Darwin's Theory of Evolution from a Jain Viewpoint

Published: 08.11.2012
Updated: 21.07.2015


National Symposium on Jain Philosophy, Science And Scriptures


Darwin's Theory of Evolution from a Jain Viewpoint

A Paper presented in a National Symposium on Jain Philosophy, Science and Scriptures, between 22nd-24th October 2012 at Jasol, Rajasthan.

1. Rationale behind the Choice of the Subject

Scholars of Jainology always claim that the tenets of Jainism are closer to the modern scientific concepts than all the existing faiths. They present ample examples to prove their thesis. Six realities comprising the universe: the time not being an 'astikāya' reality but an inferential concept based on the changes found in different categories (dravyas); the concept of paramāṇu and skandhas; presenting śabda as not being the quality of ākāśa but atomic in nature; water being a combination of two gases; the treatment of dharma and adharma as the principles of motion and rest; the consciousness and emotions of the world of vegetation; applying the concept of mind, emotions, knowledge, passions and spiritual progress to the world of fine-sensed tiryañchas - through these concepts, the scientific nature of Jainism is generally observed and explained by modern science.

2. Darwin's Theory of Evolution in Nutshell

The biological studies take a great leap when Charles Darwin (1809­1882) presented the 'Theory of Evolution'. The main steps in his argument can be summarized as follows: [1]

  1. The globe has undergone and is continuing to undergo systemic transformation, which means that life on earth must change in order to survive.
  2. Nature provides an unlimited supply of unsolicited, fortuitous and hereditary novelties.
  3. The fertility of nature leads to an unremitting struggle for existence.
  4. In nutshell, we can say that the species which adapt with nature will survive, whereas less fortunate biological species will perish. The change in nature is very slow. Human being stands on the top of the evolved species.

Darwin's theory was based on the thinking and rethinking of his predecessors. His theory of evolution was explained and expounded after his thesis by many scientists like Huxley, Spencer, Heckle, Morgan, Whitehead and so many others.

3. Aim of the Paper

In this paper an attempt has been made to examine Darwin's theory and its implications in the light of the philosophical views expressed in Jainism.

[I.] The Traditional Jaina Views: Apparently Against the Theory of Evolution

The history of the concept of the evolution of bio-species goes to the period of Greek thinkers in the western philosophy. But it was Charles Darwin who explained it systematically with the ample data collected by him. Two books written by him, viz. 'The Origin of Species' and 'The Descent of Man' gave him world-wide acknowledgement and fame. In his second book, he opined that a particular species of monkey-class, i.e. 'ape' and 'human-being' are originated from a common forefather during the elongated process of evolution. This opinion created a huge fury in the class of religious-minded Christians. They took it as a serious blow on the traditional faith of the supremacy of human-being, as it was the ultimate creation of god.

According to the traditional framework of Jainism, there are four separate gatis (realms of birth/destination). [2] Human birth is altogether different from tiryañchas (subhumans). The universe is beginning-less and endless. [3] It was told by the omnipotent that there are four gatis in the universe and they will remain forever. Not any of the gati is created from the other. The species and sub-species are enumerated by the Sarvajñas and they are 84 lakhs. The increase and decrease in the number is not opted for.

Philosophical texts of Jainas declare that every living being has gone through the cycles of births and deaths within the range of these four gatis. The jīvas follow certain rules of transmigration but in this journey, a soul may not follow the linear sequence of ekendriya to pañcedriya necessarily.

The universe  is  not created at a certain time-point. [4] In certain Upanishadic texts we find a sequence of the creation of pañcamahābhūtas. [5] The Hindu or Paurāṇika concept of avatāra, suggests a certain order of jalacara-sthalacara-ubhayacara-manuṣya etc. Jaina philosophers do not entertain both of these thoughts, viz. the Upanishadika and Paurāṇika. Apes and human-beings are totally different. An ape belongs to tiryañcha gati. How can we transform and merge one gati into the other?

