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JAINS, the most numerous and influential sect of heretics, or nonconformists to the Brahmanical system of Hinduism, in India. They 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, Gujarat, 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. In the Indian census of 1901 they are returned as being 1,334,140 in number. 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 continent of India of those schools of thought which grew out of the active philosophical speculation and earnest spirit of religious inquiry that prevailed 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 Vaddhamāna, better known by his epithet of Mahā-vīra (the great hero), who was a contemporary of Gotama, 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 Tīrthankaras, 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. Mahā-vīra 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 distinguishing features to a teacher named Pārṣwa, who ranks in the succession of Jinas as the predecessor of Mahā-vīra. Pārṣwa is said, in the Jain chronology, to have been born two hundred years before Mahā-vīra (that is, about 760 B.C.); but the only conclusion that it is safe to draw from this statement is that Pārṣwa was considerably earlier in point of time than Mahā-vīra. 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 Tīrthankaras. The curious will find in them many reminiscences of Hindu and Buddhist legend; and the antiquary 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.

The Jains are divided into two great parties—the Digambaras, or Sky-clad Ones, and the Svetāmbaras, or the White-robed Ones. The latter have only as yet been traced, and that doubtfully, as far back as the 5th century after Christ; the former are almost certainly the same as the Nigaṇṭhas, who are referred to in numerous passages of the Buddhist Pāli Piṭakas, and must therefore be at least as old as the 6th century B.C. In many of these passages the Nigaṇṭhas are mentioned as contemporaneous with the Buddha; and details enough are given concerning their leader Nigaṇṭha Nāta-putta (that is, the Nigaṇṭha of the Jñātṛika clan) to enable us to identify him, without any doubt, as the same person as the Vaddhamāna Mahā-vīra of the Jain books. This remarkable confirmation, from the scriptures of a rival religion, of the Jain tradition is conclusive as to the date of Mahā-vīra. The Nigaṇṭhas are referred to in one of Asoka’s edicts (Corpus Inscriptionum, Plate xx.). Unfortunately the account of the teachings of Nigaṇṭha Nāta-putta given in the Buddhist scriptures are, like those of the Buddha’s teachings given in the Brahmanical literature, very meagre.

Jain Literature.—The Jain scriptures themselves, though based on earlier traditions, are not older in their present form than the 5th century of our era. The most distinctively sacred books are called the forty-five Āgamas, consisting of eleven Angas, twelve Upangas, ten Pakiṇṇakas, six Chedas, four Mūla-sūtras and two other books. Devaddhi Gaṇin, who occupies among the Jains a position very similar to that occupied among the Buddhists by Buddhaghosa, collected the then existing traditions and teachings of the sect into these forty-five Āgamas. Like the Buddhist scriptures, the earlier Jain books are written in a dialect of their own, the so-called Jaina Prākrit; and it was not till between A.D. 1000 and 1100 that the Jains adopted Sanskrit as their literary language. Considerable progress has been made in the publication and elucidation of these original authorities. But a great deal remains yet to be done. The oldest books now in the possession of the modern Jains purport to go back, not to the foundation of the existing order in the 6th century B.C., but only to the time of Bhadrabahu, three centuries later. The whole of the still older literature, on which the revision then made was based, the so-called Pūrvas, have been lost. And the existing canonical books, while preserving a great deal that was probably derived from them, contain much later material. The problem remains to sort out the older from the later, to distinguish between the earlier form of the faith and its subsequent developments, and to collect the numerous data for the general, social, industrial, religious and political history of India. Professor Weber gave a fairly full and carefully-drawn-up analysis of the whole of the more ancient books in the second part of the second volume of his Catalogue of the Sanskrit MSS. at Berlin, published in 1888, and in vols. xvi. and xvii. of his Indische Studien. An English translation of these last was published first in the Indian Antiquary, and then separately at Bombay, 1893. Professor Bhandarkar gave an account of the contents of many later works in his Report on the Search for Sanskrit MSS., Bombay, 1883. Only a small beginning has been made in editing and translating these works. The best précis of a long book can necessarily only deal with the more important features in it. And in the choice of what should be included the précis-writer will often omit the points some subsequent investigator may most especially want. All the older works ought therefore to be edited and translated in full and properly indexed. The Jains themselves have now printed in Bombay a complete edition of their sacred books. But the critical value of this edition, and of other editions of separate texts printed elsewhere in India, leaves much to be desired. Professor Jacobi has edited and translated the Kalpa Sūtra, containing a life of the founder of the Jain order; but this can scarcely be older than the 5th century of our era. He has also edited and translated the Āyāranya Sutta of the Svetambara Jains. The text, published by the Pali Text Society, is of 140 pages octavo. The first part of it, about 50 pages, is a very old document on the Jain views as to conduct, and the remainder consists of appendices, added at different times, on the same subject. The older part may go back as early as the 3rd century B.C., and it sets out more especially the Jain doctrine of tapas or self-mortification, in contradistinction to the Buddhist view, which condemned asceticism. The rules of conduct in this book are for members of the order. Dr Rudolf Hoernle edited and translated an ancient work on the rules of conduct for laymen, the Uvāsaga Dasāo.[1] Professor Leumann edited another of the older works, the Aupapātika Sūtra, and a fourth, entitled the Dasa-vaikālika Sātra, both of them published by the German Oriental Society. Professor Jacobi translated two more, the Uttarādhyāyana and the Sūtra Kritānga.[2] Finally Dr Barnett has translated two others in vol. xvii. of the Oriental Translation Fund (new series, London, 1907). Thus about one-fiftieth part of these interesting and valuable old records is now accessible to the European scholar. The sect of the Svetambaras has preserved the oldest literatures. Dr Hoernle has treated of the early history of the sect in the Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Bengal for 1898. Several scholars—notably Bhagvanlāl Indrajī, Mr Lewis Rice and Hofrath Bühler[3]—have treated of the remarkable archaeological discoveries lately made. These confirm the older records in many details, and show that the Jains, in the centuries before the Christian era, were a wealthy and important body in widely separated parts of India.

