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The Mirror Of The Self: [22] The Doctrine Of Leshya: A Historial Perspective

Published: 04.03.2009
Updated: 05.03.2009

The Halo And The Aura

The doctrine of leshya, first mooted in the world of philosophy, has today become a subject of scientific research. It may bear a different name, but the doctrine is the same. Today, the aura commands great interest in the field of science. There are two words 'aura' and 'halo'. The aura is the circle of light surrounding the whole body, whereas the luminous circle general­ly shown round the heads of great men is called the halo. Both the aura and the halo have elicited much interest. These have been photographed, loo. In this context, the Kirlian photography is quite celebrated. A great many people are working in this field.

A Scientific Doctrine

Dr. J. C Trust, an American woman has accomplished a good deal of work in this field. She has also written a book entitled, "The Atom and the Aura". In it, she has published many pictures of the aura. Dr. Narendran in Madras has designed a machine for photographing the aura. He takes a picture of the aura round the thumb and on the basis of it he diagnoses the patient's disease. He has used this technique for treating many diseases and he has been pretty successful too.

The doctrine of leshya has become today a scientific doctrine. It has been with us now for at least 2500 years. It was prevalent in the times of Mahavir and the biggest testimony thereof is the sentence found in the Acharanga Sutra, "Abahillese" ('the leshya of Jina is not materialistic'). The Acharang Sutra is recognised to be the oldest Agama. The word, leshya, occurs therein. So this doctrine of leshya has been prevalent since the age of Mahavira.

Historical View: Search For The Original Source

The historical point of view seeks to establish as to who first formulated the original concept In the context of Indian and Jain philosophies, such an enquiry is very pertinent. Wherefrom did the philosophies and doctrines prevalent today originate? Who founded them? The discovery of the fundamental source is im­portant. Interpolations and plagiarisms appear later. Someone's good doctrine is appropriated by another, with slight linguistic changes. The idea and the plot get disseminated. Indian tales find their way into Russia. The story of Rakshita-Rohini has been very popular in India; it is now prevalent in Russia, too. The stories get transferred from one country to another through the medium of tourists. Tales from foreign lands get transmitted here and tales from here get transmitted to foreign lands. The Indian philosophies become prevalent in other countries and the ideas and philosophies of other countries get established here. At present, we have prevalent in India the concept of the days of the week - Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, etc. Such a concept did not exist before. There is no mention of the days of the week in our ancient literature or in the biographies of our great men. The date and the month are, to be sure, found there, but there is no reference to the days of the week such as Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.; these have come from outside; they never originated here in India and got assimilated in our culture in the course of time.

Leshya In Mahabharata

The question arises as to where the doctrine of leshya originated? Where is its fundamental source to be found? U is very difficult to say who first conceived it and put it forth. On the basis of the standard books and literature available to us today, the concept of leshya is found in the Mahabharata. In the Mahabharata, it is said that living beings are of six colours - black, grey, blue, red, yellow and white. On the basis of these colours, is gauged an individual's joy or sorrow, his pleasure or pain.

Categorisation In Terms Of Colour-cum-Happiness

It was said that the people of black colour are very cruel; hence, they lack in joy. Those of grey colour suffer from the scarcity of joy; a little particle of joy is all that they might experience. Those of blue colour experience slightly more pleasure. In red-coloured people, the quantity of joy is much more, whereas those of white colour have abundance of joy. Totally white colour is indicative of extreme bliss.

In the above classification of colour and joy, we have six colours and an analysis of joy and sorrow on the basis of those colours. This doctrine of the Mahabharata is very much like the doctrine of leshya. Although not in complete conformity with it, yet it closely approximates to it.

The Mahabharata: A Secular Epic

The Mahabharata is a compilation. It is not the exemplar of any one philosophy. All the ideologies prevalent in India at that time are represented in it; there are no dividing lines. As a matter of fact, the Mahabharata is a secular book. It is not the scripture of any particular religious sect. Ancient literature has been divided into three kinds—secular literature, Vedic literature and Shraman literature.

