From Nescience to Omniscience

A Perspective in Jaina Philosophy and Religion

From Nescience to Omniscience

Prof. Ramjee Singh

Soul : The Basis of Science, Nescience & Omniscience

By overthrowing rational psychology in his `Critique of Pure Reason’, Kant has disproved the very existence of the soul and thereby the doctrines of the immortality and simplicity of it. But what he lost in the `Critique of Pure Reason’, he regained them in the `Critique of Practical Reason’. Lord Mahavira presenting the Purva-paksa in the Visesavasyaka bhasya comes to the conclusion that the soul does not exist, but in the Uttar-paksa, refutes all the arguments of the opponents and successfully establishes the existence of the soul. Eminent psychologists of today have been finding themselves helpless to do away with the hypothesis of the soul. “Modern man (is also) in the search of a soul.” “The reality of self is obvious to the Introspectionist as the reality of the organism is to the Behaviorists.” James supports it and his pupils, Calkins comes out strongly for a `psychology of selves’. Stern, Dilthy, Spranger and Allport have been endeavoring to build up a `science of personality’. The theory of soul holds that the principle of consciousness must be a substantial entity, psychic phenomena are activities and the activity is possible unless there exists an agent. Therefore William James regards its admittance `to be the line of least logical resistance’. Calkins holds that the self, far from being a metaphysical concept, is an ever present fact of immediate experience and fully worthy to be made the central fact in a scientific psychology. Huxley, Spencer and even Darwin have likewise admitted that the materialistic hypothesis involves grave philosophical errors.

In fact, nothing would be simpler than to start with sensation, which is as simple as simplicity, hence it is bound to be indivisible affection which does not imply a reflection even. Naturally, the subject of such sensations must then be a simple substances. “The ancients employed the term `should’ to indicate their conceptions of a knowing substance that was partless and indestructible and therefore immortal.” Words abound with references to the arguments for the existence of soul. It is due to the soul that a body appears to be living, the soul itself being the principle of consciousness. Udyotkara, the famous author of Nyaya-Varttika, therefore observes that there is practically no un-unanimity regarding the existence of soul.

Soul : Its Characteristics

Indian philosophers are agreed about the nature of the soul as possessing consciousness. Even the Carvakas regard Atman as Consciousness, which is a byproduct of the material body. The Buddhists also accept this position, with little difference. However, Jainism is very emphatic about the characteristic of soul as consciousness, which consists of jnana and darsana (knowledge and intuition). In the Tattvartha-Sutra, the term for Cetana is given as Upayoga which includes bliss and power besides cognition and intuition. So very Jiva, in its natural condition possesses `four-infinities’.

Karma : The Material Basis of Bondage

So infinite cognition, intuition, bliss and power belong to the soul in state of perfection. But the mundane souls are infected by something foreign, which obscures their natural faculties. This foreign elements is known as Karman. The Jaina conception of Karman is not `action’ or `deed’ as it etymologically means; it is an aggregate of very fine imperceptible material particles. This Doctrine of the Material Nature of Karman is singular to Jainism alone; with others karma is formless. The Jainas regard karma as the crystallized effect of the past activities or energies. But they argue that “in order to act and react and thereby to produce changes in things on which they work, the energies must have to be metamorphosed into forms or centers of forces.” Like begets like. The cause is like the effect. “The effect (i.e. body) is physical, hence the cause (i.e. Karma) has indeed a physical form.” But unless Karma is associated with the soul, it cannot produce any effect, because karma is only the instrumental cause and it is the soul which is the essential cause of all experiences. Hence the Jainas believe in the Doctrine of Soul as the Possessor of Material Karma. But why the conscious soul should be associated with the unconscious matter ? It is owing to the karma, which is a substantive force or matter in a subtle form, which fills all cosmic space. “The soul by its commerce with the outer world becomes literally penetrated with the particles of subtle-matter.” Moreover, the mundane soul is not absolutely formless, because the Jainas believe in the Doctrine of Extended consciousness, like the Doctrine of Pudgala in Buddhism and the Upanisads and also to some extent in Plato and Alexander. While the Samkhya-Yoga, Vedanta, Nyaya-Vaisesikas and the Buddhists kept consciousness quite aloof from matter, the Jainas could easily conceive of the inter-influencing of the soul and the Karmic-matter, hence the relation between the soul and Karma became very easy. The Karmic matter mixes with the soul as milk mixes with the water or fire with iron. Thus the amurta karma is affected by murta karma as consciousness is affected by drink and medicine. This is the relation of concrete identity between the soul and the Karma.

