Chapter 30 – History of Jain Sects and Scriptures

Chapter 30 – History of Jain Sects and Scriptures

Chapter 30 – History of Jain Sects and Scriptures

Lord Mahävir’s preachings were orally compiled into many texts (scriptures) by his disciples. These scriptures are known as Jain Ägam or Ägam Sutras. The Ägam Sutras teach great reverence for all forms of life, strict codes of vegetarianism, asceticism, compassion, nonviolence, and opposition to war. In olden times, Jain ascetics believe that the religious books and scriptures are possessions and attachments.  Therefore the scriptures were not documented in any form but were memorized by ascetics and passed on by oral tradition to future generations of ascetics.   The memorized sutras were divided into two major groups:

Ang Ägam Sutras:

Ang Ägam sutras contain direct preaching of Lord Mahävir. They consist of 12 texts that were originally compiled by immediate disciples of Lord Mahävir known as Ganadhars. Collectively these Sutras are known as Dwädashängi.   They were compiled immediately after Lord Mahävir’s nirvana (death). The twelfth text is called Drastiwad, which includes

14 Purvas.   The foremost of these Angas is Ächäräng Sutra.   Other well-known Angas are Sutrakrutäng, Samaväyäng, Sthänäng and Vyäkhyä Prajnapti or Bhagawati Sutra.

Angbayha Ägam Sutras:

Angbayha Ägam sutras provide further explanation of Ang Ägam sutras. They were originally compiled by Shrut Kevali monks, who possessed total knowledge of the soul by studying 12 Ang Ägams. They consist of 14 texts according to the Digambar sect, 34 texts according to  the  Svetambar  Murtipujak  sect,  and  21  texts  according  to  the  Sthänakaväsi  and Teräpanthi sects. They were compiled within 160 years after Lord Mahävir’s nirvana.  They are sub-classified into Upängs, Mul Sutras, Chheda Sutras, Chulikäs, and Prakirnas Sutras.  Dashä Vaikälika, Uttarädhyayan and Ävashyaka are the most well known Sutras belonging to this category.

They Ägam literature is composed in Ardhamägadhi, Präkrit language, which was the language understood in the area where Lord Mahävir went about during His life.  Also, during the course of time many learned Ächäryas (elder monks) compiled many commentaries on the Ägam literature and independent works on various subjects of Jain philosophy and religion.

In the course of time, it became extremely difficult to keep memorizing the entire Jain literature (Ägam sutras – scriptures, Commentary literature, and Independent works) compiled by the many scholars.

About 160 years after the Lord’s nirvana, when Bhadrabähuswami was the head of the religious order and the Nand dynasty was ruling over Magadh region. Pataliputra, the capital city, became the center of learning and knowledge.   At that time, there occurred a twelve years of famine (around 350 BC).   During that period of shortage and scarcity, it was hard for Jain monks to observe the code of conduct of religion.   Bhadrabähuswami therefore decided to migrate to the south along with many followers.   Under such circumstances they could not preserve the entire canonical literature.

A convention was therefore called at Patliputra under the leadership of Ächärya Sthulibhadra, after the famine.  That convention prepared uniform version of all the Ägams.  In Jain tradition this is known as the first Vächanä of Ägams.

The version so prepared was not found acceptable to most of those who had migrated to the south.   They considered the version unauthentic and contended that the original Ägams had gotten lost.   This was the first major schism among the followers of Lord Mahävir.   In this connection it would be interesting to dwell a little on the background of this cleavage.   When the Lord renounced the worldly life, he seems to have retained a single cloth to cover His body.   During the first year of His renounced life, that cloth seems to have been worn out, torn or entangled in a thicket somewhere.   After that He did not care to get another one. For the rest of life He therefore stayed without clothes.   His immediate followers were also presumably unclad.   Later on, followers of Pärshva traditions acknowledged His leadership. They were covering their bodies with two pieces of cloth.   While admitting them in His fold, the  Lord  does  not  seem  to  have  objected  to  their  being  clad.    Thus  His  Order (Sangha) constituted clad as well as unclad monks amicably staying together.  The amity between these two however might not have survived after the age of Omniscients.   Though there was no open dispute, there could have been some misunderstanding and unfriendliness between these two groups.

