Jainism vs. Buddhism

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  • 0:04 A Common Origin
  • 0:43 Buddhism
  • 1:26 Jainism
  • 2:17 Similarities
  • 3:42 Differences
  • 5:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

This lesson looks at the similarities and differences between Jainism and Buddhism, two Eastern religions. By comparing and contrasting them, students gain a deeper understanding of each belief system.

A Common Origin

Both Buddhism and Jainism originated in Asia among the people of ancient India, a country much larger than it is today. The ancient origins of both religions lie in Hinduism, yet both developed as an alternative belief in rejection of many Hindu beliefs and practices. At one time, European scholars theorized that Jainism developed from Buddhism, but two German researchers discovered that Jainism predated Buddhism by hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Age, however, is not the only difference between the two faiths. Let's look at a quick overview of each before diving into their many similarities and differences.


At the age of 29, a prince from Nepal named Siddhartha Gautama surrendered his royal titles and sheltered life in pursuit of enlightenment after seeing true suffering for the first time. As he meditated, he developed the four principles of Buddhism known as the Four Noble Truths about the nature of suffering and life. From this, he laid out the Eightfold Path of right thoughts and actions in order to find enlightenment and escape the suffering. Essentially, the philosophy says that life is suffering but that suffering comes from wants and desires. To give up the practice of wanting and desiring helps escape suffering. The soul, once realizing enlightenment, reaches a perfect state of peace and bliss called Nirvana.


One of Jainism's greatest teachers was Mahavira, a man born only a few years before the Buddha. He was 24th in the line of great Jainist teachers whose legacy extends far before Buddhism developed. Jains believe in Karma, but see it as a pollution of the soul which must be cleansed by the individual's own effort. In this process, the Jain strives for detached enlightenment with the goal of achieving Moksha, a state of enlightenment but also a place at the furthest ends of the universe where they live in a state of perpetual bliss. One of the most notable practices of Jains includes adherence to total non-violence, including vegetarianism and even the refusal to kill a bug. Some of the most observant Jains go as far as to wear face masks so as not to inhale small flies and gnats as they move through the world.


While Jainism and Buddhism are completely different religions, they do share many similarities in their beliefs and practices.

  • Life after Death

Both religions believe in reincarnation, which is the rebirth of the soul in a new body after the death of the previous body. They also believe the soul can eventually, through enlightenment, exist in a permanent state of paradise. They also don't believe in a hell or a final judgment of the soul.

  • Karma

Both religions believe in the concept of karma, which is an attachment of positive and negative forces to the soul based on a person's actions, beliefs, and spiritual attachments. Reincarnation carries this force forward and requires effort to purify the soul. A soul cannot attain enlightenment or reach paradise with negative karma weighing them down.

  • Enlightenment

Both Jainism and at least some prominent forms of Buddhism believe a person can reach enlightenment during a single lifetime, but also that people must abandon the suffering caused by desires. They do horrible things to get what they want, but they also suffer when they want something they cannot have.

  • God and Scripture

Neither religion believes in God as the creator of the universe. They acknowledge all creation as being part of the universe's divinity. As such, their holy texts are not considered the word of a god or sacred stories. Their scriptures are teaching tools to help guide the individual to enlightenment through thought and practice.


Although Buddhism and Jainism share many similarities, they also have significant differences.

  • Founded vs. Unfounded Religion

Buddhism traces its history to a founder, but there is no such person for Jainism.

  • The Soul

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