Amazing articles on just about every subject...

Buddhist And Jain Ehtics - Pt. 2

( Originally Published 1922 )

It used to be popularly believed that the Jains were simply a sect of Buddhists, but for many years now it has been clearly established that they are a religious community with a distinct origin and history. The founder of the sect is believed to have been Mahavira, probably a contemporary of the Buddha, and belonging to the same social class. Comparatively little is known of his life. The title of Jina which was bestowed on him is a title corresponding to that of Buddha ; it means the Conqueror, and it was adopted by him when he attained enlightenment, completely destroying karma, becoming ` Conqueror of the Eight Karma Jainism stands much nearer to Hinduism in certain of its features than does Buddhism, holding to the existence of the soul, the efficacy of tapas, &c. There are, however, in Jain teaching, features suggestive of Buddhism. Like the Buddha, the Jina held that the summum bonum is the destruction of karma, whereby freedom is attained from the bonds of individual existence. But it has been held that the Jain conception of Nirvana is considerably different from the Buddhist. The Jain conception has more positive content. Barth says :

It is not the fact of existence which is the evil in the eyes of the Jains ; it is life which is bad ; and Nirvana is with them, not the annihilation of the soul, but rather its deliverance and its entry into a blessedness that has no end.

Mrs. Stevenson z quotes a sloka which describes the qualities of a Siddha (one who has attained deliverance) :

Omniscience, boundless vision, illimitable righteousness, infinite strength, perfect bliss, indestructibility, existence without form, a body that is neither light nor heavy, such are the characteristics of the Siddha.

The way to the attainment of this end is marked out with great detail. There are various stages through which the lay seeker has to pass before he is fitted for the ascetic life, and then he has to pass through various other stages before he reaches the final goal. In all this moral conduct plays a more important part than in any of the other religious movements that come under our consideration, except Buddhism. A high place is given to the Triratna, or Three Jewels. These are perfect faith, perfect knowledge, and perfect conduct, and it is taught that, without the last, the first two are worthless. It is the attainment of this perfect conduct that is in view in the vows that seekers take upon themselves. The vows taken by the laymen are twelve, and all of them might be shown to have definite ethical bearings though largely of a negative kind. Those taken by the ascetic are five, viz. (I) ahimsa, avoidance of doing injury to life, (2) kindness and truthful speech, (3) not taking what is not given, (4) chastity, (5) renouncing all delusive interest in what does not exist.

The principle of ahimsa was and is interpreted by the Jains in a far more rigorous way than by the Buddhists. The Buddhists did not absolutely forbid the slaying of animals, and Gautama himself died of a disease caused by eating pork. – Jainism, on the other hand, condemns the taking of life in any form. The Yoga-sastra violently condemns the practice of animal sacrifice. And the true Jain takes the most elaborate precautions to prevent him from inadvertently destroying life. Monks are bound by a vow prohibiting them from killing any creature possessed of a single sense, while laymen must kill no creature possessed of two senses. It is believed that among the beings possessed of one sense, that of touch, are included, for example, clods of earth, water, air, fire. These may be inhabited by jivas. In order that he may not injure life in these forms, the Jain monk sweeps the ground before him, breathes through a cloth, and strains his water. All this was prescribed only for monks, but later the effects of the discipline were extended, and laymen go to very great lengths in the precautions which they take against causing the deaths of animals, and in their positive efforts to preserve life. The Pinjra Pols, or hospitals for animals, of modern times in Western India are an interesting practical outcome of the doctrine. It is unfortunate that so much zeal for the preservation of life is not accompanied by more discretion in its exercise, and that it extends only to the preservation of life, taking no account of the quality of life which is preserved.

As a motive to the observance of ahimsa it is taught that the suffering which one inflicts on other living creatures will be punished by the infliction of the same suffering on ones self. In their explanation of the method by which karma operates, the Jains, equally with orthodox thinkers, hold to belief in both transmigration and hell. But the significance of the punishments of hell is more strongly emphasized. Between successive births the individual pays the penalty of his misdeeds in hell.

One exception to this wholesale condemnation of the taking of life is found in the permission which is accorded to those who have practised asceticism for twelve years to commit suicide. As in Hinduism, suicide is regarded as a sin, but provision is made for a sort of religious suicide that is not only not a crime but that is in the highest degree meritorious. It is permitted only to those who through the austerities which they have practised have assured their attainment of Nirvana. and to those who are unable to restrain their passions.

