Hinduism, Jainism And Buddhism

(Sanatana Dharma known as Hinduism is older than Buddhism and Jainism) 

The worship of Mother Goddess both in stone age and Indus civilization, Siva Pashupati, Siva-lingas, Pipal tree, etc. found in the Harappan civilization refers that many of the religious aspects of Hinduism began then.


Hindus believe in supreme divine spirit called Parama Brahma. Brahma is present as soul in everything and at every place and shows itself in many different ways. People can join Parama Brhma in three ways: by dedicating their work to him, by prayer and love, and by leading a spiritual life after renouncing the world. The Hindu’s believed that until a person’s soul is joined with the Paramatma their soul is born again and again. In each life the person is rewarded or punished for what he or she has done in the previous life. The supreme aim is to join Parama Brahma and free oneself from the rebirth cycle.
Hinduism laid great stress on Varnashramdharma. According to this, life of an individual was divided into the following four stages. These four stages of life were meant to be followed by all individuals, irrespective of their caste, creed, and belief. It was meant as an ideal way of life leading to salvation.
  • Brahmacharin – After the sacred thread ceremony the person put his childhood behind, became brahmacharin, leading a celibate and austere life as a student at the home of his teacher.
  • Grihastha – After completing his education he returned to his parent’s home, got married and led a life of house holder.
  • Vanaprastha – After completing his household responsibilities, he left his house as a hermit to live in forest.
  • Sanyasin – By meditation and penance he freed his soul from material things, until at last, as a very old man, he left his hermitage and became a homeless wanderer with all his earthly ties broken.
Hinduism believes in Vasundhaiva Kutumbakam (where whole world is one family) and Sarvadharma Sambhava (all religions are equal). Hinduism lays emphasis on ethics, doctrine of non-violence and virtues such as mercy, compassion, friendliness, charity and benevolence. Hinduism favours tolerance and kindness. An important aspect of Hinduism is the doctrine of Bhakti or devotion, which is added later.  Upanishads are the greatest works of philosophy and knowledge, which do not give emphasis on rituals. Following the philosophical tradition of Upanishads and six philosophies in Hinduism quest for salvation through knowledge continued. This gave rise to Jainism and Buddhism.


According to tradition, the founder of Jain religion was first Tirthankara Adinath. Much importance was not given in Indian history to the earlier twenty-two tirthnkaras. Twenty third Tirthankara was Parasnath who existed about 8th century B.C. Vardhaman Mahavira was the twenty-fourth Tirthankara.
Vardhaman Mahavira was born in the city of Vaishali in Bihar in 540 B.C. He belonged to the republican tribe of lichchhavis. He was moved by the sufferings of the people. So, he left home at the age of 30 in search of truth and to find answers to the questions about life. At the age of 42 he attained Kaivalya or supreme knowledge through which he conquered the feeling of pleasure and pain. Therefore he is known as Jina or conqurer. He supported the teachings of 23 earlier Tirthankaras and added his own thought to theirs.This religion propagated by Mahavira and his predecessors came to be called Jainism.
Mahavira said that there was little use in performing the Vedic ceremonies and calling upon the gods for help. It was better to lead a good life and not to do wrong. If a man led a good life, his soul would be made free and he would not be born again in the world. Jainism teaches five doctrines:
  • Speak truth,
  • Possess no property,
  • Do not injure any living being,
  • Do not receive anything which is given freely, and
  • Observe chastity.
He wanted his followers lead a simple life. Mahavira also laid stress upon the Triratna or 3 jewels of life. They were
  • Right faith,
  • Right knowledge and
  • Right action.
This would lead his followers to a virtuous life. His followers were also forbidden to kill any living being, whether man or animal or insect. This was ahimsa. Thus Jainism also laid stress on the doctrine of Ahimsa.
The religion was preached in a language (Prakrit) spoken by the common people and not in Sanskrit, because by now only the educated upper class used Sanskrit. Later in Jainism two sects were developed-Shvetambaras or those who wear the white dress and Digamabaras or those who do not wear any cloth. Jainism spread in many parts of India, particularly Karnataka, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Malwa, Gujarat and Rajasthan.


