Jainism : The World of Conquerors ► 4 ► Religion ► 4.5 ► Jain Logic, Psychology and The Theory of Knowledge

Posted: 04.12.2015

The art of reasoning, commonly known as logic, may be defined as the methodology of intellectual (including empirical) examination of objective or intuitive reality. It is also the study of necessity, possibility and a method of deduction predicated upon syllogisms. Logic makes philosophy reasonable and rational. All physical and metaphysical objects and concepts such as the soul, the universe, karma, God, or Reality, whether objective or subjective, need to be comprehended by logic. There are branches, or sub-disciplines, of logic: epistemology (dealing with 'organs' of knowledge or pramaanas) and ontology (dealing with objective and subjective existence). As a result of its basis in logic, Jainism is regarded as highly scientific, subjecting all its concepts to critical evaluation. In the past, Jain teachers were required to be good logicians in order to win followers among a religious population of considerable sophistication.

Logic makes the complex phenomenon of human existence understandable through reason, evidence, and inference. Critical and unbiased examination of all viewpoints is the only objective assurance of truth. Jain logic is based on this consideration which justifies a wide scope of thinking, reflection, attitude and cognition. Anekaantavaada or 'relative pluralism', and syaadavaada or 'relativism' are the bases of Jain logic.

Jain logic has passed through various phases of development, of which the last three historical phases are:

  • The period of 'creative logic' (fifth to eighth century CE)
  • The period of 'real logic' (eighth to twelfth century CE)
  • The period of 'new logic' (twelfth to eighteenth century CE)

Logic, or reason, began to be very important in Jain philosophy from the earliest period. Knowledge contained in the canon was always accepted as 'true'. Reason (hetu) is mentioned in the Jain scriptures in the sense of reasoned scriptural knowledge. Logic and reason were present in other philosophical 'schools' in ancient India, and the Jain philosophers were compelled, in an age of sophisticated intellectual argument, to be masters of logic in order to win religious disputes.

In Jain canonical literature, faith dominates over reason: spiritual development over knowledge of the 'real entities'. In the period of creative knowledge, both Samantabhadra and Siddhasen (independently) defined knowledge as a means to ascertain 'real entities' and a method for establishing their validity. The creative logicians depended solely on reason rather than scriptural authority. Although Siddhasen's philosophical teachings indicate a few objects beyond logic, the starting point for his discourse was the theory of 'relativism' (syaadavaada) and 'viewpointism' (nayavaada), which was also developed by Samantabhadra.

During this period of 'creative logic', Akalanka (often called 'the father of Jain logic') in the seventh century, and Haribhadra in the eighth, wrote extensively on logic. They gave a sound logical footing to the theory of knowledge and its sources, 'relative pluralism', and 'relativism' and its 'seven-fold predications'.

During the period of 'real logic', modifications to these concepts were made in the light of contemporary thinking. The understanding of 'logical validity' (pramaana) was modified, and the concept of 'direct cognition' was divided into two categories: sensory and non-sensory cognition.

This period saw a flowering of Jain logicians, who produced not only important commentaries on earlier texts but also much original work. In this vein, we can mention Vidyananda, Prabhacandra and Hemcandra.

The seventeenth century ascetic scholar, Yashovijay, stands as the sole representative of the period of 'new logic', which expressed its concepts in the most terse language. However, no substantial contribution was made in the field of Jain logic after Hemcandra in the twelfth century (Jain B. 1992: p.22). Thus, Jain logic remains today largely as it was at the end of the medieval period.

Jain logicians have made a substantial contribution, not only to their own philosophy, but also to the wider development of Indian logic. The following points summarise the contribution of these logicians.

