a method of gaining all desirable objects on the earth.6 There is no thought in the Vedas of ascetic life while on earth.7 The Vedas envisage a priestly class who would correctly recite the Vedic hymns at the time of the sacrifices. The Jains on the other hand neither have any hymns nor have they any priestly class of their own. Indeed it is specifically mentioned that their great saints, the Tirthankara, were Kshatriyas i.e., not Brahmans. Similarly, meditation (yoga), the atomic theory of matter (Vaisheshika), the non- perishing of matter (Sankhya) etc., would take the Jain thinking nearer of those systems of Indian philosophy which are not based on the Vedas. It is also interesting to note that Kapil, Kanda, etc., the founders of these non-Vedic systems were known as Tairthikas. There were eighteen or more Tairthikas according to the encyclopedists. The similarity of this name with Tairthikas is striking. (Strangely enough, the Buddhists also called those who held heretical views, Tairthikas.)


     Mahavira, and to some extent the Buddha, ignores the existence of the Vedic religion. When in their youth they left their homes to become ascetics they are not protesting against any Vedic or Brahmin rule. In fact, it appears that they were doing just what was thought proper for a person of religious bent of mind in that part of the country. The Buddha after trying it abandoned the extreme form of asceticism. Thus, he was actually reacting against the practices followed by the Jains and similar other ascetics, when he founded his new faith of moderation.


     An important thing about Buddhism and Jainism is that there religions are not much concerned about-worldly things. Also, they have no theistic theories. Present day Hinduism, on the other hand, is much pre-occupied with these things. Signs of emergence among a section of the people of such thoughts become apparent in the post-Vedic literature such as Upanishads. These show that a new post-Vedic religion was emerging. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is one of the earliest of the Upanishads. It was perhaps compiled within a hundred years of the time when the Buddha and Mahavira lived. Some of the dialogues in this Upanishad took place in Videha (modern Mithila) which is not very far from Magadh where these two great teachers preached. Thus both in time and in space, the two ages, the Upanishad and the Buddhist-Jainis, are not far from each other. Yet, one feels that they belong to two different worlds together. We may as an example take the questions the king Janak of Videha asked Vajnavalkya in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:


     Janak Vaideha said: "When the sun has set, O Yajnyavalkya and the moon has set, and the fire is gone out, and the sound hushed, what is then the light of man".


     Yajnavalkya said: "The Self indeed is his light; for having the Self alone as his light, man sits, moves about, does his work, and returns."


     Janak Vaideha said: "Who is that Self?"


     Yajanvalkya replied: "He who is within the heart, surrounded by the pranas (senses), the person of light, consisting of knowledge....."8


     It is quite clear that the questions as well as the answers are other- worldly. They do not relate to any human activity.


     As a contrast we may cite the question which king Ajatashatru of Magadh asked six of the non-Vedic teachers preaching at that time in his kingdom. One of the teachers was Mahavira (Nigantha Naraputta) himself.


     The question King Ajatashatru9 of Magadh asked, was, "The fruits of various worldly trades and professions are obvious, but is it possible to show any appreciable benefit to be derived from asceticism? Sanditthikam samanna-phalam?" Each of the six teachers gave a different answer. These answers need not concern us at the moment. The point, however, to notice is that the question is quite mundane and very natural for a king, but it is in a different plane altogether from the one king Janak of Videha has asked.


     We may thus take it as a working hypothesis that we are here dealing with two communities, one non-Vedic and the other post-Vedic whose outlooks were altogether different. The Buddhist scriptures name sixteen tribes living in northern India at that time. The land where they lived was also named after the tribes. Of these tribes, the Kurus, the Panchalas, the Machchas, the Saurasena, etc., followed the post-Vedic and Brahmanic religion. The people before whom the Buddha preached, his new religion or one of whose existing religions Mahavira reformed were the Magadh, the Angas, the Kasis, the Kosalas,10 the Mallas, the Vajjis, etc. The religions of these people were non-Vedic. There is one initial difficulty in this hypothesis. the Vajjis included eight confederate clans, of whom the Lichchhavis and the Videhas were the most important. Videha, in Buddha's time, was republic. This does not go very well with the fact that Janak was the king of Videha or with the fact that he followed a Brahmanic or post-Vedic religion. Perhaps by Buddha's time Videha had become a republic. One way of getting out of the second difficulty would be to imagine that in Videha both the groups of religions, post-Vedic and non- Vedic existed side by side. This was perhaps also true of Kashi and Kosala, where also both the communities visited the areas, people of his group would flock about him while the other groups would ignore him. (The position is same even today. If a Hindu religious teacher visits a town his followers go and greet him but the Muslims are not even aware of his visit).


