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Jainism : The World of Conquerors: 4.15 ► The Scientificity of Jainism

Published: 14.12.2015

The universe of living beings has a twofold identity-physical and spiritual. Religion is normally concerned with the fundamentals of human existence: the meaning of life, mysteries of the universe, survival beyond death, ethical systems and relationships between the body and the soul and so on. Religion has never been solely a spiritual affair with abstract ideals; it also deals with the phenomena of the material world and the living beings in the universe. Jain scriptures detail many aspects concerning the physical world, including physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics and astronomy, architecture, geology, medical sciences, food science and the like, necessary for the welfare and comfort of human beings.

In the East, science became part of religion and the two became so intertwined that it was impossible to separate one from the other. But in the West, religion and science functioned in different ways, remained in hostile camps and polarised. Modern science in the West was born in the seventeenth century CE as part of the quest for 'truth' and the knowledge of nature, previously the domain of the church. The Copernican revolution was to overturn the most basic theological precepts of the day; it accelerated the quest for scientific knowledge based on experiment and observation and whereby scientists developed skilful techniques and apparatus in pursuit of their goal.

Compared with science, religion is concerned not only with physical phenomena but also with the supersensory world, and this suggests that religion is not only a science but also a super-science and has a wider scope than the scientific disciplines per se.

Scientists make observations, carry out experiments and formulate the concepts behind them after rigorous analysis, and produce theories; these, in turn, are continuously tested and corroborated and, if necessary, modified or even rejected. The search for new data and principles is known as 'pure' science. The application of scientific knowledge to the real world is known as 'applied' science. Pure science covers disciplines such as physics, chemistry, and biology; applied science covers areas of professional and technical expertise such as medicine and engineering.

Science can deal only with those phenomena, which are directly sense-perceptible or measurable by instruments. There are many aspects of existence, which do not come under the rubric of science, such as material karma or the non-material soul. The birth, death and behaviour of human beings still remain unexplained. Science has, however, given many comforts and amenities for the pleasure and happiness of humanity. These have created many problems, making life more complex and, as a result, we can see stress and diseases increasing and happiness becomes more problematic. Science, which was supposed to help humanity, seems to be doing the opposite.

Religion deals with both sensory and supersensory knowledge and contains a set of sacred laws for the ultimate happiness of living beings, both at the level of individuals and society. The sacred laws have a three-fold character of Right Faith, Right Knowledge and Right Conduct. One can have neither faith nor conduct without proper and rational knowledge; thus knowledge is the basis of religion.

In India, the sages of Jainism and other religions engaged themselves in the pursuit of knowing the mysteries of the universe, of human life and its goal, through their spiritual insights. Many facts recorded by them and found in the Jain scriptures are similar to those later proved by science, though there was no scientific apparatus or modern methods of research in those days. Instead, severe austerities in meditation enabled the sages to acquire transcendental and extrasensory powers and observation. The practice of meditation was accorded the very highest priority in their daily routine and, as a result, deep concentration became an effortless and easily realisable state for them.

Meditation deactivates the thinking mind and shifts the awareness from the rational to the intuitive mode of consciousness, and develops supernormal knowledge. Concentrated perception on a single object silences the conceptual activity of the mind. The constant practice of deep meditation results in the ability to elicit direct answers to enquiries into the nature of the universe. Such experiences are also known to science: many new discoveries have their genesis in sudden non-verbal flashes of intuition, when a problem or its solution is experienced in a direct way without the hindrance of perceptual thought. In meditation, the distraction of awareness is eliminated; it surpasses the efficiency and complexity of the technical apparatus of scientists. Scientists have sensory knowledge, while spiritually advanced sages have sensory as well as supersensory knowledge.

Jain seers desired the happiness of all living beings, but we all know that we cannot be happy without caring for our environment and the community. As a result, Jain seers attached great importance to both human life as well as to the welfare of plant and animal life, and emphasised the sacred laws for the care of the natural world. By postulating the animated character of plants and animals, Jain teachings were both ahead of their times and the predecessors of today's environmental concern with ecological balance.

The Jain scriptures advise against the indiscriminate use of water, plants and trees, thus to maintain the purity of the environment. They argue for the presence of microorganic entities throughout the occupied universe, and environmental pollution, resulting from industrial and other human activity, has been responsible for ozone layer depletion, harming micro-organisms and higher living beings. But such harm could be avoided by not engaging in businesses or activities proscribed by the Jain scriptures.

The Jain scriptures have also formulated an atomic theory regarding the basic constituents of the material universe, and scholars have indicated that this theory is exemplary not only in its historical perspective but also in a modern context. The Jains also have a credible theory of conjoining matter together, and matter to the soul. In addition, they have made great contributions in the field of the biological sciences by defining life in terms of consciousness along with its many physical properties, classifying living beings on the basis of the cognitive organs of the senses and their status. This classification is of more than forty-eight examples, technically known as 'disquisition access' (anuyoga-dvara) involving their physical, psychological and spiritual qualities.

Now let us examine the scientific content of some of the Jain scriptures. As Jain seers were mostly concerned with spirituality, they were limited in discussing the physical (scientific) constituents directly, however, as they knew that the knowledge of these constituents was important for the path of spirituality, they included sermons by giving illustrations from the life of a layperson. As a result, most of the scriptures have about a quarter of their contents dealing with them either in separate chapters or in stray or the casual mention of them in different chapters (Jain, N. 1996: p.62).

