Evolution And Reincarnation In Jainism

Published: 27.01.2010
Updated: 30.07.2015

Lecture on 19 January 2010, Dept. of Jainology, University of Madras
- Rudi Jansma

If we think of evolution, we think of Charles Darwin, the English biologist of the nineteenth century, who proposed what is now known as the Theory of Evolution through Natural Selection. Even nowadays many scientists in the West believe that he and other scientists of his time were the first to ponder over the origin of life and biological species such as plants, animals and human beings. But if we turn ourselves to the wisdom scriptures and teaching of India, we find that the seeds of an evolution theory where already there for millennia, going completely unnoticed by the Western world, which based its ideas on the Christian idea that “God had created the world in seven days only some 4000 years ago, and that nothing has changed since God made all things perfect.” We also find that in the spiritual scriptures of India, notably in the Vishnu Purāna and in the Saṁkhya school of thought, ideas of evolution had been worked out to an extent that reaches far beyond the ideas of any Western scientific theory of even the 21st century. Moreover the Indian ideas about evolution cover the whole of the universe, regard life and intelligence as universal, and do not regard life as something that was came into existence on Earth only.

First of all I will give attention to those philosophical ideas in Jainism which support evolution; secondly I will speculate about “What would evolution theory have looked like if Darwin would have been a Jain, ignorant of the Christian tradition.”

Many Jains believe that Jainism does not have a concept of evolution at all. They will say that the world is without beginning and running in endless cycles of suffering and joy, making it possible for the soul or jīva to liberate itself from this cycle. Then, they would say, the soul is liberated and will be for ever blissful and omniscient, residing in siddhaloka above any worldly concern. Then, in fact, the soul has only reached the state of its one inherent nature, absolutely pure, omniscient, and liberated from all mistakes and karmas, but without gain - because they were pure and omniscient before they ever started the errant pilgrimage through cycles of suffering and illusionary joy. Also, many belief that the soul is just going up and down through all forms or existence, through continuous rebirth in one of the four gati’s or realms of existence below siddhaloka. Today you are a human; tomorrow you may be a frog or a gnat, or even a one-sensed micro-organism, a mineral soul or a plant soul. On the other hand, some animals, if their behavior and spiritual attractions are of a higher kind, may soon be reborn as one or the other celestial being. According to its particular karma the soul will be reborn immediately in the subhuman, the human, or the hellish or the celestial worlds - of which there are many. This is the popular belief among many Jains. Let us now thoroughly investigate a few of the philosophical concepts contained in its teaching.

First I want to talk about the concept of parināma. Parināma may be translated as “change of form.” This can be a change of the form of the mind, which at any time may choose to take a different direction. It may also refer to changes in physical form from generation to generation, through time, within Nature.

The concept of parināma literally means transformation, change, bending. The Tattvārtha(dhigama) Sūtra of Sarvārthasiddhi (The Śvetambara and Digambara versions of a canonical text composed by Umāsvamī or Umasvatī, which agree on most issues) says about this (V 42): “Parināma or modification of a substance is the change in the character of its gunas, which means, its attributes or qualities.” Within the framework of the anekāntavāda doctrine - the Jaina doctrine that knowable things can be approached from many different aspects - any existing thing is comprised of three aspects: dravya (substance), guna (quality, attribute) and paryāya (mode). Substance may have many qualities.

As you know there are only a limited number of substances in the universe. They are known as: life (jīva), non-living and non-conscious matter (pudgala), time (kala), space (ākāśa), motion (dharma) and non-motion (adharma).

The qualities or gunas always depend on substance (dravya) and are never without it (TDS V 41). An example is a change from one color to another. The qualities have no qualities of their own (otherwise they would be called substances), but all the time they undergo changes (parināma) by acquiring new modes (paryāya) and losing old ones. All changes in physical properties of organisms as found in western evolution theory are contained within this term parināma. This means to say, that in the last few centuries, when western investigators of nature found fossils and other evidence of changes of form in nature - what seemed opposed to the teaching of Christianity - the Jains had already been teaching the idea of changing of forms in nature for thousands of years! Moreover it was not just a side issue figured out by some individual Jain thinkers. On the contrary, the continuity of change in nature is a very fundamental idea in the whole Jain ways of thinking. But what makes Jain philosophy tower far above even Darwin himself was that that they also have a sound explanation for evolution. Western scientist of the 17th and 18th century really had no clew to the cause or reason or mechanism of change of form. It is true that scientists had discovered that change of body forms had taken place in geological history over a time scale of millions of years. Despite the dogmatic religious believes of their time, nobody could ultimately deny the evidence given by fossils. But western science was hardly aware that changes of form from generation to generation were taking place even now, today, before our very eyes. The general idea in the first half of half of the nineteenth century in Europe and America was that such changes might have taken place in the far past, perhaps due to the playfulness of God’s hand, but not nowadays.

