A Comparative Study Of Jain Philosophy With Sartrean Philosophy

Posted: 10.02.2012
Updated on: 02.07.2015


Any comparative study in the field of philosophy uses the tool­box method of Wittgenstein's 'family resemblance' i.e. which looks to the ideas of 'overlappings' among the various systems of philosophy. In this research paper efforts are being made to highlight the points of agreement as well as difference between some of the concepts of Jaina philosophy and that of Sartrean philosophy. Sartre is considered to be an the 'Existential Phenomenologist' in the world of philosophy. Though Jain philosophy is an ancient philosophy, it is very scientific, analytic and modern which coincides with the views of postmodern philosophers. Here Sartrean concepts of ontology, ethics, freedom, bad faith etc. are compared with the Jain ontology, Jain ethics, Jain concept of atmakartritvavada and utilization of energy in proper direction i.e. in the spiritual upliftment of the self. A Great Metaphysical Division:

Jain Philosophy is basically classified under two heads, jivas and ajivas (living beings and non-living things)[1]. Even Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980) accepted that there are two basic entities in the world. He uses his own way of expression coining new terminolgy as Being-for-itself (Etre pour-soi) and Being-in-itself (Etre En-soi).[2] Thus according to Sartre, the world can be divided into two: Consciousness and object, Being for-itself and Being in-itself respectively. It seems that the notion of Sartre's ontology highlights him to be a dualist, as he speaks of two types of Being-for-itself and in-itself. But Sartre is not a dualist in the Cartesian sense as he speaks also for Being-with-others.


Nature of in-itself vis-à-vis ajiva:

Second point of overlapping (similarity) according to Sartre is that Being-in-itself cannot be created. It is not a cause, not even a cause of itself. It is neither passive nor active.[3] In the same way Jain philosophers also agree that matter or ajiva is not created by any creator. It is neither a cause, nor even a cause of itself. Moreover Jain philosophers assert that the in-itself or objects are by nature neither active nor passive, they move according to the operations of outside forces. But the point of disagreement is that Sartrean in-itself did not undergo change or transformation whereas Jain believe that object undergoes change every moment maintaining its persistence[4].


Nature of Soul and Being-for-itself:

Jain philosophers assert two levels of souls mundane and liberated souls[5]. Liberated souls are self-complete; they do not possess any sort of lack, desire and any project for future possibilities. But as far as mundane soul are concerned,they are incomplete like Sartrean Being-for-itself. According to Sartre, For-itself is incomplete, and has indeterminate structure, innumerable possibilities. He says, 'It is only in the human world that there can be lack. Consciousness is primarily a lack: it contains nothingness within itself, and is forever reaching beyond to something else.... At the same time consciousness at a pre­reflective level, has a desire for wholeness..."[6] Sartre shows also that the existence of desire or unsatisfaction is the living proof of Being for-itself. Jain philosophers also agree that the mundane beings always desire to achieve the higher ladder of spiritual development. So in one sense mundane soul are incomplete and possesses some lack and are always in the process of being built up.

But here the point of disagreement lies in the fact that as the soul gets rid of the bondage of eight types of karmas, they achieve the state of self-completeness. In that stage there is no lack, no desire, not even any sort of possibility of becoming. But in Sartrean philosophy, for-itself has all the characteristics of Platonic becoming. It is always in the process of being built up in its ever renewing attempts at the realisation of future projects. The nature of for-itself is persistent striving. He says, "for-itself i.e. consciousness is a being which is what it is not and which is not what it is."[7] The question of this possibility does not arise in the case of being-in-itself. This means that it is neither passivity nor activity. Being-in-itself is never possible or impossible, it simply is.

Once the for-itself stops choosing any possibility, it converts itself into an in-itself, something like a thing, which is not agreeable to by the Jain philosophers. They believe that when all the possibilities are accomplished, being becomes omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent and self-complete. But it never transforms into a thing-like existence. But Sartrean consciousness always keeps on transcending itself for future projects, only death can stop this transcendence and reduce it to a thing-like congealed something.[8]


Sartrean Concept of Freedom and Jain View of Change of Karma

In Sartre's philosophy, man is said to be absolutely free, i.e. "Man is condemned to be free." In his famous work "Being and Nothingness", he says "Man is freedom". Sartre says, consciousness does not make being; it makes meanings. "When the for-itself "upsurges" it makes a world, a world of things that stand in complex spatio-temporal and causal relations...'[9] Thus the for-itself lives in a world that it has created and for which, as the creator, it is responsible[10]. Even the Jain philosophers agree with the fact that man is independent or free in doing any auspicious or inauspicious action but not free to experience its fruitions. Sartre, though he advocates absolute freedom, understands that there are many things which obstruct our exercise of freedom. They can be categorized under five heads:

  1. My place
  2. ii. My past
  3. iii. My environment
  4. iv. Other human beings and
  5. v. My death[11].

These are called by Sartre the co-efficient of facticity. About these categories Sartre has said that they may obstruct human freedom to a certain extent, but in all of them it is possible to construct a new situation. Likewise, Jainism agrees with the view that to some extent man is free in changing his future through auspicious religious practices like observation of penance etc. But in the fruition of nikacita Karma he is not free, as far as dalika karma is concerned he is free to change the fruition of karmas.[12]


Sartrean Bad Faith and Jaina Belief of atmakartrirtvavada

Sartre says that for-itself has freedom of choice, if he denies to choose, if he refuses to choose from amongst the alternative choices open to him, it means he is fleeing from anguish. What it means is that he is in bad faith. He says if someone formulates excuses and gives some causes or excuses as for not taking a decision then he is reducing himself to thing or in-itself. Moreover, he says if one denies his very nature of transcendence i.e. if he accepts himself to be what he is at a particular time, he becomes an in-itself like a waiter who tries to make himself solely and wholly a waiter. He is then said to be in bad faith. Sartre says- "Good faith is an attempt to face our freedom and Bad faith is to flee from it.[13]" The very same view can be compared with the Jain view that if any monk or nun hides his own ability or capacity to do some work i.e., penance, recitation of verses, going for alms, then he is Papashraman as mentioned in the Acaranga Sutra[14] and Dasvaikalika Sutra[15]. Papashraman is a shraman who, according to Sartre's gloss, is simply in bad faith. Moreover Lord Mahavira has said man has freedom of action, so he himself is responsible for his own fruition of auspicious and inauspicious Karmas. Even Sartre says, "Since our choice of this fundamental project is absolutely spontaneous, we are wholly responsible for it. We cannot pass on the responsibility to others or lay before us different excuses for ourselves by blaming the time, the place or the circumstances[16]. "Even Jain philosophers do agree with the fact that the material cause of each and every action is the human being himself, but situations may beconsidered as an efficient cause[17]. Jains believe in the theory of ''atmakartritvavadd', So no question of blaming others for one's auspicious and inauspicious karmas that occurs.

In a nutshell, we can conclude in this manner in the words of Vedanta philosophy: "Ekam sat Vipra bahuda vadanti" i.e. Truth is one but the ways of expression differs. In the same manner there are more points of agreement than disagreement between Sartrean and Jain philosophy and they go hand- in- hand most of the times. These similar views come under the umbrella of Wittginstein's 'Family Resemblance' and can establish a platform sufficient for inter-cultural dialogue.

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