N. Jain further adds that the Dasavaikaalika Sutra has more than a-third of its material on the physical elements: physics, chemistry and biology of six types of living beings (chapter 4); some scientific facts about food and its purity (chapter 5) and the science of speech (chapter 7). The Jain canonical texts such as the Sutrakrutaanga, Rajaprasniya, Samvaayanga, Antakritddasaa, Aupapaatika Sutra, Annuttaropapaatikka Sutra, Jambudvipa Prajnaapti, Jnaatadharmakathaa and Kalpa Sutra contain facts on many subjects of the art and science. The subjects include agriculture, archaeology, architecture, the arts, astrology, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, botany, zoology, medical sciences, veterinary science, mathematics, food science, palmistry, dreams, demonology (psychiatry), music, drama, pharmacology, town planning, military science, wrestling, textiles, water purification, ceramics/pottery and cosmetics.

The Jains have developed two forms of mathematics and mathematical symbols. Worldly mathematics consists of eight types of processes involving fractions, logarithms, algebra, geometry and numerical calculations; they also have detailed treatments for infinity, permutations and combinations, and have described normal and comparable length, distance and the time units of the canonical period (their geography is based on similar measurements). Superworldly mathematics deals with heights, distances, duration and other phenomena concerned with infernal and celestial bodies, and mythological areas such as mount Meru or the cosmic Jain temples.

Jain geography describes the universe in terms of a specific shape divided into three parts, including the abodes of the liberated souls, celestial beings, humans, plants and animals, and infernal beings.

The pre-canonical medical sciences had eight major divisions of medicine, surgery, gynaecology and midwifery, paediatrics, toxicology, demonology (psychiatry), gerontology, rejuvenation, and the ear, nose and throat. A medical unit contained at least four constituents: patient, doctor, trained nurse and well-prepared medicines, and there was also a community medical service. The number of diseases and their treatment methods were handled knowledgeably; Ugraditya, a ninth century scholar ascetic and author of the Kalyaana Kaaraka, laid great emphasis on medications prepared nonviolently from vegetable or mineral sources only, thus promoting ahimsaa in the medical field.

The Jains have also shown proficiency in sculptural engineering and iconography. N. Jain (1996: pp.78-115) has discussed 72 arts for men and 64 for women, by analysing the contents of the Sthanaanga Sutra (9.27), Sutrakrutaanga Sutra (2.2.18), Samavaaya Sutra (29.13), and Uttaradhyayana. Anuyogadvaara and Nandisutra.

By describing the six 'real entities' that constitute the universe, the Jains analysed the functioning of the world in a logical way. The Jain theory of karma explains many worldly problems, which are beyond the logical explanation of science, such as the processes of death, rebirth, apparent injustices and inequalities, longevity, morbidity, behavioural problems, and the process of karmic bondage and its relation to the soul. The soul has infinite space points, can contract and expand, but it is imperceptible to the senses.

The Tattvartha Sutra (1974:5.25-38) describes atoms (parmaanu), molecules or aggregations (skandha) and their characteristics such as the fission, fusion, existence, and the processes of fusion and fission. The atomic theory, theory of aggregations and the theory of bonding and disintegration described by Jain seers, show their power of observation and insight and these can be well compared with modern science (Jain, N. 1996: pp.224-241). The Jain texts describe matter (pudgala) as aggregates of atoms, its physical properties and functions, and classify it into six types (Jain, N. 1996: p.198): gross-gross (e.g. earth, mountains, houses), gross (Water, oil, milk), gross-fine (shadow, light), fine-gross (gases, taste, smell, sound), fine (karmic aggregates) and fine-fine (real atoms, karmons). The first three are perceptible to the eye, the fourth to the other senses and the last two are imperceptible to the senses.

The atoms aggregate with each other by the process of bonding (positive and negative), and are held together by the medium of rest. The atoms are continuously in motion, but they are held in check by the medium of rest. The atoms can further be split into ultimate atoms (parvenus), whose property of motion has been utilised by scientists for various nuclear uses. It is beyond the scope of this work to discuss the atomic theory, physics, including the energies of heat, light, sound and electricity, chemistry and the other biological subjects; the reader is advised to look into other comprehensive works some of which are mentioned in the bibliography.

The above brief survey of scientific concepts in the Jain scriptures indicates the keen observation of Jain sages and their analytical powers. The seers followed the fourstep methodology of

  1. observation,
  2. classification and postulations,
  3. inference and judgement, and
  4. recording and theorisation.

Jains believe that Mahavira and some of his disciples, who were omniscients, produced the canon, and the scholar ascetics with good memories edited the scriptures. They followed the scientific method of direct (experience or intuition) and indirect (sensory or supersensory) observations, and analytical methods for the acquisition of knowledge. Jainism has all the ingredients of rational and scientific knowledge. Hence many facts found in Jain scriptures are comparable to those proved by science. Its scientificity is evident from the following:

  1. Not only are the theoretical concepts presented in the Jain scriptures historically important but also most of them are verifiable today.
  2. Historically, the scriptural contents represented the age of observation and analysis of natural facts and phenomena, but these facts were representative of the canonical age.
  3. There is sufficient addition to and modification of knowledge in the scriptures of differing periods to indicate the gradual growth of knowledge, as is presumed by scientists.
  4. The Jains are noted for classification-based descriptions, which has led them to superior analytical inferences.
  5. Jain seers seem to be very good scientists as they have encouraged a scientific attitude throughout the scriptures.

Title: Jainism: The World of Conquerors
Dr. Natubhai Shah
Publisher: Sussex Academic Press
Edition: 1998
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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Body
  2. Concentration
  3. Consciousness
  4. Environment
  5. Jain Temples
  6. Jainism
  7. Jambudvipa
  8. Kalpa
  9. Kalpa Sutra
  10. Karma
  11. Mahavira
  12. Meditation
  13. Meru
  14. Mount Meru
  15. Omniscients
  16. Pudgala
  17. Science
  18. Skandha
  19. Soul
  20. Space
  21. Space points
  22. Sutra
  23. Tattvartha Sutra
  24. Uttaradhyayana
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