The Vedas constitute Vedic literature; the Agamas and the Tripitakas, etc. constitute Shraman literature. The Mahabharata and the Ramayana constitute secular literature. All the folk tales, poetry and the folk songs are meant for the common people. They do not belong to any particular religious sect. As far as the folksongs and tales are concerned, they are meant for all people, whether Hindu or Muslim. The Mahabharata is a secular epic. In it are represented all religions and philosophies - Jain, Buddhist and Vedic. The whole of the Indian philosophy and thought of the time is to be found in the Mahabharata. Whatever was considered to be good was included in it. That explains the presence in it of a great many contradictory things. That is how we find that whereas on the one hand, a life of action is extolled, on the other hand, a life of renunciation is equally prized. There seems to be no concordance between these two contradictory emphases. A man of average intelligence finds it rather odd. In fact, the contradictory things are there because the book is a compilation; different viewpoints have been included in it.

How Ancient Is The Mahabharata?

The question is whether the Mahabharata is a very ancient book. It is difficult to concede that it is very old. Maybe, it is a thousand years old, or two thousand years old. But it could not be said with certainty that the Mahabharata, as we have it, existed before Mahavira. The Mahabharata before the times of Mahavira could not be so voluminous; it must have been a much smaller book. In the beginning, it might have contained about seven thousand verses; Later, the number rose to 21,000, and today the number of verses in it is estimated to exceed more than a lakh. All this points to subsequent additions.

The Moot Points

Then there is the Buddhist literature. Anguttar Nikaya speaks of six abhijatis. Dr. Leuman, Dr. Herman Jacobi and Dr. A. L. Basham concluded on the basis of their research that Mahavira borrowed the doctrine of leshya from the aboriginals, the Ajivakas. Some foreign scholars have arrived at hasty con­clusions, at odds with the facts. One of the reasons for such hasty conclusions was that they were not in possession of the whole tradition. They would read a couple of books and on the basis of such limited study, would make their conjectures. Thus, despite their talent, intelligence, high level of research, standard methods and techniques, their conclusions go awry in the absence of a proper knowledge of tradition. One of their conclusions was that Mahavira took many things from the ancient Ajivaka sect. For instance, the nudeness. That is, Mahavira took the practice of nudity from the Ajivakas. Similar claims are made in respect of many other things, which, from the historical point of view, are debatable. Some of the conclusions arrived at by foreign scholars have been since refuted. One such conjecture is about the doctrine of leshya being appropriated from the Ajivakas.

Six Abhijatis

Firstly, these six Abhijatis do not belong to the Ajivaka sect. One of the six Tirthankars known at the time was Puran Kashyapa who has described the six Abhijatis. The classification of these Abhijatis is nowhere like the classification of the doctrine of leshya. Although the names Krishnabhijati, Neelabhijati, etc. are common, but their basis is entirely different. The classification of these Abhijatis runs as follows:

(1) Krishnabhijati

Those who commit ruthless acts

(2) Neelabhijati

Buddhist monks

(3) Lohitabhijati

Ekashatak Jain (monk wearing one cloth)

(4) Haridrabhijati

A monk wearing white cloth or no cloth at all

(5) Shuklabhijati


(6) Paramshuklabhijati

Ajivaka Acharya

The Jain Tradition

One of these traditions was that of Ekashatak Jains. The Jain monks would put on a one cloth (white cloth) over their shoulders; they did not wear any other upper or lower garment. When Mahavira became a monk, it was in the tradition of a Ekashataka. It is said that at the time of his initiation, Mahavira put on a piece of cloth over his shoulders. As a matter of fact, Mahavira was initiated in a Ekashataka tradition. One cloth could only mean a little concession to avoid nudity. The monks wearing white garments or no garments at all have been taken as belonging to Haridrabhijati. It means that even at that time there was a tradition of white-clad monks. The Buddhist mendicants belonged to Neelabhijati, the Ajivakas to Shuklabhijati and their Acharya to Paramshuklabhijati.

