Jain Philosophy


Jain Philosophy

1. Jain History
a) Ahimsā
b) Ṛṣabha cult

2. Metaphysics
a) Anekānta-vāda
b) Dravya (substance)
c) Asti-nāsti-vāda (Many Standpoints)


Jain, Jainism
Ṛṣabha (Ṛṣabhanāth)
(1st Tīrthamkara)
Last Prophet:
(24th Tīrthamkara)
Mahāvīra (599 BC. - 527 BC.)
Famous Teachings:
Ahimsa (Non-Violence)

Ṛṣabha, Māhavīra and Pārśva


Tīrthankara Mahāvīra with 8 Divine Accompaniments:

1. a Throne
2. a Halo
3. Three divine umbrellas
4. a Chowrie (a whisk)
5. The Aśoka tree
6. a Shower of Flowers
7. a Drum
8. Celestial notes (music).

1. Jaina History

The Jaina-Darśana, like other Indian systems, has a religious as well as a philosophical aspect.

Ahimsā is the chief religious idea and anekānta- vāda—looking at reality from many points of viewconstitutes the philosophical ideal.

Ahimsā does not mean merely a negative virtue of non-violence. It is based upon the positive quality of universal love which is the result of recognition of kinship among all living beings. One who is actuated by this ideal cannot be indifferent to the suffering of others.

Antiquity of “Ahimsā”—An impartial study of Vedic literature in its various stages of development will reveal the fact that there have been two parallel developments of thought, one in conflict with the other:

One emphasizes strictly the principles of Ahimsā and the other the duties - of sacrifice.

It is surprising to note that the doctrine of Ahimsā was often chosen by the kṣatriyas or kings, while Vedic rituals, including animal sacrifice, were supported by brāhmaṇa priests.

An indication of this conflict between the priests and the princes is found in the mytho­logical story of the conflict between Viśvāmitra and Vasiṣtha.

Ṛṣabha cult.—According to the Jaina tradition of the twenty-four tīrthamkaras, the first was Ṛṣabha who revealed the Ahimsā-dharma. The last of these was Mahāvīra, who was an elder contemporary of the Buddha.

It is now accepted that Jainism is older than Buddhism and that Mahāvīra who lived from 599 B.C. to 527 B.C., was not the founder of Jainism and that his predecessor Pārśva who lived 250 years earlier was also an historical person.

The Ahimsā doctrine preached by Ṛṣabha is possibly prior in time to the advent of the Āryans in India and the prevalent culture of the period.

2. Metaphysics

Anekānta-vāda.—Let us turn to the metaphysical aspect of Jainism. The Jaina philosophy claims to be anekānta-vāda as distinguished from various other philosophical systems which are Schools of ekānta-vāda.

Jaina philosophy holds that the ultimate reality is complex in structure and must be examined from various points of view in order to comprehend its nature.

No doubt, it is possible to attend to a particular aspect to the exclusion of other aspects for a definite purpose.

This consideration of a characteristic reality in the abstract for a definite purpose may be useful in its own way, but when pushed to the status of philosophical importance, with no regard to the circumstances under which the point of view is adopted, will lead to philosophical error.

To over-emphasize a particular characteristic and to make it the ultimate nature of reality is to have a partial and incomplete vision of reality.

Such a partial and incomplete view of reality is condemned by the Jaina thinkers as an inadequate description of reality, since it emphasizes only one particular aspect (ekānta) to the exclusion of the other characteristics which are not to be altogether neglected. Such a one-sided view is, therefore, called ekānta - vāda.

For example, a particular School of thought may over-emphasize the ultimate identity and unity of reality to the exclusion of other aspects.

An opposite School of thought may emphasize change and may describe reality as a perpetual and incessant change and nothing more.

Among the Indian systems, the Advaita-Vedanta School represents the former type inasmuch as it emphasizes the unity of Brahman

and the Buddhist School of thought represents the latter inasmuch as it emphasizes the change alone and does not take into consideration the underlying identity.

The former is called, by the Jainas, Brahma-ekānta-vāda and the latter Kaika-ekānta-vāda.

In Greek thought also we have similar one-sided views. Parmenides maintained, for example, that the ultimate reality is altogether unchanging. Heraclitus, on the other hand, championed the opposite view that the ultimate reality is perpetual flux and change. Both would be regarded by the Jainas as one-sided views (ekānta-vāda).

The Jainas point out that over-emphasis on one side or aspect of reality to the exclusion of other aspects is analogous to the attitude of the blind men in the fable each of whom described the shape of an elephant according to the part of the animal he touched.

Hence we have to recognize the complex nature of the ultimate reality and try to describe it in its com­pleteness viewing it from many aspects (anekānta). Such a philosophical attitude is called anekānta-vāda.

According to this view, reality is described to be permanence in the midst of change, identity in the midst of diversity and unity in the midst of multiplicity.

The definition of reality according to the Jaina philosophy is that it is a combination of three-fold nature: appearance, disappearance and permanence.

Umāsvāmin says: “Utpāda-vyaya-dhrauvya-lakaam sat”—i.e. reality is characterized by origination, decay and permanence. Every object in nature has this three-fold aspect. It is most manifest in the organic world:

The growth of a plant is a typical example of this three-fold nature. The tree begins its life in a seed. If the seed remains permanent as a seed and does not change and decay, the plant will lose its vitality to grow and will soon become dead.

