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The Place of Jainism in the Development of Indian Thought (Part II)

Published: 15.09.2011
Updated: 02.07.2015

This essay (part II) by Hermann Jacobi is taken from his work Studies in Jainism (Allahabad 1946, pp. 61-85). To make this online reissue citeable, the page numbers are added to the text (see squared brackets).


The Place of Jainism in the Development of Indian Thought (Part II)


For Part the First of this essay see ►The Place of Jainism in the Development of Indian Thought (Part I)


Part the Second

The Vedic period closes with the group of the oldest Upaniṣads from which we have largely drawn materials for the investigation conducted in the preceding part. There are, however, three more groups of younger, and even quite late Upaniṣads to be enumerated presently. They too are severally ascribed by tradition to one or other of the four Vedas; but they differ in many respects, to such a degree from the oldest group that they must be placed in an altogether [75|76] different period.

After the oldest group there is an unmistakable break in this branch of Sanskrit Literature occasioned most probably by a longer interval of time during which new currents of thought had set in and had been gradually modifying the mental physiognomy of the Vedic period. From this transition-period may be dated the middle ages of India.

The Upaniṣads have chronologically been divided by the late Professor Deussen into four groups.

  1. To the first group belong the oldest Upaniṣads. The three remaining groups are the following.
  2. the meterial Upaniṣads: haka, Īśa, Śvetāśvatara Muṇḍaka, and Mahanārāyaa;
  3. the younger Upaniṣads in prose: Praśna, Maitrāyaṇīya, and ṇḍūkya;
  4. the host of late Upaniṣads ascribed to the Atharva Veda

The fourth group may be neglected for the purpose of our inquiry; but I shall have to add some remarks about the second and third groups in order to make good my assertion that between them and the oldest group there is a well defined break.

I have already mentioned above a few of terms (cetanā etc.) which are absent in the first group and become current in the younger ones. The number of such new words which have been collected from Colonel Jacob's Concordance of the principal Upaniṣads, Bombay. S. S. 1891, amounts to more than a hundred. I transcribe here some in way of illustration; nouns; avyakta, ahakāra, kāraa, tanu (body), deha, dehin, dravya, nivtti, pariāma, prakti, phala (result), moka, [76|77] vahni, śakti, sarvaga, sarvajña, sūkma; verbs: udbhū, upalabh, tyaj, niyam, pariam, prārth, bandh, vyañj, vyāpa with many of their derivatives.

The absence of these words in the oldest Upaniṣads may, in a few cases, be accidental, but on the whole it must be real; for the first group is of considerable extent and of nearly double the bulk of the second and third groups taken together. In some cases a word is quite common in groups 2 and 3, but occurs only once in the first group, e.g. indriya organ of sense (Kauṣītaki), jñāna (Taittīrīya), yoga (ib.), nitya (Bhad Ār.) etc.

The change in the vocabulary of the language proves that the texts which exhibit it are of a later date, and indicates, at the same time, that new ideas had risen to express which the new words were employed. Most important in the latter regard are the following facts. In the Svetāśvatara we meet with the Sāṅkhya terms guṇa (1, 3) and pradhāna (1, 10), and in 1. 4. 5 the principal ideas of Sāṅkhya are enumerated under the simile of a wheel; in other Upaniṣads of the 2nd and 3rd groups several of the leading ideas of Sāṅkhya are referred to and made the basis of further speculations.

There can be no doubt that in the interval between the first and the second group of Upaniṣads the rise of the Sāṅkhya philosophy had taken place. The same is probable also with regard to Yoga-philosophy, because of its intimate connection with Sāṅkhya. Yoga is mentioned by name in several of the younger Upaniṣads in which Sāṅkhya terms occur; but it cannot be [77|78] made out whether they refer to the Yoga-philosophy or to Yoga-practice in general.

The rise of Sāṅkhya-Yoga is, however, merely a symptom not the true cause of the radical change occurring at that epoch. Without underrating the importance and influence of the new philosophy, we may feel confident that a more powerful agent was needed to completely modify the mental attitude of whole nation, or at least that of its leading classes. I can imagine no weightier cause to bring about this result than the widespread belief in the personal immortality of the souls which was at that time, as will be proved in the sequel, first introduced.

For this doctrine, when once proclaimed was sure to gain the willing assent of the majority of the people who are naturally averse to believe in their annihilation or, what practically comes to the same, in the loss of consciousness after death. The doctrine of the permanent existence of souls leads logically to the distinction of Matter and Spirit which also was not yet recognized in the oldest Upaniṣads. Now both these doctrines make part already of the oldest philosophies, Sāṅkhya and Yoga, and of Jainism.

