Scientific Study of Jainism

Posted: 27.11.2010
Updated on: 02.12.2010

We know Jainism through the teachings of Bhagwan Mahavira. The main subject of his teachings is emancipation of the soul. And for that he formulated rules of spiritual living for both the ascetics and the householders. He described the realities and the rules of jiva in his worldly existence. He showed the path how an individual could come out of the cycle of rebirths, escape the sorrows and miseries and attain the state of permanent bliss, peace and happiness.

Bhagwan Mahavira did not make any systematic presentation of the realities and the rules of jiva but offered explanations to questions, queries, doubts and curiosities of his followers, particularly the Ganadharas. Thus the teachings of Bhagwan Mahavira are available as truths experienced by the Omniscient and expressed symbolically in short without much explanation attached to them. The truths enunciated by him are accepted as a matter of faith and work as a source of enlightenment to his followers.

In the course of time comparison of his teachings was made with other philosophies that were developed in India. In order to present the teachings of Bhagwan Mahavira as a philosophy our Acharyas further developed the ideas contained in his teachings to satisfy the other philosophers and in this course developed a vast literature on Anekanta, Syadavada, Naya, Pramana and Nyaya. Our Acharyas continued to work on the ideas of Bhagwan Mahavira and developed logic, mathematics, philosophical concepts, etc and as a result Jain culture flourished in many parts of the country. This trend continued nearly till the end of first millennia, thereafter we do not find much significant new developments in Jain philosophy.

From the view of historical developments of Jain literature Acarya Devendra Muni has identified five periods.

  1. Agama period

    One thousand years from the nirvana of Bhagwan Mahavir In this period Agamas and other sacred texts were composed.

  2. Anekant period.

    This period started with Nagarjuna, of Boddha tradition, who introduced logic in place of faith in philosophy and propagated the theory of fluxism. In response to this trend Acarya Siddhasena Diwakar and Acarya Samantabhadra developed literature on Anekanta with the following aims:

    (a) To introduce logic and reason in philosophy
    (b) To satisfy the doubts of Boddha Acaryas
    (c) To counter the philosophy of non-duaslism (advaita) propagated by Vedic scholars

  3. Pramana period.

    In this period the belief that a theory can be established by Pramana, valid knowledge, gained momentum. Here again the competition was with a Boddha scholar Dingnag, who developed literature on Pramana. This shifted the focus from Anekanta to Pramana and Acaryas Haribhadra, Akalanka, Vadidevasuri and Hemchandra developed Jain literature on Pramana. This period was marked by the tendency of supporting own faith and countering the opposite faith.

  4. New Nyaya period.

    This period owes its origin to Nyaya work ‘Tatvacintamani’ by Gangesh. In reply to this Upadhyaya Yashovijay developed Jain literature on Nyaya.

  5. Modern period.

    This period is marked by three special trends.

    (a) Comparison of Indian and Western Philosophies.
    (b) Research
    (c) Publication of research articles and commentaries.

The western philosophy had a late start. After the ancient Greek philosophy there was a pause in the west too. The era of so called western philosophy started with the dawn of scientific age in 16th – 17th century. Naturally, there was interaction between philosophy and science and as a consequence the western philosophy has a significant component of scientific thought in its approach.

Modern science has largely confined to the physical world; owing to its truth-seeking character it has explored the nature in great detail. All scientific findings are though not claimed to be truths, whatever has been confirmed by experiments forms a treasure of knowledge about the physical world. Lately scientists have realized the limitations of purely physical approach to realities and are now trying to introduce the element of consciousness to explain certain phenomena which are beyond the known rules of science.

Jain philosophy, which does not accept any Creator God, describes the living as well as the non-living world in an objective way. The relevance of Jain philosophy in the modern era, as far as the life of the people and the problems facing the planet are concerned is being presented and offered as a solution, by many learned scholars. Due to persistent efforts from many quarters Jainism is now becoming known to the general masses in many countries.

But the strength of Jain philosophy is not confined to the religious, social and spiritual lives of the people but it also contains a treasure of knowledge about the physical world. This aspect of Jain philosophy needs to be studied, particularly in context to modern science, and let the benefits of the truths described by Bhagwan Mahavira also percolate to the scientific community.