Without the Karma Phenomenology, the diversity of the variegated nature and apparent inequalities among human beings and their capacities remain unexplained. Kalavada (Temporalism), Svabhavavada (Naturalism), Niyativada (Determinism), Yadrcchavada (Fortuism), Ajnanavada and Samsaya-vada (Agnosticism and Scepticism), Bhautikavada (Materialism) and Maya-vada (Illusionism) fail to satisfy us. Karma is the basis of Jaina psychology and the key-stone supporting edifice of the Jaina ethics.

The Concept of Nescience

The link between the spirit and the matter is found in the Doctrine of the Subtle Body (Karma-Sarira or Linga-Sarira), a resultant of the unseen potency and caused by a Principle of Susceptibility due to Passions and Vibrations. The Doctrines of Constitutional Freedom of the soul and its Potential Four-fold Infinities means that the Soul is intrinsically pure and innately perfect. It is due to Karma that it acquires the conditions of nescience. Nescience is opposite to science or knowledge, i.e., deluded and misguided. This Ignorance or Nescience is the “force which prevents wisdom shining from within, that is that which holds it in latency.” The relation between the soul and the non-soul is beginningless and is due to nescience or avidya, otherwise called Mithyatva, Ajnana, Mithya-Jnana, Viparyaya, Moha, Darsana-moha, Aviveka, Mala and Pasa etc. in different schools of Indian Philosophy. They are responsible for the worldly existence, or bondage, which is determined by the nature (Prakrti), duration (Sthiti), intensity (Anubhava) and quantity (Pradesa) of karmas. Jivas take matter in accordance with their own karmas because of self-possession (Kasaya). This is known as bondages, the cause of which are Delusion (Mithya-drsti). Lack of Control (Avirati), Inadvertence (Pramada), Passions (Kasaya) and Vibrational-activities (Yoga).

The Jaina term for avidya is mithyatva, which is divided into categories and sub-categories differently. According to Umaswami, it may be divided into abhigrahita and anabhigrahita; according to Pujyapada Devanandi it may be divided into Naisargika and Paropdesapurvaka, the last again sub-divided into four sub-classes. According to Kunda-Kunda delusion (moha) may be divided into Mithyatva, ajnana and avirati, according to the Fourth Karma Grantha, mithya-darsana is divided into – abhigrahika, anabhigrahika, abhinivesika, samasvaika and anabhoga. However, the most popular division is of Pujyapada – ekanta, viparita, vainayika, samsaya and ajnana with their numerous sub-division. The five-fold causes of bondage is sometimes reduced to two or three (mithya-darsana, kasaya and yoga or simply kasaya and yoga) or four. In short, nescience or mithyatva is at the root of all evils and the cause of worldly existence. The Jainas do not like to bother about its whence and why. It is coeval with the soul, hence eternal and beginningless. Both the questions of the Self and Nescience are accepted as facts on the basis of uncontradicted experience. As the bondage is determined by the karmas. There are eight fundamental varieties of these karmas, i.e., jnanavaraniya, darsanavaraniya, vedaniya, mohaniya, ayu, nama, gotra and antaraya with their different sub-divisions. Vidyananda Swami in his Tattvartha-Sloka-Varttika says that as Right Attitude, Right Knowledge and Right Conduct constitute the path to liberation, the anti-thesis of this Trinity, i.e., Wrong Attitude, Wrong Knowledge and Wrong Conduct must lead to the bondage. If the very outlook is wrong, one cannot expect right knowledge and there cannot be right conduct without right knowledge. There is close relation between knowledge. Theory without practice is useless as practice without theory is blind. Knowledge enlightens, penances purifies and restraint protects. Even after attaining tattva-jnana, the soul remains embodied for sometime to enjoy the fruits of its past sancit karmas. So on the psychological grounds, the Jainas reject the metaphysical position of all those who subscribe to the Doctrine of Unitary principle (i.e., Wrong knowledge alone) as the cause of the bondage.

The Concept of Omniscience

Definition and Analysis – Omniscience or Keval-Jnana is a kind of direct but extra-sensory perception, “the perfect manifestation of the innate nature of the self, arising on the complete annihilation of the obstructive veils.” which is gained by the destruction of Deluding, Knowledge obscuring, Belief obscuring and Obstructive Karmas, when the soul is free from all karmic-matter owing to the non-existence of the causes of bondage and to the shedding of all karmas, the subject-matter of which is all the substances in all their modifications at all the places and in all the times. Nothing remains unknown to the omniscient.

