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Decline of Jainism

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Jainism became a prominent religion in India during the 6th century BC because of the effort of Vardhaman Mahavira. However, after the death of Mahavira, the popularity of Jainism declined gradually.

There were several reasons for the decline of Jainism in India as mentioned below : 

Severity of Jainism:

A severe code of conduct for life was difficult for the common people to follow. Jainism provided a path of extreme penance and fasting to attain salvation which could not be followed by common people. 

Decline in royal patronage:

Spread of Jainism due to the support of earlier kings like Bimbisara, Ajatasatru, Udayin could not continue later. Great kings like Asoka, Kanishka, and Harsha adopted and propagated Buddhism which decreased the popularity of Jainism.

Incomprehensible Philosophy:

General public could not understand the majority of Jaina philosophy like Jeeva, Ajeeva, Syadvada, Anekantwada etc. It was difficult for the people to believe that stone, water, tree, or earth possessed souls of their own.

Division into sects:

After Mahavira’s death, followers of jainism got separated into two sects:  ‘Digamvara’ and ‘Svetambara’. Code of conduct and beliefs were different for both sects in multiple aspects.

The two sects agreed on the basics of Jainism, but disagreed on:

  • Details of the life of Mahavira
  • The spiritual status of women
  • Whether monks should wear clothes
  • Rituals to be followed
  • Which texts should be accepted as scripture

Digamvara monks believed in complete nudity whereas Svetamvara monks could wear white clothes. Digamvaras followed all five vows (Satya, Ahimsa, Asteya, Aparigraha and Brahmacharya) whereas Svetamvaras only followed four vows(They didn’t follow Brahmacharya).  

As per Digambara Philosophy, women could not achieve salvation without first being reborn as a man because women could not live a truly ascetic life as they had to possess clothes. Svetamvara believed that women could achieve salvation.

These differences created confusion among the masses and this worked as a deterrent in the spread of Jainism.

Rise and spread of Buddhism:

The emergence of Buddhism played a significant role in the decline of Jainism. 

Buddha’s teachings were quite simple to understand and easy to follow. Buddha rejected the path of extreme penance and hardship and advocated the ‘Middle Path which became more popular among the masses. 

Bhakti movement and the role of Hindu Saints:

The rise in popularity of Vaishnavism and Shaivism played a significant role in the decline of Jainism. Hindu saints like Nimbarka, Ramanuja, Sankaracharya strengthened the position of Hinduism which became detrimental for Jainism.

With this, we conclude our study of  reasons for decline of Jainism.

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