Advaita Trends in Jainism

A Perspective in Jaina Philosophy and Religion

Advaita Trends in Jainism

Prof. Ramjee Singh

Avidya : The Cause of Bondage

Spiritualism is an essential feature of Indian mind. It always endeavors after spiritual light or the vision of truth. Hence the Vedic prayer – “lead me from falsity to Truth, from darkness to light, from death to immorality.” Bondage is the process of birth and rebirth, the consequent miseries. Liberation therefore is the stoppage of this process. The vision of truth is the vision of freedom. Ignorance therefore is the cause of the bondage.

This is the principle which acts as the hindrance against the apprehension of truth, obstructs our innate capacity to know the truth. This is our degeneration or descent. Hence knowledge is essential for liberation and hence the prayer.

The seeds of Vedantic (Advaitic) thought can be traced in the Upanisads, where Avidya is perversity of vision and attachment to the world. Maya is the cosmic force that brings forth the world of plurality. If the Maya conditions the universe, Avidya keeps one attached to it. There is Maya because there is Avidya. To Gaudapada, Maya is the cosmic illusion and the avidya the individual. However the freedom is the goal. But this freedom is only through knowledge (Jnanat-eva-tu-Kaivalyam) without knowledge there is no emancipation (Rte-Jnananna Muktih). The purpose of man (is effected) through the mere knowledge of Brahman thus Badarayana opines. He who knows the self, overcomes grief. He who knows that highest Brahman, becomes even Brahman. He who knows Brahman, attains the highest. Moksa is the absence of false knowledge says Padmapada. This insight, this changed attitude to life and its happenings is not so much a condition of Moksa, as Moksa itself. The cause of pain is simply error or false knowledge. The Jaina term for Avidya is Mithyatva. Knowledge downs only after the destruction of darkness. So the path of freedom is the path of knowledge. Knowledge therefore is the first of the `Three Jewels’. The soul is inherently perfect and has infinite potentiality. It is self luminous. It shines as the sun. But there are clouds and fogs of Karma. So the moment the clouds disappear, the sun comes into its own different views regarding the nature of Mukti – positivistic and Negativistic. The Buddhists, the Naiyayikas, the Samkhyas, Yoga and the Purva-Mimamsa, hold that in the State of Mukti there is complete absence of miseries but not the attainment of some positive happiness. The Jainas and the Vedantins do hold that the State of Mukti is the state of double blessedness. There is first the end of miseries and then there is also the attainment of Positive bliss. This is because the self possesses infinite knowledge, Power and bliss. Here comes a difficulty. If Moksa is the result of spiritual discipline, it can not be eternal, if otherwise it is beyond attainment. Vedanta solves this difficulty. To the Advaitins Moksa is the realization of identity of Jiva and Brahman. It is not something to be attained afresh. It is `Praptasya Praptih’, so says the Upanisads `That Thou art’ and not “That Thou becomest”, Since Brahman besides Sat and Cit is also Ananda so Jiva becomes Anandamaya when it realizes it. Bliss and knowledge are identical. Thus liberation is a positive bliss besides cessation of all kinds of miseries. To conclude with Mandana, mere absence of misery is not happiness because misery and happiness, may be experienced together by a person merged in a cool tank with the scorching sun above.

Nature of Soul

The concept of bondage and liberation follows from the concept of the soul. For the self is prior to all, bondage and liberation, truth and falsehood. Its existence is self-proved, it can not be doubted, for it is the essential nature of him who doubts it. It is known in immediate perception, prior to all proof. It is logical postulate. Metaphysically the conception of self-existence implies that the self is eternal, immutable and complete. So far Jainism and Advaita Vedanta affirm the existence of self.

