Jain Agams and Indian Culture



JAIN Literature


The Place of the Agamas in Cultural History of India

Language and Literature apart from art and architecture constitute the most important records of the cultural history of a country. Hence, the study of the Agamas is bound to reveal the most important observations of Jainism and its contribution to Indian culture.

As we all know, the collective term given by the Jainas to their Sacred literature is called Agamas written in Prakrt just as the Buddhist Pitakas in Pali and the Brahmanical Vedas in Sanskrit. The Jaina Agamas like the Buddhist Pitakas contain the sermons of their founders. They were later on codified by their trusted disciples into the languages of the people just for the larger benefit of the masses. Thus the original Sacred Books of both the Jainas and the Buddhist were written in Prakrt, i.e., Ardhamagadhi and Pali respectively. Being missionaries, their mission was to interest not only the intellectuals but the common people and hence they used the language of the common man.  Down from the days of Arya Raksit (2nd Century of Vikram Samvat) and Uma Swami (3rd Century of V.S. , there has been equal interest in Prakrt and Sanskrit so much so that both these languages became the common and combined treasures of the Jaina. Naya, the Jainas have adopted other regional languages also like Kannada and Tamil in South India, Gujarati and Marathi in Western India and even Hindi in Central India for the propagation of their religious teachings or literary pursuits.

Pt. Sukhalalji has divided the entire extent of Jaina philosophical literature broadly into four periods beginning with the Agamic period. Not withstanding the differences in the two tradition of Digambaras and Svetambaras, the Jainas generally agree that the Agamas constitute the inspired wisdom of Lord Mahavir, when he attained perfection and Omniscience. The sermons were later on codified by his chief disciples called Ganadharas. According to the Jaina tradition, there are only two types of persons, who are qualified to know the secrets of religion – the Omniscient (Kevalin) who directly perceive everything of all places and of all times. Then lectures of sermons by the Kevalins themselves. They are called Sruta Kevalins. Acarya Yati Vrsabha has given the chronological account of the Missionary (Acarya) tradition of 683 years after the Nirvana of Lord Mahavir having 3 Kevalins, 5 Sruta Kevalins, 20 different orders of Acaryas.

According to the Svetambara tradition, the last compilation of the Agamas had been done at Valabhi after 980 years of the death of Lord Mahavir at the time of Devardhi, however the compilations of some of the Agamas were done at Pataliputra also which was after 250 years of Lord Mahavir’s death. The Agamic literature is vast and stupendous, comprising of 12 Angas, 12 Upangas, 4 Mulas, 2 Chulikas Sutras, 6 Cheda Sutras, 10 Prakirnakas etc. The commentation on these Agamas are called Niryukrtis and Bhasyas, which are in poetry style and those in prose style are called Curnis. Available Niryuktis, are said to be compositions of Bhadrabahu, the Second, which contain subtle philosophical discussion on the problems of existence of soul, analysis of knowledge and meaning etc. The Bhasyas contain the fuller accounts of all subjects. Sanghadas Gani and Jinabhadra are the two famous Bhasyakaras. Jinabhadra was a versatile genius, who has written practically on all subject under the sun. Sanghadas Gani has limited himself to the task of dealing with the problems of epistemology and the ethics of the Jain Sadhus. Among the Curnikaras, Jinadasa Mahattara is a notable figure. Curnis are shorter commentaries in prose on the pattern of Jatakas. In Sanskrit, the oldest commentaries of the Agamas is of Acarya Haribhadra (757-857 V.S.) next to whom are Silanka Suri (8th Cent. V.S.) and Sandhacarya, Abhayadeva and Malladhari Hemacandra and last but not the least Malayagiri. All these scholars wrote their commentaries in Sanskrit and Prakrt but they were so vast and deep that shorter commentaries in the languages of the people was considered essential. Hence, we find the composition of many primers and Beginner in regional languages like Taba in Gujarati. Acarya Dharma Singh is said to be an important author of such Beginners and Primers.

According to the Digambara tradition, all the old Agamas are said to have lost except the 12th called Drstivada. They regard Bhadrabahu as the last Sruta Kevali, with him out of 14 Purvas, 4 were lost. After Bhadrabahu, the different Acaryas became the teachers of 11 Angas and 10 Purvas and the process of disintegration continued up till 683 years after Mahavir’s Nirvana. An important Acarya named Dharasena initiated his two most, able disciples, named Puspadanta and Bhutabali into the Agamas, who later on compiled the Sermons in the form of a monumental epics of religion called, Sat-khanda-gama in Prakrt. A contemporary of Acarya Gunabhadra compiled Kasayas-Pahuda upon which Yati Brsabha wrote a commentary in Prakrt after he learnt it from Arya Mansku and Nagahasti. There are quite a few commentaries on these two monumental treasures-Satkhandagama and Kasaya-pahuda. The last of the commentaries on Satkhandagama called Dhavala is by Virasena, which comprises 72 thousand verses. The commentary on Kasaya-pahuda, called Jayadhavala is equally monumental having 20 thousand verses written by Virasena and 40 thousand added by his disciple Jinasena. The final portion of the Satkhandagama is called Mahabandha which has 41 thousand verses. This has been composed by Bhutabali himself. Fortunately, all those three monumental Agamas are treasured at Mudabidri’s temple library. Acarya Nemichand Siddhanta Sastri Chakravarti of the 10th century was supposed to be an authority on these three Agamas. He had composed Gommatasara and Labdhisara to give the essences of these Agamas. Todaramala has written commentaries upon Gommatasara and Labdhisara in Bhasa. Acarya Kunda-kunda’s Samayasara, Pravacanasara, Niyamasara and Pancastikaya-sara are in acknowledged Prakrt works which are regarded as good as the Agamas by the Jainas. Jainacarya Umaswati wrote Tattvartha-Sutra, which is regarded as the Veritable Bible of the Jainas by both the sects. The legend of the propagation of Jaina religion rests with the Tirthanakars and their disciples called eleven Ganadharas, who are said to have converted a community of 4411 Sramanas from whom the entire Jaina community has grown.

The Contribution of the Agamas

The Validity of Scriptural Knowledge – Except the Carvakas, all systems of Indian Philosophy admit the validity of scriptural knowledge. In the Vedic tradition, the Vedas which are regarded as impersonal, constitute the highest authority of religion. In the tradition of the Sramanic culture of Buddhism and Jainism, the authority of scriptures rests with their prophets, who are supposed to be Omniscient as well above all desires and aversions. In the Jaina tradition, the validity of the scripture is accorded at par with direct perception since the scriptural knowledge is knowledge gained by the Omniscient being, who has directly perceived the reality. Thus scriptural knowledge is also definite and indubious like the omniscient knowledge. This is admitted by Samantabhadra in his Apta-Mimamsa. It should also be noted that the knowledge and practice of Scriptures (Agamas) also leads to the attainment of Kevala-jnana, so as to the knower of the Srutas are called Sruta-kevalin. Anybody and everybody cannot be Sruta. In order to be a Sruta, he must fulfill the conditions of becoming desireless (Vitaraga) and he must destroy the Karmas which obscure the real nature of Sruta. Only then, such a Scriptural knowledge serves like the bliss.

According to the Vedic tradition, the Vedas manifest their own validity. Words used by us, according to them, denote things that can be cognised by other means of knowledge, and, if we cannot know them through other means, then those who utter them must be of unquestionable authority. So non-Vedic utterances cannot possess any inherent validity. According to Prabhakara, such non-Verbal knowledge is of the nature of inference because only the verbal cognition of the Vedas is strictly verbal. The Vedic thinkers adopt the doctrine of impersonate authorship perhaps to maintain is infallibility, because a person is liable to many defects. However, in order to prove the impersonal authorship of the Vedas, the Vedic thinkers; especially the Mimamsakas introduce a mystical theory of the eternality of the Vedas. They hold that the relationship between the word and its meaning is natural and not created by conversion. The purpose of the Mimasmsakas in rejecting the authorship of the Vedas to Gods is because God, who is incorporeal, has no organs of speech and hence he cannot utter words, and if He assumes the human form, then He is subject to all the limitations of material existence and hence his utterances will not be authoritative. Then there is no tradition of divine or human authorship of the Vedas. If it is said that the Vedas are human compositions because names of saints and seers occur, it may be said that the hymns deal with the eternal phenomena of nature and the names of persons have only symbolical significance and not any historical significance.

In tracing their Agamas to the utterances of Lord Mahavir, the Jainas have a more secured position. Firstly, since Mahavir is Omniscient (Kevalin) what he says must be true. Since, he is above desires (Vitaraga), what he says is free from any subjective prejudices. Lastly, since he is compassionate, what he says is for the benefits of the people. Thus the Jaina theory of scriptures as the sermons of Lord Mahavir is more intelligible rational. the adherence of one’s faith in the personality of Lord Mahavir gives a religious color. Lastly, such a theory of scriptures having its source in the personality of a realized man raises the dignity and status of man to the status of God. Omniscience is not divine but human. It requires a Sadhana. Thus the Jaina doctrine of Agamas sets up everything in real and historical context, while the explanation of the impersonality of the Vedas is rather vague and ambiguous. However, it looses at one place-by treating the Vedic authorship as impersonal, it implies that it is perhaps very-very old and ancient because a person is after all a historical event. Here the Jaina reply is that since the truth contained in the Agamas are one, eternal and permanent, it is as old as anything. The objects of the knowledge are the one and the same for all. Hence their cognition is neither new nor old. Hence, there is an argument in the teaching of all Arhats. In this sense, the teachings are eternal and universal and hence impersonal. Thus, the line of demarcation between personal and impersonal authorship of the scripture give way to a reconciliation. A prophetic utterance, in the sense, it is eternal and universal, is impersonal; however, since it comes from the mouth of a historical person, it is personal.

Agama and its Interpretation – The statement of a trust-worthy person is said to be Agama. Otherwise, words themselves are inert, lifeless and even ambiguous. Hence, the validity of Sabda rests with the person who uses them. Hence the interpretation of the Agamas depend both upon the Speaker and also upon the Audience. So far, the speakership of the Agamas is concerned, it is held to be the direct sermons of the Omniscient Lord, which have been compiled and codified by their chief disciples called Ganadhara. So far the interpretation of the Agamas from the point of view of the audience is concerned, it should be clearly noted that a certain amount of intellectual ability and moral preparation is needed for the appropriate grasp of the subject matter. In absence of such a preparation, the same Agama admits of different and even conflicting interpretations about one and the same subject, like the different interpretations of the Brahma-Sutra and the Bhagavad-Gita. The Jaina Agamas are the sermons of the Tirthankaras which have been correctly reported by the Sruta-kevalin and the Ganadhara, who are also supposed to be Sruta-kevalin and the Ganadhara, who are also supposed to be omniscient and also above all desires of love and hate, hence the validity of the Jaina Agamas is doubly raised because both the Source as well as the Course of the Agamas are pure.

The Place of Samayika – There are three distinctive contributions of Jainism to Indian Culture – Equality (Sama), Self-control (Sama) and Dignity of labor (Srama). Equality or Samayika is said to be the heart of Jainism. In the Jaina religious scripture, Dvadasang or in the 14th Purva, the place of Samayika is the first and foremost among the six daily duties. Without the practice of Samayika or equality, there is no hope for any religious or spiritual realization. When a householder accepts the Jaina religion, he solemnly pledges to abide by the principle of equality. The whole of Visesavasyaka-bhasya of Jinabhadra Gani is an exposition of this principle of Samayika. The three jewels of Jainism, i.e. Right Faith, Right Knowledge and Right Conduct depend upon the principle of equality. The Gita calls it the inner poise or the evenness of mind (Samatvam), or equal mindedness (Sama Cittatvam or Samata) and such a man who attains this is called seer with an equal eye (Samadarsinah or Sarvatra-sama-darsana). This principle of equality must be reflected both in thought and action. In thought it is the principle of Anekanta, in action it is the principle of Ahimsa.

(a) Anekanta – Anekanta is the application of the principle of equality in the sphere of thought. Thus it is not a philosophy but a philosophical standpoint just as there is the Advaitic standpoint of Sankara and the standpoint of the Middle path of the Buddhists. Anekanta literally means non-absolution. Though the Anekanta Period in Jaina philosophical literature comes after the end of the Agamic period, the genesis of the Anekantic idea is already present in the Agamic literature. The famous Bhagavati Sutra refers to the important and interesting dreams that Lord Mahavira had just before attained Keval-jnana. In one of the dreams, there is reference to `multi-faced’ or `multi-colored’ (citra-vicitra) wings of Pansakholi which symbolizes the multi-faced reality.