The people of Anga (Bhagalpur area) and the Magadh Patna, Gaya, area) do not seem to have followed the Vedic religion, for they were very much disliked by the Vedic people. We have the curse in the Atharva Veda (V. 22.14): "To the Gandharis, the Mujavants, the Anga, the Magadh, like one sending a person a treasure, do we commit the fever". The Vedic people called the Aryans who did not follow their religions Vratyas. Vratyas are frequently mentioned in the Vedas, and other Vedic literature such as the Srauta Sutras and the Brahmans. The whole of the fifteenth book of the Atharva Veda deals with the Vratyas. Unfortunately the style of this book of the Atharva Veda is not clear and not much information about the beliefs of the Vratyas can be gleaned out of it. One thing however is clear. The Magodhas were somehow connected with the Vratyas. We have in the Atharva Veda (XV.2.a) "Of him in the eastern quarter, faith is the harlot, Mitra the Magadh, discernment the garment, etc....." Similarly in the southern quarter Magadh was the mantra of the Vratya; in the other two quarters Magadh was the laughter and the thunder of the Vratya. What Magadh means here is not clear. It may mean a resident of Magadh or more probably a bard or a minstrel. The Yajur Veda (XXX. 8) does not look at Vratyas kindly. They are included in the list of victims at the Purushamedha (human sacrifice).11 The Sutras mention Arhants (saints) and Yaudhas (warriors) of the Vratyas corresponding to the Brahmanical, Brahman and Kshatriya. The similarly of the word Arhant with the word Arhat used both for the Buddha and Mahauria by their respective followers is noticeable.


     We thus see that in the period under discussion Mahavira was preaching perhaps one of the Vratya religions which was prevalent in that part of India. This religion came to be known as Jainism in later days. Most of the religions in this area advocated an extreme form of asceticism. Gautama, who later became the Buddha, originally joined this main stream. Apart from some changes in the philosophical principles, Buddha's main modification was that he deprecated the severe asceticism of these religions.


     Jain Yoga as also the Yoga of Patanjali is meditation, preferably in a secluded place. We have the Indus valley evidence of the figure of an ascetic sitting in a forest. The figure found on a seal shows a man sitting in a forest surrounded by a number of animals. The man has a mask with horns. The figure has been variously interpreted as that of Shiva as Pashupati or Shiva as Mahayogi. But there is no doubt that it is a figure of an ascetic either human or divine. Thus the idea of asceticism though foreign to the Vedic people was already existent in India in the proto- historic period.


     The remarkable similarity between the stone statue of a nude man, found in Mohenjodaro and of the statue said to be that of a Tirthankara found in Lohanipura (Bihar) has often been pointed out.13 But the time interval of almost 2500 years would incline one to think that the similarity is accidental.


     That Jainism is a continuation of some pre-Vedic religion is not a new theory. G. C. Pande wrote in 1947, "The anti-ritualistic tendency within the Vedic fold is itself due to the impact of an asceticism which antedated the Vedas. Jainism represents a continuation of this pre-Vedic stream, from which Buddhism also springs, though deeply influenced by Vedic thought."14 Similarly A.L. Basham says, "In the eastern part of the Ganga---basin Brahmanism was not so deeply entrenched as in the west and other non-Aryan currents of belief flowed more strongly."15 Basham's point that all these other currents of belief were non-Aryon cannot, however, be maintained. There is scarcely any non-Aryan word in the sacred literature of Jainism. Thus at least one, of these pre-Vedic currents of belief was Indo-Aryan in origin. It existed in India before the Vedic people arrived in eastern India. It has survived to the present day in the form of Jainism. Also, it is not Buddhism and Jainism and other pre-Vedic religions of the eastern Ganga basin which have influenced Vedism and converted that religion into Brahmanism, and then Hinduism. It is from the pre-Vedic religions that Brahmanism has learned all about asceticism, meditation, yoga, the theory of karma, the theory of the transmigration of souls, Nirvana, and finally the pessimistic view of life.


