Jain Philosophy

Jain Philosophy

Jain philosophy (जैन दर्शन Jaina darśana) deals extensively with the problems of metaphysics, reality, cosmology, ontology, epistemology and divinity. Jainism is essentially a transtheistic religion of ancient India. It is a continuation of the ancient Śramana tradition which co-existed with the Vedic tradition since ancient times. The distinguishing features of Jain philosophy are its belief on independent existence of soul and matter, absent of a supreme divine creator, owner, preserver or destroyer, potency of karma, eternal and uncreated universe, a strong emphasis on non-violence, accent on relativity and multiple facets of truth, and morality and ethics based on liberation of soul. Jain philosophy attempts to explain the rationale of being and existence, the nature of the Universe and its constituents, the nature of bondage and the means to achieve liberation. It has often been described as an ascetic movement for its strong emphasis on self-control, austerities and renunciation. It has also been called a model of philosophical liberalism for its insistence that truth is relative and multifaceted and for its willingness to accommodate all possible view-points of the rival philosophies. Jainism strongly upholds the individualistic nature of soul and personal responsibility for one's decisions; and that self-reliance and individual efforts alone are responsible for one's liberation.

Throughout its history, the Jain philosophy remained unified and single, although as a religion, Jainism was divided into various sects and traditions. The contribution of Jain philosophy in developing the Indian philosophy has been significant. Jain philosophical concepts like Ahimsa, Karma, Moksa, Samsara and like have been assimilated into the philosophies of other Indian religions like Hinduism and Buddhism in various forms. While Jainism traces its philosophy from teachings of Mahavira and other Tirthankaras, various Jain philosophers from Kundakunda and Umaswati in ancient times to Yaśovijaya in recent times have contributed greatly in developing and refining the Jain and Indian philosophical concepts.

Jain Cosmology

Jain cosmology denies the existence of a supreme being responsible for creation and operation of universe. According to Jainism, the universe and its constituents are eternal and uncreated.

Jain Conception of the Universe

According to Jainism, this loka or Universe is an uncreated entity, existing since infinity, immutable in nature, beginningless and endless. Jain texts describe the shape of the Universe as similar to a man standing with legs apart and arm resting on his waist. The Universe according to Jainism is narrow at top and broad at middle and once again becomes broad at the bottom. Mahāpurāṇa of Ācārya Jinasena is famous for his quote:

Some foolish men declare that the creator made the world. The doctrine that the world was created is ill advised and should be rejected.

If god created the world, where was he before the creation? If you say he was transcendent then and needed no support, where is he now? How could god have made this world without any raw material? If you say that he made this first, and then the world, you are faced with an endless regression.

The Constituents of Reality

This Universe is made up of what Jains call the six dravyas or substances which are the basic constituents of reality and are classified as follows:

  • Jīva (Sanskrit: जीव) "The living substances"
Jains believe that souls (Jīva) exist as a reality, having a separate existence from the body that houses it. Jīva is characterised by cetana (consciousness) and upayoga (knowledge and perception). Though the soul experiences both birth and death, it is neither really destroyed nor created. Decay and origin refer respectively to the disappearing of one state of soul and appearance of another state, these being merely the modes of the soul.
  • Ajīva अजीव - Non-Living Substances
    • Pudgala पुद्गल - Matter, which is classified as solid, liquid, gaseous, energy, fine Karmic materials and extra-fine matter or ultimate particles. Paramānu or ultimate particles are considered the basic building block of all matter. One of the qualities of the Paramānu and Pudgala is that of permanence and indestructibility. It combines and changes its modes but its basic qualities remain the same. According to Jainism, it cannot be created nor destroyed.
    • Dharmatattva धर्मतत्त्व - "Medium of Motion" and Adharmatattva अधर्मतत्त्व "Medium of Rest" - Also known as Dharmāstikāya धर्मास्तिका and Adharmāstikāya अधर्मास्तिकाय, they are unique to Jain thought depicting the principles of motion and rest. They are said to pervade the entire universe. Dharma-tattva and Adharma-tattva are by themselves not motion or rest but mediate motion and rest in other bodies. Without dharmāstikāya motion is not possible and withoutadharmāstikāya rest is not possible in the universe.
    • Ākāśa आकाश: Space - Space is a substance that accommodates souls, matter, the principle of motion, the principle of rest, and time. It is all-pervading, infinite and made of infinite space-points.
    • Kāla काल "Time" is a real entity according to Jainism and all activities, changes or modifications can be achieved only through time. In Jainism, the time is likened to a wheel with twelve spokes divided into descending and ascending halves with six stages, each of immense duration estimated at billions of sagaropama or "ocean years". According to Jains, sorrow increases at each progressive descending stage and happiness and bliss increase in each progressive ascending stage.

