A Study Of The Bhagavati Sutra

Posted: 06.01.2009
Updated on: 03.07.2015

Introduction

The great ancient saints and seers in India have propounded three great traditions, Jainism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, represented in sacred canons called Āgamas, Piṭṭakas and Vedas respectively.

The seeds of the great tradition of Jaina religion and culture are the fruits of insights, experiences and revelations of the omniscient (Kevalis) i.e. tīrthaṅkaras or fordmaker. The Āgamas or scriptures of the Jains in ancient times were called Gaṇīpiṭaka or Aṅgas and were revealed by Lord Mahāvīra, the 24th fordmaker. The sacred texts reveal the essence of life, the nature of bondage and liberation, the path of liberation, the meaning of life and the art of right living, the causes of misery, pain and happiness, the world order, various religious and philosophical concepts, the nature of conscious and material energy, the nature of ātmā (soul) and Paramātmā (supreme soul) besides the views of other philosophical schools propounded at that time.

The scriptures have been handed down through an oral tradition and are written in aphorism (Sūtra) style, i.e. where words are limited, but pregnant with profound meaning and depth of knowledge. Sutra, Grantha, Siddhānta, Pravacana, Ājñā, Upadeśa, Prajñāpanā, Agama, Āptavacana and Śruta are some of the synonyms of Jaina scriptural texts.[1] The Tīrthaṅkaras reveal the trio (tripadi), i.e. Upaneyevā, Vigameyavā, Dhuveyevā, i.e. all substances originate, undergo change and still remain permanent. Based on this tripadi, the gaṇadharas construct the twelve fold, i.e. Dvadaśāṅga scriptural literature.

Bhagavati is the fifth of the Dvadaśāṅga scriptural literature and one of the most important works of the Ardha-Māgadhi canonical literature. It is the largest in volume, encyclopedic in its contents and covers a variety of aspects of Jaina Philosophy and practices. It gives valuable information on history and culture such as political, social and economic condition of India at that time, its political history, evolution of Jaina philosophical thought and other philosophical schools prevalent at that time. It is in a conversation form between Lord Mahāvīra and his principal disciples other than Indrabhuti Gautama also.

The Bhagavati Sutra mentions heterodox sects as:

    • Ājivika,
    • Vainayikas,
    • Parivrajakas’
    • Vānaprasthas,
    • Tapasas,
    • Jamālis
    • Followers of Lord Pārśvanātha
    • and other more.

The Bhagavati Sutra contains the varied contents scattered in other canons and touches upon various aspects of Jaina Philosophy. To mention some of the aspects under which the Bhagavati Sutra can be studied:

    • Metaphysics
    • Ethics
    • Epistemology
    • Logic
    • History
    • Sociology
    • Philosophy
    • Psychology
    • Fine Arts
    • Biology
    • Education
    • Mathematics
    • Astrology
    • Agriculture
    • Trade and Commerce
    • Cosmology
    • Geology

 

The Title of the Text

It is in the form of questions and answers and popularly known as Bhagavati Sutra, because of the clarifications it reveals. Its original name is Vihāyapaṇṇati, Vivāhapaṇṇati or Vyakhyāprajñapti.

Samavāyaṅga and Nandi state that the text carries 36,000 answers to the queries put forward by Gautama, the first gaṇadhara, i.e. principal disciple of Mahāvīra, and others, and later on revealed by Sudharma Svāmi to Jambu Svāmi[2]. It came to be called Bhagavati because of its importance among the canonical scriptures. Bhagavati means divine and holy and so the original name was substituted by the adjective used to reveal its sacredness.

 

Structure

Bhagavati Sutra is the most voluminous of all available Agamas. It is divided into 138 Śatakas (chapters) that are further subdivided into 1923 Uddeśakas (sub-chapters) containing 15,751 Slokas (verses). We do not come across any commentaries like Niryukti or Bhasya on the Bhagavati Sutra, but only a small Cūrni besides a Vrtti by Abhayadevasuri, and a few Hindi and Gujarati translations. The language of the Bhagavati Sutra is Ardhamagadhi. In its question-and-answer-style the latent intellectual curiosity of man is reflected. Sri Amarmuni has divided the contents of the Bhagavati Sutra in ten sections:

1.

Acara Khanda

Ethics

2.

Dravya Khanda

Metaphysics

3.

Siddhanta Khanda

Philosophy & Principles

4.

Paraloka Khanda

Rebirth

5.

Bhugola Khanda

Geography

6.

Khagola Khanda

Astronomy, Cosmology

7.

Ganitaśastra

Mathematics

8.

Garbhaśastra

Genetics

9.

Caritra Khanda

Biographies

10.

Vividha

Miscellaneous


Ācārya Devendramuni has written an exhaustive foreword of almost 100 pages to the fourth volume of the text published by Agam Prakasan Samiti, Beawar, Rajasthan. The Sailana publication Vol VII carries a list of the contents of the Bhagavati Sutra in an alphabetical order that runs to around 27 pages.

 

Essence of the Bhagavati Sutra

Lord Mahāvīra gave equal importance to both, knowledge and action for emancipation[3]. Just as a bird needs two wings to fly, an aspirant should have both, knowledge and action, to be liberated from the shackles of birth and death. He says ārādhana (accomplishment) should be of three essentials namely:

    • Knowledge
    • Faith
    • Conduct

One who accomplishes the three can be liberated and relieved from the web of transmigration[4]. This inner journey of accomplishment sets in when one comes in contact with the saintly and self-realized souls. Thereupon the fruit of listening to the truth is revealed to be knowledge, from knowledge springs scientific spiritual discriminatory knowledge of the soul, and then the soul takes to renunciation and exercises self-control as a result of which the influx of karma is terminated. After this the soul takes to austere practices and annihilates the karmas and becomes perfect and accomplished. The Sutra which reveals the above is as follows[5]:

Sava ṇeṇā  ṇeviṇṇaṇe, paccakkhāṇe yasanjame  
aṇaṇhaye tave ceva, vodāne akiriyā siddhi

Through the above revelation we understand that Atman alone is Sat, i.e. real. To know it, to have faith in it is called “Satsaṅga”. Since time immemorial the soul has never come in association with it-self, but has perpetually been in association with men, matter and money. The author of the Bhagavati Sutra through various topics and discussions has tried hard to drive the message that freedom from all this non-self, be it body, senses, mind, thoughts, etc., is real happiness. Jaina pathfinders stressed more on righteousness and virtuous conduct than miracles.

Although an aspirant or Yogi who progresses steadily on the path of liberation, acquires certain labdhis, riddhis and vidyas, (extra-ordinary powers) he has been cautioned not to exercise them for it will deviate him from the path of accomplishment. Man in his quest for happiness and perfection has searched the atom and researched almost on everything. In the universe, he soared the skies and measured the oceans and mountains, scientific and technological advancements have made the entire world look like a global village. He has invented one dreadful weapon after another and has virtually brought the world to the edge of destruction. This is in total contrast with what the ancient saints and seers practiced and preached.

In olden days they also have done research work, but the focus was on the subject and not on the object. Their research was subjective and spiritually oriented. Through spirituality they discovered the hidden truths inside them-selves, others and the universe. The Bhagavati Sutra records many incidents of soul power. It says that when the powers of the soul are awakened, it can cognize anything and everything in the universe, and all the secrets of the universe are unfolded[6].

Regarding demerit i.e. sin; the Bhagavati Sutra has made thought-provoking revelations. 1.8, 1.9, 12.2, 12.5 etc., of the text reveal that sin is what binds and burdens the soul, distorts the latent potential of happiness and freedom and deprives the soul of them. Sin is not determined by an activity, but by the attitude of an ignorant, unrealized soul steeped in delusion.

When Kalodāi enquires why is the fruit of sin inauspicious, Lord Mahāvīra is said to have revealed that when one consumes tasty food mixed with poison, the consequences are dreadful, so also sinful activities allure the soul but its consequences are inauspicious and sorrowful. On the other hand when one takes the food that is bitter and medicinal, he enjoys good health, although the taste is not fulfilling. So also all auspicious activities of merit i.e. puṇya seem to be difficult to accomplish but its fruit is auspicious[7].

When Gautama Gaṇadhara observes many people being enlightened by omniscience (kevalajñāna), he becomes sorrowful and grief stricken and asks Lord Mahavira as to why he has not yet become enlightened. Then Lord Mahāvīra reveals to him, “You are humble and virtuous, without blemish and noble, the little attachment you have for me is an impediment for your enlightenment”[8].  This incident goes to show that none can grant liberation to another. Each one is responsible for his actions and the fruits thereof, hence one ought to judiciously exert that at every stage in life.

 

Gaṇadhara Gautama

Bhagavati Sutra begins with the curiosity of gaṇadhara Gautama. If Gautama is curiosity personified, Mahāvīra is the solution provider. What Arjuna is to Kṛṣṇa and Ānand to Buddha, is Gautama to Mahāvīra. Bhagavati Sutra begins with salutations to the five parameṣṭhis (supreme auspicious beings), Brahmi script, scriptural knowledge and then throws light on the personality of gaṇadhara Gautama. His respect for Mahavira, his humility, his attitude, his curiosity to learn, the How’s and Why’s of life and his thirst for knowledge are reflected in his questions, which he puts to Mahāvīra  to seek solutions. He remained indebted to Mahāvīra  and was faithful to him till his last breath. Besides Gautama; Bhagavati Sutra also records the questions put forth by Skandaka Parivrājaka, Somila, Kālodai, Jayanti, Roha Aṇagāra and others.

 

A Study of the Bhagavati Sutra through the Fundamentals of Jainism

The Tattvartha Sutra reveals, “Jīvājīvāsravabaṅdhasaṅvaranirjarāmokṣāstattvam”[9] ”i.e. the soul, non soul, influx, bondage, stoppage, annihilation of karma and liberation are the basic elements (the realitiess). The soul is characterized by consciousness and is said to be one as well as many. The non-soul is opposed to the nature of consciousness. The association of the soul with non-soul causes the influx of karmic matter (aśrava) and their mutual intermingling, i.e. of soul and karma is termed as bondage (baṅdha). The arrest of the karmic influx is saṅvara, i.e. stoppage, partial removal of the karmas is nirjarā, i.e. annihilation, and complete disassociation is moķsa, i.e. liberation. When Punya and pāpa, i.e. virtue and sin respectively are added to the above list, there are nine verities (realities), i.e. tattvas. Some of these nine are knowable, others are to be discarded and still others are acquirable:

Knowables(jñeya)

Discardables (heya)

  • Sin (pāpa)
  • Influx (āsrava)
  • Bondage (baṅdha)

Acquirables (upādeya)

  • Virtue (punya)
  • Stoppage (saṅvara)
  • Annihilation (nirjarā)
  • Liberation (mokṣa)

One remarkable feature of Bhagavati Sutra is that it discusses different topics from different aspects, i.e. Anekānta or multidimensional approach to reality. When Somila asked whether he was one or many, Lord Mahāvīra replied that essentially as pure soul he was one, but characteristically multi-dimensional and many [10]. When Jayanti asked Lord Mahāvīra, whether a person who was sleeping or a person who was awake was better, Lord Mahāvīra replied that one who took to a sinful life, it is better that he is asleep and for a person who took to righteous life, it is good that he is awake[11]. Likewise Lord Mahāvīra has discussed the fundamentals of Jainism, i.e. the nine verities or realities and other topics in similar fashion so as to give a comprehensive picture of reality. Thus we find the rudiments of Anekāntavāda and Syādvāda as Vibhajyavāda in the āgamas.

 

Jiva Tattva or Soul

We get a detailed discussion of the concept of the soul but is scattered in many chapters and sub-chapters. Bhagavati Sutra 12/10 reveals that there are eight kinds of souls, i.e. ātmā:

1

Dravya ātmā

Soul characterized by consciousness

2

Kaṣāya ātmā

Soul characterized by passions

3

Yoga ātmā

Soul characterized by actions

4

Upayoga ātmā

Soul characterized by functions

5

Jñāna ātmā

Soul characterized by knowledge

6

Darśana ātmā

Soul characterized by vision

7

Cāritra ātmā

Soul characterized by conduct

8

Vīrya ātmā

Soul characterized by element of power

In Bhagavati the jīvas are classified in many ways. The bonded souls are of two types, mobile and immobile, wandering in four existences, developed and at times undeveloped; with mind or without mind; having one, two or five kinds of bodies; one, two, or five senses, one, two or five kinds of dispositions (bhāvas); one two or three yogas, i.e. channels of activity; four-fold passions; two-fold upayoga; six colours of thoughts (leśyās) and is bonded by the eight kinds of karmas.

In chapter 7.8 of Bhagavati it is revealed that the soul has the characteristic of contracting and expanding. When an elephant dies its soul can leave that body and occupy a worm’s body and vice-versa. Just as the light of a lamp fills the room in which it is kept, the soul pervades the body it occupies. Chapter 12.2 records the questions and answers of Jayanti śramaṇopāsikā wherein she has raised important spiritual questions that are very ardently studied in the Jaina svādhyāya circles.

Chapter 7.1 reveals the characteristic of the jiva to move upwards hence the liberated souls move upwards to the tip of the universe. Chapter 1.1 reveals that the knowledge of the soul travels with it in the next birth, but not the conduct and the austere practices although their fruit as the karma body follows the doer. Chapter 6.1 reveals that some souls experience great pain (mahāvedanā) whereas some others do great nirjarā, i.e. annihilation of large heaps of karmas.

Chapter 6.3 says that the souls are in this world since beginning-less time but they can terminate their stay and reach the abode of final beatitude. Chapter 14.4 reveals the changing cum eternal nature of both living and non-living. Likewise we find ample matter on the concept of soul, characteristics of liberated as well as bounded souls. Chapter 5.8 says that the number of living beings and non-living beings is constant; they can neither be created nor destroyed, only their form keeps on changing.

 

Ajiva Tattva or Non-Soul

The non-living things are of two types, without form and with form. The medium of motion and rest, space and time are formless whereas matter is with form. Those without form are designated as non-concrete or non physical (amūrta or arūpī) and those with form are called physical or concrete (mūrta or rūpī). One can observe the parallel remarks made by the Jaina philosophers and Albert Einstein regarding the principle of motion, [for more details please refer Source Book in Jaina Philosophy, pg 126,127 and Bhagavati Sutra 18.7/7.10]. But for the two mediums of motion and rest all things would either be at rest or in motion forever. Bhagavati Sutra reveals that all that is steady and at rest are due to the above mediums of motion and rest. Where these two mediums operate, it is termed as cosmos /universe (loka) and where they do not is called as void (aloka) or just space. Likewise chapter 13.4 reveals that Space or ākāśa is the one that accommodates all things. It is all pervading, formless having infinite space points.

Chapter 25.4 records the discussion on time as an independent substance. Bhagavati Sutra has given minutest details of paramāṇu (smallest indivisible part of matter) and matter, which are very scientific.

 

Karma Theory

Besides the above non-living substances, Bhagavati Sutra records exhaustive details regarding the karma theory. These karmas are of two types psychic and substantial. The former is the cause for the latter. The first conditions the soul spiritually, the latter physically. Just as milk and water and iron and fire are melted together, the bounded souls and karmas are intermingled. In Bhagavati Sutra 1.2, Lord Mahāvīra  clearly states that each one experiences and enjoys the fruit of karma done by himself and cannot do so of others or for others.

Chapters 6.9 and 8.1 elaborate the eight-fold karma theory, and based on these and other chapters, we come across one hundred thousand ślokas on Karma theory in the Śvetāmbara tradition and two hundred ślokas on the same in the Digambara tradition[12]. Bhagavati Sutra heralds and warns that without experiencing the fruit of one’s karmas one cannot attain liberation. The soul becomes burdened by the 18 kinds of sins and is unburdened when it gives up the 18 kinds of sins.[13]. More on Karma theory is discussed through the concept of influx and bondage.

 

Āsrava and Baṅdha - Influx and Bondage of Karma

Indian Philosophers have discussed at great length the concepts of bondage and liberation, but besides the concepts of bondage and liberation Jaina Philosophy has discussed the causes of bondage and the causes of liberation at great length. All spiritual reflection and speculation is to free the soul from bondage. Due to the operation of attachment and aversion the soul attracts karmic particles, which are spread in the entire universe. They are so subtle that one can neither see them with the eyes, nor through the finest microscope. Only the omniscient can cognize them, and so the Jaina karma theory is based on the revelations of the omniscient Lords.

Bhagavati says that influx of karma is the cause of bondage, as a result of which the soul is bound to the non-soul matter, the conscious energy of the eternal soul is veiled and becomes conditioned in a physical body.[14].Passions and activities of mind, body and speech are the root causes for influx of karma. The passionate mind causes the influx and bondage more than the physical activity hence it is rightly said that freedom from passion is liberation (Kasāyamuktih kila muktireva). Six people on different stages of the spiritual ladder may commit the same sin, but influx and bondage of the fruit of sin is determined by attitude, restraint, passion, etc of each person. The Jaina scriptures give a detailed description of the 25 kinds of activities (kriyā), which cause karmic influx and bondage. Chapter 3.3 and 18.8 throw light on the relation between action and bondage.

 

Saṅvara and Nirjarā - Stoppage and Annihilation of Karma

Saṅvara is stoppage of the influx of karma and therefore the most important tattva, as true spiritual advancement begins with the stoppage of influx of karma. Only after being watchful, the influx of karma can be stopped and annihilated, and then one can be liberated. When one keeps on binding fresh stock of karma, along with partially removing the old stock, there is no freedom from karmic conditioning. Perverse attitude, vowless-ness, non-vigilance, passions and inauspicious activities cause karmic influx. They should be given up and replaced by right attitude, taking of vows, vigilance, passionless-ness and auspicious activity respectively.

Bhagavati Sutra chapter 25.7 reveals that one must first become aware of the defilements, then must confess and condemn them either in front of the spiritual masters or in private with the Self and supreme Godhead as witness. Then he must embrace the right conduct, i.e. righteousness, and thereupon expiate for the past sins. After doing so an aspirant takes to austere practices to annihilate the existing stock of karmas and to purify the self. We get a detailed discussion of the 12-fold Nirjara, i.e. austerity in this context. They are explained with their sub-divisions and are important for spiritual progress.

Jainism has never given importance to blind faith and blind practices of austerities. Austerity should be accompanied with spirituality, only then it can serve the purpose of emancipation. Throughout the discussion of stoppage and annihilation of karma the Bhagavati Sutra has stressed the need for giving up passion, delusion and attachment. One ought to renounce food and also check the causes of karmic bondage immediately for spiritual progress.[15].

 

Mokṣa or Emancipation

Bṛhma Sutra begins with ‘Athato Bṛhmajijñāsā’, for the Mimāmsā Sutra and Vaiśesika it is ‘Athato Dharmajijñāsa’, for Jainism it can be said ‘Athato Tattvajijjñsā’, i.e. philosophical speculations are rooted in curiosity for Bṛhma, Dharma and Tattvas respectively. The purpose of Indian philosophy is not only knowledge of the reality, but also realization of it for attaining freedom from misery. It is not merely an academic pursuit of knowledge, but has the aim of realization of the truth in life[16].

The Bhagavati Sutra chapter 12.7 reveals that in this entire loka there is not a single space point where the soul has not experienced birth and death, there is not a single soul with whom all kinds of relation have not been established, be it of friend, foe, parent, offspring, husband, wife, partner, master, servant, etc. The world is eternal, it is beginning-less, the soul too is eternal, but is bound by karmas and subject to birth and death. Just as one cannot say whether the hen came first or the egg, none can reveal about the origin of the living and non-living[17]. Those who realize the purity of their souls and conduct accordingly are able to annihilate the karmas to finally ascend to Mokṣa, enjoying infinite knowledge, vision, bliss and power.