Jain logicians applied the concept of relativity to understanding the 'real entities'; in contrast to the 'absolutists' who did not take account of the partial nature of their own understanding. Jain logic understands (and describes) phenomenon from two points of view: the ideal viewpoint (niscaya-naya) and the practical (or real) viewpoint (vyavahaara-naya). Jain logicians encouraged the practice of putting syat (literally: 'in some way') before a statement to indicate that the truth perceived by us is not the whole picture, and that our language is often inadequate to express the 'real entities' fully. The concept of 'non-absolutism' proposed by Jain logicians removed any apparent discrepancies, contradictions and other discontinuities in thought and speech and fostered religious and social harmony.

Jain logicians divided the 'sources of knowledge' into two categories: 'direct' (pratyaksa) and 'indirect' (paroksa). Objects are known either directly or indirectly through other means.

Jain logicians proposed that anyone can attain liberation and become omniscient, the highest purified stage of the soul, in contrast to early Buddhist logicians who rejected the concept of omniscience. However, the concept of omniscience did gradually develop in Buddhism as a result of Jain influence.

Current Jain logic is mainly concerned with the theory and types of knowledge, and the sources of knowledge for acquiring genuine cognition. It is also used to explain and defend basic Jain concepts, such as omniscience and the concept of the soul.

Jain psychology

Jain scriptures describe a philosophy of mind and a science of nature that can well be compared to modern psychology. Epistemology was the basis of the psychological analysis of mental states and events. Knowledge of metaphysics was necessary for the understanding of Jain psychology. This psychology relied upon introspection and the insights of the seers and, to some extent, the behaviour of other ascetics and laypeople that helped them to develop the study of mental phenomena. Experimental investigation had little interest to them. It was the insight and vision of the sages that led to the development of Jain psychology. Jain teachers had only one goal: the liberation of the soul from karmic bondage.

The soul is a fundamental principle in Jain psychology. Its existence is a presupposition of Jain philosophy. It is described as both a noumenal and a phenomenal entity. As a noumenal entity it is pure consciousness, as a phenomenal entity it is that which allows a worldly being to exist.

Upayoga, conscious activity, is a basic characteristic of the soul. It is found in all living beings, however underdeveloped they may be. It is a purposive force, which is the source of all experience: cognitive, connotative and affective. It expresses itself as jnaana (knowledge) and darsana (perception) in the light of cetanaa (consciousness). Knowledge-obscuring karma obscures upayoga, but however much of this karmic matter there may be, it cannot obliterate upayoga totally and render it inoperative. Consciousness is manifested in the empirical processes of life. Empirical experience arises out of the contact of the sense organs with objects. Empirical processes make a distinction in consciousness between knowing, feeling and experiencing the results of karma.

Jains have developed a systemic theory of mind. It is a quasi-sensory organ and it has two components: the material (dravya mana), and the psychic (bhaava mana). Dravya mana consists of infinite, fine, coherent particles of matter (manovarganaas), necessary for mental functioning. Bhaava mana is expressed in mental processes such as thought and recollection.

Jains are aware of the interaction between the mind and the body. The empirical approach shows that there is a mutual influence between mind and body. Jain seers recognised two types of experiences: sensory and extra-sensory. Sensory experience is indirect, it is conditioned by the sense organs and the mind, while extra-sensory experience is direct, apprehended by the self without the help of the sense organs or the mind. The sensory organs are the 'windows' through which the self apprehends the external world. The mind performs the function of organising impressions received through the sensory organs in order to arrive at coherent experience.

Jains describe five sensory organs (indriyas) with their physical structure (dravyendriya) and psychic function (bhaavendriya). The physical structure is the organ itself. Bhaavendriya is divided into two, labdhi (capacity or dormant consciousness) and upayoga (applied consciousness) (Jain S. 1960: 2.18). Labdhi is attainment, the manifestation of specific sense experience and upayoga is the psychic force of knowledge and perception, which determines the specific experience. The phenomena of the contact of the sensory organs with the external world and the analysis of sensory material arising from these organs are psychologically important.

The soul is the experiencing agent. It has two types of experience: the sensory experience and the extra-sensory experience. The sensory experience is empirical, delivered by the sensory organs and the mind. The extra-sensory experience is supernormal, gained directly without the mediation of the sensory organs or the mind.

The Jain analysis of sensory perception is significant and complex. The description of the stages of sensory perception of a particular object is an important contribution to the psychology of perception, although it gives a predominantly epistemological rationale. The sensory perception of a particular object involves psychic factors. The removal of psychic impediments through the subduing and shedding of knowledge-obscuring karma is necessary for the correct sense perception of an object.

In addition to the knowledge obtained by the sensory organs and the mind, the psychology of which is described in the next chapter, Jains have described supernormal experience coming from within the self. These supernormal perceptions are 'clairvoyance', 'telepathy' and omniscience. Clairvoyance may be paranormal but the others are supernormal. It is difficult to establish the possibility of omniscience on the basis of the empirical sciences, however, its logical possibility cannot be denied.

Jains believe that the soul has an inherent capacity for self-realisation. It has a tendency to liberate itself from the veil of karma and achieve the status of transcendental self. The attainment of the right attitude (samyaktava) is necessary for self-realisation. Control over mind and desires prevent the influx of karma. Problems presented by psychology are pertinent to understanding Jain philosophy, its synoptic view of nature and of the path of purification.

Jain teachers employed psychology in the development of the four-fold order, ethics, philosophy and daily practices. But their major concern has been more with the quest for values than with the quest for 'facts'. They took cognisance of areas of human psychology in formulating their values. The principle of anekaantavaada (relative pluralism') gave them a sound grounding for understanding psychology and the views of others. It allowed them to arrive at a synthetic view that was realistic and which embraced all branches of knowledge.

Theory of knowledge

The Jain theory of knowledge aims at the liberation of the soul from karmic bondage. Right Knowledge is one of the essential constituents of the path of liberation. It is postulated that the knowledge of a person with wrong faith is not useful for the spiritual path.

We do not find a precise definition of knowledge in the canon. This is neither an oversight nor a deliberate omission. The methodology of the period dealt directly with the phenomena and the systematic development of logic, and syllogisms in Indian philosophical systems led the Jains to elaborate their theory of knowledge. The scriptures describe three aspects of knowledge: metaphysical, ethical and epistemological.

  • The first of these is concerned with the subjective area of knowledge, (i.e. knowledge about the self, the soul or the 'Reality').
  • The ethical aspect concerns the question of values, valuation of knowledge, and deals with its objectivity.
  • The epistemological aspect analyses the relation between subject and object and their relationship to the theories and organs of knowledge, and their utilisation in acquiring and ascertaining the validity of cognition.

The metaphysical aspect enumerates and describes the soul through its eight different states: substantive, conscious, knowing, cognition, conduct, energy, passion and activity. The first six represent the natural state while the last two represent the karmic or active states. Substantive knowledge of the soul describes its true nature. It is also concerned with the 'real entities' of the universe. The ethical aspect of knowledge is concerned with the application of acquired knowledge for spiritual progress. The epistemological aspect of knowledge is concerned with illuminating existent objects involving the self and the external world.

Definition of Knowledge: Every living being is characterised by consciousness. Consciousness is expressed in three forms: cognitive, connotative and volitional or psychic. Knowledge is the innate cognitive quality, an instrument to comprehend the nature of the world. The attributes and the modes of Reality are cognised through it. Knowledge is a subjective phenomenon concerned with objective existence.

Knowledge illuminates the self as well as others. The Jains point out that it may be identical with the self as well as different from it: the self is said to serve as cogniser as well as being an instrument of cognition. The senses, sensory objects, contacts and the instruments of knowledge only help proper cognition, but do not cause it.

Objects and function of knowledge: The object of knowledge is to illuminate the self and the external world accurately. All entities in the world have an objective existence independent of the cogniser. Accurate knowledge of any entity consists in cognising its substantiality, along with its many qualities and modes, both natural and acquired.

It is obvious that the cogniser is confined to the body while knowledge can extend to the whole universe. The degree and quality of illumination depends on the extent of the shedding of knowledge-obscuring karma.

Quality of knowledge: It is a common experience that knowledge may be true (accurate) or false (spurious). False knowledge (mithyaatva) is that which represents the world in ways in which it does not exist. False knowledge may involve doubt and indecision. It may be the result of wrong instructions and past impressions. The knowledge of a worldly being, except that of an omniscient, is always tainted with passion and other karmic consequences that distort or colour the vision as if through tinted glass. Subsequent correspondences and contradictions ascertain the truth or falsehood of the context. The criterion of falsehood is not the primary subjective apprehension but its contradiction. If a judgement is contradicted by another judgement of unquestionable faith, the former is rejected as false. Subjective experience as illustrated by a dream is rejected as illusionary and contradicted by waking experience. Falsehood is, thus, ultimately a question of experience. Similarly, truth is also a matter of experience and a prior logic is incompetent to manage it. Pujyapada indicates that sensory, scriptural and clairvoyant knowledge may be false or spurious, according to the attitude of the subject who is dependent on the distortions of karma (Jain S. 1960: 1.31). False knowledge is caused by deluding and knowledgeobscuring karma and past impressions resulting in non-appearance, indirect appearance, and imposition of foreign elements obstructing proper illumination of the self and other objects. The proper shedding of the corresponding karma may lead to Right Knowledge.

Right Knowledge allows one to distinguish between the beneficial and the harmful, the absolute and the relative, and between the rational and the irrational. It allows one to accept what is beneficial and discard what is harmful for spiritual advancement. The Jains do not draw any line between true and false cognition as far as their objectivity is concerned. It is relative. It is a question of degree rather than quality. True cognition provides accurate knowledge of an object, while false cognition allows knowledge to be distorted. The Jains insist on the test of validity before deciding on truth or falsity. The truth or falsity of knowledge also pertains to personal feelings and common sense objectives. The relativity of our objective knowledge is based upon differing viewpoints and personal attitudes.

Relationship of Knowledge to Self and Other Objects: It has already been pointed out that the cognisant self can have knowledge of the self and the external world. But how are they related? From the practical point of view, the cognisant intellect and the self are distinguishable by the fact that the self has knowledge. However, from the noumenal point of view, there is no distinction between the two. They are so intimately connected that they seem to be identical, because knowledge is a quality without which no entity could be identified.

Classification of Varieties of Knowledge: Knowledge can be classified by two criteria: the nature of knowledge and its source. Knowledge has two varieties, intrinsically or formally: undifferentiated, indeterminate or elementary knowledge, and determinate or detailed knowledge.

The undifferentiated knowledge occurs, at the point of the first sensory contact with an object when there is only a general awareness of it. The determinate knowledge follows the first encounter giving detailed or perceptual deliberation of the object. Traditionally, the term knowledge refers to perceptual comprehension. Indeterminate knowledge goes through four stages before it becomes determinate knowledge. The four stages are sensory organ-object contact, perceptual intuition of the object, speculation (it may be this), and perceptual judgement (it is that). There are five types of determinate knowledge. In addition to the sensory organs and mental faculties, intuition is also a source of knowledge. On the basis of sources and objects of knowledge, Jains have classified knowledge into five types (table 4.7).

Table 4.8 The five types of knowledge




Sensory knowledge

Senses and mind

Material objects

Scriptural knowledge

Senses and mind

All objects at all times through authentic words or scriptures

Clairvoyant knowledge

Inner self with proper karmic shedding or suppression

Material objects in the universe

Telepathic knowledge

Inner self with higher karmic shedding or suppression

Finer mind reading and thought reading. Can be achieved only by humans.


Inner self with shedding of all four destructive karma

All objects at all times



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Title: Jainism: The World of Conquerors
Dr. Natubhai Shah
Publisher: Sussex Academic Press
Edition: 1998