Jainism.—The most distinguishing outward peculiarity of Mahā-vīra and of his earliest followers was their practice of going quite naked, whence the term Digambara. Against this custom, Gotama, 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 Nigaṇṭhas. Even the earliest name Nigaṇṭha, 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 Svetāmbaras 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 Srāvakas, or disciples—do not adopt it.

The Jain views of life were, in the most important and essential respects, the exact reverse of the Buddhist views. The two orders, Buddhist and Jain, were not only, and from the first, independent, but directly opposed the one to the other. In philosophy the Jains are the most thorough-going supporters of the old animistic position. Nearly everything, according to them, has a soul within its outward visible shape—not only men and animals, but also all plants, and even particles of earth, and of water (when it is cold), and fire and wind. The Buddhist theory, as is well known, is put together without the hypothesis of “soul” at all. The word the Jains use for soul is jīva, which means life; and there is much analogy between many of the expressions they use and the view that the ultimate cells and atoms are all, in a more or less modified sense, alive. They regard good and evil and space as ultimate substances which come into direct contact with the minute souls in everything. And their best-known position in regard to the points most discussed in philosophy is Syād-vāda, the doctrine that you may say “Yes” and at the same time “No” to everything. You can affirm the eternity of the world, for instance, from one point of view, and at the same time deny it from another; or, at different times and in different connexions, you may one day affirm it and another day deny it. This position both leads to vagueness of thought and explains why Jainism has had so little influence over other schools of philosophy in India. On the other hand, the Jains are as determined in their views of asceticism (tapas) as they were compromising in their views of philosophy. Any injury done to the “souls” being one of the worst of iniquities, the good monk should not wash his clothes (indeed, the most austere will reject clothes altogether), nor even wash his teeth, for fear of injuring living things. “Subdue the body, chastise thyself, weaken thyself, just as fire consumes dry wood.” It was by suppressing, through such self-torture, the influence on his soul of all sensations that the Jain could obtain salvation. It is related of the founder himself, the Mahā-vīra, that after twelve years’ penance he thus obtained Nirvāna (Jacobi, Jaina Sūtras, i. 201) before he entered upon his career as a teacher. And through the rest of his life, till he died at Pāvā, shortly before the Buddha, he followed the same habit of continual self-mortification. The Buddha, on the other hand, obtained Nirvāna in his 35th year, under the Bo tree, after he had abandoned penance; and through the rest of his life he spoke of penance as quite useless from his point of view.

There is no manual of Jainism as yet published, but there is a great deal of information on various points in the introductions to the works referred to above. Professor Jacobi, who is the best authority on the history of this sect, thus sums up the distinction between the Mahā-vīra and the Buddha: “Mahā-vīra 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 Mahā-vīra 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. Mahā-vīra treated ethics as corollary and subordinate to his metaphysics, with which he was chiefly concerned.”

Additional Authorities.—Bhadrabāhu’s Kalpa Sūtra, the recognized and popular manual of the Svetāmbara Jains, edited with English introduction by Professor Jacobi (Leipzig, 1879); Hemacandra’s “Yoga S’āstram,” edited by Windisch, in the Zeitschrift der deutschen morg. Ges. for 1874; “Zwei Jaina Stotra,” edited in the Indische Studien, vol. xv.; Ein Fragment der Bhagavatī, by Professor Weber; Mémoires de l’Académie de Berlin (1866); Nirayāvaliya Sutta, edited by Dr Warren, with Dutch introduction (Amsterdam, 1879); Over de godsdienstige en wijsgeerige Begrippen der Jainas, by Dr Warren (his doctor-dissertation, Zwolle, 1875); Beiträge zur Grammatik des Jaina-prākrit, by Dr Edward Müller (Berlin, 1876); Colebrooke’s Essays, vol. ii. Mr J. 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).

See also Hopkins’ Religions of India (London, 1896), pp. 280–96, and J. G. Bühler On the Indian Sect of the Jainas, edited by J. Burgess (London, 1904). (T. W. R. D.) 



  1. Published in the Bibliotheca Indica, Calcutta, 1888.
  2. These two, and the other two mentioned above, form vols. i. and ii. of his Jaina Sutras, published in the Sacred Books of the East (1884, 1895).
  3. The Hatthi Gumphā and three other inscriptions at Cuttack (Leyden, 1885); Sravana Belgola inscriptions (Bangalore, 1889); Vienna Oriental Journal, vols. ii.-v.; Epigraphia Indica, vols. i-vii.