“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” These wise words hail straight from the mouth of none other than Buddhist faith founder, Siddhartha Gautama. The Buddhist religion-or in better terms, “belief system”-centers around the concept of life and finding one’s life purpose, while staying grounded in reality and one’s present moment of being in the scheme of time. Being able to focus one’s energies on the “present” and freeing oneself from both past and future fears and influences is a core tenant within the religion’s philosophy. Founded over 2,500 years ago by Siddhartha in the aftermath of his “enlightenment” at age thirty-five, the belief system has been perpetuated faithfully, and today is the primary religious belief system of over 300 million people across the globe. Though Buddhism is indisputably one of the most influential and popular Eastern religious philosophies of world history, several lesser-known Eastern philosophies share many of Buddhism’s beliefs and core values, yet also provide different perspectives and viewpoints on the latter religious components. One notable religious philosophy which provides this is known as Jainism, whose roots (just like Buddhism’s) can be traced back to ancient India. The religions share a common overall goal-the ability to release one’s soul from a never-ending vicious cycle of death and rebirth (in Buddhist terms, “samsara”), attaining a higher essence of being in the aftermath of “liberation” from the cycle. Because of this, one could mistakenly assume that both religions must be extremely similar, with followers essentially working toward the same ultimate goal. However in practice, both religions differ exceptionally in their respective methods and modes of practice.
At its core, Buddhism preaches that all mortal life is centered around suffering, and that this suffering is rooted in selfish and personal desires. Every human being is trapped in a cycle of death and rebirth as a result of this perpetual suffering, and the only hope one has of breaking free of this vicious cycle-and earning enlightenment, or achieving “nirvana”-is to recognize this suffering, and free oneself from selfish desires through following and living one’s life in accordance with the tenants of the “eightfold path,” the foundation of the Buddhist way of life, and the manner in which followers are able to implement the teachings of Siddhartha. Buddhism is essentially an action based religious philosophy, as opposed to the more “faith” based belief systems. Buddhism is a way of life, whose teachings are not only remembered but implemented and put into practice in day-to-day life.
Unlike Buddhism, Jainism lacks a single “founder” to which credit for developing the belief system is bestowed upon. Rather, several notable teachers or “tirthankaras,” beings who attained “moksha” (the term for enlightenment in Jainism) and thus lingered on Earth in order to pass down this acquired omniscient knowledge, collaborated together, building the framework for Jainism practices and beliefs over a period of time. These teachers are not worshipped as God-like figures, but venerated and honored as advanced souls who have achieved perfection and are passing on their wisdom for the greater good and toward the progression of the species as a whole. These beings are revered as the “ideal” humans. Mahavira, the most famous “tirthankara” in Jainism’s history, is often incorrectly regarded as the founder of the religion, in a similar sense to which Siddhartha is acknowledged as Buddhism’s founder and primary “deva.” Jainism prides itself upon the fact that it was not “founded” by a specific person, which sets itself apart from many religions and distinguishes it from Buddhism. Jainism is a belief system that is deeply rooted in the philosophy of the human experience-one which takes great care to concern itself with the welfare of all the planet’s creatures. Unlike Buddhism, Jainism focuses not only on the individual and the individual’s personal goals of liberation, but society and recognizing all of the Earth’s living creatures as a collective karmic whole. In my opinion, this is why Jainism doesn’t revere one specific figure as being its “founder” and prophet. Instead, Jainism was developed over an extended period of time, built upon itself by several “founders,” a collaborative effort, a community of teachers dedicated to serving the greater good, not seeking personal glory or recognition. Selfish, petty personal goals were decidedly absent from the religion right from its beginning. Jainism centers itself around concern for the welfare of all living things on the planet, believing that every living thing, down to the last pea-pod, contains a living soul, and must be treated with equal respect and care as a result. This dictates that all followers must follow a strict vegetarian diet, and take special measures and precautions to ensure that they produce minimal waste and expend the absolute minimum of Earth’s natural resources, much unlike Buddhism, which doesn’t require any of the former lifestyle stipulations.
Like Buddhism, Jainism also holds followers to a similar creed and calls for daily implementation of the system’s core values through diligent practice. Both religions deny the notion of an absolute omniscient power of a “God” figure, yet both recognize their respective founders and various other notable figures within their respective religions as being of a higher essence of being-namely, those who have achieved “liberation” from the cycle. In Buddhism, these celestial “higher” beings are deemed “devas” and are regarded as having achieved Nirvana and liberation from samsara. However, each religion’s methods for achieving liberation are decidedly different. Buddhism and The Four Noble Truths preach to “life’s suffering” and provide the foundation upon which followers can work to achieve Nirvana and liberation from suffering through lifestyle choices. Jainism on the other hand, claims that liberation or “moksha” is attainable through the “shedding” of one’s “bad karma,” and that karma is the root cause of the cycle of death and rebirth, not “suffering.” Interestingly, I drew connections between both religions “right living” tenants. In Buddhism, The Eightfold Path consists of eight tenants which preach the “right” way to live one’s life in accordance with Buddhist teachings. In Jainism, the Three Jewels lay out a similar ethical foundation, preaching “right faith, right conduct, and right knowledge” all three of which are essentially included within Buddhism’s Eightfold Path, “right view, right action, and right mindfulness.” Basically, both religions hold written creeds with specific duties outlined for followers, which are to be diligently put into practice throughout daily life and implemented, mind, body, and soul. Both religions call followers to action, as opposed to worship-both are philosophies of life, at their core, guiding followers toward an ultimate goal. However Jainism’s five “mahavratas” or “Great Vows” dictate a strict lifestyle creed which differs greatly from Buddhism’s lifestyle outlined in the Eightfold path. The vows include: not to speak untruth, non-injury of life, not to steal, to renounce sexual pleasures, and to renounce all material attachments. These vows would seem wildly strict to some, particularly the call for sexual abstinence. Buddhism doesn’t call for sexual abstinence, or for a complete vow of “non-injury” of life, as Buddhists are allowed to eat meat and animal byproducts.
Although both religions differ greatly on certain philosophical matters, Jainism undoubtedly being the more “orthodox” and strict of the two, both religions seek to empower followers. Instead of simply dictating the will of an unseen, omniscient God figure and using eternal damnation as a tool in which to frighten followers into submission, both Buddhism and Jainism provide an ethical foundation in which followers may choose to live their lives for the betterment of their own future selves. The individual is in control of his or her own destiny, not vice versa, and accountability for one’s destiny hinges on the choices one makes within a lifetime-choices that will determine one’s outcome, be it within another life chock-full of karmic carry-over, or a higher essence within a wrinkle of time, suspended between time and space, basking in an eternity’s glory of self-satisfaction. Or, you know, something along those lines…
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Shouler, Kenneth, Ph.D. “World Religions.” The Five Vows of Jainism. Allexperts.com, n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2015.