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The Enigma Of The Universe : Beginninglessness and Endlessness of Universe

Published: 18.11.2014
Updated: 13.01.2015

The universe is believed to be eternal in Jain philosophy. At various places in Āgamas[1] we find this view expressed in different wordings. In the dialogue of Lord Mahāvīra with his disciple Ascetic Rohā, who asked, "Was the cosmos, O Lord, in existence before the transcosmos or the transcosmos was before the cosmos?" Mahāvīra replied, "O Rohā, the cosmos and the transcosmos were both before as well as after - are eternal entities; there is no temporal sequence, O Rohā." "Did the egg exist, O Lord, before the hen? Or the hen before the egg?" "Where from did the egg come, Rohā?" "It came from the hen, O Lord. " "Wherefrom did the hen come, Rohā?" "From the egg, O Lord. Thus, Rohā, the egg and the hen both are before as well as after-both of them are eternal entities; there is no temporal sequence, between them, O Rohā."[2] The universe as a whole is the collection of the six types of substance or five types of astikāya. All of these substances, i.e., the whole universe is 'eternal in existence'. In the Bhagavatī Sūtra, in the dialogue of Lord Mahāvīra with Skandaka, the hermit, the Lord replied to Skandaka, "Skandaka, the resolve for query arose in your mind that was internal, recollective, wishful and inward-"Is the world with end? Is the world without end? etc."

The reply to this query is - O Skandaka, that the world has been propounded by me in four ways, viz., with respect to substance, space, time and modes. "With respect to substance, the world is an unitary entity and it has an end.

"With respect to space, the world is 107 x 107 times innumerable yojanas in length and breadth and 107 x 107 times innumerable yojanas in circumference. Thus, it has an end. "

With respect to time, it was never non-existent; it is never non-existent; it will never be non-existent in future-it was, it is and it will be - it is eternal, fixed, perennial, indestructible, imperishable, ever present and persistent, and thus it has no end, i.e., it is infinite.

"With respect to modes, the world has an infinite number of colour-modes, an infinite number of smell-modes, an infinite number of taste-modes, an infinite number of configuration-modes, an infinite number of heavy-cum-light-modes and an infinite number of neither-heavy-nor-light-modes; and thus it has no end, i.e., it is infinite. "

"Thus, O Skandaka, with respect to substance, the world has an end; with respect to space, it has an end; with respect to time, the world has no end; and with respect to mode, it has no end."[3] Again, in the dialogue with Gautama, the chief disciple of Lord Mahāvīra, regarding each of the five astikāyas, the Lord said, "In respect of time, it was never non-existent, it is never non-existent and it will never be non-existent-it was, it is and it will be; so it is an eternal, fixed, perennial, indestructible, imperishable, ever present and persistent substance."[4] In other words it was never created nor will be destroyed. It is beginningless and endless with respect time.[5] Whereas, in the philosophical world there is a view that the universe was created by God, the treatises of Jain philosophy are replete with the logical refutation of the belief that the universe was created by God.[6] It is a firm assertion of the Jain philosophy that the universe is eternal with respect to existence and it exists of its own accord, it is not created. This is the best solution to the intricate aspect of the enigma of the universe-"what is the age of the universe?" Any theory of creationism is fraught with several fallacies such as regresus ad infinitum and the like.

 The Jain philosophy advocates 'non-absolutism' regarding any view. It always avoids the absolute point of view. Therefore, the universe which is eternal with respect to its existence, always undergoes a series of infinite changes, and thus it is 'non-eternal'. As we have already seen, the doctrine of 'persistence through modes' asserts that every substance persists through modes. In other words, all things living and non-living, are characterised by the trio of continuous existence through creation and cessation.

Since the universe is nothing but the collection of substances, the above principle holds true in the case of universe also. If there was no persistence of existence through transformations, we would not experience continuity-"This is that". On the other hand, if there was no transformation but absolute eternalism, we would not experience the ever changing pattern of the universe. While the absolutists find self-contradiction in asserting both staticity and change in the same reality with reference to identical space and time, the non-absolutist Jains maintain that one need not be afraid of accepting this as a truth-as the very nature of things- since our common experience gives this as a fact.

For understanding the eternal-cum-non-eternal nature of the universe, one has to first comprehend the law of causality, as described in the Jain philosophy.

According to the Jain philosophy, there are two types of causes of every effect:

  1. Material Cause (upādāna kāraṇa)
  2. Instrumental Cause (nimitta kāraṇa)[7]

The cause which itself gets transformed in the form of the effect is the material cause.[8] The cause which acts as an instrument in producing the effect is called the instrumental cause.[9] Every substance undergoes transformation every moment. On account of this process, there is the order of sequence of earlier and later. The earlier mode (or state) is the material cause and the later (consequential) mode (or state) is the effect. Thus the cause and effect are the two forms of the same state. The external instruments which become the instrumental cause in producing the effect, but they are not in the sequential relation of the effect. They are only helpful at the moment of the production of the effect. Again, there are two aspects of a transformation-creation and cessation. When the effect is produced, the material cause ceases. As a matter of fact it is the material cause that takes the form of effect by abandoning its own form. Therefore, there is the law of identity of cause and effect. Thus, sat (real) is produced from sat (real); asat (non-real) cannot be produced by sat, and vice versa.[10]

Again, the transformation is of two kinds:

  1. That transformation which is caused due to time or nature is called spontaneous or natural. Such transformation does not require any external cause.
  2. That transformation which is caused by an external agency is extrinsic transformation. It is not natural or spontaneous.

