Acharanga Bhasyam: Prelude I

Published: 23.09.2010
Updated: 02.07.2015

Let us begin this study with the main themes of the 'Ācārāṅga':-

  1. The soul exists.[1]
  2. The matter also exists.[2]
  3. The soul and the matter have eternal relationships.[3]
  4. The soul, bound by matter, re-incarnates.[4]
  5. The soul also transmigrates.[5]
  6. There is a cause for transmigration.[6]
  7. There are various genera.[7]
  8. There is suffering.[8]
  9. Suffering has a cause.[9]
  10. Prevention of suffering is possible.[10]
  11. There is a path for cessation of suffering.[11]
  12. There is plurality among the souls.

Souls are infinite in number. However, each soul has its own independent individuality, meaning thereby that each soul has its own independent existence. Neither is there any supreme entity like 'God', of which they are parts, nor are they the manifestations of 'Brahma'. 'Pleasure and pains are self-inflicted' - this dictum clearly proclaims the independence of the soul.[12]

In the dictums below, the unity of soul is proclaimed -

'The one, who, according to you, should be killed or hurt is none other than yourself.[13]

'He, who knows all, knows one. And one, who knows one, knows all. '[14]

Now the question arises - If single soul manifests itself into various forms, how can the souls have plurality? How can we resolve the paradox? Yes, we can resolve this problem by adopting the methodology of approaches (nayas). In this context, we can apply ‘composite view-point’ (saṃgraha naya) as also practical view-point (vyavahāra naya).

Each and every substance has a universal attribute (sāmānya dharma), which is the subject of composite view-point. Likewise, it has also some special attributes (viśeṣa dharma) which is the subject of 'practical view-point'.

Each substance has its own universality as well as individuality. There is unity brought about by universality, which is the subject matter of 'composite view-point'. Alongwith that we can also accept their plurality which is the subject matter of 'practical view-point'. There is no basic contradiction between unity and plurality. Both are relative. The existence of a substance is inherent in itself irrespective of unity or plurality. Unity and plurality are quantitative expressions, which are relative. In the process of synthesis, the unity becomes prominent and plurality is diluted; on the other hand, in the process of dissection, plurality becomes prominent.

In its worldly sense, the soul is defined as prāṇa, bhūta, jῑva, sattva etc. According to etymological view-point (samabhiruḍha naya), all these terms connote different meanings, yet on the basis of substantial point of view, there is no difference. So the Lord has said, 'Soul is neither high nor low.'[15]

The soul has its own independent existence and, therefore, has its own independent role. It is not inspired by any God. The Lord also said, 'Oh wise man! Therefore you act.'[16] Any action fructifies only when it is endowed with the potential for either (i) to go in bondage or (ii) to gain emancipation.

The author of the scripture has said - "Bondage and emancipation - both are your own creations."[17] The soul will have no role whatsoever if any other entity different than the Ātman (the soul), was the subject of the bondage or the emancipation, as is the case of 'prakṛti’ in the Sankhya philosophy. The essence of the teachings of the Ācārāṅga is that a worldly soul is not without attachment. Hence, it is always bound by karma. Therefore, the karmic body always accompanies it. In this process of associating itself with karma, it takes divergent physical forms. The same Ātman when it comprehends equanimity, its karmic body decays and ultimately it ceases to be. The soul releases itself from the bondage and omes free. It has been said, 'Soul is free from attachment.'[18 ]It has neither body [19] nor rotation for birth and death.[20] The emancipated soul has these attributes. However the worldly soul has attachments and is subject to death and birth.

Soul is sentient, matter is non-sentient. Soul is formless, matter has form, because it (the matter) has colour, taste, smell and touch. The existence of matter is not subjective. It is as objectively real as the soul.

Soul and matter are inter-connected. This relationship is not substantial but modal. Whether we know the matter or not, it has its own existence. This existence is natural, and not necessarily related to our knowledge. Another question arises, 'If sentient and non-sentient are the two contradictory entities, then how can they co-exist?' We resolve this question by saying that the substances are neither absolutely opposed to each other nor absolutely similar. All are relative.

