Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Twin Schools of Spiritual Hinduism

In the 5th Century B.C., both Buddhism and Jainism rose as spiritual orders that basically rebelled against Brahmanical Orthodoxy. Impregnated by the seeds of spiritual unrest, these twin offshoots yielded in the realm of history a harvest of new interpretations in religious broad-mindedness.

Both Gautama and Vardhamana who have come to be associated with the two cults as the paramount figureheads of their respective reform movements happened to be from the Kshatriya clan, who challenged the spiritual hegemony of the Brahmanas just as they refused to acknowledge the paramountcy of the Vedas. It was basically a clash of ideals between the governing and intellectual classes, each of whom brooked its own exclusivity in the social fabric of the society. Here it must be mentioned that neither Buddhism or Jainism were rigid schools of religious reform to the extent of attempting obliteration of Hinduism itself, in the sense that they never preached the abstinence of individual faith in the Hindu deities. Both existed as corollaries of the tenets enshrined in Hinduism and both alluded to a religious order that preached to the closest approximation, a chastity in words, thoughts and deeds as the means to salvation.

However, unlike Jainism which remained close to its Hinduistic origins in that it adhered to the rudiments of the caste system and ceremonial sanctity, Buddhism gradually was weaned away from the parent stock and thus, weakened its base in the country. While Jainism continues to flourish in its country of origin, spreading out of the Magadhan seat of imperial power to parts of North-West and to the Southern parts of India, Buddhism has been uprooted quite a bit and has gone on to flourish in South and South-East Asia. Several reasons have been cited for this. Even as many of the Buddhist doctrines came to be assimilated in the Hinduistic folds, the supremacy of the Brahamanic order that was challenged during the 5th and the 6th Centuries B.C., once again gained ascendancy during the age of the Guptas somewhere around the 3rd and the 4th centuries A.D., which mitigated the hold of Buddhism on the masses. Paradoxically, the neo-atheistic doctrines of Buddhism did not carry any level of conviction for the masses that was seeped in idolatory practices and sermons for centuries on end. Then of course, came the corruptible influences in the Buddhist monasteries and the religious order, followed by the horde of invasions which saw Buddhism lose much of its primal energy. The spirit of compassion and religious freedom thus, became a more potent antidote in far off lands that never required the Hinduistic crutch to flourish.

It must be admitted however, that both Buddhism and Jainism occupy a status of paramountcy in the religious orders that have flourished in India even though there is no definite period to delineate in history as either the Buddhist or the Jain period. Both are like the spiritual fountainheads that have attempted to create an outlet for human sufferings through the ever-flowing waters of purity and wisdom.

Lord Mahaveera and the Tenets of Jainism

The 6th Century B.C. witnessed the rise of the twin sects of Buddhism and Jainism in India following a period of spiritual unrest. They were both fallouts of a revolt against the orthodoxy as enshrined in the Brahamanical tenets of Hinduism and yet neither propagated the surrendering of one’s existing beliefs in the spiritual deities of the Hinduistic cult.

The founder of Jainism was believed to have been Lord Parasvanath, the 23rd Teerthankara (Prophet) of the Jain hierarchy, whose order of ascetics was governed by the four basic tenets – non-injury to life, truthfulness, abstinence from stealth and non-attachment to property. Historically, the religious sect of Jainism owes it genesis to Vardhamana (one who brings in peace and prosperity), the son of a Kshatriya noble called Siddhartha who ruled at Kundagram, Vaishali more than 2,500 years ago. Vardhamana was rechristened as ‘Mahaveera’ owing to the unusual strength he displayed at quite a young age. However, Mahaveera was not destined to be the powerful Emperor of Vaishali as everyone had anticipated for as time went by, He decided on a path of renunciation. Like the Holy Buddha, He too wanted to find a way for mankind to be rid of sorrows in a world torn asunder by the differences of cast, colour & creed. At the age of 26, He embraced the life of an ascetic and for 12 long years, led a life of deep penance, oblivious to pain or pleasure, food or starvation, sleep or awakening. It is believed that once, while seated under a Sal tree on the banks of the Rijuwalika river near the Parasvanath hills, he found ‘enlightenment’ as a ‘Jina’ - the one who understood the cause and the cure of sorrow. He acquired ‘Kewal Jnana’ or the only knowledge that is infinite and supreme. The ‘Jain’ or the ‘Jaina’ thus, was an offshoot of the ‘Jina’, the conqueror. Once he attained enlightenment, Lord Mahaveera emphasized upon freeing the soul of earthly bondage with the possession of three jewels – ‘right faith, ‘right knowledge’ and ‘right conduct’. His teachings espoused God as the extreme manifestation of all that is good in human soul. Thus, according to Him, ‘Nirvana’ or the state of final emancipation was attainable by one’s own efforts without the aid of a supreme authority, simply by controlling one’s passions and desires. The Jains came to be divided into ‘Swetambaras’, the white-robed and the ‘Digambaras’, who use no clothes in adherence to the stress on chastity, added by Lord Mahaveera as the fifth to the earlier four tenets of Jainism.

Unlike Buddhism that branched off considerably from its Hinduistic parentage Jainism kept itself closer to its origins and never really attempted any serious overtures outside India. Mostly it was confined to Bihar and parts of North India before extending to Gujarat, Rajputana and to the Southern parts of India.

During the thirty years of His teaching life, Lord Mahaveera, developed a sizeable number of followers to his religious order, before attaining immortal peace at the age of seventy-two at Pavapuri in Bihar around 527 B.C.