Philosophical Foundations Of Jainism (An Introduction): [07] Niyati & Puruṣārtha (Universal Laws & Self-exertion)

Published: 15.08.2008
Updated: 02.07.2015

Is the man totally independent in making his own 'Puruṣārtha' i.e., self-exertion undertaken by exercising free will. That is to say—Has he got the freedom to decide what he may like to do? Or is he forced by the circumstances, or by the dictates of destiny or fate? In the Jain philosophical terminology, 'Niyati' means Universal Laws that apply universally without fail. In common parlance, however, people understand "fatalism" or "destiny" by the word 'Niyati'; but in Jainism, it is not so. 'Niyati' or the Universal Laws (of Nature) do not subscribe to any kind of fatalism. This question has been discussed over a very long period in the philosophical debates. The Jain philosophy believes that 'Puruṣārtha' and 'Niyati' should not be placed as antithesis. They are, in fact, relative to each other. Each one has its limited scope and a specific role in man's life. Similar is the case in respect of Time (Kāla), Nature (Svabhāva) and Karma,[1] which affect our deeds. So nothing can be said in absolute terms as to what is the main and what is subsidiary. The factors that govern our life are multiple and they have their own limitations and subjectivity. They operate not in isolation but in tandem with each other. 'Puruṣārtha' and 'Niyati' are complemen-tary to each other and operate in their own spheres.

'Niyati' means Universal Law which applies in all situations including life and death. But all laws of the nature are not universal and therefore, there would definitely be some scope for the man to act according to his own will. It is also seen that 'Puruṣārtha' and 'Niyati', while they operate in their own respective spheres, are complementary to each other. Jainism believes that 'Puruṣārtha' is the key factor, through which a man can transform himself. It can also shape his 'Bhāgya' or destiny and bring about circumstances, which affect his life. A lot of emphasis is, therefore laid by Jain philosophy on 'Puruṣārtha', alongwith other factors like Time, Nature, Karma and 'Niyati', all of which play their respective role in man's life. These five factors working together are known as 'Samavāya' - the cumulative force. Jainism regards 'Puruṣārtha' as the principal factor that shapes life. Puruṣārtha is also the motivation for Karma.

In relative sense, we may state that the Jain is the propounder of the Doctrine of 'Puruṣārtha'. According to it, the 'Puruṣa' (soul or man) is neither a toy in the hands of 'Niyati' (Universal Law) or Bhāgya (Destiny or Fate); nor even everything is controlled by Karma. As stated above, it is the 'Puruṣārtha' that builds the system of Karma. One should be very clear about the limitations of the power of Karma or 'Niyati'.

Some people say: "Whatever is destined in Bhāgya (Fate) is bound to happen." Jainism however does not conform to such absolutistic statements. If we enthrone Karma or Bhāgya i.e., Destiny (Fate) on the seat of God, then what is sense in denying the theist conviction that man is a mere puppet in the hands of God or Almighty? Therefore, it would be absolutely wrong to believe that Karma is everything or whole and sole. Karma is not the Universal Govereign.

The above stated concept would also raise a few questions: Who guides 'Puruṣārtha'? 'What for it is done and to whom it is addressed to?' The Jain philosophy does not recognise the institution of 'God' as a supreme authority which rules over the world and its entire existence. In that case, one has to answer another question. In the absence of God who would that authority be to serve as the role model or icon to be emulated or followed by the worldly men? The answer lies in the following formulation. Although the Jain tradition does not subscribe to the view that 'God' is the Creator of this world, yet it regards 'Him' as a living model or an ideal icon in the form of 'Arhats', not only one but infinite numbers i.e. those who have attained perfection in their mortal lives. There is this famous adoration to Arhats in 'Namokār Mahāmantra'—"Ṇamo Arhaṅtāṇaṃ'. They are those who have attained total perfection in all virtues, knowledge and capabilities. They are the role models or ideals who manifest in themselves unlimited knowledge, wisdom, energy and bliss. Jains naturally try to emulate the 'Arhats' so far as 'Puruṣārtha' is concerned.

