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Mahāvīra and Buddha were contemporaries, there are no mentions of the two teachers meeting, but there are mentions of Mahavira's disciples questioning Buddha in various Suttas. The Buddhists have always maintained that by the time Buddha and Mahavira were alive, Jainism was already an entrenched faith and culture in the region. Buddhist scriptures record philosophical dialogues between the wandering seeker Siddarttha Gotama (Buddha) and Udaka Ramaputta, and the first of several teachers that young Siddattha Gotama studied with before his enlightenment.

Buddhist scriptures attest that some of the first Buddhists were in fact Jains (Nirgranthas as they were then called, meaning "the unbonded ones") who "converted", but were encouraged by Buddha to maintain their Jain identity and practises such as giving alms to Jain monks and nuns. Buddhists recorded that Mahavira preached the "fourfold restraint" of the Nirgrantha tradition—a clear reference to the teachings of Mahavira's predecessor Lord Parshva (877-777 BC), traditionally the 23rd Tirthankara of Jainism -- who propounded the four vows of Ahinsa (Ahimsa), Satya (truth), Aparigraha (non-possessiveness), and Asteya (non-stealing), which may have been the template for the Five Precepts of Buddhism. Additionally, the Buddhist Anguttara Nikaya scripture quotes the independent philosopher Purana Kashyapa (the sixth century BC founder of a now extinct order) as listing the Nirgranthas as one of the six major classifications of humanity. The Pali texts mention the Buddha referring to the liberation of Mahavira (referred to as Niggantha Nataputta) at Pava.

Similarities and differences

The common terms in Buddhism and Jainism:

  • Shramana
  • Nibbana (Sanskrit: Nirvana): (the definition is different in the two traditions)
  • Arahant: the term is used somewhat similarly.
  • Dhamma (Sanskrit: Dharma)
  • Jina
  • Acharya (chief of the orders)
  • Sutta (Sanskrit: Sutra) (scriptures)
  • Indra/Shamkra (chief of the gods)

The terms that are used with different meanings:

  • Pudgala
  • Siddha

Common symbols:

  • Pratima, foot prints
  • Stupa
  • The dharma-chakra
  • The swastika
  • The trirathna
  • The ashta-mangalas
  • Minor devas


Vegetarianism is required for both monks and laity in Jainism. In Buddhism, the monks in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam are vegetarian; however strict vegetarianism is not required. By monastic tradition, a monk should eat whatever is placed in his bowl when begging food. The exceptions to not eat given meat were if the monk knew an animal was killed especially for him or he heard the animal being killed. See: Threefold rule

But for lay people it is not so clear and many lay Buddhists have chosen vegetarianism to better practice the Dhamma and keep the precepts. In general, the precept against killing living beings in Buddhism centers around intent, whereas, the Jains take it further and avoid all possible killing. Some Jains wear masks around the mouth, thinking it will prevent the killing of microorganisms. They also refrain from eating animal products and root vegetables, thereby not even killing the plant, as they trim the greens off the root plant. Seen in this way, the Buddhists who practice vegetarianism (animal products, such as eggs, honey, dairy, root vegetables acceptable to eat) are not that extreme, when compared to the Jain diet.