Venerable Sthulibhadra and most of those who stayed in the north used to cover their bodies with  plain,  white  cloth;  while  those  who  had  migrated  with  Bhadrabähuswami  were  mostly unclad.  They had clear doubts on the authenticity of the Ägams compiled under the leadership of Sthulibhadra.   They took pride in them being true unclad followers of the Lord and in due course came to be known as Digambars, which means Sky-clad.  Those on the other side came to be known as Shvetämbars (Shvet means white and ambar means cloth) on account of the white cloth that they wore.   The history of the  Ägams from that time onwards thus takes two different courses.


Even after the Patliputra convention, Ägams remained unwritten and continued to be passed on orally from preceptor to pupil.   Memorizing must have taken its own toll.   Moreover with the fall of the Mauryan dynasty in 150 B.C., Patliputra ceased to be the main center of Jainism, because the Mitra dynasty that took over was not favorably inclined to it.  There was therefore a large-scale migration of Jain monks and laymen towards Udaygiri (Near present Bhuvaneshwar) in the southeast and towards Mathura in the west.  All these factors contributed once again to variations in the version of Ägam Sutras.   By the end of the first century, most probably in 97 A.D., another convention was called at Mathura under the leadership of Honorable Skandilächärya.   Curiously enough, another convention was simultaneously held at Vallabhipur in Gujarat under the leadership of Honorable Nägärjun-ächärya.  There were some differences in the versions arrived at the two conventions.   We are not exactly sure whether any attempt was made to reconcile the varying versions.   Anyway, this is called the second Vächanä of the Ägams.

Even after this, the Ägams remained unwritten.  Variations in the versions were therefore bound to  occur.    Ultimately  one  more  convention  was  held  at  Vallabhipur  in  454 A.D.  under  the leadership Devardhi-Gani Khshamäshraman.   An Authorized version of all the Ägams was prepared at that convention and they were written down for the first time.   At the present time the following 45 Ägams are available that are acceptable to Shvetämbar Murtipujak sect:- 11 Angas (The 12th one is lost long back), 12 Upängas, 4 Mul Sutras, 6 Chheda Sutras,10 Prakirnas and 2 Chulikäs.

Digambars started writing their text of the Ägams on the basis of knowledge at their command. Ächäryas Dhärsen and Gunadhara who happened to be in the line of Bhadrabähuswami, were very knowledgeable.  Their successors prepared the Shatakhand-ägam, (also known as Maha- kammapayadi-pahuda or Maha-karma-prabhrut) and Kasay-pahud that are collectively known as Pratham Shruta Skandha or the first collection of scriptures.

This could have occurred some time after the Patliputra convention.  During the second century AD the most venerable Kundkundächärya wrote Samay-sär, Pravachan-sär, Niyama-sär, Panchästikäya, and Ashtapähud, which are known as Dwitiya Shruta Skandha or second collection of scriptures.   His Samay-sär, Pravachan-sär and Panchästikäya are held in high esteem even by Non-Digambars.   Digambar sect accepts these works as the most authentic Jain Ägams and most of the subsequent Digambar literature is based on them.   In about 200

A.D.   Honorable Umäsvämi or Umäsväti wrote his Tattvärtha-sutra in the Sanskrit language giving the entire essence of Jainism.   Luckily this book happens to be acceptable to all the sects of Jainism.  This shows that despite the outward differences, there are no disputes among them about any of Jainism fundamentals.   Many Ächäryas of both denominations have written several commentaries on this book.

A subsequent well-known author is Honorable Ächärya Siddhasen Diwäkar Suri who lived during the time of King Vikramäditya.   He seems to have written on many aspects of Jainism.   His Sanmati-Tarka is considered a masterly book and is enthusiastically studied by scholars even at present.   Sarvärtha Siddhi of Pujyapäd-swami in the 5th or 6th  century and Shad-darshan Samuchchaya and Yoga Drishti Samuchchaya of Ächärya Haribhadra-suri in the 8th century are  the  major  works  after the  compilations  of  the Ägams.    By that  time,  idol  worship  was firmly established and many temples were built.   This necessitated the help of well-versed people for consecrating the idols and for performing various rituals.   In the Shvetämbar sect this led to the rise of renegade monks known as Yatis.   They used to stay in the temples and therefore came to be known as Chaityaväsis.   They lived in affluence and availed themselves of all the comforts of life.   Haribhadra-suri was the first to criticize their excesses. The evil however seems to have continued long after that.

