First Seven Schisms
The Main schism of the Jain Church was the one between the Svetambaras and
the Digambaras. The Svetambaras believe that even before this schism,
there had been seven other schisms. These schisms had started when certain
important leaders of the Church had disagreed with the views of the Main
Church on some points of philosophy or ritual. These leaders had then
taken away their followers and established what one might call separate
sects. However, these schisms had little permanent effects, for the newly
formed sects had either disappeared or had joined the main Church again on
the death of their leaders. The seven schisms have been all described
together in Avashyaka Niryukti, VIII, 56-100. (The Digambaras do not know
of these seven schisms at all.)
The first of these schisms, as we have already seen, happened during the
life of Mahavira himself. Its leader was his own son-in-law Jamali. Jamali
broke away with his followers from Mahavira fourteen years after the
latter had attained omniscience. The point on which Jamali differed from
Mahavira would appear to an outsider to be a mere quibble.
The second schism was started by Tissagutta in Rajagriha. This happened
also during the life time of Mahavira and only two years after Jamali's
schism. Tissagutta's followers were called Jivapaesiyas. They controverted
Mahavira's view that the soul is permeated in all the atoms of the body.
The third schism was led by Asadha at Seyaviya, 214 years after the death
of Mahavira. Asadha's followers were called Avattiyas, and they held that
there was no difference between Gods, saints, kings and other beings.
The fourth schism was started by Assamitta in Mihila 220 years after
Mahavira's death. Assamitta was a disciple of Kidinna who was a disciple
of Mahagiri. Assamitta's followers were called Samuchchheiyas and they
held that after the end of all life will come one day, the effects of good
or bad deeds are immaterial.
The fifth schism was started by Ganga at Kullakatiriya, 228 years after
the death of Mahavira. Ganga was a disciple of Dhanagutta, another
disciple of Mahagiri. His followers were called Dokiriyas, and they held
that two opposite feelings such as cold and warmth could be experienced at
the same time.
The sixth schism arose in Antaranjiya and was started by Sadulaya,
otherwise known as Rohagutta, 544 years 1 after the death of Mahavira.
Sadulaya is said to have been the author of the Vaisheshika Sutras. His
followers were called Terasiyas and they held that between life (Jiva) and
non-life (Aliv), there is a third state `no-Jiva'. According to the Kalpa-Sutra,
the Terasiya sect was founded by Rohagutta a disciple of Mahagiri. 2
The seventh schism was led by Gotthamahila at Dashapura, 584 years after
Mahavira's death. His followers were called Abaddhiyas and they asserted
that Jiva was not bounded by karma.
No trace of these seven schisms is now left in the Jain religion.
The Eighth Schism --- Digambaras and Svetambaras
The Jain community is divided into two sects Digambara and Shvetambara.
Both the sects have exactly the same religious and philosophical beliefs
and practically the same mythology. The only noticeable difference in the
mythology of the two sects is regarding the sex of the nineteenth
Tirthankara Mali. The Svetambaras believe that Mali was a woman, while
Digambaras think that Mali was a man. This difference of opinion about
Mali arises out of the few differences in the beliefs of the two sects.
The Digambaras think that it is not possible for a woman to achieve
salvation, and as all Tirthankaras do achieve salvation, the nineteenth
Tirthankara could not have been a woman. Another difference between the
two sects is that the Digambaras think that all Jain ascetics should
follow the example of Mahavira and remain nude, while the Svetambaras
think that the practice of remaining nude known as JinaKalpa was given up
by the great teachers of the church within a few generations after
Mahavira (i.e. after Jambu) and they had started wearing white garments.
This practice was known as sthaviraKalpa. the present-day ascetics
according to the Svetambaras need follow only these great teachers (sthaviras),
and it was necessary to practice the JinaKalpa. The third point on which
the two sects differ is regarding the food of the kevali (omniscient). The
Digambaras maintain that a kevali does not need any intake of food, while
the Svetambaras think that they do. The point is academic, for both the
sects are unanimous that nobody is going to become a Kevali in the
Digambaras also deny two of the Shvetambara beliefs about Mahavira, viz.,
that Mahavira's embryo was taken from the womb of the Brahman woman
Devananda and transferred to the womb of Trishala, and also that Mahavira
had married and had a daughter. (Other minor differences between these two
communities are given later).
It will be noticed that these and similar other differences are of a minor
nature and do not affect the main tenets of the religion which were
essentially same for both the sects. On the other hand, these differences
minor though they might be, have cleaved the Jain community into two
distinct groups with practically no inter-mixing on the religious or even
social plane; for even inter-marriage between the two sects is not
ordinarily permissible. This was because the two communities have
necessarily their own temples, the Digambaras having the images of the
Tirthankaras nude, and the Svetambaras clothed. The monks or ascetics who
are the religious leaders of the sects are similarly nude, and clothed in
white respectively. Also, due to some reasons mentioned later, the
Digambaras refuse to recognize the canonical books of the Svetambaras, and
have their own texts.
