India has always been rich in different philosophical schools of thought. As a matter of fact, its religious teachings tried to justify or disprove the Hindu division into castes. Still, Buddhism and Jainism have acquired the greatest number of followers among all religious traditions. It means that they have something very attractive in their doctrines. I would dare to say these are their teachings about the human soul. While both traditions treat this concept differently, they agree on the fact that the salvation is available to everyone. This essay attempts to examine the main similarities and distinctions of both religions and the reasons why they attract people.
To start with, both Buddhism and Jainism support the idea of reincarnation. They teach that death is an integral part of life. The religions define it as the disassociation of dharms, the parts of the universe, and birth is their restoration. This is the life cycle, the series of everlasting reincarnations. In both Buddhism and Jainism, a human soul is much more valuable than the body is. A function of the latter is serving a material container for the former. Thus, a human soul is immortal and can resurrect again and again to live a better life. Still, karma determines the quality of reincarnation cycle. It is the sum of all good and evil doings one did in his or her life. The relation between karma and a soul is complicated. People should make all efforts to liberate their souls from the vicious circle of reincarnation. According to Jainism, karma is also material and it attracts the matter like a magnet. Thus, both traditions encourage their followers to do the same, namely, to do everything to stop the inflow of karma. Only when one achieves that, it is possible to liberate his/her soul from the matter and reach nirvana.
With having so much in common, both religious traditions have certain differences.
Jainism perceives universe as material and fixed while Buddhism assumes this concept as illusionary and temporary. From this point of view, even individual’s soul is illusionary and temporary. For Buddhists, nirvana means dying of the personality in the final condition. Meanwhile, for Jains, this concept is liberation of the soul in an individual condition of grace. Another difference between Buddhism and Jainism is their general approach to matters of life and death. While the latter is quick to raise the universal issues and argue about afterlife, the former considers such philosophizing pointless and misleading. Apart from that, both traditions have different ways to achieving soul liberation. Followers of Jainism suggest listening to the advice of the spiritual leader, getting the necessary knowledge and developing certain norms of behavior. Adherents of Buddhism, in their turn, encourage one to follow The Noble Eightfold Path, calm down his or her dharms and achieve nirvana.
To conclude, Buddhism and Jainism managed to become one of the most popular religious traditions of India. People accepted these teachings because of their accessibility. According to these traditions, anyone can achieve salvation with his or her own efforts. Both Buddhism and Jainism value human soul and promise its reincarnation. In both traditions, a human soul has a higher value than the body, which is just a material capsule for the former. Furthermore, people are welcome to follow different prescriptions both religions offer to achieve liberation and nirvana. The sum of their good and evil doings determines their next form of incarnation. The more good deeds one did, the more he or she has improved the karma. Consequently, that is one more step to salvation that is nirvana. Thus, such availability of salvation through personal efforts makes both Buddhism and Jainism attractive for many followers.