1902 Encyclopedia > Jains


JAINS, the most numerous and influential sect of heretics, or noncomformists to the Brahmanical system of Hinduism, in India, are found in every province of Upper Hindustan, in the cities along the Ganges, and in Calcutta. But they are more numerous to the west—in Mewar, Guzerat, and in the upper part of the Malabar coast—and are also scattered throughout the whole of the southern peninsula. They are mostly traders, and live in the towns; and the wealth of many of their community gives them a social importance greater than would result from their mere numbers. Of what their actual number may be it is unfortunately impossible to form any exact estimate, as in the census returns they are confounded with the Buddhists. Their magnificent series of temples and shrines on Mount Abu, one of the seven wonders of India, is perhaps the most striking outward sign of their wealth and importance.

The Jains are the last direct representatives on the con-tinent of India of those schools of thought which grew out of the active philosophical speculation and earnest spirit of religious inquiry so rife in the valley of the Ganges during the 5th and 6th centuries before the Christian era. For many centuries Jainism was so overshadowed by that stupendous movement, born at the same time and in the same place, which we call Buddhism, that it remained almost unnoticed by the side of its powerful rival. But when Buddhism, whose widely open doors had absorbed the mass of the community, became thereby corrupted from its pristine purity and gradually died away, the smaller school of the Jains, less diametrically opposed to the victorious orthodox creed of the Brahmans, survived, and in some degree took its place.

Jainism purports to be the system of belief promulgated by Vardhamäna, better known by his epithet of Mahä-vira, who was a contemporary of Gautama, the Buddha. But the Jains, like the Buddhists, believe that the same system had previously been proclaimed through countless ages by each one of a succession of earlier teachers. The Jains count twenty-four such prophets, whom they call Jinas, or Tirthankaras, that is, conquerors or leaders of schools of thought. It is from this word Jina that the modern name Jainas, meaning followers of the Jina, or of the Jinas, is derived. This legend of the twenty-four Jinas contains a germ of truth. Mahä-vira was not an originator; he merely carried on, with but slight changes, a system which existed before his time, and which probably owes its most distin-guishing features to a teacher named Pärswa, who ranks in the succession of Jinas as the predecessor of Mahä-vira. Pärswa is said, in the Jain chronology, to have lived two hundred years before Mahä-vira (that is, about 700 B.C.) ; but the only conclusion that it is safe to draw from this statement is that Pärswa was considerably earlier in point of time than Mahä-vira. Very little reliance can be placed upon the details reported in the Jain books concerning the previous Jinas in the list of the twenty-four Tirthankaras. The curious will find in them many reminiscences of Hindu and Buddhist legend; and the antiquarian must notice the distinctive symbols assigned to each, in order to recognize the statues of the different Jinas, otherwise identical, in the different Jain temples.

Very little is at present known of the details of the Jain system of belief. But fresh light is being thrown upon this question year by year, and some of their principal tenets are already beyond dispute. The Jains are divided into two great parties,—the Digambaras, or Sky-clad Ones, and the Swetaiiibaras, or the White-robed Ones. The latter have only as yet been traced, and that doubtfully, as far back as the 6th century after Christ; the former are almost certainly the same as the Niganthas, who are referred to in numerous passages of the Buddhist Pali Pitakas, and must therefore be at least as old as the 4th century B.C. In many of these passages the Niganthas are mentioned as contemporaneous with the Buddha; and details enough are given concerning their leader Nigantha Nata-putta (that is, the Nigantha of the Jnatrika clan) to enable us to identify him, without any doubt, as the same person as the Vardhamana Matha-vira of the Jain books. This remarkable confirmation, from the scriptures of a rival religion, of the Jain tradition seems conclusive as to the date of Matha-vira; and, should any one still doubt the antiquity of the sect, it may be mentioned here that the Niganthas are referred to in one of Asoka's edicts (Corpus Inscriptionum, Plate xx.). Unfortunately the account of the teachings of Nigantha Nata-putta given in the Buddhist scriptures are, like those of the Buddha's teachings given in the Brahmanical literature, not only very meagre, but also very little to be depended upon. And the Jain scrip-tures themselves, though based on earlier traditions, are not older in their present form than the 6 th century of our era. The most distinctively sacred books are called the forty-five Agamas, consisting of eleven Angas, twelve Upangas, ten Pakirmakas, six Chedas, four Mula-sutras, and two other books. Several of these are in process of trans-lation into English for the series of translations from the sacred books of the East now being published under the auspices of the university of Oxford. It was Devaddhi-ganin, who occupies among the Jains a position very similar to that occupied among the Buddhists by Buddho-ghosa, who at the date just mentioned collected the then existing traditions and teachings of the sect into these forty-five Agamas. It is most probable that, previous to his time, the sacred lore of the Jains was handed down by memory, and not by writing. This mode of transmitting a literature seems very unsafe according to modern European ideas. But when we call to mind the very great value of the historical results drawn from the Vedas and the Buddhist scriptures, both of which were for many centuries preserved for posterity by memory alone, we may confidently look for-ward to important additions to our knowledge when the Jain Agamas shall have been made accessible to European scholars. Like the Buddhist scriptures, the earlier Jain books are written in a dialect of their own, the so-called Jaina Prakrit; and it was not till between 1000 and 1100 A.D. that the Jains adopted Sanskrit as their literary language.