Existence is the generic attribute of all the substances. There is no opposition between sentient and non-sentient so far as their existence is concerned. Consciousness is the characteristic i.e. special attribute of the soul - the sentient, whereas colour, taste, smell and touch are the characteristics of matter. As such, if sentient and non-sentient are separate, it is only because of their characteristics. But they are similar on the basis of their generic attributes. We should therefore not take an absolutist view about them as there is always room for duality. According to the transcendental view-point (niścaya naya), soul and body are different. But seen through the empirical view-point, there is unity between them.

Let us clearly understand the nature of unity and duality (bheda and abheda). In this context, the relationship between 'prakṛti and puruṣa', as projected in the Sankhya philosophy is relevant. Also relevant to our study is the difference between the reality of 'Brahma' and illusion (māyā) of the physical world, as we see in the Vedanta philosophy.

Both the transcendental and the empirical view-points are relative expressions and can not be different in all circumstances. According to the former, an absolute integration of soul and body can not be accepted. But as per the latter view-point, absolute diversity of the soul and the body is not possible. This non-absolutistic approach also enables us to differenciate between adhyāsa (apperance), and vyavahāra (empirical experience).

Question arises - Can we accept the existence of soul only? How can we negate the existence of matter which can be seen, perceived and is established on the basis of valid knowledge? The matter is not an illusion created by mere mental perception. In that case, how can one say that soul is something different from a mere illusion? If we do not acknowledge a certain act, then how do we identify its doer? We recognize substances through perception. If this perception is not real, how does one vouch for one's own existence? The existence of consciousness and matter (the non-sentient entity) is thus independent. None is the product of the other. As has been said in the Sthānāṅga Sūtra (10.1), 'It had never been, nor can be, nor would be that the consciousness becomes a non-conscious matter or vice versa'. This is the Universal Law. (Universal Axiom).

Matter, with its independent existence, interacts with ātman (soul) which, in turn gets tainted with the impressions of the matter through the process of attachment. The spider gets trapped in the web that it weaves; it happens so because of its own ignorance.

Another Question - If ātman (soul) is omniscient and it is without any stigma; then how can it be bound or attached? How can this view be corroborated with the view of the Ācārāṅga which says,—'The soul is in bondage.[21]

On this issue our contention is that according to the Jaina philosophy, no soul is free from attachment in its original form. It never approves that non-attachable can be attached. Then it is only the attachable which can aspire for freedom through a special process.

This raises another question - If we accept that attachment is eternal, then how is that terminable. That is so in the sense that it is a flowing relationship between matter and soul. Therefore, when this flow is interrupted, the soul is able to free itself.

'Parijñā' i.e. learning is the understanding or the knowledge as also the process to gain freedom from that. The 'Ācārāṅga ' suggests the process in order to achieve that objective. The Ācārāṅga  deals with both - souls which are in the bondage and also those, that are emancipated. The soul which breaks out from the cycle of births and deaths becomes free from all bondages.

The Lord has said, 'A wise monk, who is well versed with the study of the 'Āgamas' transcends the cyclic path of births and deaths.'[22]

Beginning with the phrase - 'All sounds recoil thence', and ending with the phrase - 'It is neither sound, nor colour, nor smell, nor taste, not touch',[23]the para deals with the state of the emancipated soul.

A soul under bondage has to undergo many births, it has to suffer many trials and tribulations and continues to rotate in the cycle of births and deaths due to lack of vigilance on its part.[24]

All the worldly souls are bound by karma and as such they go on doing karma incessantly and experience the fruits thereof.[25] The soul has been interconnected with karma from time immemorial and this interconnection results in the cycle of births and deaths. According to the transcendental view-point (niścaya naya), this does not match with the nature of the soul. However, viewed from the spiritual point of view, the suffering has no relationship with the nature of the soul. In this context, the Āgama says, 'Suffering is to be avoided, happiness is to be sought for. This is the main theme of the ethics of conduct.[26]

The vicious circle of suffering is as follows:[27]

  • He who sees anger sees pride.
  • He who sees pride sees deceit.
  • He who sees deceit sees greed.
  • He who sees greed sees love.
  • He who sees love sees hatred.
  • He who sees hatred sees delusion.
  • He who sees delusion sees conception in the womb.
  • He who sees conception sees birth.
  • He who sees birth sees death.
  • He who sees death sees hell.
  • He who sees hell sees animal life.
  • He who sees animal life sees sufferings.

