Jainism: The Eternal and Universal Path for Enlightenment: 02 Cardinal Truths - Shāshvat Satya

Published: 22.09.2011
Updated: 02.07.2015

Appā so paramappā

-Bhagvān Mahāvir

Cardinal Truths, nature of soul,
Powers of soul, Interaction of Jiva and Ajiva,
seven reals,
Types of Ajiva
(Space, matter, Dharmāstikāy, Adharmāstikāy, time)

Jainism firmly believes that a human being has infinite potential. All the procedures and theories have been propounded to develop this potential fully. The "cardinal truth" on which Jainism has based its theories is the existence of soul. If soul is a myth, then the pyramid of Jainism is without foundation and cannot be sustained. Since the soul is non-physical, one can verify its existence only by its assigned characteristics (nature). Therefore it is necessary to describe its properties. According to Jainism, soul has infinite properties[1]. Jainism takes the approach that every characteristic of Jiva or Ajiva is a consequence of an inherent power. Therefore, to have infinite characteristics, the soul has to have infinite types of powers. Ten primary powers amongst them are:

  1. Jivatva shakti: power to exist for ever i.e. immortality, it is eternal (shashvat)
  2. Chitti shakti (consciousness) or 'anant chetanya,
  3. Drishti shakti: soul is an observer or knower, and
  4. Sarvajna shakti; power to know everything (Anant jnān or omniscience). Six other equally important characteristics of soul are
  5. Anant virya (infinite bio-energy or omnipotence),
  6. Sarva vyāpakatva, omnipresence
  7. Anant Ananda (pure and infinite Bliss),
  8. Anekāntvād (multi facedness),
  9. Vibhutva, all properties (shaktis) co-exist in the soul at the same time and
  10. Sarva darshitva, samyag darśan (faculty to have correct perspective of everything, at once).

Physics has taught us that a biological system, jiva, has the power to extract energy from the surroundings. This is how the entropy of a live process decreases whereas the entropy of a physical process always increases, as will be discussed in Chapter 7. Our nearest source of energy is the earth and the atmosphere and we derive most of our energy from them. The next large source is sun, stars and the galactic centre. Thus the environmental energy is effectively infinite and therefore the soul is capable of acquiring infinite energy from its environment.

It may be pertinent now to ask the question "Does ātmā (soul) really exist? Is there "something" which have any one or all of the characteristics mentioned above. If so, we can prove the existence of Atma. Logically, the existence of soul is proved by the very act of doubting its existence. Questioning the existence of soul presupposes the existence of the knower and the knower is the soul, or self, which alone has the capability of knowing, doubting and questioning (consciousness), by definition, as mentioned above. Thus the answer to the question is hidden in the question itself. Soul is thus swatah siddha, it is self-proven. Descartes famously proclaimed "Cogito Ergo sum", that is "I think therefore I am". Thought exists because self exists. Who is it who is really asking this question about existence of Atmā? And who will understand when an answer is given. That knower is the soul, that is chaitanya. Who will know the knower except the knower himself? The ātmā is the seer, one who sees. Therefore Bhagvān Mahāvir said "You can know (or see) ātmā by atma". Sitting in a pitch dark room with eyes closed, one cannot see or feel the presence of anything else but there is no difficulty in feeling the presence of the self. One who is aware of one's own self is the Atma. The self is endowed with manifestation of consciousness which is twofold, Darśan and jnān. There is no jiva without these two qualities and these two qualities cannot exist without jiva.

Atma can exist in pure (free of bondage) state or in bonded state. In pure state it has the power of infinite jnān, darśan, ānand and potency. These four are called "Anant Chatuschay". It is self-proven, without beginning (Anādi), Anant (without end), amurta (formless), indestructive (avināshi), immeasurably enormous in expanse (asamkhyāt Pradeshi) and indivisible (akhand). In addition to these properties, ātmā also has some "ordinary" properties like it has existence (astitva), dravyatva, vastutva, prameyatva, aguru-laghutva, pradeshatva etc., some of which have been mentioned above. It is the knower, can know without sense organs, i.e. it is supersensuous (Atindriya), beyond perception). In pure state ātmā is free (unbounded), nirpeksha, swasrit (self-supporting), achal (motion or vibration less), nisang (without company, alone) and jnāpakjyotimātrā (self-illuminating). It does not age, is timeless (akāl) and so on. The main question is whether Soul is material or non-material, or both or none. Majority of scholars believe the soul in the pure state to be non-material. Einstein has shown that matter, having mass M, can be converted in to energy, E, and vice versa through his famous equation (E=Mc2), where c is the velocity of light, the highest speed any physical object can attain in our universe). Thus science has no difficulty in converting non corporeal in to corporeal and vice versa. Whatever be the nature of soul, one thing is clear that because of its power of Akhandatva (akhand, abhed), it cannot be further subdivided in to parts. It is the minutest of the minute and ati-sukshma. Expressible or not, material or non-material, or having a form yet unknown, Jain scriptures mention that the soul can interact with subtle material particles (karmānu). When it does so, it can undergo vibrations. Now as far as we know, only physical entities can have vibrational modes.

