Jain World
Sub-Categories of Passions








          Just as there is an unusually large number of divisions in the religious sphere of a small Jaina community, we witness the same phenomenon, possibly in an aggravated form, in the social sphere of this community. The Jainas, in the early stages of their history, were divided into Varnas or classes and this Varna system was continued for a long period. But later on the caste system developed among the Jainas on the pattern of the Hindu caste system. To-day the Jainas are, more or less, as caste-ridden as the Hindus are.


          During the Vedic period (2000 B.C. to 300 B.C.) Parshvanatha was the first person to launch a successful attack against the religious beliefs and practices of Brahmanism and the same policy was vigorously followed by Mahavira. The latter succeeded in getting a large number of followers whom he organised into a compact social order quite distinct from that of the Brahmanic social order of the Vedic period.


          In the Vedic period society was class-ridden in the sense that unusual importance was given to the Brahmin class to the detriment of other classes and no-body was allowed to change his class. People widely indulged in meat-eating and the sacrificial rites were the main religious rites. Women were completely excluded from the religious field. Against these glaring drawbacks of the Vedic Society, so far as the historical period is concerned, Parshvanatha and Mahavira had to fight. They recognised the division of society into four Varnas or Classes but based them on activities and not on birth. They gave full freedom to one and all, including women and Shudras, to observe religious practices and admitted them into their religious order. They launched an attack against meat-eating and the performance of sacrificial rites. The doors of Jainism were thrown open to all and equal opportunity was given to everybody to practise religion according to his capacity. Those who followed religion as house-holders were known as Shravakas and Shravikas and those who observed it fully by leaving their houses were called as Sadhus and Sadhvis.


          After Parshvanatha and Mahavira, various Jaina Acharyas made no distinction whatsoever among people in the matter of following religion and conceived that the Varna System, that is, the division of society into four Varnas or Classes, is based upon differences in professions. In their view birth played no part in determining the class or Varna of a particular person. As regards the division of the society into four Varnas, Jinasena Acharya states1 in the following manner:


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                   ���עֳ��� �� �֤˳��֓��֟��׾�Ԭ��״��ֿ����� ��

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                   ����֕���s���ԕ�Ԯ�֮��ֵ�֟�� ���� ���ݾ��ע�����ֵ�֟�� ��

                                                          �־�� 38,45-46


          The whole mankind came into existence due to the rise of Jati-Nama-Karma; and the mankind was divided into four categories of Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra according to the differences in the vocations they followed for their livelihood. Those who observed `Vratas� (i.e., religious injunctions to a greater degree) were known as Brahmanas, those who carried weapons as Kshatriyas, those who acquired wealth by just means as Vaishyas and those who maintained by resorting to low professions as Shudras.


          From the above discussion it will b-, seen that the society as envisaged by Parshvanatha, Mahavira and Jaina Acharyas was a society wherein classes were not water-tight compartments and complete freedom was granted to people to change to the class of their own aptitude. The society was not divided into distinct separate sections and no differentiation was made in the status of the classes. All were considered as different ways of life and utmost importance was attached to individual character and mode of behaviour. There was no room for anybody to feel that he was neglected or degraded as he was free enough to follow any profession he liked and he could observe all religious rites end practices along with others. It is important to note that Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra were the main divisions and nowhere in ancient literature even a mention has been made of the castes existing as at present in the Jaina community. The caste system is a comparatively later development in the Jaina community and it appears that the castes might have arisen from the former four claases2.


1. Acharya: Jinasena: Adi Purana, Parva 38, 45-46.

2. Jaini J.L. : Jaina Law, page 2.


          It is stated that the persistent Brahmanical tendency to give a hereditary character to occupational distinctions by birth-right led to the formation of castes and castes within castes. Even though the early records of the Jainas, along with those of the Buddhists, reveal a powerful movement of thought counteracting this rapidly increasing tendency�, still it is a fact that later on the Jainas formed in their community a large number of castes and sub-castes.