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Tattvartha Sutra: Introduction

Published: 09.03.2017

Among all the Jain religious books, Tattvartha Sutra occupies a unique position. It is possible that a Jain might not have heard the names of our sacred Āgams. Achārang Sutra, for instance, is the first and the foremost Āgam, but very few Jains know what it is about. Most of them, however, might have heard about Tattvartha Sutra. There are several reasons for that. The most important is that it is the only composition that is acceptable to all the Jains. Shwetāmbar Jains regard it with a high sense of sanctity, while Digambar Jains consider it a sacred Āgam and term it as Mokshashāstra (the scripture for liberation). Not only its text, even its commentary written by Pujyapādswāmi under the title Sarvārthasiddhi is treated as Agam in Digambar tradition.

Another reason for its importance lies in the fact that Tattvartha Sutra deals with almost every aspect of Jainism. Nothing is virtually left out. As such, one can get a fairly good concept of Jainism by studying it. One can keep aside all other works, if he likes. Moreover, if one wants to study Jainism at depth, there are many commentaries of Tattvartha Sutra prepared by great Āchāryas and other learned men belonging to both the major denominations. Some of those commentaries discuss every sutra of Tattvārtha at length so as to bring out all its implications. If one goes through that, he would not miss anything pertaining to Jainism.

Being acceptable to all Jain sects, Tattvartha Sutra finds a place on academic curricula. Hardly any other Jain scripture finds a place on curriculum for the lay students. Aside from the overall popularity, its place in academic curricula may be due to its being composed in handy phrases and short sentences, which can be easily understood. This is in contrast to many other scriptures, which are composed in intricate verses or long-drawn prose. Moreover, it is a short composition containing 344 (357 as per Digambar version) sutras equivalent to less than 200 verses, which can be covered within 20 pages. It is therefore possible to memorize the entire text and many people do commit it to memory.

One more factor in its favor is that while most Jain scriptures are m Ardhamāgadhi language, Tattvartha Sutra is written in Sanskrit. Since quite a few Indian languages have been derived from Sanskrit, they contain many Sanskrit words. The people speaking those languages are more or less familiar with Sanskrit terms. As such, it is easier for them to comprehend the Sanskrit texts rather than the Prakrit ones.

The author's title of being a Vāchak is considered by Shwetāmbars as indicative of being a Poorvavid, meaning that he knew all the original scriptures. In Digambar tradition he is known as Shrutkevalideshiya, which means that he knew as much as Shrutkevalis, who were the masters of the entire canonical literature. Both these epithets are appropriate in his case. This is evident from the fact that he has included īn this work almost everything that Jainism has to convey. His handling of the subject is superb and he has presented the sutras as if they had naturally occurred to him. Being a Brahmin by birth, he obviously had command over Sanskrit language. Tattvartha Sutra is the first Jain text composed in that language.

Both Shwetāmbars as well as Digambars credit him with the authorship of a number of other books. That shows his creditability as a highly learned man. Since most of the books ascribed to him are unavailable, it is hard to say anything about the authorship thereof. It can, however, be said that Prashamarati Prakaran, which is popular even at present, must have been written by him.

Two slightly differing names occur for the authorship of Tattvartha Sutra. Shwetāmbar Jains term it as Umāswāti, while Digambar Jains mostly term it as Umāswāmi. Shwetāmbars consider him as belonging to their tradition mainly on the ground of Tattvārthabhāshya, which is a commentary of Tattvārtha supposed to have been written by the original author. At the end of the commentary there is information pertaining to the author. īt states that the book was written at Kusumpur (present Patna) and provides his identity as Vachak Umāswāti, the pupil of learned Ghoshnandi and belonging to Uchchaimāgar branch. Since Uchchairnāgar branch was a part of Shwetāmbar sect, it can be concluded that the author belonged to the Shwetāmbar sect.

Digambar Jains,  however,  refute  the  claim of Tattvārthabhāshya as written by the original author and insist that the author belonged to their tradition. Their contention is that Tattvartha Sutra was written by Umāswāmi before Bhāsya, which could have been written by someone known as Umāswāti. As such, they generally ignore Bhāshya and rely on Sarvarthasiddhi and other commentaries written by Digambar scholars.

