Compendium of Jainism ► V ►The Universe

Posted: 25.10.2015

There have been numerous speculations about the birth or creation of the universe. How did the universe originate? What is the foundation on which it stands? Some sage said that it was standing on the hood of Nāgaśeṣa. Hinduism seems to propound more than one theory about the act of creation. The Sānkhya school of thought postulates that the universe is evolved through the interaction of Prakṛti (primeval matter) and Puruṣa (individual consciousness or intelligence). The Vadānta school maintains that everything in the universe, souls and matter alike, was produced from God's own essence. The motive for creation is explained by the Vedanta school as the Iīlā or sport of the Brahman. In fact, Hinduism evolved a holy trinity in regard to the creation, viz., Brahma the creator, Viṣṇu the preserver and Siva the destroyer. 'The aim of the universe for the Upanisad" says Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, "is to produce beings in whom mind (manas) and intellect (vijñāna) shall lead to spiritual excellence (ānanda)."[1]

The Buddha discouraged all speculation on the origin   and the end of the universe. He regarded the universe as transient and in continuous flux. There is nothing that is permanent and all idea of permanence is part of basic ignorance.[2]        He discouraged metaphysical speculations as futile exercises. He used to tell his disciples to rely upon reason to find out                the truth and not on the word of any elder.

The Christians hold the view that the universe is God's creation. This finds free expression in their simple prayer: "O Lord, thou that did'st make the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in there." To Jesus, God was "Lord of heaven and earth" and also "one who maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust". It is his Heavenly Father that feeds the birds and clothes the fields with grass. "In Hira" says St. Paul," we live and move, and have our being." So according to the Christian view, God is the Creator of the universe and of everything that is found on it.

The Muslim account of creation of the Universe as found in the Quran seems to have been founded upon the story in the Genesis. God or Allah is believed to have created the earth in two days, placed the mountains which tower above it; he blessed and distributed the nourishment in four days for the cravings of all alike; he completed the creation of the heavens in two days.

Jaina Cosmology regards the universe as comprising six substances which are technically called dravyas. It is real and consists of Jiva (soul) and Ajīva (non-soul). The world is dynamic and not static. It is ever changing, subject to modifi­cations or decay. The principles underlying the concept are real and scientific. The theories in physics have been undergoing changes since the days of Newton. The thinking in that field has undergone such remarkable changes that an average thinker feels baffled by intricacies of the theory of relativity. That theory has revolutionized the fundamental concepts of mass, time and space. It has provided a new key for perception of the mysteries of the universe.

While the Jaina Ācāryas have divided the substances into broad categories of Jiva and Ajiva, or living and non-living, they have further divided Ajīva into five categories; pudgala, dharma, adharma, ākāśa, kāla.

The soul is a reality. Its chief characteristic is consciousness. It possesses the quality of Upayoga which is made up of the qualities of Jñāna and Darśana, that is, knowledge and percep­tion. The Jīva is the agent of all actions and occupies the size of the body which is the result of its karmas from the smallest to the biggest. Since a body grows from a microscopically size in the mother's womb to its full proportions when it comes out of it and contracts again at the end of its earthly career, to reincarnate into a new seed, it follows that the size of the soul cannot remain fixed. Modern science identities life with protoplasm or a living cell. It is well known that protoplasm possesses a remarkable property of contraction under external stimuli. The soul experiences pleasure, pain, life and death through the agency of Karmic matter.[3]

Pudgala, which word is peculiar to the Jaina philosophy, means matter and energy. Pudgala has form and rūpa or shape and the qualities of touch, taste, smell and colour. The substance of Pudgala has its modifications and they are sound, union, fineness, grossness, shape, division, darkness, image, lustre and heat.[4] The word Pudgala is comprehensive to include all kinds of matter: solids, liquids, gases, energy and fine Karmic matter etc. Einstein has proved that energy has mass but no form. The Jaina thinkers regarded energy as matter and divided matter into skandhas, anus and paramāṇus which correspond to molecules, atom and electron respectively. The union of electrons and positrons to form different kinds of matter is attributed to the differences in the degrees of snigdha (viscous) and rūkṣa (dry) properties of the particles.

There is an infinite number of souls which fill the universe. Such souls are either mundane (saṁsārin) or liberated (mukta) The mundane souls include all beings living in the world; they are entangled with matter of subtle Karmas. The living beings are divided according to the number of senses they possess. The five senses are: touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing. Being* possessing only one organ of touch are plants. Examples of beings possessing more organs in their order at two, three etc. are: worms, ants, bees. The vertebrates possess all five organs of sense; they are again divided into samanaska (or with a mind) and amanaska (or without a mind). The former are rational while the lower animals without a mind are irrational. Amongst the rational, there are men, denizens of hell and the gods. Besides, the four elements viz. earth, water, air and fire are animated by souls, that is, their bodies are formed by the particles of earth, water, air or fire as the case may be. These are elementary lives which are either subtle or gross, the subtle ones being invisible. Even amongst plants, there are subtle ones. The subtle or invisible "plants are called nigodas; they are composed of an infinite number of souls forming a very small cluster, having respiration and nutrition in common, and experience the most exquisite pains. Innumerable nigodas form a globule, and with them the whole space of the world is closely packed like a box filled with powder. The nigodas furnish the supply of souls in place of those who have reached nirvana, But an infinitesimally small fraction of one single nigoda suffices to replace the vacancy caused in the world by the nirvana of all souls that have been liberated from the beginning less past down to the present. Thus it is evident that the saṁsāra will never be empty of living beings.[5] The number of such souls being infinite, there is no question of their stock being exhausted even if infinite souls are liberated. It may be mentioned that the liberated souls, that is, souls who have attained perfection, dwell at the top of the universe in a state of absolute purity.

