Jaina Ethics (II)

Published: 20.01.2011
Updated: 04.03.2011


The essay was published in The Jaina Gazette, Vol. XLII, Number 3, March 1945, pp. 14-17 as a critical commentary to an article by Jagat Prasad ("Jaina Ethics") from The Jaina Gazette, Vol. XLII, Number 1, January 1945, pp. 2-5.

Jaina Ethics (II)

With reference to the article under the above caption by Mr. Jagat Prasad, which appeared on pages 2-5 of the Jaina Gazette for January, 1945 [1], Rao Bahadur Professor A. Chakravarti, M.A., I.E.S., retired, has sent us a critical review which is published below.

1. Speaking about Lord Parswanath the writer states,

"He is best known as the author of four vows which he administered to his disciples, viz., I will not kill, I will not steal, I will not lie, and I w ill not possess."

It is rather mysterious how this error has crept into Jaina literature. It is given prominence mostly by Swetambara writers. Even among the Swetambaras, most probably the error is copied from some non-Jaina writer who was not fully acquainted with the Jaina technical terms. Jaina literature always speaks of panchavratas (five vows). When practised by the householder it goes by the name pancha-anuvrata, and when applied to yatis, it is called pancha-mahavrata. This designation is copied also by non-Jaina writers. For example, Patanjali in his yoga sutras speaks of pancha-mahavratas and anuvratas. Hemachandrāchārya, the most prominent among Swetambara teachers in his Rishabhaswami-purana (Gaekwar's Oriental Series) describes how Lord Rishabha first preached the panchavratas to the laymen and to the ascetics. There can be no greater authority than Hemachandrāchārya among the Swetambaras. When he speaks of five vows, it is certainly a problem to be explained satisfactorily when and by whom the vow of celibacy was dropped. Without offering a satisfactory explanation to this problem it is meaningless to talk of the restoration of the vow of celibacy by the last of the Tirthankaras, Mahavira.

By the way I happened to glance through the pages of "Jainism in Northern India" by a Swetambara writer [2]. The authorities must have spent a lot of money in publishing that work, for from the point of view of get up it is certainly an excellent work. This writer speaks about the sculptural representations in one of the rocks in Khandagiri caves near Bhuvaneswara describes the human figures in a particular rock. By the side of the figure of a Tirthankara there is a female figure and the erudite author makes this figure a consort of the Tirthankaras. How he learnt that the Tirthankaras had wives and concubines is a mystery, and when the information is published by a Jaina in a book circulated all over the world through the munificence of wealthy Jaina community, one cannot reasonably find fault with the European scholar, if he mistakenly describes Tirthankaras as persons with wives and concubines indulging in sexual extravagance. That is by the way.

The writer in the Jaina Gazette continues,

"The last one covered celibacy, as women were at the time, and for centuries later, classed more or less chattels."

This astounding statement is not true to fact. Throughout Jaina literature women are treated with a more charitable way than is suggested. Lord Rishabha himself is described to have engaged himself in instructing princesses of the royal household and throughout the ages, the Jaina writers never treated women as chattels. Even the Tirthankaras recognised their importance. Whenever the Jaina society referred to women, they are mentioned of equal importance with men. Among the householders you have sravaks and sravikās. Among the ascetics you have yatis and āryanganās. These four groups of social organisation are always mentioned in connection with the life of each Tirthankara. Whether a member of the household or a member of the ascetic group, women are always treated with equal importance and yet our friend asserts that they were classed more or less as chattels.

3. Further he asserts,

"A contemporary of Mahavira taking advantage of this position preached and practised indulgence without securing any sort of right over a woman, and Mahavira added a specific vow of chastity to put the matter beyond doubt."

Who is this Achārya who openly preached sexual indulgence? An information about this Jaina Acharya would certainly be welcomed by the readers.

4. Referring to Jaina metaphysics, the writer goes on to say,

"The position is very much the same in Jainism as in most other Hindu systems with the exception of Buddhism as taught by Buddha himself."

This is rather an astounding statement. Impartial students would naturally discover a greater resemblance between Jainism and Buddhism in their common protest against the sacrificial ritualism accepted by the other Hindu systems. It will be more accurate to say that there is a greater identity between Jainism and Buddhism and also the Sankhya system, one exception among the orthodox systems, which joined in the vehement protest against animal sacrifice.

