are two great religious traditions in the world (which is not to say
that there are not a number of important religious traditions
outside the two). They are, first the Indian tradition, and, second,
the Western. The Indian
tradition comprises the whole range of the religious experience of
India over the past 3000 years. This includes, of course, Hinduism, a
single name to cover an immense spectrum of religious belief and
practice. In addition, the Indian tradition gave birth to Buddhism.
Jainism, of course, belongs within the Indian tradition.
In the West the scene is dominated by Judaism, Christianity
and Islam, three religions which have close (though not always
harmonious) links, and which trace their origins back to the ancient
we look at the various religions individually the differences
between the two traditions must be noted.
Deeply rooted in India is the belief in re-incarnation, that
belief that the essential part of the individual, the soul, passes
after death into a new body which is reborn as another living being,
perhaps human, perhaps not. Thus we all pass, through almost endless
ages, from one form of life to another, the nature of our rebirth
(including whether it is favorable or unfavorable) being determined
by the accumulated effects of our actions, our attitudes, our mode
of life, in previous lifetimes. The accumulated effect of previous
lives is called karma. We cannot escape it and we are not free of it
until each unit, so to speak, of our karma has worked itself out in
subsequent lives, by
which time it has, of course, been replaced by fresh accumulations
of the karmic forces.
contrast the Western religions take the view that we have only one
life on earth which leads on to an eternal after life, not always
clearly defined but involving some idea of reward (heaven) or
punishment (hell) for our behavior on earth.
other fundamental difference between the Western and the Indian
traditions lies in the nature of god. To the Muslim, the Christian,
the Jew, God is one, a single all-powerful being who created the
universe, watches over it, controls it, and may be influenced by the
prayers of men and women. Indian thought is not so clear-cut on this
issue. To most Indian
thinkers the idea of a single god, totally excluding all others, is
alien. The universe is often (but not always) seen as
self-subsisting, needing no creator nor controller. If, to some
schools of thought, god is in some way a unitary force or power,
this expresses itself in the many forms of many different gods.
Buddhism and Jainism do not accept the idea of god at all, at any
rate in a form that would be understood by adherents of other
religions: they have even been described as atheistic religions.
This is in fact rather an over-simplification, as the student of
Jainism will appreciate.
let us look at the Jain religion in relation to the other major
religions. Jainism has, of course, particularly close links with
Hinduism. Although the
teachings of Mahavira are presented a reaction against aspects of the
rule of contemporary Hindu religious leaders, yet for 2500 years
since Mahavira Jainism has been a living force, preserving the
ancient faith without becoming ossified, developing against the
background of a predominantly Hindu environment.
For most of this period Jains and Hindus have co-existed
happily, with mutual tolerance and respect.
In many ways the Jain community has been influenced by the
customs and traditions of the larger Hindu community.
In matters of ritual as well as social customs the influence
is plain. Jain worship is directed fundamentally to the Tirthankara,
to the liberated and enlightened souls, to religious teachers and
monks. Yet some of the gods and goddesses of Hinduism receive, in a
different way, respect from many Jains. Laksmi, the goddess of plenty, Sarasvati, the goddess of
learning, are revered in a way which does not seem contradictory to
the overriding respect and adoration due to the Tirthankara.
Jain influence on Hinduism must include non- violence and
vegetarianism Mahatma Gandhi, as is well-known, was deeply
influenced, particularly in his attitude to non-violence by the
is often compared with Buddhism, indeed Western scholars in the
early nineteenth century often confused the two. Certainly there are
similarities. The Buddha and Mahavira were near contemporaries and
both reacted against the over-rigid orthodoxy of the scholars of
their time. The teachings of both are preserved not in the classical
Sanskrit but in the colloquial languages in which they preached.
Each laid down a course of training leading to ultimate
salvation, moksa or nirvana. Both emphasized non-violence and
strongly condemned the killing of living creatures. In both Buddhism
and Jainism the order of monks and nuns is important. However the differences between Jainism and Buddhism are
considerable. Mahavira, it must be remembered, was bringing
new vigor into a religion already ancient in his day. The
Buddha was the founder of a new religion. The course of spiritual
training of the Jains lays much more emphasis on austerity and
rigorous self-discipline than the 'middle way'
between ease and austerity in Buddhism.
The great philosophers of Jainism have evolved a view of the
universe as material and permanent, in strong contrast to the
Buddhist view that everything is illusory and transient.
Illusory and transient even is the individual soul: to the Buddhist
nirvana or moksa means the merging or extinction of
individuality in an undifferentiated final state, whilst to the Jain
it is a liberation of the soul into an individual state of total
knowledge and bliss.
and Judaism share a common religious heritage for the early leaders
of Christianity were Jews who followed
the call of Jesus Christ, himself a Jew. The sacred
scriptures of the Jews form the 'Old Testament' of the Christian
Bible. Judaism, like
Jainism, is both a religion and
a community, a close-knit community with a way of life and worship which keeps religion in a central place in
society. Unlike Jainism the religion of Judaism centres
around the worship of a single all-powerful creator God. The
code of right and wrong is strict but Judaism pays less attention to
life after death than almost any other religion.
the Christians also God is one (though seen in a mysterious way as having three aspects). Right conduct is
non-violence expressed as turning the other
cheek when an enemy strikes you, summed up in love for one's
fellow men and women, and this brings its reward after death
in Heaven where the individual soul passes eternity in
of the presence of God. One Christian writer on Jainism, though
admiring much of the Jain faith, felt
strongly the lack of a personal god, a refuge in time of
trouble. Yet this is seen by others as a strength of Jainism:
the individual feels master of his fate, not a dependent suppliant.
all religions equally true? That is a difficult question. There are
people who hold, passionately, that they only have the truth and
everybody else is wrong. At the other extreme
others distort the teachings of different religions in an
attempt to show that they all mean the same thing. Where should a
Jain stand? Obviously a convinced Jain will feel that the teachings
of Mahavira, as they have been interpreted and developed over the
past 2500 years, form the outstanding guide to the nature of life
and the universe and to the conduct which leads to ultimate freedom.
But a fundamental Jain belief is anekantavada
, that truth may be seen indifferent ways from different
view points. So, to the Jain, confidence should not lead to
intolerance but to a sympathetic respect for the ways in which
followers of other faiths
make their own approaches to truth.