Again we find that self is conscious, both in Vedanta and in Jainism, when bondage is the Soul’s Association with the body through ignorance, soul is something other than the physical self. Self is the pure existence which is not only uncontradicted but also uncontradictably. this persists through all its states. The moment we try to negate we affirm. Then this pure existence is also pure consciousness. Therefore the Atman is nothing other than the consciousness. However, this consciousness is not the flux of states, a stream of consciousness. It is an universal and eternal consciousness. It is undifferentiated consciousness alone (Nirvisesa Cinmatram) or pure consciousness with no difference of knower, knowledge, the known, infinite, transcendent, the essence of absolute knowledge. Coming to the Jaina conception of soul, we find that as Jiva is also a substance or Satta is real or existence. However the most important characteristics of Jiva (like the Vedanta) is consciousness or Upayoga. So it is co-extensive with knowledge. Further, as in the Vedanta we find the Soul described as eternal, Pure, Self-illumined, free, real, supremely blissful, infinite (Nitya, Suddha, Buddha, Mukta, Satya, Paramananda), so also is Jainism.

Atman Paramatman

The career of the individual self sketched by Sankara is exactly parallel to the sketch given by Jaina Metaphysics. There are two kinds of Self, recognized in Jainism – Pure or Swa-samaya or Ego-in-itself and Para-Samaya or Empirical Ego. Ego-in-itself is the same as the Paramatman of Upanisads or Brahman of Vedanta. Sankara calls the ultimate reality as Paramatman or the Supreme-Self. To Sankara Paramatman and Brahman are inter-changeable terms. The doctrine of identifying Jivatma and Paramatma is common to both the Upanisads and the Jaina thought. In this connection it is worth pointing out that both Kunda-kunda and Sankara used the word `Advaita’ the indication of the oneness of Jivatman and Paramtma.” It is the individual Self which is the doer, the enjoyer, the sufferer. The Atman clothed in the Upadhis is the Jiva which enjoy, suffers and acts from both of which conditions, the highest soul is free. Paramatma Prakasa of Yogindu strikes a more idealistic note when it says that it is the internal by leaving everything external that becomes the Supreme Soul. Paramatman is peace, happiness and bliss.

The doctrine of three-fold individuality (external, internal and the supreme) is supported by Kunda-kunda, Yogindu, Pujya-pada, Amrtacandra and Gunabhadra etc. Similarly in non-Jaina literature, in the doctrine of Pancakosa of the Upanisad. However, these are ultimately one. Atman is nothing but sentinancy, knowledge and bliss. The Atman itself is Paramatman. Paramatman was called Atman only because of Karmic limitations. Yogindu Superspirit or Paramatman represents the ultimate point of spiritual evolution, which is above subject and object.

However, there is no denying the fact that inspire of vast similarity, we still miss the monistic and pantheistic grandeur of the Upanisadic Brahman in the Jaina conception of paramatman. The assertion of the Jainas about the Plurality of Selves, is apparently in contra-distinction with the Advaitic thought. However, this is not quite in conformity with other Jaina texts or Jaina view of substance or reality. Substance is that which always exists as the universe, which has neither beginning nor end. Substance is one (as a class). It is inherent essence of things. It manifests itself through diverse forms. What is not different from Satta or Substance, that is called Dravya which is derived from the root `Dru’ meaning `to flow’. It is non-different from substance or existence. It is reality. Kunda-kunda goes to the extent that there is neither origination (Utpada) nor decay (vyaya or Vinasa) but eternal and immutable. Origination and decay etc. concerns the Paryayas of the substances not the substances itself. According to Umaswati, the definition of Reality or existence or substance is Sat (Existence). `Reality is substance’ and `Substance is reality’ or `Reality is existence’ or Satta. So existence is reality or reality is existence. This is to say that all is one because all exists. So says Sthananga-sutra that there is `One Soul’, `One Universe’ (Ege Aya, Ege Loe). Thus we see that we are very near to the Upanisadic or Vedantic conception of absolute idealism.