As, the universe is nothing else than the collection of the six substances, the eternality and non-eternality of the universe can be explained in terms of the eternality and non-eternality of its constituent substances. The solution to the question as to when, how and by whom the six substances came into existence is possible only by accepting the existence of all of them as beginningless. It means that for them who believe in the beginning (creation) of these substances, the above questions keep standing (or remain unsolved). But for them who believe them beginningless, these questions do not arise at all. On believing in the existence of the substances having beginning, one has to assume the creation of sat from asat. This is not in conformity with the law of causality, for, if the material cause itself is asat, then the effect can be not be sat. Therefore, whosoever accepts the limitation of the material cause, cannot believe in creation of sat from asat, and from the point of view of the conformity to the law, such thing cannot happen. Otherwise, there would arise disorder beyond comprehension.[11] Thus, the existence of all the six substances is proved to be beginningless. The doctrine of "persistence through mode" renders these substances having endless existence. Thus, from the point of view of existence, all the six substances are proved to have "beginningless and endless" existence, and hence, the eternality of the universe is also proved.

At the same time, the transformations taking place in the six substances render the universe "non-eternal". Out of six substances, the four viz., dharmāstikāya, adharmāstikāya, ākāśāstikāya and kāla are subject to only natural or spontaneous transformations. Only on account of these transformations, they keep up their existence for eternal time.

All the visible plays of the universe are due to the transformations of only two substances, viz., pudgalāstikāya and jīvāstikāya. The souls are of two kinds-(i) liberated, (ii) mundane.[12] The liberated souls are subject to only spontaneous or natural transformation. The mundane souls are subject to both types of transformations-natural as well as caused extrinsically, the reason being that they (souls) are bound with the karma-pudgalas.[13] The relation of the soul and karma is actually beginningless, when considered from the point of view of the flow of karma.

 Every mundane soul undergoes various transformations on account of the effect of karma. In other words, the union of soul and karma becomes the cause of the transformation of mundane souls. The various transformations which are seen in the universe are all due to these transformations of mundane souls.

The substance called "Pudgalāstikāya" which is synonymous to the modern 'matter' (including material energy), forms the whole of the visible universe. The rest of the five substances are invisible. Therefore, the changes of the universe are perceived through the changes of the substance "Pudgalāstikāya". (See supra pp. 129, 130). The number of this substance is infinite. This includes all the matter of universe, from paramāṇu (the indivisible part of matter) to the celestial bodies such as the sun, the moon, the planets, etc. Now, according to the doctrine of 'persistence through modes', all these are the modes of the substance 'matter'. The 'paramāṇus' are the ultimate material cause of all the material bodies. They go on reacting with each other, creating and destroying the physical world. All the physical entities of the world are produced and destroyed due to the various/diverse transformations of pudgala. These transformations are of two kinds: (1) spontaneous (or natural) (ii) extrinsically caused. Various permutations and combinations of pudgala and soul are responsible for the multiformity of the loka.[14] In spite of all these transformations, the existence of the ultimate material causes, viz., paramāṇus and jīvas, remain eternal.

On the basic of this theory of paramāṇu and skandha, the problem of the apparent eternality of the cosmological structures can be solved. The cosmological structures are also composed of the pudgala. The question is that how can they exist permanently? This is explained on the basis of the transformations of pudgala (paramāṇus and skandhas). The disintegration and reintegration of the skandhas take place according to the laws of nature. In the same way, the natural transformations of paramāṇus go on taking place. All these transformations result in the formation of the new modes of the constituent pudgalas of the cosmological structures, but these structures persist their existence in spite of all modifications. A number of paramāṇus get expelled from them every moment, and again a number of new paramāṇus from the external world get united with them every moment. After a long interval of time, it would happen that all of the paramāṇus existing in the cosmological structures at one time would get separated from them, and altogether new ones would have entered into them. Thus, although a change in the mode of the structure would take place, the structure itself will continue to exist permanently.

The above phenomenon of nature can become more clear by the following illustration of a building. The owner of a building and his successors, go on replacing a damaged part of the building. In future a day will come when the original building would have been replaced wholly by new parts; but for the people, it is the same building, which was built hundreds of years ago. Also, the chain of heredity is not endless and the human energy is limited, otherwise this building would become a permanent entity of the physical universe. Similarly, in the physical entities, the atoms are added and reduced according to the natural laws, while the substantial bodies remain permanent. Thus, it becomes clear how the universe remains eternal, in spite of the infinite transformations.


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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. Asat
  3. Astikāya
  4. Astikāyas
  5. Bhagavatī Sūtra
  6. Darśana
  7. Dharmāstikāya
  8. Gautama
  9. Illuminator of Jaina Tenets
  10. JAINA
  11. Jain Philosophy
  12. Jaina
  13. Jīvāstikāya
  14. Karma
  15. Karman
  16. Kāla
  17. Loka
  18. Mahāvīra
  19. Nimitta
  20. Paramāṇu
  21. Paramāṇus
  22. Pudgala
  23. Pudgalāstikāya
  24. Skandha
  25. Soul
  26. Space
  27. Sūtra
  28. Tattva
  29. Upādāna
  30. Upādāna kāraṇa
  31. Vṛtti
  32. ākāśāstikāya
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