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Who is a Jain Shravak: 11.1 Panchaastikaay (Five Substances)

Published: 17.02.2020

We are living in lok (cosmos) which is mostly referred to as a 'vishva' or jagat. The question arises - What is a cosmos? During the Vedic age, Rishis pondered upon what the space is, how vast it is, etc. They became curious and tried to understand the space or cosmos.

The Source of Knowledge

Curiosity is the prime stimulator of knowledge. One, who does not have a quest for knowledge, will never strive for it. Only a person who is curious can acquire knowledge. For example, curiosity inspired Newton to discover 'Gravity', after simply having seen an apple fall from a tree. Curiosity to know about space, planets, and asterism led to the knowledge of astrology.

The Five Real Existents and the Six Substances

Bhagawan Mahavira said, 'The cosmos comprises five-real existents, which is known as panchaastikaay.' They are dharmaastikaay (auxiliary medium of motion), adharmaastikaay (auxiliary medium of rest), aakaashaastikaay (space), pudgalaastikaay (matter), jiva (living beings). If kaal (time) is included, it becomes six-fold and is called shaddravyaatmak.' The same is threaded in the following verse by AcharyaTulsi-

astikaayhainpaanch hi, kaalsahitsaddravy,
saddravyaatmaklokhain, sheshaalokalabhy

A thoughtful person often ponders what is the cosmos that we are living in? What are its constituents? What is its nature? What is the root cause of creation?

Philosophers are not unanimous regarding the creation of cosmos. Some theorists believe that there was a complete void before the cosmos was formed. According to them, (sat) real came out of asat (non-real). Jain philosophy believes in Anekant. It accepts both existence and non-existence in relativity. From the viewpoint of dravyaarthik nay (substantial view point), panchaastikaay exists, existed, and will always exist. From the paryaayaarthik nay (viewpoint of modes), panchaastikaay is real as well as non-real. Modes are constantly changing. States in the present are real, while those existed in past and will exist in future are not real at present. By considering both the viewpoints together, we can understand that the cosmos is real and its changing forms are both real and non-real.

Some theorists accept that the cosmos is permanent, eternal, indestructible, and infinite. Jain philosophy does not concur with this in totality. From the viewpoint of dravyaarthik nay, Bhagawan Mahavira said that this cosmos is permanent, eternal, and indestructible; however from the point of view of paryaayarthik nay, this cosmos is temporary, transitory, and perishable. Therefore, according to Jain philosophy cosmos is permanent and temporary as well.

With respect to substance and space, the cosmos has a finite limit, and from the viewpoint of time and quality (bhaav), the cosmos is infinite. Bhagawan Mahavira has explored the cosmos from various perspectives. Here are three definitions of lok (cosmos):

Lok is a place,

  1. Where sentient beings and non-sentient things exist
  2. Where there are five astikaay (real substances - The auxiliary medium of motion and rest, space, matter and soul)
  3. Where there are six dravys (substances)

In fact, the cosmos is one. The three definitions are a result of three distinct viewpoints. Bhagawan Mahavira propounded the concept of only five fundamental substances. In the philosophical era, kaal (time) was also included. The doctrine of the six substances was a later development after the concept of five astikaays. Other theorists and philosophies discuss cosmos (lok) also. However, the concept of alok (supra-cosmos) is unique to Jain philosophy only. The word supra-cosmos (alok) is not found in any other philosophy. As per Jain belief, the cosmos extends only up to the existence of dharmaastikaay and adharmaastikaay, and beyond this, there exists only space, devoid of animate and inanimate entities, which is known as supra-cosmos. It is infinite. This concept of cosmos and supra-cosmos is exclusive to Jain philosophy.

The great scientist Einstein alluded to the entire concept of cosmos and supra-cosmos. He introduced the idea of matter and anti-matter to the world by establishing the theory of relativity. Jain philosophy has explained this principle since ancient times. Without anti-matter, there can be no matter. Supra-cosmos (alok) is anti-existence of lok. This concept is a foundation of Jain cosmology.

The World is a Stage

What is this world? Who am I? What does happen all around? Is it a play? People come and go. The world is a stage, where a person appears, performs, and disappears. AcharyaTulsi repeatedly remarked, 'I have seen five generations of a family coming and going before me. How strange the world is!' Without understanding the reality of this world, how can one make decisions on questions such as - Where am I? What should I become? What should I do? Such decisions can be made effectively only with the right knowledge.

Defining Characteristics of Panchaastikaay

The defining characteristics of panchaastikaay are given in this verse -

gati me saadhak dharmaastikaay, hai adharmaasti sthiti-sahayogi,
avakaashad aakaashaastikaay, jad-chetan sabake upayogi.
vah pudgalaasti jo drishy ajagat, chetanaayukt jiva astikaay,
samajhe tattvagysudhi shravak, gaharaai se panchaastikaay.

i.e. dharmaastikaay is an auxiliary medium of motion, whereas adharmaastikaay is that of rest. Space provides accommodation, which is useful for both, matter as well as soul. The entire visible world is comprised of matter. Jiva is endowed with consciousness. A shravak must understand them deeply.

House, body, books, etc. - are all matter. The soul, dharmaastikaay, adharmaastikaay and aakaashaastikaay are invisible. Even the visible blue sky is composed of matter. The space is intangible.

Soul and matter, are both dynamic. They have the capacity to move but are incapable to do so without the presence of dharmaastikaay. Dharmaastikaay does not trigger anyone or anything to move but supports movement without exercising any activity itself. Let us take an illustration, a fish swims in water. The water does not stimulate it to move. When the fish moves, the water helps in movement. In the same way, dharmaastikaay is helpful in the movement of the living and non-living. Without it, any movement is impossible. Therefore, it is an exclusive medium of motion.

Adharmaastikaay is an auxiliary medium of rest. An exhausted traveller walking in the blazing sun stops to rest under the shade of a tree. Likewise, soul and matter require adharmaastikaay, which enables rest without halting any action.

Aakash provides accommodation to jiva and pudgal. In space, where dharmaastikaay and adharmaastikaay exist, soul and matter can also be accommodated.

Substance is of two types -murta (corporeal) and amurta (incorporeal). Dharmaastikaay, adharmaastikaay and aakaashaastikaay are incorporeal substances. There are two states of jiva - siddha (emancipated) and sansaari (worldly life). The emancipated soul is incorporeal whereas the worldly soul is corporeal as it is in an embodied state. Pudgalaastikaay contains touch, taste, smell, and colour and is called matter (corporeal). Pudgal(matter) is classified in two forms -

  1. Skandh (conglomerated compound) - An aggregate composed of two or more than two paramanus
  2. Parmanu (atom) - The smallest indivisible unit of matter

A paramaanu is so subtle that it is not perceived by sense organs, but it has form and has the properties of touch, taste, smell and colour. All matter having form, subtle or gross, are collectively called pudgalaastikaay.

The defining characteristic of a soul is upayog(cognitive activity). It is the activity of sentience comprising knowledge and intuition.

The substance, which has the capability to apply knowledge and intuition, is known as jiva.

The concept of panchaastikaay has been very well explained in Bhagwati Sutra. One must read the conversation between Madduka shravak with other theorists to understand this concept. How learned a shravak should be, is illustrated through Madduka's deliberations on this subject mentioned in the following verse in Shravak Sambodh:

astikaayastitvvivechak, sutra Bhagwatimeinvyaakhyaan,
shreeMaddukakihuiprashansa, sunepadheitihaasmahaan.

Once, Bhagawan Mahavira was staying at Gunashilak Chaity in Rajgrih. Many other heterodox theorists like Kalodayi, Shailodayi etc. were also residing in the surrounding area. They heard the discussion regarding panchaastikaay propounded by BhagawanMahavira. They learnt that four of the panchaastikaay are intangible, only the pudgalaastikaay is tangible. Dharmaastikaay, adharmaastikaay, aakaashaastikaay and pudgalaastikaay - all these are non-living and only jivaastikaay is the living one. They were curious about the incorporeal astikaays.

Shramanopaasak Madduka from Rajgrih was going to visit BhagawanMahavira. As he was passing by the residence of those theorists they all came to him to find the answers to their questions.

In ancient times, people were strong in their beliefs, but not intolerant about other sects. They said to Madduka, 'your preceptor Shraman Gyatputra has propounded five astikaays: dharmaastikaay, adharmaastikaay, aakaashaastikaay, pudgalaastikaay and jivaastikaay. Madduka how is that?'

Madduka: 'We, sense-organs-dependent human beings know the object by its utility only. We perceive them by their action, not otherwise. The work of dharmaastikaay, etc. is not visible to us. That is why we can neither perceive, nor know them.'

Theorists: 'Madduka, what sort of a shravak are you, who has neither known nor seen it!'

Madduka: 'Is the wind blowing?'

Theorists: 'Yes.'

Madduka: 'Do you see the form of the blowing wind?' Theorists: 'No.'

Madduka: 'Do the particles of smell enter your nostrils?' Theorists: 'Yes.'

Madduka: 'Do you see the form of particles entering your nostrils?' Theorists: 'No.'

Madduka: 'Does wood contain fire?' Theorists: 'Yes, it does.'

Madduka: 'Do you see the form of fire in wood?' Theorists: 'No.'

Madduka: 'Are there visible objects across the ocean?' Theorists: 'Yes, there are.' Madduka: 'Can you see them?' Theorists: 'No.'

Madduka: 'Are there visible objects in heaven?' Theorists: 'Yes, there are.' Madduka: 'Do you see those objects of heaven?' Theorists: 'No.'

Madduka: 'If you are unable to know or perceive things which are invisible and consequently conclude that invisible things do not exist - if such is your belief then the world known by you will be very small.'

After having a long discussion with the heretical scholars, Madduka came to worship BhagawanMahavira. Mahavira praised him with these words, 'Well done Madduka. The existence of things cannot be denied simply because they are beyond your sight.'


Title:  Who is a Jain Shravak?

Acharya MahaPragya


Sadhvi Vishrut Vibha

Publisher:  Adarsh Sahitya Vibhag, JVB
Digital Publishing: 
Amit Kumar Jain

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Anekant
  2. Asat
  3. Bhaav
  4. Bhagwati Sutra
  5. Body
  6. Consciousness
  7. Einstein
  8. Gati
  9. Jain Cosmology
  10. Jain Philosophy
  11. Jiva
  12. Kaal
  13. Mahavira
  14. Newton
  15. Paramanus
  16. Parmanu
  17. Pudgal
  18. Rajgrih
  19. Rishis
  20. Shraman
  21. Shravak
  22. Siddha
  23. Soul
  24. Space
  25. Sutra
  26. Upayog
  27. Vedic
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