Essentials of Jain philosophy

  • By Munisri Nyayavijayaji
  • February 2003

I met my first boss DS after a gap of twelve years. As we caught up with the past I told him about my new found interest in Bharat and the site During dinner he said, “I am now working for a Jain group and would like to read something on Jain philosophy”. I said surely but boss give me a couple of days for me to recommend an appropriate book. The next day I called my Jaina advisor Manish and asked for help. He invited me to his bookshop located in C.P. Tank an area that I had never visited before. Thanks to Boss got to see parts of the real good old Mumbai. Manish recommended a book Jaina Darsana by Munisri Nyayavijayaji translated into English as Jaina Philosophy & Religion by Shri Nagin Shah. Shri Shah has throughout the book used the word Religion instead of the word Dharma although Sanskrit verses quoted use the word dharma. Since to my mind religion is not dharma (an Indian concept), I have preferred to use the word Dharma throughout.

Since I had full faith in Manish’s judgment just picked up the book blindly. I had initially thought of sharing excerpts from the book as one chapter. However, after finishing the book realized that the content is best shared as multiple chapters under separate headings. The content is verbatim from the book. My thoughts would always start with Friends. Courtesy & copyright Bhogilal Lehar Chand Institute of Indology, distributed by Motilal Banarsidas.

This piece is divided into seven chapters namely
1. Intro to Book.
2. Jina & Jaina.
3. Soul (Jiva).
4. Ajiva.
5. Karma.
6. Liberation.
7. God.

Intro to Book         

Philosophy (darsana sastra) imparts us the knowledge of Reality. In other words its subject matter is Reality. On the other hand, science of religion or dharma sastra treats dharma. Dharma means good conduct and spiritual discipline. Though philosophy and dharma are different sciences the subject matter of the latter is more less or dealt with in the former. Besides philosophy it is necessary for us to know dharma because the good of life is achieved by the practice of dharma & understanding its true nature. If one practices dharma truly, then and only then can one attain ultimate good? But the propounder of each system of Indian philosophy says that the object of his system is the highest good. By saying so the end object of dharma & philosophy is the same i.e. highest good meaning that the two of them have a special relation.

Knowledge of philosophy is useful to make the knowledge of dharma brilliant & sharp. The Yoga philosophy of Patanjali can be called philosophy & dharma as well. Just as it presents a system of philosophy it imparts dharmic teachings pertaining to non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, austerity, scriptural study, meditation on God etc.

The term ‘Darsana’ occurring in the title ‘Jaina Darsana’ of the original Gujarati work does not yield the sense of philosophy. It is employed in the sense of religious sect or dharma sampradaya. The title therefore means, ‘the work giving information about religious & philosophical thought of a religious sect known as Jaina-dharma’. The tradition, which rightly offers sacred knowledge or pure thought, is called sampradaya (sam+pra+daya, meaning that which offers rightly).

Bhagwan Mahavir was born in 599 B.C. and died at the age of 72. The possible points of his program can be succinctly stated as fallows:   To remove blind faith existing amongst the people, to dissipate the atmosphere of violence, to propagate the principle of non-violence and universal friendliness, to effect synthesis of various religions & philosophies through awakening power of discretion & reason, to disseminate the teaching that one’s happiness is in one’s own hands and those who seek happiness in wealth, prosperity and possession will certainly fail to attain it. Real happiness lies within us. Mahavira set aside Sanskrit, the language of the elite and pundits and adopted Prakrit, the language of the common man.

Mahavira was posterior to Parsva, the penultimate Tirthankara of the current cycle. He did found a new religion using current terminology but brought to fore the teachings of the omniscient Tirthankaras before him. The actual study of its philosophy convinces us of the fact that this religious tradition or sect (sampradaya) shows the path of universal happiness and highest good. A great Jaina Acarya Haribhadra states, ‘Kapila, Buddha & other great saints were eminent physicians specialized in the cure of the disease of transmigratory existence.

Jaina dharma is divided into two main branches i.e. Svetambara & Digambara. Apart from some minor differences pertaining to rituals and monastic practice, the religious & philosophical literature of both the branches is almost unanimous on all points. The Agamas (Jaina philosophical works) which embody the teachings of Mahavira expound karma, spiritual development, transmigratory journey of a soul from one birth to another, classes & aggregates of material atoms, six ultimate substances and nine principles. Looking to the systematic exposition of all these topics, it appears that Jaina philosophical & dharmic traditions must have existed long before Mahavir’s birth.