Even though other scientists than Darwin (for example Darwin’s grandfather) had speculated already that there might be some changes of form in animal and plant bodies even today, nobody had a good proof or explanation. It was mainly thanks to Darwin that this idea broke through in the western scientific world, and has now become accepted by everyone in the world except some groups of Christian fundamentalists. Even most of these fundamentalists do not deny what Darwin discovered, but they try to explain every change as a unique design by God. This is not how Darwin explained the changes and the origin of new forms and species in nature.

Strictly speaking, Darwinism is not a theory of evolution. It is merely a theory on how changes of material forms in nature can be explained. Evolution actually means: bringing things to manifestation from within. In the same way as a lotus seed germinates, grows and finally unfolds into a lotus flower, evolution means that everything that is now in existence unfolded from something, grew out of something, and that all forms were there before as possibilities. These possibilities only have to unfold, to evolve. The number of possibilities may be infinite, and therefore evolution into possible forms may also be infinite. Forms that do not exist now, may exist in the future, or perhaps on another planet or solar system. So, to say it easily: evolution brings out what was already there. It brings things forth from a soul or inner being into its form of expression. Like a painting that may exist in the mind of the artist before he ever applied his pencil and put it on cloth or paper.

But Darwin did not belief that anything was already there. So he did not really propose a theory of evolution. He only tried to explain why and how forms change in Nature. On his famous trip on a ship called the Beagle he came one day to the Galapagos Islands, quite far off the coast of Ecuador on the mainland of South America. On these islands many species of animals and plants had lived in isolation from the mainland for innumerable generations. Also their circumstances were quite different from those on the mainland. Species of insects had lost their wings, because flying about a windy island is only dangerous, and you can just as well walk to your destination. Some birds whose progenitors long generations ago had been eating seeds had turned to eating insects on the islands. For eating seeds you need a short strong bill to crush the hard scales of some fruits and nuts, and also a wide bill makes it easier to contain the soft fluid contents of berries. But all these things being scarce on the islands they started to eat insects. And their bills became longer and longer and more useful to pick insects out of small holes. Even if you would bring such birds back to the mainland, their children at least in the first generations would still have long bills, even though these were no longer necessary. So the new property, long bills, had become hereditary. This is not evolution, but adaptation. It did not come from within, but the adaptation was forced on them by the new environment with new possibilities, new dangers, new challenges. Darwin sought an explanation, and as an explanation he offered the idea of mutation, that is, haphazard, sudden change of form without purpose, just by a chance play of nature. This would be without guidance from any god or other being, without any guidance from within the organism itself. It happened some time, perhaps by mistake, just by chance. There was no evolution in the true sense. Imagine that by chance the young of one pair of finches on the island had a somewhat longer beak than others, just as some people have longer noses than other people. This one with the longer beak would more easily get food, because apart from seeds, which were scarce he could add insects to his diet. Imagine the information about this longer beak was registered within his cells (People in those days did not know about genes and chromosomes and DNA yet). Would he marry a female with the same property, their offspring might have still longer beaks, and so on and so on. A whole new breed of more successful insect eaters would just compete away the one’s with the smaller beaks who often died from hunger. The fittest or strongest would survive, the weaker would succumb. The long-bills would just do better on the market.

If you imagine that comparable processes would take place everywhere on the world over periods of millions of years, this idea of chance mutation, competition and survival of the fittest could, according to Darwin explain all evolution. It is now more than 150 years ago since Darwin published these ideas, and the majority of scientist accepts this explanation nowadays as the real cause of evolution - even though in fact it is no evolution in the true sense.

What has Jainism to say about all this? We have already seen that the concept of parināma as an inherent property in nature explains change of form as such. Then the next question is, why do things change in a particular direction? Is it by chance? Would a Jain accept that the basic evolutionary force in nature is struggle for life, competition, killing of others for the sake of yourself? That means: would a Jain ever belief that utter self-interest of individuals or species, relentless struggle and cruelty and the motivation powers in Nature? In the twentieth century, one of Darwin’s ardent followers, Richard Dawkins wrote a book called The Selfish Gene in which he proclaims that absolute selfishness for the own interest of the DNA codes within every organism is the only driving force of nature. This only, according to him, explains the multiplicity of life forms on earth. Soul does not exist. If a soul, and feelings and consciousness and a mind exist in living beings, this is only the by-product of the same stupid and selfish processes in nature. Thousand, indeed most of western scientists, subscribe to his ideas even now, in the first part of the twenty-first century.