Thus we see that the two sects both swearing allegiance to Mahavira and
his teachings, behave in their practical religious life as two different
societies. How a community with the same religious philosophy started
behaving at some point of time as two distinct communities is not clearly
known. The early religious literature of both the sects is practically
silent on this point. It is thus possible to conjecture that the Church
was undivided in the beginning, the more orthodox ones among the monks
practicing nudity (JinaKalpa), and the others not discarding clothes (sthaviraKalpa).
Indeed we have in the Parishishtaparvam of the Shvetambara polymath
Hemchandra, the narration that during the time of king Samparti in Ujjaini,
the Church had two leaders Mahagiri and Suhastin. After some time "Mahagiri
made over his disciples to Suhastin and lived as a Jinakalpika, though
Jinakalps had by that time fallen into disuse". 3 Thus perhaps while
nudity was optional in the beginning, it became later the fixed manner of
all those who adopted it, considering it to be the orthodox way of
Jainism. The separation of the Digambaras and Svetambaras according to
this thinking was thus a gradual process, and there was no point of time
when there was any actual schism. This appears to be a plausible theory.
A slight modification of this theory would be that Hemchandra was wrong,
and the jinkalpika was never given up. One group of Jain ascetics
continued to practice it throughout, and this group was later called
Digambara. The Great scholar of Jainism Hoernle has argued in his essay on
the Ajivikas in the Encyclopedia of religion and Ethics, that originally
the Digambaras were those Ajivikas who were unhappy at the behavior of
their leaders Makkhali Goshala at the time of his death. After leaving his
sect they had joined Mahavira and had become the latter�s followers. Thus
the Digambaras as a group were separate from the time of Mahavira himself.
Hoernle's conjecture is based mainly on two grounds. Firstly, not only did
the Ajivikas practice strict nudity (they were achelakas), but also a few
of their other customs resembled those of the Digambara monks to some
extent. On this latter point Hoernle has cited some instances which do not
seem to be borne out by facts. For instance, Hoernle says that Ajivikas
used to carry a stick (ekadandi), and so do the Digambara monks
now-a-days. As a matter of fact, it is the Shvetambara monk who may carry
a stick, and not a Kigambara monk who can have practically no earthly
possession. The second point on which Hoernle bases his arguments is that
many ancient authors and lexicographers have confused the Ajivikas with
the Digambaras. A. L. Basham in his Ajivikas4 has shown that Hoernle has
mis-read most of these ancient authorities, and there was no such
confusion in them as Hoernle alleges. But Basham fails to explain one
comment of the Shvetambara Pandit Shilanka (9th century). In his
commentary on the SutrakritAnga, speaking about those ascetics who revile
the followers of Mahavira, Shilanka said that these revelers were the
Ajivikas or the Digambaras.5 Is it possible that such a learned Jain
author as Shilanka would by mistake equate Ajivikas with the Digambaras?
It is possible to think with Hoernle that Shilanka really thought that the
Ajivikas were the same as Digambaras. The bulk of the evidence however, is
against Hoernle's conjecture, and the theory that some Ajivikas formed the
nucleus of the Digambara sect cannot be built upon this one stray
reference by Shilanka.
(In the same commentary Shilanka makes another enigmatic reference6 to the
Ajivikas. This time he equates the followers of Goshala (i.e. the Ajivikas)
with the Terasiyas the followers of Rohagutta, the leader of the sixth
schism of the Jain Church).
The Jains themselves both Svetambaras and Digambaras have their own
versions as to how the schism between them occurred. These appear in their
later books composed long after the alleged occurrences. As stated earlier
these are mere legends and cannot be verified as history. The Shvetambara
version is given in Avashyakabhashya a work of about 500 AD The legend is
There was a person called Shivabhuti who had founded a sect called the
Bodiya in the city of Rathavirapura. The occasion for doing this arose in
Shivabhuti had won many battles for his king, and the latter showered
honors on him. Naturally, Shivabhuti became very proud and used to return
home late at night. His mother on the complaint of her daughter-in-law
refused to open the door one night, and asked him to go to any place the
door of which he was likely to find open. Getting wild Shivabhuti entered
such a place that, however, turned out to be monastery. He asked the head
priest to initiate him but the priest refused to do so, where upon
Shivabhuti himself plucked out his hair and wandered as a monk.
After some time this self-initiated monk Shivabhuti happened to come to
the same place. The king, his former friend came to know of his arrival,
and sent him a costly garment (ratnakambala) as a gift.
Shivabhuti's superior protested and disallowed him to use such a garment.
When Shivabhuti did not listen to his advice the teacher tore off that
garment and used it as a mattress. Getting wild and excited Shivabhuti
gave up all clothing.