These are the uncreated existing constituents of the Universe which impart the necessary dynamics to the Universe by interacting with each other. These constituents behave according to the natural laws and their nature without interference from external entities. Dharma or true religion according to Jainism is Vatthu sahāvō dhammō Jain Prakrit: वत्थु सहावो धम्मो translated as "the intrinsic nature of a substance is its true religion."

Ontology and Metaphysics

Jain ontology postulates existence of principle of sentient or consciousness called as Jiva or soul characterized by knowledge and perception. There are infinite independent souls categorized into: liberated and non-liberated. Infinite knowledge, perception and bliss are the intrinsic qualities of a soul. These qualities are fully enjoyed unhindered by liberated souls, but obscured by karmas in the case of non-liberated souls resulting in karmic bondage. This bondage further results in a continuous co-habitation of the soul with the body. Thus, an embodied non-liberated soul is found in four realms of existence - heavens, hells, humans and animal world – in a never-ending cycle of births and deaths also known as samsāra. The soul is in bondage since beginningless time; however, it is possible to achieve liberation through rational perception, rational knowledge and rational conduct.}}  Harry Oldmeadow notes that Jain ontology is both realist and dualist metaphysics. It is realist in the sense that knowledge of ultimate reality does not exclude the reality of the existing world; the enlightened worldview includes the knowledge of particulars and the world continues to be real even after the liberation. It is dualist in that the two prime categories of substance,soul and matter, are mutually exclusive.

According to Jainism, the soul is the master of its own destiny. One of the qualities of the soul is complete lordship of its own destiny. The soul alone chooses its actions and soul alone reaps its consequences. No god, prophet or angel can interfere in the actions or the destiny of the soul. Furthermore, it is the soul alone who makes the necessary efforts to achieve liberation without any divine grace. Amongst the twelve contemplations (anupreksās) of Jains, one of them is the loneliness of one's soul and nature of the Universe and transmigration. Hence only by cleansing our soul by our own actions can we help ourselves.

Jain metaphysics is based on seven (sometimes nine, with subcategories) truths or fundamental principles also known as tattva, which are an attempt to explain the nature and solution to the human predicament. The first two are the two ontological categories of the soul and the non-soul, namely the axiom that they exist. The third truth is that through the interaction, called yoga, between the two substances, soul and non-soul, karmic matter flows into the soul āsrava, clings to it, becomes converted into karma and the fourth truth acts as a factor of bondage bandha, restricting the manifestation of the consciousness intrinsic to it. The fifth truth states that a stoppage (saṃvara) of new karma is possible through asceticism through practice of right conduct, faith and knowledge. An intensification of asceticism burns up the existing karma – this sixth truth is expressed by the word nirjarā. The final truth is that when the soul is freed from the influence of karma, it reaches the goal of Jaina teaching, which is liberation or moksa. Some authors add two additional categories: the meritorious and demeritorious acts related to karma (punya and pāpa). These nine categories of cardinal truth, called navatattva, form the basis of entire Jain metaphysics.

Epistemology and Logic

Jainism made its own unique contribution to this mainstream development of philosophy by occupying itself with the basic epistemological issues, namely, with those concerning the nature of knowledge, how knowledge is derived, and in what way knowledge can be said to be reliable. Knowledge for the Jains takes place in the soul, which, without the limiting factor of karma, is omniscient. Humans have partial knowledge – the object of knowledge is known partially and the means of knowledge do not operate to their full capacity. According to Tattvārthasūtra, the knowledge of the basic Jaina truths can be obtained through :

  • Pramāṇa - means or instruments of knowledge which can yield a comprehensive knowledge of an object, and
  • Naya - particular standpoints, yielding partial knowledge.

