Jainism is one of the oldest religions in the world and is known for its rich philosophical and spiritual teachings. With a strong emphasis on non-violence, truth and non-possessiveness, Jainism has attracted followers from all walks of life. Throughout its history, Jainism has witnessed the convening of several councils, where important decisions regarding thought, doctrine, and community practices were made. In this article, we will explore the role of Jain councils in preserving tradition and promoting unity within the Jain community.
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What are Jain Councils?
Jain councils are assemblies of learned individuals who are well-versed in Jain philosophy, scriptures, and traditions. These councils functioned as a platform for discussion, debate, and decision-making on matters related to Jainism. The most important Jain councils include the Digambara Jain Mahasabha and the Shvetambara Jain Conference.
Also Read – Buddhist Councils: History, List and Teachings
List of Jain Councils
There were several Councils which were held to promote unity in Jainism. They were –
The First Council: Jain Council of Pataliputra
- The first Council was presided over by Sthulbhadra under the patronage of Chandragupta Maurya in Pataliputra.
- The meeting was believed to be held in 300 BCE.
- Faced with a potential loss of Mahavira’s oral teachings due to a twelve-year famine, the council aimed to compile and standardize them.
- After twelve years of meticulous efforts, eleven Angas (limbs) – canonical texts encompassing Mahavira’s doctrines, ethics, and cosmology were compiled.
- The twelfth Anga, unfortunately, remained lost although its existence is known through textual references.
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- This council was convened in the face of a severe famine that made it necessary to migrate from the Magadha region to the south.
- Bhadrabahu and his followers migrated to Karnataka, where they established the Digambara sect of Jainism and Stulbhadra remained in Magadh and his followers established the Svetamabara Sect of Jainism.
- As a result, the Jain community split into two sects, Digambara and Svetambara, based on differences in practices and beliefs.
The Second Council: Jain Council of Mathura and Vallabhi
- Held simultaneously in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh and Vallabhi, Gujrat the second council witnessed a significant schism within the Jain community.
- It was believed to be held in 512 AD
- The second council was presided over by Devaradhi Kshama Ramana.
- Debates arose concerning the practice of nudity, with one faction, later known as Digambaras, emphasizing its importance, while the Svetambaras advocated for white clothing.
- Though disagreements persisted, the council focused on finalizing the remaining Upangas and Angas, bringing the total to 45 texts.
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The Third Council: Jain Council of Vallabhi II
- The Jain Council of Vallabhi took place in the 5th century CE.
- It was believed to be held in 453 or 456 CE.
- This council was significant in organizing and documenting Jain scriptures, particularly the text known as the “Angas.”
- Under the guidance of Devardhigani Kshamashramana, the council examined and verified the authenticity of Jain scriptures, helping to preserve the teachings in their true form.
Also Read – Sects of Buddhism: History, Origin, Branches
The councils of Jainism have played a significant role in preserving the teachings and practices of this ancient religion. From the establishment of the Fourteen Ganas to the scholarly discourses at the third council, these councils provided a platform for discussions, resolutions, and the dissemination of knowledge. The propagator of Jainism was Lord Mahavira in the sixth century BC who popularised the faith. In several Jain literature, there are mentions of the various councils held and the involvement of modification and redaction in their sacred texts.
The earliest known founder of Jainism is believed to be Rishabhdeva, who is recognized as the first Tirthankara in the religion. According to Jain beliefs, he lived approximately a million years ago.
In 512 AD, the Second Jain Council was held in Vallabhi. While the First Jain Council saw the compilation of 12 Angas, the Second Council was responsible for the final compilation of both Angas and Upangas.
In the year 512 A.D., a significant event took place at Vallabhi, which was led by Devardhi Kshmasramana. It marked the final compilation of 12 Angas and 12 Upangas.
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