     In a somewhat different context Dandekar, has said almost the same thing: "One may, of course, not go to the extreme of asserting that Hinduism turned its back completely on Vedic beliefs and practices, but one has nevertheless to admit that the impact of Vedism on the mythology, ritual and philosophy of classical Hinduism has been of a superficial nature."16 Dandekar was developing his thesis that " in the long history of Hinduism, ....Vedism occurred more or less like an interlude".17


     It would thus appear that Jainism, and many other religions existed from pre-Vedic times in northern India. Only Jainism remained practically unaffected by the impact of Vedism. The other religions which coalesced to form classical Hinduism, were affected by Vedism, albeit, as Dandekar insists, superficially.


Both Buddhism and Jainism were parts of the philosophic atmosphere prevailing in Magadh and the near about areas in the sixth century BC. We can get a feel of this atmosphere from canonical books of the two religions, for, as we know both of them purport to give accounts of the actual happenings in the lives of the Buddha and Mahavira respectively. The Buddhist works are a little more helpful in this matter, because they give generally greater details of the beliefs of the rival sects. Out of these several competing sects two or three, if we include the Ajivikas) religions emerged triumphant. This was perhaps mainly due to the quality of leadership and the organizing capacity of the Buddha and Mahavira (and Makkhali Goshala in the case of the Ajivikas).


One thing about the religious atmosphere of this period is quite clear. Among the religious people the most respected ones in those days were the ascetics. It was not necessary for an ascetic to belong to higher castes like the Brahmans or the Kshatriyas. Even a slave would be respected by his erstwhile master if he joined an order and became an ascetic. The Buddha once asked king Ajatashatru of Magadh whether he would ask a slave to come back and serve him again if he heard that the slave had run away and become a recluse.


     Ajatashatru answered "Nay rather should we greet him with reverence, and rise up from our seat out of deference towards him, and press him to be seated. And we should have robes and bowl, etc.,... and beg him to accept of them".18 An important point to notice here is that the religious order which the slave might have joined did not matter.


     No doubt, advantage was taken by many people of this attitude toward the ascetics. The rulers themselves perhaps took unfair advantage of this general reverence for the ascetics. They used to send spies to the territories of their hostile neighbors in the guise of ascetics. Common people were aware of these deceptions, and if one or two unknown persons garbed as ascetics were seen in any village they were sometimes suspected to be spies. Mahavira in his pre-kevalin days traveled about the country with Makkhali Goshala for six or seven years. Twice they were suspected to be spies and harassed by the villagers. In fact, once they were thrown into a well, but were rescued when they were identified by some female followers of Parshva.19


     Another important development that was taking place in eastern India at the time was that the Brahmans were trying to establish their supremacy over the other classes. This Kshatriyas of the area were not prepared to concede. The Ambattha Sutta20 describes the conversation Buddha had with a Brahman named Ambattha. At that time the Buddha was staying in the Koshala country. This was perhaps the western limit of his missionary work.


     When Ambattha came in the presence of the Buddha he behaved in an off-hand manner. The Buddha pulled him up for being discourteous to an aged teacher. Ambattha then complained, "That, Gautama is neither fitting nor is it seemly that the Sakhyas (who were Kshatriyas) menials as they are, mere menials, should neither venerate, nor value, nor esteem, nor give gifts to, nor pay honors to Brahmans."


     The Buddha explained to him that these things could not be claimed by a person merely because he was born a Brahman. Such veneration was payable only to a recluse or to a Brahman who had obtained the supreme perfection in wisdom and conduct.


     Interestingly enough the Jain Sutras also give instances where Brahmans claimed superiority by virtue of their birth alone. This was strongly repudiated by the followers of Mahavira. We have in the Sutra Kritanga the following dialogue:


     A Vedic Priest: "Those who always feed two thousand holy (Snatak) mendicants, acquire great merit and become Gods. This is the teaching of the Veda".


           Ardraka: "He who always feeds tow thousand holy cats (i.e. Brahmans), will have to endure great pains in hell, being surrounded by hungry beasts".21


     It appears from the above that the Brahmans could not claim any superior position by virtue of their birth alone, in eastern India. A Brahman had to earn the position by cultivating the same qualities as an ascetic.