Pramāṇa are of five kinds:

  • mati or “sensory knowledge”,
  • Sruta or “scriptural knowledge”,
  • avadhi or “clairvoyance”,
  • manahparyaya or “telepathy”, and
  • kevala” or “omniscience”

The first two are described as being indirect means of knowledge (parokṣa), with the others furnishing direct knowledge (pratyakṣa), by which it is meant that the object is known directly by the soul.

As per Jainism, the truth or the reality is perceived differently from different points of view, and that no single point of view is the complete truth. Jain doctrine states that, an object has infinite modes of existence and qualities and, as such, they cannot be completely perceived in all its aspects and manifestations, due to inherent limitations of the humans. Only the Kevalins - the omniscient beings - can comprehend the object in all its aspects and manifestations, and that all others are capable of knowing only a part of it. Consequently, no one view can claim to represent the absolute truth. In the process, the Jains came out with their doctrines of relativity used for logic and reasoning –

  • Anekāntavāda - the theory of relative pluralism or manifoldness;
  • Syādvāda – the theory of conditioned predication and;
  • Nayavāda – The theory of partial standpoints.

These philosophical concepts have made most important contributions to the ancient Indian philosophy, especially in the areas of skepticism and relativity.

Morality and Ethics

The Jain morality and ethics are rooted in its metaphysics and its utility towards the soteriological objective of liberation. Jaina ethics evolved out of the rules for the ascetics which are encapsulated in the mahavratas or the five great vows :

  • Ahimsa, non-violence
  • Satya, truth
  • Asteya, non-stealing
  • Brahmacharya, celibacy
  • Aparigraha, non-possession

These ethics are governed not only through the instrumentality of physical actions, but also through verbal action and thoughts. Thus, ahimsa has to be observed through mind, speech, and body. The other rules of the ascetics and laity are derived from these five major vows. Jainism does not invoke fear of or reverence for God or conformity to the divine character as a reason for moral behavior, and observance of the moral code is not necessary simply because it is God's will. Neither is its observance necessary simply because it is altruistic or humanistic, conducive to general welfare of the state or the community. Rather it is an egoistic imperative aimed at self-liberation. While it is true that in Jainism, the moral and religious injunctions were laid down as law by Arihants who have achieved perfection through their supreme moral efforts, their adherence is just not to please a God, but because the life of the Arihants has demonstrated that such commandments were conductive to the Arihant's own welfare, helping him to reach spiritual victory. Just as the Arihants achieved moksha or liberation by observing the moral code, so can anyone, who follows this path.

Karma: Law of Causation

Karma in Jainism conveys a totally different meaning as commonly understood in Hindu philosophy and western civilization. It is not the so called inaccessible mystic force that controls the fate of living beings in some inexplicable way. It does not mean "deed", "work", nor invisible, mystical force (adrsta), but a complexes of very fine matter, imperceptible to the senses, which interacts with the soul and causes great changes in it. The karma, then, is something material (karmapaudgalam), which produces in the soul certain conditions, even as a medical pill which, when introduced into the body, produces therein manifold effects. According to Robert Zydendos, karma in Jainism can be considered a kind of system of laws, but natural rather than moral laws. In Jainism, actions that carry moral significance are considered to cause certain consequences in just the same way as, for instance, physical actions that do not carry any special moral significance. When one holds an apple in one's hand and then let go of the apple, the apple will fall: this is only natural. There is no judge, and no moral judgment involved, since this is a mechanical consequence of the physical action.

Hence in accordance with the natural karmic laws, consequences occur when one utters a lie, steals something, commits acts of senseless violence or leads the life of a debauché. Rather than assume that moral rewards and retribution are the work of a divine judge, the Jains believe that there is an innate moral order to the cosmos, self-regulating through the workings of karma. Morality and ethics are important not because of the personal whim of a fictional god, but because a life that is led in agreement with moral and ethical principles is beneficial: it leads to a decrease and finally to the total loss of karma, which means: to ever increasing happiness.