(A slightly different version of this says that the occasion for it arose
when once, his teacher, expounding the texts to a class, came up against
the following, alluding to a special stage of JinaKalpa.)
"Jinakalpia ya... ... ... ... ... duviha". It meant that Jinakalpias were
of two kinds. Some of them might have the necessary requisites, and others
not. On hearing it Shivabhuti asked his teacher, �While there is the
system of JinaKalpa, why should there be the bondage of clothes? A monk
following JinaKalpa and living in solitude should follow the principles of
austerity, including nudity". The teacher tried to bring him round, but
Shivabhuti would not be persuaded, and gave up all clothing. He thus
created a schism in the community.
His sister Uttara also followed him and she also became naked. But when
the courtesans of the city complained that nobody would go to them seeing
the ugly nature of the female body, Shivabhuti disallowed his sister to
accept nudity. Thus nudity was started by the Bodiyas under Shivabhuti.
The Bodiyas presumably were later called the Digambaras. This, the eighth
schism according to the Svetambaras occurred in 609 AV. or AD 83.
The Digambara version of how the Svetambaras broke away from the main
Church that the Digambaras call the Mulasangha is completely different. It
was also recorded much later. The first record is found in Harisena's
Brihatkathakosa of AD 931. This is as follows:
In the reign of Chandragupta Maurya, Bhadrabahu had predicted a terrible
famine in the country of Magadh, for a period of 12 years. Hence a part of
the community emigrated to South India under his leadership, while the
rest remained in Magadh.
When after some time the leaders met together in Ujjayini, the famine was
still there, and hence they allowed the monks to wear a piece of cloth (ardhaphalaka)
to hide shame while on the begging tour. But even when the famine was over
these monks refused to give up the use of the piece of cloth. The
conservative elements protested against this. And thus these Ardhaphalakas
proved to be the forerunner of the Shvetambara sect.
The final separation came later due to Chandraledha, queen of king
Lokapala of Valabhipura. It is related that these Ardhaphalaka monks were
invited by her; but seeing them neither clothed nor naked, the king was
disappointed, and the queen, therefore, asked them to dress completely.
Thenceforth the Ardhaphalakas began to put on white clothes and came to be
called Shvetapatas. This happened in AD 80.
(There is a reference to a Shvetapata community in a grant issued in his
fourth regnal year by the Kadamba king Mrigeshavarma, (AD 475-490). The
grant of a village was made to a community of Jains living in the city of
Vaijayanti. The Village was divided into three shares, the first to the
holy Arhat, the second to the eminent ascetics called Shvetapatas, who
were intent on practicing the true religion (Sad-dharma), and the third
for the eminent ascetics called Nirgranthas. Thus the Shvetapatas and
Nirganthas in this city in Karnataka were worshipping the same image of
Arhat in a temple. Whether the Shvetapatas referred to in the inscription
and the Shvetapatas sect referred to in the above Digambara legend were
the same is not known).
There is a serious weakness in this Digambara version: It is not supported
by the earliest Digambara epigraph that mentions this famine. This
epigraph, at Shravana Belgola, says that Bhadrabahu had predicted the
famine in Ujjayini and not in Magadh, moreover he himself is not recorded
to have accompanied the community to South India. Thus there are
contradictions in the Digambara versions. On the other hand the
Shvetambara version as to how the Church split into two is a bit too
puerile for such an important event. It appears that all these stories
were invented long after the actual split which in the beginning must have
been a gradual process that was completed some time at the end of the 5th
century. We do not know when actually the two sects finally separated but
we have epigraphic records to prove that even in the 3rd century AD the
difference, if any, within the community was not sharp. The images found
at Kankali-tila in Mathura belong to this period. They depict the
Tirthankaras in a nude state. Yet the donors of these images presumably
belonged to the Shvetambara sect for the Shakhas and Ganas to which they
belonged are the same as those which are mentioned in the Shvetambara
Kalpa Sutra. Moreover it appears from a few of the inscriptions that some
of the donors were nuns or the disciples of nuns. Thus though the images
were in the Digambara style the worshipers did not observe the Digambara
orthodoxy about disallowing women to become nuns. The exact dates of the
Mathura inscriptions cannot be determined. They are dated in the Kusana
era and the dates mentioned are from 5 to 98 of this era. However, the
controversy as the when the Dusana era started is not yet over, and if we
go by the date suggested by R. C. Majumdar then this era started in AD
244, and, therefore, the Mathura Jain inscriptions belong to a period from
the middle of the 3rd century to the middle of the 4th century. Similarly,
the other Tirthankara images of this period found in northern India are
also nude. The Inscription8 of Kahum in the Gorakhpur district refers to
the installation of five images of Adikartris. This inscription is dated
AD 460. The images found here are nude. The conclusion would be that the
difference in beliefs of the two sects, if they had at all parted company
by that time, was not up to then clear-cut and both of the sects
worshipped nude images.