In the texts like Uttarādhyayana, [6] Prajñāpana [7] and Gommaṭsāra, a certain sequence of ekendriya to pañcedriya is evidently seen, but it is there only for the sake of convenience in enumeration.

In the process of bhavadhāraṇa the doctrine of Karman prevails. Every soul transmigrates with the taijasa and kārmaṇa bodies [8] and takes birth according to his nāma-karman and gotra-karman. The principle of progression and regression has nothing to do in this process. The paurāṇika texts of Jainas say that Tirthaṁkara Ṛṣabhadeva had the life-span of 84 lakh purvas. It is told that he taught 72 arts for mankind and certainly not to vānaras. It proves that manuṣya-gati is not a certain step of a ladder. This five-sensed species with mind, intellect and power of discrimination is existent from the beginning-less time.

According to the theory of evolution, a slow, steady development of the bio-species is seen which is based upon the principle of adaption, but the Jaina norms say that in the present avasarpiṇī era, a continuous regression is going on. The physical, mental and spiritual abilities of human-beings are diminishing. The fully developed souls like 24 Tirthaṁkaras take birth in the 3rd and 4th part (ārā) of each avasarpiṇī and utsarpiṇī. This fact is not consistent with the theory of evolution.

In nutshell, we can say that, when grossly seen, there is no scope for the theory of evolution in the Jaina framework of universe.

[II.] The Concept of Nigodī-jīvas: a turning point

In the legendary history of Jainas, it is noted that Ārya Kālaka or Ārya Śyāma propounded the concept of nigodī-jīvas. 'Nigoda-vyākhyātā' is the famous epithet of Ārya Kālaka. [9] In the Ardhamāgadhī canons like Paṇṇavaṇā and Jīvābhigama and in the Śaurasenī canons like Gommaṭasāra (Jīvakāṇḍa), we find this concept in its elucidated form. A curious reader may go through the whole lengthy discussions of nigodas from the lexicons like Jainendra-Siddhantakośa. In the present context, we can summarize it likewise: -

  • These nigodī-jīvas are the most undeveloped bio-forms.
  • Innumerable nigodī-jīvas possess a common body.
  • They are found everywhere.
  • They are 'anantānanta' in numbers.
  • They are basically 'sādhāraṇa-vanaspatikāyika-jīvas' having one sense-organ i.e. touch. [10]

A traditional presumption is very common in Jaina philosophy. It is said that when a perfect human soul attains liberation, a single jīva comes out of the nitya-nigoda into itara-nigoda. [11]  This presumption implies that when a human soul attains mokṣa, an undeveloped microscopic organism enters into this saṁsāra.

Thus the concept of nigodas contains the seeds of the theory of evolution. Charles Darwin and his followers have explained the theory in a very elaborative manner. We can call it as 'Darwinian expressions'. [12] When we go through these expressions, we find a striking similarity between Darwinian expressions and Jaina thoughts. Of course, all of us know that the ancient Jaina thoughts are not expressed in the modern scientific technical terms. Here, an attempt has been made to reach the common underlying truth of the both expressions.

[III.] Interpretation of Darwinian Expressions in Jaina Terminology


Darwin: Life-process is comprehensive, all-pervasive. The same life-force flows through all sentient beings. It is incarnated through various forms. It flows through the world of vegetation, insects, animals, birds and human-beings and act accordingly. The same life-force is seen from the amoeba up to the developed human-being.

Jaina: Jīvas are infinite. Upayoga i.e. cognition and consciousness is their common characteristic. [13] Though there is a vast variety of jīvas, according to gati, jāti etc. each carries the common feature i.e. upayoga. We can interpret it as a common life-force.


Darwin: Life-process is a continuous chain of activities which is comprehensive, interdependent, interrelated, complimentary, reciprocal and collaborative.