The Jain philosophy believes in synergy between knowledge and conduct. An Ācārya is the symbol of the right conduct, while an 'Upādhyāya' is an embodiment of knowledge. Knowledge and conduct together make the two-pronged strategy to reach 'Arhathood'. A practitioner regulates his conduct and acquires knowledge through sādhanā. A 'Sadhu' is a symbol of Sādhanā. Jainism also lays special emphasis on 'bhakti' (Devotion) alongwith the faith.

'Bhakti' means complete surrender at the feet of our ideal, i.e. the Arhat, Siddhas, Sādhus, and also to the preachings of Kevalis (omniscients) who have attained total perfection in perception of knowledge. Jainism believes that through the process of transformation, a man turns himself into God. In that sense, Jainism is different from other religions, where devotees seek benevolence from the God who is the Almighty and the Creator of all.

There is, thus, full scope in Jainism for "faith" or "devotion" as well as "capacity of one's own soul to get it evolved to perfection", i.e., the scope for complete freedom or independence. Both "dedication" and "independence" go together. Again, dedication does not mean complete merger into a greater entity. There is a world of difference in the beliefs of Jainism and other religions. 'A "nara" (i.e., human being) transforms himself into "nārāyaṇa" (i.e., God)',—is the doctrine of Jainism, which is quite different from others which believe that a nara gets himself merged entirely into nārāyaṇa.

The Jain philosophy believes that there are infinite number of souls in this world and all of them are independent of each other. All have the potential to develop themselves into God. This postulation of Jainism is different from the belief of many other religions in the sense that a 'believer' as per Jain terminology does not try to reach a particular God, treating him as a different entity than his own. It is through 'Puruṣārtha' that each soul can attain that highest state of perfection, which is signified by the term God. Those who devote their entire lives to reach that state are called 'Sādhus' (ascetic). The common men who can devote only a part of their attention in the pursuit of attaining the state of perfection are called 'Śrāvaka' (lay followers). They are the people who are involved in the varied chores of social life. Nevertheless they are devoted to the 'Arhat' as their ideal. Besides, each individual has his own measure of potential strengths, which he invests into his Sādhanā. Similarly, he has limitations also, due to which he encounters impediments in his Sādhanā.

Non-attachment to sensual objects is the key for such Sādhanā. The main obstacles in Sādhanā arise out of the cravings or desires for food, fear, sex etc., and possessions, anger, ego, attachment and greed. A Sādhu/Muni is supposed to overcome these follies in full measure, but for a normal household it is not possible to achieve that perfection.

A Sādhaka (spiritual practitioner) ought to develop non-attachment to the physical objects, with which he lives in the real world. Lord Mahavira prescribed the practice of various 'Anuprekṣās'[2] such as anitya (transient nature of worldly things & relations), aśaraṇa (lack of protection or refuge in the world), ekatva (Solitary nature of soul), anyatva (separation of soul from everything external). They help to lessen the impact of the worldly factors that create bondages for the soul. Bharata Chakravartī attained that state of perfection (by practising anitya anuprekṣā and become a kevali).

The example of Bharat Chakravartī is very significant in the sense that here is a case where a man achieves 'kaivalya' without going through the formal course of practising asceticism. The secret lies in his 'nirlepata'—internal non-involvement in the worldly objects. Lord Mahāvīra says—"Gārathā sanjomottara" - "some ordinary and worldly men can achieve even higher state than the practitioner of 'Saṃyama' (self-restraint).

The Lord has prescribed dharma for the 'Gṛhasthas' as well as for the 'munis'. For the layman, he advises—'pariṣkāra' (moderation) of 'icchā' (desire), 'parigraha' (possessiveness) and 'lobha' (greed). The practical form of the pariṣkāra is—

(1) Purity of means of livelihood

(2) Voluntarily limiting the consumption of things.

