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A person who lives a life of austerity is generally referred to as a Sramana. The two primary ideologies that are termed Sramanic traditions are Buddhism and Jainism. The term refers to several religious movements parallel to but separate from Vedic religion.

Individuals, according to this tradition or idea, are the architects of their own lives. As a result, salvation is possible for anybody, regardless of caste, colour, culture, sex, or any other distinction. The major argument of this tradition lies in a critique of certain aspects of the earlier caste-based tradition. Towards the end of the Vedic period, about the 6th century BC, various Sramana groups arose as a reaction to the established Brahmanism, the most notable of which being Buddhism and Jainism. Animal sacrifices, antagonism, and a critique of the Varna system and Brahmanical supremacy were all prevalent themes in these alternative philosophies.

Jain Philosophy

Jain philosophy is based on the teachings of 24 Tirthankaras of which the last one, that is the 24th one- Vardhamana Mahavira’s teachings are considered as most significant. It strictly condemns violence and believes that soul resides in everything. Although Jainism acknowledged the presence of God, it ranked them below Jina (Mahavira).

It did not denounce the varna system, but rather aimed to reform it. According to Mahavira, a person is born in a higher or lower varna as a result of his or her previous birth's sins or virtues. As a result, Jainism believes in the soul's transmigration and the Karma theory.

The main goal is to achieve liberation, for which no rituals are required. It is reached through following three principles known as the Three Jewels or Triratna, namely, right faith (Samyakdarshana), right knowledge (Samyakjnana), and right action (Samyakcharita)

Jainism's Five Doctrines

  • Ahimsa: Injury to a living being is prohibited.

  • Satya: Never tell a lie.

  • Aparigraha: Do not acquire property

  • Asteya: Do not steal

  • Celibacy: Brahmacharya

Buddhist philosophy

Buddhism, based on the teachings of Gautam Buddha, lays down certain principles which are similar to Jainism with slight differences. According to the Buddhist philosophy, four noble truths of life are-

  • There is suffering in life.

  • This suffering must have a cause.

  • The suffering has to be eliminated or got rid of.

  • For eliminating suffering one must know the right way.

It does not believe in the reincarnation of the soul. Buddhism tends to remain silent on the existence of God.

They further argue that desire is the cause of all the sufferings. Therefore, extinction of desire would lead to the end of suffering. Buddhism has a belief that all individuals are to be seen as complete in oneself and they themselves have to observe an individual existence, emphasising the classical liberal ‘atomistic’ view of individuals. Since Sramanism grew as a critique of Brahmanism, it went against their idea of a society as community of communities.

Buddhism suggests a life based on eight principles-

  • Right Belief;

  • Right Thought;

  • Right Speech;

  • Right Action;

  • Right Means of Livelihood;

  • Right Endeavour;

  • Right Re-collection;

  • Right Medication (right middle path to be followed to achieve nirvana). However, it believes in life based on a middle path unlike the extremes suggested by Jainism.

Buddhism was strongly against the distinction that was based on caste ( determined by birth) ; according to Buddhism if the distinction is to exist it must be based on merit not on the basis of birth in a particular varna. Buddhism discards birth as the criterion for fixing the place of the individual in society and asserts that the criterion must be knowledge and moral values, discarding the deterministic way of life of the caste system.


Sramanism as an ideology arose in response to rising dissatisfaction with Brahmanism. Brahmanism was exclusive and very discriminating. The new concepts tried to create a more equitable society based on an individual's merit rather than birth. Brahmans, thirsty for power, made religion an elite affair out of reach of lower strata and women, amassing fortune by asserting supremacy. Buddhism proved to be more popular than Jainism; Jainism advocated extreme austerity, whilst Buddhism advocated a moderate path that was more accessible to the masses.


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