Jain Studies And Science: Jainism And Science - An Overview

Published: 15.02.2009
Updated: 02.07.2015

Jain doctrine as verbally disseminated by Lord Mahavira and promulgated in the form of Fourteen Purvas and twelve Agamas is the basis of Jainism. Numerous Saints and Acharyas had compiled these teachings and had contributed to the Jain literature in the form of Bhashyas (commentary) and Tikas (remarks). These treatises extensively deal with various real and ethereal aspects of life, nature and universe. This spiritual and philosophical thought process had yielded Jain Religion and Jain Culture. Jain studies encompass science, geography, astronomy and mathematics.

Jain religion is spiritually oriented and scholars have found it to be ancient. According to Jainism, the Shrishti (Universe or Nature) is cyclic and repetitive. Like a pendulum, time undergoes the cycles of start and end but the cycles themselves are perpetual and incessant. Jain history suggests that in every such cycle of events, there exist Arhats and Tirthankars - free souls who have transcend all shackles of attachments and disillusionment. Hallmark of every Arhat - conqueror of all enemies, is Ahimsa - the concept surpassing non-violence. This concept has been the back-bone of human development and progress for centuries. Equanimity, affability and team-spirit are the natural outcomes of practicing Ahimsa. Lord Mahavira, around two thousand five hundred years back, revitalised the immortal concept of Ahimsa. He propagated the path of Ahimsa with added practices of Aparigrah (non-possession or renunciation) and self-control. Mahavira was called ’Jin’ as he had overcome all the worldly and humanly weaknesses. His disciples were later come to be known as 'Jains'.
Basic tenets of Jain tradition are -

  • In Jainism, the stress lies on singularity and independence of every soul. Soul has quest for ultimate knowledge and freedom. Human pursuit is the only answer. Jain philosophy was further augmented by adopting the concept of Anekant - embracing all view points and shedding the adamant attitude.
  • Ahimsa, as discussed above, is a pillar of Jains' lives. It has culminated into the passionate and peaceful existence. Jains are staunch vegetarians as they are always sceptical of any kind of aggression.
  • Five solemn pledges of non-violence, non-larceny, non-indulgence, non-possession and truth. As a matter of practice, all followers of Jainism endeavour to fulfil these sacred promises to the best of ones capabilities. Many a times they vow to abstain from eating after sun-set.
  • Jain Samana and Samani have spread the teachings of Jain pioneers and have immensely contributed to the cause of social up-lifting and enlightenment.
  • In order to keep politics segregated from religion, Jains do not encourage formation of any political wing. Their sole aim is to achieve the ultimate enlightenment through the process of social service and penance.
  • Jains never look down upon any other form of religion nor do they resort to mass-conversion agenda. They believe in the reform of individual soul. They believe in self-discipline and not in defeating other human beings or creatures.

Vast ocean of Jain-knowledge can be better understood by classifying it in three broad categories -

  • The Religion
  • The Philosophy
  • The Science
1. Jain Religion

What is religion? There is no standard definition which is acceptable to all. Several religions surfaced during the history of mankind, but only a few could survive the test of time. Only those religions were accepted and followed which advocated the moral and ethical purity. One such religion is Jainism which carried forward so far on the wheels of Ahimsa and non-possession. These two tenets resulted in peaceful social co­existence. It is because of this, the Jainism is spreading its wings fastest and farthest in this vast world. It is a fact that Jains fall behind in the number game as their religion is centred towards the liberation of soul from the clutches of Karma rather than accumulation of followers. Jain gurus and Acharyas concentrate on their self-purification and seldom indulge in efforts to increase the numbers.

The principal goal of a Jain is to achieve Moksha - the pure soul, uncontaminated by any form of Karma-pudgals. The doe's and don'ts by which we define any dharma, are therefore divided into two categories-

  • Anagaar Dharma (prescribed to indoctrinated)
  • Agaar Dharma (prescribed to followers)
1.1. Anagaar Dharma (Precept of Initiated)

Shraman and Shramani - those who have renounced the worldly pleasures and family lives and have pledged to strictly adhere to the five ultimate vows (Mahavrata) of non-violence, non-larceny, non-indulgence, truth and renunciation. They abide by these guidelines in totality and even if these rules are flouted inadvertently, they undergo reparation and atonement. They pray to the Arhats and the enlightened ones in temples.

Jain religion categorically denies the existence of any super-natural power or God as a creator and perpetuator of the universe and life. Nature exists and functions according to a set of rules with no scope for anybody's discretion. It therefore rests the responsibility on the individual oneself to attain liberation. Sadhu and Sadhvi. observing Anagaar Dharma, undergo penance and meditation in order to attain Mukti (liberation of soul). The extent of penance they undergo is aptly described by the Chinese traveller Hun Tsang. He writes in his two thousand year old travelogue, "Jain shramans are different from other Brahmins and sadhus in that they live nude. They uproot their body hairs themselves, their skin lacerate and their heels show cracks as a tree bark." This is an ample historic proof of arduous penances undergone by the shramans of Jain sect. It is believed that penance and meditation build the determination, which in turn shrugs off the Karma bondage. This emancipation eventually results in attaining right-vision, right-knowledge and right-conduct.

1.2. Agaar Dharma (Conduct of Disciple)

Jain sect comprises of four pillars or Tirths namely, Shraman, Shramani, Shravak and Shravika. Mainly, the conduct prescribed for latter pair is identical to the one for the former pair, it is just milder in the extent. While the five maxims are called Mahavrata in Anagaar, they are called Anuvrata in Agaar. In Anuvrata, twelve guidelines are laid down for a Jain disciple seeking to be spiritually oriented. They practice inhibition (of desires) and dissociation (from karma). They abstain from wilful violence and perform bona fide activities in their day to day social and professional spheres. For disciples of Jainism, some violence is inevitable during the course of discharge of worldly duties, but they restrain any avoidable act of physical or mental assault. This thin line of 'no-violence' and 'inevitable-violence' separates the Anagaar with Agaar. Mahapragya has therefore segregated religion from duty. According to him, "religious conduct is one which leads to self-enlightenment, while the dutiful conduct is one which confines to social obligations. In Jain religion even the minutest act of violence is unpardonable; in a societal set-up such a condition is not applicable."

To effectively inculcate non-violence and non-possession, Acharya Tulsi launched Anuvrata movement. He emphasised that right-conduct can be achieved through right-thinking. Under this movement, he made his followers to swear - (i) not to accumulate colossal possessions and (ii) not to indulge in any kind of anti-national activity. In addition, he provisioned for several other guidelines which proved helpful in developing a responsible and duty-bound citizen. Today, Anuvrat movement is pioneering the human welfare under the able guidance and discipline of Acharya Mahapragya.

2. Jain Philosophy

Unique to Jain philosophy is its concept of Anekant. At times some interpreters explain it as the 'real' can exist in infinite ways or modes, but factually, Anekant means that the truth can be known through numerous paths like all the radii of a circle confluence at its centre. Truth is one, singular and unique but there can be more than one ways to reach it. Here arises a very piquant situation - what if someone knows a partial fact and unaware of the whole truth? Anekant, therefore, adds that a truth involves manifold aspects. An observation of an object at a particular spatial-temporal instant is just one facet of the truth. An example in Sthanang-Sutra, where the jiva (soul) is defined in several alternative ways, elaborates this:

  • It is singular to each animated being.
  • It could have two types - bonded with karmas or liberated.
  • It has three properties - origination, transformation and perpetuity.

Likewise, there are ten different ways to look at it. Therefore, a non-absolutistic approach is the most prudent. This attitude can mitigate several confrontations among different sects, societies, states and nations.

A famous anecdote in which ten blind men touching different parts of an elephant, come up with different observations, explains Anekant in right perspective. Only a person with vision can tell the truth - a whole elephant. If we understand Anekant, we are prepared for two important things:

  • We shall readily accept other's view point as we know that ours' is only a partial truth.
  • We shall prepare ourselves to know the entire truth (right-knowledge or Keval-gyan) through the path of Jain philosophy of right-vision and right-conduct.

Another novel concept of Jain philosophy is non-possession also referred to as non-accumulation of property. Lord Mahavira not only relinquished his royal surroundings but even his clothes. That was an unparalleled example of declaring possessions as sin. Jainism, therefore, stresses on minimizing the possessions if not completely abandoning. Social equality, which is eluding the present world, will no more remain a dream but will be a reality if the principle of non-possession is adopted by the societies.

3. Jain Science

We consider Elbert Einstein as the greatest scientist of the modern world. Ironically, he never carried out any experiment himself. Lord Mahavira, going by the concepts contained in the Jain literature was a super-scientist of His era. He never visited any physical laboratory, His mind was the only workshop and meditation was the only tool.

Eternal happiness and peace of an individual had been the goal of almost all religions. Jain religion too, has a similar objective, yet it is pole apart from others in a way that it emphasises not only on spiritual discovery but also on scientific exploration of universe in general. Scientist today, are still ill at ease to establish the mass-less behaviour of photons, gravitons and gluons, whereas the mass-less characteristics of micro-pudgals are well established in the Jain texts. Detailed mentions of matter, mass-less particles, energy, time, speed and mathematics in various Jain treatises are voluminous and need trifurcation to comprehend better -

  • Science & Universe
  • Science & Philosophy
  • Science & Sociology

Maxims and postulates of Jainism in these three areas bear striking similarity to the concepts of modern science, at the same time they differ prominently and go beyond.

3.1. Science & Universe

Mentions of mass-less pudgals, their capacity to break the barrier of speed of light under certain conditions of migration, Tamas-kaya (black holes), extent and constitution of universe, cyclic nature of time, recurring reincarnations, etc. in the Jain literature are now understood better with the contribution of science which has established these facts through experiments and cause-effect analyses. Science today, has three imaginary mass-less entities - (i) Photons -to explain light and electromagnetic radiations, (ii) Gravitons - to explain forces of gravitational attraction among material bodies and (iii) Gluons - to explain the behaviour of sub-atomic micro particles. In the Jain theory of Karma, details of karmic varganas (we shall call them Actons), their attachment to the soul, movement of soul during birth-rebirth and emancipation are all attributed to the weightlessness of the actons(Karma Pudgals). Obvious vicinity of scientific and spiritual concepts is astonishing.

Jain concepts of motion are also of far reaching consequences. Similar to karmic-atoms (karmavargana or actons), conscience-atoms (manvargana) and speech-atoms (bhashavargana) are considered mass-less in Jain supposition. This helped in explaining the long distances travelled by them in a moment's time. These concepts of motion widely differ from those proposed by science. While as per science, the maximum speed achievable is equal to that of light. Whereas, as per Jains', infinite speed is attained by sukshma pudgals.

Jain philosophy has dwelled into the realms of cosmic universe as much as it did into the micro world of massless pudgals. Its explanation of finite universe constituted of Dharmastikaya (dynaons) & Adharmastikaya (statons) Duo deserves a keen study by scientists today. Readers will find a curious comparison between the Jain and science concepts of universe -

  • According to the scientific knowledge available so far, there is nothingness (void) wherever there is no matter or particle. They presume that even between the nucleus and the orbiting electrons there lay emptiness. This implicitly means that the entire universe is actually inter-spread in the nothingness. In other words, the emptiness of Alok is inseparable from the existence of the Lok.
  • According to Jains, the finite boundary of Lok (Universe) is well defined by the presence of Dharmastikaya - Adharmastikaya and Alok is void of this pair. This is elaborated in later chapters.

This overall view establishes that the Jain Tirtkankars gave concepts which surpassed the Relativity of Einstein and Quantum Mechanics of Plank even two thousand five hundred years ago. The analyses of extent of universe, time, spatial co-ordinates, motion, atoms (pudgals), matter, soul, birth-rebirth, energy et all presented in Jain literature qualify for being at the same plane as the science itself.

3.2. Science & Philosophy

Philosophy is an art of esoteric possibilities, whereas science is an act of. inverting these possibilities into tangible realities. Often, for science, the beginning is some hypothetical philosophy. And surprisingly, when scientists hit a road block, they fall back on philosophy. Therefore the two are inseparable and not diagonally opposite as is thought to be!

Today, science is dwelling in the pastures once thought to be only philosophical. It is intensely engaged in the mission to demystify universe. Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking is now busy scientifically proving that the cosmos's extent is finite, mathematically establishing that the 'time' existed
before the big bang and logically expressing that the God (even if HE exists) had not role to play in the creation or perpetuation of the universe. These actually have remained the axioms of Jainism (and of Buddhism) for centuries. Finding conclusions of science very similar in general and almost identical in a few particular cases, is an important milestone for the Jains.

One such technical and logical similarity between Jain ideology and science is studying different qualitative and quantitative aspects and attributes before drawing any conclusion. Jains' fondly call it Anekantvada. It acknowledges that the matter can manifest different paryayas (guna) under varying conditions of observation. This led the Jains to adopt the policy of Syadvada in their expressions and to shun the absolutistic judgments. Science calls it 'Principle of Uncertainty'. The conceptual similarities, therefore, compel us to keenly study the Jainism vis-à-vis science.

3.3. Science & Sociology

Scientific inventions have brought about the Industrial Revolution. As technology and engineering are growing, the need for the addition of third dimension of environment conservation is becoming dire and urgent. To uphold the moral, ethical, mental and physical values of the civilized society, science has a definite and mandatory social role to play. Here, the Jain ethical values and the highest regards paid to all forms of life by the Jains will be of immense importance. In fact, only Jain religion acknowledges that Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Vegetation, all have enough in-built intelligence to self-perpetuate and thus are treated as bios. This concept of life-form is unique to Jains and is found neither in religious nor in scientific spheres. Jains believe that all souls are equal and thus one does not have a right to destroy another. This extreme definition of compassion can help preserve the environment. The lessons of shunning violence have universal appeal.

Concluding, the challenges faced by today's world can be resolved to a great extent if science and religion maintain a close rapport. It is necessary to understand that the two are not conflicting but are complementary. A balanced growth can be achieved if to the three pillars of physics, engineering and technology, a fourth pillar of religion is added. This co-operation has even started in several ways. This book is one such attempt to bring the religion closer to the science. Simultaneously, science is also required to give importance to human values and ethics so that it can serve the society at large. Close proximity of religion, society and science will usher a dawn of new culture.

  • ISBN: 13 - 978 - 81 - 89667 - 00 - 9
  • Publisher:
    Jain Vishva Bharati Institute,
  • Financial Assistance:
    Sh. R. L. Parakh, Churu (Raj.)
    In memory of Late Grand Mother Smt. Sunder Devi and Mother Smt. Laxmi Devi
  • Edited and Translatated by:
    Piyush Jain, Ahmedabad
  • © Author:
    Prof. Dr. Mahavir Raj Gelra Jaipur.
  • First Edition: 2007
  • Price: Rs. 400/-
    For Foreign Countries $ 15
  • Printers:
    Sheetal Offset Printers, Jaipur

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharya
  2. Acharya Mahapragya
  3. Acharya Tulsi
  4. Acharyas
  5. Adharmastikaya
  6. Agamas
  7. Ahimsa
  8. Anekant
  9. Anekantvada
  10. Anuvrat
  11. Anuvrat Movement
  12. Anuvrata
  13. Arhat
  14. Arhats
  15. Body
  16. Brahmins
  17. Buddhism
  18. Dharma
  19. Dharmastikaya
  20. Discipline
  21. Einstein
  22. Environment
  23. Equanimity
  24. Guna
  25. Jain Philosophy
  26. Jainism
  27. Jin
  28. Jiva
  29. Karma
  30. Karmas
  31. Mahapragya
  32. Mahavira
  33. Meditation
  34. Moksha
  35. Mukti
  36. Non-violence
  37. Purvas
  38. Quantum Mechanics
  39. Sadhu
  40. Sadhus
  41. Sadhvi
  42. Samani
  43. Science
  44. Shraman
  45. Shravak
  46. Shravika
  47. Soul
  48. Sukshma
  49. Syadvada
  50. Tirthankars
  51. Tulsi
  52. Varganas
  53. Violence
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