On analysis of the concept of omniscience, we have to decide whether he is human or divine or both; whether the knowledge of an omniscient is simultaneous or successive; whether the power of omniscience is potential or actual; whether an omniscient knows all the objects or simply the most important objects, and whether he knows the past and the future as the present or as the past or future. To the Mimamsakas the term omniscient may either mean (1) the knower of the term `omniscience’ or (2) complete knowledge of one thing such as oil or (3) knowledge of the entire world in a most general way or (4) perfect knowledge of one’s own respective scriptural matters or (5) simply knowledge of respective things through the respective Pramanas as far as possible.

Historical Development and Comparative Estimate of the Concept of Sarvajnatva

The germinal concept of omniscience can be traced back to the Vedas where Varuna sits looking at all. In the Upanisads, the state of omniscience is the state of bliss or Turiyavastha. He who knows Brahman, knows everything. Atman being known everything is known. Hiranyagarbha is Sarvajna. Likewise in the Vedanta, the Brahman alone, who is one without a second, is omniscient. In Buddhism, omniscience is granted to the Buddha. True to their non-metaphysical attitude, they do not bother about each and everything, but only about their Four Noble Truths, and their own religious observances etc. Prajnakargupta in his commentary on Dharamkirti’s work has established the trio-temporal-spatial omniscience of Sugat and that state is attainable by any man free from attachment and taints. Santaraksita supports this. In idealistic schools of Buddhism like Sunyavada and Vijnanavada, the Concept of omniscience comes very near to that Upanisadic monism where all-knowledge amounts to self-knowledge. However to the Buddhists, who subscribe to the Doctrine of Momentary Stream of Consciousness, the fact of omniscience, extending to past and future becomes meaningless. The creating Isvara of Nyaya school is omniscience. Vaisesika regards God as omniscient besides other Yogic-souls. Similarly, Alaukika Pratyaksa of the Nyaya school, Asamprajnata Samadhi of the Yoga, Jivan-Mukti of Samkhya and Vedanta Turiyavastha of the Upanisads and Radhakrishnan’s Religious Experience have very clear implications of omniscience, although they partly encroach on the realm of religious mysticism. According to the Nyaya-Vaisesika, omniscience means knowledge of its seven principles, to the Buddhists, it implies the right knowledge of Panca-skandhas, to the Vedantins it is the knowledge of the Brahman and to the Jainas it will mean the all comprehensive-knowledge of the six categories. Excepting the Mimamsakas and the Carvakas all Indian systems believe in the possibility of human omniscience, however, the Sramanic culture insistence on human omniscience more than others to grant infalliability to their prophets, because on this depend the very life and death of their systems.

In short, the Doctrine of Omniscience follows as the sine qua non from the metaphysical, religious and psychological view-points of each of the school. True to their realistic metaphysics, the Jainas conceive of omniscience as purely human and actual – a direct knowledge of all knowable of all places and times. The Agamas and the logical treaties have equated Sarvajnatva with Dharmajnatva. Later Jaina thinkers like Samantabhadra, Siddhasena, Akalanka, Haribhadra, Vidyanand have separated the concept of omniscience from the idea of religious experience. With Acarya Kunda-kunda Sarvajnatva is a dogma, a religious heritage, almost similar to the Advaitic and Upanisadic emphasis on treating Sarvajnatva as Atmajnatva. The names of other Jaina thinkers such as Umasvami, Anantakirti, Patrakesar, Prabhachandra, Abhayadeva Suri, Rajasekhara, Vadibh Singh Suri, Anantakirti, Manikyanandi, Pujyapada Devanandi, Santi Suri, Yasovijaya, Mallavadin, Vadi Deva Suri, Nemichandra, Hemchandra, Mallisena, Dharmabhusana , Devendra Suri, etc. are relevant.