I most remind you that in the view which dominates western science, especially since the French-Dutch philosopher René Descartes in the seventeenth century, said that there is no soul in animals. Let alone in plants. This very belief justified animal experiences and Ginnypigness in Western science, which even today often collects biological data in the cruelest ways. Even today western science makes a distinction between what is life and what is not life in a very different way as Jainism does. Generally only plants, animals, including humans, are regarded as living beings. They show movement, growth and procreation. But what life actually is, nobody can clearly define. In Jainism, jīva is life, and is something that can exist on itself. It is a substance in its own right. Jīva is not a function of something else. All living forms in nature contain jīva: not only plants and animals, but also mineralss, the water, fire, the elements, and countless invisible beings which do not at the moment possess a body of physical matter. These include beings of the lowest status as well as divinities. The highest beings of the universe are ensouled - rather they are only souls. So a Jain idea of evolution of life would be all-encompassing. It would include minerals and gods, fire and water-bodies and air-bodies beings, meteorological phenomena and also stars and other heavenly bodies. A Jain evolution theory would not only be confined to the earth, but to the whole knowable universe. It would not be confined to animals and plants, as Darwin’s theory did, but include all bodies and all souls in nature.

In Jainism there is a soul, called jīva: a living, intelligent, pure essence in every living being. It has feelings and can suffer. It can make decisions and attract the results of its decision according to its state of development and awareness of the environment. It can relate to the environment by means of one to five sense organs and a mind, for which purpose the jīva needs śarīras or bodies. According to the soul’s vibrations, either good, bad or neutral (i.e. neither particularly good or bad from an ethical point of view) it attracts karmas in the form of molecules of karmic matter, each of which clings to that soul (because that is what the soul wanted in the first place) and these molecules or clusters of molecules work as an filter or obstruction for the full expressing of the souls’ innate capacities.
The soul is seen as a substance, as something that supports qualities. Examples are knowledge, energy, compassion, happiness. The innumerable qualities may increase or decrease, but are always there to some extent in many possible (in fact infinite) modes. According to Jain philosophy of anekānta, apparent logical contradictions (to the Aristotelian western mind) can exist together without excluding each other. Because of the complexity of the manifold aspects, qualities such as unity and multiplicity, or such as eternity and transience, can exist at the same time. Thus, for example, all the different species and varieties of roses have, despite their differences, their inherent “roseness” in common, which unifies them together in the Rosaceae or rose-family. This gives us a philosophical basis for explaining not only different species in nature, but also of groups of species which share a common denominator into a higher taxonomical order - an almost unbridgeable problem in the Darwinist approach. From a Jain point of view, all living things and groups of living things, on their own taxonomical level of manifest nature, have their own fundamental characteristic, due to groups of qualities and modes of these qualities. This, of course, does not only apply to the physical appearance, but also to inner, psychological, mental and spiritual properties and to where a being is attracted to.
Such modification or transformation is wholly due to karma, which means, wholly due to conscious ethical choice which souls can make according to their current state: whatever thought or emotional vibration may have been invoked by the jīva, will result in a particular form, mentally, psychologically and physically. It is therefore the inner activity of a living being which determines the form and the properties of the body it will clothe itself in when a future embodiment occurs. The transformations of forms in nature are thus guided from within, and not from outside influences, outside the control of the inner being that lives within its particular body, as is the traditional western science-based belief. Evolution in the western sense of the word can thus wholly be explained by the choices and attractions of the souls, which are reflected in the psychology, mentality as well as outer appearance of humans, animals, plants, and even minerals. No selfishness, chance, struggle, hatred, materialism, competition and killing are needed for that. All these are possibilities, not necessities for good or bad resulting from the freedom of the jīva to choose. There is no more inherent selfishness in nature as there is compassion and altruism. Or is there? Can we say that evolution moves upward of downward? In the first case we would say that compassion, wisdom and impulse dominate. In the last case we would say that egoism or selfishness predominates. Darwinism tries to explain upward evolution despite inherent selfishness of individual beings or their genes. How is that possible? Evolution in the sense of Darwinism is not the attainment of cultural or spiritual attainment moving in the direction of nobility and happiness. It leads to more and more material success, struggle, eternal war, cruelty, altruistic indifference except when its serves one’s own profit - not to happiness, let alone bliss. Not to freedom, but to more and more bondage. Not to nirvana, but to self-destruction of life. Then, nothing remains: no soul, no consciousness, no beauty that can be perceived because there is nothing left. But in Jainism we see the endless cycles of upward and downward movement of souls, called utsarpinī and avasarpinī. So should we conclude that Jainism does not propagate evolution, but only endless return to the same situation except when one manages to liberate oneself? Is there only endless change of form in Jainism according to ever new karmic vibrations of the soul for good or for bad, for joy of for suffering? This implies that when we are happy today, that necessary we will be unhappy another day, or cycle. This is not an optimistic view about life. Whatever I accomplish, even if I think I am doing well, will only lead me into a cycle of great suffering, at least temporarily - until I find my way out. An endless cycle of change, of joy, of pain, of good and of bad, but no progress, no sense to it all. Why would any living soul ever even start on such a hopeless pilgrimage?

Let’s see if there are some other concepts within Jain philosophy which can help us.

There is at least one consequence of the Jain doctrine that seems to point out that there is indeed a progressive development of souls in the direction of perfection. Utter perfection and final emancipation can only be reached through the human stage. So every being has to become a human sooner or later. It would therefore make sense, or give a notion of “justice” if every soul gets an opportunity to reach the human stage. The human stage is characterized by having five senses and a mind. If transmigration of souls would be haphazard or would as a rule make very big evolutionary jumps, the chance of becoming human would be very small. There are only a “handful” of humans compared to the trillions or more other creatures in the universe. Chances would be extremely small. This would be different if there would be a gradual development from the simplest one-sensed beings via 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5-sensed and them mind-possessing beings (disregarding individual regression as exceptions). After the jīva has reached enough experience by means of one sense, an inner urge to develop the second would rise him up on the evolutionary ladder. Again after many existences in a world of two-sensed experience the urge might arise to develop a third sense, and so on up to a full development of all the senses and the mind in its best, highest most intelligent form. Only when he has a mind he can make conscious choices for good or bad and go to hells or heavens, or strive for ultimate liberation form this cyclic world. It would be difficult to explain how a higher organism could “fall down” to a significantly lower state, because that would mean that his karmas of the higher state would have to be disconnected from the soul - something which can only be dome through conscious effort. If it is at all possible, it would be extremely rare. It is said to be a difficult process for those embodied in a low state of development such as elemental beings and minerals and plants, to be re-embodied a higher category. But I would think that once one has reached that higher development, all the accumulated karma’s for that particular state can not be dropped easily. The mindless beings, i.e. all subhuman beings except perhaps some of the highest animals, can not have an experience as a hell-being, nor as a heavenly because it has no mind to register this type of experience. Also they can not be human before having developed human mental karmas. From the human state they can remain in the human kingdom for scores of births, and each time something will be added due to mental experience, and it depends on the use of that imperfectly developed mind whether a human will temporarily be born in hell or heaven, and in which one. But falling back to mindlessness or part senselessness would be difficult to explain.

“But,” a skeptical person might interfere, “Why would there be progressive development at all? If a one-sensed being is ‘happy’ in its stage and does not know about the existence of higher or happier stages, why would he not for ever remain in that low state?” Indeed there is in Jainism a condition of indefinite one-sensedness, called the nitya-nogida state. But other nigoda’s which can emancipate will have to be replenished from the nitya-nigoda state - so even at least some of them get a chance - and in the long, all of them, I think.

Than there is the question of exhaustion of jīvas: jīvas are reaching liberation, the highest state of being all the time all the time. If there were no supply from below, one day all souls would be emancipated - and as there is no beginning to creation, it would not be understandable how it is possible that there are still non-liberated souls left. Jainism has stated that there is an infinite supply of nitya-nigodas, the lowest state of one-sensed existence of the soul. But how did these reach their particular karmic condition? This would only be explicable within the framework of the karma doctrine if there has been something before the nitya-nigoda state. Moreover, if some souls leave this condition to supply the souls that are “lost” for the cycles of non-liberated existence by reaching liberation, the average movement is upward, which means that at least on average there is upward evolution. Prof. Padmanabh S. Jaini of Berkeley discusses the question of evolution in his article “Karma and the Problem of Rebirth in Jainism” and states among other arguments: “... every soul is said to exist along a virtual continuum of consciousness, from the minimal but ineradicable trace of awareness (nitya-udghātita-jñāna) possessed by a nigoda to the omniscience of a siddha [one how has accomplished liberation]... we have here a model which is both linear and evolutionary in its conception.”

It seems to me that every living thing on earth has some instinct for progress according in the direction it has chosen by previous longings, and that despite many set-backs, that striving always remains as a leading soul vibration, finally leading all souls to humanhood and finally liberation.

A most important concept in Jainism supporting this idea is known as yathā-pravritta-kārana. This term, meaning beginning cause, is the urge, which is present in even the most primitive beings, the nitya-nigodas, so certainly in humans, to release themselves from the chains of desire, to shuffle off the karmic impediments. This is the fundamental ever pressing driving force of evolution toward liberation. Nathmal Tatia writes: “Moral and spiritual consciousness only dawn for the soul when it is sufficiently conscious of, and confronted with, the force that has eternally been keeping it ensnared. To facilitate this, the soul has an innate, beginningless ‘autonomous capacity’ - yathāpravrittakārana - that is always struggling to relieve the soul of its karmic burden. This capacity is the will power which drives the soul toward liberation.” (That Which Is, p. 280). The very fact that this urge exists, means that there is compassion streaming forth from the essence of the soul towards all limited beings. It also seems to imply that there is a reason for the existence of all these creatures - why else would a pure and omniscient soul involve itself in attracting karmas which cause obstacles and suffering and ignorance? All forms come forth from the soul’s active involvement in karma, whereas at the same time all beings in bondage receive the urge to reach liberation - what only can be accomplished through the development of sense organs which bring the living being in its many successive embodiments in contact with the experience in various aspects of the cosmos: physical and non-physical matter, air, light, sound and thought. Then, when the soul has reached the human stage, yathā-pravritta-kārana is also this urge, the energy, which, at the beginning of the self-guided path of evolution, suddenly comes to the forefront as an enormous energy, temporarily pushing aside most karmas and bringing the consciousness face to face with all the individual karmas that limit the vision and freedom of the soul. Seeing that, he wants only one thing: liberation from all his limitations, faults and illusions.