Similarly the internal practice of parigraha (non-possessiveness) is non-clinging to possessions; the practical sutra is purity of means and self-restraint on consumption.

The Jain Philosophy has given us very valuable tips on 'ahiṃsā' (non-violence). The internal practice of ahiṃsā is—bhāva-suddhi (purification of emotions), and development of maitri (amity) and the practical sūtra is—shunning of avoidable violence. The Jain Philosophy lays great emphasis on control on desires and urges through self-restraint, which is the foundation of all spiritual development.

Jainism believes that though opportunities are equal but it is not possible for all souls to attain 'kaivalya'. For the householders, Lord Mahāvīra preached that they should make their efforts for bringing about their own transmutation and should try to control the cravings and greed. A stage would then be reached when one would be able to discriminate between the good and the bad, and choose his means judiciously. Non­violence is another very important aspect of the code of conduct preached by Lord Mahavira. It means purification of emotions, development of friendliness to all and shunning avoidable violence.

When the basic instincts that lead to violence are curbed, the potential power of self-restraint would manifest itself, and with its help, one can safely sail through the journey of 'dharma'. Self-restraint is the key to attain many virtues like equanimity etc..

It is the lack of self-restraint among man, which has lead to excessive consumerism, resulting in all kinds of tensions that afflict our lives today. Materialism and consumerism go hand in hand. The more intensified becomes the greed and sexual desires, the more intensified becomes the tension. If you allow your unrestraint to grow, you will necessarily increase your tension; if there is internal fire of greediness and lust, how could you keep your kind to remain cool and calm? The whole chain of psychosomatic diseases like hypertension, heart-trouble ulcer, or may be even cancer are the result of unrestraint.

Jainism stands on the foundation of spirituality. It puts faith in devotion towards the ideal, but does not believe in any kind of rituals. There are four Puruṣārthas—Dharma, Artha, Kāma & Mokṣa, which have been mentioned in Indian philosophical literature. While Artha & Kāma (Money and Worldly Desire) may be necessary to a certain extent for sustaining the life, Dharma and Mokṣa are very important, as they are the auspicious ones and also have the capacity to regulate the former two. when the latter two have the upper hand, they can do the pariṣkāra of the former two, which would ultimately result in the right unison of all the four puruṣārthas, and which in rum allow a smooth running of the life's vehicle.

Conclusively, we can say that let man make an endeavour—in the field of dharma to attain mokṣa, and in the field of artha and kāma by dominating them with dharma in such a way that the social life does not get disturbed by the problems, as well as the solutions to the problems are attained smoothly.


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This is an edited version of the author's work:
Jain I Darshan ke Mool Sutra
Translated by Prof. M. P. Lele under the guidance of Muni Mahendra Kumar ji and Muni Dulahraj ji, Senior disciples of Acharya Mahprajna.

© Adarsh Sahitya Sangh. New Delhi Published by:
Kamlesh Chaturvedi
Adarsh Sahitya Sangh
210, Deendayal Upadhyay Marg
New Delhi - 110002 (India) Printed at:
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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Ahiṃsā
  2. Anger
  3. Anitya
  4. Anitya Anuprekṣā
  5. Anuprekṣā
  6. Anyatva
  7. Arhat
  8. Arhats
  9. Artha
  10. Bharata
  11. Concentration
  12. Consumerism
  13. Dharma
  14. Ekatva
  15. Equanimity
  16. Fear
  17. Greed
  18. Jain Philosophy
  19. Jainism
  20. Jīva
  21. Karma
  22. Kevali
  23. Kevalis
  24. Kāla
  25. Kāma
  26. Mahavira
  27. Mahāvīra
  28. Maitri
  29. Mokṣa
  30. Non-violence
  31. Omniscients
  32. Parigraha
  33. Puruṣārtha
  34. Soul
  35. Sutra
  36. Svabhāva
  37. Sādhaka
  38. Sādhanā
  39. Sādhus
  40. Sūtra
  41. Violence
  42. siddhas
  43. Ācārya
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