Antecedents Of Jainism

Vardhamana Mahavir is not the founder of Jainism, but a reformer of Jainism. Through self example and his life time teachings, he revived the religion and made it popular in ancient India. He is regarded by Jains as the 24th Tirthankar, or Prophet of Jainism. Legend records that Rishabhadev was the first Tirthankar and founder of Jainism. Rishabhadev must have lived atleast 30-40 generations before Mahavir, probably around 1500 BC or even earlier.

Parshvanath, the 23rd Tirthankar, lived some 200-250 years before Mahavir and gave his followers a definite identity as a distinct sect of dedicated ascetics. Before he renounced his princely life and became a monk, Vardhaman seems to have derived inspiration from this sect. After Mahavir attained liberation and established the Order, most of the followers of Parshvanath joined him. The Yajurveda mentions the names of three Tirthankars, namely Rishabha, Ajithanatha, and Aristanemi. The Bhagavatha Purana acknowledges Rishabhadeva as the founder of Jainism. The Buddhist texts refer to Mahavir as Niggantha Nathaputta.

Jainism Vs Hinduism:

Some how unlike Buddhism, Jainism never drew itself into some kind of confrontation with Hinduism or Brahmanism, though both religions differed fundamentally on almost every issue, from God to the concept of matter and karma. It also did not undergo any major change over time, nor its followers ever compromised with Hinduism or any other religion.

The followers of Hinduism acknowledged the Buddha as a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, but largely ignored Vardhamana Mahavir. Jainism offered no instant solace to the masses, unless they were willing to lead very austere and disciplined lives, which was not an easy task even for the strong willed.