Reality (Sat) and Concept of Dravya (Substance) in Jaina Philosophy (1/2)

Published: 31.07.2008
Updated: 30.07.2015

Part (1)

1.0 Reality: Preamble

Looking at the colorful and different forms of existences in the universe, it is natural to be inquisitive about the form and nature of reality i.e. their ultimate source of origin. Is it one entity with its manifold modifications or manifestations or the reality itself is manifold. Therefore all philosophers and philosophies start their enquiry about self and the universe around, with first understanding the reality (sat) and its nature. They soon came up with two related alternatives namely:

  1. The problem of change - Is changing real?
  2. The problem of one and many - Is reality one or many?

The views of western and Indian philosophers are discussed in a separate paper on Jain views of reality with reference to western philosophers.

1.1 Indian philosophers

Like the western philosophers, we find Indian philosophers also made similar statements, e.g.:

  • Śaṅkara’s Advait-Vedānta presents the thesis of unchanging, eternal, and conscious and one reality - Bṛahm. For him change, plurality and all worldly things are illusory.
  • On the other hand Buddhists consider change as real. (Only Nāgārjuna like Śaṅkara denies the reality of worldly things. Other schools of Buddhism do not deny worldly things)
  • Sāṅkhya believes in duality of existence. They talk of Puruṣa (sentient) and Prakṛti (insentient)
  • Nyāya talk of multiplicity of existences like air, water, fire and earth as different forms of insentient besides soul being sentient.

Jain philosophers and spiritual leaders accept existence of all beings as real and multiple with broad grouping as sentient and insentient beings. Basic considerations about their views on really are based on the following:

  • It accepts permanence, change, multiplicity and identity or similarity simultaneously because in our experience we always find particularity and universality or generality simultaneously.
  • They look at an explanation that is free of fallacy of partial view of reality as any generalization about reality on the basis of single characteristic suffers from the ekāntika doṣa (mono-ism).
  • It is therefore based on the doctrine of multiplicity of viewpoints (Anekāntavāda). Hence the reality should be viewed both from permanence viewpoint (substance) as well as momentary (mode) viewpoint also.
  • It therefore considers both permanence as well as change as real. So they consider reality as permanence with change.

1.2 Nature of Reality in Jainism

The nature and characteristics of reality (sat) are given by the three sutras from Tattvāratha sutra Jain ācārya Umā Svāmi

Sat dravyalakṣaṇam
Utpāda-vyaya-dhrauvyayuktaṅ sat
Guṇaparyayavad dravayam.

This means that substance (dravya) is the indicator or representation of reality; sat is with origination, destruction and permanence simultaneously and substance is with modes and attributes. These will be discussed further in section 2.1 while discussing the characteristics of substance later on. Basically Jains talk of duality of existence / reality namely:

  • Living beings (jīva)
  • Non-living beings (ajīva).

2.0 Need to know the nature and form of substance/dravya.

As per Jain philosophy, this cosmos (loka) is another name of an amalgam of infinite substances. Therefore to know this cosmos, it is essential that we understand properly the concept and nature of substance (dravya). Without knowing the nature of substance, we cannot understand the characteristics of any entity properly / correctly. As the cosmos is said to be an amalgam of infinite substances, knowledge of the nature of substance will help us understand the entire process of origination, destruction and changes taking place in the cosmos better. One of the Jain ācārya has gone to the extent of saying the foundation of all worldly or spiritual knowledge is the knowledge of the dravya itself.[1]

Ācārya Nemi Candra Siddhānta Deva, in the first gāthā (verse) of his text Dravya Saṅgraha, given below, says that the main reason of our worshipping the Jain preceptors (Jinendra Deva) is that they gave us the true description of the substances like jīva (living beings). [2]

Jīvamajīvaṅ davvaṅ jiṇavaravasaheṇa jeṇa nidditthaṅ,
Deviṅdaviṅdavaṅdaṅ vaṅde taṅ savvadā sisrā.


We pay our homage by bending our heads to Jinendra Ŗṣabha Deva, who has given us the sermons of jīva (living beings) and ajīva (non living beings) and who is adored by the entire community of heavenly gods,

Thus without having the knowledge of dravya, how can any body know correctly the supreme soul (Jinendra Deva). If one does not know the true nature of the supreme soul, how can one worship them properly and with all obeisances? Therefore, one of the most respected ācāryas todate, Kunda Kunda says that the main reason to destroying delusion is to know the substance, its attributes and modes as given in the following verse.