     Most of these ascetics practiced severe austerities. Many of them lived completely nude throughout the year. Naturally some people wondered why these ascetics led such difficult lives. This question occurred to king Ajatashatru of Magadh also. He thought that all persons whether horsemen or charioteers, washer-men or weavers, basket-makers or potters, enjoyed in this very world the visible fruits of their crafts. But was there any such immediate fruit, visible in this very world, of the life of a recluse? When the question first came to the king's mind his ministers advised him to consult some famous recluse who were also heads of their orders and teachers of their schools (of philosophy). The following six religious teachers were named by the ministers of Ajatashatru:


1. Purana Kassapa,

2. Makkhali Goshala,

3. Ajita Keshakamblai,

4. Pakudha kachchayana,

5. Sangyo Belathhiputta, and

6. Nigantha Nataputta.


     The answers that these teachers gave were not always to the point. They, in fact, took the opportunity to expound their own views on life and human destiny instead of answering the king directly. Another important point to notice is that none of them touched on God, Soul or other intangible subjects. Only one among these six, Sanjaya Belathiputta recognized the possibility of such things, but he was a complete agnostic and his answer to the question of Ajatashatru was: "If you ask me whether there is another world, well, if I thought there were, I would say so. But don't say so. And I don't deny it. And I don't say there neither is, nor is not another world. And if you ask me about the beings produced by chance; or whether there is any fruit, any result, of good or bad actions; or whether a man who won the truth continues or not after death to each or any of these questions do I give the same reply."


     A teacher who would not answer any question whatsoever would not have many followers. If Sanjaya Belathiputta left behind him any religious group, it did not last long. In fact in the history of the Indian Philosophy there have not been many agnostics. But during his life time Sanjaya appears to have been quite influential. In the Mahavagga I, 23 and 24, we are told that Sariputta and Mogglayana, the most distinguished pair of the Buddha's disciples had, before their conversion to Buddhism been adherents of Sanjaya and had brought over to the Buddha 250 disciples of their former teacher.22


     There is, however, an interesting question. Did Sanjay's agnosticism influence the conception of Syadvada or the Satabhangi Nyava of the Jains? Jacobi said in this connection, "Thus, I think, that in opposition to the Agnosticism of Sanjaya, Mahavira has established his Syadvada. For as the Ajnyanavada declares that of a thing beyond our experience the existence or non-existence or simultaneous existence and non-existence, can neither be affirmed nor denied, so in a similar way, but one leading to the contrary results, the Syadvada declares that you can affirm the existence of a thing from one point of view Syadasti, deny it from another Syadnasti and affirm both existence and non-existence with reference to it at different times Syad-asti-nasti. If you should think of affirming existence and non-existence at the same time from the same point of view, you must say that the thing cannot be spoken of Syad avaktavya. Similarly, under certain circumstances, the affirmation of existence is not possible of non-existence Syad nasty avaktavyah and also of both Syad asti nasty avaktavyah.


"This is the famous Saptabhangi Nyaya of the Jains. World and philosopher have enunciated such truisms. The subtle discussion of the Agnostics had probably bewildered and misled many of the contemporaries. Consequently Syadvada must have appeared to them as a happy way leading out of the adversity of the Ajnyanavada. It was the weapon with which the Agnostics assailed the enemy, turned against them. Who knows how many of their followers went over to Mahavira's creed convinced of the truth of the Saptabhangi Nyaya".23


     Ajita Keshakambali was a materialist. He used to put on a garment of hair. Hence his name Keshankambali. His answer to Ajatashatru was, "There is no such thing, O king, as alms or sacrifice or offering. There is neither fruit nor result or good or evil deeds. There is no such thing as this world or the next........ Fools and wise alike are cut-off, annihilated, and after death they are not".