Of much later origin are the Vaiśeṣika and Nyāya philosophies; they also have admitted both tenets into their system. Even the Vedānta philosophy expounded by Bādarāyaṇa in the Brahma Sūtra, though it pretends to systematize only the teachings of the Upaniṣads, declares that jīva is eternal and indestructible, whatever Śaṅkarāchārya by a forced interpretation of the Sūtras may [78|79] allege to the contrary (as has been convincingly shown by Abhayakumar Gupa in 'Jīvātman in the Brahma Sūtras', Calcutta 1921). Sūtra in this regard goes a step beyond the younger Upaniṣads haka and Svetāśvatara which dwell on the diversity of the individual souls from Brahma, though on the other hand they maintain also their identity with it. -

The belief in the personal immortality of the souls was, however, only the principal factor in bringing about the new modes of thoughts that obtained in post-vedic and classical times; it cooperated with the theories of Karman and of the migration of souls which were of somewhat older origin, for, as stated above, they were already known, though in an undeveloped and as it were nascent form, just before the close of the Vedic period. They reached their final form which is met with in all Indian religions and philosophies except Materialism, at later time probably together with the new soul-theory.

Now to return to the question at issue it may be stated that Sāṅkhya, Yoga and Jainism are the oldest systems which came to the front after the close of the Vedic period. They teach all those novel doctrines just now, especially the plurality of immortal souls and the heterogeneity of Matter and Spirit. Although they have developed these general ideas which they have in common, on divergent lines, still some details which will be discussed later seem to point to a kind of remoter affinity.

The agreement in the metaphysical basis of Sāṅkhya and Jaina philosophy can be accounted for by the assumption that [79|80] these systems rose into existence in about the same age, and naturally worked out the ideas current in it, but in different ways peculiar to each of them. The supposition of contemporaneous origin of Sāṅkhya and Jainism furnishes us with the clue for fixing approximately the corresponding date. All we know about the age of Sāṅkhya and Yoga is that according to Kauṭilya they and the Lokāyatam were the only brahmanical philosophical systems existent at his time, i.e. about 300 B. C; they were of course much older.

We are better informed about the antiquity of Jainism. Scholars now agree that Jainism was not founded by Mahāvīra, but that one at least of his predecessors, Pārśvanātha was an historical person. Now the Nirvāṇa of Pārśva is separated from that of Mahāvīra by an interval of 250 years, and since the latter was an older contemporary of Buddha whose Nirvāṇa occurred about 484 B. C, Mahāvīra's Nirvāṇa may be placed about 490 B. C, and consequently that of Pārśva about 740 B. C. Therefore the first part of the eighth century B. C. was the time during which Pārśva propagated his creed, and for practical purposes the same period may be assigned to the rise of historical Jainism and the origin of the Sāṅkhya and Yoga philosophies. Assuming the space of two centuries for the development and general acceptance of the novel doctrines in question we may place the close of the Vedic period in the beginning of the first millennium B. C.

Before discussing those doctrines of the Sāṅkhyas and Jainas which bear some resemblance to each other as regards the underlying general [80|81] idea, but differ in other regards, I must remark that our knowledge of Sāṅkhya and Yoga is unfortunately derived from late sources. The oldest work extant on Sāṅkhya is Īśvara Kṛṣṇa's Sāṅkhya Kārikās which belong to the fifth century A. D. The Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali seems to be a comparatively late work; the Yoga it teaches has largely been borrowed from Sāṅkhya, and this is still more the case with the Yogabhāṣya by Vyāsa who frequently cites passages from older writers on Sāṅkhya. It is, therefore, in many cases not possible to decide whether a particular doctrine explained by him is to be ascribed to Sāṅkhya or Yoga. For our purposes we may regard both systems as fundamentally one, wherefore they will be spoken of as Sāṅkhya-Yoga.

We shall first examine the idea of Matter as conceived by Sāṅkhya-Yoga and Jainism. They agree in this that matter is permanent as regards its existence, but indefinite as regards quality; indeed, according to their opinion, Matter is something which may become anything. This opinion appears to have been generally current at the time when Matter was first recognized as something radically different from Spirit, i. e. the souls, and to have been immediately derived from the older idea of the Chaos or sat the one substance which gave origin to all things, both material and spiritual.

At a later time, however, the original view of matter just explained was superseded by the opposite one, that Matter is also definite and unchangeable as regards quality, i. e. that it comprises the four or five elements (bhūtas) [81|82] which are entirely distinct from one another. This opinion was held by the Lokāyatas who are younger in origin than Sāṅkhya-Yoga, and it was adopted by the Vaiśeṣika and Nyāya philosophies which seem to have somehow been developed from the Lokāyatam. The unanimous opposition of the later philosophies in this regard to Sāṅkhya-Yoga and Jainism is a collateral proof of the latter having been coeval in origin. But they have developed the common general idea of Matter on entirely different lines.

The Jains declare matter (Pudgala) to be atomical, the Sāṅkhyas teach that primeval matter (prakṛti or pradhāna) is an all-pervading substance (vibhu). The atoms according to the Jainas are indefinite as regards quality; they may be in a gross (bādara) or subtile (sūkma) state; in the former they occupy one point of space (pradeśa) each in the latter an infinite number of them may be simultaneously present in the same point; by the combination of gross atoms all things in the world are produced except of course the souls (jīva) and the substances ākāśa, dharma and adharma about which I shall have to say a word below.