No Correspondence With The Doctrine Of Leshya At All

This classification does not at all match with the doctrine of leshya. There is a certain resemblance of names, but that does not mean anything. Only certain sects have been classified on the basis of colour. The Buddhist monks belong to Neelabhijati, those of a particular colour belong to Ekashatak community, and those of a different colour are Ajivakas. In a way, various sects have been divided on the basis of the colour of their cloth. How can this be identified with the doctrine of leshya? And it was on the basis of this classification that Prof. Leumann, Dr. Herman Jacobi and Dr. Basham conjectured that Mahavira took the doctrine of leshya from the Ajivakas. But a mere classification of com­munities on the basis of the colour of their cloth should not be confounded with the doctrine of leshya.

Mahavira's Doctrine Of Leshya

The doctrine of leshya propounded by Lord Mahavir has two aspects. One of them is the aspect of feeling, the other of colour. Feeling and colour together make up the doctrine of leshya. It is an important spiritual doctrine. No serious discussion ot spirituality can ignore it.

Who Is Wise?

There is a folk tale about the hedgehog, the snake and the jackal. They were close friends. One day a question arose as to who of these three was the wisest. Wherever the question of intelligence arises, every person tries to establish his own supe­riority. If two children are asked, "Who is more intelligent among you?", each would answer, "I!" A child would never recognise another person to be more intelligent. The person who recognises another's wisdom has transcended the state of childhood, and the one who does not recognise anybody to be wise, is still a child, no matter how old he may be. Every individual is inclined to consider another as less intelligent than himself. Every man thinks, "I'm perfectly right. The other person is wrong." Even a simpleton is clever enough to detect faults in others and considers himself to be above reproach.

The hedgehog said, "I'm possessed of 50 'wisdoms'!" The snake countered, "I'm possessed of a hundred!" The jackal said, "I've nothing to do with fifty or a hundred 'wisdoms', I'm pos­sessed of one holistic intelligence which serves me to face any problem that crops up."

After a few days, the jungle caught fire. As the fire spread, the snake could not withstand it and it was even more difficult for the hedgehog, with its burden of thorns, to get away. Both these perished in the fire. The jackal went fleeing without any respite till it got out of the jungle, and heaved a sigh of relief only when it had attained the safety of the open ground. As it looked back at the blazing forest fire, it said:

"The one who boasted of having a hundred 'wisdoms', lies shrunk like a burnt rope; the other possessed of fifty 'wisdoms' is turned into a ball of ashes. But thanks to my holistic intelligence, I stand alive, unhurt."

A Comprehensive Doctrine

The doctrine of leshya is such a doctrine, a holistic intel­ligence, which transcends all other intelligences. No doctrine of spirituality can do without it. Indeed, without purification of leshya there can be no development of knowledge. Whether it is a question of recollection of previous births, or of clairvoyance, or of omniscience - nothing is possible without purification of leshya. Here knowledge does not mean bookish knowledge; in fact leshya has nothing to do with bookish knowledge, or the knowledge of geography or astronomy. It is the knowledge that originates from the soul, which is related to leshya. A nexus inevitably exists between leshya and the knowledge that is born of the soul. Such transcendental knowledge comes into being only when the leshya is pure. If the leshya is not pure, such knowledge cannot come into being. The ksayopashamika bhava (destruction-cum-subsidence of karma) and the ksayika bhava (total destruction of karma) are connected with leshya; also connected with it is the audayika bhava (rise of karma). Death and the bondage of age are both linked with leshya. In the Jain Agamas it has been said, "A man is born in the same leshya in which he dies." The doctrine of leshya has been very comprehensive in the Jain philosophy. If this doctrine is taken out of the Jain Agamas, they would stand divested of a most valuable part; and their bulk would be reduced by half.

