Indian Philosophy: Jainism

From the Jain point of view, Jain philosophy is eternal and has been taught numerous times in the remote past by the great enlightened tirthankaras(“ford-makers”). One of the main features of Jain philosophy is its dualistic metaphysics, which holds that there are two distinct categories of existence, the living, conscious or sentient being (jiva) and the non-living or material (ajiva). Jain thought is primarily concerned with understanding the nature of living beings, how these beings are bound by karma (which are seen as fine material particles) and how living beings may be liberated (moksha) from the cycle of reincarnation. Also notable is the Jain belief in a beginning-less and cyclical universe and a rejection of a Creator deity.

Jīvas are categorised into two typesliberated and non-liberated. A jīva has various essential qualities: knowledge, consciousness (caitanya), bliss (sukha) and vibrational energy (virya). These qualities are fully enjoyed unhindered by liberated souls, but obscured by karma in the case of non-liberated souls resulting in karmic bondage. This bondage further results in a continuous co-habitation of the soul with the body. Thus, an embodied non-liberated soul is found in four realms of existence—heavens, hells, humans and animal world – in a continuous cycle of births and deaths also known as samsāra. According to Jain thinkers, all living beings (even gods) experience extensive suffering and unquenchable desire (while worldly happiness is fleeting and small in comparison, like a mustard seed next to a mountain). With the exception of the enlightened ones, all living beings are all subject to death and rebirth

Right vision, right knowledge, and right conduct (together) constitute the path to liberation. The attainment of liberation is also associated with omniscience (capacity to know everything), and it is believed that past Jain sages like Mahavira have achieved omniscience. Those who have such knowledge are the enlightened kevalins. These are souls who have detached from all things, and are therefore able to perceive all things directly since their soul’s knowledge is no longer blocked by anything. For most beings, the omniscience of their soul is blocked by the karmic particles stuck to their soul, like a thick cloud blocks out the light of the sun. Therefore, the only source of omniscient knowledge for lesser beings is the teachings of the kevalins. Since there are no longer any living kevalins, the Jain scriptures are the only source of such knowledge and are thus seen as the highest authority in Jain philosophy. Because of this, Jain philosophy considers the doctrines found in the scriptures as absolute truths and philosophy’s role is mainly to summarize, explain and supplement these doctrines.

Jain philosophy accepts three reliable means of knowledge (pramana). It holds that correct knowledge is based on perception (pratyaksa), inference (anumana) and testimony (sabda or the word of scriptures). In Jainism, jñāna (knowledge) is said to be of five kindsKevala jñāna (Omniscience), Śrutu jñāna (Scriptural Knowledge), mati jñāna (Sensory Knowledge), avadhi jñāna (Clairvoyance), and manah prayāya jñāna (Telepathy). The first two are described as being indirect means of knowledge (parokṣa), with the others furnishing direct knowledge (pratyakṣa), by which it is meant that the object is known directly by the soul.
Jain philosophy explains that seven tattva (truths or fundamental principles) constitute reality. These are:

  1. jīva– the soul which is characterized by consciousness
  2. ajīva– the non-soul
  3. āsrava (influx)- inflow of auspicious and evil karmic matter into the soul.
  4. bandha (bondage)- mutual intermingling of the soul and karmas.
  5. samvara (stoppage)- obstruction of the inflow of karmic matter into the soul.
  6. nirjara (gradual dissociation)- separation or falling-off of part of karmic matter from the soul.
  7. mokṣha (liberation)- complete annihilation of all karmic matter (bound with any particular soul).

However, as per Shwetamber Sect (Sthanakwasi), there are total nine tattva: 8. Punya (alms-deed) – Which purifies our soul and provide happiness to others and 9. Paap (sinful acts) – which impurifies our soul.

