Step-1: The Universe-Six Substances (The Dravya)

First Steps To Jainism

Step-1: The Universe-Six Substances (The Dravya)


(Step One)

Since the dawn of civilization men, in different times and different climes, have tried to solve the riddle of the Universe. They have tried to find out what the Universe was, what was its origin and destiny, its size and shape, who created it, why, how and when? The result of these deliberations has given rise to number of theories that have taken the form of different philosophical schools. The answers given by the different schools of thought are at considerable variance from each other, sometimes even contradictory, and the mystery has only deepened rather than getting resolved.

Similarly all the scientific research and developments have been unable to unravel completely this mystery, that is the universe, and the questions about why and when and how of it remain unanswered. The advances in nuclear research and the entry into the space age by man have left him more mystified-even ignorant-about the Universe. Actually, today the scientists feel that the more they know, they realize that, they know less and less about the great cosmic phenomena. The scientists find themselves rapidly discarding their old theories that were accepted as gospel truths. Perforce one has to return to the realm of religion and philosophy-which though giving varying interpretations of the problems surrounding the cosmos are at least consistent and logical in their own way.

Amongst this multitude of philosophies Jain philosophy provides answers to these questions that appear simple yet logical and convincing. According to Jain metaphysics the universe is an uncreated entity that has always been in existence and shall always be there. There was neither any beginning of the universe nor is there going to be any end. In other words neither the universe was created at any time nor will it be destroyed, there being no origin in the past nor any end in the future. Since the universe was never created, the questions of creation or a creator do not arise.

This resolves the numerous questions that arise when the concept of a supreme creator of the universe is advocated, e.g., who created the creator? Again since there is no process of creation there is no need to delve into the justification for the creation of universe or the moment of its coming into existence. The universe is according to Jain thought, a self evident and self-existent phenomena not needing any vindication. The concept is at once so simple yet so sublime that initially it comes as a shock and there is resistance against easy acceptance. However, more one thinks and contemplates on these lines the concept is not only satisfying to the intellect but also to heart and the soul.

The universe possesses according to the Jain thought, the quality of timelessness. It goes back in the past to eternity and in future also it has got infinite time before it. From another point of view it can be said that the universe has before it almost as much amount of time (in future) as it has already passed through (in the past).

An elucidation of the work infinite can bear mention. The quantum denoted by infinite is such that even if infinite quantity were taken out of it what will remain behind will yet be infinite. No wonder this word is also used to connote God or the Absolute being.

We have seen that the universe according to Jain belief is an infinite entity so far as the time dimension is concerned. However so far as the space dimension is concerned the universe though colossal in size is not infinite. It is a finite mass of different (six) constituents, which have been having their interplay, but restricted, to the finite area of the universe, since times immemorial. However this huge colossus (the universe) is enclosed or contained in space that is infinite. There is symbiotic relationship between infinite space and the finite universe, the former completely surrounding and also pervading through the universe as we shall see presently. In passing, it may be mentioned that even the infinite space that is called non-universe, containing the universe, can be comprehended by the perfect beings through their perfect knowledge like a fruit on one’s palm.

In Jain thought the shape of the universe has been described as that of the figure 8 or a man standing akimbo which is tapering at the bottom, middle and top with bulges in between. The dimension from the top to bottom has been described as 14 Rajjus. Now this Rajju has got incalculable yet finite dimension as mentioned in the subsequent paragraph.

If a measurement equal to 1,00,000 yojans (one yojan is equal to 2500 miles) is doubled in geometrical progression (i.e. 200,000,400,000,800,000 and so on) innumerable times it will be one Rajju (The innumerable times have been illustrated to be equal to the number of minutest pieces of hair which will fill up billions (million million) pits (each 8 miles wide, 8 miles long and 8 miles deep). The universe is stated to be measuring such fourteen Rajjus from tip to toe as mentioned earlier. At the middle point the universe is one Rajju wide but the width of the bulges varies from five to eight Rajju. At the top the width again tapers off to one Rajju.

