Jaina Concept Of Reality With Special Reference To Western And Indian Philosophy

Posted: 22.08.2008
Updated on: 03.01.2011

1.1 Introduction

Philosophy means love for wisdom. Also it means thinking about the universe. It would not be true that such thinking arises in any one particular country or race and people in due order. But since this sort of thinking is a peculiar form of human nature, it arises more or less in all races that inhabit a country. Such sort of thinking arises and evolves due to the contact of different races; sometimes even independently it assumes greater development, and after passing through a generation background, it divulges into various forms.

Our minds are always in search of the ultimate search for the truth. What is the ultimate reality of the world is the root question and all philosophers and philosophies have attempted to give the so called final answer.

When the human race came on the lap of nature and opened its eyes for the first time to view the universe, wonderful and magical things and events stood before it. His attention was drawn to the sun, moon, and the world of stars on one side and on the other the ocean, mountains, wide rivers, the roaring of clouds, and the sparks of lightning. Human mind proceeded to think on the subtle at the root of the gross objects. This led to the rise of numerous questions in its mind. Just as several questions arose in the human mind with regard to the deep and extremely subtle form of the external world and general rules that govern it, several questions arose in the human mind also with regard to the deep and extremely subtle form of the inner world. The rise of these questions is precisely the first step to the birth of philosophy.

Numerous and varied though these questions are, and even though many more questions arose from these in future.

When was this external universe, evidently changing every moment, born? From what was it born? Was it born on its own or some other force gave birth to it? If it is not born, was this universe just the same in the past and is so in the present? If it is born through some causes, should these causes be eternal and unchanging or subject to change? Again, are these causes varied or the external universe was born of just one causes? The structure and movement of the universe seems to be systematic and bound by rules. Is it preceded by some intelligent or it is just mechanical and proved to be without a beginning? If the order of the universe has some intellect behind it, whose intellect is it? Does that intelligent element rule over the order of the universe while being neutral itself, or it results itself or is seen as the universe?

With regard to the internal universe also similar questions arose. Which is that element which enjoys this external universe or ponders over it? Is this element without a beginning or born of some cause some-time?

There are many endless questions. These and so many similar questions arose in the realm of philosophical thinking. Answers to these or some of these questions are found differently in the history of the philosophical thinking of different races. Right from old days Greek thinkers started analyzing these questions. Also in India these questions arose.

Jaina philosophers, in their search for reality concluded that there are only six fundamental elements in the universe. They exist eternally. No one has created them and no one can destroy them. They exist permanently but there is change within them always.

The problem of Reality has different dimensions. Number of questions may be raised to answer the question: What is Reality? Is change is real? Is reality one or many? Is it material or non - material? And so on.

We shall limit our discussion only on two problems: the problem of change and problem of one and many.


2.1 Greek Philosophy

Greek philosophy started with the problem: what is reality and soon turned into two related problems:

  1. The problem of change - is change real?
  2. The problem of one and many - is reality one or many?

The Malesian philosopher Thales (624-552 B.C.) said that the nature of all things is WATER. For Anaximander (611-547 B.C.) neither Water nor any other elements are the nature of all things. They do not have any definite nature, that is, they are INDETERMINATE or bound less. Anaximenes (586-524 B.C.) was of the view that AIR is the nature of all things. It is determinate.

Pythagoras (572-497 B.C.) forwarded the view that the nature of all things is numbers. One is God. All things proceeds from one and will return to one. All things are one and many.

Heraclites (533-475 B.C.) was of the view that all things were FIRE because it represents change and movement. Thus the nature of all things is CHANGE. (Some thinkers are of the view that for Heraclites reality is permanent as well as Change. For him only permanent things change. The permanent is in change and change is in the permanent. The principal of Logos (reason) is one in many - in diversity and difference.) But it is true that Heraclites emphasized only change. For him change is only real.

Parmenides (495 B.C.) denied both - many and change. Only ONE is real and many are illusory. Hence change is not real. By identifying thought and being, the rational and real Parmenides believed that the change and many are illogical and un–real. Zeno (490-430B.C.) argued for impossibility of change, time, motion and pluralism. Zeno’s paradoxes are famous in philosophical literature.

Democritus (460-370 B.C.), the follower of Leucippus was of the view that all things consists of many indivisible things called atoms (a= not, tomos=cutable, not able to cut). Each atom is homogeneous, indivisible, immutable, separate by empty space-void, has different shape (irregular, smoother and more moveable)

Thus we see two clear–cut views about reality: those who believe in change (Hereclitus, Democritus and others) and those who believe in permanence and oneness as an essence of reality.

Plato tried to modify the Parmenides dualism of Being and non-Being making it a dualism of Being and Becoming. He gave primacy to Being and Becoming was considered as inferior and subordinate to Being. Being is immutable, logical essence (Ideas or Forms). The realm of change consists of degeneration and decay. He seems to deny the concept of non-Being. But in Sophist, Being and becoming are not absolutely separate. Being participates in Becoming as Ideas or forms of material things. Thus Plato presented a metaphysical dualism (Being and Becoming) and epistemological dualism of knowledge and opinion. Opinion is concerned with the realm of change and knowledge is concerned with the realm of UN changing Ideas. The source of opinion is senses and the source of knowledge is mind.

