UPSC Prelims 2020 Important Topics: Buddhism and Jainism

UPSC Prelims 2020 Important Topics: Buddhism and Jainism: Jainism – Tirthankaras, Vardhaman Mahavira & Triratna.

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Vardhana Mahavira was the 24th Tirthankara (a great teacher) and is said to have propounded Jainism. The tenets of Jainism and facts about Mahavira are important for IAS Exam as it makes a significant part of Indian ancient history and Indian culture. NCERT notes on important topics for the UPSC civil services exam. about the rise and spread of Jainism in ancient India, Triratna of Jainism, and more.

Origin of Jainism

  • Jainism is a very ancient religion. As per some traditions, it is as old as the Vedic religion.
  • The Jain tradition has a succession of great teachers or Tirthankaras.
  • There were 24 Tirthankaras the last of which was Vardhaman Mahavira.
  • The first Tirthankara is believed to be Rishabhanath or Rishabhadev.
  • The 23rd Tirthankara was Parshvanath who was born in Varanasi. He may have lived in the 8th or 7th century BC.
  • All the Tirthankaras were Kshatriyas by birth.

Founder of Jainism – Vardhaman Mahavira (539- 467 B.C.)

  • Considered the last Tirthankara.
  • He was born at Kundagrama near Vaisali.
  • His parents were Kshatriyas. Father – Siddhartha (Head of Jnatrika Clan); Mother – Trishala (Sister of Lichchhavi chief Chetaka). (Chetaka’s daughter married Haryanka King Bimbisara).
  • He was married to Yasoda and had a daughter Anojja or Priyadarsana.
  • At the age of 30, Vardhaman renounced his home and became a wandering ascetic.
  • He also observed self-mortification.
  • After 13 years of penance, he attained the highest spiritual knowledge called Kevala Jnan. He attained this at Jimbhikagrama village under a sal tree aged 42. This is called Kaivalya. Thereafter, he was called Mahavira, Jina, Jitendriya (one who conquered his senses), Nigrantha (free from all bonds), and Kevalin.
  • He preached his teachings for 30 years and died at Pava (near Rajagriha) aged 72.

Causes of the rise of Jainism

  • Vedic religion had become highly ritualistic.
  • Jainism was taught in Pali and Prakrit thus was more accessible to the common man as compared to Sanskrit.
  • It was accessible to people of all castes.
  • Varna system had rigidified and people of the lower castes led miserable lives. Jainism offered them an honourable place.
  • About 200 years after the death of Mahavira, a great famine in the Ganga valley prompted Chandragupta Maurya and Bhadrabahu (last Acharya of the undivided Jain sangha) to migrate to Karnataka. Jainism spread to Southern India after that.

Teachings of Jainism

  • Mahavira rejected Vedic principles.
  • He did not believe in God’s existence. According to him, the universe is a product of the natural phenomenon of cause and effect.
  • He believed in Karma and transmigration of the soul. The body dies but the soul does not.
  • One will be punished or rewarded as per one’s karma.
  • Advocated a life of austerity and non-violence.
  • Stressed on equality but did not reject the caste system, unlike Buddhism. But he also said that man may be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ as per his actions and not birth.
  • Asceticism was taken to a great length. Starvation, nudity, and self-mortification were expounded.
  • Two elements of the world: Jiva (conscious) and Atma (unconscious):
  • Right faith
  • Right knowledge
  • Right conduct (observance of five vows)
    1. Ahimsa (non-violence)
    2. Satya (truth)
    3. Asteya (no stealing)
    4. Parigraha (no acquiring property)
    5. Brahmacharya (abstinence)

Split in Jainism

  • When Bhadrabahu left for South India, Sthulabahu remained in the North with his followers.
  • Sthulabahu changed the code of conduct and said that white clothes could be worn. Thus, split Jainism into two sects:
    1. Swetambaras: White-clad; Northerners
    2. Digambaras: Sky-clad (naked); Southerners

Jainism – Jain Councils

First council

  • Held at Pataliputra in the 3rd century BC.
  • Presided by Sthulabahu.

Second Council

  • Held at Vallabhi in Gujarat in 512 CE.
  • Presided by Devardhigani.
  • 12 Angas was compiled here.