Several oriental thoughts believe in existence of soul but their views are not identical. It ought to be so because of the property of Anekāntvād (multifacedness). According to Saptabhangi (the theory of seven modes of existence) a theory propounded by Jains (to be described later in Chapter 3), some things are indescribable and may exist in multiple forms at the same time. Accordingly we can say,

  1. it is material,
  2. it is non-material,
  3. it is material but still not expressible (as material),
  4. it is non-material but still not expressible (as non-material)
  5. it is both material and non-material,
  6. none, neither material, nor non-material and
  7. it is non-expressible.

This concept agrees with the modern physics concepts of quantum mechanics in which elementary particles, the ultimate constituents of matter may occur as particles or waves or both. Saptabhangi has been explained by D.S. Kothari in a quantum mechanical way by taking the example of a particle in a box which is divided by a partition with a hole in two compartments (A and B). Because of the particle-wave duality, the particle (say, a photon or electron) can be in compartment A, or in compartment B, In A and still not only in A, In B and still not only in B, not in A and B but elsewhere outside the box, in A as well as in B and in an indeterminate state (avyakta). The same solutions emerge from the considerations of quantum mechanics as has been shown mathematically by taking wave functions. Following these considerations, we may therefore take the view here that the soul may be both, material and non-material or neither or indescribable.

Many qualities are ascribed to ātmā in Jain and Hindu scriptures. In Buddhism, there is much controversy on the existence of soul and the Buddha had forbidden this question to be raised, because of its indescribable nature. In spite of the elaborate discussion given above, the nature of the soul is a highly debatable point. Materialists and spiritualists, each recognizes only one reality. Scientists hypothesise that "living" can emerge out of non-living, whereas some spiritualists believe that all matter is a manifestation of self (ātmā). It is however not clear how either of these claims can be verified. To resolve this dilemma, some dualistic theories were proposed. They consider mind and matter or Purush and Prakriti as two eternal, coexisting, independent, interacting reals. Even if the two way psycho-physical interaction between mind and matter - from mental to physical (as in action of body, commanded by a thought) or from physical to mental (as in perception) occur, how can our abstract, internal thoughts and intentions about action cause the physical motion of our bodies without the presence of self everywhere within the whole body and confined to the body, a property ascribed to self, called niyatpradeshatva shakti.

According to Jainism, the universe is an interplay between Jiva and Ajiva. The soul and karmānu interact with each other without losing their essential qualities. Jainism is clear that jiva cannot be converted into Ajiva and vice versa, a quality known as "agurulaghutva" which maintains them as they are and prohibits conversion from one to another although they can interact and fuse with one another. Jains consider both matter and jiva as astikāya. Both are real (sat: "Utpād- vyaya- dhruvya- yuktam sat"). Every action byjiva results in a psycho-physical entity called Karman sharira. In bonded state, it acquires vibration (spandan yukta)".

Jiva, like matter, is asthikāya, but unlike matter that offers resistance to other material particles entering the space which is already occupied by another matter, soul occupies the dimension of the body but does not offer any resistance to other souls to enter it i.e. ātmā does not fill the space which it occupies. Two or more souls can occupy the same space just like two lamps can illuminate the same area. Thus co-existence and co-presence are qualities of the souls. Of the various qualities of the soul mentioned in Samaysar, one is Vibhav shakti: i.e. power of distortion which makes soul and matter liable to mutual influence. Both soul and matter interact with each other without losing their own essential qualities. This is the primary power under the influence of which ātmā interacts with karmānu and both evolve in their own way. This interaction leads to bondage. There is no bondage without interaction between ātmā and Karmānu (material particles) and there is no interaction without bondage. There are two types of bondages: Bhāv karma and dravya karma. Bhāv karma is the transformation of self through itself and dravya karma is transformation of self through physical action.

Once the existence of soul and its eternal nature is accepted, four additional cardinal truths of Jainism, making them six in all, can be enunciated as follows.

The Eternal Truths:

  1. Soul is the Kartā (doer): soul's indulgence in Karma.
  2. Soul is Bhoktā: Soul has to bear the consequence of Karma.
  3. Existence of Mokṣa: The soul can attain pure state, free of bondage.
  4. Procedure of attaining Mokṣa: There are ways of purifying the soul.