Jaina: It is pleasantly astonishing that Umāsvati had expressed the same view when he gives    the   characteristic-based   definition   of   jīvas, viz. 'parasparopagraho jīvānām'. [14] The plural used in the word 'jīvanam' can be interpreted exactly in the Darwinian manner. Umāsvati had noted down the characteristics of all six dravyas (categories) in the same comprehensive way, putting light on their collaborative nature.


Darwin: In all living organisms, there is a struggle for existence. Each strives hard for life and avoids extinction. Jaina: Four saṁjñas (instincts) exist in every jīva. They are enumerated as food, fear, sex and possession. [15] The instinct of fear (bhaya) can be interpreted as the struggle for existence. Ācārāṅga says very categorically that

सव्वे णणा पियाउया सुहसाया दुक्खपडिकूला अप्पियवहा पियजीवणो जीवउकामा।
सव्वेसिं जीवियं पियं। [16]


Darwin: All species of vegetation, insects and animals adapt changes according to the environment which are necessary for survival. These changes are carried forward to their future generations through genetic properties.

Jaina: Since 'jīva' is a 'dravya' it naturally possesses certain 'qualities' and 'modes'. [17] Each soul is necessarily distinct. 'Possessing a favorable body' - is a mode according to Jainism. Mainly, bodily features are determined by nāmakarman. Other genetic qualities are determined by gotrakarman. When a jīva takes birth in a particular species, it adapts the forms which are suitable. It means, if the species adapt changes during the long span, they can be treated as modes (paryāyas). Thus though Jainism accepts the concept of rebirth, it is not contradictory to the theory of evolution.


Darwin: Those species which are strong enough to struggle, will survive and other will get extinct in this conflict for existence. 'Survival of the fittest' is the law of nature.

Jaina: If the often-quoted fixed number of 84 lakh yonīs [18] is accepted then it will create difficulty because in the theory of evolution, some species are newly created while some species extinguish in the course of nature. All the major Indian traditions viz. Hindu, Bauddha and Jaina agree unanimously about the number of yonīs i.e. 84 lakhs. In the oldest Ardhamāgadhī and Śaurasenī texts, the number is not found. According to my opinion, we should take it as merely arthavāda and a later addition in the course of doctrinal development. If the number is not taken literally, then there is no difficulty in accepting the norm, viz. 'survival of the fittest.'


Darwin: While leading further the arguments about the theory of evolution, the renowned biologist Lamarck said that, 'the resolve and efforts of a bio-specie play an important role in the progressive evolution of that specie.'

Jaina: Each soul possesses 'ananta-catuṣṭaya.' [19] Each soul has the intrinsic power to go upwards (i.e. ūrdhvagāmitā). [20] So if there is mental resolve, each bio-specie can strive for betterment. Jainas consider that though dravya-mana is not present in the lower species, still bhāva-mana is always there. [21] Thus there is a scope for betterment in each bio-specie.


Darwin: While criticizing the orthodox thoughts of the church, Darwin makes it clear that, 'the ability to survive' is limited to the physical existence of the species. We should not mix it up with the moral progress. Biological facts and moral tenets are totally different. Though Darwin had marked out this difference, still personally he held the view that the theory of evolution is not contradictory to the moral elevation.

Jaina: In Jainism there are two levels of evolution - (i) The doctrine of Karman and the theory of Guṇasthānas take care of the moral and spiritual progress, (ii) while concept of nigodas and the classification of bio-species on the basis of sense-organs (and mind) suggest the biological evolution. The biological facts should be considered from the level of vyavahāranaya and the ethico-spiritual theories from the level of niścayanaya. Both of them are real. In ideal conditions, they go hand in hand, but discrepancies are found in our day to day life.


Darwin: The consciousness and mind are the developed forms of matter according to Darwin.

Jaina: Jaina thinkers say that the dravyamana is paudgalika [22] but bhāvamana is a mode of consciousness. Jainas would never agree that consciousness is a
developed form of matter. The tajjīva-taccharīra-vāda of Sūtrakṛtāṅga [23] represents the Darwinian view and it is negated with full enthusiasm. Consciousness and matter are totally distinct but are in contact with each other from the time immemorial.


