The Enigma Of The Universe : Positive and Negative Ethers

Published: 30.10.2014
Updated: 02.07.2015

Out of the six substances, the first two dharmāstikāya and adharmāstikāya can be named positive and negative ethers[1] respectively. Both of these play an important role in understanding Jain cosmology. Dharmāstikāya is the substance which renders direct assistance, without however exercising any force, to move jīva (psychical order of existence) and pudgala (physical order of existence which will include both matter and energy) when they have developed the tendency to move, as water is in regard to the movement of fish.[2] In other words, it is the auxiliary, and passive but indispensable and universal cause of motion.

Similarly adharmāstikāya renders extraordinary assistance to all substances to remain at rest.[3]  Generally we use “ether” only to denote medium of motion. Conventionally motion is considered positive and rest negative. If we accept this convention, we can term dharmāstikāya as positive ether and adharmāstikāya as negative ether. There is an interesting and illuminating conversation on this subject between Bhagawan Mahāvīra and Gautama as follows:

“Gautama: ‘O  Lord!’ How does dharmāstikāya benefit the jīvas?”

“Lord:  ‘O Gautama!’ If there was no dharmāstikāya, how would motion sustain? How would the sound waves spread across the space? How would our eyes blink? How would the mental, physical and verbal activities (subtle vibrations) take place? Then the whole universe would remain standstill. All types of motion take place only with the assistance of dharmāstikāya. To assist motion is the characteristic of dharmāstikāya.”[4]

“Gautama: ‘O  Lord!’ How does adharmāstikāya benefit jīvas?”

“Lord:  ‘O Gautama!’ If there was no adharmāstikāya, how would it have been possible to achieve the state of rest, such as to retain standing, sitting, or sleeping pose? How could we achieve concentration of mind, maintain silence, or keep our body in complete state of relaxation, keep our eyes closed etc.? The universe would be in continuous state of motion resulting in chaos. It is only through the assistance rendered by adharmāstikāya that rest is achieved. To assist state of rest is the characteristic of adharmāstikāya.”[5]

Now we can look at dharmāstikāya and adharmāstikāya from various other view-points as follows:

Substance view-point: dharmāstikāya and adharmāstikāya, each is one, indivisible and independent substance.

Space view-point: each one is assumed to be pervading only the universal space (lokākāśa) and not non-universal space (alokā- kāśa). Thus the number of pradeśas (space-points) of each of dharmāstikāya and adharmāstikāya is equal to that of pradeśas of the lokākāśa, which is innumerable in number and not infinite.[6]

Time view-point: each of both is without beginning and without end, i.e., each is eternal.

Nature: each is a non-physical, non-corporeal and immobile substance, devoid of consciousness.

Alike Jain Philosophy, most of the philosophies as well as science, accept, without questioning, existence of space. However, it is only the Jain philosophy that accepts existence of positive ether (dharmāstikāya) and negative ether (adharmāstikāya). Jain Āgamas (canonical works) give logical arguments to establish their existence as follows:

According to the law of causality in logic, every action requires two kinds of causes-material cause and auxiliary cause. Material cause is one which converts itself into effect while auxiliary cause is one which assists in its accomplishment. Thus, if there is any motion of pudgala (matter or energy) or sentient being (jīva), then the material cause is that pudgala or sentient being itself. But then what is the auxiliary cause? The scientists had conceived ether to answer this problematic question but left ether undefined. Jain philosophy, however, has defined the concepts of dharmāstikāya and adharmāstikāya in a very lucid manner, which fulfills the requirements of auxiliary cause.

It has first worked out the requisites of such a medium as follows:

Such a medium or substance-

  1. Should pervade the whole universe but not extend to supra- universe
  2. Should be itself immobile
  3. Should be capable of assisting universally the motion of other objects.

As we have seen earlier, these requirements are fulfilled by dharmāstikāya.

