The Enigma Of The Universe ► 3 ►Jain Cosmology ► (2) Universe: Size and Shape

Posted: 04.11.2014

The universal space (lokākāśa) has a definite shape and size. The question of Gautama was,[1] “What is the shape of the universe?” In reply to this, Lord Mahāvīra asserted, “Gautama! The cosmos is propounded to be shaped in the supratiṣṭhaka saṃsthāna (i.e., triśarāvasampuṭākāra which means the shape of three conical (earthen) bowls blended together, one above other, with the first one upside down, the second one in the erect position above it and the third one again upside down above it). Such cosmos is expanded at the bottom, contracted at middle, and again expanded in the upper part. At bottom, it is of the configuration of “one sitting in the posture of cross-legged”; at the middle, it is shaped like an excellent vajra (which is thin at the middle); and at the top it is of the shape of a vertically placed drum.

It can also be described thus,[2] a supratiṣṭhaka is a configuration obtained by conjunction of three conical bowls with the shape of chopped off pyramids in the following manner-one bowl placed convex wise (that is, upside down) at the bottom, the second bowl placed concave wise (like the bowl at the bottom) upon the second. The resultant configuration arising from the above said adjustment is styled supratiṣṭhaka.

 In the shape created by this way, the breadth at the bottom is more, it becomes less in the middle, again it becomes more as we go upwards and again it becomes less in the end. (See fig. 4 on p.137). In order to explain this shape to a common man, various similes are given. For example, the lower universe is explained as having a shape akin to that of a paryaṅka[31] (a person sitting in the posture of cross-legged), a tapra[4] (boat) or a vetrāsana[5] (trapezium pyramid like a seat made of bamboo). The shape of paryaṅka, tapra and vetrāsana has a wider breadth at the bottom and shorter breadth at the top; therefore these similes are used. Similarly, the shape of the middle universe is explained through the similies of varavajra (excellent vajra),[6] jhallarī (cymbal)[7] and the upper part of a standing mṙdaṅga (tabor),[8] for the height of the middle universe is relatively much less in proportion to its area; it becomes almost a disc-shaped part of universe. Again, the shape of the upper universe is said to be like a standing mṙdaṅga (tabor).[9] At another place, the same thing has been described by an illustration of a man. The shape of the universe is like a man who is standing with his feet apart, putting both his hands on his waist.[10]

The shape would become clearer when we shall discuss the mathematical size in detail.

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