According to the Sāṅkhyas primeval matter consists of the three Guṇas sattva, raja and tama of which I had already occasion to speak above in the 2nd Chapter; all three are present everywhere in the pradhāna and by acting on one another and mixing in various proportions they produce a series of substances mahān, ahakāra, etc. down to the five elements which build up all material things in the world. It would seem that the original Sāṅkhya dispensed with atoms. But as stated in the Nyāya Vārttika [82|83] p. [?] some Sāṅkhya or Yoga author did assume atoms; Gauḍapāda in his commentary on the Sāṅkhya Kārikās several times mentions them without disapproval; in the Yoga Sūtra I 40 they are also admitted, likewise in the Bhāṣya on I 40. 43. 44. III 52. IV. 14, cf. Vācaspatimiśra's comment on I 44. These facts seem to prove that the atomistic theory enjoyed such general favour that even the Sāṅkhyas and Yogas connived at it, if not from the very beginning, but certainly in the course of time.

I now turn to the Soul-theory of Sāṅkhya-Yoga and Jainism. There is agreement with regard to some fundamental aspects of it. Souls are immaterial and eternal; essentially they are intelligent, but their intelligence is obscured by their connexion with matter which is without beginning and ends with Mukti. The Jainas have a tenet about the size of the Soul (jīva) not shared by any other philosopher. For they teach that the soul is of finite and variable size, being always coextensive with the body which it occupies for the time being. It is probable that the original Sāṅkhya was not explicit on this point.

For according to the ancient teacher Pañcāśikha as quoted in the Yogabhāṣya on I 36, the souls (puruṣas) are infinitesimally small (aṇumātra), while according to Iśvara Kṛṣṇa and all later writers it is all-pervading (vibhu). - Greater still is the difference of opinion between Sāṅkhya-Yoga and Jainism on the nature of the bondage of the soul and its delivery from it; but it would be to no purpose to explain and compare both [83|84] theories since they have nothing whatever in common.

Two more doctrines, however peculiar to Jainism, are worth noticing: that about the elementary souls (ekendriyas) which are embodied in particles of earth, water, wind and fire, and that about the nigodas. These doctrines, especially the former, bear some affinity to animistic views which probably obtained in popular religion. At any rate difference in most details regarding matter as well as souls is so pronounced as to preclude the assumption that Sāṅkhya should have borrowed from Jainism, or Jainism from Sāṅkhya.

Before closing our inquiry I mention two more points about which the Sāṅkhyas and Jains do not exactly agree, but entertain ideas which appear to have a curious affinity with each other. The Jainas assume two transcendental substances Dharma and Adharma as the substrata of motion and rest; without them motion and rest would be impossible, they are in alokākāśa where they are absent. Their function is to render motion and rest of things possible. Ākāśa is not sufficient for that purpose, as its function is restricted to the making room for them (गतिस्थित्युपग्रहो धर्माधर्मयोरुपग्रहः। आकाशस्यावगाहः Tattvārthādhigama Sūtra V 17-18.).

The Jainas, evidently, thought it necessary to account for motion and rest by assuming two special substances as their conditioning cause. Now Sāṅkhya-Yoga alone of all Indian philosophies has likewise tried to explain motion and rest as being caused by two substantial principles raja and tama. For raja is necessary for motion, and immobility is caused by tamaḥ. Immobility or rest is, however, but one aspect of tamaḥ another is 'iniquity' adharma. This character of tamaḥ consisting in Adharma proves the near relation between Sāṅkhya tamaḥ and Jaina Adharma and explains at the same time why the substratum of immobility has been named by the Jainas by the strange name Adharma.

A favourite dogma of the Jainas is the Anekāntavāda, which is elaborately explained and defended by Haribhadra in his famous work Anekāntajayapatākā. According to this theory the Real has infinite attributes (ananta-dharmātmakatvena tattvam Hemachandra), wherefore all predicaments about things are one sided, the contrary being also true from another point of view (Syādvāda). Now Sāṅkhya-Yoga lays claim to a similar view with regard, however, to Matter only, and this doctrine designated by phrases expressing the denial of aikāntikatva, e.g. Vācaspatimiśra commenting on Yoga Sūtra II 23 speaks of the Yogas as aikāntikatva vyāsedhanta, and Vyāsa on III 13 uses the phrase ekāntānabhyupagamāt. Of course, the opinions of the Jainas and Sāṅkhya in this regard are far from being identical, but they agree in the peculiar mode of thinking concerning Anekānta.

Here I may conclude the present enquiry. It was my aim to show that Jainism together with Sāṅkhya-Yoga is the earliest representative of that mental revolution which brought about the close of the Vedic and inaugurated the new period of Indian culture which has lasted through the middle ages almost down to the present time.

Bonn, 19th, March 1922


Studies in Jainism (1946)

Edited & corrected version by HN4U

Compiled by PK


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