Buddha is a title and not a name. “It means the enlightened one”, “the one who knows the truth”. Buddha’s real name was Siddhartha. He was born in Sakya clan in Lumbini grove near the city of Kapilavastu (Nepal Tarai), some years after the birth of Mahavira. His father’s name was Suddhodhan and Mother’s Maya Devi. He saw three sights which altered his whole life: a man feeble with old age, another one suffering from some terrible disease, and a dead body being taken for the cremation. These sights filled him with a longing to find some way to overcome all kinds of sufferings and to discover the true meaning of life. Therefore, although he was married and had a baby son, named Rahul, he left his home at the age of 29 in search of truth and meaning of life. After a long meditation under a pipal tree, he got Enlightenment in Bodhgaya.
The Buddha also emphasised on Ahimsa. He forbade killing of animals as part of the religious sacrifices. (The breeding of animals was important to agriculture in those days and there was little point in killing animals without reason. This concern for animal life also influenced the growth of vegetarian food habits.)
Buddha said that the cause of suffering is desire i.e. the wish to live and possess various things. Buddha spoke of four noble truths:
  • There is something in the world which accompanies all the normal happenings of life, birth, sickness, old age, death, etc.
  • Suffering is caused by nature.
  • To remove this suffering one should become free from desire;
  • The desire can be removed by following Ashtangika Marga or eight fold path.
His prescribed eight fold path would lead to virtuous life. The purpose of leading a good life was to purify the mind and attain Nirvana, when there would be no more re-birth i.e. a state of peace and freedom from suffering. They are:
  • Right beliefs,
  • Right aims,
  • Right speech,
  • Right conduct,
  • Right occupation,
  • Right effort,
  • Right thinking, and
  • Right meditation.
The Buddha too did not favour the Vedic sacrifices and the many rituals which people had to perform. He objected to the importance given to the Varnas. The Buddha started monasteries (viharas) which were places where monks lived and spent their life praying and preaching Buddhism. The monasteries were also used as schools and acted as important centres of education. Buddha spent the rest of his life travelling from place to place preaching his doctrine. Anybody could join the Sangha or Buddhist religious order regardless of caste or occupation. Women were also admitted to the Sangha.
Gautama Buddha was simply a teacher who could show men the true path of life to follow. His teachings were recorded in Tripitaka. Tripitaka is divided into three parts. The first states the rules for the monks, the second contains the sermons of Buddha, and the third deals with the Buddhist system of thought. The early Buddhist literature was in Pali. The Vinaya Pitaka is concerned mainly with the rules of the organization of the monasteries. The Sutta Pitaka consists mainly of dialogues between the Buddha and his followers.
The Milinda-Panha is another great Buddhist work consisting of dialogues between the Indo-Greek kings Menander and the Buddhist philosopher Nagasena. Another great Buddhist work consists of hundreds of Jataka stories which became the subjects of Buddhist sculpture and are popular all over the world for their wisdom. Later many Buddhist works were written in Sanskrit. Of these the most famous is the Buddhacharita or ‘life of Buddha’ by Ashvaghosha.
Buddhism and Jainism had followers among the crafts- men, traders and peasants (in towns) because they felt that these religions were not difficult to practice. On the other hand the Brahmans had made their religion difficult to practice because of the many ceremonies and rituals. Buddhism opposed to elaborate ceremonies because, not only they were expensive but they also encouraged superstition. Wealthy merchants donated money to the Buddhists and beautiful monuments were built. These were decorated with the finest sculpture. Buddhism spread in many parts of India by the Buddhist monks. It influenced every aspects of Indian life. Buddhist monks later took Indian culture to other parts of Asia- Central Asia, China, Tibet, and South-east Asia.