Is Jainism an integral part of Hinduism?
Some traditionalists and fundamentalists on both sides of isle continue to see separation and a wall dividing these traditions and often insist on keeping it intact in spite of the fact that culturally Jainism followers are very much integrated in Hindu culture.
That brings about a central question.
Is Jainism metaphysics an integral part of Hinduism? How is it different from mainstream Hinduism?
I might ask a better question. Is there anything called a mainstream Hinduism anyway?
Is Hinduism an entity coalescing around a specific dogma or a theology doctrine or a communitarian traditional which came together in a specific geographical location?
If one views it in a former manner, Jainism stands apart but if one takes a later view, Jainism is indeed an integral part of Hinduism. The truth of the matter is that a dharma tradition -loosely fitted in western category of a religion - has a vast array of doctrinal divergence and there is no single binding theme or a source book that encapsulates into one fundamental view point of theology under an umbrella of Hinduism.
Irfan Habib, an Islamic scholar, rightly pointed out that several centuries ago, that all eastern traditions dissected, debated, argued and often disagreed about ontology, epistemology and metaphysics but all of them were still within the many fold Hinduism. That included all heterodox or Nastika traditions like Jainism and Buddhism as well. All these traditions fell within the frame work of eastern traditions as compared to outside imports of Abrahamic faiths.
The only traditions that clearly could be excluded were non-Indian origin traditions like Islam and Christianity coming under Abrahamic faiths.
In the eastern tradition of Santana Dharma (that originated with in India), there are two major branches called:
•Astika (believers in Vedas as final authority) called Orthodox systems.
•Nastika (who decline to believe in Vedas as final authority) called heterodox systems. Charvakas, Buddhism Jainism and relatively new Sikhism fall in to this category.
In a commonly used language, Nastikas are mistakenly described to be non- believes in God but that is only partially true. It is a refusal to accept Vedas as the final authority. It is also important to understand that denying Vedas as the final authority does not necessarily mean denying it to be an authority. In that respect even those who consider themselves as Astika (Hindus) do not necessarily know or understand and are dogmatic enough to claim Vedas as a final authority in everything. Mahatma Gandhi is on record stating that any scripture, including Vedas, if found repugnant and defies logic, need not be blindly followed. Bottom line is simple. Vedas (a part of shruti) as a final authority and infallibility of Shruti concept is outdated and a subject of challenge in modern version of Hinduism. That does not mean that it is not being revered as inspired scripture. Many Hindus view these scriptures as a guide and a tool to reach a final destination of liberation when they also become irrelevant after reaching desired destiny of liberation called Moksha.
In any case, Astika (believers in Vedas) fall in six different darshanas of Indian philosophy.
•They are Nyaya and Vaisheshikas which are essentially extinct even in current Hindu belief systems as they have been incorporated in other schools.
•Samkhya and Yoga are on same wave length with the exception that former does not have any GOD entity and adheres to a conceptual frame work of two parallel tracks of Purusha and Prakriti while later has one juxtaposes god to be a uniting force between those two parallel entities.
•Purva Mimansa and Uttar Mimansa (Vedanta) put a different emphasis on Vedas. Former is more inclined to Karma Kanda section of Vedas as the authority while later on Jnana Kanda section which culminates with Upanishads as the final authority. It is also vital to recognize that although each of the six Vedantic schools accepts Jnana Kanda as the final authority their interpretation of Upanishads and Gita has wide divergence.
This differences and variation in ontology and epistemology leads to different methodology to reach the salvation and/or liberation.
How about Nastika (Non-believers in Vedas as a final authority)?
They fall in three categories.
•Charvakas or Lokayata are essentially atheists in commonly used parlance, who positively deny the existence of God entity.
•Buddhists of various denominations are agnostics who do not necessarily believe in God as in commonly understood version but do not positively deny it either. Buddha when asked about existence of God said" when did I say there is a god"? When asked the other way, he said "when did I say that there is no god"? There is neither an affirmation of nor a denial of God.
•Jainism falls somewhere in the middle. I would call it agnostic theism. They deny the God as a creator as it is commonly understood but believe in devotion to Tirthankaras as equivalent of a God .The Tirthankaras have acquired divinity of God but are not necessarily omnipotent God. They guide followers to cross the river of Samsara by building a bridge or carrying one on a boat but one must strive for it.
Rig-Veda mentions of two Tirthankara - Rishabhdev and Aristanemidev. As to the legend, there have been 24 Tirthankaras. While Rishabhadev was the first Tirthankara, last one Lord Mahavir is well known in Indian history and appears to be a contemporary to Buddha. It is Mahavir who is widely followed and most influential in the present day Jainism.
How does Jainism relate to Hinduism?
1- I will call it to be a cousin of Hinduism as a first point as it accepts many scriptures of Hinduism - although not as the sole authority- and it adds its own version of scriptures. It is not uncommon to listen to a dissection and interpretation of Gita and even Vedas by various Jain scholars.
2- Jainism does not have a concept of a creator god and/or a descent of God as in incarnation (or an avatar). It is an ascent of divinity as per Jainism theology. It is essentially a man (or a woman) rising to a state of Godhood or Tirthankara by performing austerity and sacrifice or living a life of an ascetic. That state has a quasi-quality omniscience of God but not necessarily omnipotence of God as described in various religions. It is also important to recognize that Mahatma Gandhi, who was profoundly influenced by Jain theology, refers to this concept in his commentary on Gita where he actually states that God does not descend. It is only an ascent of man to God hood status.
It is also important to understand that even with Vedantic schools the nature of personal God (Saguna Brahman or Ishvara) and impersonal God (Nirguna Brahman) have widely divergent views as well. Those who emphasize devotion and duality strongly affirm a personal God and those who emphasize knowledge and non-duality view him as a product of Maya which can loosely defined as an illusion.
Rejection of a creator God is also inherently a part of Samkhya philosophy of India which emphasizes Purusha as a consciousness. It is different from enlightened Tirthankara who evolves from bottom up rather that top down.
3- Jainism does not accept Karma Kanda section of Vedas dealing with rituals as an authority but does not reject Jnana Kanda section of Vedas and often Jain scholars write commentaries on Gita and refer to Upanishads with their own interpretations. In fact, the followers of Vedanta also minimize the importance of karma Kanda as well and view it as merely a preparatory course prior to Jnana of Upanishad.
4- Jainism rejects a caste based system which formed during Vedic times with the emphasis of genealogy or hereditary aspects of birth rather than merit as was originally envisioned. Jainism was opposed to prevailing practice of caste based division but not necessarily the original intent based on societal needs. In fact, most modern reformist Hindus will have no disagreement with their logic as well. The truth is Lord Krishna also states that merit and inherent characteristics should be emphasized rather than hereditary aspects of an individual.
5- They accept karma theory with a slightly different spin. They believe that soul is a source of consciousness and karma and its fruit acting as a matter attach them to the purity of consciousness causing essentially a contamination, driving the soul away from divinity. The method to negate that contamination and purify oneself is austerity and sacrifice as per Jainism. There is one more important distinction here. Traditionally all religions, especially Vaishnavism and Christianity put emphasis of a concept called "grace" where an omnipotent God can wipe out the ill effects of Karma if one surrenders himself (or herself) to the God. The negation of Karma and ultimate salvation can be achieved by two factors - Self action and merciful and omnipotent God's grace or some form of combination of the two.
Since Jainism rejects the very concept of an omnipotent creator god, the only methodology one can employ is self-induced austerity because even the so called God cannot escape karmic effects of his own action. The Tirthankara is the one who has burnt off all his karmic bondage by austerity but he does not necessarily have an authority to liberate others from the bondage of karma. The prevailing idea is that if a savior cannot save himself from effects of his own karma, how can he save others?
How does one get a relief from karmic bondage and attachment? By following these principles.