Jo jāṇadi arihaṅtaṅ davvatta guṇatta pajjayattehiṅ,
So jāṇadi appāṇaṅ moho khalu jādi tassa layaṅ [3]


One who knows the supreme soul by its substance, modes and attributes, knows his-self and destroys the delusion in the process.

We therefore infer that the knowledge of substance, its modes and attributes enable us to have the correct knowledge of soul and supreme soul thereby destroying delusion, the root cause of all our problems. Hence it is not only important but also essential to have full knowledge of the nature and concept of substance.

2.1 Characteristics of substance / dravya.

Dravya is a definitive term of Jain philosophy that in general represents an entity or an object. This is why Jain ācārya Umā Svāmi (2nd century AD) writes:

Sat dravyalakṣaṇam[4]

i.e. dravya/substance is the characteristics/indicator of reality (existent). What is real is substance. Now the question arises what is reality/sat? He then proceeds to say the following in this regard:

Utpāda-vyaya-dhrauvyayuktaṅ sat [5]

i.e. reality is with origination - destruction and permanence. As per Jain philosophy, all objects / entities in this cosmos, whether sentient or insentient, are with origination-destruction-permanence characteristics i.e. substance/dravya is with origination - destruction and permanence simultaneously. New form of an entity is called its origination; giving up its old state is called destruction and the continuation of the nature of the substance is permanence; e.g. destruction of the state of milk results in origination of the state curd and the continuation of its being dairy product i.e. a bye product of cow (go-rasa) for use by us continues its existence. [6]

This way each and every entity in this cosmos goes through origination-destruction-permanence continuously at every moment. Hence all these entities are termed as substance and are real /sat.

Besides reality /existent, another characteristic in Jain philosophy of substance is that it is always with attributes and modes (paryāya) as given by Umā Svāmi in the following sutra.

Guṇaparyayavad dravayam [7].

Those parts of the substance, which co-exists with it, are called attributes (guṇa) and those that occur serially (krama) are called modes (paryāya). There is no entity in this cosmos, which is not always accompanied with attributes and modes. Knowledge, intuition, happiness etc are the attributes of living beings while mind-based knowledge, verbal testimony etc are the modes of knowledge. Similarly form, taste, odour and touch are the attributes of matter (pudgala) and black / white /yellow etc are the modes of attribute colour.

Thus we conclude that dravya is what is real and real is with origination- destruction and permanence or with attributes and modes.

Jain texts use the word dravya primarily to represent substance. However we also find the terms like object (artha), thing (padārtha), object of knowledge (jñeya or prameya) etc. ‘aryate gamyate parichidyate vā eti arthaħ’ i.e. the entity cognized is the object. Similarly all other terms used are with the object of acquiring knowledge about them. Dravya is also called existent (vastu) as ‘vasanti guṇāħ yasmin tat vastu’or an entity in which attributes exist is called substance.

2.2 Number / quantity of dravyas.

There are infinite substances in this cosmos which can all be classified in six categories namely:

Jīva: Living being
Pudgala: Matter / Mattergy
Dharma: Principle of motion
Adharma: Principle of rest
Ākāśa: Space
Kāla: Time

It is significant to know that most of the philosophies of the world talk of Mono-ism or advaitvāda i.e. only one type of existence and everything emanating from it. But Jain philosophy talks of duality of existence / reality i.e. it propagates Duopoly of existence of living and non-living beings. Jains say that both living beings as well as non-living beings are existent and hence eternal truth and not imaginary or pseudo-reality. Similarly knowledge and object of knowledge, eternal and temporary, soul and supreme soul etc are all existent and real.

We shall briefly discuss each of these now. Jain literature however discuss at length the nature of living beings and matter as these are primary substance types which are helpful in following the path of spiritual purification and attaining emancipation.

A. Jīva or living beings.

An entity with consciousness and its manifestation as knowledge and intuition etc are found is termed as living being. From absolute viewpoint, living beings do not posses attributes like taste, touch, odour or colour and hence are non-concrete. While existing in the cosmos as empirical living being, it lives/ exists due to its capabilities of breathe, sense organs, life span and overall energy while as pure soul, it exists at the summit of the cosmos and exists/ lives forever with its attributes of knowledge, intuition and bliss.

