Overview of the main differences and similarities between Jainism, Buddhism & Hinduism?

Let’s explore the differences and similarities with regard to various categories:

(I) Nature of reality: There are basically two viewpoints to understand reality – Abheda (similarities) & Bheda (differences) in all existence.

– The Vedanta philosophy of the Hindus believe in the monistic Abheda perspective. According to this philosophy, Brahma is the transcendental existence. Thus, the only reality is Brahma from which all other constituents of the world emerge, exist and at death merge in it. Therefore, Brahma which is all pervasive, inert, permanent and does not change is the only transcendental reality and everything else is merely an illusion. Some sects of Hinduism believe in knowledge as the only reality

– The Buddhists believe in the monistic Bheda perspective in which the entire world is momentary and continuously changing. It is due to delusion and ignorance people see universality in different entities. Change is natural and without causation. Thus, to Buddhists it is meaningless to think of transcendental existence. Anything that is momentary in nature can be considered as reality.

– Jains believe in Anekanta: multiplicity of viewpoints which accepts both the Abheda and Bheda perspective from certain viewpoints. Reality comprises origination (utpada), permanence (drauvya) and destruction (vyaya). Thus, an entity can be viewed from both a substantial viewpoint (permanence) and modal viewpoint (origination and destruction). For instance, gold is gold yet it can have many forms (e.g. ring, necklace, bracelet, etc). Similarly, if we reflect on our own existence, each persons soul or consciousness is unique and independent though in various reincarnations we can be born in various realms (heavenly beings, hellish beings, humans, plants or animals having anything from 1 sense to fully developed 5 senses with mind). Thus, soul is a substance and is permanent, though our various incarnations are the modes until such time we achieve liberation and can exist in our everlasting, pure state of consciousness.

(II) Nature of soul
– Some sects of the Hindu philosophy believe that consciousness is an attribute acquired by the soul. However, some other sects of Hindus believe that consciousness is itself soul. Others believe that soul is neither the doer or recipient of the karmas. They believe it is inert, whereas Jains believe soul is active. Generally, believing in Brahma atma is considered as one, whereas Jiva are many. Jains do not have any distinction between Jiva and Atma. The Vedanta philosophy considers soul as without any parts and all pervading, whereas Jains considers soul as with finite space points (atma pradesa). The Upanisads mention that from Brahma, sky (akasa) was created and from space emerged air, air to fire, fire to water, water to earth, herbs (medicines) & food from earth and from food emerged purusa (humans).

– Buddhists do not believe in the concept of soul. Instead, they call existence as Nāma (cetāna or vijnāna) which is an imaginary existence. Thus, consciousness is created new and gets destroyed every moment. Nonetheless, they do believe in rebirth, karma and liberation. When consciousness loses all its defilements, there is pure emptiness (sunyatā).

– Jains believe that atma (soul) is an independent formless entity with consciousness, capable of transforming continuously into different states, doer and enjoyer of its own actions, accumlator and beneficiary of its own karmas (as per good or bad thoughts, speech or deeds), of finite dimension. In actual fact, Jains believe that the soul has infinite qualities and it is a limitation of human intellect to comprehend it all and pen it down. One of the most striking differences to the Hindu philosophy is that Jain believe the Jiva (soul or atma) is without a beginning or an end. There is no creator of Jiva. It is indestructible and eternal in its true state (conventionally, we all know that in life there is birth and death, but Jains believe these reincarnations as paryaya (modes), but in the true sense (nischay naya) soul is pure through all of its manifestations.

(III) Concept of Heaven (Liberation)

Most Eastern philosophies are value based. Puruṣārtha (effort) is an integral theme amongst all these philosophies with Moksa (heaven / liberation) being the utopian goal.

There is one extreme philosophy of Cārvāka who believe in only what is seen or experienced. Hence, they do not believe in the concept of soul, reincarnation, karma, etc. Their motto is eat, drink and be merry. I am sure many people may associate with this philosophy. Who has seen heaven and hell? Enjoy the present life.

