Even though they are now classified as separate religions, Buddhism and Jainism are very much offshoots of Sanatana Dharma.
Aryas were a martial people and hence they participated in wars for which they trained regularly(mentioned in the Dhanurveda). But by the advent of kaliyug, some were gradually becoming morally and ethically weaker and thus were categorised as mlecchas. But everyone else was essentially raised in residential Vedic gurukuls, regardless of social standing. Hence it is illogical to say that Jainism and Buddhism were preaching something new or different as their origins were very much Vedic. There are ample records of Buddhists and Jains worshipping with fire and ghee because they were all Sanatanis. Buddha and Mahavira were ksatriyas of the Ikshvaku dynasty just like Ram. They had become Sramanacharyas after intense tapas, education, sadhna which is explained in texts like the Yogasutras.
Ahimsa is about not being unduly violent. There are many martial arts texts written by the Buddhists from which Kung Fu has evolved. Accepting money was forbidden as it made the mind corrupt. So acharyas would accept just the basic hospitality wherever they went. People would gratefully ensure that they were treated respectfully in return for their priceless services like spiritual guidance, ayurveda, etc. This is why they were known as bhikkus (bhikshus).
Chakravartin rajas were those who were endowed with thirty-two major and many minor signs of excellence. Examples being Ram, Bharat, Shibi etc. The Maitrayaniya Upanishad uses the term chakravartin for Rajas who had advanced spiritually. They were universal rulers who ruled ethically and benevolently. Their reign was called Sarvabhauma. It is a Bahuvrihi, literally meaning ‘whose wheels (dharmachakra) are moving’ or ‘one whose chariot is moving everywhere without obstruction in context of dharma’. This idea is not exclusive to Buddhism. Scriptural literature describes the Buddhas and the Tīrthakaras in similar terms. Gautama Buddha is referred to as a Cakravāla Cakravartin, an illuminator of dharma (life in adherence to compassionate truth). This also tells us that a Chakravarti Raja does not always do physical battles. Thus, when during the Mahabharata war Karna’s wheel got stuck, it is probably in this context. In fact, sometimes the entire war appears to be a dharmic battle rather than a physical one. It is believed that some Rajas had converted to Buddhism. This is illogical. If they had given up weapons they would have been conquered by others like Greeks, Persians, Huns etc. who were aggressive people. The idea of ahimsa was to not be cruel or do mindless violence. Since a lot of groups were fighting, many acharyas would travel to mediate and help people maintain psychological, spiritual and physical health by teaching, guiding and re-training as and when required. Gautama Buddha was highly successful in this.
In Buddhist rituals, vajra, held in left hand represents the male principle, ‘upaya’; action or means. Bell held in right hand, represents the female principle, prajna or wisdom. Vajra body is considered to be the base of tantra. On its right is the red Rasana channel in which the sun’s energy moves, decreasing essence, and on the left is the white Lalana channel in which the moon energy moves, cleansing and cooling the essence. Buddhist mantra for invoking blessings is:
‘This is the realization (HUM) of the path and wisdom, which is supreme (GURU), unstained (PADMA) ultimate attainment (SIDDHI).’
In the above, if one reads guru as Hanumant, Padma as Ram and Siddhi as Sita it makes perfect sense. This illustrates that Buddhists just had another way of explaining the workings of the panch tattva. Ramayan is an example of these in action. Many people practiced mantra, mudra, mandal, tantra, yantra, yagyas, and did various sadhanas as per their abilities. In fact, it is believed that Buddhists were strongly influenced by the Kapalikas.
In Buddhist traditions, Sitajnana is associated with Vajravarahi tantras. She is the consort of Heruka (Hara) and the descriptions suggest similarities to Siva and Parvati. The mention of skull and drinking of blood is similar to Kali and Chinnamasta. Vajravarahi comes from the navel and is associated with ‘triumph of knowledge over ignorance’ and has the face of a boar; just like Varaha avatar. She stands in the fire of exalted wisdom (like Sati and agni parixa of Sita). This also tells us that avatars are not part human and part animal. They are usually metaphors.
Then there is the ‘Vajra Seven-Line Prayer’.