But the plant must main­tain also the underlying identity throughout its process of growth. A plant growing out of a margosa seed cannot in the middle of the process change into a mango plant.

Hence the underlying identity is the important aspect of any growing organism. Without this, growth will be an unintelligible and perplexing riddle in the world. We cannot be sure of the tree in our garden whether it will be a margosa tree or change into a mango tree overnight.

Hence a faithful and natural description of reality must necessarily be taken into consideration of the three aspects of appearance, disappearance with a permanent underlying identity in the process.

This comprehensive view of reality is analogous to the dialectical view of Hegel. Objects in concrete experience exhibit the three-fold nature of what Hegel called the dialectical principle: thesis, antithesis and synthesis —affirmation, negation and a comprehending unity.

Jaina thinkers noticed this important nature of reality long ago and emphasized its complex nature in the definition of reality as permanence in the midst of appearance and disappearance.

Dravya (substance).—Dravya is an important concept in the Jaina philosophy. It denotes a substance.

The sūtra of Umāsvāmin—guṇa- paryāyavat dravyam—defines substance as that which possesses guas or qualities and paryāyas or modes.

Any real substance in the world must possess its own characteristic attributes and must be liable to modifi­cations. Attributes and modes are therefore inseparable from any substance.

We may speak of the qualities of a substance in the abstract. But in reality the qualities are inseparable from the substance to which they belong. Similarly we may speak of substance in the abstract, but apart from its qualities there is no substance. Thus dravya apart from its guas or guas apart from their dravya are mere intellectual abstractions.

The modifications that dravya can undergo refer to the various shapes and forms into which the substance can be moulded either naturally or artificially.

A living organism through its process of growth may undergo various changes, such as childhood, youth and old age. These changes are the natural modifications of a living organism.

Such modifications may be effected in inorganic substances also artificially:

Clay may be moulded by the potter into various shapes and gold may be changed into various ornaments by the goldsmith. These are artificial modifications effected in the substance by artisans.

The modi­fications whether natural or artificial are technically called paryāyas by the Jaina thinkers. These changes or paryāyas are changes in dravya or substance. The substance must exist in some form or other.

If clay is not shaped into various vessels by the potter it will remain as an amorphous mass of clay. Similarly, gold before it is shaped into various ornaments will remain a shapeless nugget.

While undergoing various modifications either natural or artificial the underlying substance remains identically the same. The substance is unchanging permanent identical existence.

Its modifications are changing, impermanent. Dravya is, therefore, the unchanging identity underlying the changes which are the inevitable manifestation of the underlying dravya.

If we emphasize the permanence of a thing we attend to the underlying dravya or substance. When we emphasize the changing aspects or modes or paryāyas we attend to the changes in the thing.

These two cases of directing our attention to the object are technically called Dravyārthika-naya and Paryāyārthika-naya —point of view of the substance and point of view of the modes.

Every object when described from the underlying point of substance can be asserted to be permanent (nitya), and every object from the point of view of modification may be asserted as changing (a-nitya).

The same thing therefore may be asserted either as permanent or changing according to the different points of view.

The possibility of many standpoints.—This has led to the logical crux of Jaina philosophy—asti-nāsti-vāda, i.e. that we can have two contra­dictory propositions relating to the same object.

This view has perplexed many non-Jaina thinkers in the history of Indian thought. Even such an eminent thinker as Śankara failed to realize the underlying implication of this logical principle.

Asti-nāsti-vāda implies the predication of contradictory attributes of asti and nāsti—“is” and “is not” to the same reality.

Jaina thinkers certainly did not make the statement that the same object can be de­scribed in terms of the two contradictory attributes without any qualifi­cation.

What this Jaina doctrine implies is that you can describe an object from one point of view that it exists and from another point of view that it does not. It is certainly impossible to speak of the same thing from a single point of view that the object is both is and is not.

Jaina thinkers take a practical point of view even in explaining intricate principles of metaphysics.

Take the case of a piece of furniture: It may be made of ordinary jungle wood and it may be so painted as to appear as rosewood. Now, it is rosewood in point of appearance and it is not rose­wood in point of the underlying material.

Thus two propositions, one affirmative and the other negative, are significantly asserted with reference to the same object and both the propositions are certainly valid.

This point is explained by the Jaina thinkers in a technical way by reference to four aspects of a thing, its substance, place, time and form:

From the point of view of substance, a thing exists or is, in respect of its own sub­stance and is not in respect of other substances. The furniture, in the example cited before, is (exists as) jungle wood, but is not (does not exist as) rosewood.

Similarly, in respect of place, a thing exists in its own place and it does not at the same time exist in any other place. While the cow is in her shed, she is not in the field.

Again in respect of time also a thing is in its own time and is not in another time. Socrates existed before Christ, but did not exist after Christ.

Similarly, in respect of form also a thing, while existing in its own form, does not exist in another form. Water below freezing-point exists as a solid, but does not exist then as a liquid.

These are the four points of view which form the foundation of this asti-nāsti-vāda.

These are the ways in which an object may be affirmativel