5. Speaking about Buddhism he states

"It was probably this lack of a distinct philosophy that drove Buddhism out of India when its practical program of social reform had been accepted by Hinduism."

If it is suggested that Buddhism is without a distinct philosophy it is not true to fact. Any student of Indian thought would naturally be surprised at this statement. The other Hindu systems possess a sort of philosophy much vitiated by popular theology, whereas it is Buddhism that has been able to construct a metaphysical system entirely uninfluenced by popular theology. In this respect also its philosophical attitude is similar to that of the Jainas and the Sankhyas. Why Buddhism disappeared from the land of its birth is a different problem altogether, and it must be answered by the historians and politicians and certainly it was not due to lack of distinct philosophy.

6. Further he congratulates that

"Jainism is surviving because it has a philosophy of its own which Mahavira linked with Vedic thought and culture."

Nothing can be more misleading than this. Throughout the history of Indian thought you would observe two conflicting tendencies running parallel to each other and influencing each other, one line of thought loyally and faithfully defending Vedic sacrifices and the other line of thought loyally and faithfully maintaining the cult of Ahimsa. The former goes by the name of Vedic thought and culture. The latter begins probably from pre-Rigvedic period from the teachings of Lord Rishabha of the Ikshvaku clan who preached the doctrine of Ahimsa. It is this line of thought that has produced various kshatriya heroes - the Jaina Tirthankaras - the last of whom was Mahavira who was a contemporary of Buddha, who was also a kshatriya hero of the Ikshvaku clan. The common aim for Jainism and Buddhism therefore is the violent opposition to the sacrificial cult sanctioned by Vedic thought and culture and yet our friend congratulates himself that Mahavira linked his system with the Vedic thought and culture.

7. Again he says

"Mahavira wove round it a complete philosophy of religion, though strictly speaking he also considered reality inexpressible in words."

Here again you have an astounding misrepresentation of Jaina logic. Avaktavya or indescribability is one of the aspects of reality recognised by Jaina metaphysics. According to the Jaina metaphysics it is called by the well-known name anekānta vāda. Reality is a complex entity consisting of various attributes. Clear and complete understanding of reality must take into consideration all the different aspects. Taking into consideration one particular aspect of reality and describing the whole of reality in such terms is condemned by Jaina thinkers as ekānta vāda. These systems of thought which overemphasise one particular aspect of reality which is identified in the whole of reality are compared to various blind men of the fable who described the elephant according to their different experiences. Remembering this important fact, the Jaina logician works out a theory of predication which goes by the name of syādvāda or asti-nāsti-vāda. Every aspect of reality may be subject to an affirmative predication as well as a negative predication. For example speaking about a table before you, you may say the table is made of rosewood, if it is actually made of rosewood. You may also say that it is not made of teakwood because it is the fact. Again from the place where it is situated you may say affirmatively the table is in the fronthall, and also that the table is not in the adjoining room. From such obvious facts which cannot be gainsaid by any thinking individual, the Jaina logician works out his theory of asti-nāsti-vāda, and emphasises the fact that every object of reality is capable of accommodating both affirmative and negative predication accord­ing to the point of view taken. In elaborating this logical system, it is pointed out that there is no possibility of single assertion to combine both these aspects of affirmation and negation at the same time and in the same sense, for such vocabulary is lacking and hence in that sense it is indescribable. Thus the avaktavya doctrine of the Jaina logicianis entirely distinct from the nirvachaneeya doctrine of the non-Jaina metaphysicians. In fact Jaina thinkers rejected the nirvachaneeya doctrine that it is self-contradictory to say that reality is nirva­chaneeya or indescribable since it is itself a description of reality. Hence the doctrine is self-contradictory.

8. Again he goes on that

"Jainism in common with most of the Hindu systems recognises four objectives of human endeavour:

1. Performance of socio-religious duties
2. Making an honest living
3. Legitimate enjoyment
4. Final emancipation

With regard to the first three, the Jaina system is very much the same as that of the other Hindu systems."