The wise monk should, therefore, avoid anger, pride, deceit, greed, love, hatred, delusion, conception, birth, death, hell, animal life and suffering.[28]

Suffering is caused by passions. If the seed of passions is crushed, suffering gets eradicated altogether. So, one should try to inhibit the passions i.e. beginning with anger and ending with greed. When those passions decay, the attributes of equanimity take their place. The virtue of equanimity is the heart of the Ācārāṅga. All other norms of ethics thrive on this attribute.

Equanimity is twofold: (i) dependent upon self and (ii) dependent upon others. Equanimity which is achieved by the subjugation of love, and hatred resulting into experience of equanimity in both favorable or infavorable circumstances is a self-dependent equanimity. All the living be kill beings seek happiness, none desires suffering, hence, no living being should be killed or hurt. This equanimity belongs to the second category and hence it is not self-dependent. For the cultivation of self-dependent equanimity, the Lord has said 'One should extinguish passions', and for the second kind of equanimity, 'One should desist from killing the living beings'. If one imbibes these two kinds of equanimities into his conduct, surely he has understood the Ācārāṅga.

The root cause of violence is 'karma'. The term karma has two meanings: first, it means activity and the second, it means 'material aggregates attracted by the activities which bind the soul'. One should not indulge in sinful activities (karma),[29] this aphorism suggests that karma is of two types - (i) meritorious and (ii) sinful. In this respect, the Lord has proclaimed that "The principle of comprehension and renunciation is parijñā."[30]

Right perception, discrimination, and parijñā are synonyms. Parijñā means doing or not doing any activity, unless it is tested and screened through one's own conscience. Involvement in good actions or refraining from bad actions can be put to test through the norms of parijñā.

A person involved in violence is bereft of the wisdom of comprehension (parijñā). His parijñā becomes perfect who is not involved in violence.

One who is not capable of using proper discretion among realities and non-realities slips into ‘aparijñā’. A person, who does not comprehend and renounce the karma rotates in the circle of death and birth.

One who comprehends the karma puts an end to this circle. A person who acts with due comprehension is not tainted with any acts of violence.

Thus, it becomes clear that the activity guided by the power of comprehension is meritorious and the actions guided by non-comprehension are sins.

Karmic matter, which binds the soul is explained in the Ācārāṅga. It is said, 'The adjunct (upadhi) is produced by karma'.[31] Quite opposite to this is said, 'there is no designation for the soul freed from the karma [32]. 'This soul has committed many-many deeds of sins in the past on account of its non-comprehensive attitude or due to negligence. Such deeds lead to bondage and then the soul tries to be free from bondage using proper comprehension.[33]

It is said, 'Understanding the true nature of the karma in this manner, one should not indulge in violence. He should control his senses and should not allow them to go astray. The wise person desisting from any kind of violence eliminates all possibilities of evil deeds'.[34 ]


Jain Vishwa Bharati

Ladnun- 341 306 (Raj.) India © Jain Vishva Bharti

ISBNS 1-7195-74-4

First Edition:2001

Courtesy :
Shree Chhotulal Sethia Charitable Trust Sethia House, 23/24,
Radha Bazar Street, Kolkata-700 001 (INDIA)

Printed by:
Shree Vardhaman Press
Delhi (INDIA)

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Abheda
  2. Anger
  3. Bheda
  4. Body
  5. Consciousness
  6. Deceit
  7. Dharma
  8. Equanimity
  9. Greed
  10. JAINA
  11. Jaina
  12. Karma
  13. Karmic Body
  14. Karmic matter
  15. Naya
  16. Nayas
  17. Niścaya Naya
  18. Omniscient
  19. Para
  20. Parijñā
  21. Pride
  22. Prāṇa
  23. Sankhya
  24. Sattva
  25. Soul
  26. Sāmānya
  27. Sūtra
  28. Vedanta
  29. Violence
  30. Vyavahāra Naya
  31. Ācārāṅga
  32. Āgama
  33. Āyāro
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