Buddhism, Jainism & Bhakti Movement

These two non-Brahmanical systems of religion came to the fore in the middle of the sixth century AD Buddhism was founded by a Kshatriya Prince, Siddhartha born in 567 BC at Lumbini village in the Nepalese Terai. Siddhartha, afterwards known as the Buddha, was the son of Suddhodana, Raja of Kapilvastu. The founder of Jainism is unknown. Mahavira, a contemporary of Buddha, was the preceptor of Jainism. He was the twentyfourth and the last of the Jain teachers called Tirthankaras. Born at Vaisali, the capital of Videha (Modern Bihar), he too, like the Buddha, belonged to the Kshatriya clan of eastern India.

The two faiths shared the belief in the transmigration of soul, but rejected the authority of the Vedas. Both condemned animal sacrifices.

“While Jainism carried the doctrine of non-violence to the extreme and prescribed rigid asceticism for salvation, Buddhism advised the middle path and abhorred the mortification of the flesh as much as indulgence in sensual pleasures.”


The five doctrines of Jainism are: (1) Not to tell lies, (2) to speak the truth, (3) to observe continence, (4) not to acquire property and (5) not to cause injury to any one. The last one was added by Mahavira. The first four relate to his predecessor, Parsvanath.

Tri-ratna: The aim of existence according to Jainism is to attain, through the tri-ratna (three jewels) of (1) right intentions, (2) right knowledge and (3) right conduct, an absolutely stainless life.

Jainism recognised the existence of the gods but placed them lower than the Jina (the conqueror, used for Mahavir). It did not condemn the varna system as Buddhism did. Jainism attached the utmost importance to noninjury to living beings and prohibited the practice of war and even agriculture.

The names of two Jain tirthankaras—Rishabha and Arishtanemi, are found in Rigveda.

The Vishnu Purana and the Bhagvat Purana describe Rishabha as an incarnation of Narayan.

Jainism had 24 tirthankaras, all Kshatriyas and belonging to the royal family. Parsvanath and Mahavir were 23rd and 24th tirthankara respectively.

Syadvada (saptabhanginaya): According to Jainism, all our judgement are necessarily relative, conditional and limited. Absolute affirmation and absolute negation both are wrong. ‘Saptabhanginaya’ means dialetic of the ‘seven steps’ or ‘the theory of seven field judgement’.

Anekantavada: The Jain metaphysics is a realistic and relativistic plurism. It is called Anekantavada or the doctrine of the manyness of reality. Matter (pudgala) and Spirit (Jiva) are regarded as separate and independent realities.

Jain Councils:

  • First council was held at Patliputra about 300 BC under leadership of Sthulabhdra. Jain canons were compiled in this council.
  • Second council was held at Valabhi in the 5th century AD by the Svetambaras under the leadership of Devardhi Kshamasramana and the 12 Angas and 12 upangas were finally compiled here in Ardha Magadhi language.

Jainism popularised ‘Prakrit’ language. Mahavir Swamy preached in Ardhamagdhi.


Buddha laid stress on the Four Noble Truths viz., (i) existence is suffering; (ii) suffering is born of desire and desire unfulfilled leads to rebirth; (iii) when desire ceases, rebirth ceases and that is the highest good (nirvana), and (iv) the cessation of desire is attained by purity in deed, word and thought, the observance of the ten commandments and the pursuit of the Noble Eight-fold Path. The ten commandments are “not to kill, steal, or commit adultery; not to lie, speak ill of other people, indulge in fault-finding or profane language; to abstain from covetousness and hatred and to avoid ignorance.” The Eight-fold Path consists of right belief, right thought, right speech, right action, right means of livelihood, right execution, right remembrance and right meditation.

Buddha was strongly opposed to religious rituals, ceremonial worship, sacrificial system, and the idea of caste system. His preachings were mainly in regard to purity of thought and conduct.

His famous first sermon, the Dharma-chakra-Pravartana or Setting in Motion the Wheel of Law, was delivered in the Deer Park at Sarnath near Banaras (Varanasi).

The crux of early Buddhism was renunciation of desire.

Buddhism became a global religion due to efforts of king Ashoka. To preach Buddhist doctrines, Ashoka sent his son Mahendra and his daughter Sanghamitta to Ceylon (Sri Lanka).

Buddha preached in the language of the people and did not harp on the caste system. Buddhism became very popular in India during Buddha’s time.

Gautam Buddha (563 BC-483 BC) left home at the age of 29, attained Nirvana at the age of 35 at Bodh Gaya, under a Pipal tree, delivered his first sermon at Sarnath in Banaras and attained Mahaparinirvana at Kusinagar at the age of 80 in 483 BC.

