COMPARATIVE ANTIQUITY OF JAINISM
I propose in this article to place before the world the result of investigation in comparative religion, in so far as it tends to fix the comparative ages of two of the world's oldest religions, namely, Jainism and Hinduism. I am aware that my views are not very likely to be acceptable to the generality of the readers at present, but I am confident that they shall ultimately prevail. Such is always the case with all new 'things'.
If I were not a Jaina, it would be easier for me to say what I have to say, for in that case I should not be exposed to attacks, vicious and otherwise, on the count of bias and bigotry, in as much as the result of the investigations made by me is the establishment of the greater antiquity of Jainism. Nevertheless, I give my reasons for this conclusion and leave the reader to say what he likes about me and my method.
It is now established as the result of recent research, especially of the finds at Mohenjo-Daro, that Jainism flourished actually long, long before the time of the twenty third Tirthankara, Parsva Nath. The age of the finds at Mohenjo-Daro is probably 5000-7000 years ago in the past. Hinduism also flourished then side by side with Jainism. The question is, which of them is prior in time?
Of the scriptures of Hinduism it is now recognized on all hands that the Rig Veda is the oldest, so that if we are to understand its origin we can only do so with the aid of the Rig Veda, which appears to be the oldest written scripture extant. The language of the Rig Veda is certainly older than the language of any of the Jaina Books, but this may be due to its expression being fixed up, by poetry, before that of any of the Jaina works, which are known to have existed in memory alone at one time. The test of language is therefore, unreliable in this case, though if there was nothing to contradict it, it would carry the point a long way in favor of Hinduism.
But we shall turn to the intrinsic evidence of the oldest Veda. The question is, what was the religion of the people who possessed only the Rig Veda and none of the subsequent accumulations and accretions of scriptural lore now possessed by the Hindus?
The Rig Veda has been subjected to a great deal of criticism by friend and foe in recent times, but no one has found in its four corners ought but the worship of such things as the sun, clouds fire and the like. There is no trace of the essentials of the Hindu Religion, as they are known today, in the hymns of the great Veda. Transmigration and Karma, renunciation and asceticism, and yoga are not to be found in the Rig Veda, or at least have to be spelt out with great labor from the text. The summum bonum --Nirvana-- itself is not present to the mind in the medley of what appears to be pure nature worship.
European scholars have in reality not found anything but superstition and idolatry in the poetry of the Rig Veda. If this view be taken to be true, then the purport of the Veda would hardly be termed religion by any thoughtful person, seeking to know what salvation implied and how was transmigration to be brought to an end, karma broken through and Nirvana attainted. As such it would not be worth the while of a Jaina to seek to establish the greater anciency of his own religion, which from the earliest times known has consistently taught the path to Bliss and Blessedness in Nirvana by the destruction of karmas. For it is frankly admitted in Jainism that superstition and Enlightenment are coeval. Indeed the 'Light' may disappear from time to time and reappear again, but superstition in one form or another is more or less continuous. The position would then simply be this, that among religions Jainism would be the oldest, but amongst the creeds that fostered nature-worship that of the Rig Veda would be taken to be the most ancient.
But this view is falsified by a scientific study of comparative religion. What this study has revealed clearly to me is that under-lying this very seeming nature- worship lies hidden a scientific teaching and a doctrine which is identical in all respects with the Teaching of the Jinas. The Sun for instance is emblematic of the fullness of knowledge and not a gigantic moving star; Indra is the soul embodied in matter; Agni is Tapascharana which leads to release from the bondage of karma and transmigration. Those scholars who took the gods of the Rig Veda to stand for nature powers did not have their attention drawn to the possibility of a secret religious or spiritual interpretation, and therefore merely put down the creed of the Vedas a a form if idolatry and superstition. I shall not attempt in this article to demonstrate the truth of my interpretation, but am content to refer the reader to my books in which the subject has been dealt with at great length and the legends and myths of different countries and creeds have been interpreted in a scientific way. Here it is sufficient to state that my interpretations are in full accord with the true spirit of Hinduism and the elucidation of the Hindu Scriptures themselves.
I take it, then, that instead of being a mere ancient form of nature cult, the religion of the Rig Veda is revealed to be a scientific and systematic one, the most remarkable feature of which is its complete agreement with Jainism. In different language, Jainism and Hinduism are found to be teaching the same thing, though the one uses plain languages and the other is concealed in disguise and mystifying thought.
When did any of them really originate we do not know, if we leave out of consideration the evidence to the contrary furnished by the Jaina Books. The only material from which a deduction for the greater ancientness in favor of any one of them can be drawn thus is the fact that they teach the same thing, and that the language of the Veda is allegorical while that of Jainism is plain.
But I think that this fact is quite sufficient to determine the comparative ages of the two Faiths. For it is clear to me that allegory must have had a basis of prior fact to fix itself upon. If the Teaching was not known before, how could it be allegorized? In other words, who so ever allegorized the doctrines of the Science of Salvation must have known them, so that allegory is easily posterior to science or fact.
Shall we now try to seek a scientific basis for the allegories of the Rig Veda outside Jainism? But such an attempt is foredoomed to fail, for we have not the faintest trace of any such religion if Jainism is to be rejected. The best thing is to recognize that such a rejection will be simply the outside of prejudice, and not an act prompted by good reason. There has been no other scientific and scientifically expressed religion in the world, and certainly there was none beyond 7000 years ago in the past.