I confidently express that the study of Indian philosophy remains utterly incomplete without the study of Jaina philosophy & literature. Again, I impartially declare that the study of Jaina philosophical works is very useful in purifying and increasing one’s fund of knowledge as also in finding the right path of spiritual poise & peace.

Substance of the Work
Though all great men are seekers & cognisers of truth, their search for it and presentation of it are not identical. The style of presentation adopted by Buddha & Mahavira are different. The special method adopted by Mahavir is called anekantavada or non-one-sided method. It is difficult to gain the wholly true knowledge of reality. Even those who have gained it find it difficult to express it in words in entirety. Their presentations of a thing differ from one another or appear to be in conflict with one another due to differences in time, pace, style, languages etc. Even ordinary people who love to speak truth have only partial knowledge of a thing.

Taking into account this situation, Mahavira decided to invent such a method that those having partial or incomplete knowledge of Reality or of a thing might not suffer injustice at the hand of others. If other’s knowledge, though partial & even conflicting with ours, is true and similarly our knowledge, though partial and conflicting with others, is true then we should find out such a method that both might get justice. That method is non-one-sided way. While formulating a system of thought and code of conduct, he applied the non-one-sided method under certain conditions namely:

1. One should not yield to passions of attachment and aversion, and should remain calmly impartial & equanimous.
2. So long as the tendency of equanimity does not develop to its fullness, one should constantly keep before him the aim of achieving its perfection and entertain the simple desire to know Truth.
3. One should reflect on one’s own position or views & those of others.
4. One should cultivate liberality of accepting & synthesizing discreetly all those aspect’s of one’s own and other’s experiences, which are found considerably true – though they may seem conflicting.

Nayavada (doctrine of standpoints) and saptabhangivada (doctrine of seven fold judgement) are the corollaries of anekantadrsti (non-one-sided method). All the systems of thought, which were prevalent then, were given their due place in nayavada.

How narrow would be the purpose of life, if we do not believe in the existence of soul even after the death of the body? No other idea can instill strength and energy in human heart as does the idea that he will certainly attain his ultimate goal in the future birth if not in this one. Taking this account one gets convinced of the existence of an independent eternal sentient substance called soul.  God helps those who help themselvesIt certainly experiences the fruits of good or evil actions, which it performs knowingly or unknowingly. And on account of karmic bondage it has to wander in the cycle of rebirth. Says Acarya Haribhadra in his Yogabindu excerpts:

1. That karma which bears fruit even with little effort and remains barren with great efforts is called destiny. It is either auspicious or inauspicious. Again auspicious or inauspicious karma is of various kinds.  322.
2. Similarly, human effort is nothing much but exertion, which certainly gives its fruit even in future birth. Karma & human effort are mutually dependent. 324.
3. Human effort destroys weak destiny or fate. And strong destiny or fate destroys human effort. Stronger of the two destroys the other.  327.

The science of karma emphatically declared that man should put forth enough effort to remove miseries, not only of his but also of others. God helps those who help themselves. The science of karma never propagates such cruel and mean teachings as to leave the poor, oppressed to their destiny. It only commands and enjoins people to put forth sincere efforts to relieve them of their miseries, to remove their poverty and distress, and to save them from calamities. By helping the poor we generate auspicious karmas. By ignoring them on the premise that their poor condition is on account of there past karmas, it proves that we lack universal love, friendliness and compassion, such behavior generates inauspicious karmas. If, in accordance with our ability, we put forth sincere efforts to uplift the miserable, then, as maintained by the science of karma, their misery causing karmas would suffer a severe blow. These efforts would generate auspicious karmas.

This is the essence of man’s dharma. And by following it we do good to ourselves as well as to society. The words of the great Veda Vyasa in the following couplet comprises the universal truth. ‘Compassion and friendliness towards all living beings, charity & sweet words constitute the matchless charm or spell in the three words, which unfailingly wins over the hearts of all beings’.

Receive Site Updates