Darwin: The changes, modifications and activities in the universe are just natural. There is no place for any divine interference or intervention in the course of nature. Darwin's theory is based on experiment and there is no scope for god.

Jaina: Same position of god is there in Jainism, but they have applied the theory of karman and puruṣārtha to every bio-entity. When we apply karma and guṇasthāna theory to every bio-specie, certainly several doubts and difficulties occur. In the present context, it is better to omit the debate.


Darwin: The universe undergoes constant changes and modifications. Darwin highlights that nothing is permanent and static. These modifications happen through the process of adaption.

Jaina: The popular Indian concept of 'kūṭastha nitya' is not accepted by Jainas. The 'sat' or reality itself is consisted of 'utpāda-vyaya-dhrauvya'. In one way it differs from Darwinian view but it is important that the concept of constant change is incorporated in the very definition of draya.

4. Conclusive Remarks

In the introductory part, it is already noted that 'the theory of evolution and regression' is an important theory propounded in the era of modern sciences. It is not expected from the ancient texts to express modern theories in the same terms, concepts and vocabulary. A solemn duty of an Indologist is to gather the favorable and unfavorable indications with reference to a particular theory.

The prima-facie suggestions got from the Jaina texts are not favorable to the theory of evolution. But when we compare Darwinian and post-Darwinian expressions of the theory in the Jaina thought-currents, we know that Jaina theories can be tolerably interpreted in modern terms. On the other hand, selected modern terms can be explained in Jaina terminology. At the end, we can say that there is a broad scope for the Darwinian theory of evolution in the framework of Jainism.

The favorable points can be summarized likewise:

  1. From the viewpoint of continuous existence, the universe is beginning-less and endless. It provides a large scope for change, progression and regression.
  2. The concept of 'dravya' itself includes origin, permanence and destruction. Origin and destruction take place only in the modes. It means that without affecting 'jīvatva' of a soul and 'paramāṇutva' of a body, there is a reasonable scope for the changes in the external forms of various bio-species.
  3. The concept of subtle nigodī-jīvas (microbes) provides strong basis for the theory of evolution.
  4. The description of sthāvara-trasa and the serial order of ekendriya to pañcedriya - these two points are quite eloquent of having grains of evolution.
  5. Darwin and the Jaina texts, both of them place human-beings on the top of the creation.
  6. Conservative Jainas will never agree to recon 'manuṣya' as a developed 'tiryañcha' but a rational academician has no difficulty in accepting this Darwinian theory by a little moderation in the concept of '4 gatis'.
  7. If there is a scope for little alteration in the number of 84 lakh-yonīs, then there is no difficulty in accepting the emergence and extinction of new bio-species.
  8. The long spans of bhavasthitis and kāyasthitis provide a necessary scope for the slow changes through adaption in the species and sub-species.

We can conclude that evolution is pondered over in Jainism in two directions.

  1. The ethico-religio-spiritual direction describes the journey of a soul with the help of theory of Karman and rebirth.
  2. The empirical direction suggests that in the struggle for existence, certain bio-forms are created by adaption and certain bio-forms extinguish because of low will power. It all happens due to the earnest instinct 'to live'

5. References:

a. Reference-books for the Darwinian Theory

  1. Jonathan Miller and Borin Van Loon, Introducing Darwin, London: Icon books, 2000.
  2. पाश्चात्य तत्त्वज्ञानाचा इतिहास खंड ३ डॉ ग ना जोशी महाराष्ट्र विद्यापीट ग्रंथनिमिर्ति मंडळ.
  3. Wikipedia Website by searching 'Theory of Evolution'.