Ācārya Nemi Candra Siddhānta Deva, in his text Dravya Saṅgraha, has in a lucid manner explained the true nature of jīva based on its nine special characteristics as given below: [8]

i. Jīvatva

An entity which lives, as per absolute viewpoint with the force and capability of its consciousness and as per practical viewpoint with its four forces /capabilities of breathe, lifespan, sensual organs and its energy, is called to have jīvatva or is called jīva. [9]

ii. Upyogamaya or able to manifest

Here upyoga means primarily manifestation of consciousness into intuition (darśanopyoga) and knowledge (jñānaopyoga). There are further sub divisions of these two manifestations of consciousness that we do not discuss at this stage. However it is to be understood that this manifestation of consciousness is the primary or main characteristic of jīva in Jain philosophy e.g. the verses ‘upyogo lakṣaṇam’ [10] and ‘cetanālakṣaṇo jīvaħ’ [11] indicate this concept clearly.

iii. Amūrtika - non-concrete

Jīva by its nature is non-concrete and attributes like touch, taste, colour and odour are not associated with it.

iv. Kartā or Doer/ Agent

From absolute viewpoint, it is the doer of its nature and from practical viewpoint it is the doer of its matter karmas.[12]

v. Svadehaparimāṇa or is of the size of the body it owns.

Jīva expands or contracts in shape and size according to the body it lives in at different times. When it is liberated of all its kārmika impurities, it is of the size and shape slightly less than the last body it owned.[13]

vi. Bhoktā or enjoyer

From absolute viewpoint, it is the enjoyer of its nature and from practical viewpoint it is the enjoyer of its matter karmas.

vii. Saṅsārastha or exists in this cosmos.

From the beginning-less time, it exists in this cosmos at different places and destinies.

viii. Siddha or Pure soul

When it is fully free from all the kārmika impurities, then it attains the status of siddha (one who attained its objective) or mukta (free from bondages). It stays in this status forever and is omniscient, detached and in a state of bliss. It does not get born again in any other form (no reincarnation). [14]

ix. Urghvagamana or to move upwards

Like the flame of a fire, its nature is to always move straight up but due to kārmika bondage it appears to moving in different directions.

B. Pudgala or matter

Pudgala is a substance type that is concrete i.e. with touch, taste, smell and color attributes. It is active like jīva. However unlike jīva, its activity is not purposive to spontaneously result in its manifestation of its nature. It is thus affected to a large extent by jīva and is capable of greatly affecting jīva, due to its omnipresence. It is a major component of empirical soul and almost all knowledge acquired by empirical soul is through the use of matter as a means or the medium. Tattvārtha sutra (V.19-21) describes the benefits and uses of pudgala for jīva

(śarīravādmamanaħprāṇāpānāpudgalānām, sukhdukhajīvitamaraṇopagrahāśca, parasparograhojīvānām).

Thus matter is of immense use to the jīva. Identification of empirical soul and its activities are all due to matter associated with it. Even acquisition of knowledge by jīva to rid / dissociate itself of matter is matter. Spoken words, activities of mind, body and speech, thoughts are all matter.

The entire universe and its contents are perceptible due to matter only as it is the only concrete substance. Its basic or distinguishing characteristics are to join with or dissociate from other matter (of same type or different) or to be attracted to jīva and be of use to it. The word pudgala, a definitive term of Jain philosophy is a union of pud (to complete or combine) + gala (to separate) i.e. fusion and fission. Thus matter particles can combine to form lumps/ aggregate (skandha) or the lumps can break to form smaller lumps and continue the process to reach the last stage i.e. parmāṇu which is the smallest part which cannot be further subdivided. Some characteristics of matter are:

Matter in its primitive form is of just one type i.e. parmāṇū. It is the basis of all matter and energy. Both energy and matter can be interchanged. Light, Heat and other forms of energy are thus matter. Light is a skandha of matter. Its speed is said to be 186000 miles per second by Einstein. Parmāṇu, as per Jains can travel at the highest speed of 14 rajjus per samaya. Ācārya Amrita Candra in Tattvāratha Sāra says that the parmāṇu has a natural tendency to move downwards versus of jīva to move upwards.