Mimamsaka’s Objections and Their Replies

The Mimamsakas try to show that omniscience cannot be established through any of the Pramanas. It cannot be established through Pratyaksa. Perception implies sense-object-contact during the present time and in the case of Kevala-jnana, this is lacking. To this, we can say that the question of sense-object-relation is not always valid, because things are beyond the power of senses. Such invisible things like atoms, things or persons remote in time or things far beyond (like the Meru hill) became known as the object of direct perception, just like the knowledge of existence of fire in hill from the smoke is also the subject-matter of perception. Here we may be reminded of the researches in para-psychology and extra-sensory perception including telepathy and clairvoyance. As for perception, we can say that only a type of perception which claims to know all things of all times and places, can definitely say that omniscient does not exist. But if there is such a type of all-comprehensive perception it is no other than the omniscience. Similarly, omniscience cannot be established through Anumana, because we cannot think of a relation of universal concomitance between the Sadhya and the Hetu. Sabda Pramana also cannot prove it, because there is no infallibility of the Agamic authority to support it and the fallible Agamas are either created by omniscient or non-omniscient. Now, if it is through omniscient, there is the fallacy of circular reasoning and if it is through non-omniscient, there is fallacy of Contradiction. Upamana also cannot establish this, because it works on the basis of imperfect resemblance between two instances, but there is complete absence of any similarly with the objection that the Arhat is not omniscient because he is speaker like some vagabond, it is said “there is no contradiction between the speakership and the omniscience. With the perfection of knowledge, verbal skill is also perfected. However it may be retorted that Vitaraga Omniscience can not speak for speech is related with desire to speak, and a Vitaraga Omniscient is devoid of any desires. But as a matter of fact, this argument is fallacious. There is no relation between the two. An intelligent person even if he has desire, may not explain the Sastras and during swoon and dreams, where there is absence of desires, people are seen talking and uttering something. Similarly, when it is said that the proof of the omniscience follows from the final consummation of the progressive development of cognition, the Mimamasakas object to it and say that there must be a limit of all progress like that in any human activity. The Jainas reply that physical progress is different from mental progress. Knowledge is limitless and infinite. When the soul shines in full splendor it attains omniscience. To the objection that if an omniscient knows all the objects of the universe at one instant, nothing remains to be cognised by him in the next moment, hence the soul would turn to be unconscious having nothing to cognise; it is reported that it would have been so only if the perception of the omniscient and also this world-order were destroyed in the following moment. But both of them are eternal. Hence it is foolish to hold that there is one single cognition. With respect to the objection that because the omniscient knows `everything’, he might be tainted by the evils contained in them, it is replied that knowledge is different from active participation. One cannot be subjected to attachment and miseries simply in knowing them, because we cannot be called a drunker simply as we know about the different ingredients of the drink. Next, it is objected that we cannot think of an omniscient because through the world we find only ignorant persons. To this it is said that our ignorance cannot be our excuse. We cannot say that persons like Jamini etc. were ignorant of the Vedas because we do not find any such person at the present time. When it is argued that since the beginninglessness and endlessness are apparent in the state of omniscience, things must appear in that way, it is replied that the nature of reality does not change in perceiving them. Things appear as they are. When it is said that because the Agamas establish omniscience of the Arhat and omniscients also create Agamas, this is simply paradoxical, it is said that the Agamas of the present are profited by the past Agamas. The Mimamsakas say that omniscience may mean either successive or simultaneous knowledge of all objects. Now, if it is regarded as successive knowledge, omniscience becomes impossible since the objects of the world in the past, present and future are inexhaustible, hence the knowledge would also be ever-complete. If the knowledge is regarded as simultaneous, there will be confusion and contradiction due to the presence of contradictory objects at the same time. Past and future are non-existent at the present time, hence a knowledge about them would always be illusory.

Some Proofs for the Existence of Omniscience

We have to face these difficulties because we regard omniscience only as ordinary perception writ large. As a matter of fact omniscience is a form of direct simultaneous extra-sensory-perception where there is no scope for CONFUSION, ILLUSION or IGNORANCE. “Our phenomenal knowledge suggests the noumenal as a necessity of thought, but not known through the empirical Pramanas. Metaphysically, manifold and complete objectivity implies some extra-ordinary perception. Psychologically, differences in intelligence etc. in human beings presuppose the possibility of omniscience, somewhere and in some body. Logically, on account of the lack of contradictory proof, it is established beyond doubt. According to the researches made by Sukhalal Sanghavi, the origin of all these proofs may by traced back to the Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali. Knowledge like measure and quantity has got degrees, hence knowledge is bound to reach its final consummation. References about omniscience, in all other literatures, are after the date of the Yoga-Sutra. In Jaina literatures, this argument was first of all advocated by Mallavadi, though the sources concerned are not exactly clear.

We can sum up the most formidable proofs of Akalanka Deva under the following three categories – firstly, omniscience is proved because there is absolute non-existence of any obstructive-Pramanas against it. Akalanka tries to in the astronomical spheres, which indicates correctly about the future eclipses of the sun and moon. Lastly, omniscience follows from the essential nature of the soul as knower of all things. As the sun shines fully after the removal of the clouds, so the self knows everything when the knowledge-obscuring-karmas is completely liquidated. According to Virasena Svami, we can infer about the whole mountain after perceiving a part of it, so we can be sure of complete knowledge in self by perceiving partial knowledge. Samantabhadra has proved the existence through the reasoning based on Anumeyatva, or capable of being known through inference. Dharmabhusana explaining this says that `perception’ does not mean only `actual perception’ but also `object of knowledge’. Let us repeat with the author of Apta-Pariksa, “when omniscience is proved by all the six Pramanas, who dare to reject it ?” None, perhaps none. Omniscience is perfectly consistent with the Jaina conception of knowledge as the removal of veil.