Essentials of Jain philosophy

  • By Munisri Nyayavijayaji
  • February 2003

Soul (Jiva)                                                                                    

Soul is not amenable to sense perceptions as physical objects are. It can be known through the simple exercise of self-awareness. A body made up of five physical elements ie water, air, fire etc cannot have feelings. It is never the body that is happy or unhappy because if that were so a dead body would be happy or unhappy. This proves that there must be some other substratum for experiences of desire, happiness to reside in. The name given to this other substratum is Soul (atman) whereas the body is physical and hence insentient.

There are five sense organs in a body. But the soul who uses them as instruments is different from them. It sees color with eyes, experiences taste with tongue, grasps smell with the nose, hears words from the wars and cognizes touch with the skin. The soul uses these sense organs as instruments to cognize physical things but on that account the sense organ and soul cannot be said to be one. A dead body has five sense organs, yet it cognizes nothing through them. Why? It is because the soul that cognizes things through sense organs is different from the sense organs.

Soul that has seen a thing in the past through the visual sense organ remembers that very thing later on even when it is devoid of the visual sense organ. Soul can remember the things in the past because the past experience has left behind its impressions which the soul continues to retain and carry with it, and it is these impressions, when revived that give rise to the memory of the thing which has the object of that experience.

Soul has no color whatsoever and cannot be perceived by visual sense organs. But on that account it cannot be said that it does not exist. Though physical atoms are not amenable to visual sense perception, their existence is accepted on the basis of inference. Any gross physical object requires its material cause for its production. This material cause, itself being an effect, requires its own material cause for its production. Thus it proved the existence of physical atoms. So also, means other than sense perception prove the existence of the soul.

Many times we observe that the acts performed by a person do not give their fruits to that person in this entire life and the fruits he enjoyed in his entire life are not the fruits of the acts he performed. We come across others who are in a very miserable condition in this life. We cannot account for this anomaly so we are left with no other option but to attribute it to the person’s karmas in this or past births. So also the results of karmas or actions in this birth would take place in this birth and the next. Since at the time of death the body and sense organs no longer exist there has to be something that gets carried forward from one birth to another. This thing is a sentient substance called the Soul. Actions give their fruits through the impressions, which serve as a link between actions & fruits. Though acts are momentary they leave their impressions on the soul. These impressions remain associated with the soul till the soul enjoys their fruits at the destined time. These impressions are material and called Karma.

In this world we come across different type of people, some rich other poor, some intelligent others dull. Sometimes twins differ in their growth, development and life-styles. Friends if my brother is North Pole I am South Pole. Our attitude to life is just the opposite. How does one explain such differences? There must be some cause that governs all these seemingly causeless differences. This cause is Karma. In this way wise philosophers have proved the existence of the soul. It is because karma (in the form of fine particles), which causes happiness or misery to soul, is associated with the soul from the beginningless time. And because of its association with karma, the soul transmigrates from birth to birth in the world.

If the soul performs auspicious acts, its next birth will be good, if not its next birth will be bad. Either type of act leaves an impression on the soul. This impression is a group of material atoms of a special type called Karma. So karma is a group of material atoms of a special type attracted and bound with the soul on account of its activity. New karmas go on associating themselves with the soul and old karmas go on dissociating themselves from the soul after having given their proper and complete fruits to it. Karmas associated with the soul continue to exist inactive till the next birth or thru many births till they give their fruits good or bad. As soon as the soul experiences the fruit the karma of which is the fruit gets dissociated from the soul. The present and future births of the soul are governed and conditioned by the force of its accumulated karmas.

Thus we have proved the soul to be different from the body and sense organs.

Infinite Souls in the World

A question arises in our minds. At any point of time, many souls have attained liberation, many are attaining it and others will attain it in the near future. Will this not result, at any one point of time, in the world becoming empty of souls?

One must find an answer to this question in a manner by which none of these principles, one that the world never gets empty of souls and the other that liberated souls are never born again - suffers any harm. Scriptures say that the total number of souls in the world get reduced by the number of souls that attain liberation, yet the world will never be empty of souls because the souls in the world are ananta or infinite in number.

The term ananta is explained as follows: the minutest indivisible unit of time is called ‘samaya’ in the Jaina scriptures. Samaya is so minute a time unit that it is impossible for us to know how many samayas pass in a second. If we take all the samayas, past and present their number comes to infinite times infinite. The number of souls in the world is equal to that of infinite-time infinite samayas. Hence there is no possibility at the entire world becoming empty of souls at any time.

Friends practically speaking soul can attain liberation by good karmas. With so much evil and violence in this world, the number of souls attaining liberation can only go down.

Classification of Souls

Generally souls are divided into samsari or transmigratory & mukta or liberated souls. The word ‘samsara’ is derived from the Sanskrit verbal root ‘sr’ prefixed with the preposition ‘sam’. The meaning of the root ‘sr’ is ‘to go, to wander, to transmigrate’. So the meaning of samsara is ‘wandering transmigration’. To wander, to transmigrate in 84 lakh birth types is samsara and one who does so is samsari.

We can classify the transmigratory souls in various ways. In one way, they are divided into two main clauses – mobile (trasa) and immobile (sthavara). Those who can voluntarily move from one place to another in order to seek pleasure and avoid pain are mobile. And the opposite are immobile. The earth-water-fire-air & plant bodied souls are immobile. They have one sense organ, which is invariably a tactile one. Called one-sensed souls they are further sub-divided into subtle and gross class. The subtle five bodied immobile souls are present everywhere in the universe but we cannot see them. The gross five bodied immobile souls are amenable to visual perception. Souls whose bodies are various forms of earth like clay, stone are to be understood as gross earth-bodied souls. Souls whose bodies are various forms of water i.e. well-river-pond water which are not attacked by fire or not influenced by any other substance are gross bodied souls. A tree and its branches, twigs etc are gross plant bodied souls.

When the above mentioned forms of living earth are attacked by cutting, colliding, piercing and baking souls depart from them making them lifeless. So also when water is boiled or mixed with sugar it becomes dead and soulless.

The two sensed souls have two sense organs only and these two are invariably tactile and gustatory. An earthworm, a microbe found in water are examples of two-sensed souls. Three sensed souls have three sense organs namely tactile, gustatory and olfactory e.g. a bug, a large red ant. Four sensed souls have four sense organs namely fly, mosquito etc. Five sensed souls have five sense organs, are divided into four classes – humans, animals, that of gods dwelling in heavens and that of infernal being dwelling in hells.

Thus all mobile souls are two-three-four or five sensed souls.

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