There may be still a few further arguments that need to be answered. One argument is that there is no need of ether, as space itself can be assumed to possess the attribute to assist motion of other objects. Now, if the space itself acts like ether, then the motion of dynamic objects cannot be checked as space is infinite and indivisible. Thus, infinite number of matter and souls would continue to roam about in the infinite space without control. If this is so, their association and appearance as an organized finite inhabited universe would be extremely improbable, if not altogether impossible. The fact that the structure of the universe is permanent and that the universe is a cosmos and not a chaos implies the existence of another principle which guarantees the permanency of the universe’s structure. This, therefore, leads to the conclusion that it is not the space that determines the boundaries of motion but the ether.

Another argument assumes that substances like air etc. are the auxiliary causes, and hence, there is no need of ether. If it was so, then the problem arises as to which medium acts as an auxiliary cause to motion of air itself. For this we have to assume one more substance and then one more and so on. The unending chain would continue resulting in anavasthā doṣa (regresus ad infinitum). Thus, the need of a medium which itself is immobile, brings us back to dharmāstikāya.

Some would like to consider earth, water etc., as the mediums but this would not be correct as these substances do not extend all over the universe.

The above logic holds good for adharmāstikāya also, as far as medium of rest is concerned.

Just as we had to postulate positive ether and negative ether as auxiliary causes for motion and rest respectively, so also we have to postulate them to distinguish between universe and supra- universe. Without this postulation we cannot get a logical solution to their separation.

Kundakundacharya has written, “Universe is a finite entity and beyond it, is an infinite supra-universe. That is why, in order to preserve the organized existence of the material and non-material worlds, there has to be some substance other than space, because, if space was the medium of motion and rest, then there would not be any supra-universal space (alokākāśa) and the universe, in the form of “cosmos” and not “chaos”, also would not exist.”[7]

It is an eternal truth that there exists a distinction between universe and supra-universe, and therefore, it follows that the distinguishing substance also has to be eternal. It cannot be an artificial substance. The distinguishing substance has to be found from the six eternal substances mentioned above.

Now, if we consider space as the distinguishing substance, it would not be appropriate as space itself is a substance which has to be distinguished (divided) and as such it cannot act as a cause of division.

If we consider time as distinguishing substance, that also would not be logical because time, from transcendental point of view, is merely a mode of jīvas and ajīvas. It is merely a virtual substance. Virtual time is confined to the limited portion of the universe while real (transcendental) time pervades through both, the universe and supra-universe[8]

Matter and sentient beings are capable of motion and as such are not appropriate to act as distinguishing substance.

Thus, four substances, out of the six, are eliminated leaving only dharmāstikāya and adharmāstikāya as the substances that could be distinguishing substances.

On the above basis, dharmāstikāya and adharmāstikāya have been accepted as the auxiliary causes of motion and rest, respectively and also as distinguishing substances for universe and supra-universe.[9]

To summarise above: dharmāstikāya (positive ether), adharmāstikāya (negative ether), ākāśa (space), kāla (time), Pudgalāstikāya (matter), and Jīvāstikāya (soul)--the universe made of these six substances is finite. There is a sea of infinite supra universal space beyond this finite universe. In absence of ethers, this supra-universe does not allow motion or rest, of matter or souls, to take place in it.


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Title: The Enigma Of The Universe Publisher: JVB University Ladnun English Edition: 2010 HN4U Online Edition: 2014

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Adharmāstikāya
  2. Alokākāśa
  3. Ananta
  4. Asaṃkhyāta
  5. Body
  6. Concentration
  7. Consciousness
  8. Dharmāstikāya
  9. Doṣa
  10. Ether
  11. Gautama
  12. JAINA
  13. Jain Cosmology
  14. Jain Philosophy
  15. Jaina
  16. Jīva
  17. Jīvāstikāya
  18. Kāla
  19. Lokākāśa
  20. Mahāvīra
  21. Pradeśas
  22. Pudgala
  23. Pudgalāstikāya
  24. Science
  25. Soul
  26. Space
  27. Āgamas
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