Amongst the Hindus, there are various believes:
Hindu philosophy:
Nyaya philosophy believes that elimination of all pain is Moksa (heaven). This needs to be pondered over deeply. It is not the bodily pain we all experience. Eliminate all pain from its root so that the possibility of rebirth is eliminated. This concept concurs with the Jain philosophy. However, where it differs to the Jains is that they believe that wrong knowledge (mithya jnana) is the root cause of the pain. If this wrong knowledge is eliminated, then moksa will transpire. Jains believe that it is not only wrong knowledge, but also wrong faith and wrong conduct which are the causes of pain accompanied by attachment and aversions.
The Sankhya and Yoga philosophy believes in the duality of existence i.e. prakrti (insentient) and purusa (sentient). When the purusa acquires the knowledge of sat (reality) then avidya (ignornce) is destroyed and it realises that it is purusa and not prakriti. This knowledge in itself is moksa.
Thus it can be generalised that elimination of ignorance is a generalised concept of moksa for the Hindus.

Buddha philosophy
Buddhists believe in momentary nature of existence. Nirvana is predominantly used for Moksa. It means to extinguish (flames of desire/lust, aversion and ignorance). Since Buddhists do not believe in soul, it is difficult to comprehend what Moksa or Nirvana actually is.

Jain philosophy
Jainism is a dualist philosophy. It believes in independent existence of Jiva (consciousness) and Ajiva (non-consciouness). Karmas are actual physical, subtle (invisible) particles that bind to the soul due to its mental, vocal and bodily activities since ad infinitum. The goal is to purify the soul from all karmic bondages through endless cycles of birth and death and this is Moksa. As per the Jain cosmology, there is a particular abode on top of the universe called Siddha Shila where all liberated souls reside forever. This is heaven (moksa).
Many often mistake svarga as heaven and being the goal of human life. The abode of heavenly / celestial beings (devas & devis – angels) is referred to as “heaven”, but it is important to realsie that just as we all have a lifespan in earth, going to svarga has a finite lifespan and will at some time end. Thus, for Jains the ultimate aim of life is to attain moksa and not svarga.

(IV) Nature of Karma
Popular meaning of karma is action (कर्म – action, deed, work, labour).

Both Jains and Buddhists DO NOT consider God as the creator of the Universe. Therefore, the basis for the diversity observed in the universe is due to karma performed by the living beings.
Buddhists believe in two types of karma: cetana (mental activity) and cetaitva (results of cetana which is of two types namely bodily and vocal). They refer to karmas as vāsanā.
Jains also believein two types of karma: dravya (material aggregates called karmana vargana) and bhava (tendencies or activities of the soul – we can think of this in terms of emotions and feelings. For example attachment, aversion, delusion, etc are all bhava karmas).
Thus, the main difference in the concept of karma between Jains and all other philosophies is that Jains believe in karma as both physical matter and psychic whereas all other philosophies who believe in karma consider it from a psychical point of view only. It is believed that Jainism is the only philosophy in the entire world that actually believes in the physical particles of karma.

Hindus believe that the all powerful, almighy God renders the results of the karma. Jains & Buddhists do ont subscribe to this view. On the contrary, they believe that karmas can fruition as per natural laws and does not require divine intervention. Kleśa is often used to refer to karmas in the Hindu philosophy meaning “poison”.

Jains believe in eight types of karma, broadly classified into Ghati Karmas (defiles the actual nature of the soul) and Aghati Karmas (karmas that affect the body in which the soul is residing).

Does this imply that Jainism is a fatalistic philosophy (everything is predestined and therefore all efforts for self purification are futile?). Indeed not!
Jains believe in 10 states of karma as illustrated below. Thus, it can be seen that through the processes of Udavartana / Apavartana the duration and intensity of karmas can be increased / decreased through spiritual efforts and moreover they can be preponed (udirana) or postponed (upasama). This gives impetus to take control of our lives and strive towards purification and perfection.

I apologise and seek pardon for any unintentional errors in the above post.

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