The Ancient Jaina Text 'Rushibhashita'

Posted: 11.08.2011
Updated on: 31.10.2016


The Ancient Jaina Text 'Rushibhashita' - Unique Example of Religious Harmony

A Research Paper to be presented in the State-level Seminar arranged by Ramakrishna Math, Pune on 12th and 13th March 2011

1. Introduction:

India is known in the world as a land of spiritual personalities. In English we find three or four words for such type of personalities leading the life of renunciation, viz. sage, ascetic, monk and mendicant. On the other hand, in Sanskrit, Prakrit and Pali literature, we find ample words viz. ऋषि, मुनि, साधु, योगी, यति, तापस, अनगार, निर्ग्रंथ, भिक्षु, संन्यासी, श्रमण, परिव्राजक and so on.

Apparently it seems that they are synonyms but when we go for the etymological explanations, each word carries a slight different tinge of meaning. Generally it is observed that Buddhists prefer the word भिक्खु ", Jainas prefer "श्रमण" and "निर्ग्रंथ", while all other words are employed by Hindus. The word "ऋषि" with the etymology "ऋषिदर्शर्नात्" is generally in Vedic and Hindu texts. But when we go through the names of 45 Ardhamagadhi canons of Svetambaras, we find one valuable text titled “Rushibhashita’. Here, the word ऋषि is employed in the sense “a thinker’. When we go through the names of the ऋषिs, we get startled because this ancient Jaina text exhibits the thoughts which are presented by the Indian thinkers in general without mentioning their caste, creed or tradition.

So, in this paper, an effort is made to throw a light on the all-inclusive nature of Rushibhashita, which is hardly seen in the contemporary Indian literature.

2. Position of the Text in Ardhamagadhi Scriptures:

Rushibhashita is one of the oldest treatises in Ardhamagadhi Jaina canonical literature. Murtipoojaka Shwetambara tradition recognizes 45 Ardhamagadhi canons. Under the accepted system of classification this is classified as Prakeernaka (i.e. anthological text). Prakeernakas are the last part of the scriptures. Thorough scrutiny by the academicians suggests that Rushibhashita is one of the oldest Ardhamagadhi texts, but as the sectarian spirit developed in the course of time, (i.e. during 1000 years) the revered text was placed in the last.

3. Language and Date of Rushibhashita:

The language of this text is mixed Prakrit, containing many 'archaic forms' found in Vedic Sanskrit. The language indicates the originality and naturalness with colloquial flavor. The nominal and verbal forms show the influence of Magadhi and Ardhamagadhi at most of the places and Shauraseni and Paishachi at some other places. At very few places the influence of Maharashtri Prakrit is also seen.

Thus according to its language, style and subject matter this is an extremely old work among the Ardhamagadhi scriptures. Even its present form can under no circumstances be dated later than 3rd or 4th century B.C. [1]

4. The Nature and Content of the Text:

The text contains the thought-streams of 45 Rushis. The title of each of the 45 chapters (Adhyayana) contains the name of the seer. In the few opening lines of the chapter, the main thought is documented and it is told immediately that,'this thought is told by the Arhat Rushi so and so.'[2]

According to the Appendix (Samgrahani) attached to the text, out of these 45 sages, twenty are believed to be contemporaries of Arishtanemi (i.e. the period of Mahabharata, fifteen that of Parshwa(i.e. 250 years before Mahaveer) and remaining ten that of Mahaveer).[3] As such it would not be correct to believe that the list of the sages can be divided into the above-mentioned periods in the same order as mentioned in Rushibhashita. Schubring has made an effort  to evaluate the traditions of the sages in his preface to Isibhasiyaim.

We are not keen in the tradition-wise classification at present, but still it is noteworthy that Yadnyavalkya, Bahuk, Arun and Uddalaka clearly appear to be of Upanishadic tradition. Madhurayana, Aryayana, Tarayana (Narayana), Angirasa, Varishen Krishna, Narada, Asit Devata and many others also seem to be belong the Brahmin tradition. In the text itself, Ping, Rushigiri, Shrigiri and Ambad mentioned as Brahmin Parivrajakas. Dr. Sagarmal Jain, a renowned scholar mentions that, "I have no objection in acceptaing Mahakashyap, Sariputta and Vajjiputta as belonging to Buddhist tradition." It is obvious from the names and content of the text that Parshwa and Vardhamana are the Jain thinkers. It is difficult to ascertain the historical existence of many other seers like Valkalchiri, Bhayali, Tarun, Ardraka, Varatraya and so on.

One thing is very clear that most of the Rushis are not connected with Jain tradition. The Samgrahanigathas mention that these thinkers are Pratyekabuddhas. In Jain as well as Buddhist tradition, Pratyekabuddha is a person who attains ultimate knowledge through his solitary practices commenced by his own inspiration; he neither becomes a disciple of someone nor makes disciples to form an organization, but he is a respected person in the society and his preachings are considered to be authentic.[4]

A comprehensive study of Rushibhashita provides as valuable information about many known and some unknown seers and their preachings. We have to admit that Jain Acharyas have done a valuable service to Indian literature and culture by preserving this work.

5. Jainification of the Reflections of the Seers:

Some scholars of Indology raise an objection that the reflections in the text are not authentic and Jain beliefs are propagated in disguise. The repeated use of Jain terms is seen almost is every chapter, viz. Pancha Mahavratas, Kashayas, Parishahas, Samvara, Asrava, Papa, Punya, Nirjara and so on.

Of course, there are grains of truth in this objection but still it needs deep scrutiny of each chapter. As an impartial reader, I have noticed that it each chapter, the view of the seer is noted in the beginning in few original authentic words and rest is the exposition of Jain authors. So it is natural that many Jain concepts creep in the exposition. There is enough evidence that what we today consider as Jaina concepts could originally have been concepts belonging to other traditions creeping in later Jainism. As such, the authenticity and originality of the text cannot totally be set aside. At the most we may deduce that there is an indirect influence of Jain terms.

6. Astonishing Variety of Outlooks - Some Concrete Examples:

  1. Aryayana opines that by birth each human is noble. [5] It seems that he has reflected a lot on the term Arya and Anarya. He refutes that an individual gets 'nobleness' or 'ignobleness' by birth. Ignoble are those who possess ignoble thoughts, lead ignoble way of life and remain in the company of bad ones. Aryayana wants to remove the barriers of caste and creed and wishes to emphasize noble values.
  2. In the 20th chapter, five materialistic views are mentioned. [6] The name of the chapter is Ukkala. The Sanskrit renderings can be Utkala, Utkata or Utkula - which means 'the views against the mainstream'. Here, the names of the particular personalities are not mentioned and the adjectives like Arhat or Rushi are not employed. The thoughts in this chapter are important because the glimpses of non-spiritual views in ancient India are documented here.
  3. A sage named Taruna represents agnosticism in the words नाहं पुरा किंचि जाणामि सव्वलोकंसि '. The Jain thinkers have turned the thought in their exposition and have underlined the importance of knowledge and inferiority of ignorance. [7]
  4. According to the seer named Dagabhal, Dharma is male-oriented, male-dominated, male-created and male-based. [8] We can grasp the roots of the typical view of male-dominancy of the Indian thought in this chapter. Naturally, the later part of the chapter contains the defame or censure of womenfolk. The text reads:

धित् तेसिं गामणगराणं, जेसिं महिला पणायिका।
ते यावि धिक्किया पुरिसा, जे इत्थीणं वसं गता॥

(The villages and towns administered by female rulers are reprehensible. The males under the thumb of females are worthless.)