The main differentiating feature between the universe and the non-universe is that while the latter is only space the former has got five more elements sharing in the eternity-in addition to space-which are (i) the living or animates (souls) (ii) matter (iii) time (iv) medium of motion and (v) medium of rest. Wherever these six elements exist that is the limit up to which the universe extends and beyond, where only space exists, it is non-universe. Any effort to envision the universe and non-universe, with its dimensions in space and time, boggles the mind. However, its contemplation is also mind elevating and has been recommended as one that leads to sublimation of the soul. Complete comprehension of the universe and non-universe is possible only for perfect beings blessed with perfect faith and perfect knowledge. It is by the kindness of such perfect beings that lesser mortals are enabled a glimpse of the great vision.

Coming to the six substances- the six Dravya- which constitute the universe we shall deal with them one by one as under:

  1. The animate beings (Jeeva)-The most important, rather, central element or substance of the universe is the animate living substance also called the soul or Jeeva. There are infinite number of souls each of which has a separate and self sufficient entity. They have been coexistent with the universe and thus they are also beginningless and endless. At the same time number of souls in the universe like all other substances can neither be increased nor can it be decreased. The soul neither dies nor takes birth, as is apparent when a body dies or takes birth. Soul only changes the body expanding or contracting to suit the body it occupies like the light of a candle.
    While a soul defies complete description it has been mentioned as a formless entity the central quality of which is consciousness (Gyan). This attribute distinguishes the soul or the animate being from the other five constituents of the universe which have no consciousness. The other attributes of the soul or animate being are its potentiality of possessing complete happiness, complete knowledge and infinite power. Actually in pure state the soul is perfect consciousness, perfect happiness and omnipotent. Due to association of the soul with matter, which association is again beginningless but which is not endless, the purity of the soul and its real powers have become over-shadowed and diminished. Efforts of the soul to realize its true glory is the destiny of man which Jainism describes as the ultimate aim. The souls which have realized their true nature, i.e., infinite knowledge, happiness, bliss, etc. are the liberated souls. In the second category are mundane souls which are circulating in the universe and which may be trying to achieve perfection or liberation.
    Mundane souls are of different classes according to the level of consciousness outwardly manifested by their sense. Thus at the bottom of the scale are immovable bodies that have only one sense, i.e., sense of touch. These are souls inhabiting mineral bodies, water, fire, air and vegetables. The last category of the living beings, i.e., those of the vegetable kingdom have now been accepted by the scientific experiments though these were denied earlier. Jainism has all along been advocating existence of life in trees, plants and other vegetables and even in earth, water, fire and air. These have sense of touch only.
    The second category of the souls is of those which have two senses, i.e., sense of touch and sense of taste. They are found in elementary forms of life, which show movement, like bacteria, shells, etc.
    The third category encompasses souls living in bodies having four senses, i.e., sense of touch, taste, smell and sight, e.g., files, bees, etc.

    Lastly, there are souls inhabiting bodies with five sense like human beings and animals that have all the senses, i.e., sense of touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing. As mentioned earlier the soul or animate being does not end with apparent death of the body it occupies, but changes the bodies like changing of clothes. Thus Jainism exposes the hollowness of death and firmly believes in transmigration of soul which has been continuing since hoary past and will continue till it achieves liberation or perfecthood by shedding all the bondage. The reason for this transmigration of soul is its association with matter which overpowers the inherent qualities of the soul (by assuming microscopic forms like waves which are known as Karmas). Again this association of the soul and the karma is beginningless so much so that under the influence of karma the soul has forgotten its real powers. Subject of this struggle between the souls and the karma matter will be dealt with separately but suffice it to say that this interaction is the cause of worldly existence which has been continuing without any beginning and which will so continue without any end.

  2. Matter-(Pudgal)-The second important element of the universe is matter or the Pudgalstikaya. Non-living, inanimate and non-conscious matter has form and can be touched, tasted, seen and smelled. Actually this is the only element with form out of the six substances constituting the universe. The smallest particle of matter is described in Jain philosophy to be so fine that we have to adopt its oriental name, i.e., the Parmanu compared to which an infinitesimal atom is what a mountain is to a mole hill. Modern scientists have already realized that atom itself consists of number of neutrons and protons which are also not indivisible. Parmanu, however, is the indivisible minutest particle of the matter and number of parmanus when combined form a Pudgal. While the qualities of soul are consciousness, knowledge, perfection, peace and bliss as also formlessness, the characteristics of matter are lifelessness (in-animateness) and form consisting of touch, shape, sound, taste, smell and color. Though the smallest particles, the parmanus, are very minute, they can combine with each other thus forming different combinations of huge proportions. Jainism recognizes these six combinations of matter which vary from (1) fine-fine (parmanu pudgal itself), (2) Fine (Waves which cannot be perceived by senses) (3) fine gross (sound) (4) gross fine (visible things like sun shine) (5) gross (liquids) and (6) gross gross (solids).