It is fitting that at this point some further consideration should be given to the development of ahimsa. The doctrine, as we have seen, is not new in Jainism and Buddhism, but in them it has been considerably developed. In the Chhandogya Upanishad it is mentioned along with asceticism, liberality, right dealing, and truthfulness as one of the gifts bestowed upon the priests in life, which is allegorized as a sacrifice. But throughout the Upanishads generally there is little mention of the doctrine, though it is the first of the five laws of Hindu ascetic life. In Vedic times flesh was eaten and animal sacrifices were offered ; indeed, it is probable that in early times human sacrifice was practised. The tendency seems to have appeared in the times of the Brahmanas to substitute for the animal victim a figure of it made of flour. In Buddhism and Jainism we see a further development of the doctrine. We have seen how in Jainism a peculiar doctrine regarding life led to an extraordinarily rigorous application of the doctrine of ahimsa. In all its rigorousness it could not be applied to the laity, for they had to provide the ascetics with food, and for that purpose the destruction of life was necessary. But the spirit of the doctrine led in course of time to abstention on the part of the laity from the slaying of animals, and later from the eating of flesh. A similar movement took place in Buddhism.

The root idea in the doctrine of ahimsa has already been discussed (Chapter III). It is the awe with which the savage regards life in all its forms. But we are still left with the problem why in India this developed into the elaborate system of restrictions which came to be observed in later times. Writing of the early stages of this development in the Brahmanas, Hopkins expresses the opinion that the new attitude to animals began as a purely sumptuary measure. He cannot believe that in the tendency to substitute animal for vegetable sacrifices there is any new respect for or kindness to animals manifested ; still less that it had any connexion with the doctrine of samsara which had as yet been but imperfectly developed. But it is hard to see how out of the prohibition of the sacrifice of animals useful to man there could have developed that abhorrence of the killing of animals of all kinds which was developed in the minds of the people. We may admit that the sanctity with which the cow came to be endowed was the outcome of the very great economic value which it possessed, but this does not help us far on to a solution of the general problem.

There can be little doubt that the development of the doctrine of ahimsa was greatly influenced by the operation of those ideas out of which the doctrines of karma and samsara grew. Or perhaps more truly these doctrines have common roots, and in their growth acted and reacted upon each other. They sprang alike from that primitive awe in the presence of life, to which reference has already been made, and from that feeling of kinship which primitive man has with lower beings. With the reinforcement which this feeling received in the Jain and Buddhist formulations of the doctrines of samsara and karma,we do not wonder that in course of time men came to regard with stronger feelings of revulsion the eating of the flesh of animals. We cannot tell why among the Buddhists and Jains certain ideas became so determinative, but we can trace the logical working of some ideas once they had been accepted. And we can understand how it was that a doctrine, which in the beginning had nothing to do with eating, came to have the appearance to the ordinary mind of having this as its special reference.

Belief in transmigration received tremendous reinforcement through its association with the doctrine of karma. Vague beliefs in the possibility of re-incarnation in the bodies of animals lost their vagueness and became definite and reason-able. With the idea of merit as an inalienable possession of each individual the belief became perfectly natural that according to its merit the soul should find a new body. These beliefs were firmly held at the time of the appearance of Mahavīra and Gautama, and we can easily understand that they would in turn make possible a much fuller and more definite doctrine regarding the duty of man to the lower animals than had been recognized before.

It must not be supposed that the doctrine of ahimsa involves simply the duty of abstaining from injury to the lower animals. The term became firmly established in the language of Indian religion, but it has been interpreted differently at different times. With the Buddhists it involved a genuine sympathy with and tenderness towards all kinds of living creatures. With the Jains, on the other hand, the main principle was that of refraining from the destruction of life, and modern Jains at any rate observe this duty by practices which often achieve the end of preserving life at the cost of very great suffering to the animal so preserved. And in Hinduism there has been the same tendency to value the mere preservation of life apart from the worth of the life which is preserved.

We have dealt at this stage with questions connected with ahimsa which carry us beyond the Jain doctrine because of the important place which the doctrine occupies in later Hindu ethics. The other aspects of Jain morality call for little further notice here. Regarding the attitude of the Jains to austerity or self-torture, however, a word must be said. Here we have one of the most marked points of difference between Jain and Buddhist morality. From the beginning ascetic practices were given an important place. The two great sub-sects, the Digambaras (those clothed in air), so called because they wore no clothes, and the Svetambaras (those clothed in white) belong to very early times. The former sect in particular gave itself to ascetic practices, but such practices were part of the discipline of the monastic life through which lay the way to Nirvana. It was better to commit suicide than to fail to practise austerities.

Home | More Articles | Email: