Jain Strategies for Survival and Growth: Some Thoughts Based on a Paper by Olle Qvarnstrom

Qvarnström, O., ‘Stability and Adaptability: A Jain Strategy for Survival and Growth’ in Jain Doctrine and Practice: Academic Perspectives, Joseph T. O’Connell ed. University of Toronto Centre for South Asian Studies: Totonto, 2000, pp.113-136.

This paper takes up the ways in which Jain traditions have dealt, historically, with issues of popularity and growth and the influence of other religious traditions (chiefly Hindu, with some mention of Buddhist). He focuses in particular on the Yogaśāstra and its commentary,the Svopajñavṛtti, which are both by the C12th Jain scholar, Hemacandra (a Śvetāmbara). He shows how Hemecandra (and others) consciously adopted doctrinal material from other sources, but in such a fashion that they became distinctively Jain (or at least appeared so). He points out that Jains had always allowed for variation in ‘civic’ ceremonial and only insisted on particularity in matters pertaining to mokṣa. He points to the Jain doctrine of anekāntavāda as one of systematic tolerance. However, he also emphasises differing responses within the Jain community: Hemacandra is critical of the idea of  Ṛṣabha – the first Jain tīrthaṅkara – as an avatāra of Viṣṇu. Qvarnström contrasts the fact that the Jains were successful in (a) opposing the use of the avatāra doctrine to absorb their key figures and (b) nevertheless adopting and adapting mainstream Brahminical narrative sources (such as the Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata) with the fact that the Buddhists did not achieve any of these things. He also points to the use of goddess cult as an integrative strategy, which, from a very early period, addressed the potential threat of bhakti (by consigning goddess worship to a sphere of religious activity that was not connected with mokṣa). He follows this with a consideration (p.121ff) of Jain adaptations of Hindu understandings of meditation and the impact of Tantric thought – emphasising the influence of Kaśmīri Śaivism. He closes with a consideration of the role of royal patronage in Jain history- suggesting that the end of Jainism as a missionary faith coincided with the end of its royal patronage. His conclusion is couched in more general terms that take up the concepts of ‘stability’, ‘adaptability’, ‘integration’ and ‘purification’ in the history of inter-religious relationships and the general history of religion. The paper is an interesting one, with conclusion that reach beyond Jain and even South Asian studies, to the wider field of religious and social history.

It strikes me that one might compare this with the categories put forward in Geen and Black et al (which Naomi has summarized in an earlier blog): Are characters sometimes analogues of religious traditions as a whole? They share a similar capacity for change, whilst also retaining a certain continuity across texts, genres and traditions. I would not wish to push such a parallel to far, but characters do seem to resemble the broader ideological formations of which they are a – shifting – part. 

2 thoughts on “Jain Strategies for Survival and Growth: Some Thoughts Based on a Paper by Olle Qvarnstrom

  1. Christian Ferstl

    Dear James Hegarty,
    concerning your question whether characters are sometimes analogues of religious traditions as a whole, it might perhaps be interesting to recall allegorical characters like those found in Kr̥ṣṇamiśra’s play Prabodhacandrodaya. In that play, the Buddhist bhikṣu, for instance, is not merely a fictitious individual monk but really represents the buddhāgama (in the 3rd act entering the stage “with a book in his hand”. Similarly, the allegorical Jain mendicant (kṣapaṇaka) represents the Jain doctrine. Of course, these are not historical and quasi historical characters like the Buddha, the Jina or Kr̥ṣṇa, but literary characters. What makes them comparable is, that they are also depicted by an author of a competing religious affiliation (in this case a Vaiṣṇava Advaitin). Perhaps one can even consider the characters (the śākyabhikṣu, the kāpālika, etc.) of the 7th century play Mattavilāsa and of other satirical works as representing their respective traditions. In any case, these literary characters, too, are clearly subject to Geen’s and Black’s issues of stability, flexibility, intertextuality, and demonstrability, are’nt they?
    Christian Ferstl, Vienna.

    1. hegartyjm Post author

      Dear Christian,

      What a fascinating response. I think the presence of explicit examples of the use of literary characters as representative of traditions as a whole strengthens the idea that this might have been an underlying assumption in at least some uses of pre-existing characters (drawn from different religious traditions). As to Geen and Black’s categories, I think you are right that it would be fruitful to apply them. One other aspect of our project’s enquiry is into ‘role’ – the idea of recurrent stereotyped figures across religious traditions. Your comment is very useful in that regard! Thank you very much for taking the time to respond. I will try and get hold of the Sanskrit texts you mention.

      Best Wishes,



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