b. Jaina Sources

  1. अणुयोगद्वार (अणुओगद्दारं): आर्य रक्षित, सं. मुनि पुण्यविजय, महावीर जैन विद्यालय, मुंबई, १९६८.
  2. आचारांग (भाष्य व निर्युक्तिसहित): जैन विश्वभारती, लाडनूं राजस्थान, १९७४.
  3. उत्तराध्ययन  (उत्तरज्झयण): मुनि पुण्यविजय, श्री महावीर जैन विद्यालय, १९७७.
  4. गोम्मटसार: नेमिचन्द्रसिद्धंतचक्रवर्ति, द सेंट्रल जैन पब्लिशिंग हाऊस, लखनौ, १९२७.
  5. जीवाजीवाभिगम: उवंगसुत्ताणि ४ (खंड १) जैन विश्वभारती, लाडनूं (राजस्थान), १९८७.
  6. तत्त्वार्थसूत्र: उमास्वाति, पं. सुखलालजी संघवी, पार्श्वनाथ विद्यापीठ, वाराणसी, २००१.
  7. त्रिलोकप्रज्ञप्ति (तिलोयपण्णत्ति): यतिवृषभ, सं. प्रो. ए. एन्. उपाध्ये, हीरालाल जैन, जीवराज जैन ग्रंथमाला १, सोलापुर, १९४३.
  8. दशवैकालिक (दसवेयालिय): नवसुत्ताणि ५, जैन विश्वभारती, लाडनूं (राजस्थान), १९८७.
  9. प्रज्ञापना (पण्णवणा): उवंगसुत्ताणि ४ (खंड २), जैन विश्वभारती, लाडनूं (राजस्थान), १९८६.
  10. सूत्रकृतांग (सूयगड): अंगसुत्ताणि १, जैन विश्वभारती, लाडनूं (राजस्थान), वि. सं. २०३१.

In my opinion, these two thought-lines are parallel and not tangent to each other. The spirituality of Jainism is not at all a hindrance for the serial progress or regress in the bio-species of the universe.


Jump to occurrence in text


Jump to occurrence in text


Jump to occurrence in text


Jump to occurrence in text


Jump to occurrence in text


Jump to occurrence in text


Jump to occurrence in text


Jump to occurrence in text


Jump to occurrence in text


Jump to occurrence in text


Jump to occurrence in text


Jump to occurrence in text


Jump to occurrence in text


Jump to occurrence in text


Jump to occurrence in text


Jump to occurrence in text


Jump to occurrence in text


Jump to occurrence in text


Jump to occurrence in text


Jump to occurrence in text


Jump to occurrence in text


Jump to occurrence in text

Share this page on:
Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Adharma
  2. Anuyogadvāra
  3. Avasarpiṇī
  4. Body
  5. Consciousness
  6. Dharma
  7. Dravyamana
  8. Dravyas
  9. Ekendriya
  10. Environment
  11. Fear
  12. Four Gatis
  13. Gati
  14. Gommaṭasāra
  15. Guṇasthāna
  16. Guṇasthānas
  17. JAINA
  18. Jain Philosophy
  19. Jaina
  20. Jainism
  21. Jasol
  22. Jīva
  23. Karma
  24. Karman
  25. Kālaka
  26. Lakh
  27. London
  28. Mokṣa
  29. National Symposium on Jain Philosophy, Science And Scriptures
  30. Niścayanaya
  31. Nāma-karman
  32. Paramāṇu
  33. Paurāṇika
  34. Puruṣārtha
  35. Purvas
  36. Rajasthan
  37. Saṁsāra
  38. Science
  39. Soul
  40. Sūtrakṛtāṅga
  41. Tattvārthasūtra
  42. Upayoga
  43. Utsarpiṇī
  44. Utt.
  45. Uttarādhyayana
  46. Vyavahāranaya
  47. Ācārāṅga
  48. आचार्य
  49. ज्ञान
  50. दर्शन
  51. महाराष्ट्र
  52. महावीर
  53. राजस्थान
  54. सोलापुर
  55. Ṛṣabhadeva
Page statistics
This page has been viewed 2773 times.
© 1997-2021 HereNow4U, Version 4.06
Contact us
Social Networking

HN4U Deutsche Version
Today's Counter: