Comprehensive Essay on the Preachings of Jainism

Jainism starts with two principles, the living (jiva) and the non-living (ajiva). The living is already in contact with the non-living from beginning less time. This contact subjects the living being, on account of thoughts, words, and acts, to the influx (asrava) of fresh energies known as karmas, which are conceived as subtle matter.

This influx can be counteracted (samvara) by re­ligious discipline; and the existing stock (bandha) of karmas can be exhausted (nirjara) through severe austerities. Then salvation (moksha) is attained; and therein the living being reaches its pristine purity, divested of all that is alien to its nature. This, in general terms, is the scheme of Jaina principles.

Soul and non-soul (jiva and ajiva) are the basic principles which comprise all that exists in the universe. The soul is characterized by sentiency or con­sciousness; but in its embodied state it also has sense-organs, activities of mind, speech, and body, respiration, and a period of life. Souls are infinite in number; they always retain their individuality, and they cannot be destroyed or merged into any other supreme being.


Living beings can exist in two states, liberated (siddha or mukta) and worldly (samsarin). The latter ordinarily are classified as mobile (trasa) and immobile (sthavara); and still a third state is conceived, namely that of nigoda beings. Mobile beings are of five kinds according to the number of sense-organs they possess; and some of those with five senses have a discriminating faculty, seen in men and divinities, and dimly in some of the higher animals.

The immobile are in the form of earth, water, fire, air, and vegetables, having only the sense of touch. The nigoda are host-souls with a common body and respiration; and they are present all over the world.

They represent the lowest state of life, as contrasted with the highest state of the liberated ones; both are infinite; and balance the infinite sum- total of the living world. Such a close study of living beings has, besides meta­physical insight, an ethic moral object: to show the Jaina how to practise ahimsa at various stages of his spiritual career.

Knowledge is inherent in the soul, being the manifestation of the con­sciousness which characterizes the latter; but its function is hindered by Kar- mic encrustment, so it is found in different degrees in different souls. Direct knowledge by the soul itself is of three types: of remote time and space (avadhi), of the thoughts of others (manahparyaya), and of everything in the universe without the limits of space and time (kevala-jnana).


Indirect know­ledge covers our experience through our sense-organs (mati) and that which we obtain through scriptures etc. (sruta). The indirect belongs to all of us in varying degrees; the first two of the direct types are possessed by great saints; and the third is seen fully in the omniscient Teacher, who is soon to obtain liberation.

Non-living (ajiva) substance is devoid of sentiency and is of five kinds. Matter (pudgala) is possessed of sense-qualities. Earth, water, fire, and air are gross forms of matter, the indivisible ultimate unit of which is the atom. Even sound, darkness, light, shadow, etc. are looked upon as forms of matter.

The next two types of non-living substance are dharma and adharma, the principles of motion and rest. These two terms are used in Jainism in this special sense, which should be distinguished from their usual meaning. They

The reader should take special note of the Jaina use of this term, which differs from its general usage in Hinduism and Buddhism, and may thus lead to confusion.

Are imperceptible and all-pervasive they serve as necessary conditions for, or fulcrums of, motion and rest, and facilitate all movements and static states in this physical universe. The next non-living substance is space (akasa); it is of two kinds, physical and super-physical; its function is to accommodate all substances; but the superphysical space is only space, real void, extending over infinity. The fifth ajiva substance is time or kala which produces the con­tinuity (vartana) in the things of the physical world. It is constituted of minute points which never mix.

The living and the nonliving (Jiva and ajiva) constitute reality, which, according to Jainism, is uncreated and eternal. It is characterized by origina­tion or appearance destruction or disappearance and perm­anence it is possessed of infinite characteristics, with respect both to what it is and to what it is not. It has its modifications and quali­ties (guna), through which persists the essential substratum, substance, at all times.

This basic substance with its qualities is something that is permanent, while modes or accidental characteristics appear and disappear. Thus both change and permanence are facts of experience. The soul with its conscious­ness is permanent even when it is changing through various bodies in different births. Gold, likewise, with its colour and density, is something that persists, though it takes different shapes at different times.

The object of knowledge, thus, is highly complex; it consists of substances, qualities, and modifications; it is extended over three times (past, present, and future) and infinite space; and it is simultaneously subjected to origination, permanence, and destruction. It can be fully known only in omniscience (kevala-jnana), which is not possessed by ordinary human beings who perceive through their organs of sense.

What they know is only partial; they are like blind men who touch some part or other of an elephant and variously describe it as a fan, a pillar, a snake, etc. Thus the apprehension of an ordinary human being is partial, and therefore valid only from a particular point of view. This is what is called nayavada in Jainism.

For example, in describing different ornaments, if one has in view only the modifications of gold, that is the modal point of view (paryayarthika-naya); but if one concentrates one’s attention only on the basic substance gold with its inherent qualities that is the sub­stantial point of view (dravyarthika-naya).


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In other contexts, they are also known as the common-sense or practical (vyavahara) point of view and the realistic (nischaya) point of view. There are seven points of view or nayas. Some refer to the substance and others to modification; while some arise out of the nature of the subject and some out of the verbal statement.

A thing or an object of knowledge is of infinite characteristics (anekantat- maka) which require be analysing and apprehending individually, and this function is fulfilled by the nayas. This doctrine serves as a unique instrument of analysis.

The Jaina philosopher has taken the fullest advantage of it, not only in building his system by a judicious search for, and balancing of, various viewpoints, but also in understanding sympathetically the views of others from whom he differs and in appreciating why the difference is there. This analytical approach to reality has saved him from extremism, dogmatism, and fanaticism, and has fostered in him remarkable intellectual toleration, a rare Virtue indeed.

What the nayas divulge individually is only a part, which should not be misunderstood for the whole; and it is not enough if various problems about reality are understood merely from different points of view. What one knows one must be able to state truly and accurately.

In Jainism this need is met by the theory of syadvada. The object of knowledge is a huge complexity covering infinite modes and related to the three times, past, present, and future; the human mind is of limited understanding; and human speech has its imperfec­tions in expressing the whole range of experience.

In these circumstances none of our statements is more than conditionally or relatively true. So Jaina logic insists on qualifying every statement with the term syat, i.e., ‘somehow’ or ‘in a way’, to emphasize its conditional or relative character.

Such a qualification is to be always understood, whether a term like syat is added or not. A judge­ment, ordinarily speaking, can assume two forms: affirmative and negative, and refers to the substance (dravya), place (kshetra), time (kala), and shape or concept (bhava) of an object.

An affirmative judgement predicates the characteristics possessed by a thing, while a negative one denies characteristics absent in it but belonging to others. Besides these two judgements, ‘Somehow S is P’ and ‘Somehow S is not P\ Jaina logic admits a third kind of judgement, that of indescribability: ‘Some­how S is indescribable.’ This is of great philosophical significance.

In view of the complexity of the objective world, and of man’s limited knowledge and imperfect speech, Jaina logic anticipates and admits situations which cannot be described in terms of simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. A thing cannot be described at all when no distinction is made as to standpoints and aspects.

Some aspect can be affirmed, or denied separately from a certain point of view, or both affirmed and denied successively. If lit, when this predication is to be made simultaneously, one is faced with contradiction which can be wisely avoided by this third judgement of ‘indescribability’.

These three are the basic predications; and when they are combined suc­cessively and simultaneously, the maximum number of combinations is seven and not more. These should be able to answer every purpose, however complex it may be. This doctrine of sevenfold predication is often misunderstood and misrepresented by idealists who have not been able to appreciate its meta­physical basis and intellectual approach.

It reminds one of the realist relativists of the West, such as Whitehead and others. The Jaina logician is neither a nor an agnostic; but he is a realist working with sound common sense. He does not want to ignore the relative or conditional character of the judge­ment arising out of the very nature of the object of knowledge.

The soul has been in association with karmic matter from time immemorial, and the object of the Jaina religion is to free the soul from karma. The activi­ties of mind, speech, and body lead to the constant influx of karmas which form the karmana-sarira, or karmic body, for the soul, whereby it moves in Samsara.

Everyone is responsible for his own karmas, and there is no escape from them unless one experiences their fruits, good or bad. Jainism admits no God to bestow favour or frown: the law of karma works automatically in shaping one’s lot. There are eight basic types of karmas named according to their effect on the nature of the soul, which is inherently endowed with the in­finite quaternary of knowledge, insight, energy, and happiness.

The first two karmas obstruct knowledge and insight, the third infatuates the soul, the fourth gives rise to pleasure and pain, the fifth determines the period of life, the sixth shapes the body, etc., the seventh fixes family, etc., and the last brings about hindrances of various kinds. The type, duration, intensity, and quantum of each karma are determined when the bondage thereof takes place. These eight types are further subdivided into 148 sub-types which explain man’s various experiences in life.

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