Reaction against Vedic Brahmanism!
Towards the end of the Vedic Age, particularly when the Vedic Brahman as were being written, the Vedic Brahmanism became meaningless observance of a series of religious rites and performances which were both complex and unintelligible to the common people.
Religious formalities were prized above devotion, honesty, truth and real faith.
The complexities of religious observances, not within the comprehension of the common people, naturally made the priestly class, that is, the Brahmanas the sole trustees of common man’s religion. It was believed that if the priests would perform religious rites on behalf of a person or a family it would be free from sins, and prosperity would follow. This common belief naturally gave the priests an autocratic control over the society. This is also borne out in the Vedic Brahmanas.
While submission to the Brahmanas, performance of Yajna through the priests, animal sacrifice etc. were considered to be the best method of following religion, hatred towards the lower classes of the society was not considered to be wrong. In fact, violence to life, hatred towards men went on side by side with the performance of elaborate religious rites and Yajnas.
But man’s inherent sense of truth and justice, religion and humanity naturally revolted against prevalent Brahmanism. Animal sacrifice and mere formalities of religious rites and holding of Yajnas were not regarded by the thoughtful people to be the correct way to attain the knowledge about God, i.e. Brahma.
The independence of thought that the sages had roused in the Upanishads became the basis of the protest against the prevalent Brahmanical religion. As the Renaissance in Europe had initiated independence of thought which led to the protest against the immorality, corruption and the worldliness of the Catholic priests and the Church, similarly the independence of thought initiated by the Upanishads and the Aranyakas led to the rise of protestant religions called Jainism and Buddhism.
Both Jainism and Buddhism have much in common and both were revolts, not against Hinduism itself, but against diverse polytheism and in as arrogant claims of the Brahmanas. The time was propitious in as much as the Vedic religion had lost its appeal with the masses.
The sixth century B.C. was particularly noted for the rise of a number of new and simpler religions, but Jainism and Buddhism were the most important two. The leadership of these two important protestant religions, namely, Jainism and Buddhism, was not in the hands of the priestly class but in those of the Kshatriyas. The Sramanas and the Parivrajakas of the time had helped in the preparation of the ground for new religions by preaching against animal sacrifice and the prevalent worldliness.
Jainism and Buddhism are, sometimes, called anti-Vedic religions, but it will be a mistake to regard them so. Both these had originated from the philosophical thoughts contained in the Upanishads. It will, therefore, be correct to regard both Jainism and Buddhism as continuation of the Vedic religion although in course of time the religious ideals, worship and rituals of these two religions became inconsistent with Vedic philosophy and worship.
Dr. Smith is, however, of opinion that Mahavira and Gautama were of Mongolian origin like the Tibetans, Gurkhas, Bhutiyas etc. As there were divergence between the Hindu and the Mongolian religions, Mahavira and Gautam ventured to protest against the Vedic- Brahmanical religion. But the opinion of Smith has been rejected by the modern historians because both Jainism and Buddhism had originated from the philosophy contained in the Upanishads.