Jainism: History, Councils, Complete Notes on Jainism

By K Balaji|Updated : July 8th, 2022

Jainism, also known as Jain Dharma is a religion at least 2500 years ago. Jainism originated in India, and the spiritual goal is to be liberated from the infinite rebirth cycles achieving Moksh. Jainism is as important as other ancient Indian religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism.

Vardhamana Mahavira is the 24th Tirthankara in Jainism, and the religion talks about Pancha Mahavrata (five great vows). The Jainism is split into two sects- Swetambaras and Digambaras. Know more about Jainism UPSC topic, which is important for both prelims and mains.

Table of Content

What is Jainism?

The founder of Jainism was the 1st Tirthankar, Rishabhadeva. In the Jain religion, there are 24 Tirthankars. Tirthankar means a person who has already crossed the line of the cycle of life and death and becomes Jina, which means Conqueror, becoming Arhat means able, and who became Mahavira means enlightenment.

  • The first Tirthankar is Rishabha Dev, whose name has been given in Rigveda; except for Mahavira and Parshavanath, all 24 Tirthankaras are not historically justified.
  • Parshavanath, the 23 tirthankar in Jain tradition, belongs to the Kshatriya royal family of Kasi. He propounded 4 principles -Truth, Non-Violence, No Stealing, No Accumulation, and the fifth one was added by Mahavira, which is Celibacy, and then it became panch maha vrata for all followers of Jainism.
  • Major Jain pilgrimage in India includes Dilwara Temple in Mount Abu (Rajasthan), Palitana Temples (Gujarat), Girnar (Gujarat), Shikharji (Jharkhand), and Shravanabelagola(Karnataka).

Who is Mahavira in Jainism ?

Vardhamana Mahavira was the 24th Tirthankara, born at Kundalgram in Vaishali to King Siddhartha and Queen Trishala, who ruled over the Jnatrika clan in 540 BC. At 30, he left his home to live an ascetic life. According to Jain Holy books, on the the10th day of Vaishaka, he reached the town of pava near Patna, where he found the truth of life, i.e., kevalya.

He was given the title 'Mahavira' or the great hero. Some other titles given to him are Jaina or jitendriya i.e., one who conquers all his senses, and nirgrantha, or the one who is free from all bonds. At 72, he died in pava near Rajagriha (now in Patna).

Teachings of Mahavir in Jainism

The followers of Jainism are bound by their religion to live in such a way that would not harm any being. According to Jainism, one can get rid of bad Karma and pull themselves out of the cycle of rebirth and achieve salvation through a three-jewel fold path of right belief, knowledge, and conduct.

These three jewels of Jainism are commonly called Ratnatraya.

Jains are compulsorily supposed to follow the five constraints in life:

  • Ahimsa(Non-Violence)
  • Satya(Truthfulness)
  • Asteya (Non-Stealing)
  • Aparigraha(Non acquisition)
  • Bhattacharya(chaste living).

Why did Jainism Emerge?

Post-Vedic society was divided into four varnas: Brahmanas, Kshatriya, Vaishyas, and Shudras. Each Varna was assigned well-defined functions. The classification of Varna was based on birth, and two varnas were given the highest class and the powers.

  • But, these varnas created tensions in society. We have no means of ascertaining the reactions of the vaishyas and the Shudras, but the Kshatriya, who functioned as a ruler, reacted strongly against the ritualistic domination of Brahmanas and seems to have led a kind of protest movement against the importance attached to birth in varna system.
  • The Kshatriya reaction against the domination of Brahmanas, who claimed various privileges, was one of the causes of the origin of new religions. Vardhamana Mahavira, who founded Jainism, and Gautam Buddha, who founded Buddhism, belonged to the Kshatriya clan and disputed the Brahmanas' authority.
  • However, the real cause of the rise of these new religions lies in the spread of the new agricultural economy in North-Eastern India. North-East India, including regions of eastern UP and northern and Southern Bihar, has about 100 cm of rainfall.

The following are the other causes of the emergence of Jainism-

  • It was taught in Pali and Prakriti language, which is more understandable and accessible for ordinary people than Sanskrit.
  • People of all castes are welcome in Jainism.
  • Vedic religion has become highly observant.
  • The Varna system is rigid, and people of lower caste lead pathetic life where the believers of Jainism provide them with a glorious life.
  • A great famine within the Ganges Valley occurred after the 200 years of the Mahavira death, which prompted King Chandragupta Maurya and Bhadrabahu, the last Acharya of undivided Jain Sanga, to migrate to Karnataka.

Spreading and Splitting of Jainism

To spread the teaching of Jainism, Mahavira organized an order of his followers that admitted both men and women. He preached his teachings in Prakrit, the language of common people. The followers of Mahavir were not large in numbers; they were just 14000. Despite this, Jainism gradually spread into the south and west India, where Brahmanical religion was weak.

  • According to a late tradition, the spread of Jainism in Karnataka is attributed to Chandragupta Maurya. The emperor became a Jaina, gave up his throne, and spent the last year of his life in Karnataka as a Jaina ascetic, but any other source does not corroborate this tradition. Another reason that was believed to exist behind the spread of Jainism was the great famine in Magadha after the death of Mahavira.
  • The famine lasted for 12 years, and in order to protect themselves, many Jainas migrated to the south under the leadership of Bhadrabahu, though the rest of them stayed back in Magadha under the leadership of Sthalabahu.
  • The emigrant Jainas also spread Jainism in complete India, including the southern part.
  • At the end of the famine, they return to Magadha where they develop differences with local Jainas. Those who returned from the South claim that even during the famine, they strictly observed the religious rules. They alleged too that Jaina ascetics living in Magadha had violated those rules and had become lax.
  • To sort out these differences and to compile the principal teaching of Jainism, a council was convened in Patliputra, modern Patna, but the Jainas who had returned from the south boycotted it and refused to accept its decisions.

Relevance of Jainism Teachings in the Contemporary World

Contribution of Jainism:

  • Attempt to reform ill practices of the varna system.
  • Expansion of Prakrit and Kannada languages.
  • The principle of Ahimsa is that is non-violence helpful in reducing growing violence and terrorism.
    • It also helps to promote the No First Use nuclear policy.
  • The principle of Aparigraha, which is non-possession also helps reduce people's greedy nature.
    • It can also help reduce Green House Gas Emissions by controlling or non-possession attitudes toward luxuries producing carbon emissions.
  • It also contributed to prosperous architecture and literature.

Jain Councils

There are two main Jain councils held:

  • First Jain council
    • The first Jain Council was held at p\Patliputra in the 3rd century B.C. and was presided by Sthulbhadara.
  • Second Jain council
    • The second Jain council was held in Vallabhi in 512A.D. and was presided by Devardhi Kshmasramana.
    • In this, the final compilations of 12 Angas and 12 Upangas occur.

Jainism and Buddhism

Jainism taught five doctrines that are.

  1. do not commit violence
  2. do not tell a lie
  3. do not steal
  4. do not hoard
  5. observe continence(brahmacharya).

It is said that Mahavira added only the fifth Doctrine. The rest of the four were taken from the teachers in the past. Jainism attaches the utmost importance to Ahimsa or noninjury to living beings. Jains do believe in God and its existence but kept them below the Jina. Also, they didn't condemn the varna system, unlike Buddhism.

Buddha was a practical reformer who worked and taught the world's realities. According to Buddha, the world has both happiness and sorrow, and people have to face both equally. They cant be controlled according to their desires. But if the person can hold back desires to attain nirvana, he is considered free from the cycle of birth and death.

Buddha recommended an eight-fold path to eliminate human misery. These 8-fold paths are-

  1. Right Observation
  2. Right Determination
  3. Right Speech
  4. Right Action
  5. Right Livelihood
  6. Right Effort
  7. Right Awareness
  8. Right Concern.

If a person follows this eight-fold path, he would free himself from priests' machinations and reach his destination. Gautam Buddha taught that a person should avoid an excess of both luxury and austerity and prescribed the middle path.

Similarities in Jainism and Buddhism

  • Buddhism and Jainism both rejected the Vedas that is Grand rituals and priest class
  • The founder of both Jainism and Buddhism, Mahavira and Gautam Buddha, was born into a royal family. Both of them left their luxurious lives to attain moksha or enlightenment.
  • Both Buddhism and Jainism emphasize the need for nonviolence towards animals, who must be treated the same as human beings.
  • Both Buddhism and Jainism believe in Karma.
  • There is a concept of reincarnation in Buddhism. and In Jainism that refers to the soul's rebirth in a new body following the death of the previous one.

Difference between Jainism and Buddhism

  • Buddhism did not believe in the soul, while Jainism believed in the soul.
  • In Buddhism Sangha and Monks were given prominence, while In Jainism lay followers were given prominence.
  • In Buddhism liberal feelings and practical actions were emphasized while In Jainism extreme Ahimsa was emphasized.
  • In Buddhism, the middle path is a reasonable way to salvation while In Jainism the method of Salvation is far from ordinary.
  • Buddhism quickly spread to other countries also while Jainism is mostly limited to India.

Jainism UPSC

Jainism is an important part of ancient Indian history. This is an unavoidable topic of ancient history for the UPSC Exam. Jainism UPSC topic has been asked mostly in the prelims exam. To prepare the Jainism UPSC and Buddhism topics of ancient history relevant to the exam in detail download the NCERT Books for UPSC and the History UPSC Books. Jainism and Buddhism are essential topics regarding UPSC Prelims and UPSC Mains as well.

The aspirants willing to appear in the IAS Exam can also get UPSC Syllabus and Current Affairs to ensure they are well prepared. The aspirants have also facilitated UPSC Previous Years Question Papers and other Study Materials.

Jainism Notes for UPSC PDF

Candidates can also download the Jainism UPSC Notes PDF which includes all relevant topics for the upcoming exam.

Download Complete Notes on Jainism in PDF

Jainism UPSC Question

[Prelims 2018] Question 1. Anekantavada is a core theory and philosophy of which one of the following?

(a) Buddhism

(b) Jainism

(c) Sikhism

(d) Vaishnavism

Answer:- Option B

Question 2. Concerning the history of ancient India, which of the following was/were common to both Buddhism and Jainism?

  1. Avoidance of extremities of penance and enjoyment
  2. Indifference to the authority of the Vedas
  3. Denial of the efficacy of rituals

Select the correct answer using the codes given below:

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

Answer:- Option D

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FAQs on Jainism

  • The three guiding principles, the three jewels of Jainism, are right belief, right knowledge, and right conduct.

  • The first Tirthankara of Jainism was Rishabhanath and the last Tirthankara was Mahavira which is on the 24th.

  • The first Jain Council was held at Patliputra in the 3rd century B.C. and was presided by Sthulbhadara.

  • The second Jain council was held in Vallabhi in 512A.D. and was presided by Devardhi Kshmasramana.

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