Part IV — Remarks on Jainism and Buddhism by Dr. Ananda Guruge and P.N. Jain

Jina Mahavira and the Sakyamuni Buddha: they walked the same streets

Jainism is a religion of great antiquity. Jina Mahavira Vardhamana, who was a senior contemporary of the Buddha, was undoubtedly the most important of its exponents.

Hailing from the ranks of warrior-rulers, both the Buddha and Mahavira saw the immediate practical implications of the fundamental Upanishadic concept of the Oneness of Humanity. They raised their voice in unison against the prevailing practice of assigning to people their place in society in terms of their birth and family background. This was the foundation of the caste stratification which both these great teachers felt was unjustly discriminatory. The Buddha said, "By birth one does not become a Brahmin or an Outcaste. By action and action alone does one become a Brahmin or an Outcaste." Jina Mahavira asserted the same when he said, "By action alone does one become a Brahmin, a warrior, a commoner or a slave." They both admitted to their religious orders all people without any restriction or prejudice.

While they disagreed on many philosophical issues, they were champions of non-violence and peace and used a common vocabulary to preach a code of righteousness. The Buddha had spoken of the fourfold restraints ( catuyamasamvara ) of Jainism but noted that they were overly stringent. That was to be expected from the Buddha, who preached moderation as the crux of his Middle Path. Mahavira, in turn, thought that the Buddha's teachings reflected inaction or detachment from action.

It is in their approach to dogma that they made a significant contribution to the promotion of free and open-minded intellectuality. Mahavira's syadvada (literally, 'maybe-theory') cautioned that any statement could be true or valid only relatively in relation to a particular context. The Buddha, on the other hand, was specific in his advice that one should not believe anything because it was in a book, was taught by a teacher whom one liked and so forth.

The time these two stalwarts walked the same streets and spoke of their different Paths of Deliverance to the same people must have no doubt been very exciting.

Together their words, deeds and thoughts have inspired millions of people over twenty-five centuries and bequeathed to humanity two great cultures exemplified by many a noble work of art, magnificent edifices of exquisite architectural beauty and stimulating literatures of admirable creativity.

— Dr. Ananda W.P. Guruge
Senior Special Advisor
to the Director-General of UNESCO,
former Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the USA,
Eminent Buddhist Scholar