Mahavira and Buddha were contemporaries and there was much in common between them. It is because of the similarities between the two that some scholars think that Jainism owes it origin to Buddhism or Jainism is the oldest branch of Buddhism. Berth wrote ‘Jainism is a sect which took rise in Buddhism’. Others like Weber and Lassen believe that Jainism branched off from Buddhism.But modern scholars disagree with the above views and maintain that the two religions have a lot in common but the basic difference in the philosophies of the two makes each of them a distinct religion.
Similarities between Jainism and Buddhism
Both of them were the products of intellectual, spiritual and social forces of their age which arose as a challenge to the existing Bramanical order.Both possessed Aryan cultural background and were inspired by Upanishads especially the Samkhya – Yoga, Atheism, pessimism about human life being full of misery, doctrines of transmigration of soul and theory of Karma and the belief in dualism about spirit and matter are all essence of Samkhya Yoga which Jainism and Buddhism adopted with some modifications. Both were started by Kshatriya class who appealed and gave Social status to the Vaishya and Shudra castes. They emerged in eastern India, a place which had retained some feature of pre-Aryan culture. Their common place of origin and their newly acquired support from the economically prosperous Vaishyas and socially oppressed shudras all together helped in the publicity of their principles. Their attack on caste system, rituals and sacrifices, supremacy of the Brahmanas led the people to acquire new dimension to deal with problems of life and living. Both aimed at Nirvana or salvation from the cycle of birth and death as the ultimate aim of life. Both laid stress on pure and moral life for spiritual upliftment. Both emphasized Ahimsa or non-violence. Both denied authenticity of the Vedas as an infallible authority. Both emphasized the doctrines of transmigration of soul and laid stress on the effects of Karmas on individual’s future birth. Both discontinued with Sanskrit and Jain text took to Prakrit and Buddhist to Pali, which was the language of the masses. In order to preach their religion, both established Sanghas or orders for monks and nun and encouraged criticism as means to attain enlightenment.
Differences between Jainism and Buddhism
Though Jainism and Buddhism resembled each other very much, yet there were distinctions between the two religions. Jainism is a much more ancient religion as compared to Buddhism. According to Jain tradition, it had twenty four Tirthankars of whom Mahavira was the last. In this light, Mahavira has been regarded as a reformer of an already existing religion while Buddha is the originator of a new one. Jainism believes that all elements of nature have a soul whereas Buddhism believed in life in animate things only. As far as non-violence is concerned, Jainism laid lot of emphasis on it and believed in extremities but Buddhism is liberal in approach and even permitted eating of flesh to its followers where it is a traditional diet of the people. Buddhism emphasized love to all beings which is a positive virtue and more affirmative concept of Ahimsa than the concept of non-injury to all beings as emphasized by Jainism. Jainism advised practice of strict ascetism to attain nirvana while Buddhism preached the middle path to attain salvation. While Jainism thought women and men householders could not fulfill the eligibility to attain salvation, Buddhism believed both could attain and were eligible for the nirvana. According to Jainism, salvation is possible only after death while according to Buddhism, it is possible during one’s own life if one is able to detach oneself from the worldly existence. While Jainism describes nirvana as freedom from body, Buddhism describes it as an end of the self and breaking the cycle of birth and death by detriment from the worldly attractions. Buddhism was more practical in approach towards the problems of the time. It was more flexible to adopt changes into its fold with changing circumstances but Jainism was more rigid.WhileBuddhism spread all over Asia accommodating the traditions of the local population, Jainismremained confined to India only. Jainism remained closer to Hinduism than Buddhism. Therefore, conflicts between Jainism and Hinduism were negligible but Buddhism proved as a major rival to Hinduism. But with the bouncing back of Hinduism as a more positive religion with broader perspective, Buddhism practically disappeared from the land of its birth as a major reform movement.