Jain Doctrines of Relativity

Jain epistemology includes three related doctrines which deal with the complex and manifold nature of knowledge:

  • Anekāntavāda: The theory of many-sidedness, a kind of ontological pluralism.  The idea that reality is complex and multi-faceted and therefore can only be understood from a multiplicity of perspectives. This principle is based on the idea that objects are infinite in their qualities and modes of existence. This doctrine is often illustrated through the parable of the “blind men and an elephant“. Anekāntavāda encourages its adherents to consider the views and beliefs of their rivals and opposing parties.
  • Syādvāda: The theory of conditioned predication, which provides an expression to anekānta by recommending that the indeclinable “syād” or “syāt” (“in a certain sense”) be prefixed to every phrase or expression giving it a conditional point of view and thus removing any dogmatism in the statement as well as indicating that the sentence is true only from a specific point of view.
  • Nayavāda: The theory of partial standpoints, Nayas are partially valid, philosophical perspectives from which anything can be seen. An object has infinite aspects to it, but when we describe an object in practice, we speak of only relevant aspects and ignore irrelevant ones. Jain philosophers use the theory of partial viewpoints in order to explain the complexity of reality. For instance, Jains can describe objects with seemingly contradictory statements (the soul is both permanent and impermanent etc.). Since it is only from certain perspectives that each statement is made, there is no contradiction. Nayavāda holds that all philosophical disputes arise out of confusion of standpoints, and the standpoints we adopt are, although we may not realise it, “the outcome of purposes that we may pursue”

Karma in Jainism

In Jainism, karma is a kind of pollution that taints the soul with various colours (leśyā). Based on its karma, a soul undergoes transmigration and reincarnates in various states of existence—like heavens or hells, or as humans or animals. The ultimate Jain goal is spiritual liberation, which is often defined as release from all karmas. To prevent karmic particles from sticking to and tainting the soul, Jainism teaches five ethical duties, which it calls five vows. These come in two main forms, the anuvratas (small vows) for Jain laypersons, and mahavratas (great vows) for Jain mendicants. The Five vows, which are taken even by Jain laypersons (who have knowledge of the doctrine) are: ahiṃsā (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (not stealing), brahmacharya (sexual continence), and aparigraha (non-possessiveness).

Finally, there is a vow called Sallekhana (or Santhara), a “religious death” ritual observed at the end of life. This vow is a voluntary and gradual reduction of food and liquid resulting in the dispassionate ending of life. This is believed to reduce negative karma that affects a soul’s future rebirths. This was historically taken up by Jain monks (like Chandragupta Maurya), but rare in the modern age.

The main difference between the Buddhist view of karma and the Jain view is that even involuntary actions would still lead to negative karmic effects for the person who did them in Jainism.  Hence Jain ascetics are even more scrupulous regarding the vows, for example, regarding the first vow of ahimsa, they will often carry a broom or another tool to sweep the floor of small animals in front of them.

Jain Cosmology

Our world according to Jain cosmology is a massive structure, wide at the bottom, narrow in the middle and broad in its upper regions. It contains various realms or sub-worlds, including the siddhaloka (world of the enlightened ones), the heavens, various hells, and the human realm (at the center of the universe), which is a system of island continents (including Jambudvipa at the center) divided by mountains and surrounded by oceans with a giant mountain at the very center (Mt. Meru).

Jain Cosmology

Jain cosmology denies the existence of a supreme being responsible for creation and operation of the universe. In Jainism, this universe is an uncreated entity, existing since infinity, immutable in nature, beginningless and endless. It has no creator, governor, judge, or destroyer. According to Jainism, time is without beginning and eternal. The kālacakra, the cosmic wheel of time, rotates ceaselessly.

The soul is both eternal in its intrinsic nature and yet also changing (due to the karmas affecting it and the various states that arise and pass away within in) and the universe is both eternal (beginningless) and yet also non-eternal (since it goes through cycles). Thus, the Jains saw their metaphysics as a middle path, embracing both permanence and impermanence as metaphysically fundamental, against that of the Buddhists (who defended impermanence) and the Brahmins (who generally held a doctrine of permanence).

Other Points

A unique Jain view is that plants have a form of consciousness like other animals. This is supposed to be seen in their desire for nourishment, reproduction, and self-preservation. They are even seen as capable of expressing moral feelings and thus eventually climbing the ladder of beings towards liberation

The sramanic ideal of mendicancy and renunciation, that the worldly life was full of suffering and that emancipation required giving up of desires and withdrawal into a lonely and contemplative life, was in stark contrast with the brahmanical ideal of an active and ritually punctuated life based on sacrifices, household duties and chants to deities. Sramanas developed and laid emphasis on Ahimsa, Karma, moksa and renunciation.

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