Bhagawan Mahavira did not insist on accepting ipso facto what he said. He said “Have faith only in that which you know and understand.” This is because what he said was absolute truth and could be explained and interpreted by reason. One must explore these reasons before believing in the truthfulness of the statements he made and just not because of his authority. This is the unique strength of Jain philosophy that makes it scientific in the real sense. This is also unlike some of the other faiths where the master is considered as an incarnation or messenger of God and his words are taken as authority without questioning.

One special feature of Jain philosophy is that all ontological processes have a spiritual component and a physical component. The spiritual component is well explained in the scriptures but the physical component lacks a clear and complete explanation. Although such an explanation is not necessary for attaining liberation, it is very much required for realizing and appreciating the beauty of the spiritual processes on physical plane. Bhagwan Mahavira did not provide all the details of the physical processes for the physical sciences were not developed then and a common man was not in a position to appreciate and understand these processes. In the modern times we now have a good knowledge of the physical world and this could help in understanding the physical aspects of the spiritual truths. We illustrate this point by three examples.

  1. The doctrine of karma is well defined in Jain scriptures. The phenomenon of karma takes place due to the inherent quality of the soul but the karma, being material entity, operates on a physical plane. We do not yet fully know how the karma process takes place physically and interactions of karma with body and mind.

  2. The mind is an important entity in determining the karma process as well as in deciding the behavior of living beings. The mind has a physical component but our knowledge about it is very little.

  3. Avadhi jnana and Manahparyaya jnana are two important features of Jain epistemology. These also owe their origin in the power of the soul but operate on the physical plane. We have no knowledge of these processes.

Many other examples can be cited where our knowledge of the physical processes is far from complete. The study of science has so far largely confined to the material world but some scientists are now looking forward to the concept of consciousness to know the truth. The journey of science to explore the ultimate truth is bound to take the scientists to the spiritual realm. It is then that they shall appreciate and realize the importance of the treasure of knowledge available in Jain philosophy. In Jainism even spirituality is science. The science and Jain philosophy together can enable us to explore and understand the physical aspects of spiritualism. This not only shall validate the spiritual truths but also give a new impetus to the development of science.

When studying science and spirituality together one has to exercise care in over estimating or under estimating the strength of each. In order to safeguard against pitfalls and misinterpretations Muni Mahendra Kumar has drawn the following guidelines.

  1. Search for the truth should be our main aim. We should also ascertain that we have rightly followed the facts pronounced by the omniscient Lord. The real meaning of the scriptural statement, and in what context it has been made, must be known. Without this, we may accept a meaning of the statement, which was not intended by the Lord. Without understanding the real context, the meaning of the terms, and the right point of view, we cannot understand the scripture in the right perspective. Therefore, we must try to explore the truth.

  2. The scientific information must be compared with the scriptural texts, and accepted to the extent it is true. We must neither accept nor oppose scientific information blindly. Even if the scientific facts are against the scriptures, we must assess them impartially and express our views on them.

  3. Whether scripture or science, we must first improve our understanding. Accepting a fact without understanding it in the name of scripture or science, is doing injustice to it.

  4. Our decision should not be based on our convenience or inconvenience, ease of communication, attraction for modernity, and other such implausible reasons. Similarly, we must not insist on traditions. A decision must always consider the facts of prevailing conditions, time, and specialties, rather than just the fact of being new or old.

  5. In matters where the scriptures are neither for nor against, we should have no objection in considering the realities based on our wisdom, reason, and scientific evidence.

There is a case for scientific study of Jainism to satisfy the scientific needs in a manner similar to that followed by our previous Acaryas to satisfy the philosophers of other faiths. Who could do this? It is obvious that such scholars should have sound knowledge of Jain philosophy as well as science. A quick perusal shows that Acarya Mahapragya, Acarya Kanknandhi and Muni Mahendra Kumar have taken the lead in the present times but a lot is need to be done to fully realize the scientific strength of Jainism. In fact the people of scientific background should come forward; study the Jain philosophy and try to explore to what extent the Jain philosophy could help scientific developments and finding answers to many unanswered questions regarding the nature of the physical world. There is a strong case for a new breed of Scientist Pundits who could interact with scientists and establish the relevance of Jaina principles in modern context and eventually help integration of science and spirituality.

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