Article: Sects

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Non-sectarian movements

A woman prays in the temple to Shrimad Rajchandra at the ashram in Dharampur, Gujarat. A lay man who lived according to strict ascetic principles, Śrīmad Rājacandra was a 19th-century writer and reformer. His life and teachings have inspired many follower

Shrimad Rajchandra temple
Image by Ravin Mehta © Ravin Mehta

The more recent religious movements that have arisen among the laity have no formal sectarian affiliation. Both setting great emphasis on the practise of asceticism and focusing on developing the soul, these groups sit outside the ages-old divisions of Digambara and Śvetāmbara.

These two non-sectarian movements seem especially attractive to the diaspora, perhaps suggesting that a broader Jain identity is more appealing than a traditional sectarian one for many contemporary Jains, above all those outside India who may face particular challenges.

Two major examples are the movement associated with Rājacandra and the Kānjī-svāmī-panth.

Obsolete sects

There were undoubtedly sects that rose and fell in the past which are barely known among contemporary scholars and believers. Research into past periods of intellectual activity and social change will probably reveal much about these little-known groups as well as uncover more about the development of existing sects.

One example of an obscure group that no longer exists is the Yāpanīya sect. Primarily a mendicant tradition, it has left some evidence and appears to have been powerful and intellectually influential for hundreds of years.

Yāpanīya sect

Nude monks are shown with small cloths over their left forearms in this fragment from a Jain temple gateway. This relief may show Digambara monks making concessions to sensitivities about public nudity or may show ascetics of the obsolete Yāpanīya sect

Nude monks carrying cloths
Image by Brooklyn Museum © CC-BY-NC

There is little clear evidence of this sect. With its origins and decline uncertain, it has a complicated history, which scholars have painstakingly begun to reconstruct. Even so, the meaning of yāpanīya is not fully clear. But it is apparent that it stresses the practice of restraint and has nothing to do with external appearance, as ‘śvetāmbara’ and ‘digambara’ do.

Yāpanīyas could have been active in the period of the mid-second century BCE to the third century CE. One item of possible evidence is the Mathurā votive tablets depicting monks wearing a piece of cloth on their forearms to hide their nudity. However, these mendicants could be Digambara monks trying to accommodate the feelings of non-Jains who are hostile towards public nudity.

There is inscriptional evidence of Yāpanīyas between the 5th and 15th centuries, mainly in Karnataka, where they seem to have had influence.

References in Jain texts also show that they were active in intellectual life during part of this period.

At least one author can be identified as having belonged to the Yāpanīyas. Writing in the ninth century, Ācārya Śakaṭāyana authored two works on major topics of dispute between the Digambaras and Śvetāmbaras. These are:

  • Treatise on Women’s EmancipationStrī-nirvāṇa-prakaraṇa (Jaini 1991)
  • Treatise on Food Consumption by the OmniscientKevali-bhukti-prakaraṇa.

These texts show that their doctrinal position stood between Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras on key subjects of disagreement. For instance, Śakaṭāyana does not consider that nudity is a requirement for liberation and holds that women can be liberated. On these two matters, they seem to have been closer to the Śvetāmbara view.

The Yāpanīyas seem to have disappeared after the 15th century and merged with the Digambaras.

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