Scientific Vision Of Lord Mahāvīra ► [01] Bhagavatī Sūtra: As An Encyclopedic Work ► An Encyclopedic Work In General

Posted: 19.05.2009

There are a lot of subjects dealt with in the Bh.S. All of them can be studied in the light of different sciences. Along with the metaphysical and spiritual talk we can find philosophical, scientific, historical and cultural discussions as given below at every step. This is why the Bh.S is rightly recognized as an encyclopedia in general.

From philosophical point of view Bh.S describes five principal substances as fundamental realities. They are known as Pañcāstikāya.[7] Of these the medium of motion (Dharmāstikāya), the medium of rest (Adharmāstikāya) and space (Ākāśāstikāya) are one, formless and invisible. Of the rest two the soul (Jīvāstikāya) is infinite in number, formless, invisible, while matter (Pudgalāstikāya) is infinite and visible. The multiformity of the world is the result ofthe combinationof the two substances i.e. soul and Matter (jīva and pudgala).[8] A clear ascertainment of the soul and Matter is found in this canon to an extent which is not available in any other religious or philosophical works. The full text of the canon is not available today, but whatever is available discusses thousands of queries. From the historical point of view, the chapters[9] on Mankhali Gośala, Jamāli, Śivarajarṣi, Skanda Sanyāsi etc., are of great importance. In reference to philosophy discussion with Jayanti, Madduka, Roha ascetic, Somila Brahmana, Lord Parsva's disciple, Kalisya-vesiya-putta, lay follower of Tungiya city etc.,[10] are of seminal significance. From the view point of Mathematics, discussions with Parśvapatyīya Gāṇgeya ascetic are of great value.[11] Various aspects of history and culture, different systems of religion, political history, cosmology, cosmography, geography, mathematics and evolution of the Jain philosophical thoughts are embodied here in such a consolidated manner as nowhere else.

In the age of Lord Mahāvīra, there were different religious cults in vogue but bigotry was almost un-heard of. Ascetics and Parivrājakas, one class of ascetics, of one religious body went to engage themselves in philosophical discussions with those of other religious bodies and whatever was found to be acceptable, was accepted freely. There are many contexts in this scripture, which throw light on the open-mindness of religion prevailing in that age.[12] In this respect this canon embodying different viewpoints is thus really a work of encyclopedic dimension. In the context of the thesis, the scientific approach of the Bh.S is enough to prove it to be of an encyclopedic character. Advances in different branches of Modern Science have recently brought to light many mysteries which find a direct or indirect mention in this canon composed 2600 years before.

Scientific Approach

According to the Jain tradition, Lord Mahāvīra was an omniscient being, and therefore his knowledge about everything was vast, exact and appeals to logic. He dealt with any subject presented to him in a question and answer form or even otherwise. That is why in the Bh.S, we come across hundreds of topics about which there was a query from Indrabhuti Gautama (one of his disciples) and other curious disciples; and Mahāvīra would instantaneously explain the mysteries involved. The modern scholars[13] have all accepted the fact that Mahāvīra was one of the most versatile thinkers of ancient India, and he was even more accomplished than Gautama Buddha.[14]

Thus, there are many more things discussed by Lord Mahāvīra, which require scientific approach to understand the mysteries of nature. Although it is beyond the scope of this thesis to deal in detail with each and every such thing, yet an attempt is made to state and explain the relevancy of his thought in the context of the present scientific discoveries.

First of all when we speak of scientific temperament, we mean by it a systematic approach to understand truth in a rational and verifiable manner. Let us not forget that although the main object of Mahāvīra's philosophical deliberations was to elucidate the practice of spirituality that leads one ultimately to emancipation from the munden state yet, there are a large number of discourses which have a bearing of a scientific import. For example; the whole theory of karmic particles in itself is a systematic analysis of micro-cosmological phenomenon. The theory of karma is so thorough in its consistency that it provides a full scope for a truly scientific investigation.[*] The cosmological, cosmogonical and atomic discussions are also subjects of scientific investigation.

The scientific approach generally involves mathematics and logic. From the study of Bh.S it is reflected that wherever it was found necessary to go into detail to understand certain phenomena, Mahāvīra did not hesitate to use mathematical calculations and logical arguments. For example; in the case of souls charged with anger, pride, deceit and greed, the total number of their permutations and combinations is provided.[15] Similarly, in the case of ascetic Gāṇgeya's death, Mahāvīra explained the permutations and combinations of soul's entering into the infernal life, the sub-human life, the human life and the celestial life.[16] Here, a very complex mathematical computation has been given to understand the whole phenomena, which unambiguously demonstrates the scientific temperament of Mahāvīra. In another interesting episode of the Chamara, the head of devils and Shakra, the head of gods, and the Vajra, an instrument used by Shakra, the relative velocity of the three has also been mentioned.[17] Such descriptions are again a direct evidence of highly scientific temperament of the text Bh.S which can be understood in the context of the gravitational laws prevailing at various places in the universe.