The karmas can be said to represent a sum total of all unfulfilled desires of a soul. They enable the soul to experience the various themes of the lives that it desires to experience. They ultimately mature when the necessary supportive conditions required for maturity are fulfilled. Hence a soul may transmigrate from one life form to another for countless of years, taking with it the karmas that it has earned, until it finds conditions that bring about the fruits. Hence whatever suffering or pleasure that a soul may be experiencing now is on account of choices that it has made in past.

The following quote in Bhagavatī Ārādhanā (1616) sums up the predominance of karmas in Jain doctrine:-

“There is nothing mightier in the world than karma;

karma tramples down all powers, as an elephant a clump of lotuses.”

The Nature of Divinity and God

The undercurrent of non-creationism and absence of omnipotent God and divine grace runs strongly in all the philosophical dimensions of Jainism, including its cosmology, karma, moksa and its moral code of conduct. Jainism asserts that a religious and virtuous life is possible without the idea of a cosmic Creator-Sustainer God to whom one can turn for guidance and direction. Models for ethical life in Jainism are provided by the biographies of the twenty-four Jinas, the conquerors of the passions, of whom Mahāvīra was the last. They are worshipped as divine beings, as their lives serve as a guiding principle and an emulation of their virtues can lead one to the same goal of liberation that they achieved. According to Jainism, deities that are worthy of worship and emulation can be categorized into:

  • Tīrthankara, the ford makers
  • Arihant or ordinary Kevalin (liberated from karmas and in human form), and
  • Siddha, the liberated beings

Jainism considers, demi-gods and goddesses who dwell in heavens owing to meritorious deeds in their past lives, as unliberated beings who are subject to further re-incarnations. Worship of such gods is considered as mithyātva or wrong belief leading to bondage of karmas. However, many Jains are known to worship such gods for material gains.

Soteriology : The Path to Moksha

Jainism is essentially a soteriological path where all the practices and beliefs are geared towards attainment of the ultimate objective- liberation of the soul. Jainism is also known as mokṣamārga – the path to liberation. Mokṣa is a blissful state of existence of a soul, completely free from the karmic bondage, free from samsara, the cycle of birth and death. A liberated soul is said to have attained its true and pristine nature of infinite bliss, infinite knowledge and infinite perception. Such a soul is called siddha or paramatman and considered as supreme soul or God. In Jainism, it is the highest and the noblest objective that a soul should strive to achieve. It fact, it is the only objective that a person should have; other objectives are contrary to the true nature of soul. With right faith, knowledge and efforts all souls can attain this state.

Contributions to Indian Philosophy

Jainism had a major influence in developing a system of philosophy and ethics that had a major impact on all aspects of Indian culture in all ages: from the Upanishads to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The scholarly research and evidences have shown that philosophical concepts that are considered typically Indian – Karma, Ahimsa, Moksa, reincarnation and like - either have their origins in the shramana traditions or were propagated and developed by Jain teachers.[8] These concepts were later assimilated in Hinduism and other religions, often in a different form and sometimes having a different meaning. The sramanic ideal of mendicancy and renunciation, that the worldly life was full of suffering and that emancipation required giving up of desires and withdrawal into a lonely and contemplative life, was in stark contrast with the brahmanical ideal of an active and ritually punctuated life based on sacrifices, household duties and chants to deities. Sramanas developed and laid emphasis on Ahimsa, Karma, moksa and renunciation. Early Upanishad thinkers like Yajnavalkya were acquainted with the sramanic thinking and tried to incorporate these ideals into the vedic thought implying a disparagement of the vedic ritualism and recognising the mendicancy as an ideal.

