Scientific Vision Of Lord Mahāvīra ► Preface ► Introduction

Posted: 12.05.2009

The main and also the unique doctrine of Jainism is non-absolutism. Through this comprehensive doctrine we realize the various aspects of reality. According to the doctrine, both partial and whole truths are significant. Values of both the intrinsic and the extrinsic aspects of an object are preserved in relative and contextual assessment. In the universality of non-absolutism, temporal or contextual exigencies and contingent speculation find their proper places. This doctrine does not uphold the limited monistic or absolutistic approach to reality. It accepts the transcendental as well as the empirical. It leads the cogniser to the relative evaluation of variously oriented thoughts obtaining in the world of ideology. Thanks to this doctrine we find in Jain philosophy and canons, a synthetic trend right from the canonical age to the present day.

Disciplines, apparently different, but emanating from the same source are easy to reconcile, whereas those emanating from different sources are not. Spirituality and science are but different modes of apprehending reality—one is subjective and experiential whereas the other is objective and experimental. On account of the different means employed by them and different aspects of life covered, it becomes comparatively difficult to synthesise them.

The influence of science is all encompassing affecting our thoughts as well as actions. The old is no longer gold; it is the new that fascinates. It is becoming out of fashion to study the ancient scriptures and fathom their depths by self-experience. In order to overcome this apathy it is now being realized that spiritual truths contained in the scriptures have to be studied and interpreted in modern scientific idioms without subjecting them to any distortions. To make the scriptural study more interesting it is also necessary to present how philosophy has tackled the fundamental questions of life, which are considered inexplicable in the domain of science.

Though there is a general assertion that ancient Indian thought has ample scientific undertones without solid proof based on scientific research this statement remains at best an egotistic projection. It is, therefore, essential that in depth studies be undertaken of scriptures on scientific lines with a view to identifying intuitive insights that lie scattered in plenty in ancient literature and bear close resemblance to modern scientific findings. Such a study would also highlight those thoughts and ideas that do not fall in line with modern scientific thinking but which are no doubt of momentous significance.

However, this scientific study of the ancient scriptures in all probability will present a formidable difficulty in describing the authentic meaning scriptural statements, which have been presented in obscure, archaic, mystical and aphoristic style. It is not untrue to aver that many a commentator has failed to comprehend fully the correct meaning of scriptural statements simply because the reason that he/she was not conversant with recent advancements made in modern science. The study of the Jain scriptures in the context of modern science is, therefore, a new adventure in the domain of research that opens before us a new panorama of a deeper and true understanding of those ancient texts.

The Bhagavatī Sūtra (Bh.S.) occupies probably the foremost position if we set out to enlist books with ample possibilities of the study of philosophy and science. Though the basic object of the Bh.S. is to explore the subtle mysteries of philosophy and spirituality, yet at many places there are significant scientific discourses. For example, the Bh.S. describes a phenomenon called Tamaskāyā and Kriṣṇarāji. The phenomenon comes quite close to the Black Hole recently discovered by science. Not only this, at many places such mathematical methods have been employed as are currently in use in modern science.

The Bhagavatī Sūtra, in its metaphysics, deals with several subjects, which are highly scientific in nature. Subjects such as matter, space, time, the medium of motion and the medium of rest, velocity, energy etc. all pertain to Physics and have been treated quite at length. The Bh.S., therefore, qualifies as a text for purposes of the study of philosophy and science. This study, it is expected, will not only enrich knowledge but may enhance the welfare of mankind by eliminating the detrimental aspects of science.

Among the modern scientists there are several who unequivocally accept the scientific depths of Indian philosophical systems. They opine that the insights gained into the nature of reality by the ancient seers through spiritual meditation are corroborated by the latest discoveries of science accomplished through deep intellectual theorizing and sophisticated observation and experimentation.

Evaluation of Lord Mahāvīra's philosophy is certainly a significant venture of investigation. This much has been accepted by scholars like Schubring who mentions that Lord Mahāvīra emerged as a superbly versatile thinker among the ascetics of the bygones ages. He writes in his book 'Doctrine of the Jains' as follows—

"Mahāvīra.................... above all, however, the most versatile thinker we know of in ancient India, had a liking for figures and arithmetic, that characterizes his speeches as most extra-ordinary."