Dharma is a substance which assists the movement of moving pudgala. This is the medium of motion. Adharama which is its counterpart assists the staying of pudgalas and jīvas which are stationary, as shadow assists the staying of a traveller. This is medium of rest. Both these are non-material, non- atomic and continuous media pervading Lokākāśa, every iota of the whole universe, although for purposes of practical convenience they are regarded as made up of space-points. They however possess the characteristics of Reality viz. they undergo a cycle of changes, old forms gradually disappearing, new forms appearing and at the end of the cycle the original pattern is again there. "Both Dharma and Adharma pervade through space upto world limit. They are absolutely non-physical in nature, and non-atomic and non-discrete in structure. The qualities of pudgala are not found therein. Nor do they have the structure of the space which is constituted by space-points. These two physical principles are perfectly simple They are spatial and yet non-spatial. They are amūrta and arūpa. They are neither light nor heavy. They are not objects of sense perception. Their existence is inferred only through their function. Such are the characteri­stics of these two principles which are distinctly peculiar to Jaina Physics".[6]

Dharma and adharama are not active forces but they are merely passive madia. G. R. Jain observes that the modern analogue of the medium of motion is the ether and that even to this day the problem of ether remains a puzzle. According to him, the modern scientific equivalent of the 'medium of rest' is the field through which the forces which maintain the cosmic unity operate. Without this medium there would be no coherent system of souls and atoms, there would be only chaos- no world would be possible. The field is similar to ether in so much as it is also a non-material, invisible, non-atomic, continuous and passive medium but its function is quite opposite. These two media interpenetrate in every bit of universe and do not interfere with the function of each other. He concludes: "It is worthy of notice that although all Indian philosophies have devoted very great pains to the theories of world evolution, none of them but the Jains could think of these vital principles of motion and rest without which a stable world structure is impossible and incomplete".[7]

As the Jainas never accepted any God as an intelligent creator, they have worked out their concept of this world in a consistent manner.

According to Jaina thinkers, ākāśa could be pure space as well as it could allow space to every other substance. It has no form and all objects of the universe exist in it. It is eternal and pervasive. It is a subtle substance and does not obstruct other substances. Ākāśa is of two kinds; Lokākāśa and Alokākāśa. According to the Jaina Metaphysics, Loka is universes: it has three divisions viz. Ūrdhva loka or the upper world, madhya loka or the middle world and adho loka or the lower world. The first one is the abode of celestial beings, the second one is of human beings and others, and the third one is the hell which is for the inmates of hell. Surrounding these Lokas which are situated one above the other are three layers of air, the inner one humid, the middle dense and outer rarefied. Within the envelope of these layers, there is the Lokakasa-an invisible substance which allows space to other substances and is equal in extent to the Lokas. It is in the Lokakasa that the other substances, Jiva, Pudgala, Dharma, Adharma and Kala exist.[8]

Alokākāśa is pure space extending over to infinity beyond Lokakasa. There are no animate or inanimate objects in it. The dynamic and static principles of dharma and adharma are not there. It is eternal, infinite, formless and perceptible only to the omniscient.

The sixth substance which comprises the universe is time (Kala). From the popular point of view, kala assists production of changes in substances and can be understood from the changes that have come about in the substances. Kala itself does not cause the changes but indirectly aids in the production of changes. From the popular point of view kala or time consiss of years, months, days, hours, minutes etc., by which we call a thing to be new or old as a result of the changes noticed in them. Kaia is eternal and infinite. It is formless. Inference of existence of real time can be drawn from the changes that a substance might have undergone, as for example, the changes that might have taken place in raw rice from the time it is put into a pot till it has boiled. The universe is full of minute points of time. They are invisible, innumerable, inactive and formless. The points or particles exist separately.