     Ajita, of the garment of hair, had a successor called Payasi, who championed Ajita's views. But these people who were usually called Charvakas did not establish any schools. There were, however, individual Charvakas from time to time in all periods of Indian history. They also appear in the epics. For instance we have a Charvakas called Jabali in the Ramyan. He had accompanied Bharat to request Ram to come back to Ayodhya after Dasharath's death. As was usual with all Charvakas he was not tactful and said something, which was against the conventional wisdom. Jabali had told Ram that it was foolish to suffer the troubles of banishment just to honor the words of a dead father. Again, in the Mahabharat a Charvakas told Yudhisthir her that he was a sinner for he had killed most of his kinsmen.25


     Three of the six teachers, viz. Purana Kassapa, Pakudha Kachchayana and Makkhali Goshala gave answers, which were not very dissimilar. Makkhali Goshala later became leader of the Ajivika sect. He answered the king Ajatashatru, "There is, O king, no cause either ultimate or remote, for the depravity of being; they become depraved without reason and without cause. The attainment of any given condition, of any character, does not depend either on own acts, or on the acts of another or on human effort. There is no such thing as power or energy or human strength or human vigor........"


     It will be seen that the views of Makkhali Goshala, the leader of the Ajivikas, were a sort of determinism (Niyativada). The Ajivikas sect survived for many centuries. Ashok mentions them in one of his pillar edicts. Ashoka's successor Dasrath dedicated a cave in the Barabar hills (in Gaya district) to this sect. It is likely that the remnants of the Ajivikas were absorbed in the Digambaras Jain community. In fact, Hoernle in his famous essays on the Ajivikas in Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics had suggested that one group of the Ajivikas had broken away from Makkhali Goshala when he had abused Mahavira. This breakaway group according to Hoernle had formed the nucleus of the Digambara sect of the Jains.


     The answer given by Nigantha Nataputta to King Ajatashatru was "A Nigantha (a man free form bonds), O king is restrained with a fourfold restraint. He lives restrained as regards all water, restrained as regards all evil; all evil has he washed away; and he lives suffused with the sense of evil held at bay. Such is his fourfold self-restraint. And since he is thus tied with this fourfold bond, therefore is he, the Nigantha (free from bonds), called Gatatto (whose heart has gone; that is, to the summit, to the attainment of his aim), Yattatto (whose heart is kept down; that is under command) and Hitatlo (whose heart is fixed).27


     Nigantha Nataputta has been identified with Mahavira, the Jain Tirthankara. There is, however, little in the above reported statement of Nigantha Nataputta which can be exclusively related to the Jain principle. The only possible one is the first "restraint" mentioned above viz., the restraint as regard water. This is perhaps the well-known Jain rule not to drink cold water on the ground that there are "souls" in it. There is no doubt that the exact words of Nigantha Nataputta have been greatly distorted as the words passed from one person to another. The Buddhists also would not be too careful to report the beliefs of a rival sect. They might have deliberately distorted the words of the leader of the rival sect. At the same time it has to be remembered that the Jains claim Ajatashatru as quite friendly towards Mahavira. He himself would be expected to report faithfully Nataputta's words in his talks with the Buddha.


     In fact, on closer examination it will be found that the answers given by Makkhali Goshala and Nigantha Nataputta, however enigmatic they might appear, bring out the essential philosophic difference between the views of the Ajivikas and the Jains. The Ajivikas deny the existence of free-will, for as Goshala said, "The attainment of any given condition... Does not depend... on nay human effort". Nigantha Nataputta, on the other hand, stresses again and again that the restraints Nigantha practices are self- imposed. In other words, the asceticism of a Nigantha is of his own free will.


     We thus find that in Magadh in the sixth century BC ., two important things were present in the religious atmosphere. The first is that the most venerated persons in the area were the ascetics. It did not matter to what order or sect the ascetics belonged. All were equally respected. Secondly, the ascetics were not practicing their austerities to gain paradise or any other pleasurable objects. All that they gained in this word was the respect that the people from the king downward paid them.


Asceticism, however, was meant for the wholly committed persons. An ordinary man had to take recourse to the worship of Gods and Goddesses for satisfying his religious instinct. The most popular deities in Magadh at that time were the Yakshas. Both Buddhist and Jain canonical works mention the existence of temples of Yakshas both of the male and female species. In fact according to the ancient Jain works there were temples dedicated to various Yakshas in every town in northern India. A temple of Bahuputta is mentioned in the Buddhist as well as the Jain texts. This temple had been, according to the Bhagavati-Sutra, the fifth Anga of the Jains, visited by Mahavira himself.