The contention of the author belonging to Digambar sect seems plausible in light of the following considerations, i) The book specifies seven Tattvas (fundamentals) as per Digambar tradition instead of nine as per Shwetāmbar one. ii) While dealing with laymen's restraints, it treats Deshviarti as seventh restraint immediately after Digvirati and treats Upabhogparibhog as eleventh after Paushadhopavās. That is a Digambar tradition. In Shwetāmbar tradition, Bhogopbhog is treated as seventh restraint and Deshvirati as tenth after Sāmāyik. That is justifiable on the ground that Jainism considers the last four restraints as disciplinary and Deshavirati is a disciplinary restraint, while Bhogopabhog is not.

No date of composing Tattvartha Sutra has been mentioned in the text or in the commentaries. It is therefore difficult to be specific about the lifetime of the author. From the language, style and presentation of the composition, however, it is believed that he lived sometimes during the first or second century CE. That would put him close to the time of Kundkundāchārya. Moreover, the contents of Tattvartha Sutra are similar to those of Panchāstikāy and other writings of Kundkundāchārya. That can lead one to believe that Tattvārtha

Sutra could have been written with the purpose of presenting in Sanskrit the essence of the Prakrit writings of Kundkundāchārya. In view of that resemblance and closeness of their time, Digambar scholars might have been induced to treat the author of Tattvartha Sutra as a pupil of Kundkundāchārya.

There is a strong reason to believe that the division between Shwetāmbar and Digambar sects was not rigid until the time, when Tattvartha Sutra was written. Those labels also did not exist at that time. If we trace the history of Jainism, it can be seen that there were clad as well as unclad monks in the order of Lord Mahāvir and they amicably stayed together. Neither of them had an edge over the other. As such, Āgams, composed on the basis of Lord's teaching, acknowledge the prevalence of the clad as well as the unclad order.

That amicability could have continued until the time of Jambuswāmi, who was the last omniscient of the present time cycle. The dissension could have started thereafter. As Lord Mahāvir himself had mostly remained unclad after his renunciation, the unclad group might have contended that they were the true followers of the Lord and they might have considered the clad ones as slack in observance of Lord's code and might have developed disregard for the scriptural precepts pertaining to the clad order. That could have resulted in disputing the authenticity of the relevant texts.

Since Agams composed by Ganadhars were not put to writing, there came about different views about the versions thereof. A conference was therefore convened about 170 years after passing away of the Lord to decide about the correct version. It seems that the version so brought out gave justice to both the groups and was considered generally acceptable. The radical section of the unclad group was perhaps dissatisfied with that outcome, but there was no cleavage at that time. That uneasy situation seems to have continued till the time, when Tattvartha Sutra was composed. It is therefore no wonder that the book does not distinguish between the clad and unclad order. That has made it acceptable to Shwetāmbar as well as Digambar Jains.

The division between the two groups could have begun after the second century, when the unclad group formally disowned the traditional scriptures on the ground that they no longer represented the original teaching of the Lord and started composing their own books, which justified only the unclad order. The difference became acute by the time of Sarvārthasiddhi, which presents the unclad order as the only way that can lead to liberation. With that end in view, the author might have altered some of the sutras that were not in conformity with Digambar views, added a few on his own and given new interpretations to several others. This accounts for the difference in number of sutras and for slightly differing versions of the text. In due course, the text adopted by Bhāshya came to be known as Shwetāmbar text and that adopted by Sarvārthasiddhi as Digambar one. It is, however, noticed that while the text adopted by Sarvārthasiddhi is consistently resorted to by Digambar scholars, there happen to be minor variations in the text resorted to by Shwetāmbar ones.

