Jainworld
Jain World
Sub-Categories of Passions
Mahavira's Teachings
The Early Centuries of Jainism
Jainism In Indian History
Jainism Enters The Modern Age
Doctrines of Jainism: Part 1
  Doctrines of Jainism: Part 2
  The Jain Path In Life: Part 1
  The Jain Path In Life: Part 2
  Daily Practices and Recitations
  Rituals and Festivals
  Pilgrimage and Sacred Places
  Jainism and Other Religions
  Conclusion
  Appendix
  Bibliography
  Glossary

Doctrines of Jainism: Part 2

 

Paul Marett

The Science of Religion (ii)

The Jain scriptures and the writings of Jain scholars over many centuries right up to the present day have examined the puzzling question of the nature of the universe. Modern science has taught us a lot about the solar system and the great systems of stars beyond. At the other extreme, scientists have investigated the nature of the smallest units of matter. We know a lot about the biological nature of plants and animals and human beings. The great thinkers of Jainism have looked at these same subjects and have come up with solutions to many of the problems which have puzzled and, often, continue to puzzle scientists and philosophers. The solutions are, of course, expressed in a manner and language different from those of twentieth-century scientists, hence they may have an unfamiliar and often difficult sound for modern ears. (Our ways of expression will sound difficult to the people of the twenty-fifth century.)

You will probably ask 'Are the Jain solutions true?' No answer on the printed page is going to convince you. There are different ways of knowing things (and Jain thinkers have spent a lot of time analyzing them). Some things you know because you experience them yourself: grass is green because you see it, ice is cold because you feel it. Other things you have to accept because people who know tell you about them: there are jungles in Malaysia, the surface of the moon is cold and barren. Yet other things you know through some strange sense you cannot understand: the thoughts of a close friend, something good (or bad) is going to happen. So it is with the things which we are discussing in this chapter. Some fit in with our actual experience, or we feel instinctively that they are right. More we accept (or we may reject) because people who know (or say they know) have explained them. (Jain tradition says that many of these matters were originally explained by a person who had attained the highest kind of knowledge, total knowledge or omniscience.) In many cases we are moving close to or beyond the frontiers of human knowledge as we possess it now, but it can be said that very little in Jain science or philosophy is incompatible with the theories of twentieth-century science. Jain science goes beyond conventional science in many places, but only rarely do the two conflict.

This brings us to a most important aspect of the Jain way of looking at things. Jain thinkers stress that there are different ways of looking at any particular thing and that truth can take different, apparently contradictory, forms according to the viewpoint. The thought processes involved are called anekantavada, literally the view of 'non- one-sidedness', that is looking at things from all points of view. The thought processes are then given expression in a statement that 'in some respects' a certain fact is true, even though in other respects it is false. This way of giving expression to the different facets of truth is known as syadvada, the assertion that 'in some respects' something is true. The well-known story of the blind men and the elephant illustrates this. One felt its tail and said that an elephant is like a rope, another felt its side and said that an elephant is like a wall, and so on. Each statement is, of course, true, 'in some respects'. Somebody who examined the elephant from all points of view, who thought about it from the view of 'non-one-sidedness', would be careful to qualify the statements of the blind men by saying that 'in some respects' an elephant is like a rope, and so on. Or to take another example, is anything, let us say a diamond, everlasting? We know that a diamond is produced when carbon is subjected to extreme heat and pressure. So in one respect a diamond is everlasting, though in different forms, as carbon for example. In another respect, in the actual form of a diamond, it is not everlasting. Or again, we say that India is in the east. But to somebody in China India is in the west. Syadvada leads, not as some people have interpreted it, to vagueness in thinking, but to a very precise and thorough comprehension of reality. (And it also leads to tolerance of other people's views.)

The Jain explanation of the universe depends on two fundamental principles. First, the universe is eternal and has an actual material existence (a different view from the Buddhists, for example, who say that nothing has any permanent existence or any real material basis). Second there is no eternal all-powerful being, God, which created the universe or controls it. If the universe is eternal a creator is excluded and the universe acts and changes as a result of certain forces built into it.

Everything in the universe is either living or non-living (jiva or ajiva). Let us look first at the non-living part. Obviously we shall think of actual material here, solid or liquid, though at the basic level it will be in the form of atoms. Actual material, matter which has shape and can be touched or otherwise known by our sense organs is called pudgala. But there are four other kinds of non-living 'substances' (perhaps we would not think of them as 'substances' but in some ways it is a helpful way of looking at them). The first two are easy, time and space. The other two show an important Jain contribution, there is a principle of motion and a principle of rest, we could call them 'start' and 'stop'. When 'start' operates, things develop or change, when 'stop' operates on anything developing it ceases to do so and is still. So the non-living part of the universe is made up of matter, located in time and space, and changing or not as it is acted upon by the principles of 'start' and 'stop'. This is not too difficult for the non-philosopher to understand!

