Philosophical Foundations Of Jainism (An Introduction): [12] Nature Of The Soul

Published: 20.08.2008
Updated: 02.07.2015

The Jain philosophy is essentially focussed on the belief in the existence of the 'soul'. It has not only expounded the existence of the soul, but described in detail its nature and properties too. The 'Āyāro' (Ācārāṅga Sūtra) is one of the most ancient Jain philosophical treatises that Lord Mahāvīra is known to have produced. It deals mainly with the nature of the soul. Therein, Mahāvīra says—" Ātmā (i.e., the soul) is that which knows. The definition that the soul is the knower is based on the substantial standpoint, which integrates Chetanā (sentience) and Upayoga (conscious activity). Another definition of the soul is—"The soul is that through which one knows." It is a differentiative definition, for it accepts both the aspects of the soul, i.e., (a) soul is subject of the quest itself and (b) it is also the means to know it.

The above definitions eventually result in the aphorisms such as—"Caitanyalakṣaṇo jīvaḥ," "Upayogalakṣaṇo jīvaḥ"—Here upayoga means 'to know' about anything and upayoga subsists in cetanā (consciousness) which is a kind of energy and upayoga is its utilization. The state in which the soul becomes the knower is the state of upayoga—(Yaśca vigyātā padārthānām parichedakaḥ - "upayogaḥ"). This definition of the soul is with respect to the nature of the mundane soul. There is another category of the soul, which we can term as the liberated soul.

In the Upaniśadas, the Brahma is described as incomprehensible in terms of knowledge. This is called Ajñeyavāda—the doctrine of incomprehensibility. It has resemblance with the attributes credited to the mukta ātmā—which is the liberated soul of the Jain philosophy. In the Ācārāṅga Sūtra,delineating the nature of the liberated soul, it is said—'Savve sara niyattanti', i.e., 'all the articulations fail to describe it'. Similar is the expression in the Upaniśads—' Yato vacho nivartante aprāpya manasā saha'—"Brahma' or 'Ātmā' are beyond the reach of mind and speech." When the ' Ācārāṅga Sutra' calls it ajñeya, it implies that the soul is beyond the power of the words to express, it is neither comprehensible through logic, nor it could be reached through intellect. The Upniśads also support the 'netivāda'. The Bṛhadāraṇyaka says—'Athāta adeśo neti neti'.

Explaining the attributes of the liberated soul, Lord Mahāvīra says—It is 'oja'—isolated and devoid of attachment and aversion, which means it is totally detached and free from all sorts of interactions or dependence with others. All the souls retain this virtue and are, therefore, independent of each other. Here lies the basic difference between the 'Vedāṅta' and the Jain perception. As per the 'Vedāṅta', all souls ultimately rest in peace in Brahma, whereas Jain and Sāṅkhya philosophies regard each Ātmā (soul) as having its own independent existence.

A liberated soul—'mukta ātmā' has no form and it does not stick itself to any place. It is pure consciousness. It has no colour, smell or form which is the characteristic of pudgala and which gets manifested into infinite varieties of shapes and features, 'mukta ātmā' is beyond the cycle of birth and death, since it is free from bondage created by karma (pudgala). The worldly soul has its association with pudgala and therefore it is afflicted by bondage.

A question would then spring up—how do you comprehend and describe the state of a liberated soul? The 'Āyāro' says that there is no similie through which one can describe it - 'Uvmā na vijjai'. It is pure consciousness (Cetanā), which is in the form of knower'. In all dimensions, it is full of consciousness.

In the Nyāya Śāstra (Logic), two kinds of vyāpti (concomittance) are mentioned—(A) Aritar Vyapti (Inner), (B) Bāhir Vyapti (External). The internal comomittance is that in which the concomittance has the coherence between the sādhana (i.e., the evidence) with the sādhya (i.e., that which is to be proved) only in the proponent's statement, and not anywhere elsewhere. The soul does exist, because it has the quality of consciousness. Its concomittance is as follows: wherever there is consciousness, there is soul. This concomittance takes care of the subject in entirety. There is no other thing with identical attribute; therefore, it is not possible to use any illustration for describiling it.

In the external one, we get the concomittance between the sādhana and the sādhya in addition to even the proponent's statement. For example, kitchen can be an illustration for the statement that 'where there is smoke, there is fire'. All other places where the fire bums are its corollary. Space is infinite. It has its own entirety, which can not be matched by any other entity. Similarly, the soul too cannot be described by any other similie. The soul has an imperceptible existence. Hence, it is beyond the scope of vision.

The soul is non-verbal. No word can describe it. "Apayassa payaṃ nathi"—this applies to all substances; there is no exception to it. This implies corelation between word and its meaning. The liberated soul is the realisation produced by antar vyāpti. It cannot be traced outside its existence with the help of any clue.

There has been a great debate in the philosophical parlays on the relation between the word and its meaning. Totally divergent views have been expressed. The Buddhist philosophers regard them as absolutely separate entities. According to Vedāṅta, 'Oṃkāra' (or Praṇava) is regarded to be the symbol of God Himself. It is that basic drone, out of which all other sounds have emerged. The belief of Śabda Brahma has its root in 'Oṃkāra'. The Jain philosophy believes that there is a dual relationship between the word and its meaning, described as—'bhedābheda' i.e., (identity-cum-difference). As explained above, the soul is non-verbal. The Jain philosophy states that the ātmā does exist, but the word ātmā (or soul) is only subjective. In fact, every object is non-verbal. A word cannot be synonymous with the soul or any other object. The expressions such as 'the soul exists', 'this exists' or 'that exists' are all subjective. Moreover the Jain philosophy does not subscribe to the belief that the entire world is an evolution out of the symbolic sound like Oṃkāra, and as such the question about its relationship with ātmā does not arise.

The soul is unknowable, imperceptible and non-corporeal existence. Sound, colour, smell, taste and touch—none of them is a synonym, denomination or the nature of the soul. The soul transcends all similies.

Sources

This is an edited version of the author's work:
Jain I Darshan ke Mool Sutra
Translated by Prof. M. P. Lele under the guidance of Muni Mahendra Kumar ji and Muni Dulahraj ji, Senior disciples of Acharya Mahprajna.

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Ajñeyavāda
  2. Brahma
  3. Cetanā
  4. Consciousness
  5. Jain Philosophy
  6. Karma
  7. Mahāvīra
  8. Nyāya
  9. Pudgala
  10. Soul
  11. Space
  12. Sāṅkhya
  13. Sūtra
  14. Upayoga
  15. Vyapti
  16. Ācārāṅga
  17. Ācārāṅga Sūtra
  18. Ātmā
  19. Śāstra
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