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August 3, 2013

Religious conditions in India during 6th century BC before Jainism and Buddhism

What are religious conditions in India during 6th century BC before the emergence of Jainism and Buddhism?
 Before the 6th century BC witnessed great religious unrest in India.
1. Position of Vedic Religion in 6th Century BC:
  • The Vedic religion had lost its original purity and become very complex.  
  • Greater importance was attached to ceremonies, rituals and sacrifices. They were very costly and the poor could not afford to perform them.
  • The Brahmins had the monopoly vedic religion and dominated every aspect of life from birth to death.

2.The caste system had become very rigid and there was no social mobility.
3.The Sudras were regarded as untouchable. They could not enter temples, recite mantras and draw water from wells.

The time was right for social change and for new ideas.

Role of Some free thinkers and Sadhus during this period:
  • Different means were advocated to attain 'Moksha' by the intellectuals.
  • Some free thinkers and sadhus gave up sacrifices and preached the doctrine of 'Karma'. According to them right conduct was the only means to obtain salvation.
  • Some preached asceticism 'Tapas' and self mortification to attain salvation.
  • But the intellectuals said that Moksha could be attained by 'Gyana' (True Knowledge).
  • During this period of confusion, many religious sects emerged.
  • Out of them, Jainism and Buddhism survived. Both were the reformation movements to rid Hinduism of some of its evils. They drew inspiration from the teachings and the spiritual life of the Hindus. But, in the course of time, they became distinct religions, independent of Hinduism.

Religious conditions in India during 6th century BC before  Jainism and Buddhism
Causes for the rise of Buddhism and Jainism:
Jainism and Buddhism were a reaction against the existing Hindu religion which had developed many serious defects. The following are among the main causes :
1. Excessive Ritualism: Certain religious practices, rites and ceremonies in Hinduism had become too cumbersome, elaborate and costly. It had become difficult for the common people to practise this religion.
2. Expensive Sacrifices (Yagnas) and dominance of the Brahmins: The priestly class which dominated Brahmanism insisted that sacrifices and yagnas were necessary for salvation. There were also many household rites for which the services of the Brahmans were necessary. It became the duty of every family to perform yagnas which the poor people could not afford.
3. Rigid Caste System: The caste system had become very rigid and oppressive. The people of the lower castes Sudras, ("Untouchables") were ill-treated by the higher castes. They were not treated as human beings at all. They had to live outside the village. They were not allowed to enter the temples. They could not even draw water from the same wells. On the contrary in Buddhism as well as Jainism, there was no caste distinction. All people were equal participants.

Overview of Jainism and Buddhism during this Period:
1. Jainism : The Jain religion, founded by Vardhamana Mahavira (540-468 BC) is based on non-violence (ahimsa). The Jain philosophy also urges self control, ascetism and renunciation of all worldly bonds.
  • Jain teachings had an oral tradition until the 3rd century BC when they were collated and recorded at a council in Pataliputra. The final version of the Angas (Jain treaties) was edited in 5th century AD.
  • The Jains have two sects - the Digambaras (sky clad) and the Shvetambaras (white clad). The Digambaras refuse to recognize the rearranged version of the 12 Angas as authentic.
  • Presently Jainism is now largely confined to the trading community of western India.

2. Buddhism : Prince Siddhartha (566 - 486 BC), later known as the Buddha or the 'Enlightened One' was the founder of the Buddhist religion.
  • The goal of Buddhism is 'nirvana' - state of bliss - or spiritual liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth. The law of impermanence (nothing lasts) and the law of causation (nothing happens by chance) are at the centre of its philosophy.
  • The existence of God is irrelevant to its doctrine.
  • Buddhism questioned Hindu practices like elaborate ceremonies, image worship, the elevation of Brahmins and the subordination of women.
  • It also taught equality which attracted the oppressed classes who bore the brunt of Hindu bigotry.

Four general councils of the Buddhist church were held at
  • Rajgriha,
  • Vaishali,
  • Pataliputra and
  • Kashmir.

At Rajgriha, Buddha's teachings were compiled in the Pali canon as the Tripitakas.
The second council at Vaishali (387 BC) was followed by the one at Pataliputra (250 BC) during the reign of Asoka. Here, the decision to send missionaries to different parts of the world was taken.
The fourth council, in the early second century, officially recognized the schism in Buddhism between the Hinayan as (travellers by the lesser vehicle) and the Mahayanas (travellers by the greater vehicle).
  • The Buddha, created monasteries (viharas) for both praying and preaching. The schools at Nalanda and Vikramshila in Bihar and Valabhi in Gujarat were famous.
  • Buddha's disciples, Ashwaghosha and Nagarjuna were largely responsible for the spread of Buddhism after Buddha's death.

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