However, a dualistic bias of the Jainas lead them to demarcate between ideal existence and Material existence, which is only illogical. Reality is reality, Existence is existence. It is all inclusive. There is no distinction of subject and object. The concept of such an all pervading existence can only be ideal. The Jaina canons being too crude could not solve this apparent dualism. hence posited Jiva-Dravya and Ajiva-Dravya, but in Umaswati and Kunda-kunda we do not find such an apparent gulf between reality and reality. Thus Jainism can not escape monism in the last analysis. While they are opposed to each other, they do not seem to be opposed to the Unity which is a synthesis of opposite. Mere Jiva and Ajiva, Spirit and Matter are abstractions. They are moments of one universal. This is the concrete universal – a reality at once divided and united. This is unity in diversity or identity-in-difference.

Yogindu and Kunda-kunda equates Atman with Parmatman. The separateness and individuality of a Jiva is only from the point of view of Vyavahara or experience. Plurality of souls is a relative conception – which reality presents when we lay stress on sensations, feelings and bondage. There is no need to deny plurality of the Jivas at the psychological level. But in Philosophy, Psychological and practical levels are not all. Logic is the hard task-master. Pluralism and Relativism are the two features of a first analysis of common experience and Jainism stops short of it, disregarding its implications. Plurality may be existence or actual. But it is not real. Similarly infinite is inherent in the finite. We cannot substain the hypothesis of relativism without an absolute.

Thus we find great similarity between Advaita and Jainism. Prof. A. Chakravarti gives a unique proof of it. He says that Sankara enumerates various schools he considers erroneous as Buddha, Samkhya, Yoga, Vaisesika and Pasupata etc. regarding the nature of soul. It is strange that he does not mention the Jaina account of self as one of the erroneous views. Perhaps the Jaina concept of Self and the world appearance has no permanent illusion for all the people, but each person creates for himself his own illusion. From this follows the doctrine of Drsti-vada, i.e. the theory that the subjective perception is the creating of the objects and that there are no other objective phenomena apart from subjective and perception. Even in the Upanisads there is distinction between Atman and Jivas. And the theory of Eka-Jiva-Vada sometimes goes against the Upanisads and the Brahma-Sutras.

Doctrine of Standpoints

Thus to speak of a thing as one or many is entirely dependent upon the point of view we adopt. Sankara says that though Devadatta is one, he is thought and spoken as a man, a Brahmin, a learned in the Vedas, generous, boy, youngman, old man, father, son, grandson, brother, son-in-law etc. from different standpoints. This is very similar to the Jaina theory of Syadvada or Asti-Nasti-Vada. Even in the Upanisads we have glimpses of how reality reveals itself in different ways at different stages of our knowledge. This distinction of standpoints is a common feature of Vedanta (Sankara) and Jainism. Sankara distinguishes ultimate reality from practical reality. Vyavahara view is useful, essential so far it leads to the realistic view-point. Just as a non-Aryan can not be made to understand except through the medium of his non-Aryan language so the knowledge of the absolute can not be communicated to the ordinary people except through the vyavahara point of view, But in itself it is in-sufficient. He must rise higher. Kunda-kunda therefore examines every problem from these two points of view in dealing with problems of an empirical life and the real point of view in dealing with supreme reality transcending limitations of the empirical life. So to transcend the lower is not to ignore it. Hegel has recognized it; Spinoza has accepted it. James has prescribed it; Bergson admitted it; Plato affirmed it; Vedas and Upanisads have proclaimed it; Buddhists and many others formulated it; Jainas and Advaita too have recommended it. Deussen rightly says that “the Para-vidya is nothing but metaphysics in an empiric dress, i.e., Vidya as it appears considered from the standpoint of Avidya, the realism innate in us. Thus the distinction between the practical and real standpoint of view is a common feature of Vedanata and Jainism, may even of Buddhism of the Upanisads.