It is very remarkable that thought the contempt of womankind is seen in this verse, the fact remains that certain ladies were carrying the roles of leaders in Ancient India

  1. The 26th chapter entitled 'Matanga' (the seer) expresses a very liberal view that, "a truly charitable and catholic outlook is the spiritual cultivation. Such a one be he a Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya or Shudra, is truly pious." We find that in later Jain and Buddhist texts, an attempt is made to give the exact definition of a brahmin, Kshatriya etc. [9] The views of the seer Matanga might have inspired them.
  2. The seer Vayu, gives ultimate importance to truthfulness (i.e. Satya). His quest for reality is certainly genuine. Vayu mentions, 'अधासच्चमिणं सव्वं' which means,'The world is what is appears' [10]. Certainly this view refutes the 'maya-mithya-bhrama' concepts about the universe and tries to realize the physical realities genuinely. These are some examples which throw light on the thought-currents of ancient Indian seers. Interested persons may go through the original text. There is no need to multiply the examples.

7. The Salient Features of Rushibhashit:

  1. Rushibhashita is actually a treasure-house of Indian thoughts. It is as if a think-tank from which all Indian thinkers developed their philosophical thought-patterns.
  2. In this treatise, a glittering galaxy of sages, ascetics, mendicants and monks is seen. Each has its originality and still it represents a comprehensive panoramic view representing the period between 10th up to 5th century B.C.
  3. Though it is a Jain text, all are depicted as Pratyekabuddhas and Arhat Rushis. It is noteworthy that only two Jain thinkers are documented.
  4. The influence of Parshwanath is seen even in present-day Jain religion. A comparative study of 29th and 31st chapter of this text has potentiality to reveal the contribution of Vardhamana (He is not mentioned here as Mahaveer) and Parshwa to Jain tradition.
  5. The text starts with the views of Deva  Narada. It is very interesting to note that Jainas attitude towards Narad was regardful in the beginning but in further Jain literature varied mixed views about Narad are seen.
  6. The Prakrit language employed in the text suggests that originally these informal, oral sermons might have been delivered in their local, regional languages.
  7. It can be observed that Rushibhashita is a treatise before the finalization of heretic and non-heretic systems. It illuminates the period in which brand names were not stamped on thoughts.
  8. Since all the seers share the common social and cultural background, naturally the similies, analogies, metaphores and illustrations are commonly seen whether they are theists or atheists. The terms like द्रव्य-क्षेत्र-काल-भाव, जाग्रत्-सुप्त, अप्रमत्त, वैद्य-भैषज्य-निदान, सर्वज्ञ, कषाय-काम-इच्छा etc. are commonly used in their preachings of the seers repeatedly.

Conclusive Remarks:

Considering the language and the rich content of Rushibhashita, it is proved to be one of the oldest works in Prakrit literature. Uniqueness of this work lies in its being free of sectarian prejudice.

To conclude, one can say that Rushibhashit is a valuable work not only of Jain religion but also of the Indian tradition as a whole. The religious tolerance of Indian thought is truly reflected in this work. It also has a historical importance because it provides valuable and authentic information about many known and some unknown Rushis with their preachings. It is a text which documents the reflections of the  seer prior to the institutionalization of six Darshanas and Jain-Buddha religions.

In the present complex communal atmosphere, where nationalism is disintegrating under the self-destructive pressures within communities, such exceptional collection of thoughts of equanimity and assimilation can promote and enhance moral values. in the present age, this great work could be an enlightening guide.

Here, I tempt to use the traditional phrase "dehali-deep-nyaya" (i.e. a lamp put on the threshold of two apartments). On one hand, it reveals the openness of Jainism and on the other hand it illuminates the assimilative spirit of true Indianism.


  • इसिभासियाइं सुत्ताइं, सं. महामहोपाध्याय विनयसागर, प्राकृत-भारती-अकादमी, जयपुर, १९८८.
  • Isibhasiyaim, L.D. Institute of Indology, Ahmedabad, 1974 (With Introduction of
    Dr. Walther Schubring).
  • ऋषिमण्डल-प्रकरणम्, आत्मवल्लभ ग्रंथमाला, ग्रंथाक ३१, बालापुर.
  • नन्दिसूत्र, महावीर विद्यालय, बम्ब्ई, १९६८.
  • Dictionary of Pali Proper Names, J.P. Malal Sekhar, 1937.
  • Prakrit Proper Names, Prakrit Text Society, Varanasi.
  • Vaidika Kosha, K.H.V.V., 1933.
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