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Buddhists vs. Jains

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This essay will examine Buddhism, Brahmanism and Jainism, which although represent very different traditions with distinct methodologies and goals, have commonalities that link the practices and beliefs of their meditation systems. Bronkhorst (2000) considers that there were two routes towards meditation in ancient India, that of the established vedic (brahmanical) orthodoxy and along with it the more nonconformist Jain and śramana traditions. With the alternate route being that of Buddhism. One could argue that Bronkhorst’s theory regarding the amalgamation of Jainism and Brahmanism is somewhat ambiguous, as although there were similarities there were also many differences too. Restraint, withdrawal of the senses and meditation practices are evident in both traditions, however, early Brahmanical ascetic practices of the yogin were not as severe as the austerities of the Jain practitioner. Soteriological outcomes also differed, with the vedic Upaniṣadic principle of non-duality and the ultimate return to brahman, in comparison with the Jain model which promoted the route to salvation as non-action and removal of all karmic traces before a liberated state could be achieved.

The essay will consider geographic history and the merger of cultures, attitudes and doctrines within the first millennium BCE, with detail on how this interweaving of societies, so often seen as opposed (Gail Omvedt, 2003, p.51), advanced into distinct religious groups with a number of shared approaches and ideas on meditation.

The Vedic tradition that gave rise to Brahmanism flourished in North West India during the first millennium BCE, however it became subject to Political unrest which resulted in consolidation of the sixteen great territories, culminating in the advent of the powerful Mahājanapada of Greater Magadha (NE India), (Bronkhorst Greater Magadha pp2-9). Here, in Magadha the śramana movement which included Jains, Buddhists, Ājīvikas and Lokāyata’s began to expand.

Śramanas, in particular early Jain culture began to question Brahmanical governance and doctrine along with their vedic customs of ritual sacrifice and purification, and an anti-Brahmanical movement began to surface (Warder, 1956, p.57). As Buddhism began to emerge, it offered new and alternative opportunities, people were looking for answers to their own existential questions and although Buddhism was slow to develop until Aśokas’ reign there was a spiritual gap in society waiting to be filled.

It is clear that ritual had played an intrinsic part of Vedic society, where the ṛṣī sought to internalise material sacrifices. Rituals were complex and consisted of sacrifice, chants and visionary prayers (dhī), with aims of attaining worldly goods and propitiating the Gods to maintain the balance of the cosmos (Ṛta). The ultimate goal was to be reborn in a nondual unmanifest state into the realm of the Gods and unite with Brahman, which as Wynn (2007 p94), states could only occur after death of the mortal body.

Unlike the Jains, the ṛṣī did not seek soteriological aims via self-denial this only came later with the advancement of the śramana movement. It is interesting to note that the Buddha took the Brahmin word for ritual and used it to denote ethical intentions, merit or purifying action, puñña kamma (Gombrich 2009 P 14), rather than it being akin to a sva-dharmic practice of the Brahmins. Gombrich (2009 p14), also suggests that it was Buddha with his ethical intentions who initiated the idea of a path of mental purity and contemplation for all practitioners not just the ṛṣī and hierarchy.

As the śramana faction developed some Brahmins and Kṣatriya who were somewhat in awe of the dedication of Buddhist ascetics jumped ship. Richard Gombrich (2006, p.27), affirms that the Buddha’s teachings advanced ‘in dialogue’ with other religious teachers, principally Brahmins. Arguably the wandering ascetics might have posed a threat to brahmanical society, however the śramana provided advancement in trade along the silk route which enriched financial and political power, resulting in Brahmanic and Buddhist traditions becoming somewhat mutually co-dependant. Despite this expedient understanding, the Buddhists Śramana, to disassociate themselves from Brahmins were forbidden to practice specific activities including cooking, as this associated them with the fire which was akin to vedic ritual. Gethin (1998 p10), states that śramana from all traditions appeared to have three things in common, the practice of austerities, expansion of philosophical doctrines and refinement of introspective and meditative practices which produced altered states of consciousness. Lal Joshi (1970, p.13), disagrees, suggesting that in renouncing the sacred Vedas, the Buddha discarded all practices that constituted pre-Buddhist Vedic culture.

