Jainism and Hinduism

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Mon Jul 12 17:24:55 CDT 1999

On Mon, 12 Jul 1999, Ganesh Deivashikamani wrote:

> Dear Advaitains/Friends
> Can anyone englighten me on the difference between Jainism and Hinduism.
> Because many of the jains seems to worship our Gods  like Lakshmi,Ganapathi
> and at the same time their Gods(Thirthangas) also.
> Is Jainism similar to Buddhism that argues based on 'SoonyaVadha' or
> 'Nothingness'? or do they have anything similar to 'Advaita' ?

In terms of philosophy Jainism is just as heretical as Buddhism and our
Acharyas have reacted to it with as much disfavor as Buddhism.  The Jain
philosophers have not been slow to respond.  Yet if you were to tell this
to the average man in the street--Jain or Hindu--they would be
flabbergasted to hear it because today, for all intents and purposes,
Jainism is just another Hindu sect.  In Gujarat, where there is big
Shvetambara Jain community, Jains intermarry with Vaishnavas--providing
they are of the same caste.  As you mentioned Jains worship our Gods.  At
Diwali I sometimes do Lakshmi Puja for Jain neighbors.  They also believe
in Ganesh Bhagawan and Krshna Bhagawan a lot.  (And it goes the other way
too.  I know a mantra which my Father learnt from a Jain muni.)  Although
they have their own sutras (agamas), there are also Jain versions of
Ramayana, Mahabharata, Padma Purana etc.  Not to mention, Jain munis have
written commentaries on Yoga sutras, vyakarana, and tarkashastras etc.

So as you can see all the classic reasons for calling a darshan nastika no
longer seem to apply on the everyday level.

Philosophically, however there is a big difference which munis and learned
Jain laymen are well aware of.  The Jain philosophy is called syadavada.
In Sanskrit syat is the conditional form of the verb to be.  According to
Jains, there are six different combinations of existence and non-existence
all of which should be conditionally be regarded as true.  Shunyavada
would only be one of those views.  Down the line both Astikas and
Bauddhas have criticized syadavada for being to wishy-washy.

Given, the impossibility of knowing truth fully, sentient beings should
minimize the impact they have on the world lest they commit some sin.
This is why for Jains, ahimsa is of the highest importance.  On my last
trip to India I noticed a big building near our house which never had any
lights on at night.  I asked my uncle why and he said it was an upashraya
or meditation hall for Jain laymen and they never  kept lights on at night
because they were concerned mosquitos and other small insects which are
attracted to lights might fly into the bulbs and burn themselves up!

The end goal is liberation from the bonds of karma but the atma retains
its individuality so it not like the Advaita concept of moksha at all.
The Tirthankars are those perfect souls who had the power to fully explain
the path to liberation.  There are 24 in each yugachakra and Mahavira was
the last in this present one.

By looking at Jainism I think we can shed some light on the relationship
between Hinduism and Buddhism in ancient India.  While the educated may
have debated back and forth on the merits of one view or another, at the
popular level beliefs and actions were probably quite similiar. Maybe why
Buddhism died out in India was it was very centralized in big monastaries
while Astika and Jain maths were smaller and more spread out.  So when the
Muslim invasions began, Buddhism was effectively decapitated and its lay
followers were absorbed back into the mainstream they had never really
left.  The others were disrupted but eventually managed to recover.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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