Learn about the comparison between Jainism and Buddhism.

Mahavira and Buddha were contemporaries and there was much in common between Buddhism and Jainism. Because of striking resemblances between the two, certain scholars have opined that Jainism owes its origin to Buddhism or Jainism is only a branch of Buddhism. Weber said, “Jains are merely the oldest sects of Buddhism.” Lassen expressed, “Jains had branched off from Buddhism.” and Mr Berth wrote, “Jainism is a sect which took rise in Buddhism.”

But the views expressed above have not been accepted by modern scholars. Of course, there are similarities between the two but the basic difference between the philosophies of the two provides each of them a place of distinct religion.

The similarities and the distinctions between the two are as follows:


a. Similarities:

1. Both possessed the background of the Aryan culture and were inspired by the ascetic ideals and the philosophy of the Upanishads, particularly that of Sankhya-Yoga. Neglect of God or an atheistic attitude, pessimism or conviction that human life is full of misery, the doctrines of transmigration of soul and Karma (action or deed) and a kind of dualism between spirit and matter are common to Hindu-Sankhya philosophy, Jainism and Buddhism. Thus, the source of the philosophies of both was the same though both of them made certain changes in it.

2. Both were the products of intellectual, spiritual and social forces of their age and therefore, both stood up as revolts against the prevalent Brahmanical religion.

3. Both emerged in eastern India which by that time had successfully retained some features of the pre-Aryan culture. This partly explains the reason of their common place of origin and publicity’.


4. Both were started by the members of the Kshatriya caste and both appealed to the socially down-trodden, the Vaishvas who were not granted social status corresponding to their growing economic power, and the Sudras who were definitely oppressed.

5. Both, Mahavira and Buddha, the founders of Jainism and Buddhism respectively were Kshatriya princes and were able to get support for their cause from the contemporary ruling class, different Kshatriya rulers and economically prosperous Vaishvas.

6. Though both did not attack the caste system, they were opposed to it and therefore, drew large converts from the lower strata of the society.

7. Both opposed the ritualism and the sacrifices of Brahmanism and also challenged the supremacy of the Brahmanas.


8. Both believed that Nirvana or salvation of an individual meant his or her deliverance from the eternal chain of birth and death.

9. Both denied the authenticity of the Vedas as an infallible authority.

10. Both laid great stress upon a pure and moral life rather than practice of ritualism or even devotion to and worship of God as a means to attain salvation.

11. Both emphasized Ahimsa or non-violence.

12. Both accepted the doctrines of the transmigration of soul and Karma and emphasized the effects of good and bad Karmas (deeds) upon an individual’s future births and ultimate salvation which was accepted as the highest goal of life.

13. Both preached their religion in the common language of the people and discarded Sanskrit as the language of their early religious texts. The early Buddhist-texts were written in Pali and Jaina texts were written in Prakrat.

14. Both encouraged the idea of giving up the world and urged to lead the life of an ascetic.

15. Both organised orders for monks and nuns.

b. Distinctions:

Though Jainism and Buddhism resembled each other very much, yet, there were and are distinctions between the two as follows:

1. Jainism is a much more ancient religion as compared to Buddhism. According to Jaina traditions it had twenty-four Tirthankaras and Mahavira was the last of them. That is why, while Mahavira has been regarded as a reformer of an already existing religion, the Buddha has been regarded the originator of a new one.

2. The Jaina concept of soul is different from that of Buddhism. Jainism believes that everything in nature, even stone and water, has a soul of its own. Buddhism does not believe so.

3. The concept of Ahimsa (non-violence) is different in Buddhism as compared to Jainism. While Jainism emphasized it very much, Buddhism remained liberal in its interpretation in foreign countries, and even permitted eating of animal flesh where it was a necessity or traditional diet of the people. Yet, the Buddhist concept of Ahimsa is more affirmative as compared to that of Jainism. Buddhism emphasized love to all beings which is a more positive virtue as compared to the concept of non-injury to all beings of Jainism.

4. Buddhism emphasized elimination of caste distinctions more as compared to Jainism.

5. Jainism advised practice of strict asceticism to attain salvation while Buddhism advised its Upasakas to follow the middle path or Tathagata marg.

6. According to Jainism, women and men householders cannot attain salvation while, according to Buddhism, it is possible for both.

7. In Digambara sect of Jainism, it is necessary for the monks to go naked while Buddhism denounced it.

8. Buddhism emphasized the organisation of Sanghas more as compared to Jainism.

9. According to Jainism, salvation is possible only after death while according to Buddhism it is possible during one’s own life if one is able to detach oneself completely from the worldly existence. Thus, while Jainism describes Nirvana as freedom from body. Buddhism describes it as destruction of the self or detachment from worldly existence.

10. Buddhism proved more adaptable to circumstances as compared to Jainism. That is why while Buddhism spread all over Asia and accommodated the traditions of the local populace, Jainism remained confined to India alone.

11. In practice, Jainism remained closer to Hinduism than Buddhism. Therefore, conflicts between Jainism and Hinduism were negligible while Buddhism and Hinduism challenged each other and proved rivals to each other.

12. Jainism never spread beyond the frontiers of India while Buddhism spread over distant countries of Asia. But, while Jainism is still a living force in India Buddhism has practically vanished from the land of its birth.

Thus, there is no doubt that Jainism and Buddhism were and still are two distinct and independent religious sects. V.A. Smith writes, “The two systems whether regarded as philosophies or religions are essentially different.” They even proved rivals to each other during and after the lifetime of their founders. Buddha had condemned certain aspects of Jainism during his lifetime.

Therefore, Monier Williams is right in his conclusion when he writes, “Buddhism and Jainism were not related to each other as parent and child rather as children of common parents, born at different intervals though at about the same period of time and marked by distinct characteristics, though possessing strong family resemblances.”