We can say that at the moment that a man or woman reaches the awareness that they can choose their own path, higher evolution begins, in distinction from the lower evolution which brought the soul from nigodahood to humanhood.

Note that the Western evolution theories only cover the lower evolution, up to the mind, and explain the process without defining a soul of jīva. Of course the existence of this higher evolution could never even occur to the mind of a Darwinist. He would say that all that exists are only adaptations to circumstances, evolved from matter only, of which blind selfishness is the only no soul being necessary, by chance only, and that feelings, emotions, thoughts and mystical experiences, if these are recognized at all, are by-products of evolution, useful only as a unconscious survival policy.

Jainism describes the higher evolution as a fourteen-fold path, especially from the third stage on, as a conscious self-guided path towards final liberation. In relation to this lecture the third stage, called samyak-mithyātva, or, literally true-and-false insightness, is of special interest. Some very interesting teaching goes with the concept of samyak-mithyātva. This third stage is a very special event in the whole history of the soul, because from then on, and only from then on, the individual can take its path toward final attainment in its own hand. It follows logically that the soul itself has the innate capacity to force this event, and it means also that this capacity has always been inherent in the nature of the soul, but thus far slumbering. This soul factor is called bhavyatva (from bhavya, being, becoming; -tva, -ness), potentiality to become free. The breakthrough only occurs when the soul has reached a point of “readiness” to be touched by the inner impulse, due to the right karmic condition into which one has brought oneself.
One of the ways in which bhavyatva may be awakened from its dormant state is by hearing spiritual teachings, or one’s encounter with a spiritually highly developed person, or an image of a liberated teacher, etc.

So there are these two important factors: an urge, and an insight. The potency and the urge have been there since the beginning, and can be regarded as the driving force behind lower evolution. Insight in the true nature of the soul as well as insight in the karmas that cling to it and which have to be removed, have been dormant until the human stage, but when awakened bring about the higher evolution.

Reflecting on the nature of living beings, we see that at the core there is 1) a jīva or soul that is pure and omniscient by its own nature; 2) a component of great compassion and enlightenment that may at the proper moment, due to the right “call from below,” project a “ray” of spiritual light and energy into the recipient personal consciousness, thus temporarily enlightening the mind and setting it “aflame” as far as it is able to contain that ray. This of course applies only to beings who have a mind, and therefore liberation can only be attained beginning from this status; 3) an innate desire or driving force toward liberation; 4) a lower, passionate and evil-minded component which continuously draws karmic elements around the soul, thus blinding its vision and higher faculties and keeping the soul in bondage.

Through this instruction and training, purity and insight increase further, and quantities of accumulated karmas are removed like when the sun evaporates the cloud which obscures it, and great energy shines forth, a process called prāyoga-labdhi. The urge toward liberation (yathāpravrittakārana) that was always inherent in the soul, now becomes very strong and for the first time the pilgrim is placed face to face with his (or her) enemies: his or her own gross passions that have accumulated onto the soul since beginningless time, and the factors (karmas) that have always been deluding real vision.

From then on man can self-consciously choose the path towards liberation, the ultimate goal of his evolution, of the evolution of the soul.

The knowledge, bliss, energy and compassion of the soul - which is by nature immortal - can never be extinguished. These can only be obstructed in their free flow by the karmic dust clinging to the soul. The karmic dust however, being of a non-living, i.e. soul-less, quality, can be suppressed and finally definitely removed. So, in the long run the soul with its noble qualities will always conquer and thus the highest evolutionary goal will be accomplished.

What would modern evolution theory have looked like if Darwin would have been born in a Jain society, ignorant of western Christianity and materialism? We can only speculate, of course. Imagine the young Jain Darwin traveling on the Beagle to the Amazon forests and the Galapagos Islands. Imagine he had seen the finches we described above, with elongated bills, the insects without wings and iguanas swimming in the see eating seaweed? Imagine he went home with all his information and had wanted to formulate a new explanation for the changes of form and for evolution. In the first place the changes of form would not have amazed him. He would not have known that some people in the Christian part of the world believed that some God had created the world in a short action of only seven days, and then left it for ever as it was. Of course he would have started his reasoning from the soul rather that from the material form. Being acquainted with the law of karma, he would never have thought of a concept of ‘chance’ as a leading power in nature. Karma means that there exists no effect without a cause, and that a cause can only come from consciousness. From the first moment he would have regarded the birds or insects or whatever plant or animal as mere outward expressions of an inner consciousness. Their form he would have seen as a result of their inner nature and their inner desires. Logically the soul of these birds who were hungry because of a shortage of seeds would be yearning for an alternative, and due to that very karmic vibration in the bird’s souls they would grow longer beaks. No wonder that the souls of iguanas when they felt hungry would try and learn to swim to seaweeds. We would do the same. His evolution theory would have been that the leading force of evolution is the consciousness and the desire of the inner being of each species. A century after Darwin science knew about genes, chemical structures which codify for protein synthesis. But do genes have to be selfish? They are mere codes. Nowadays science has long discovered that the story about the genes is not as simple as first thought. Some genes are active, others suppressed, and this may change. Some change their places on the chromosome. Some advance mutations, others suppress mutations. Many DNA codes seem to be present already before they were needed - a fact which is difficult to explain by natural selection and survival of the fittest, because genes that so far were not used, never had to compete.