Royal patrons of Jainism

South India

  • Kadamba dynasty
  • Ganga dynasty
  • Amoghavarsha
  • Kumarapala (Chalukya dynasty)

North India

  • Bimbisara
  • Ajatasatru
  • Chandragupta Maurya
  • Bindusara
  • Harshavardhana
  • Ama
  • Bindusara
  • Kharavela

Other Facts about Jainism relevant for UPSC

There a few important details about Jainism that aspirants should know for the UPSC Prelims examination:

  1. The doctrine of Jaina is older than the Buddhist doctrine
  2. Buddha and Mahavira were contemporaries
  3. The word ‘Jaina’ has meaning. It means the follower of ‘Jina,’ which means ‘Victor’ (Someone who has attained infinite knowledge and who teaches others how to attain moksha.)
  4. The other name to ‘Jina’ is ‘Tirthankara,’ which means ford builder.
  5. There is a Jaina conception of time which is divided in six stages called Kalas.
  6. The 22nd Tirthankara Neminatha is said to have belonged to the Saurashtra region of Gujarat.
  7. The 23rd Tirthankara Parshvanath lived in Benaras
  8. All Tirthankaras are supposed to have taught the same doctrine.
  9. A Jina is said to possess ‘Avadhijnana,’ (Superhuman cognition or psychic power.)
  10. Jaina doctrine insists that:
  1. Reality is Anekanta (Manifold)
  2. Sat (Being) has three aspects – Substance (Dravya), Quality (Guna), and Mode (Paryaya.)
  3. Jaina Doctrine of Anekantavada mentions the manifold nature of reality.)

Gautam Buddha – Life & Teachings

Gautam Buddha’s teachings revolve around the middle path of the living, the eight-fold path to enlightenment, and four noble truths.

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Gautam Buddha – Facts for UPSC

  • Buddhism was founded by Gautama Buddha.
  • Buddha was born as Prince Siddhartha at Lumbini near Kapilavastu (in present Nepal) in 566 BC.
  • He was the son of Suddhodhana and Mahamaya. Suddhodhana was the chief of the Sakya clan. Due to this, Buddha was also known as ‘Sakyamuni’.
  • His mother died either giving birth to him or after seven days. Siddhartha was brought up by his maternal aunt, Prajapati Gautami. This gave him the name ‘Gautama’.
  • He was married to Yashodhara and had a son, Rahula.
  • He left his home at the age of 29 to become an ascetic. This event is called Mahabhishkramana.
  • The idea of renunciation occurred to the Buddha after he saw four different states of man – sick man, old man, corpse and ascetic.
  • Buddha wandered for seven years and at the age of 35 attained enlightenment at Uruvela while meditating under a Peepal tree (Fig Tree/ Ficus Religiosa) on the banks of the river Niranjana. This tree came to be known as ‘Bodhi tree’ and the place became Bodh Gaya (in Bihar).
  • He gave his first sermon at Sarnath near Varanasi. This event is called Dharmachakra Pravartana/ Dhammachakkappavattana.
  • He died in 483 BC under a Sal tree in Kushinagar (in UP). This event is called the Mahaparinirvana.
  • The term ‘Buddha’ means ‘enlightened one’.
  • Important contemporaries of Buddha were Mahavira Jaina, Kings Prasenjit, Bimbisara and Ajatasatru.

Buddhist Philosophy/Teachings of the Buddha

The teachings are mentioned below:

  • It teaches the Middle Path renouncing extreme steps like indulgence and strict abstinence.
  • The four noble truths (Arya Satya) in Buddhism are:
Four Noble Truths – Buddhism Facts for UPSC
1. The world is full of sorrow
2. Desire is the root cause of all sorrow
3. Sorrow can be conquered by conquering desire
4. Desire can be conquered by following the eight-fold paths (Ashtangirka Marga)
  • The eight-fold path in Buddhism is:
Eightfold Path in Buddhism
Right understanding
Right resolve
Right speech
Right action
Right living
Right efforts
Right thought
Right self-concentration.
  • The Tri Ratnas of Buddhism are: Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. Details are mentioned below:
Triratnas of BuddhismMeaning of Triratnas
Buddha:The highest spiritual potential in everyone.
Dhammathe teachings of Buddha (Pali for Sanskrit Dharma or righteousness)
SanghaOrder of monks who follow Buddhism.
  • Buddha did not believe in God or the soul.
  • Stressed on karma and ahimsa.
  • He was against the Varna system. Buddha taught in Pali.
  • Buddhism spread to several countries outside India. China adopted Buddhism in the 1st century AD.