Five great events of Buddha’s life and their symbols:

  • Birth: Lotus and Bull
  • Great Renunciation: Horse
  • Nirvana: Bodhi tree
  • First Sermon: Dharmachakra or wheel
  • Parinirvana or death: Stupa


  • The Vinaya Pitaka: (i) It deals with rules and regulations which the Buddha promulgated, (ii) It describes in detail the gradual development of Sangha, (iii) It also gives an account of the life and teaching of Buddha.
  • The Sutta Pitaka: It contains (i) discourses delivered by Buddha himself on different occasions (ii) discourses delivered by Sariputta, Ananda, Moggaland and others, (iii) the principles of religion.
  • The Abhidhamma Pitaka: It contains the profound philosophy of the Buddhas’s teachings and investigates mind and matter, to help the understanding of things as they truly are.

The Sutta Pitaka is divided into 5 Nikayas (groups):

  • The Digha Nikaya.
  • The Majjhima Nikaya.     
  • The Samyutta Nikaya.
  • The Anguttara Nikaya.
  • The Khuddaka Nikaya.

Buddhism does not recognise the existence of god and soul (atman).

The first human statues worshipped in India were probably those of the Buddha.

Hinayana and Mahayana: Hinayana and Mahayana are the two divisions of Buddhism. Mahayanism came into existence in the time of Kanishka.

The Buddhism which ignored the Divine (worship of gods and goddesses) was known in later times as the Hinayana or Lesser Vehicle of salvation, while the modified religion which recognised the value of prayer and acknowledged Buddha as the incarnation of an eternal heavenly Buddha was called the Mahayana, or the Greater Vehicle.

Death of Buddha: Buddha died in 483 BC. at the age of 80 under a sal tree at Kusinagara (modern Kasia) in the Gorakhpur district of U.P. Relics of Buddha are preserved in a Stupa. Buddha is said to be the last historical incarnation of Vishnu.

Buddhist Councils: The first Buddhist Council was held at Rajagriha shortly after Buddha’s death. A second Council was held at Vaisali in which the disciples of Buddha divided into two sections viz., Sthavirvadins and Mahasanghikas; a third at Pataliputra (during the reign of Ashoka), 236 years after his death, and a fourth Council was held at Srinagar (Kashmir) under the patronage of Kanishka, the Kushan king. It was presided by Vasumitra. Harshavardhana summoned two Buddhist Assemblies in the year 643 AD— one at Kanauj (the fifth one) and the other at Prayag, the sixth one.

Buddhist literature: was written in Pali language.

Emperor Ashoka and Buddhism: According to authoritative historical accounts, Emperor Ashoka became a convert to Buddhism after the battle of Kalinga in which there had been a great bloodbath. Disgusted with the spectacle, Ashoka became a lay Buddhist and ordered that royal-hunts be stopped. He appointed officials to proclaim and propagate Buddhist doctrine among the people and to act as censors of religion and morals. He got Buddhist doctrine inscribed on stone and such inscriptions were affixed all over his dominions. He also sent Buddhist missionaries to foreign countries. The famous Greek ruler Menander was converted to Buddhism.

Coins made of metal appear first in the age of Gautam Buddha. The earliest are made largely of silver though a few of coppers also appear. They are called ‘punch-marked’ because pieces of these metals were punched with certain marks such as hills, trees, fish, bull, elephant, crescent etc. The earliest boards of these coins have been found in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Magadha, although some early coins are also found in Magadha.

Buddhist period: During the age of Lord Buddha, there were 16 large States called ‘mahajanapadas’. Magadha, Kosala, Vatsa and Avanti were the most powerful.

The earliest capital of Magadha was at ‘Rajgir’ which was called ‘Girivraja’ at that time.

Magadha came into prominence under the leadership of Bimbisara, who belonged to the ‘Haryanka’ dynasty.

Magadha’s most serious rival was Avanti with its capital at Ujjain. Its king Chanda Pradyota Mahasena fought Bimbisara, but ultimately the two thought it wise to become friends.

Bhakti Movement

Bhakti Cult was a socio-religious movement revived in India during the 15th and 16th century AD. The new schools of religion gathered momentum as a result of Islamic influence. The belief in one God and the democratic spirit of Islam served as a potent factor in the evolution of Bhakti movement. Its main purpose was to bring reform in Hindu religion and check conversions to Islam. The saintly reformers preached a non-ritualistic and unflinching devotion to a personal God to attain salvation. They pointed out the absurdity of the caste system and preached a religion open to all without any distinction of caste or creed. Another attempt of some of the reformers was to bridge the gulf between the Hindus and Muslims. The teachings of Kabir and Guru Nanak were particularly directed toward that end.

The great exponents of the Bhakti Cult were: Ramanuja in the south, Ramanand and Kabir in Uttar Pradesh, Namdeva, Ramdas and Tukaram in Maharashtra, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in Bengal, Jaidev in Orissa and Guru Nanak in the Punjab.