(Apart from these thinkers Plotinus, neo-Plotinus, medieval philosophers, Hegel and others also presented their views on these issues. It will be difficult to present the views of these thinkers in such a short time)


2.2 Indian Philosophy

In Indian philosophy Śankara’s advaita-vedānta presents the thesis of unchanging, eternal, conscious and one reality - Brahman. For him change, plurality and all worldly things are illusory. On the other hand for Buddhism change is real. (Only Nāgārjuna like Śankara denies the reality of worldly things. Other schools of Buddhism do not deny worldly things)

Thus to answer the issues raised by western and Indian philosophers we should keep in mind the following conclusions of Jaina system of thought:

Jaina philosophy accepts permanence, change, multiplicity and identity or similarity simultaneously because in our experience we always find particularity and universality or generality simultaneously. (Jaina philosophy is realists and accepts multiplicity of world).

They raise a question: Is it possible to give any interpretation of experience, which is free from self-contradiction and logical fallacy. Because any generalization about reality on the basis of single characteristic suffers from the Ekāntic dośa - fallacy of partial view of reality.

Here question arises what is Reality according to Jainism? Or what is the characteristic of Reality. Why Reality is Reality?

(It is true that there are some philosophers who deny the possibility of philosophy so the question of nature of reality is meaningless. But for those who believe in the possibility of metaphysics, this question is a valid question)


3.1 Jaina concept of Reality

The religious experience of one who follows the Jaina tradition cannot be properly understood without first grasping the theory of existents developed by the tradition. The Jaina term for “existent” is sat (literally being). The defining character of Reality is  - Sat. This term designates an entity comprised of three aspects; substance (dravya), quality (guņa) and mode (paryāya). By substance the Jaina understands a support or substratum for manifold qualities (guņas). The qualities are free from qualities of their own(otherwise they would themselves become substances), but invariably they under go modifications (pariņāma) in the form of acquiring (utpāda) new modes(paryāya) and losing(vyaya) old modes at each moment. Thus, any existent must be seen on three levels: the modes, which last only a moment and belongs to the qualities; the qualities, which undergo changes and yet inhere forever in their substances; and the substances, which remains the abiding common ground of support for the qualities and their modes.

Casual efficiency is the defining character of reality. (Arthkriyākāritva sat lakşanam) Reality consists of production (utpāda) destruction (vyaya) and permanence (dhrauvya)


Utpādavyayadhrauvya lakşaņam sat

Thus the reality’s characteristics are:

Trilakşaņa (production, destruction and permanence) means permanence and change (pariņāmi nitya) or eternal - non–eternal (nitya -anitya)

Arthakriyākāritva - power to produce

Production and destruction are functions of Substance. The changing substance does not leave its nature i.e. permanence.

In this context the understanding of the following three concepts is essential: substance, (dravya), quality (guņa) and modes (paryāya). These concepts are closely related to each other.

A material atom (pudgala - paramāņu), for example, is considered by the Jains as a substance. It possesses at all times four qualities, namely, a color, a taste, a smell, and a certain kind of palpability. These qualities will vary from one moment to another - for example, a red color being replaced by blue, or a sweet taste by bitter - but an atom will never be found without these qualities or without some mode of each one of them. The same rule applies to an animate entity like a soul (jīva). A soul is designate as substance (dravya) in that it is the locus of innumerable qualities such as knowledge, bliss, and energy. The knowledge quality, for example, will increase and decrease, but there is a never a time when the soul is without knowledge; otherwise it would become by definition a non-soul, a material atom. The states of imperfection and perfection, expressed by such terms as matijňāna (mind-based knowledge) and kevalajňāna (omniscience), are in turn modes of this quality. The other qualities of the soul similarly undergo constant change. These changes do not take place merely on a surface level; rather their cumulative effect so transforms the soul that we can distinguish various states - bound and free, pure and impure, and so on - and relate them to one and the same soul.

Because the qualities are innumerable and their modes are infinite, stretching from the beginningless past to the endless future, it is not possible for an ordinary (non-omniscient) person to perceive the existent in its entirety. At a single moment he can be aware either of the persisting unity (ekatva) of the substance or the transient multiplicity(anekatva) of its modes. This complexity of the existent- its simultaneous unity and multiplicity, eternity and transience- finds expression in the Jaina term anekānta, manifold aspects, which purports to fully describe the existent’s nature.

Jaina philosophy is of the view that Reality must have casual efficacy. Those who believe in absolute permanence (Parmenides and Śankara) and absolute change (Heraclites and Buddhism) cannot explain casual efficiency (arthakriyākāritva), because neither absolutely permanent thing nor absolutely changing thing can produce any thing. Real is that which can produce effect. Only the thing that is both permanent and changing (nitya-anitya) can produce.

Jainism like Buddhism and Heraclites believe that change is real, Because without accepting change knowledge and action will be meaningless. From unchanging or eternal reality (Śankara and Parmenides) action–result is not possible. Thus this view fails to explain the changing world.

Two principal view- points (NAYAS) of seeing the reality:

Dravyārthika Naya (some sort of general statement, looking identity in things, universal statement)

It is also called as Sangraha or samanya (generalization) or the Noumenal method of inquiry.

Paryāyārthic Naya (some sort of particular statement looking some sort of differences in things.)It may be called as phenomenal method, analytical method of inquiry.

These two fundamental methods (the two Nayas) cover the general and particular viewpoints of things as stated by Tirthańkaras.

These two view- points are essential in explaining the complete nature of Reality. Emphasis on any one will lead to a partial view of reality (Ekāntic view).

The exposition of these two Nayas and their mutual reconciliation results in the doctrine of Anekānta-vāda- many folded nature of reality.

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