Consciousness and Knowledge: A Jain Perspective in Modern Context

Published: 17.12.2010
Updated: 02.07.2015


Series of 3 seminars on

Integrating Modern Science and Spirituality for Social Wellness:
A Challenge of 21st Century

Seminar "A"

Consciousness and Knowledge: Scientific and Spiritual Perspectives


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Session II:  14.45-15.15


Consciousness and Knowledge: A Jain Perspective in Modern Context

Consciousness and Knowledge

Consciousness and knowledge in Jain philosophy are attributes of the soul. Soul (Jīva) is the generic name of sentient substance. Jiva substance is non-physical and is not sense - perceptible; it does not have the properties of colour, smell, taste and touch. Consciousness and upayoga are the differentia of the jīva. Consciousness is the generality of the attributes (if not of all the attributes of the jīva), which distinguish the jiva from the inanimate. Upayoga is the generality of the manifestations of such attributes. Intelligence and intuition are agreed to be the two main manifestations (upayoga) of consciousness. Both of them are comprehensions of the object by the subject. Knowledge is the manifestation of intelligence of the jīva with respect to its comprehending capacity. The cognition function of jīva is determined by its intelligence attribute. It is a comprehension of the objects with their details.

The mind establishes contact with the external world through senses. The sense signals are communicated to brain and then contacts are made with mind. The thinking process starts when the object is perceived by the mind. The perceptual cognition is the knowledge due to sense - organs and the mind. The knowledge is conceptual consciousness and is determinate.

Abhinibodha is cognition competent to take stock of an object with all its temporal determinations as past, present and future. Matijnana (empirical knowledge) is a comprehensive class, which includes a large variety. Thus, for example, there are purely sensuous cognitions, purely mental cognitions and cognitions which are generated by both the senses and the mind. The sensuous cognition of animals, beginning with one-sensed and ending with five-sensed, but destitute of mind, are purely sensuous. Recollection and instinctive intuition are purely mental. The normal cognitions of beings endowed with the mind are generated by the cooperation of the mind and the senses. The cognition capable of communicating itself to others (in the way of instruction) by means of material symbols like words, gesture etc. is called verbal knowledge.

Anekānta and Nāya

In its worldly existence, the soul is not only associated with a body of its own but with several other animate and inanimate objects. Thus the soul which is by its own intrinsic nature a complex entity becomes much more complex by identifying itself through its interests with its environment of things (including body). Under such conditions, it is an extremely difficult problem to define the precise nature of the soul. In fact all real and concrete things are extremely complex entities because they possess innumerable attributes and relations. What enters into the course of our direct perceptions is but a tiny fragment of the full reality. And even this imperfect and fragmental perception seems to be implicitly complex and always to contain a plurality of aspects. A completely adequate apprehension of the whole of reality must be all-embracing and must include all data without contradiction or discrepancy. It would, thus, experience the whole of real existence directly by a completed insight. The ability for such a pure and perfect apprehension is called omniscience  (kevalajñāna) and is possessed by a kevalī alone. Our own ability for apprehension falls far short of such an ideal. Our apprehension, therefore, always has the character of being piecemeal and fragmentary. Hence our descriptions and predications would be relative and circumscribed because they emerge from a limited and partial nature of the intellect. What, then, should be our approach for comprehending the true nature of reality? Our ideal should, then, be to apprehend the reality from one particular aspect at a time. Such an apprehension is an opinion or way of approach for any one aspect and is called NAYA by the Jains. Since every aspect of a reality reveals its nature in its own way, naya is thus a technique for getting insight into the nature of reality. The technique of naya plays an important part in the law of Anekānta  (non-absolutism) of Jains.

Systems Theory

It has been found that linguistic pattern determine how an individual perceives and thinks about the world. This relativistic view is consistent with general systems theory. Our culture and experience define our understanding of all systems. The fact that systems theory recognizes the relativity of perception, may in itself, serve to expand our understanding of our role in the universe. It provides a framework for us to examine and understand our environment.

Scientific theories which treat the whole as a linear combination of parts are satisfactory for the non-living physical world. But they fail to comprehend the reality in cases like biological, societal, organizational etc systems which are characterized by non-linear interactions of their parts. Such complex systems are best described by systems theory which advocates that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. The parts are not independent entities; a relationship among them makes their combination non-linear.

Jain philosophy views both the parts and the whole as real and admits interrelation between the parts. It asserts that integration of parts in a system cannot emerge a property which is not present in the constituent parts. However, it is possible that a property that is not expressed in isolation is expressed in the system, and this may be called as the emergent property. Jains devised a scheme of nayas and pramanas to describe the philosophical systems and to reconcile the conflicting ideologies propagated by different philosophical schools. The theories of anekanta, Syadvada, naya and pramanas are powerful means to describe the multiple nature of reality. This scheme enables total comprehension of the reality within the framework of the cognitive limitations of the observer.



Dr. Narayan Lal Kachhara


Dr. Rudi Jansma
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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Anekanta
  2. Anekānta
  3. Body
  4. Brain
  5. Consciousness
  6. Cooperation
  7. Delhi
  8. Environment
  9. ISJS
  10. Jain Philosophy
  11. Jiva
  12. Jīva
  13. Kevalajñāna
  14. Kevalī
  15. Matijnana
  16. Narayan Lal Kachhara
  17. Naya
  18. Nayas
  19. Non-absolutism
  20. Rudi Jansma
  21. Science
  22. Soul
  23. Syadvada
  24. Upayoga
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