It is not necessary for the purposes of this article to insist upon the absolute accuracy of the Teaching of Religion, though I am fully convinced of it. The historian has not studied the subject, and cannot be readily expected to accept my ipse dixit on the point. It is sufficient for my present purpose if it be understood that the teachings of the Rig Veda, when properly interpreted and understood reveal identically the same groundwork of scientifically expressed thought as is found in Jainism. If this is once accepted it would follow that both these religions, namely, Jainism and Veda are merely the work of the one and the same body of men, some of whom allegorized the Teaching of their Religion, while some did not. We can say, if we like, that there was a scientific religion of the ancient Aryans which is expressed in allegorical garb in the Rig Veda, but which was handed down in plain language, as Jainism, to those who did not allegorize. Sharp differences would naturally arise between the followers of the two faiths after the lapse of a sufficient time when the purport and meaning of the allegories was obscured and lost, so that there is nothing surprising if the Hindus and the Jainas have not been the best of friends in the world for centuries.
The above conclusion is amply supported by the testimony of the Jaina Books; but even Hinduism acknowledges the great antiquity of Jainism, naming its Founder Rishabha Deva, who lived, according to the testimony of certain of the Hindu Puranas, millions of years ago. That religion flourished so far back in the past might be questioned by those who have not studied it as a science; but there is nothing surprising in its antiquity if humanity itself was present --and modern science tells up that man has peopled the Earth for hundreds of millions of years -- then.
It should be stated that the Jainas can not be Hindu dissenters by any possibility. Whenever there is a division in a community the bulk of the creed remains the same and common to the parts or branches thus formed. The differences arise in respect of a few matters only. But if we regard Hinduism as non-allegorical and then compare it with Jainism, the differences are very great. Their agreement is in respect of a few particulars only, excepting those matters, which concern the ordinary mode and living (civilization). Even the ceremonies, which appear to be similar are, in reality different in respect of their purport, if carefully studied. The Jainas regard the world as eternal; the Hindus hold it to have been created by a creator. Worship in Jainism is offered only to men who have attained the perfection of Godhood, but to no one else; in Hinduism its object is supposed to be a god who is the creator and ruler of the world. Hinduism believes in a large number of additional gods; in Jainism there is no room for any one in the class of Gods except Perfect Men.
The significance of worship itself is different in the two religions. In Jainism the idea is only that of walking in the footsteps of a Model, to become like Him; there is no prayer and no offering of food and unguents to please the Deity. In Hinduism it is the propitiation of gods for which worship is performed. In respect of their Scriptures also great differences prevail between Jainism and Hinduism. Not one of the Books of the Hindus is acceptable to the Jainas, nor do the Hindus acknowledge a single composition of the latter. The contents of these scriptures also differ very materially. Not one part of the four Vedas and the 18 Puranas of the Hindus is included in the Jaina Scriptures, nor is any part of the Jaina Sacred Literature included in the Hindu Books. The matters in respect of which there seems to be an agreement between the two communities are purely social; their significance wherever they have a religious bearings is divergent. Ordinary agreement in respect of such matters is naturally to be expected wherever two communities are found living together for thousands of years, especially if intermarriages take place among them, as between the Hindus and the Jainas. Thus, there is not an iota of evidence to support the notion that Jainas are Hindu dissenters.
To sum up: there are three possible views of the relationship between Jainism and Hinduism namely,
1. That the former is the child of the latter,
2. That the latter is the child of the former; and
3. That the two are parallel creeds, which have existed side by side without the one being an off- shoot of the other.
Of these, the first is a pure assumption, and not supported by any evidence extrinsic or intrinsic; the second rests on the intrinsic evidence, and proceeds on the basis of the Vedas having an esoteric, that is to say, an allegorical interpretation; and the third is the only remaining alternative which will hold good if the allegorical theory is to be rejected for any adequate reason. When the scholars will approach the question from the standpoint of the allegorical interpretation of the Vedas the true view will come to prevail easily then.
I shall now conclude this article by quoting the following weighty observations of Sir Kumaraswami Sastri, the officiating Chief Justice of the Madras High Court and a learned Hindu Scholar (see in re B. Gentappa v. B. Eramma, Indian Law Reports, Madras series, Vol. 50, pp, 229-230):--
"Were the matter res integra I would be inclined to hold that modern research has shown that Jains are not Hindu dissenters but that Jainism has an origin and history long anterior to the Smritis and Commentaries which are recognized authorities on Hindu Law and usage. In fact, Maha Veera, the last of the Jain Tirthankar, was a contemporary of Buddha and died about 527 B.C. The Jain religion refers to a number of previous Tirthankar and there can be little doubt that Jainism as a distinct religion was flourishing several centuries before Christ. In fact Jainism rejects the authority of the Vedas which form the bed-rock of Hinduism and denies the efficacy of the various ceremonies which Hindus consider essential."
"There is a great force in the observations of Holloway, J. in Rithucurn Lalla v. Soojan Mull Lalla (9 Madras Jurist 21) that Hindu Law cannot be applied to them. So far as Jain Law is concerned it has its own law books of which Bhadrabahu Samhita is an important one. Vardhamanaa Niti and Arhana Niti by the great Jain teacher Hemachandra deal also with Jain Law. No doubt by long association with Hindus who form the bulk of the population Jainism has assimilated several of the customs and ceremonial practices of the Hindus, but this is no ground for applying Hindu Law as developed by Vignaneswara and other commentators, several centuries after Jainism was a distinct and separate religion with its own religion ceremonial and legal systems, en bloc to Jains and throwing on them the onus of showing that they are not bound by the law as laid down by Jain Law-givers. It seems to me that in considering questions of Jain Law relating to adoption, succession and partition we have to see what the law as expounded by Jain Law-givers is and to throw the onus on those who assert that in any particular matter the Jains have adopted Hindu Law and custom and have not followed the law as laid down by their own Law-givers."