This essay will examine Buddhism, Brahmanism and Jainism, although representing different traditions with distinct methodologies and goals, have commonalities that connect practices and beliefs of their meditation systems. 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 Omvedt (2003, p.51), advanced into distinct religious groups with several shared approaches and ideas on meditation.
Bronkhorst (2000, p xvii), considers that there were two routes towards meditation in ancient India, that of the established Vedic/Brahmanical orthodoxy together with 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 were evident in both traditions, however, early Brahmanical ascetic practices of the yogin were not as severe as the austerities of the Jain practitioner. Differences are evident in Soteriological outcomes, with the Vedic principle being non-duality and the ultimate return to Brahman, in comparison with the Jain model of non-action and the removal of all karmic traces before liberation could be achieved.
The Vedic tradition that gave rise to Brahmanism flourished in northwest 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 (Bronkhorst 2007 p 2-9). 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 existential questions and although Buddhism was slow to develop until Aśokas’ reign there was a spiritual gap in society waiting to be filled.
Ritual had played an intrinsic part in 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).
Unlike the Jains, the ṛṣī did not seek soteriological aims via self-denial, until the influence of the śramana movement. It is interesting to note that 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 the 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 ṛṣī and hierarchy.
As the śramana faction developed some Brahmins and Kṣatriya who admired the dedication of Buddhist ascetics jumped ship and Gombrich (2006, p.27), affirms that the Buddha’s teachings evolved ‘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-dependent. Despite this expedient understanding, 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 Vedas, the Buddha discarded all practices that constituted pre-Buddhist Vedic culture.
After the 5th 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 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 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 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 SU 2.8.9)
The later Maitrāyaṇīya Upaniṣad (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 Māhābarāta (Pagel, 2019). With the exception of vitarka they also make up five of the eight aṅga within the Pātañjalayogaśāstra. The Maitrāyaṇīya Upaniṣad continues with a description of dhāraṇa and states; ‘Still a higher concentration dhāraṇa consists therein when one presses the tip of his tongue and suppresses speech, manas and breath; one sees Brahman by means of the controlling (tarka).’ (Deussen, 2010 MU 6.20).
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.’ (MS 1.120-121 Bronkhorst 2000)
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 importance placed on a still body and a steady mind was evident in all three traditions. It is interesting to note when looking at meditative similarities that all the fundamental elements of early Jaina meditation appear in Brahmanical sources. (Pagel, 2019 and Bronkhorst 2000).
Of the practices interwoven between traditions, the doctrine of Karma causes great interest amongst scholars. Bronkhorst (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, 2019). Bronkhorst (2011, pp 8-40), suggests 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 (1998 p 101), considers karma to be like ‘deeds which plant seeds’ Karmic actions determine one’s transmigratory path. He suggests that rebirth in the lower realms of existence is generally the result of unwholesome or bad karma and rebirth in the higher realms denotes good prior karmic action (Gethin 1998 P119). There are evidently commonalities between buddhist and brahmanical thought as the above quote from the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad indicates. However, for Buddhists, karma was avoided, by remaining equanimous to sense experience, rather than withdrawal or complete cessation (Bronkhorst, 2011, p.26).
Asceticism was a route taken in both Jainism and Brahmanism to remove or reduce karma and suppress mental and bodily activity for soteriological aims. Mallinson states that in early Jainism tapas was the only assured way to acquire a liberated state. He suggests that it was following Umāsvāti’s Tattvārthaśāstra that meditation became elevated to be on more of an equal footing with austerities (Mallinson 2017 p288). The Uttarajjhayaṇa Sutta defines the culmination of the process of ceasing activity through the practice of pure meditation, consisting of absence of agitation, absence of delusion, discriminating insight and renunciation. These four ‘pure meditations’ are stages of complete motionlessness followed by death (sallekhanā) (Bronkhorst 2016, 29.72). Asceticism in Jainism for removal of karmic traces included the practice of austerities such as non-possession (including clothes for the Digambara), body mortification and various forms of fasting. The Tattvārthaśāstra and Uttarajjhayaṇa Sutta-s discuss austerities in great depth including both outer and inner austerities. (Cort 2001a, pp. 120-122).
Tapas including fasting was an important Brahmanical concept, used to induce heightened states of consciousness. As with Jainism fasting to death was not uncommon in some Brahmanic circles and is described as a final act of asceticism in both the Yājñavalkysmrti and the Māhābarāta. (Pagel,2019). ‘And the king performed asceticism in the midst of five fires for a year. And he stood on one foot for six months, eating only air. Then, having a reputation for virtue, he went to heaven.’ (Māhābarāta, 1.81.10–16)
Fasting was also prominent in the early life of the Bodhisattva and his followers. Before his enlightenment, he embarked on two meditative practices taught by his teachers Ālāra Kālāma and Uddaka Rāmaputta (MS 1: 242-246 In Bronkhorst 2000), Who likely had a brahmin background, hence somewhat bridging the two traditions. The practices were meditation without breath and reduction of food. The Bodhisattva opted for this severe asceticism as a potential route to liberation, however, it was after his failed attempts to reach an enlightened state via his teachers’ methods, that the four jhāna-s became his pathway towards nirvana.
Bronkhorst (2009 p 53), discusses how within the Mahāsaccaka Sutta (I. 246–7) the Bodhisattva recalls how as a child his attainment of the first jhāna, the first of a set of four altered states of consciousness hierarchically organised. Griffiths, (1983, p.59) considers how Gautama eventually understood this to be the right meditative course towards enlightenment. He discovered via thought and reflection a separation from desire and a profound state of happiness could be achieved. It is interesting that within the Mahāsaccaka Sutta, Nāthaputta Mahavira states; ‘Happiness, dear Gautama, should not be reached through happiness, happiness should be reached through hardship’ (Pagel, 2019, M 1, 92–95).
This is evidence of juxtaposition within Buddhism and Jainism, as within Jainism suffering and effort were the conduits to soteriology rather than the self- compassionate middle way of Buddhism.
Within the Satipaṭṭhāna-Sutta foundations of mindfulness, of the body, feelings, mind, and dhammās (mental phenomena and doctrines) are described. The combination of concentration, clear comprehension, direction and focus of the mind (vitakka, vicāra, viveka-ja and pītisukha), unite to form the above mentioned first jhāna (O’Brien Kop.2019) and Cousins, (1973, p.122). The four jhāna-s are one of the meditative factors which appear to be distinctly Buddhist (Samuel 2008: p137). Wynne (2007: 122), concours, suggesting that the jhāna-s were likely to have been original to the Buddha, acknowledging how with their sequential formula they endorsed the ‘middle way’ between knowledge and mindful meditation. The jhāna-s offered an alternative formula to the self- discipline of mind and body promoted by the Brahmins and Jains and their practice was encouraged almost as a backlash to earlier mainstream meditation techniques with the restraints that facilitated withdrawal of the senses (Bronkhorst 2000: p30). The four jhāna-s advocated a balanced, aware, experiential mind, a systemised form of personal development to alter awareness