Of the six substances, each of them except Kala is called astikāya. 'Asfi means no exist' and 'kaya' means 'body', that is, each having many Pradeśas. Pradeśa is defined as that portion of the ākāśa which is occupied by one indivisible ultimate atom of matter. It is possible that in each Pradeśa of Lokakasa, innumerable atoms or molecules may exist as it is the characteristic of space to provide space to them all. Time exists by itself and assists things in their movements of continuity. The great French philosopher Bergson declared that time is a patent factor in the evolution of the Cosmos. He is of the opinion that changes and modifications are absolutely impossible with­out time element. This is also the view of Jaina writers.[9]

From the point of existence of the universe, time is divided into two cycles (1) the utsarpiṇī kala or the ascending cycle which is characterised by progress and development of knowledge, age, happiness etc. (2) the avasarpiṇī kala or the descending cycle of time which is characterised by decline and deterioration in knowledge, age, etc. Each of these cycles has six divisions. The ascending cycle begins with duḥṣamā-duḥṣamā (most miserable), duḥṣamā (miserable), duḥṣamā-suṣamā (misery mixed with happiness), suṣamā-duḥṣamā (happiness mixed with misery), suṣamā (happy), suṣamā-suṣamā (most happy). The avasarpiṇī-kāla begins in the reverse order, commencing from the most happy period. This connotes that the substances which are eternal and indestructible, change their conditions in the two cycles of time. The division of time does not apply to the whole universe, but only to Ārya-khaṇḍa of Bharata and Airavata kṣetras (regions).[10]

The form of the universe (loka) is like a man standing akimbo, that is, with his legs wide a part and his hands on his hips. In a side view, the universe is like one and half mṛdaṅga (longish drums) put together, i. e., the half being placed below and with its sounding side upwards next to the lower sounding side of the full drum. It is not hallow but is solid, as if stuffed full of flags, in the curious language of the Trilokasāra.[11]

The dimensions of the universe are in terms of rajjū which it is difficult to describe. The height of the universe is 14 rajjūs. Its breadth east to west is 7 rajjūs at bottom; the breadth in the middle is one rajjū, 5 rajjūs at the upper middle and again one rajjū at the top. Its thickness north to south is 7 rajjūs all through.

At the extreme summit of the universe is situated the Siddha kṣetra, also called the Siddha-Śilā which is the abode of the liberated souls. Its form is like that of a canopy of umbrella, a cupola or an inverted cup. It is 8 Yojanas in the middle. It is self-luminous. In it all pure souls abide in eternal bliss. Being freed from the Karmas, the souls move upwards to the limit of the universe. The principle of motion comes to an end and therefore the liberated souls rest there forever. They stay there in their pure soulness, in their true and eternal, omniscient and omnipotent Godhood, The Siddha-Śilā is the buffer space between the loka (universe) and aloka (non-universe).

The aloka is devoid of the six substances which are present in the loka. In one word, the non-universe is the negation of the universe both in its constitution and character.[12]

The Jaina astronomers held that the earth is at rest and that the sun moves round. This was also the view of Ptolemy. Copernicus advanced the contrary theory according to which the earth moves and the sun is at rest. Before the advent of Prof. Einstein's theory of Relativity, the Ptolemaic view was regarded as absurd and absolutely foolish. Now it has been proclaimed that the conception of motion of the earth round the sun is only a matter of convenience, rather a matter of mathematical convenience.[13] G. R. Jain has quoted Dr. Schubring of the Hamburg University from his lecture delivered at Delhi on Jan. 30, 1928: "He who has a thorough knowledge of the structure of the world cannot but admire the inward logic and harmony of Jaina ideas. Hand in hand with the refined cosmographical ideas goes a high standard of astronomy and mathematics". A history of Indian astronomy is not conceivable without the famous "Surya Prajñapti".[14]

Isaac Asimov, while dealing with the general shape of the earth, has observed: "All men, before the time of the Greeks, made the assumption that the earth was flat, as indeed it appears to be, barring the irregularities of the mountains and valleys. If any Greek thought otherwise, his name has not come down to us and the record of his thinking has not survived. He seems to think that the assumption of a flat, however much it might seem to be commonsensical, involved one in philosophic difficulties of the most serious sort."[15]

Scientific investigations are changing our knowledge and man may never succeed in comprehending fully the reality of nature. New theories are being propounded now and then and nobody knows when the great questions of metaphysics would be solved finally.

In brief, it would be found that Jainism has a positive view of the Universe. It recognises life and the five substances categorised under Ajīva are real and existing. Every substance maintains its reality, though it is capable of modifications and decay. The substance persists to exist inspite of change. Umāsvāmi has indicated in unmistakable terms that although the six substances possess the common substances of sat, sat is characterised by utpāda (birth), vyaya (going out of existence) and dhrauvya (permanence). Permanence means indestructibility of the substance. Though Jacobi first criticised the Jaina tenets as having no central idea, he later revised his view. "... I have now learned to look at Jaina philosophy in a different light. It has, I think, a metaphysical basis of its own, which secured it a distinct position apart from the rival systems both of the Brahmans and of the Buddhists."[16] The fact that even a scholar like Jacobi was initially critical of Jaina metaphysics and later appreciated the integrated pattern of Jaina thought as a whole assures us that an open-minded approach to the Jaina system is bound to result in a proper understanding of Jaina metaphysics.[17]

Share this page on:



Title: Compendium of Jainism
Authors: T.K. Tukol
Publisher: Prasaranga, Karnatak University, Dharwad
Edition: 1980