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Uniqueness and Relevance of Jainism (2/2)

Published: 07.05.2008
Updated: 02.07.2015

Uniqueness and Relevance of Jainism (2)

Science in Jainsim:

It is amazing to see how Lord Mahāvīra could visualize the structure of the universe from micro to macro levels without the aid of any modern day instruments. Some examples are given below will prove this:

  • Periodic table in science show the number of basic elements found to date to be 102 (now gone up to 118). The table also shows some blank positions and the possibility of more basic elements existent but not found till now. Jains talk of a possibility of 4 (8/2 touch) * 5 (colors)* 5 (taste)* 2(odors) = 200 possible elements in which parmānūs can combine to give different elements.
  • Water should be boiled and strained before drinking. Absence of this shows over 4000 persons dying everyday by taking impure water.
  • Mahāvīra’s principle of şaŧjīvanikāya talks of air bodied, water bodied, fire bodied, earth bodied and plant bodied living beings and the living beings with moving bodies. It is extremely useful to analyze and propagate basis and essentiality of environmental protection practices.
  • Concept of parmānūs being the smallest indivisible part of matter of Jains as established by Bohr in his atomic theory.
  • Matter emits light (Sir CV Raman), Sound is matter (Galileo and Newton) and plants have life (JC Bose) are the principles, which have been accepted by scientific research so far. Detailed description of matter as skandha, parmānūs is indeed getting established b scientific research now. Similarly we find a number of other concerns proved by science about the constituents of universe.
  • The properties of matter such as ability of many atoms to co-exist in the same space point, conversion of matter into energy etc as given in Jain texts have been proved by scientific discoveries.

Similarly there are a number of significant factors concerning cosmos, matter besides the soul which are based on actual experiences of omniscient lords and can be verified by scientific experiments if enough effort is made in a systematic manner.

In the present time cycle, Jains talk of 24 tīrthańkaras or the Jinas who attained perfected and also guided others to do so. Ādi Nath / Ŗşabha Deva is the first and Mahāvīra is he last i.e. 24th tīrathańkara.

Other considerations

Jains talk of a classless society with every human being, be they male or female, having the potential to achieve perfection and liberation. The level of knowledge of an individual is inversely proportional to the thickness of the karmic veil on his soul.

Path of purification:

Jains believe in the theory of reincarnation or the transmigration of soul. This transmigration is determined by the karmas or the activities of the individual soul and every soul has the capability to come out of the cycle of transmigration and attain liberation or mokşa i.e. an everlasting state of bliss and infinite knowledge.

Right faith-knowledge-conduct when practiced together is the path to attain liberation. Right belief means the belief in the existence and attributes of soul and other types of substances. Right belief causes spiritual awakening in the person. Knowledge is right if it is without any doubts or oppositions or indecisiveness. Right conduct is the ethical practices as per the Jain code of conduct for monks. Let us look at each a little in details.

A spiritually awakened person can be identified with the five characteristics i.e. Calmness & tranquility (śama and praśama); aspiration after freedom (Samvega); Absence of hankering (nirvega); Compassion (anūkampā) and Belief in existence of soul (astikeya). The eight limbs of right belief are: Freedom from doubt (Niśankita); Freedom from anticipation (Nikānkşita); Freedom from disgust (Nirvicikitsā); Freedom from delusive notions (Amūdhadrasti); Protecting (Upgūhan), Promoting stability (Sthithikarana); Illuminating or enhancing the Jaina ideology (Prabhāvanā) and disinterested affection (Vātsalya). The first four limbs are formulated in a negative sense so as to point out the negative tendencies or views in the person. The last four are stated in a positive manner designating new attributes to a new social nature or practice of the individual towards others. There are four attitudes (bhāvnās) which occupy the person with right belief namely friendship, compassion, equanimity and appreciation (pramoda).

Right knowledge is the true knowledge, which is free from doubt, opposition or hankering about the substances, their attributes and modes. Jains consider knowledge and soul to be concomitant and co-existent, as knowledge cannot exist anywhere else but in the soul. Classification of substances based on sentient and insentient shows this fact. Pure soul is pure or just knowledge while empirical soul has this pure knowledge capability veiled /obscured by the matter karmas bonded with it. Example of sun shining and giving full or partial light depending on the absence or quantum presence between sun and earth explains this concept. Empirical soul therefore needs the assistance of other media, such as sensual organs; light etc to cognize objects while pure soul can cognize all objects with no restraints of space, time, size etc. Knowledge is right or valid if the owner of knowledge is with belief /attitude. Knowledge is of five types, namely mind base, verbal testimony (both are indirect as they are acquired by the soul with the aid of five senses and mind), clairvoyance and telepathy (both direct by soul but only of concrete objects) and omniscience or knowledge without any constraints.

Later ācāryas recast these five types of knowledge into pramāņas (organs of valid knowledge or the valid knowledge itself) as direct, bifurcated as practical or sensual direct and direct plus indirect i.e. knowledge which depends on some other knowledge. Here we see mati and śruta bifurcated as sensual perception and parokşa. Further criterions of direct and indirect pramāņa were clarity and crispness of knowledge i.e. direct knowledge is clear and crisp and indirect is not.

The source of knowledge can be either the soul of the inquirer himself or through the sermons/lectures of others. The methods of acquiring knowledge are pramāņa, Naya, Anekānta and syādvāda.

Right conduct is practice to give up undesirable activities of mind, body and soul and to perform activities conducive to attain the ultimate objective i.e. liberation / mokşa. Thus conduct is right only when the practitioner has both right belief and right knowledge. Cāritra or conduct is refraining from what is harmful and engagement in what is beneficial. Mahāvīra has bifurcated the practice of conduct in two categories namely, śrāvakas / laity who are not able to devote 100% if their time on the path of purification but wish to practice it partially and śramaņa / monks i.e. those who are committee 100% to the practice of the path of spiritual purification.

The great Jinas have described cāritra from practical point of view to consist of 5 vows (vratas), 5 Attitudes of carefulness (samitis) and 3 Attitudes of restraint (guptis). Vows are Non violence, Truthfulness, Non-stealing, Celibacy and Non-possession. Samitis / attitude of carefulness, are not to cause pain to anyone while walking (iryā), gentle and beneficial talks (bhāşā), carefulness in receiving alms (Aişņa), Receiving and keeping things for religious purposes carefully (ādāna Nikşepa) and attending to the calls of nature in unfrequented places (utsarga). Guptis are attitudes of restraining or controlling the activities of mind (mano), speech (vacana) and body (kāya). Right conduct is divided in two categories namely śrāvakācāra for householders and śramaņācāra for ascetics.

For a lay person, a schedule of basic virtues and six essential (āvaśyakas) duties to be performed daily are given so that the practitioner while performing worldly duties keeps the basic Jain principles in mind and avoid harmful activities.

The progress of spiritual purification is indicated as a collection of 14 stages or gūņasthānas showing primarily the status of deluding (Mohaniya) karma up to 12th stage and then of non obscuring karmas in 13th stages and total absence of all karmas in the 14th stage. A beautiful part of this mysticism of Jains is that even from the 11th stage, the mendicant can fall down to first stage if he is not 100% detached from the beginning.

Another peculiarity of Jain conduct is to celebrate death as a festival as it is an event when the soul leaves the old body to take up a new body (depending on its karmas and state at the time of death). Five types of death are discussed with the highest one being of an omniscient, which after leaving his present body does not take any new body and hence gets out of the transmigration cycle.

As with any old religion, over a period of time, certain amount of laxity in ethical practices creeps in giving rise to different sects. These improvisations keep the religion live while the practicing principles, i.e. to perform daily essentials or adherence to vows get adjusted to suit the changing times and environment. Basically there are two main sects Digambaras and Śwetāmbaras with further subdivisions in each.

Jain Arts and Pilgrimages

Jains have contributed significantly to the construction of idols in different poses and materials, including carving in the hills and caves; temples with intricate art work to the vast temple like Ranakpura. It can be said that the oldest temples and idols in India are found belonging to Jains. Dilwārā temple at Abu, Bahubali monolith at Śravaņabelgola and temples and idols in Madhya Pradeśa, especially at Deogarha, Khajurāho and Gwālior; Elephant caves at Udaygiri-Khandgiri are worth visiting. Similarly Jains have built a large number of pilgrim places associated with the attainment of salvation by tīathańkaras or other siddhas; places where some divine activity tool place or the places where the other four kalyāņakas of the tīrthańkaras took place etc. There are a number of them, which are frequented by Jains as a part of their spiritual and religious activity.

Modern Social Issues and Relevance of Jain Principles

The recent economic theory of consumerism, i.e. increase demand for goods and services bring economic prosperity. This has lead to rampant indulgence in using natural resources (hydrocarbons extraction, deforestation) and discharging effluents in air, water to cause environmental imbalance and a threat to our very existence. Along with this growing demand for material wealth, we see use of unfair means to amass wealth (threatening, killing, aids) and greater unhappiness in people. We see rapidly increasing life style diseases like hypertension, diabetes, hearing impairment, air pollution related diseases like asthma etc. No doubt everybody wants a comfortable life but we have to be careful so that the ecological balance is not disturbed and life style diseases minimized. Fundamental principles of şaŧjīvanikāya, Ahińsā, aparigraha, anekānta and sańyam do provide solutions to these problems as discussed briefly.


Mahavira was the first to talk of six types of living beings namely air bodied, water bodied, fire bodied, earth bodied, plant based and moving living beings. Thus He talks of life in all these vital life support elements. Ācārańga talks in details about all these and equate soul in them to that of ours. Then He talks of non-violence as the fundamental doctrine to achieve liberation and eternal happiness. If we practice Ahińsā towards these environmental elements and do not kill the living beings without any purpose, along with self-control and limiting our needs, we can expect the environment to rejuvenate itself and stay healthy.


Eating meat or animal products cause us to kill living beings, thereby causing pain to them and enhancing our bondages. On the practical front, it has now been proved that vegetarian diet is healthier, results in lesser incidences of deadly diseases, results in mental peace. Besides on economic front, we know our planet does not have enough resources to satisfy the meet eating habits of all (more agriculture products and land required to feed and fatten meat yielding animals than to produce cereals for human beings). We know that intelligent, educated people all over the world are moving towards vegetarian food by choice.


Violence begets violence. Nobody can win lasting peace by use of force. The Chinese president while visiting US presented the book ‘How to win war without fighting by Lao Tse’. In our own time, we have seen Mahatma Gandhi using Ahińsā, aparigraha and anekānta win freedom for India. To end terrorism, we have to first become self sufficient and confident or have faith in our belief so that we can defend ourselves in all situations, understand the view points of all and use education, dialogue to resolve differences using the technique of give and take. Ahinsa and Anekānta (existence of opposing forces, reconciliation) will bring us closer to solving this problem.


There is an old saying that prevention is better than cure. The five vows, especially celibacy as described in Jain texts and exercise of self-control to arouse or be aroused for sexual gratification can only solve this problem. We need to educate ourselves with the associated problems and the danger it causes to us, our future offspring and how we can prevent it by self-discipline /control to solve this problem greatly. Of course once inflicted, medical treatment is needed to treat it.


We see that Jain philosophy talks primarily of improving first the self, in worldly and spiritual matters, rather than make others improve first. Tulsi has beautifully described in one sentence ‘ By improving yourself, the family improves, by improving the family, the community improves, by improving the community the state and then the country and finally the world improves”. So Jains place the individual at the center of all activities to achieve the worldly and spiritual goals.

For the Jain community, I feel we have to learn from history and see that excessive display of prosperity, feeling of well being and not sharing our wealth and way of life with others have to be given up as they are very important for our survival. The example of a fruit laden mango tree bending down so that the people can enjoy its fruits and the shade teaches us how to prosper and share. Similarly, we have to find non-violent means to protect ourselves from the so-called religious fanatics.

International School for Jain Studies

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        Page glossary
        Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
        1. 14 Stages
        2. Ahinsa
        3. Anekānta
        4. Aparigraha
        5. Bahubali
        6. Body
        7. Celibacy
        8. Clairvoyance
        9. Consumerism
        10. Cāritra
        11. Deva
        12. Digambaras
        13. Ecology
        14. Environment
        15. Equanimity
        16. Gandhi
        17. Guptis
        18. International School for Jain Studies
        19. JAINA
        20. Jain Code Of Conduct
        21. Jain Philosophy
        22. Jaina
        23. Jainism
        24. Karma
        25. Karmas
        26. Mahatma
        27. Mahatma Gandhi
        28. Mahavira
        29. Mahāvīra
        30. Mohaniya
        31. Nath
        32. Naya
        33. Newton
        34. Nirvicikitsā
        35. Non violence
        36. Non-violence
        37. Omniscient
        38. Prabhāvanā
        39. Pradeśa
        40. Samitis
        41. Science
        42. Skandha
        43. Soul
        44. Space
        45. Space point
        46. Syādvāda
        47. Time Cycle
        48. Tulsi
        49. Vacana
        50. Vegetarianism
        51. Violence
        52. Vātsalya
        53. siddhas
        54. Ācāryas
        55. Āvaśyakas
        56. ācāryas
        57. Śruta
        58. Śrāvakas
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