‘By the nectar pouring down from the body of the Guru, all the illness, bad karma, and sufferings of one’s body, speech, and mind are washed away in the form of pus, blood, insects, soot, and offal. At the end, one’s own body dissolves, like salt into water, and then the liquid goes down into the mouth of Yamaraja, the Lord of Death, and other creditors of karma beneath the ground…..’
See below taken from ‘History of Krsisastra’ page 7. By Gyula Wojtilla:
‘This branch of science can be traced back to the Vedas. It appears, for instance, in a hymn addressed to Mitra-Varuna (RV,5,63), in the relevant portion of the Buddhist literature (Mahämäyüri ‘The peacock spell’, Meghasùtra (“Cloud sermon”cf.Schmithausen1997,56-58) and later (Brhatsamhitä chapters 46,47).’
Above passages tell us that Buddhists used the same knowledge and believed in Mitra, Varun, Yamraja etc. Images/murtis of devi/devatas are representations of the divine energies that manifest on using these vidyas. At times they may have debated technical points, but that does not mean they were entirely different religions. People forget about the many Buddhas and Tirthkaras who lived many centuries before Gautam and Mahavira. What about their teachings? Since modern Afghanistan, Kandahar (Gandhara) etc. were all Vedic areas, they would have been living in the middle of Aryavart! How do they explain this?
Also, important symbols like Kumbh, Matsya, Srivatsa and Svastika are considered important in all three ideologies. The three aspects of Buddhahood are; attainment of purity of all sound with the speech mandala, the perfection of thoughts with the mind mandala and seeing equality in all appearances as the body mandala. These goals are the same in Jainism and Hinduism too. Mantras like ‘Om mani padma hum’ and ‘Om namo arhantanam’ are Sanskrit words.
A lot can get distorted in translation. Some scholars say that Buddha preached there was no atman. But this is not true. In ‘The ātman and its negation-A conceptual and chronological analysis of early Buddhist thought’, by Alexander Wynne, it is mentioned that:
‘Early Upaniṣadic speculation on the ātman was well known in early Buddhist circles, and determines the form and content of some important early Buddhist teachings’.
In his thesis A.R.Wells uses this popular example:
‘What do you think about this, Aggivessana? Is the material shape permanent or impermanent? Are feeling… perception the habitual tendencies permanent or impermanent? What do you think about this, Aggivessana? Is consciousness permanent or impermanent?
“Impermanent, good Gotama”.
“But is what is impermanent anguish or is it happiness?”
“Anguish, good Gotama.”
“But is fitting to regard that which is impermanent, anguish, liable to change as ‘this is mine, this I am, this is my self?”
“This is not so good Gotama.”’
This recitation of the sutta is repeated for all five factors of personality, the skandhas. He is instructing us not to identify this innermost self with the perishable mind and body. Wells points out that over a period of time his followers started to get confused and claimed he didn’t believe in atman or ‘atta’.
Another interesting work is the ‘Buddha Mimansa’ byYogiraja’s disciple, Maitreya. It mentions how Buddha was known as Arkabandhu and was a fire-worshipper just like his Vedic ancestors. He also did yagyas and was never without an usnisa or sirastrana, the turban worn when doing yagyas. His place of worship is called chaitya (which means place of the sacred fire), and ghrutam of cow’s milk is used. Buddha often explained the importance of Brahma (sabhapati or prajapati Daksha), Mara (Kamdev) and Devraja Indra etc. to his disciples. It also mentions that Buddha was not against the ‘caste system’ But since in those days it was the actual varnashram, it can’t be called caste system. He took Brahmans too as pupils. This does not imply that they ‘converted’, but only that they needed extra tuitions. Varnashram was based on a person’s spiritual abilities and karmas because they were expected to do both in order to improve their position in Maya and eventually attain moksha. There is mention of Buddhavamsa or lineage of Buddhas. They are not biologically related so we can safely assume that vamsa refers to a karmic heir, after being mentored by a superior. People were trained to look after vanas (both inner and outer). Even Krishna is known as van-ke-vihari, or one who tends inner and outer vanas.