The Fundamental Contribution Of Jainism

From the historical point of view, it is difficult to credit the hypothesis that Mahavira has borrowed the doctrine of leshya from someone else. But if he may be said to have borrowed it at all, it must be from the tradition of Lord Parshva (the 23rd Tirthankar), the tradition of the earlier scriptures. In fact, the scope of the earlier scriptures was so vast as to include in it the entire knowledge of the cosmos. The doctrine of leshya had been prevalent in the tradition of Parshva and there is little difficulty in believing that Mahavira inherited the whole of this tradition. But apart from this, it cannot be maintained that Mahavira took the doctrine of leshya from any other tradition outside of the Parshva tradition, whether Vedic, Buddhist or Ajivaka. Although the reference to colour is found in all these traditions because no religious scripture can do without it, yet this doctrine of leshya has been developed in the Jain tradition to a far greater extent than in any other tradition. Also there should be no difficulty in recognis­ing that the Jains have held a kind of monopoly as regards the development of two doctrines - the doctrine of leshya and the doctrine of karma and this constitutes their original contribution to Indian philosophy.

Leshya Is The Mirror

The leshya-aura serves as a mirror, in which an individual can see himself, can observe his own thoughts and feelings, and perceive his conduct and behaviour.

Socrates, the great philosopher had an ugly face, yet he often gazed at his reflection in the mirror. Whenever he stood before the mirror and observed his face, his pupils would start laughing, but they did not say anything to Socrates.

There are many things in a guru, which are not intelligible to his disciples, and yet the latter have not the courage to question the guru about it. Some pupil’s doubts are dissolved in their complete dedication to the guru, but all do not possess such devotion. These doubters laugh behind their teacher's back, or indulge in criticism. They are incapable of directly questioning the teacher about their misgivings; this naturally takes the form of criticism.

Socrates' frequent resort to the mirror inspired ridicule in his pupils. They dared not directly question him about it, nor could they remain silent. They would talk among themselves, wondering why such a great philosopher observed himself in the mirror time and again. Had he been handsome, the observation of his reflection might have afforded him some gratification. But he had an ungainly countenance - such as a man would not like to dwell upon and yet their teacher continually gazed at it. Why? One day as Socrates was looking into the mirror as usual; some of his pupils could not contain themselves and burst out laughing together. Socrates said, "You are laughing because you find me looking at my reflection in the minor. You wonder why I often gaze into the mirror, even though I have an ugly face. But you don't seem to perceive that a handsome person need not look into the mirror at all. Why should one who is well-favoured, consult the mirror? It is the man who is not prepossessing who needs to look into it. I know I have an ugly face, and I must not do anything, which would make it uglier. I am, therefore, vigilant about my conduct and behaviour."

This statement set at rest the doubt and curiosity of Socrates' pupils.

New Possibilities

The doctrine of leshya is a kind of mirror in which every individual can see his face. One's conduct, thought and behaviour - all these are reflected in the mirror.

This doctrine is Lord Mahavir's great contribution to the world of philosophy. In the world of spirituality, it has been greatly appreciated. Today, it is getting established in the scien­tific world, too. A time may come when, after all else has failed, this doctrine of the aura would play a significant role in the treatment of diseases. It would then be possible to prognosticate what disease is imminent and when death might occur and what can possibly be done to forestall these. This subject is being progressively explored and some new possibilities are sure to emerge there from. From all angles - historical, philosophical and spiritual - its study is highly commendable.


3rd Edition 1995

Jain Vishva Bharati Institute
Ladnun -341 306 (Rajasthan)

Muni Dhananjay Kumar (Hindi)
Muni Mahendra Kumar (English)

Translated by:
Late Prof. R.K. Seth

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharang
  2. Acharanga
  3. Acharya
  4. Agama
  5. Agamas
  6. Audayika
  7. Aura
  8. Bhava
  9. Body
  10. Clairvoyance
  11. Guru
  12. Jacobi
  13. Jain Philosophy
  14. Jainism
  15. Jina
  16. Karma
  17. Lakh
  18. Leshya
  19. Leumann
  20. Madras
  21. Mahabharata
  22. Mahavir
  23. Mahavira
  24. Ramayana
  25. Science
  26. Shraman
  27. Socrates
  28. Soul
  29. Sutra
  30. Tirthankar
  31. Tirthankars
  32. Vedas
  33. Vedic
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