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After the 5th and 4th C BCE Meditation in the Vedic and Śramana traditions began to develop and aims of mokṣa, nirvāņa, kaivalya and bodhi were established (Samuel, 2008 p 119). Mallinson (2017, p287), States that Brahmanism, Buddhism and Jainism all sought these permanent states of liberation from transmigration and suffering driven by karma, highlighting important links between the three traditions. Mallinson (2017, p288), also conjectures that the term yoga which is deemed synonymous with meditation and its techniques and goals was considered in Jain tradition as a psychological connection, yoking and binding the practitioner to the cycle of rebirth rather than as a form of liberation. Shared ideas of a permanent liberated state were developed within the early Upaniṣads. The Kaṭha Upaniṣad was the earliest to consider meditation that was a central to Brahmanical tradition as a form of worship (upāsanā). “Only when manas with the five senses has attained the still state and when Buddhi (intelligence) does not waver, that they call the highest goal (to be reached) That is what one calls yoga, the firm hold of the senses” (Deussen KU, 6.10–11).

It is within the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad that physical practices relating to meditation and yoga are first contextualised. “With the body erectly postured threefold and symmetrical, with manas and the senses locked in the heart, the wise man should cross, with the boat of Brahman, all the frightful flood of waters (of birth and death)Controlling one’s breath, curbing one’s movements, while controlling breath, breathing through the nose, just like the chariot with unruly horses.” (Deussen 2.8.9):

The Maitrāyaṇīya Upaniṣad 1st C BCE (MU 6.18), gives more detail on meditation and connections can be seen within the techniques and practices detailed, including the six limbed yoga which consists of constraint of breath (prāṇāyāmaḥ), withdrawal of the senses (pratyāhārā), meditation (dhyāna), fixing the mind (dhāraṇa), insight (vitarka) and concentration (samādhi). these can be found in other passages on meditation and within the MBH (ulrich notes). With the exception of vitarka they also make up five of the eight aṅga within the Pātañjalayogaśāstra (YS 2.). The Maitrāyaṇīya Upaniṣad continues with a description of dhāraṇa and states; ‘In another place it is said ‘ Still a higher concentration dhāraṇa consists therin when one presses the tip of his tongue and supresses speech manas (mind) and breath; one sees Brahman by means of the controlling (tarka).’ (Deussen 2010 MU 6.20 p360).

The above passage regarding pressing the tip of the tongue against the palate has a close parallel in the Buddhist Mahāsaccaka Sutta which contains a key account of early Buddhist meditation practice. ‘Then Aggivessana, I thought: ‘Let me, closing my teeth, pressing my palate with my tongue, restrain my thought with my mind.’ (Bronkhorst 2000 Mahāsaccaka Sutta 1.120-121)

Many suggestions on meditation practice can be found within the Vedic corpus, arguably the Veda-s were not simply a Brahmanic source of information as ideas were shared with both Buddhists and Jains. The great importance placed on a still body and a steady tranquil mind were important in all three traditions. It is interesting to note when looking at meditative similarities between them that all the fundamental elements of early Jaina meditation appear in Brahmanical sources. (ulrich & Brokhorst) (93p).

Of the practices interwoven between traditions the doctrine of Karma causes great interest and has been written about and debated by scholars. Bronkhorst (trad Meds 2000,p5)defines Brahmanic and Jain meditation as the ‘mainstream tradition,’ with the intention of avoiding karma. Within Brahmanical tradition karma is considered a force generated by actions perpetuating the cycle of transmigration. in Jainism karma is a subtle form of matter contaminating the soul delaying liberation (Bronkhorst, 2011, p xx and Merriam Webster’s, 2019). Bronkhorst suggests(2011, pp 8-40), that a proto karma became established in Ājīvikism, Jainism and Buddhism, then was later absorbed into Brahmanism. He states that karmic ideas of rebirth and liberation originated in Greater Magadha, however, this is clearly a disputable hypothesis as some proto-karmic theories had hitherto been established within the Bṛhadāraṇyaka and Chāndogya Upaniṣads which most scholars assign to the sixth or seventh Century BCE (Oliville, 2008, p xxxvi), indicating origins of early karmic concepts within ancient Vedic religion. ‘He who has done good things is born good he who does base things is born a base man.’ (Deussen, 2010, Bṛhadāraṇyaka 4:4: v 5-6).

Within Buddhism merit is dictated by Karma; Gethin states karma to be like ‘deeds which plant seeds’ (p101). Karmic actions determine ones transmigratory path. He suggests that rebirth in the lower realms of existance is generally the result of unwholesome or bad karma and rebirth in the higher realms denotes good prior karmic action (P119). There are evidently some commonalities between buddhist and brahmanical thought as the above quote from the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad highlights. However, for Buddhists, karma was avoided, by remaining equanimous to sense experience, rather than withdrawal or complete cessation (Bronkhorst, 1946, p.26).

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