When one believes in the six cardinal truths [2], mentioned above, one attains correct perception or world view (Samyag Darsan), which leads to true knowledge (Samyag jnān) and perfect conduct (Samyag Charitra). Every jiva has a different world view, controlled by its karma vision. What we see is what the karmic vision allows us to see through our sense organs. Sense organs have their limitations and defects. That is the reason animals and humans perceive the world differently. Even among humans, different persons have different views, based on efficiency of their sense organs, mental capacity and karma vision. This is due to ignorance. When all the karmas have been dissolved we get the correct "View". It is through dissolution of conceptual or "perceiving mind" that the "enlightened mind" is explicitly revealed. Piercing the ignorance with correct vision (samyag Darsan) leads one to samyagjnān and imbibing this jnān in one's activities leads to enlightenment.

The Universe consists of seven (and only seven) reals (tattvas). These tattvas are: Jiva, Ajiva, Asrav (inflow of karmānus), bandh (bondage of soul with karma), Sanwar (stoppage), Nirjara (detaching) and Mokṣa (liberation). Basically the last five elements are related to interaction (association and dissociation) of Jiva, the sentient (Soul) with material karmānus. Jiva is an active element, capable of acting on its own (karta), having various powers listed above. Ajiva, as mentioned before, is considered as an independent element made of five elements of Dharmāstikāya (considered as medium of motion), Adharmāstikāya (medium of rest), space, matter and time. These five elements, which are passive (cannot act on their own), independent, all pervading, coexisting, indestructible, not capable of influencing each other, according to Jainism constitute the physical universe.

Interaction of soul and matter is the most vital aspect of Jainism. This interaction, both association and dissociation occurs through karmānus, the subtle particles of matter. When soul acquires karma, a body begins to form. Five layers of bodies manifest for every jiva: karmana, taijas and audārika exist normally and ahāraka and Vaikriya exist under specific situations. These are translated, respectively, as karman body, energy body, physical body, translocation body and transformation body. As the soul acquires karmānus, karman body is formed and when the soul sheds all the karmānus, it acquires the pure state. The karman sharira is receptacle for karman matter and changes every moment as the karmānus are assimilated or shed. At the time of death, this karman body accompanies the soul and forms the basis of a new body which may be acquired on rebirth (see Chapter 11). The taijas body consists of energy (energy pudgals) and helps in metabolism. Ahāraka body is the conscious body which strives to attain clarity of the basic philosophy of life, and in the process acquires jnān. It is kind of consciousness (chetanā). Vaikriya body enables the body to change its form and dimension and thus can bring about transmigration of soul to different bodies. Audārika body is the physical body of animals and humans as we possess. To summarise, every living being possesses five bodies, which in order of subtle to gross forms are: karman (causal), tejas (energy), āhāraka (conscious), vaikriya (multi-shape) and audārika (physical).

We have seen in this chapter the basic elements of Jainism and some aspects of interaction between Jiva and Ajiva. Now we will discuss the basic nature of the universe as described by Anekāntavād and the basic law of Karmavād, which governs interactions of soul and matter in the following chapters.


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Jainism - The Eternal and Universal Path for Enlightenment - Narendra Bhandari- jainismbook_final_28-5-2011.pdf

Edited by:
Acharya Vijay Nandi Ghosh Sūri

Published by:
Research Institute of Scientific Secrets from Indian Oriental Scriptures (RISSIOS), Ahmedabad

Online Edition 2011: HN4U


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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Abhed
  2. Adharmāstikāy
  3. Adharmāstikāya
  4. Agurulaghutva
  5. Ajiva
  6. Akāl
  7. Anant
  8. Anekāntavād
  9. Anekāntvād
  10. Anādi
  11. Astikāya
  12. Astitva
  13. Atma
  14. Bandh
  15. Bhagvān Mahāvir
  16. Body
  17. Buddha
  18. Buddhism
  19. Chaitanya
  20. Charitra
  21. Chetanya
  22. Consciousness
  23. Darsan
  24. Darśan
  25. Descartes
  26. Dharmāstikāy
  27. Dharmāstikāya
  28. Dravya
  29. Dravya karma
  30. Dravyatva
  31. Einstein
  32. Environment
  33. Jainism
  34. Jaipur
  35. Jiva
  36. Jnān
  37. Karma
  38. Karman
  39. Karmas
  40. Karmānu
  41. Kundakunda
  42. Mokṣa
  43. Nirjara
  44. Pandit
  45. Prakriti
  46. Prameyatva
  47. Purush
  48. Quantum Mechanics
  49. Samyag Charitra
  50. Samyag Darśan
  51. Saptabhangi
  52. Sarva
  53. Sarvajna
  54. Sarvodaya
  55. Science
  56. Sharira
  57. Siddha
  58. Soul
  59. Space
  60. Srimad Rajchandra
  61. Tattvas
  62. Vastutva
  63. Virya
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