It is known by the scientists of biochemistry that other chemicals or physical circumstances and radiation can influence chemical processes. Would it not be possible that the vibrations of the soul would influence the chemical processes concerning DNA synthesis?

A more acceptable explanation would be that coarse physical matter - which has to explain everything in the western scientific world - is only one particular substance, whereas soul is also a substance. And that there are various forms of matter and vibration in matter involved, in stead of random destructive vibrations from out of the cosmos causing haphazard mutations; that these various forms of subtle matter which Jainism describes could carry information from the conscious and omniscient part of the soul to the place where we find the DNA molecules in the cell’s nucleuses, and thus bring about guided and intelligent change. This would also explain why most changes in nature are for the good and are useful. Because the jīva is substance, also feelings and mind are substantial - just as substantial (though more subtle) as coarse physical matter.

I think that no fact in living nature which was collected by Darwin or any of his followers and other scientist will contradict such a Jain-based theory. Struggle and violence of course do prominently exist in nature - without struggle, i.e. effort to reach higher awareness, progress and bringing dormant qualities to manifestation could not take place. But violence would be a side-issue rather than a main force in such a Jain theory, and would be due to the karmic ignorance of jīvas which choose violence, but not to a universally inherent selfishness in nature. Such a theory could be supported by exactly the same scientific facts as are now used for Darwinist theory, but would at least give more hope for humanity. Our destiny is no longer to perish by self-destructive behavior like throwing bombs and environmental destruction, but to become free and noble beings.


One of the doctrines that distinguish eastern doctrines very much from western doctrines is that of re-embodiment or reincarnation. In the nineteenth century the doctrine of reincarnation was virtually unknown in the west, except perhaps within semi-occult or secret sects like the higher grades of freemasonry. So we can not expect any western scientific theory to be based on such a concept. Reincarnation means that there is a part of a living entity which dies, and a part which survives. The surviving part will, sooner or later, take on or form a new body, and thus reincarnate. As mentioned earlier, the western world of the nineteenth century did not even belief in a soul - so there would not even be anything that could possibly reincarnate. Life and consciousness were regarded as functions or properties of physical matter only. Even though in early Christianity and in some Jewish sects and perhaps even in Islam reincarnation was originally believed in by some, the official standpoints of the religious authorities rejected reincarnation. Jesus himself seems to have believed in reincarnation though it has not been registered in the bible that he ever talked about it openly. In the Qur’an it is said many times that Allah decides over life and death, and can bring the dead back to life if he wills. Most Muslims however believe that He will only do so on the day of the Last Judgment

In the Jain, Hindu, Buddhist, Platonic, Native American (Red Indian), and ancient Egyptian and many other traditions reincarnation is accepted as something so obvious that hardly anybody doubted the doctrine seriously.

I don’t think that there is any system in the world that described reincarnation in such detail as Jainism. As we know, everything that happens or exists is determined by a previous action of the soul that is the cause of the present situation. When we are born, where we are born, in what circumstances we are born, what psychological, mental and even paranormal awareness we have, our feeling, whether strong or weak, our intelligence, whether high or low - all are determined by karma, that means that everything is the result of choices taken in the past by the soul. This includes the family and the country, the religion. Choices may have been taken with or without intelligence, with much or little will power, with good or bad, compassionate or selfish intentions. In taking decisions, in lower life-forms almost automatically, we move forward or backward. For thinking beings it applies that while choosing this or that we are giving in to low feelings or high impulses. It’s our own choice. Therefore self-control in thought is so very very important. One should watch oneself the whole day concerning what one thinks and says and does. Every split moment we make decisions, we yearn for something, we direct our attention to something. By doing so the soul vibrates in particular frequencies and thus attracts particular karmic atoms and molecules. This determines in what vehicles the soul is going to cloth itself in the future.

The process of re-embodiment as described by Jainism is that when a being dies, it leaves behind its physical body or its so-called fluid body. The first applies to physical beings such as earth- and water-bodied beings etc., minerals, plants, animals and humans; the second applies to beings in the hellish and heavenly realms, and these bodies are normally invisible to us. When the soul leaves behind these bodies it keeps its taijasa or electric body and its karmic body. So these bodies reincarnate together with the soul into a new form. Immediately, extremely fast and in a straight line the disembodied entity ‘flies’ to its next karmic destination and takes on a new physical or fluid body. Whatever kind of impediments the soul will experience in this new body depends on its karmic history.  One of the karmic categories is nāma-karma. This is the type of karma which determines the type and form of the next body as well as all the inward and outward characteristic features of that body, its longevity, health, relative perfection etc.
Because the nāma-karma is concerned with outer forms, just as the Darwinist evolution theory, it may be of some use to give some extra attention to it.