Schools and Traditions

Jain philosophy arose from the shramana traditions. In its 2500 years post-Mahavira history, it remained fundamentally the same as preached by Mahavira, who preached essentially the same religion as the previous Tirthankaras. However, he modified the four vows of Parshva by adding a fifth vow, celibacy. Jain texts like the Uttaradhyana Sutra speak of parallel existence the order of Parsva which was ultimately merged into Mahaviras order. Harry Oldmeadow notes that the Jain philosophy remained fairly standard throughout history and the later elaborations only sought to further elucidate preexisting doctrine and avoided changing the ontological status of any of the components. For a few centuries after Mahavira, the Jain religion remained united. The schisms into Śvetāmbara and Digambara traditions arose mainly on account of differences in question of practice of nudity amongst monks and liberation of women. Apart from these minor differences in practices, there are no major philosophical differences between the different sects of Jainism. The Tattvārthasūtra, which encapsulates major philosophical doctrines, is accepted by all traditions of Jainism. This coherence in philosophical doctrine and consistency across different schools has led many scholars like Jaini to remark that in the course of history of Jainism no heretical movements like Mahayana, tantric or bhakti movement developed outside mainstream Jainism. Thus, we have many traditions within the Jainism, but basically the same philosophy that is at the core of all the sects and sub-sects.

Earlier Traditions

As per the tradition, Jain Sangh was divided into two major sects, a few centuries after the nirvana of Mahavira :

  • Śvetāmbaras believe that women can attain liberation and that nudity is optional. Śvetāmbara scriptures support both acelakatva, nudity in monks and sacelakatva, the wearing of white clothes by ascetics. They also hold that the Jain canon was not lost.
  • Digambaras hold that nudity is necessary for liberation and only men can attain the final stage of non-attachment to the body by remaining nude. They also hold that the canonical literature was eventually lost.

The now defunct Yapaniya sect followed the Digambara practice of nudity and eating from the hands while standing up along with Śvetāmbara beliefs and texts. They notably also permitted their ascetics to be "half-clothed" (ardhambara) in public areas only. The Yapaniya sect was absorbed into the Digambara community during the medieval period.

Medieval Traditions

The period of 16th to 18th century was a period of reforms in Jainism. The later schools arose against certain practices and belief that were perceived as corrupting and not sanctioned by scriptures. The following schools arose during this period :

  • Sthanakvasi – The Sthanakvasis, arising from the Śvetāmbara tradition, rejected idol worship as unsanctioned by scriptures.
  • Terapanthi (Digambara) – The Digambara Terapantha movement arose in protest against the institution of Bhattarakas (Jain priestly class), usage of flowers and offerings in Jain temples, and worship of minor gods.
  • Terapanthi (Śvetāmbara) – The Terapanthi, also a non-iconic sect, arose from Sthanakvasis on account of differences in religious practices and beliefs.

Recent Developments

Recent events lead to dissatisfaction with the monastic tradition and its related emphasis on austerities saw the arising of two new sects within Jainism in the Twentieth Century. These were essentially led by the laity rather than ascetics and soon became a major force to be reckoned with. The non-sectarian cult of Shrimad Rajchandra, who was one of the major influences on Mahatma Gandhi, is now one of the most popular movements. Another cult founded by Kanjisvami, laying stress on determinism and “knowledge of self”, has gained a large following as well.

Jain Philosophers

Jains hold the Jain doctrine to be eternal and based on universal principles. In the current time cycle, they trace the origins of its philosophy to Rsabha, the first Tīrthankara. However, the tradition holds that the ancient Jain texts and Purvas which documented the Jain doctrine were lost and hence, historically, the Jain philosophy can be traced from Mahāvīras teachings. Post Mahāvīra many intellectual giants amongst the Jain ascetics contributed and gave a concrete form to the Jain philosophy within the paramaters set by Mahavira. Following is the partial list of Jain philosophers and their contributions:

  • Kundakunda (1st—2nd Century CE) - exponent of Jain mysticism and Jain nayas dealing with the nature of the soul and its contamination by matter, author of Pañcāstikāyasāra "Essence of the Five Existents", the Pravacanasāra "Essence of the Scripture", the Samayasāra "Essence of the Doctrine", Niyamasāra "Essence of Discipline", Atthapāhuda "Eight Gifts", Dasabhatti "Ten Worships" and Bārasa Anuvekkhā "Twelve Contemplations".
  • Samantabhadra (2nd Century CE) - first Jain writer to write on nyāya, (Apta-Mimāmsā), which has had the largest number of commentaries written on it by later Jain logicians. He also composed the Ratnakaranda Srāvakācāra and the Svayambhu Stotra.
  • Umāsvāti or Umasvami (2nd Century CE) - author of first Jain work in Sanskrit, Tattvārthasūtra, expounding philosophy in a most systematized form acceptable to all sects of Jainism.
  • Siddhasena Divākara (5th Century CE) - Jain logician and author of important works in Sanskrit and Prakrit, such as, Nyāyāvatāra (on Logic) and Sanmatisūtra (dealing with the seven Jaina standpoints, knowledge and the objects of knowledge).
  • Akalanka (5th Century CE) - key Jain logician, whose works such as Laghiyastraya, Pramānasangraha, Nyāyaviniscaya-vivarana, Siddhiviniscaya-vivarana, Astasati, Tattvārtharājavārtika, et al. are seen as landmarks in Indian logic. The impact of Akalanka may be surmised by the fact that Jain Nyāya is also known as Akalanka Nyāya.
  • Pujyapada (6th Century CE) - Jain philosopher, grammarian, Sanskritist. Composed Samadhitantra, Ishtopadesha and the Sarvarthasiddhi, a definitive commentary on the Tattvārthasūtra and Jainendra Vyakarana, the first work on Sanskrit grammar by a Jain monk.
  • Manikyanandi (6th Century CE) - Jain logician, composed the Parikshamaukham, a masterpiece in the karika style of the Classical Nyaya school.
  • Jinabhadra (6-7th Century) – author of Avasyaksutra (Jain tenets) Visesanavati and Visesavasyakabhasya (Commentary on Jain essentials) He is said to have followed Siddhasena and compiled discussion and refutation on various views on Jaina doctrine.
  • Mallavadin (8th Century) – author of Nayacakra and Dvadasaranayacakra (Encyclopedia of Philosophy) which discusses all the school of Indian Philosophy. Mallavadin was known as a vadin i.e. a logician and he is said to have defeated many Buddhist monks on the issues of philosophy.
  • Haribhadra (8th Century CE) - Jain thinker, author, philosopher, satirist and great proponent of anekāntavāda and classical yoga, as a soteriological system of meditation in the Jain context. His works include Ṣaḍdarśanasamuccaya, Yogabindu and Dhurtakhyana. he pioneered the Dvatrimshatika genre of writing in Jainism, where various religious subjects were covered in 32 succinct Sanskrit verses.
  • Prabhacandra (8th-9th Century CE) - Jain philosopher, composed a 106-Sutra Tattvarthasutra and exhaustive commentaries on two key works on Jain Nyaya, Prameyakamalamartanda, based on Manikyanandi's Parikshamukham and Nyayakumudacandra on Akalanka's Laghiyastraya.
  • Abhayadeva (1057 CE to 1135CE) - author of Vadamahrnava (Ocean of Discussions) which is a 2,500 verse tika (Commentary) of Sanmartika and considered a great treatise on logic.
  • Acharya Hemachandra (1089–1172 CE) - Jain thinker, author, historian, grammarian and logician. His works include Yogaśāstra and Trishashthishalakapurushacaritra and the Siddhahemavyakarana. He also authored an incomplete work on Jain Nyāya, titled Pramāna-Mimāmsā.
  • Vadideva (11th Century) – He was a senior contemporary of Hemacandra and is said to have authored Paramananayatattavalokalankara and its voluminous commentary syadvadaratnakara that establishes the supremacy of doctrine of Syādvāda.
  • Vidyanandi (11th Century CE) - Jain philosopher, composed the brilliant commentary on Acarya Umasvami's Tattvarthasutra, known as Tattvarthashlokavartika.
  • Yaśovijaya (1624–88 CE) – Jain logician and considered one of the last intellectual giants to contribute to Jain philosophy. He specialised in Navya-Nyāya and wrote Vrttis (commentaries) on most of the earlier Jain Nyāya works by Samantabhadra, Akalanka, Manikyanandi, Vidyānandi, Prabhācandra and others in the then-prevalent Navya-Nyāya style. Yaśovijaya has to his credit a prolific literary output – more than 100 books in Sanskrit, Prakrit, Gujarati and Rajasthani. He is also famous for Jnanasara (essence of knowledge) and Adhayatmasara (essence of spirituality).

In recent times, Aacharya Mahapragya, Pt. Sukhlal and Dr. Mahendrakumar Nyayacarya have made important contributions to Jain Philosophy.

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