There are four Buddhist councils, the first one being held around 483 BC under the patronage of King Ajatshatru of the Haryanka Dynasty under Magadha Empire. The other three Buddhist councils were held around 383 BCE, 250 BCE, and 72 AD respectively. Read in this article about Buddhist councils and Pitakas that are Buddhist Texts.

Four Buddhist Councils were held under different kings.

First Buddhist Council

  • Conducted under the patronage of King Ajatasatru of Haryanka dynasty.
  • The council was established in order to arrive at a consensus on how the teachings of the Buddha could be spread further.
  • It was held in 483 BC just after Buddha’s demise.
  • It was held at Sattapani caves (Sattaparnaguha) in Rajagriha.
  • The monk who presided over the first council was Mahakassapa.
  • Main objective was to preserve the Buddha’s teachings.
  • At this council, Ananda composed the Suttapitaka (Buddha’s Teachings) and Mahakassapa composed the Vinaypitaka (monastic code).

Second Buddhist Council

  • Conducted under the patronage of King Kalasoka of Sisunaga dynasty.
  • It was held in 383 BC, i.e., a hundred years after the Buddha’s death.
  • It was held at Vaishali.
  • Sabakami presided over the council.
  • The main objective was to discuss ten disputed points under the Vinaypitaka.
  • The first major split happened here – two groups that would later evolve into Theravada and Mahayana. The first group was called Thera (meaning Elder in Pali). They wanted to preserve the teachings of Buddha in the original spirit. The other group called Mahasanghika (Great Community) interpreted the Buddha’s teachings more liberally.

Third Buddhist Council

  • Conducted under the patronage of Emperor Ashoka of Maurya dynasty.
  • It was held in 250 BC at Pataliputra.
  • The council was presided over by Mogaliputta Tissa.
  • Main objective was to purify Buddhism from opportunistic factions and corruption in the Sangha.
  • The Abhidhamma Pitaka was composed here making the almost completion of the modern Pali Tipitaka.
  • Buddhist missionaries were sent to other countries.
  • Buddhism preached by Emperor Ashoka was Hinayana.

Fourth Buddhist Council

  • Conducted under the patronage of King Kanishka of Kushan dynasty.
  • It was held in the 1st century AD at Kundalvana in Kashmir.
  • Vasumitra and Ashvaghosha presided over this council
  • All deliberations were conducted in Sanskrit.
  • Here, Abhidhamma texts were translated from Prakrit to Sanskrit.
  • This council resulted in the division of Buddhism into two sects namely, Mahayana (the Greater Vehicle) and Hinayana (the Lesser Vehicle).
  • Mahayana sect believed in idol worship, rituals and Boddhisattvas. They regarded the Buddha as God. Hinayana continued the original teachings and practices of the Buddha. They adhere to the scriptures written in Pali while the Mahayana includes Sanskrit scriptures as well.

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Buddhist Texts:

  • The most important sources of Buddhism are the Tripitakas / Tipitaka written in the Pali language.

They are:

  1. Sutta Pitaka
  2. Vinaya Pitaka
  3. Abhidhamma Pitaka
  • Dhammapada: a part of the Khuddaka Nikaya of the Sutta Pitaka. It contains a collection of the sayings of the Buddha in verse form.
  • Milinda Panha: Literal meaning in Pali – Questions of Milinda. It was written around 100 BC. It contains a dialogue between the Indo-Greek King Menander I or Milinda of Bactria and sage Nagasena where Milinda asks questions on Buddhism to the sage.
  • Buddhacharita: it is an epic poem composed in Sanskrit by Ashvaghosha in the early 2nd century AD. It is about the life of the Buddha.

Causes of the Spread of Buddhism:

  • Buddha’s magnetic personality.
  • He taught in Pali which the masses understood as opposed to Sanskrit.
  • He admitted people into the Sangha irrespective of caste distinctions.
  • Initial Sanghas were democratic and disciplined organisations.
  • The monks travelled to different places preaching the teachings of Buddha.
  • It received royal patronage including from Bimbisara, Ajatasatru, Ashoka, Kanisha and Harshavardhana.


Causes of the Decline of Buddhism in India

  • Split into Mahayana and Hinayana weakened the religion.
  • There was corruption among the latter monks. They gave up austerity and indulged in luxuries. Moral standards deteriorated.
  • Royal patronage for Buddhism declined after the end of the Gupta dynasty around 650 AD.
  • Orthodox Hinduism became more popular especially due to the works of Kumarila Bhatt and Adi Shankara.
  • The invasions by the Huns and later by the Islamic armies further declined the influence of Buddhism in the subcontinent.

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