The most distinguishing outward peculiarity of Maha-vira and of his earliest followers was their practice of going quite naked, whence the term Digambara. Against this custom Gautama, the Buddha, especially warned his followers ; and it is referred to in the well-known Greek phrase Gymnosophist, used already by Megasthenes, which applies very aptly to the Niganthas. Even the earliest name Nigantha, which means "free from bonds," may not be without allusions to this curious belief in the sanctity of nakedness, though it also alluded to freedom from the bonds of sin and of transmigration. The statues of the Jinas in the Jain temples, some of which are of enormous size, are still always quite naked ; but the Jains themselves have abandoned the practice, the Digambaras being sky-clad at meal time only, and the Swetambaras being always completely clothed. And even among the Digambaras it is only the recluses or Yatis, men devoted to a religious life, who carry out this practice. The Jain laity—the Sravakas, or disciples —do not adopt it.

The supreme aim of the Jains as of the Buddhists is called Nirvana ; but the word conveys different ideas in the two religions. The Jains appear to believe in the existence of a soul inside the human body, and in the transmigration of souls ; and their Nirvana seems to consist in the delivery of the soul from this transmigration. It differs from the moksha of the Hindus in that the Jains, not teaching the existence of a supreme being, do not hope for an absorption of the soul into the deity. This Nirvana will follow on the belief in certain metaphysical theories, the nature of which still remains unknown to scholars. But it is to be accompanied by the practice of the four virtues—liberality, gentleness, piety, and remorse for failings—by goodness in thought, word, and deed, and by kindness to the mute creation and even to the forms of vegetable life. This last item in their belief, though common to the Jains and the Buddhists, has been carried out by the Jains to a more extreme result, and seems to be based on the wide extension of the doctrine of the soul. They regard all animals and plants as endowed with souls, and they consider it an act of piety to put up and to maintain hospitals for sick animals. They believe also in the existence of numerous angels or demons, good and bad, among whom they include most of the deities of the Hindu pantheon ; and the later Jains do not scruple to render a kind of worship to these spirits. This practice is, however, not in accordance with the earlier and stricter Jainism ; and it is the negative side of their creed, their denial of the power of the gods, of the authority of the Vedas, and of the sacredness of caste, which has been the most important part of their teaching. Practically, no doubt, many of their laity adhere to some of the social caste distinctions of the Hindus ; and their authors quote the Vedas with respect when passages from the Vedas can be used in support of their own views ; but no distinction of caste excludes from their religious orders, or prevents the attainment of their Nirvana ; and the Vedas, even when quoted, are not regarded as conclusively authoritative. Professor Jacobi, who is the best authority on the history of this sect, thus sums up the distinction between the Mahâ-vïra and the Buddha: "Mahâ-vïra was rather of the ordinary class of religious men in India. He may be allowed a talent for religious matters, but he possessed not the genius which Buddha undoubtedly had The Buddha's philosophy forms a system based on a few fundamental ideas, whilst that of Mahâ-vïra scarcely forms a system, but is merely a sum of opinions (pannattis) on various subjects, no fundamental ideas being there to uphold the mass of metaphysical matter. Besides this .... it is the ethical element that gives to the Buddhist writings their superiority over those of the Jains. Mahâ-vïra treated ethics as corollary and subordinate to his metaphysics, with which he was chiefly con-cerned."

Authorities.—Bhadrabâhn's Kalpa Sutra, the recognized and popular manual of the Swetàmbara Jains, edited with English introduction ly Professor Jacobi, Leipsic, 1879; Hemacandra's "Yoga Sâstram," edited by Windisch, in the Zeitschrift der deutschen morg. Ges. for 1874; " Zwei Jaina Storra,1' edited in the Indische Studien, vol. xv. ; Ein Fragment der Bhagavati. by Proftssor W eber; Mémoires de l'Académie de Berlin, 1866; Nirayàvaliya Sutta, edited by Dr Warren, with Dutch introduction, Amsterdam, 1879 ; Over de godsdienstige en wijsgeerigtt Begrippen der Jainas, by Dr Warren (his doctor-dissertation, Zwolle, 1875); Beiträge zur Grammatik des Jaina-prâkrit. by Dr Edward Muller, Berlin, 1876;
Colebrooke's Essays, vol. ii. Mr Burgess has an exhaustive account of the Jain Cave Temples (none older than the 7th century) in Fergusson and Burgess's Cave Temples in India, London, 1880. (T. W. K. D.)

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