The Buddhist also have their doctrine of Vibhajyavada or `conditional expressions’, which means that they discard one-sided view (ekansavada). However, the Buddhists believed in Vibhajyavada to a limited extent, where as the Jainas believe it to the full extent, so that it was finally developed into the Theory of Non-absolutism (Anekantavada). In Buddhism, Vibhajya means division and Vibhajya Vyakarniya means answering a question by diving. While the Buddhists attribute the divergent attributes at the same time with regard to two different things, the genius of the Jainas is reflected in attributing the different attributes in the one and the same subject, of course, the contexts are different. This leads to the organon of Sapta-bhangi and the multi-valued logic of Syadvada. Even in the Vedas and Upanisads, the description of the reality is in terms of contradictory attributes, like real and unreal, mobile and immobile. Nasadiya Sukta, therefore, avoids to describe the reality either as real or unreal. Thus Anekanta seems to be a dynamic of thought-reconciliation, through which we find an attempt at synthesis between apparently contradictory attributes of eternality and non-eternity of the world or finiteness or infiniteness of the Jiva or difference or non-difference between the body and the soul. Anekanta however, should not be understood to mean that reality is contradictory. It simply means that it has innumerable number of aspects and attributes which can be thoroughly comprehended only when we can put all of them together. This is ideal of perfection, which can be attained only when we become an omniscient. However, we can have the knowledge of one or other aspect if we are free from prejudice and bias. Thus, on the one hand it has its ideal of finality of knowledge, in reality it aims at aspectal knowledge or naya. As a corollary, we have to be cautious in our speech. Lord Mahavira explained every problem with the help of Siyavaya or Syadvada. Absolutism in speech and language is as bad as absolutism in thought. The Agamic stress on Anekanta and Syadvada is due to its great adherence to Ahimsa. Anekantavada or Syadvada is extension of the principle of Ahimsa on intellectual level. Jainas think that without non-violence in thought, non-violence in practice is impossible.

(b) Ahimsa – Ahimsa follows as a logical corollary from the principle of Equality (Samya) of souls. The inequalities of physical and mental abilities are only accidental and they are due to the Karmas. How, since `life is dear to all and since everything has hot life’, we have to accept the principle of Ahimsa as an important means of spiritual realization. To the Sramanic cult of Jainism, the means are as important as the ends. Our end is no doubt self-realization or Moksa. Now, this self-realization is impossible without the love of self and this love of self is nothing other than Ahimsa, since self resides in everything. Jainism looks upon the whole world as filled with life. Nothing is fallow or sterile, nothing is dead and inert. What to speak of living beings, even plants and every portion of matter have got life. Hence, respect for life is a spiritual act, it is a law of our being. If we forget it, life becomes well nigh impossible. `As we feel our pain, so we must feel the pain of others’, says the Acaranga. The same truth is stated in Dasvaikalika where it is clearly said that `all beings desire to live, none want to die’. All our religions accept Ahimsa as a virtue but Jainas have worked out a complete philosophy of non-violence, hence here Ahimsa is more due to rational consideration than emotional as we find in Buddhism and Christianity. The Jaina Ahimsa, embraced the whole universe and is not restricted to humanity. There we can find that Advaita Vedanta and others admit oneness of soul and practically removes the ground of mistrust and violence, which are the result of duality.

Nivarttaka Dharma – Ahimsa together with Aparigraha constitute the ethical wholeness of self-control or self-restraint in social relationship, self-control is the foundation of a higher moral life as in individual life, it is the basis of higher spiritual life. Except for the Mimamsakas, who believe in heaven etc. all the Vedic and non-Vedic systems adopt Moksa as the Summum Bonum of life, which is a state of cessation of the wheels of existence. It is happiness (Sreya) rather than pleasure (Preya) which is the goal of life. Thus self-purification (Atma-suddhi) and not the acquisition of any earthly or heavenly pleasures, which is the aim of life. The obstacles in the forms of delusion, ignorance and craving must be rooted out by practicing the different vows or Vratas, throughout life. Hence, the agency is emphasized. In short, all these constitute the Nivarttaka Dharma or world-withdrawing religion, which is said to be the heart of Jainism. It is bound to be individualistic, world-withdrawing and self-negating. Emphasis on renunciation, asceticism, penances etc. in the account of Sadhana given in the Acaranga is literally soul-stirring. Like Buddha, Mahavira also presented a gloomy picture of the world. `The living world is afflicted, miserable’ – thus begins the second lecture of the first book of Acaranga.