Concept of Omniscience

Our phenomenal knowledge suggests the noumenal as a necessity of thought but not as something known to through the empirical pramanas. Owing to the apparent inadequacy of empirical knowledge, Jainism and Vedantins have developed another organon of knowledge. Not content with Mati, Sruta, Avadhi and Manah-paryaya, Jainas have developed the theory of Keval-jnana or omniscience which is the highest type of perception which falls in the category of extra-sensory perception, where the soul intuits all substances with all their modes. Nothing remains unknown in omniscience. Self and knowledge are co-extensive. Its apprehension is simultaneous sudden and obiquitus. This is practically the same as intuition or integral experience, Anubhava or Saksatkara (Direct perception), Samyag Jnana, i.e., perfect knowledge or Samyag Darsana (Perception-intuition) in Advaita Vedanta. Omniscience is the culmination of the faculty of cognition of conscious principle. It is the full manifestation of the innate nature of a conscious self, emerging on the total cessation of all obstructive vells, is called `that’ (intuition) transcendent and pure. Jaina literature is full of discussion on omniscience. There are various proofs for it. Inductively, the gradation of knowledge implies omniscience. So says Hemcandra that the proof of it follows from the proof of the necessity of the final consummation of the progressive development of knowledge and other grounds. Metaphysically, complex and manifold objectivity implies some extraordinary perception. Psychologically, differences in intelligence etc. presupposes omniscience. Religious-Mystical argument proves omniscience on the basis of religio-mystical experience. Logically, on account of the lack of contradictory proofs, omniscience is established. What Vedanta puts negatively, Jainism puts positively. Vedanta links nescience with misery and Jaina links omniscience with eternal bliss. The Vedanta annihilates nescience by submerging the individual into the universal while Jaina says that individual itself becomes universal. The Jainas hold that each and every entity is related to all entities. Nothing is wholly independent. Nothing is intelligible by itself. So logically the perfect knowledge of one thing means the perfect knowledge of all things. Jacobi has quoted an old Jaina Stanza “one who knows one things, knows all and he alone who knows all things knows everything completely.”

This is the culmination of enlightenment, soul-knowledge in its pristine form, perception par-excellence. It does not depend upon any senses (Atindriya) and arises after destruction of all obstruction.

This is relativism par-excellence. To an omniscient the limitation of Syadvada or conditional predication logically cannot bind. He is all knowing. The veil of ignorance is lifted which obscures vision. Thus here we see that the theory of relativity presupposes the hypothesis of an absolute. The very consciousness of our relativity means we have to reach out a fuller conception. A mere pooling of the contributions of the different standpoints (Naya) will not lead us to the truth in itself. Truth is not a haphazardous jumbling up of its every bits but is a harmonious whole. Dr. Raju holds that “their (Jainas) doctrine is a doctrine of the relativity of knowledge”. They hold “there is reality; its nature is such and such. still, it is possible to understand it in quite opposite ways”. But to the omniscient there would not be relative but absolute and unconditional knowledge. Thus relativism as logically pushed forward leads to absolutism. The moment we accept that there is intuitional knowledge of the Kevalin, which is higher than thought, we are led to monism absolute and unlimited.

Theory of Causation

Following the doctrine of identity between the cause and the effect, Acarya Kunda-kunda maintains (consistent with Jaina Metaphysics) that the Cetana cause can produce non-cetana effects. Strangely enough the Advaita-Vedanta which maintains the Brahman to be the ultimate cause of all reality also maintains the spirit and the matter seem to be opposed to each other they do not seem to be opposed to the unity which is a synthesis of opposites. Again, each portion of matter may be conceived as like a garden full of plants, or like a pond full of fishes. There is nothing fallow, nothing sterile, nothing dead in the universe. Considered from this point of view Jainism comes very near to Vedanta.


The different categories, thus viewed as functional variations of one principle, are no longer in a position of antagonism or indifferent isolation. It seems legitimate to conclude that the universe is one existence which manifest itself, as substance as it unifies the modes and attributes. It is one universe that the Jaina metaphysics gives us. All is one because all exists. So we find in the Sthananga-sutra such utterance as `Ege Aya; Ege loe’, `One Universe, One soul’. But unfortunately the Jaina Metaphysics was not allowed to develop along this line. So says Radhakrishnan, “it is only by stopping short at a half-way house that Jainism is able to set forth a pluralistic realism.”

Since these two substances are interdependent, the dualism must in its turn and finally be resolved in a monism. Any way whether Jainism can be transmuted into Advaita or not it is certain that there are obvious Advaita trends in Jainism.