Noteworthy works after this period are the Mahäpurän of Digambar Ächärya Jinsen (770-850A.D.) and the Trishashti Shaläkä Purusha of (Hemchandrächärya 1088-1173 A.D.).  Both these works are voluminous and deal with the lives of Tirthankars and other illustrious personalities. Serious efforts were made to curtail the excesses of Yatis in the 11th century by Vardhamänsuri. This was continued by his successors Jineshwar-suri and Jindatta-suri.  The latter is popularly known as Dada.   He founded the Kharatar Gachchha meaning purer sect in about 1150 A.D.

So far we have talked about the contribution of well-known Ächäryas.   Now we come to the contribution  of  a  layman.    He  was  Lonkashah  of  Ahmedabad.    He  could  not  believe  that excesses of the Yatis could have religious sanction.   However scriptures were not accessible by householders.   Luckily, a monk once happened to see the neat handwriting of Lonkashah. He therefore hired him to make copies of the scriptures.   Equipped with that knowledge he came out with a heavy hand against temples and temple rituals (Chaityaväsis) in 1451.  Based on his study of the Ägams, he also disputed idol worship as being against original Jain tenets. This was the preamble for setting up the Sthänakaväsi sect, which came into existence as non-idol worshippers in 1474.   Bhanajimuni was the first known Muni of that sect.   The Shvetämbar sect was thus divided into two sub-sects.   This division was however helpful in dealing a deathblow to the evils of Yatis.   Sthänakaväsis introduced strict codes of conduct for their monks in contrast to the temples (Chaityas).

Hirvijay-suri was the well-known Ächärya of the next century.   He seems to have impressed even emperor Akbar who issued a proclamation prohibiting animal slaughter on certain days. Poet Banarasidas  also lived during that period.   He was born in a Shvetämbar family and was an easy going youth.   He however happened to read Samay-sär and was very much impressed.   He has written Samay-Sär-Nätak, which is a dramatic version of Samay-sär.  The next two well-known personalities are Yogi Anandghanji and Upädhyäy Yashovijayaji.  The real name of the former was Labhanandji.   Since he remained more absorbed in the nature of soul, he is popularly known as Anandghanji.   He has written many thought provoking Padas. The best known is his Anandghanji Chovisi that contains devotional songs in admiration of all 24 Tirthankars.   Upädhyäy Yashovijayaji was a prolific writer.   He has written on almost every aspect of Jainism in the Sanskrit, Präkrut and Gujarati languages.   Soon after that Ächärya Bhikshu split the Sthänakaväsi sect in 1727 A.D. on the issue of the role of charities etc. in Jainism.   The new sect that was set up is known as the Teräpanthi sect.

Digambars also experienced a significant change during the late sixteenth century through a famous  poet  and  scholar amed  Banarasidas.    He  was  a  devout  scholar  of  the  works  of Kundkundächärya.   He revolted against the lax behavior of Bhattäraks and felt their ritualistic practices  were  excessive  a nd  involved  a  high  degree  of  Hinsä  in  offering  of  flowers,  fruits  and sweets in temple rituals.   He called for abolishment of such offerings from daily rituals in  the temples.

Banarasidas’ influence was further felt through Pundit Todarmal of Jaipur.  His doctrinal pursuits emphasized Nishchaya Naya (absolute) aspects of Kundkundächärya writings.   This greatly revitalized the Digambar tradition and allowed them to move forward during a period of difficult changes.   Following this period of change, even within the Digambar tradition, sects known as Teräpanthis and Bisapanthas came about.  Their beliefs and practices vary from one region to the other.   It is important to note that Banarasidas was born into a Shvetämbar family.

The last person to be mentioned is Shrimad Rajchandraji who was born in 1868.   He was a highly gifted person.  He could heavily impress even Mahatma Gandhi, who considered Shrimad his guide.   He has compiled many devotional songs and has written at length about the true nature of the soul in the form of letters.   Most of his writings are in the Gujarati language. Mokshamälä and Ätmasiddhi-shästra are his outstanding independent publications that have influenced a lot of people.   He had plans to freshly propound true Jainism.   Unfortunately he did not survive long and left the mortal body in 1901 at the young age of 33.






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