Chapter 14.10 records the differences between the embodied perfect omniscient and the disembodied perfect souls in Mokṣa. Chapter 12.2 reveals that since beginning-less time infinite souls have reached Mokṣa and will continue to do so in future, but still the world will never become empty of souls. Those who are subject to sensual pleasures tighten the knot of karmas, extend their duration, intensify them and wander endlessly in the worldly sojourn. Those who conquer the sensual pleasures and themselves attain Mokṣa and enjoy complete freedom and bliss. Chapter 12.9 tells us about five kinds of Gods and says that the Arhats who preach the eternal path of purification and emancipation and the siddhas who have attained Mokṣa are the Gods of the Gods and supreme redeemers.

 

Some other important Notes on the Bhagavati Sutra

  • Of all the Aṅgas and Upāṅgas it is the most voluminous one exhaustive in contents.
  • The topics of living, non-living, universe and its constituents, different philosophical concepts, etc are discussed in depth.
  • The minutest details of life, breath, food, genetics, etc are thoroughly analysed.
  • The discussion about atom and the atomic theory are very scientific.
  • The topics discussed from different aspects reveal the Anekanta style of presentation.
  • Most of the enquiries were made by Gautama gaṇadhara but we come across people of other faiths who came and discussed freely with Lord Mahāvīra.
  • Details of the various hells, heavens and celestial beings also figure here.
  • Description of the plant-bodied beings, i.e. the vanaspati jagat is made in chapters 11, 22, 23, etc.
  • A detailed description of Makkhaliputra Gośālaka is done in Śataka 15, of Jamāli in 9.33, 22, 11.9, 11.11, 13.6.
  • Details of the Karma Theory, the cause of influx of bondage etc give new insight on the topic.
  • For the first time maṅgalācaraṇa or salutation is found in the Aṅga literature in Bhagavati Sutra
  • The greatness and sublime features of ascetic life are extolled in many places.
  • Bhagavati Sutra is important for its contents of spirituality.
  • A detailed analysis of tapas i.e. austerities is made in Chapter 25.7 which includes the various divisions and subdivisions of fasting, expiation, scriptural study, meditation etc. These explanations give an insight of Jaina beliefs and practices.
  • Chapter 8.8 discusses the 22 kinds of afflictions faced by an ascetic and reveals the significance of patience, tolerance and perseverance.
  • The death of a wise man and the death of a fool are discussed in chapter 13.7
  • The extra-ordinary powers acquired through austerity are explained in chapter 3.1 in the context of Iśānendra.
  • Detailed discussion on time, features in Chapter 11.11
  • Reference of many cities and kings too feature in the Bhagavati Sutra and give us an insight of the political, social and cultural India at that time.
  • Discussion on yoga, upayoga, leśyā, passion, body, mind, senses, language etc enable us to understand the dynamic nature of the soul.
  • Throughout the text we get to understand the curiosity of Gautama and others which enabled them to search the truth 2600 years ago
  • A detailed discussion of the āyuṣya karma features in Chapter 5 and 6.
  • Concept of karma and kriyā i.e. action features in many places.
  • Description of life in the 6th spoke of the Kālachakra is made in Chapter 7.6.
  • The same chapter reveals the fruit of sin as Karkaśavedaniya and the renunciation of sin as Akarkaśavedaniya. It also says that by practising compassion on all prāna, bhuta, jīva and sattva and by not torturing them one binds pleasure producing karma i.e. Sātāvedaniya karma.
  • The condition of life in the womb, their nourishment etc, is revealed in Chapter 1.7, 2.5.
  • The relation, of the thought paints i.e. leśya and the future births, is revealed in Chapter 3.4.
  • Chapter 5.4 informs us about embryo transplantation.
  • It is told in chapter 5.4 that the celestial beings converse in Ardhamāgadhi language.
  • Chapter 8.10 informs us about four kinds of people
  • Those with conduct but no knowledge
  • Those with knowledge but no conduct.
  • Those without both knowledge and conduct.
  • Those with knowledge and conduct.

Lord Mahāvīra says, “O Gautama! The first category of people is any day better than the second and the third category, but the people of the fourth are the best and praiseworthy.”

Thus the Bhagavati Sutra enjoys a unique place and it is considered very auspicious to study this text.

Footnotes:
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