Compare and Contrast Jainism and Buddhism

Jainism and Buddhism: A comparative study

Buddhism and Jainism originated from the prevailing pessimism of the time and both the creeds had some common points. This has led certain scholars to suggest that Jainism was an offshoot of Buddhism. But this view is generally rejected by scholars on the ground that each of the creeds had distinct historical origins. If we compare and contrast the Jainism and Buddhism religion, we find there are few similarities between Buddhism and Jainism. But the differences are vast.

Similarities between Jainism and Buddhism:

Both Jainism and Buddhism originally derived their ideas from the Upanishadas and both had a common background of Aryan culture. Both of them were products of the prevailing pessimistic spirit of the time. Both appeared as revolts against orthodox Brahmanical Hinduism. Both Buddhism and Jainism sprang in Eastern India where the Aryan culture had no sweeping influence. Although Aryanism had penetrated in Eastern India, yet some latent aspect of pre-Aryan culture remained in the region. They contributed to the rise of the revolutionary anti­-Brahmanical creeds of Buddhism and Jainism in Eastern India.

In respect of their basic philosophical concepts, Buddhism and Jainism were indebted to the Sankhya philosophy. The Buddhists and Jainas equally believe that the world is full of misery, that the object or religion is to deliver the soul from the miseries of this world by eliminating rebirth. This concept of the Jainas and the Buddhists that world is a misery and that man is subjected to the result of Karma was borrowed from the Upanishadas and the Sankhya philosophy.

Both Mahavira and Buddha rejected the authority of the Vedas and the efficacy of Vedic rites. Both denied the existence of God and upheld ascetic life, moral and ethical codes. Both the teachers upheld non-violence as means of salvation. Both dismissed caste system. Jainism and Buddhism had largest number of followers among the mercantile class. Both Mahavira and Buddha preached their doctrines in the language of the people.

Differences between Jainism and Buddhism : A comparative study

Inspite of the similarities between the two creeds, the differences between them are great.

  • Jainism was an ancient creed which existed before the advent of Mahavira. There were at least 23 Tirthankaras before Mahavira. The latter was the last of the Tirthankaras. Mahavira did not found any new religion. He merely introduced certain reforms in Jainism. But Buddhism was entirely a new creed. It had no existence before Buddha.
  • The Jaina conception of soul differed from that of the Buddhists. The Jainas ascribe life to plants, stone and water, which the Buddhists reject. Their concept of Jiva (soul) and Ajiva (matter) is entirely different from the Buddhist concept of soul.
  • The Jainas practice rigorous asceticism and self- mortification. Mahavira himself practiced tremendous physical hardships to realize the Truth. He advised his followers to starve and undergo physical suffering. But Buddha was opposed to extreme penance and privations. He advised a “Middle Path”.
  • While, Mahavira advised his followers to discard garments, Buddha denounced that practice.
  • The Jainas practice extreme form of Ahimsha or non-violence. They do not tolerate the killing of insects and germs even. They ascribe life to inanimate objects like stone, wood etc. The Buddhists although believe in Ahimsa, do not observe it in such an extreme form.
  • Jainism seeks to destroy the evil effects of Karma by rigorous penance, self mortification and non-violence. They do not accept the Buddhist concept of Nirvana. The Buddhists believe that the evil effects of Karma cannot be extinguished in this life. They rather try to destroy the vicious impulses that produce the Karma. In their attitude towards Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism differ.
  • The Jainas do not entirely reject the caste system and do not entirely sever contacts with Hinduism. They are more accommodating to Hinduism than the Buddhists and employ Brahmanical priests for worship. But Buddhism has completely cut itself off from Hinduism and rejects caste system in any form.
  • In the Buddhist literature there is severe criticism of the Jaina doctrines which pre-supposes a great rivalry between both the creeds.
  • In their later developments, while Buddhism became a world religion, Jainism had little progress beyond India.
  • The Buddhists displayed a great missionary zeal. But the Jainas never attempted to get large number of converts in and outside India.
  • While Buddhism has practically vanished from India, Jainism is still a strong living faith having influence upon millions of Indians. Jainism had a great centre at Mathura and Ujjaini. Large numbers of Jaina inscriptions have been found at these places.
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