Philosophy of Lord Mahāvīra has been expressed in the Bh.S in a scientific and mathematical style. Scholars working in the field of comparative study of science and philosophy face the problem of proper comprehension of technical terms. We shall have to interpret such terms in modern phraseology and this is going to be the main contribution of this thesis. Generally the scholars of oriental languages are not well versed in modern scientific concepts. Similarly the experts of science are unable to grasp with precision the meanings of ancient doctrines because of their total unfamiliarity with scriptural languages. It is, therefore, imperative that in order to grasp the true meaning of scriptural doctrines one must have a satisfactory knowledge of ancient languages as well as of modern scientific concepts. In the present dissertation, efforts have been made to fulfill these requirements as far as possible.

The Bh.S. is a voluminous work and it can not be studied properly for the purposes of our dissertation unless we define clearly our angles of approach.

  1. To start with, one has to be acquainted with the philosophical beliefs prevalent in ancient India. In the Bh.S., at several places, the contemporary heretical doctrines have been elaborately dealt with. Yet, it is necessary that the contemporary doctrines are studied from their original sources and references to them in the Bh.S. are evaluated accordingly. For example, the bi-atomic and the tri-atomic in the Bh.S. have a bearing upon the Vaisesika philosophy. It will be, therefore, necessary to analyze and assess the presentation of the atomic theory in the Bh.S. with direct reference to the Vaisesika philosophy.

  2. Again, the subjects occurring in the Bh.S. should be studied with such occurrence in other Jain texts; particularly the Digambara fundamental works, as Ṣaṭkhaṇḍāgama and Gommaṭasāra. The other Svetambara canons too will have to be looked into, in which corresponding subjects have been elaborated or touched. For example, several topics of the Bh.S. have been presented in the canons like Rājapranśīya, Prajñāpanā or Sthānāṅga Sūtra, sometime exhaustively and sometimes just in passing.

  3. As this research project will primarily focus on scientific concepts, it will be necessary to investigate those ancient texts, which mainly deal with science and technology. For example, Caraka and Sushurta in Ayurveda are important for details of human physiology.

The primary sources related with the proposed text, such as different editions of the Bh.S. and commentaries will have to be properly used. Besides, use of scientific treatises will be necessary for the purposes of this work. Study of secondary sources, such as Jain Metaphysics, books written on and about the Bh.S. and other Indian systems of philosophy, will be necessary for comparison and analysis of the subjects proper. Besides these, developments in modern Biology, Physics, Chemistry and Psychology etc. too will have wide and comprehensive view for doing justice to the subject matter.

By now, several Indian and foreign scholars have made comparative study of science and philosophy. Some scholars have studied Jain philosophical literature and history etc. in general and the Bh.S. in particular. It will be necessary to take stock of all these studies. Besides, researches in ancient literature will have to be consulted whenever necessary. We are not aware if any study on the Bh.S. has been carried out with special emphasis on its scientific philosophical aspects though some studies are there—Jaina Darśana aura Ādhanika Vijñāna (in Hindi),Cosmology: Old and New, Atom in Jain Philosophy & Modern Science, Jaina Darśana aura Vijñāna (In Hindi). These studies, however, exhibit certain shortcomings:

  1. Though these studies refer to the Bh.S., the scientific contents of the text have not been brought out extensively much less exhaustively.

  2. Moreover, these studies do not take into account the latest concepts of science which have been developed during the last one or two decades. Some of the concepts they have taken up for purposes of comparison are no longer considered tenable or valid. The present study, therefore, has a wider conceptual range in so far as it includes the new vistas, which recent scientific advancements have opened.

Hitherto, most of the scholar have just presented and enlisted the parallel topics of philosophy and science. They have tried to discover scientific props for Jain concepts. But our effort in the present study has been directed towards presenting the Jain concepts as they are examining their scientific potentiality.

This research work spans over seven chapters besides the introduction. The first chapter covers a brief outline of the form and contents of the Bh.S and general discussion on philosophy and science. Thereafter in separate chapters we have treated different metaphysical and biological issues from philosophical as well as scientific point of view.


