Jainism & Sangha

The last and 24th Tirthankara of the Jainas, Vardhaman Mahavira spread his message around 2500 years ago. He was Kshatriya prince of Lichchavis. This group was a part of the Vajji Sangha. At the age of 30 he left the home to wander about in the forests. For 12 years he led a hard and lonely life. At the end of his life he attained enlightenment.

He preached very simple doctrine:

  • People , whether men or women, in search of truth of life must leave their homes.
  • One must strictly follow ahimsa, or non violence, that means not killing or hurting any living being.

He preached in Prakrit Language, which was the Language of ordinary people, so that they could understand his teachings without any difficulties. However, there were different forms of Prakrit Language. For example, Prakrit spoken in Magadh were called Magadhi.

Followers of Mahavira had to follow certain rules of leading a simple life.

  • They had to beg for food.
  • They had to be absolutely honest.
  • They had to abstain from stealing.
  • They had to maintain celibacy.
  • They had to give up every comforts, including their clothes.

It was very difficult for people to follow such strict rules. Nevertheless many thousands of men & women left their homes, while many just supported the monks and nuns by providing them food.

Jainism was followed by mainly the traders. Farmers found it very difficult to follow as they had to kill insects in order to protect their crops. The word Jaina, comes from the word Jina, which means conquerer. Jainism spread to many parts of North India, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu. For many years the teachings of Jainism were transmitted orally. The written forms are found in Valabhi, in Gujarat.

The Sangha

Both Mahavira and Buddha believed that only those who can leave their homes could attain enlightenment. So they joined an association called Sangha. Sangha was meant for those who left homes.

The rules meant for the Buddhist Sangha were written down in the book called Vinaya Pitaka. There were separate branches for men and women. All men could join the Sangha. To join the Sangha, children had to take permission of their parents, slaves of their masters, people under king had to seek permission from them, debtors from their creditors. Women had to take their husbands permission before joining the Sangha.

People who lived in Sangha, followed a very simple life. They meditated for most of the time. They visited cities and towns to beg for food. They were thus called bhikkus and bhikkunis, Prakrit word for renouncer of begger.

They taught others and helped one another. They also held meeting to solve quarrels that held with in the Sangha.

Kshatriyas, Brahmins, labourers, traders, courtesons, barbers, merchants, slaves were the one who joined the Sangha. Many wrote down their teachings, some composed poems describing their lives.


Both Buddhist and Jaina monks wanderers around from place to place teaching people. Then they started living in natural caves in hilly regions. Or their supporters build temporary homes for them.

With time , the need for permanent settlement were felt, so Monasteries were built . They were known as viharas.

Initially the viharas were made of wood, later on, they were built of bricks. Some were even in the caves that were dug out in the hilly areas, especially in western areas.

Many a times, the land on which the viharas were built were donated by rich merchant, kings or rich follower. The local people came with food, clothes medicine for the monks and the nuns in return of their teachings. In no time, Buddhism spread to many continents and wide.

During this time only, the concept of ashramas came up through the Brahmins.

Ashrams here means stages of life. Four ashramas were recognised:

  • Brahmacharya
  • Grihastha
  • Vanaprastha
  • Samnyasa

Brahmins, Kshatriya, vaishya were expected to lead simple lives and study Vedas in the initial stages of lives. ( Brahmacharya).

Then, they had to marry and live as households. ( Grihastha)

Then they had to live in the forest and meditate(vanaprastha)

Then they had to give up everything and live life as samnyasis.

Ashramas allowed people to spend some part of their lives in meditation. Women were not allowed to study the Vedas. Even the ashramas for them were chosen by their husbands.