Another important point is that the Vinaya Sutras are a recapitulation of the Griya Sutras. Buddha used to quote verbatim from Vedic texts which preached against violence and slaughter of animals. The phrase ahimsa parmodharma occurs many times in the Mahabharat too and was not coined by Buddha or Mahavira. They believed in the soul, rebirth and karma. Rishabhdev the first Tirthkara attended Taxashila, the same university as Ram. Buddha’s first teacher as mentioned in Pali canon scriptures was Alara Kalama, a specialist of Sankhya philosophy. He lived in Kapilavastu named after Kapila rushi. This would not be the case if they were of a ‘different’ religion.
Jain, Buddhist and Hindu dharma believe in Vinayak as the deva who removes spiritual obstacles. Although there are different traditions within the three groups which may give rise to slight variations and details, the main concept remains the same.
Please see this from Isavasya Upanishad-
‘He who knows at the same time both the spirit (sambhūti) and the destruction (vināśa), overcomes death by destruction and obtains immortality through the spirit.” (IU 14)’
Here Vinasa is destroying Maya bondage. Someone with knowledge and experience of this could be called Vinayaka. Also, ‘Vigatha Nayakah Vinayakah’ – one without a master above him is Vinayak. Apparently, people used to ask Gotama Buddha why he was acting like a ‘Venayiko’, which the western scholars wrongly translate as nihilism. Buddha would defend himself by saying that he did not claim to be a Venayiko but was only preaching about how to get rid of sorrow etc. Santa Danta or appeasement of the passions and taming of the senses were constant themes of Buddhism. Santa Danta is in the same vein as Ekadanta or Vinayaka. Here Sam (Santa) means to appease and Dam (Danta) means to tame.
Buddhist and Jain acharyas were respectfully known as Shramanacharyas. Buddhist Suttas (sutras) often give case studies of how Buddha is correcting faults of Brahmans, or office holders. There is the popular story of Kutadanta the Brahman. Ajatasattu had given the town, Khanumata, to the Brahman Kutadanta to govern; ‘a political structure, which was common at the time.’ He wanted to do a sacrifice involving many animals. But the Buddha taught him not to do this. Such stories cannot be used to jump to the wrong conclusion that ‘all brahmans were violent to animals’. The whole purpose is to illustrate how even learned leaders can make mistakes. He does not object to the Brahman being made governor. Constant supervision is always required to ensure things work smoothly. One should also bear in mind that each area or rajya had their own hierarchy or varnashram in terms of abilities of the people. So, a Ksatriyas of one area could be smarter than Brahmans of another area or vice versa. Buddha was misquoted even while he was alive. This can be read in ‘Conversations with the Buddha’ by Alexander Duncan.
Entire society and law and order was based on dharma. Therefore, when some points of dharma (law) were refuted by some acharyas and they won the debate, obviously the law was changed. No-one ‘converted’. Then, the structures of the losers would get removed as they would no longer be needed. For example, if there was a famine, people would debate about whether it was right to eat meat to survive. Or, after the famine was over, they would have to help people to become vegetarian. This was not a conversion to another religion. Dharma was not sidelined or an option like it is today. In fact, even during times of Shivaji and Meerabai, there were conflicts between the Brahman law keepers and the rajas, who were not necessarily dictators. While they were at war, the Brahmans must have governed or else everything would have fallen apart.
Pali and Prakrit, the languages used during times of Buddha and Mahavira are apabramshas of Sanskrit. Many early followers of Buddha wrote in Sanskrit. I-tsing, who visited India in A.D. 673 states that Aśvaghoṣa was an ancient author who composed the Alaṅkāra-śāstra and the Buddha-carita-kāvya. As mentioned by E.B. Cowell in his translation of the Buddhacharita by Asvaghosa:
‘….many of the verses in the original are very obscure. Aśvaghoṣa employs all the resources of Hindu rhetoric (as we might well expect if I-tsing is right in ascribing to him an ‘alaṅkāra-śāstra’), and it is often difficult to follow his subtle turns of thought and remote allusions…’
This work is full of references to Vyasa, Valmiki, Ramayan, Vedic sages, Brahmans etc. who were respected by Gotama’s parents. It mentions how they were happy that their son who was like Sanatkumar would follow the path of the Aryas.
