Jain Cosmography [1]

Posted: 12.12.2011
Updated on: 25.09.2012

The Universe

Universe according to Jainism is compound of the four primary ingredients, viz. time, space, soul and pudgal. These are resolvable into minutest of minutest parts. They - every one of them - are instinct, with definite power by the virtue of which they are capable being developed in numerable ways through the processes of permutation and combination of these four original ingredients which form the true character, composition and make-up of the universe. But what is it really due to the variety in the arrangement and combination is due to:






Nature, i.e. conducive environment



Destiny or necessity



Action or motion and



Effort, self assertion

These five determining causes all acting in conjunction with one another on the substance (dravya) produce changes and variations in the same. Regulate their manner and determine its growth, form and configuration as well. Universe has been the permanent theater of perpetual changes and diversities - a strange array of ever occurring phenomena that bewilders us at every moment and can turn our life and thoughts.


1. Time

Time is an aggregate of one dimension. If flows on uniformly revealing itself in relation of sequence and seasons. Succession is in prime property and therefore all changes are possible in time only.


2. Swabhava (nature)

Nature is the natural or external environment of a thing of organism. It consists of the soil, the air, the water, the heat and the light. The growth of the plant may be referred to the seed which is substantial cause of the plant and to the external environment (like the soil, the water, the air the sunlight etc.) which determine the growth. That is why it is said that the life of an organism depends on the external nature. Life is nothing but the continuous adjustment of interrelationships of wants and demands of living organism. Metabolism is two processes of construction and destruction and form chief feature of a living organism. Normal growth of an organism means normal metabolism. The external nature thus stands to supply the needs, demands and requirements of an organism for its proper nourishment.


3. Niyati

Niyati means fate or destiny. In Jain philosophy, the term 'niyati' signifies 'necessity'. It is described as the concatenation of causes when all things must follow as simply as two plus two equal to four. There cannot be least possible resistance to it.


4. Karma

Karma means action or deed done. It implies a changes of relations or relative positions which is motion in one form or the other. The course of motion (karma) is the substance, which produces action, and has to bear good or bad fruits of its own karmas. As you saw, so shall you reap.


5. Udhyam

Udhyam (exertion, efforts) is the desire to realize a particular end or idea. This desire to-do is the supreme reason for all existences. All the true reasons and transcendent motives a man can assign for his action is it is according to his wishes his desires.

According to Jain philosophy, the universe is not a fortuitous concourse of dead, dull matter (i.e. pudgal) only; for that would mean mere materialism which Jainism does not allow. In addition to dead dull 'pudgal' matter, there is something super-physical, both in the living as well as in non living also. When this super-physical substance departs from living (or even non-living) we say it is dead now. This, according to modern science also, is true for animals and plants as well as substances like metal also. There is therefore, not only unknown arbitrary vital force, but also a law which acts uniformly from 'within' throughout the inorganic and the inorganic worlds.

Now that super physical (call it by any name, by departure of which the living becomes dead) is of highest spiritual essence, and it is common to all.



Depictions of the Jain Universe



Fig. 1. The world

Gouache on paper, 16th century, Gujarat

A representation of the triple world, in the form of cosmic man. It suggests the relationship between the microcosm and the macrocosm. The middle world is situated at his waist. As the diagram states, it is represented merely by Jambudvipa, the continent which with its surrounding ocean occupies the center of the middle world.

The lower pyramid is here divided into six levels, instead of the usual seven. They represent, from the bottom upwards, the hells called 'Thick darkness', 'Smoke', 'Mud' (linked with that called 'Sand' to remedy the artist's carelessness), then 'Gravel' and 'Jewels'. Above the middle world rise the levels of the heavens, with their inhabitants. At the bottom, the gods reside in kalpas; above them, outside these abodes, dwell first of all the nine classes of divinity situated at the level of his neck (Graiveyaka), then the five 'unsurpassable' (Anuttara) gods on a level with his eyes.

Finally, on his forehead, the crescent represents the place whose shape is an open umbrella, at the top of the world, where the perfected ones (siddhas) live.

Picture and text from: C. Caillat/Ravi Kumar: Jain Cosmology, Hongkong/New Delhi 2004, p. 52f.



Fig. 2. The length and dimensions of the cosmic man (loka-purusa)

Gouache on paper, 17th century, Gujarat

The dimensions are given in khandhakas (of which four make a rajju - a unit which baffles the human imagination). For each level, the length of the side of the base (which is square) is indicated at the left of the figure. Their areas are written at the right; the volumes are calculated in the margin, and repeated in the legend.

Compared with the colossal height of the macrocosm, the 1,800 yojanas of height of the middle world (here represented by Mt. Meru) are negligible. The worlds above and below each have a height of 28 khandhakas, giving a total for the cosmic man of 14 rajjus. At the bottom, the 'Thick darkness' hells measure 28 khandhakas along each side, and are four khandhakas high, giving a volume of 3,136 cubic khandhakas; the whole of the lower world has therefore a volume of 15,296 cubic khandhakas.

As can be seen, this sketch of the cosmic man does not agree exactly with the proportions of the theoretical figure, whose base would take up all the width of the illustration. His shape would then be less slender. The essential point is that this picture gives a general idea of the shape of the world and the immense distances across which the souls transmigrate for a long period of time, as they wander from one rebirth to another, until at length free, they reach the dome of perfection (siddhi).

Picture and text from: C. Caillat/Ravi Kumar: Jain Cosmology, Hongkong/New Delhi 2004, p. 52f.

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