The living part of the universe is, of course, also affected by time and space, by 'stop' and 'start'. The word 'ajiva' is used for the non-living 'substances' so 'jiva' denotes the living ones. Whole books have been written on jiva: Jain scholars are very fond of producing elaborate schemes of classification of every conceivable thing and they have divided jiva up into numerous different types. We must be clear that a single jiva is an independent living soul. Every single living being, from the greatest to the tiniest, is an individual eternal jiva. The jiva, like everything else in the universe, is eternal though it changes its material body as it passes from one life to another. At the lowest extreme there are the tiny nigoda, infinitesimally small and short- lived, but existing in all parts of the universe. Earth, air, fire and water are populated by tiny jiva hardly greater than the nigoda. (It is to avoid their breath harming those in the air that some Jain monks wear a cloth over the mouth.) Above these are the jiva which have taken material life in all the various forms of plants, insects, fish, birds, animals and so on. Some of these forms of life have only one sense, the sense of touch, others have two, three, four or, in the case of man and the higher forms of animal life, five of the senses, to include taste, smell, sight and hearing. Human beings come in a rather special category for they have abilities of various kinds which distinguish them from plant and animal life. Apart from these, it is believed that regions beyond this world are inhabited by heavenly beings (we could call them 'gods' as long as we are clear that we are not speaking of any all-powerful god like the God of Western religion), and, in the lower regions, by creatures of hell. These four categories of life, in any of which an individual soul may be reincarnated, animals and plants, gods, hell-creatures, humans, are often symbolically represented by the four arms of a swastika. (The swastika is a very ancient Indian symbol: ~; it is unfortunate that many people associate it with the Nazis who stole it for their emblem in the 1920s.)

Jiva are living beings, that is they have consciousness, they are capable of knowing things. They are also capable of sensations of bliss. Indeed it is fundamental to Jain thought that the true state of a living being is one of complete knowledge and complete bliss, though this is obscured, in all save the totally liberated soul, by the particles of karma. Besides consciousness and bliss the jiva have what is described as 'energy', really energy in the modern scientific sense, the force which (like electricity in a lamp or machine) actually makes the individual souls function. All this a pretty straightforward: if we think of ourselves as individuals, we have consciousness or the ability to know things, we have (though not always) the ability to feel well-being or happiness, and we have something else, some sort of vital force that makes us operate.

Although it is possible for the individual soul to be reborn as a 'god' in the heavenly region, this is not the highest form of life. Sooner or later even the gods will expire and return to another form of life. The highest state of life, far different from that of every other form which the individual soul can attain, is the state of the liberated soul, of the siddha. This is the culmination of an almost infinite series of lives in which the soul, or jiva, has gradually progressed (with many setbacks on the way) until in a final human life the last vestiges of that karma which affects the spiritual progress of the soul have been cleared away and the individual becomes an arhat, with knowledge widened to infinity. When this enlightened soul's last earthly body dies the liberated soul achieves the state of moksa or nirvana and passes to its new and final state in the abode of the siddha.

(The arhat has been cleared of those forms of karma which obstruct the true functioning of the soul. though the types of karma which determine the nature of bodily life will have to work out their effects before the enlightened soul finally achieves moksa. In each great half-cycle of time twenty-four arhat are known as Tirthankara: they are the teachers of religious faith and some writers restrict the term 'arhat' to these).

In many Jain books diagrams of the universe will be found. They show the occupied universe, which is usually depicted as having a roughly human form (in fact it is sometimes drawn like a human body), wider at the bottom where the legs are spread, narrowing to the waist, widening out again and then narrowing at the top to the head. This a convenient symbolic way of showing it. At the very top is the resting place of the siddha, the liberated souls. Below this are the upper worlds or heavens, occupying the 'trunk' of the human shape. The world which we know and the other worlds as well, which are occupied by humans, animals and plants, are at the 'waist'. Below this again are the underworlds and hells. Outside there is nothing but boundless empty space where there is no life or movement or matter. Such a diagram will, of course, be regarded by many people nowadays as simply a symbolic representation, but it does show very conveniently in a diagrammatic form the way in which the various forms of life fit in.

These two chapters have considered in a very simplified way the main principles of Jainism. Jains speak of nine fundamentals which sum up the principles of Jainism.

These are as follows:

The make-up of the universe:

(1) living souls (jiva), universe:

(2) non-living substances (ajiva);

The principles of behaviour :

(3) merit, good results in karma (Punya),

(4) demerit, bad results in karma (papa);

The development of karma:

(5) inflow into the soul (asrava),karma;

(6) stopping inflow (samvara),

(7) binding of karma to the soul (bandha),

(8) clearing out of karma(nirjara);

The final goal:

(9) complete liberation of the soul (moksa)

If you read these chapters again you will see how the nine sum up Jainism.