    Everything that is visible in the universe is one form or another of parmanus in any one of the six combinations mentioned. Though the parmanus may change form they are essentially permanent entities without any beginning or end. The number of pudgals in the universe is infinite but again the number can neither be added to nor reduced.

    The association of matter with a soul is beginningless but once they are divorced it is a final separation. There can be no further association of matter with a liberated soul. However, the parmanus or matter should not be considered as the villains of the piece. It is the soul itself which attracts the pudgals which bind it. It is again for the soul to free itself from the bondage of pudgals by its activity, the parmanus cannot associate with the soul suo moto.

  3. Time (Kaal)-The next substance constituting the universe is time, there being no time in non-universe. The distinctive mark of time is its passage and by this quality time causes modification in other substances viz., soul, matter, etc. Time is nonmaterial and has no color, smell, touch or taste. Time is eternal but consists of units. The smallest unit being a ‘samaya’ which is the time taken by one pudgal to travel from one unit of space to the next unit of space. The next bigger unit is nimisha which is equal to innumerable samayas-in practical terms it is the time taken in raising an eyelid. The Jain measures of time are as under:



The smallest unit as explained above.



Innumerable samaya as explained above.



15 nimisha.



20 Kashtha.



20 Calais and a little over.



2 Ghatis.


Day & Night

30 Muhurta.



30 days and nights.



12 months.

The above measures are known as calculable measures. Since time is eternal Jainism has measures of time before which the concept of billion years is insignificant. One such measure is sagaropam which is described below:

A tank eight miles long, eight miles wide and eight miles deep is filled with minute pieces of hair. Each piece of hair is taken out after 100 years. The time required to completely empty the tank of the hair will be equal to one palyopam. Innumerable such palyopams will make a sagaropam. These measures of time are known as non-calculable.

It may be mentioned in passing that since the universe is beginningless, time equivalent to innumerable sagaropams has already passed and will continue ad infinitum.

However, there are time cycles manifesting themselves which divide the age of the universe in different parts of time. Of this one time cycle consists of two kalas- avasarpani and upsarpani which are further divided into six aras or epochs each. Needless to add that millions of such aras and kalas have passed and will continue to do so.

  1. Space(Akash) –The next substance constituting the universe is space. The characteristic of space is to give room to or accommodate the other substances. The special feature of space is that it is not restricted to the universe like other substances but extends beyond the universe to the non-universe. Actually in non-universe there is nothing but space.

  2. Mediums of motion and rest – Lastly we come to the outstanding features of Jainism which are the two substances called the medium of motion (dharamastikaya) and medium of rest (adharamastikaya). There is no other philosophy which has anything corresponding to these substances. The function of the substance called medium of motion is to help the soul and the matter to move about just as water helps the fish to move about. The substance of medium of rest enables them to remain stationary at one place, just as the shade enables the traveler to take rest.

These substances are also non-material and they are extending throughout the universe as one mass. Actually it is the extent of these elements that determines the limit of the universe. Since the absence of these substances does not permit the other substances to move, the universe ends where these substances end.

Before concluding we may summarize the characteristics of the different substances of the universe by stating that-

1. Out of the six substance only one is living substance i.e. the animate soul and the other five are non-living.

2. Only one i.e. matter has form and is material and the other five are non-material and have no form.

3. Three elements viz., medium of motion, medium of rest and space are single entities while time, matter and soul are numerous.

All these substances are eternal, non interchangeable and they can neither be added to nor reduced. While they are independent of each other they are assisting and accommodating each other in action and re-action. Thus while there is struggle going on between the soul and the matter, time causes the modifications, the space provides the arena, medium of motion helps them to move about and the medium of rest assists them to take rest. This is the evolution and destiny of the universe which cannot be changed and cannot be stopped.

However, it must have been observed that the central and the most important substance is the soul which is all powerful. Matter only obstructs the realization of the full powers of the soul. Jain prophets have prescribed the path and methodology which if followed help the soul to shed the bondage of matter and thus realize its full power of omniscience, eternal bliss and glory.