The scientific investigation does involve the subtle objects that are not commonly perceived or known. In his philosophy, Mahāvīra is always speaking of subtle phenomena and giving definite laws governing their behaviour. For example; the theories of atom and subtle aggregates of matter, such as, light, darkness etc. have been dealt with in a perfectly scientific manner. The fundamental properties of matter have been discussed in detail. The motion of the ultimate atom[18] and the laws governing it are surprisingly similar to those treated in modern Physics.[19] For example—

- Unless acted upon by external forces, atom (paramāṇu) moves in a straight line (anuśreṇigatī).

- When acted upon by external forces, atom may change direction and speed.

- Jīva (worldly existent soul) has no direct influence on the motion of atom. - Minimum and maximum distances traveled by atom in one time-unit (samaya) are space between two adjacent points and the entire length of the universe (Loka) respectively.[20]

- Maximum period of inactivity (rest) of the atom is innumerable timeunits and maximum period of activity is innumerable (asaṇkhyātaṁśa) of fraction of an 'āvalikā'.[**]

- Besides, the principle of uncertainty governs the following:[21]

- It is uncertain, after what interval of time the atom at rest, will become dynamic (release energy). This time-interval may range from one timeunit to innumerable time-units. However, after an interval of innumerable time-units it is certain to become active.[22]

Similarly, it is uncertain, for what duration of time will a dynamic atom continue to be active? It (the duration) could be from one time-unit to an innumerable portion of an āvalikā. But it will surely cease to be active after this maximum interval.

It is uncertain which direction an atom will take at the commencement of motion. it can move in any possible direction.

It is uncertain what type of dynamic activity an inactive atom will commence. It may just vibrate or rotate or migrate or do all these things simultaneously.

It is uncertain again that what would be the intensity of an atom's dynamic activity—its velocity, minimum or maximum or intermediate?

The classification of ultimate atoms is based on four properties i.e. colour, smell, taste and touch. Out of these there exist in an atom at least one type of colour, smell and taste and two types of touches.[23] There are five colors, two smells, five tastes and four touches. Thus, there are minimum 5x2x5x4 = 200 types of fundamental atoms.[24]

Similarly, the different proportions of these qualities make different kinds of atoms. If one atom is having only one-unit of colour and the second one is having two-units of colour, in spite of being similar in respect of all other properties, they will be of two kinds.

This kind of classification based on mathematics and logic is a glaring example of the scientific temperament of the Bh.S. Similarly the detailed description of aggregates of atoms from two to infinite atoms is full of mathematical calculation.[25] So are the phenomena of Physics involving positive and negative electricity technically called snigdha and rukṣa touch.

Mahāvīra's scientific knowledge is not confined only to the field of Physics but relates also to the biological phenomena. The classification of creatures on the basis of sense-organs,[26] the detailed account of biopotentials (paryāpti), vital energy (Prāṇa) and the classification of birthplaces (Yoni)[27] etc., show that the Bh.S is a treatise not only of philosophical doctrines but also of Biology and other sciences. The uniqueness of Mahāvīra's view is that it is altogether different from the prevailing beliefs of the time.

Along with Biology, Mahāvīra is also concerned with the subtle aspects of consciousness such as psychic colour (leśyā),[28] emotions (bhāva),[29] instincts (saṁjñā),[30] etc. it is not exaggerating to say that in ancient works of philosophy no text gives such scientific picture of the world as the Bh.S.

This text seems to be the representative work of doctrines and theories propounded by Lord Mahāvīra who is believed to be a kevalī or Sarvajña (omniscient) in Jain tradition. This may appear to a rational mind a difficult concept to accept, but the vast variety of subjects dealt with in the Bh.S is enough to prove that Lord Mahāvīra was a supra-mental personality. It is for this reason that the great scholar Schubring called Mahāvīra—"the most versatile thinker we know of in ancient India."[31] Another great scholar of Jainism, Jozef Deleu corroborates the statement of Schubring when he says: "In conclusion, I would like to state, that the great diversity of topics discussed in the anyatīrthika texts is illustrative both of Mahāvīra's personality as a thinker and a teacher, and of that wonderful time of creative ferment in religion and philosophy. It would seem that Mahāvīra, more than anyone around him, even more than the Buddha, was inspired by the spiritual unrest and eagerness of his day."[32] Speaking of Buddha, and probably comparing him with the Jaina, Frauwellner in his 'History of Indian Philosophy' expressed the view that "his (the Buddha's) contribution to the enlargement of the range of philosophical ideas in his time was rather smaller."[33] A severe verdict indeed, which seems to be based on the Buddha's steadfast refusal to consider a great many question that occupied his contemporaries. Because of his systematic approach to all these questions, Mahāvīra has rightly been called "the most versatile thinker we know of in ancient India".

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