Findings of the Work

The Study of philosophy and science based on the Jain canon Viahapannatti i.e. BhagavatI Sutra throws light on the issues which are both philosophical and scientific. Scientific does not mean they are scientifically proved but can be subject to scientific research or study. Bh.S is really a voluminous and largest text to study almost all the unique doctrines proposed by Jain Seers technically recognized as 'Tirthaṅkar'. As we go deeper and deeper into the study of the text we find many more new things in it. The first chapter of the work deals with such innovative ideas in very brief. Not only this, the chapter intends to make the reader acquainted with the similarity and dissimilarity of the contents of the text with other Jain canonical literature. Thereby the importance and weightage of Bh.S can easily be gauged. As far as my knowledge goes, such type of introduction of the text is not found anywhere else.

The second chapter of my work mainly deals with the cosmic conceptions found in Jainism in general and in Bh.S. in particular. The longstanding queries related to the origin and fate of the universe have been dealt with in the text in a non-absolutistic way, which in itself is scientific. The answer shows that universe is an ongoing phenomenon. The natural universal laws govern the universe. Modern science also accepts that there are certain laws, which are working behind the world. Besides, the Bh.S. deals with the centre of the universe, which is a new discovery. The discussion of the configuration of the universe is also unique. The expanse of the universe, computed through the illustrations of the speed of gods and goddesses, proves the fact that some truths are such which cannot be explained even in the mathematical language. The most striking finding of this chapter is to bring out the concept of curvature of the universe to knowledge. Science has proved and latter on rejected curvature in space. But according to the Bh.S. curvature is not in space; it is in cosmos. In the ends of the cosmos we can find curvature because of the occupation of the medium of motion and the medium of rest in a particular geometrical shape. Another finding of the chapter is, it deals with a systematic order of the universe under the concept of stratification. The concept indicates to the systematic structure of the universe and shows interdependency of the constituents of it. The basic elements in the form of the medium of motion and that of rest described in the second chapter are really very scientific and unique postulations. These two fundamental principles play a very important role in determining the demarcation line of the cosmos and supra-cosmos and preventing the world to be chaos.

The third chapter mainly deals with space and time. The Bh.S. mentions time in various forms, which are quite practical. Along with this, time as a substance in atomic form, which is extensively dealt with in the Digamber tradition, can be seen in its formative stage in the text. The postulation of the supra-cosmos or trans-cosmos of Bh.S. discussed in the chapter is also amazing. The expanse of supra-cosmos is shown as immeasurable even by the fastest speed of the gods. The configuration of it has been compared with a sphere of infinite radius, having a hole in centre. The concept of supra-cosmos, according to Acharya Mahapragya, endorses the fact that every existent has its anti-thesis or binary; nothing can exist without its anti-thesis.

The forth chapter is mainly concerned with the theory of pudgala—physical reality or matter. The principle of immutability of pudgala as substance in the Bh.S. and the principles of Conservation of Matter and Energy in science are coming closer to each other. Different modifications of pudgala, such as, light, darkness, sound and rays etc. have also been scientifically well established. It proves that the approach of Jain seers is more or less scientific in comparison to other philosophical systems related to these phenomena.

The fifth chapter describes something beyond imagination related to atomic or sub-atomic world. The various kinds of motion of atom show extra ordinary perception of the Jain seers. The concept of spinning of atom had appeared more than 2500 years ago into the experience of the Jain seers in comparison to the observation of scientists of today. Till the time of Einstein, it was accepted that nothing can move faster than light. Recently, it has been accepted that there are some sub-atomic particles which are massless and which move faster than even light. But according to the Bh.S., the speed of not only living beings but also atom itself is the fastest one. In one instant (samaya), it can go from one end to the other end of the universe. Besides, the laws of motion of atom, mentioned in the Bh.S., are also significant. It also refers to the fact that atom is also governed by uncertainty principle.

The sixth chapter deals with the biological factors, which are quite knowledgeable. It also deals with the problem of soul-body relationship and cloning system etc.

The corresponding figures given in the appendix help the reader to comprehend the shape of universe, the place of heaven etc. mentioned in the text of Bh.S.

Thus, the thesis on the Bhagavatī Sūtra would provide the modern thinkers and scientists some innovative ideas with the little known facts and theories of Jain philosophy and inspire them to think over the scientific vision of the Jain Seers. The work would help deepen the scope for the study of Jainism in general and Jain canonical literature in particular. The thing worth to notice in the context of the Work is thesis is that the text Bh.S. mentioned through out the work connotes the text Bhagavatī contained in Aṅgasūttāṇi Vol. II edited by Muni Nathmal.

Samani Chaitanya Pragya

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