Here also it is necessary to point out that there is no common ground between Jainism and other Hindu systems even in the first item dharma. The writer accurately defines dharma as performance of socio-religious duties, a definition quite consistent with the Hindu conception of dharma, where dharma means varnāshrama dharma. According to Jainism, dharma always means ahimsā dharma and it has nothing to do with varnāshrama, for the Jaina dharma does not mean performance of socio-religious duties. Social distinction based upon birth and an ethical cult sanctioning this social distinction is entirely foreign to Jaina conception. The only social distinction recognised by the Jaina thinkers is that of qualifications based upon actual profession. One engaged in the defence of the land is kshatriya, one engaged in the instruction and maintenance of religious principles is a brahmana, one engaged in the distribution of goods is vaisya and one engaged in agriculture is supposed to have a noble occupation, which is the source of sustenance for the other three, and hence the agriculturist is given a place of eminence in society according to Jainism. Jainism emphasises therefore personal qualification and does not recognise birth at all. Even a chāndāla if he has the right faith is considered to be a fit person to be worshipped. Such a view of society has certainly nothing to do with the varnāshrama dharma, and hence the Jaina concept of dharma cannot be identi­fied with dharma of the varnāshrama organisation.

9. Again speaking about eight angas of right faith which he enumerates thus, (1) Freedom from fear (nish-shānkit), (2) Free­dom from desire, and so on, nish-shānkit is erroneously translated as free from fear.

10. Again he says the first five are the primary virtues and the remaining three only derivative ones. We should like to know the authority for this classification. The eight angas of right faith are not usually subdivided in this way as primary and derivative. When the writer explains these in detail one by one, he seems to make a confusion between nirvichakitsa, freedom from disgust, and freedom from pride. The eight kinds of pride, such as pride of birth, life, social status, etc. are mentioned in a separate head of ashtamada which a true Jaina should be free from. These personal qualifications of a true Jaina are different from the qualities of true faith or samyak darsana and the two should not be confounded with each other.

11. Again he says

"Faith gives a partial view of reality and knowledge a fuller view."

Why darsana should be called a partial view of reality is unintelligible. Darsana and jnana are two independent characteristics of the self, the former indicating  vision of reality, and the latter indicating knowledge of constitution of reality. These two are considered the essential attributes of self and hence are present at all stages of development even up to that of a sarvajna who is credited with ananta darsana and ananta gnana. Hence it would be mean­ingless to talk of partial view of reality in the case of ananta darsana. It would be self-contradictory to call darsana infinite and at the same time a partial view of reality.

12. Again he says

"The Jaina vow of ahimsa extends to all forms of life but varying degrees of laxity are permitted in the case of laymen."

Decidedly this statement is extremely misleading. As far as we know there are no varying degrees of laxity, permitted in the case of laymen. Jainism includes botanical kingdom as a part of the biological world when it recognises that the plant world is consisted of living organisms though, no doubt, with only one sense (viz.) of contact. There must be a limitation to the application of the doctrine of ahimsa. Man cannot live without food. But he must be satisfied with the food prepared from cereals produced by the vegetable kingdom. Therefore the exception is made as far as the vegetable kingdom is concerned. But even a householder is not permitted to injure the other classes of living organisms which are all considered as trasajivas, moving organisms, which term includes all beings from worm to man. Hence the sanction is quite clear and unambiguous and cannot be described as "varying degrees of laxity."


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The Jaina Gazette

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  1. A. Chakravarti
  2. Acharya
  3. Ahimsa
  4. Ahimsā
  5. Ananta
  6. Anekānta
  7. Angas
  8. Anuvratas
  9. Artha
  10. Avaktavya
  11. Bombay
  12. Buddha
  13. Buddhism
  14. Celibacy
  15. Chakravarti
  16. Darsana
  17. Delhi
  18. Dharma
  19. Ekānta
  20. Fear
  21. Hinduism
  22. JAINA
  23. Jagat Prasad
  24. Jaina
  25. Jainism
  26. Jnana
  27. Kama
  28. Khandagiri
  29. Mahavira
  30. Moksha
  31. New Delhi
  32. PK
  33. Patanjali
  34. Prasad
  35. Pride
  36. Rao Bahadur
  37. Rishabha
  38. Sankhya
  39. Sarvajna
  40. Sravaks
  41. Syādvāda
  42. The Jaina Gazette
  43. Tirthankara
  44. Tirthankaras
  45. Vaisya
  46. Vedic
  47. Yatis
  48. Yoga
  49. Yoga Sutras
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