All three dharmas have their own versions of the popular Rishyashrunga or Ekasunga story. In those days it was common for people to train in vanas under rushis, remain celibate until they felt ready for marriage, and also maybe work as Rajas because there was no law that only a kshatriya fighter could be an overall ruler. There are ample stories that tell us how the governors were high-class Brahmans (in terms of education and calibre). The government of the times had both wings; the dharmic and the military and at times duties of both could overlap. It also tells people that there is nothing wrong with returning from a hermitage and joining mainstream society if the karmic pull is felt.
In the Buddhist story, Ekashunga was carried away by the girls in a boat full of Ashoka trees to make him feel at home. This tells us that these trees were important for tapas. And also, there is mention of many hermitages of sadhvis too, so it was not only males who took this path. This story gives us the same information that the Ramayana does. Ravan too had kept Sita in the Ashoka vana (which enhanced spirituality), and hoped she would join him, (not necessarily marry him), because the word ‘pati’ doesn’t mean husband. It means spiritual leader. People of those times were highly advanced. Being a celibate raja was a virtue and not an exception. So some women were dharmic partners to achieve the yin-yang balance. Just like Ram and Sita. Some people have wrongly categorised this tale as a myth and have mistranslated the word as a ‘one-horned’ beast. The word shrunga also means pinnacle. So Rushyashringa would mean one who has reached the pinnacle of rushi-hood. The word ‘Eka’ means one and only in the context of the divine.
Dhirajlal Thokarshi Shah’s ‘Aumkar Upasana’ discusses mantras which prove that Jainism is not a different religion. Some people such as Savar/Sabar specialised in mantras that were less difficult as compared to others due to their limited abilities. So they had a less important role in varnashram. That cannot be interpreted as caste discrimination. But they too could experience inner divine energy HRam, which activates in Shabari. Traditionally Jains don’t eat root vegetables, onions and garlic. This is because such foods are very rajasik. It could also have been due to soil contamination in certain areas at that time. But it does not have to apply to everyone forever. Ayurveda considers garlic as rajasik but good for digestion.
‘Yoga in Jainism’ edited by Christopher Chapple mentions how all three traditions practiced and preached yoga. For example, all three mention the three-fold path, only the vocabulary is a little different. In Hinduism, it is Bhakti yoga, Jnana yoga and Karma yoga. In Buddhism it is Sila, Samadhi and Prajna. And in Jainism it is right faith, right knowledge and right conduct. There are ample similarities to suggest that any differences were purely incidental.
Tirthakaras were ford-makers who helped sadhakas cross bhavasagar. Even Balabhadra was a tirthkara and had not participated in most of the Mahabharata war. He was not a skiver or coward. In Vaishnava tradition, he too is known as an avatar. It was always about taking the correct decisions and not fighting indiscriminately. Until recently, Jainism too was considered to be a sect of Hinduism as mentioned in ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ by Paramhamsa Yogananda.
There are versions of Mahabharata which mention that Kauravas, Pandavas, Yadavas were of the Naga clan. Buddhists and Jain texts too have their version of the tales and they have names with ‘naga’. Each group also has their own versions of Ramayana. In Buddhist texts there are four guardians of the world; Dhritarastra, leader of the Gandharva lives on east of Mt. Meru. The others are Vaishravan, Virupaksha and Virudhak. These words were probably common nouns. We can’t always be sure that they refer to only one person.
Thus we can conclude that Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism were not separate ideologies originally and come under the umbrella of Sanatana Dharma. Human society is in a constant state of flux and deterioration sets in gradually leading to mistakes and misunderstandings. Theory of Sanatana Dharma does not have problems, it’s the practitioners who may get things wrong. Dharmic truth transcends local or national limitations and applies to all people everywhere.
References / Footnotes
1. ‘History of Krsisastra’ By Gyula Wojtilla
2. ‘The ātman and its negation-A conceptual and chronological analysis of early Buddhist thought’ by Alexander Wynne
3. Thesis of A.R. Wells
4. ‘Buddha Mimansa’ by Maitreya
5. Isavasya Upanisad
6. ‘Conversations with the Buddha’ by Alexander Duncan.
7. ‘Aumkar Upasana’ by Dhirajlal T. Shah
8. ‘Yoga in Jainism’ edited by Christopher Chapple
9. The Buddha Carita, or Life of Buddha By Asvaghosa, edited and translated by Edward B.Cowell