     Now, Yakshas were non-Vedic Gods. The term Yakshas, no doubt occurs six times in the Rigveda, but its meaning there is not clear. The Vedic Index28 says that according to Ludwig it means a feast or a holy practice. The term also occurs several times in the Atharva-Veda. Whitney had translated the term as monster or prodigy. In any case the Vedic people never thought of the Yakshas as Gods.


     In the later history of Jainism the Yakshas became attendants of the Tirthankara.


     The traditional Jain belief is that Jainism had existed in the same form from the hoary past, and Mahavira the 24th Tirthankara had carried on the religion exactly as it existed in his time, without any change. It would appear from the Jain canonical works themselves, that the traditional answer is not wholly correct. It is true that at the time of Mahavira there was an older religion, whose ideals and methods were almost the same as that of Mahavira's and which even his followers called the older section of the Church, but at the same time it is also true that Mahavira did introduce two important changes in the practices of this older section.


     The people who are known as Jains to-day were called Nigganthas in the Svetamber canonical works.29 Along with the Nigganthas there was in Magadh another sect who were known as the followers of Parshva. In fact the parents of Mahavira were themselves followers of Parshva. The Buddhist describe both the groups as the Niganthas, but the Jain canonical works never say that the Nigganthas and the followers of Parshva were the same people. There were two important differences between the two. The monks among the followers of Parshva could wear clothes, and they had to observe only four vows against the five, which the followers of Mahavira had to observe. At the same time they were not hostile to each other; they were pursuing, as they said, the same ends. Later, the followers of Parshva joined Mahavira's group. The Uttaradhayana (23rd lecture) describes how Gautama, the most important disciple of Mahavira's converted Keshi the leader of the followers of Parshva to Mahavira's sect;


1. There was a Jina, Parshva by name, an Arhat worshipped by the people, who was enlightened and omniscient, a prophet of the law and a Jina.


2. And, there was a famous disciple of this Light of the World the young Shaman Keshi, who had completely mastered the sciences and right conduct.


5. Now at that time there lived the Prophet of the Law, the Jina, who in the whole world is known as the venerable Vardhamana. ................................


6. And there was a famous disciple of this Light of the World the venerable Gautama by name that had completely mastered the sciences and right conduct.


10. The pupils of both, who controlled themselves and practiced austerities, who possessed virtues, and protected their self, made the following reflection.


11. Is our Law (i.e., the law of Parshva) the right one, or is the other Law (the Law of Mahavira) the right one? Are our conduct and doctrines right or the other?


12. The Law as taught by the great sage Parshva, which recognizes but four vows, or the Law taught by Vardhamana which enjoins five vows?


13. The Law that forbids clothes (for a monk) or that which (allows) an under and an upper garment? Both pursuing the same end, what has caused the difference?


14. Knowing the thoughts of their pupils both Keshi and Gautama made up their minds to meet each other.


15. Gautama, knowing what is proper and what is due to the older section (of the Church), went to Tinduka Park accompanied by the crowd, his pupils.


     The Uttaradhayana Sutra then describes the long but friendly discussions that took place between Keshi and Gautama. Ultimately Gautama's arguments prevailed and Keshi with his followers accepted Mahavira's teachings. Thus the older section of the Church (vide verse 15 above) was absorbed in the section of Mahavira.


     In a similar manner the Sutrakritanga 30, describes how Gautama converted Udaka, another follower of Parshva to the creed of Mahavira:


40. Then the Venerable Gautama went with Udaka, the son of Pedhala, to the Venerable Ascetic Mahavira. Then Udaka, the son of Pedhala solemnly circumambulated the Venerable Ascetic Mahavira three times from the left to right, and having done so he praised and worshipped him, and then spoke thus: `I desire, Reverend Sir, in your presence to pass from the creed which enjoins four vows and the Pratikramna. May it please, beloved of the Gods, do not deny me'


     Thus even though the Jain canonical works do not explicitly mention the term `Niggantha' for them, the followers of Parshva appear to be the older section of the Niggantha Church.