Brahmacharya (chastity) and
These principles are not significantly different from traditional Hindu theology but the emphasis on Ahimsa is much more pronounced as the core doctrine of Jainism. This is primarily because of the fact that Jainism arose in the aftermath of often violent karma Kanda practices including animal sacrifice, especially North East India during Mahavir's time.
In practice, Sandhya Jain ("why I am a believer") rightly points out that most Jainism followers usually pray Hindu Gods for ceremonies and obtaining fruits of action. She cites that when worldly fruits are expected, Jainism follows Hindu Gods but for an ultimate destiny of salvation is sought, Tirthankara is followed. That leads us the question about what is our final goal of life
It is called Kaivalya in Jainism which has a very close similarity to the concepts of Moksha and Nirvana. Kaivaya is a state where soul finds solace and isolation from the clinging matter of karma as an attachment, leaving one to a perceived state of only oneness. It is like multiple sources of water coalescing and solidifying as ice living no trace of otherness that was inherent when waters trickled down. It is essentially a process of detachment and liberation from the bondage of cycle of samsara. One can also explain that giving an analogy of a flickering lamp in a dark night with soot covering the glass. The black suit is analogous to karma which gets wiped out by austerity. The flickering secondary to wind dies down as one assumes serenity and what is left is Kaivalya – a state where a steady flame continues to burn in the dark night.
How it is different from Moksha of Hinduism?
It has a close similarity to Hinduism concepts. When one dissociates himself from bondage, he/she either forms a communion with God head (Vaishnavism) or ends up with an ultimate merger, losing all aspects of individualistic identity into one and only source of consciousness as in Advaita theology.
Advaita claims that a manifold appearance of duality is an illusion any way so elimination of that illusion will lead one to realize oneness of all. The end result is similar as in Kaivalya one perceives only oneself. If I can draw a distinction here, it may be that down has arrived and steady flame has become irrelevant as the light of the lamp is overwhelmed in bright light in Advaita. It may also stretch the point that a true union will happen when flame will be extinguished and the wax melts away into an ill-defined mass. In Advaita it actually ends up with one and since there is no other anyway!
Jainism subscribes the concept of many souls which is similar to most Vaishnavism theology.
In Vaishnavism one reaches a state of symbiosis with Godhead or a communion creating a perceived union of emotions and feelings without actually loosing individual identity.
What about Nirvana of Buddhism?
Buddhism considers that when one extinguishes the idea of a false self, what is left is nothing but Shunyata or nothingness or a concept called Nihilism.
Moksha of Hinduism is a journey from inadequacy of Jivahood to adequacy and perfection of selfhood. Nirvana of Buddhism is a journey of extinction from "a false self" to a perfection of nothingness. Similarly Kaivalya is a journey of shedding the impurity to a perfection of a soul leading to divinity.
One important point needs to be made here. Jainism metaphysics put a great deal of emphasis on concepts called Anekanantvada and Syadvada which essentially confirms the view point that multidimensional reality cannot be comprehended and/or explained by simply one point of view . There must be a room to accommodate other view points and that puts it squarely in the fold of Hinduism which not only tolerates but encourages and embraces diversity of traditions and viewpoints without excommunicating anyone unless that group wishes to dissociate itself from Hinduism. This mutually tolerant attitude greatly influenced Mahatma Gandhi in his evolution and realization that facilitated his all-encompassing and all-embracing attitude in seeking a harmonious relationship with all other faiths.
I will come to conclude that variations expressed in Jainism belief system closely resembles and does not necessarily deviate significantly from many sub groups of Hinduism and hence constitute an integral part of Hinduism.
In fact, Anekanantvada of Jainism agrees with wide variations of interpretations and rightfully claims that only Kevalis (one who achieved kaivalya) can comprehend ultimate reality in totality. Rest can only have a conditional and/or a partial view like the story of six men and elephant.
This degree of humility is only prevalent in eastern tradition of mutual acceptance and respect for other’s view point.
That is the very basis of Hinduism metaphysics and hence Jainism forms a core integral part of Hinduism.