Matter is of two types namely lump (skandha) and parmāṇu. Lump is a collection of parmāṇus and is perceptible. Lump /aggregate is further classified as of six types namely fine-fine, fine, fine-coarse, coarse-fine, coarse, coarse-coarse. Parmāṇu even though with perceptible qualities cannot be perceived by senses and is classified as absolute (non divisible) and real like atom to give molecules. Skandha is further classified in six categories as follows:

Gross-gross: Lump, which can be broken in parts and the parts, cannot be lumped together again e.g. wood, stone.
Gross: Lumps, which cannot be broken in parts but divided and can be mixed together again e.g. milk, water etc.
Gross-subtle: Those which can be seen but cannot be touched or held e.g. shade, light etc.
Subtle-gross: Those which cannot be seen but cognized by some other sense organs e.g. words, sound, heat, odour etc.
Subtle: Cannot be cognized by any sense organ directly like karma particles.
Subtle-subtle: Even smaller e.g. lumps of two or three parmāṇus.

  • Matter has eight types (4 pairs of existent-non existent attributes) of touches (2 out of 4 present at a time in any parmāṇu), 5 colors, 5 tastes and two smell types. Thus a total of 200 different types of aggregate (i.e. of different characteristics) can be formed. Science has to date found 102 types of basic elements.
  • Matter types which are of use to jīva are called clusters/vargaṇās and are of eight types namely kārmaṇ, luminous (Tejas), gross body (Āudārika), protean body (Vaikriyika), conveyance body (Āhāraka), mind material (Mano vargaā), speech material (Bhāśa vargaṇā) and breathe material (śwāsocchāsa vargaṇās). Gross bodies, protean bodies and conveyance bodies are three types of matter endowed with associability. All vargaṇās are respectively used by jīva to have kārmaṇ, tejus (electric), physical and protean/celestial (for hellish and heaven beings) bodies, āhāraka or knowledge body for ascetics of higher order and remaining vargaṇās for mind, speech, body and breathe.
  • Parmāṇu is the smallest and indivisible part of aggregate. It cannot be destroyed even by the sharpest and most lethal arm / fire or water. It is without space points, besides its own one space point. It is slightly concrete and slightly non concrete.
  • Parmāṇu, which is the basic part of matter has special characteristics and is defined as the smallest indivisible part of matter. It is like a dimensionless and mass-less geometric point that has existence but almost no size and weight. It travels in a straight line if unobstructed otherwise it can travel in any direction including in waveform but under the influence of other entities. (Ref scientists Max Plank, Neil Bohr etc and others who proved this to be so).
  • Parmāṇu in normal state occupies one space point but in special conditions, one space point can have almost infinite parmāṇus in it. Scientists have proved that specific gravity of matter in nebulae is approx 10-24 while some stars are said to be composed of matter which is 2000 times denser than gold. Parmāṇu can have one each color, smell, taste and two touch (hot or cold and hard or soft) qualities. As per Einstein’s theory of relativity, e = mc2, matter can be converted into energy. So a parmāṇū can have almost infinite speed as parmāṇu which is almost mass-less and can travel 14 rajjus (i.e. the whole universe) or 1.4 * 1021 miles per samaya at its fastest speed while its normal speed is one space point (pradeśa) in one samaya.(smallest unit o measure of time).
  • Bonding of parmāṇus is only due to the dry (arid) and cohesive (smooth) attributes present in different proportions. This is similar to positive and negative charges of protons and electrons. The remaining five substance types are non-concrete and cannot be cognized by our sense organs directly. Word, Bondage, subtle, gross, darkness, shadow, light, heat etc. are the modes of matter.[15]

Now we shall discuss the four supportive substances i.e. by themselves these substances do not act but they support the activities of both active substance types namely jīva and pudgala.


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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Adharma
  2. Ajīva
  3. Anekāntavāda
  4. Artha
  5. Body
  6. Buddhism
  7. Candra
  8. Consciousness
  9. Deva
  10. Dharma
  11. Doṣa
  12. Dravya
  13. Dravyas
  14. Einstein
  15. Guṇa
  16. International School for Jain Studies
  17. Jain Philosophy
  18. Jainism
  19. Jinendra
  20. Jīva
  21. Karma
  22. Karmas
  23. Kāla
  24. Loka
  25. Nemi
  26. Niyamasāra
  27. Nyāya
  28. Omniscient
  29. Paryāya
  30. Pradeśa
  31. Prakṛti
  32. Prameya
  33. Protean Body
  34. Pudgala
  35. Puruṣa
  36. Samaya
  37. Science
  38. Siddha
  39. Skandha
  40. Soul
  41. Space
  42. Space point
  43. Space points
  44. Sutra
  45. Sāṅkhya
  46. Sūtra
  47. Vargaṇā
  48. Ācārya
  49. Āhāraka
  50. Ākāśa
  51. Āpta
  52. ācāryas
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