Jacobi, however, puts forward a view that the followers of Parshva and not the followers of Mahavira were the original Nigantha mentioned by the Buddhists. His argument is as follows:


"In the Majjnima Nikaya 36 (a Pali text), one Shachchaka, the son of a Nigantha explains the meaning of the term Kayabhavana, bodily purity, by referring to the conduct of the Achelakas. These Achelakas used to remain stark naked Sabbaso apatichchanna while the Nigantha used some sort of cover. Many of the practices of the Achelakas were identically the same as those observed by the Jains. "And still Sachchaka does not quote the Nigantha as a standard or bodily purity, though he was the son of a Nigantha, and therefore, must have known their religious practices. This curious fact may most easily be accounted for by assuming that the original Niganthas, of whom the Buddhist records usually speak, were not the section of the Church, which submitted to the more rigid rules of Mahavira but those followers of Parshva, who, without forming a hostile party, yet continued to retain within the united Church some particular usage's of the old one".


     Jacobi's arguments are not very convincing. In any case it does not explain why, if Mahavira was not a Nigantha according to the Buddhists, their records, continued to call him Nigantha Nataputta till his death. It would appear that so for as the Buddhists were concerned they called both the sections of the Jain Church, the followers of Parshva, as well as the followers of Mahavira, Niganthas.


     We may conclude, therefore, that at the time of the Buddha there existed in Magadh a religious sect known to the Buddhists as the Niganthas. The monks of the older section of this sect observed four vows of asceticism and wore clothes. Mahavira reformed this religion by making two changes: he introduced a fifth vow, and forbade the use of clothes by the monks. All the members of the older section accepted these reforms and thereafter there was only one Jain Church.





1 Sacred Books of the East Vol. XXII, p. xxii fn. gives the reference to Weber, Ind. Stud. XVI, p.469


2 The Uttaradhayana Sutra XXIII mentions Keshi as a disciple of Parshvanatha. This is one of the several indications that Parshvanatha was a historical person.


3. Uttaradhayana Sutra XXIII, 87, in Sacred Books of the East, Vol.XLV, p. 128


4. A.A.Macdonell, India's Past, pp. 70-71


5. Rigveda, IX, 113. 9-11


6. Rigveda, IX, 104.2.


7. A late hymn in the Rigveda (X, 136) mentions the existence of munis. The meaning of the hymn is not clear. Perhaps a Muni was a person with supernatural power.


8. Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XV, p. 163


9. The Brihadarnyka Upanishad (II.I.I) also mentions an Ajatashatru, contemporary with Janak but he belonged to Kashi, not Magadh.


10. Kosala and Videh do not appear in the early Vedic literature. They are first mentioned in the Satapatha Brahman (I.4.1.10ff) which relates the story of the spread of the Aryan (Vedic?) culture. Vedic Age p. 258


11. Vedic Index, Vol. II, p.342


12. Ibid., p.343


13. Goetz in Encyclopedia of World Art, VIII, p. 792.


14. Studies in the Origin of Buddhism, p.317


15. The Wonder that was India, p. 246


16. R. N. Dandekar, Some Aspects of the History of Hinduism, p.28


17. Ibid., pp.1-2


18. Samanna-Phala Sutra in sacred Books of the Buddhist, Vol. II, p.77.


19. These incidents are given in Jinadasa's Churni, a 7th century commentary on the Avashayaka Sutta. Thought a late work, the description appears to be reliable.


20. The sacred Books of the Buddhist. Vol. II, pp.108-136


21. Sacred Books of the East, Vol. xiv, p.417


22. Jacobi in the Sacred Books of the East Vol. XLV, xxix


23. Jacobi in the Sacred Books of the East Vol. XLV, pp. xxvii- xxxiii


24. History of Philosophy, Eastern and Western. VolI., p.133


25. Mahabharat, Shanty P. ch.38


26. This point has been examined in greater detail in chapter VII.


27. Rys Davids, the translators of the above passage has suggested that the series of riddles in this difficult passage were probably intended to be ironical imitation of the Niganthas's way of talking. (Sacred books of the Buddhists Vol. II, p.75 fn).


28. Macdonell and Keith, Vedic Index, Vol. II, p. 182


29. For instance, in the Acaranga Sutra in Sacred Books of the East Vol. XXII, p.28. In Jain Prakrit the word is written as Niggantha and in Pali , as Nigantha. In Sanskrit form is Nirgrantha.


30. Sacred Books of the East, : Vol. XLV, pp. 419-35


31. Ibid., Vol. XLV, pp. xxx-xxxi


32. Ibid., Vol. XLV, pp. 419-35


33. Ibid., pp. xxx- xxxii