The main differences between the Shwetāmbar and the Digambar texts occur in four places. The first occurs in Adhyāy (chapter) three, where Sarvārthasiddhi has 21 additional suīras after sutra number 11. That does not alter the overall composition, because the additional sutras relate to the colors and other details of mountains, lakes, rivers, residents and such other geographical aspects of Jamboodweep, which is the center of middle level of Jain universe. The second occurs in Adhyāy four, where Shwetāmbar version specifies 12 heavenly abodes, while Digambar version mentions 16. The third occurs in Adhyāy five, where Shwetāmbar version mentions Kāl (Time) as being considered by some people as an independent substance, while Digambar version states it independent substance. The fourth occurs in Adhyāy eight, where Shwetāmbar version mentions favorable situations, right perception, merriment, affection, male instinct, comfortable life style, good physique and noble family as resulting from wholesome bondage, whereas Digambar version does not refer to right perception, merriment, affection and male instinct as resulting from that bondage.

At two other places, while the texts remain identical, differences occur in interpreting the same. One pertains to the possibilities for binding of Pudgal (lifeless particles) described in Adhyāy five. The other occurs in Adhyāy nine, while discussing Parishahs (hardships) to be borne by the omniscient Lords. Both the texts specify twenty two such hardships. Digambar interpretation, however, emphasizes that though such physical hardships may occur, the omniscient Lords stay beyond the bodily sense and hence they do not experience the same. Bearing of the hardships should therefore be deemed as formal rather than real.

It would be seen from the above details that there are no major differences between the two texts and the purpose of the composition remains intact. There also happen to be some verbal variations in the text occurring here and there, but they do not make substantial difference in the meaning and can therefore be ignored. Thus, the differences are few and far between and the overall text remains common.

The spiritual compositions start on the basis that the worldly life is unhappy and miserable and the way to be free from that is to gain liberation. As such, liberation happens to be the common objective of all such compositions belonging to Jainism, Hinduism and Buddhism. Tattvartha Sutra is not the exception. The author therefore starts the text with ‘Samyagdarshanjnāncharitrāni Mokshamārgah' (Right perception, right knowledge and right conduct constitute the path of liberation) and then proceeds to explain the various aspects relevant to that path.

For making out the path of liberation, one needs to know the existing position and then consider what needs to be done for going ahead. The former aspect is termed as Jney Mimānsā, meaning the discussion about what is to be known. The latter aspect is known as Chāritra Mimānsā meaning the discussion about the practice or conduct. The spiritual books are supposed to deal with these two aspects. Some of them lay emphasis on one and keep the other subsidiary. Tattvartha Sutra gives equal importance to both of them.

The book is divided in ten Adhyāys (chapters). The first deals with knowledge, second with the worldly beings, the third with infernal abodes as well as the middle world, the fourth with heavenly abodes and the fifth with Shaddravyas (six original substances). These five chapters constitute Jney Mimānsā.

The next four chapters deal with the conduct and can be considered as belonging to Chāritra Mimānsā. The sixth chapter deals with Asrav or incoming of Karma and the seventh with restraints as well as with the potentialities for their transgression. The eighth chapter deals with the bondage of Karma and describes the types of bondage, its intensity, duration and plenitude. The ninth chapter deals with Samvar and Nirjarā (prevention and eradication of bondage) and the last one with liberation, the ultimate objective.

While concluding, it is worth pointing out what revered Pundit Sukhlālji has said for studying Tattvartha Sutra. He has stated that merely studying the text would not give comprehensive idea of the subject. Tattvārthabhāshya as well as Sarvarthasiddhi also need be studied. If one exclusively resorts to any one of them, he would miss the true significance of the composition. He has therefore suggested that after studying the original text, one should undertake the study of Tattvārthabhāshya or of Sarvarthasiddhi and that should be followed by a comparative study of the other. If one wants to go deeper, he can then study Rājvārtik and Shlokvārtik, two other learned commentaries of Tattvartha Sutra.

Title: Tattvartha Sutra
Manu Doshi
Manu Doshi
Federation of Jain Associations in North America & Shrut Ratnakar
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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Agam
  2. Agams
  3. Brahmin
  4. Buddhism
  5. Digambar
  6. Hinduism
  7. Jainism
  8. Jamboodweep
  9. Karma
  10. Nirjarā
  11. Omniscient
  12. Patna
  13. Prakrit
  14. Pudgal
  15. Samvar
  16. Sanskrit
  17. Sutra
  18. Sāmāyik
  19. Tattvartha Sutra
  20. Tattvas
  21. Time Cycle
  22. Āgams
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