Body determining karma

There are 93 types of body-determining karma.

The first four types of karmic results determine the conditions of existence and the realm of nature (gati) into which the soul is born. These four gatis are the hellish, subhuman, human and celestial realms.

Of course the physical and the fluidic bodies have their own unique features. The fluidic body consists of molecules of the corresponding degree of matter and belongs only to hellish and celestial beings. We don’t have it during our existence on earth.

The second group determines in which kingdom of nature the soul will embody itself, and also on which biological level of classification. The visible kingdoms include what we call the atomic, the mineral, the unicellular, the vegetable, the various groups of the animal, and the human kingdom. The highest level of classification appertains to the number of senses which came to expression and the power of consciousness to gain experience by means of touch, taste, smell, vision and hearing.

In the Jain classification system it is interesting that minerals and plants are placed in the same category (the one-sensed), without any line of demarcation between them. Like the other kingdoms of nature the mineral kingdom has been subdivided into classes which by means of their “bodies” express a wide scale of karmic effects due to conscious activity.
The level of classification of the beings with one sense is defined by the physical element with which they are connected during their embodiment on earth: they either belong to the earth-bodied beings, or to the water, air, fire, or plant-bodied beings. Though the plant and the mineral kingdom are classified together, the highest category of this class comprises the plants only, because they are placed after the four elements, which are always mentioned in the sequence from low to high.
We find another remarkable classification at the transition between animals and humans. Like the highest animals, we humans have five senses and mental power. We stand on one line with dogs, cows, horses, camels, goats, elephants, birds etc. Humans do not occupy a special place in the classification system, but we are regarded as the highest within the five-sensed class for our power of reasoning and physical ability to handle work and to organize it.

Let us return to what we are saying about plants and minerals: the division goes even further than the above-mentioned categories of earth-bodied up to plant-bodied entities. Earth-bodied beings or earth-lives may be expressing the specific karma to manifest in bodies which we know as pure earth, silica pebbles, sand, salt, iron, copper, gold or other metals, and also as precious minerals such as diamond, emerald, sapphire, and so on. The body forms which the water-lives can take are pure water, dew, moisture, white frost, ice, fog, etc. Anyone who has ever silently looked at a dewdrop can understand why Jains say that is has a soul, and one can also see why a raindrop hanging from a leaf has a soul, but of a different character. Fire-lives manifest as, for example, glow, pure fire, flames, rays of light, lightning, or sparks: the spark emitted by the tusks of two fighting elephants show that fire-souls reside in those tusks to suddenly manifest themselves as sparks. The air-bodied entities have the karma to present themselves to us as various types of wind, such as a steady breeze, a whirlwind, a cyclone, a hurricane and many other meteorological phenomena which take place in the air. But some of them we do not usually recognize, such as winds which only occur in the heavens or in the hells, or the final hurricane which will destroy the earth in distant future.
Among them there are souls which come to us as rest or silence, beauty, desire, or silent forces, whereas others manifest as violent forces of nature beyond the power of man to control them - unless a person has developed such a strong will that he has become master over the elements, such as the emotional storms within him.

The soil, volcanism, earthquakes, the atmosphere, wind, lightning and the behavior of water are ecological factors of major importance. They offer to others the opportunity to experience their environment, and sometimes to work as karmic adjusters. Natural disasters are not haphazard, but have been evoked by the conscious beings involved, and the forces of nature only perform their tasks in agreement with their natural character. All these forces have a jīva, so has a consciousness, and all these jīvas can vibrate and attract karmas and do their work according to their nature. They are also susceptible to communication with higher souls, because each of the souls fits in a particular level of hierarchy, of which the hierarch is always an indra, a divine being of a higher class. All such beings have the inherent possibility to evolve that which is already within them, and to become a human, a god, or a liberated soul in the distant future.

Five types of bodies exist: the physical, the fluidic, the assimilative (only with ascetics under particular conditions), the electric and the karmic body. The last four are at least as important as the physical body, and are of course also determined by karma. It is in reality the karmic body, which is composed of karmic molecules or aggregates of the most subtle type of matter, which determines the forms of the uncountable numbers of living beings that exist on earth and elsewhere. Every desire, every thought, every vibration has left its mark in the karmic body. Every living being is the result of a particular group of desires - which in their turn are the results of earlier desires, and of course the inherent will and intelligence of the soul.

As regards body-determining karma, one category of karmas determines the organs and limbs and their correct growth in relation to their bodily location. So whether for example the brain functions properly as an organ or whether our immune system is in its proper condition is the result of the workings of karma. Physical impediments therefore develop during the fetal stages.
Next we go to the molecular level. The Jains distinguish five types of molecules in relation to the five types of bodies. And five types of karma are involved with the mixing of the molecules of the five types of bodies, and how they are intertwined with the soul, and these must cooperate in the right way to form an organic whole. This Jain teaching is a very important idea for modern physiology, because science is still far too little aware of the refined relations between organs, chemistry, the information contained in magnetic and electric fields produced in the organs in the body, the influence of thoughts and feelings on these fields, and the influence these fields have on and undergo from others that make up the environment. Western science is now becoming aware of such things.
But what western science has not yet done, is to trace the transfer of the subtler energies from incarnation to incarnation, when a physical body with all its specific characteristics is temporarily nonexistent. Here again, ancient knowledge is a step ahead of modern science.
Further there are karmas which determine the general physiognomy of the body: general perfection, or aberrations in symmetry or proportions.
The next category is especially concerned with the six types of joints which occur in animal (including human) bodies. In addition there is a category which describes all external features which do not belong to the basic form, structure and physiology of the body. This are the secondary characteristics which can be perceived by the senses (excluding hearing); in other words, how the body feels when touched, or tastes, smells or sees. This is how the colors of the bodies are determined: white, black, blue, red and yellow with their various shades; and also the surface structure of the body: to the touch it may be hot (for example the sun) or cold, soft, rough, hard, or be light or heavy. Tastes can be bitter, sharp, sour, and sweet. There are only two smells: pleasant and foul.
Then there is a category of karmas which is of special importance for invisible beings, and which the Tattvārthadhigama Sūtra describes as “the ability to maintain (after death) the form of the body in its most recent incarnation during the passage of the soul from one condition of existence towards the next.” (This is only interesting from an occult point of view).
There are karmas which determine whether the body is too heavy to move, or too light to be stable or whether an organ grows in such a way that it becomes the cause of the body’s death. There are also karmas which result in the growth of fatal weapons in the animal kingdom, such as the sting of a scorpion or the poison of a snake.
In addition there is a type of karmas which again shows that many objects which westerners usually regard as inorganic are for the Jains expressions of life. An example is the “radiating heat” an object can possess which is bearable for the owner, but unbearable for others (glowing iron, for example). A separate karma applies to phosphorescence, as seen in fireflies. Then there are karmas in relation to respiration, or connected with gracious or clumsy flight in the air.
And of course there is a type of karma which determines whether the soul will live life in an immobile (fixed) body, such as that of plants and minerals, or in a mobile body.
The following eight karmas determine whether a body looks attractive or repulsive to others, and whether it brings forth pleasant sounds or unpleasant, harsh sounds (compare a nightingale and a donkey), or whether the body will look beautiful or ugly and is of refined or coarse physiognomy.
Then two types of karma are mentioned which determine whether an individual and its organs will grow into adulthood or whether it will die before it has reached adulthood. These karmas determine whether the soul will appear to be able to bring the features and powers of the body in which it is born to full expression. The actual process of growing towards and into adulthood is the process of transformation of subtle and chemical elements in agreement with the pattern laid out by the karmic molecules, which are drawn to the location where the respective organs are to be formed. For example the molecules which determine the power of inhalation and exhalation transform themselves into the respiratory system. So breathing is not a function of the respiratory system, but it is the other way round: the karmic desire and the energy to breath are the cause of the development of the organs involved in respiration.
The next group determines the stability or instability of the body and its substances, such as bodily fluids, muscular tissue, fat, bone, marrow, veins, digestive juices, blood, etc.
Finally the Tattvārthadhigama Sūtra mentions four karmas which determine whether a body will look dull and sluggish, and whether someone will have a good or a bad name as a result. Too often people or even animals are despised because of their physical appearance, whereas he, she or it may have done nothing but good during the present incarnation. Nevertheless there is a cause to it in the past, for example having ridiculed others because of some abnormal physical feature. When one criticizes others it gives a particular unpleasant bend to the mind, and naturally this will attract karmas of a similar kind. The karmas become causes in their turn when the next body is being formed. We may speculate that the deformation in the new body is a reflection of the purposely and consciously chosen deformation of the mind in the previous life.

Whether or not we agree with all the details from the viewpoint of modern science is not the most important thing. The modern world with its ever refining techniques of measurement will find its own way to describe the interplay between all these energies, fields and states of matter in relation to consciousness and its free choice. In any case it is remarkable - to say the least - that in the days of Aristotle and Archimedes, when occidental science had only just started, the Jains had already a detailed view of the principles of ecology, biology, evolution, physiology, atoms and molecules, and above all, the logic behind them. If the detailed knowledge gained in recent centuries by means of refined instruments is combined with the Jain background, science will become more philosophical, more universal, more ethical, and more holistic. The biological teachings of the Jains include not only the physical, but also the invisible worlds of beings and forces - a field of science which in the west is still associated with superstition and the barely recognized science of parapsychology. Without a vision which includes the whole universe with all its phenomena, modern man can never reach satisfactory and final solutions.

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