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

Published: 15.09.2011
Updated: 21.07.2015

This essay (part I) 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 I)

[61] In the present paper I propose to investigate the development of philosophical ideas in ancient India at the time when Jainism entered on the scene. This enquiry is divided into two parts. The first part deals with the original concepts of Soul (jīva) and matter (pudgala) in the revealed literature of the Brahmans (Brāhmaṇas and Upaniṣads) in contradiction to the ideas on the same subjects in Jainism and the classical philosophies (darśana), with which the second part will be concerned.


Part the first

1. Chapter: - The Ancient Concept of Soul

1. All Indian philosophers with the exception of the Vedāntists of Śakar's School (māyā-vādina) and the Buddhists, however much they may differ in details, agree in the main about the nature of Soul, viz. that is a permanent or eternal immaterial substance; they consequently maintain the personal immortality of the souls. To all who are accustomed to this belief it is difficult to realize that it is of a comparatively late origin. The primitive Aryans held a distinctly different opinion about the nature of the soul. Their belief may be described as follows.

The life of man is continued after death in a form similar to what he [61|62] had been during his life on earth; it is but a shadowy existence, yet one in a bodily form, however subtle that body may have been imagined. This post-mortal body is the soul itself, there is no separate soul different from it. It will be convenient to call this principle of conscious life which is conceived under some bodily or material form, psyche instead of soul, and to use the term soul only to denote the immaterial and permanent substance which is possessed of intelligence and consciousness.

2. The primitive ideas of the Aryans about the psyche have been retained, to some extent, by the ancient Indians, and still linger on in the popular belief of the Hindus about the manes (pitara) which forms the basis of the śrāddha practice. For the pit-tarpaa or oblation to the manes presupposes the belief that the manes stand in need of food and drink just like men; they must, therefore, have been imagined to be of an organisation not quite unlike that of men while living on earth. The psyche is frequently spoken of as a man (puruṣa) or rather manikin of thumb's size (aguṣṭha-mātra); at the time of death it departs from the body which is then left behind as a corpse.

3. In the Brāhmaṇas and in the oldest Upaniṣads [1] we meet with very remarkable speculations [62|63] on the nature of the psyche which show a great advance over the primitive beliefs described above. In those works the psyche is spoken of as consisting in, or being made of several constituent parts which are frequently called prāas. They are regarded as the factors of physico-psychical life. Most usually five such factors are enumerated, viz. prāṇa breath, vāc speech, chaksu seeing or eye, śrotra hearing or ear, mana mind. Occasionally more than five factors are mentioned, as in the passage to be quoted in the sequel; but the above set of five factors has, beyond doubt, been the almost generally accepted one. These psychical factors are not as many functions of, or qualities inherent in a common substratum, but they are distinct entities which combining form one individual psyche. They are, however, not quite independent or self-existent, for they stand in an intimate relation to the following physical or cosmical essences, taken in the same order: vāyu wind, agni fire, āditya sun, diśa the heavenly quarters, chandrama moon; and on the death of the individual man, they will eventually be reunited with the latter.

The Upaniṣads contain some discussions which throw full light on the theory of the psychical factors and make it quite clear that none of those factors was regarded as the permanent principle of personality, or, in other words, none of them could be claimed as the soul in the true meaning of word. In the 3rd Adhyāya of the Bhad Ārayaka a great disputation under Janaka, King of Videha, is described, in which Yājñavalkya [63|64] answers the questions put to him by the Brahmans of the Kurus and Pāñcālas. In the 2nd Brāhmaṇa the opponent of Yājñavalkya is Jāratkārva Ārtabhāga. The problem under consideration is discussed in §§ 11-13, of which I quote the text and translation, the latter based on that of Max Müller in Sacred Books of the East. Vol. xv, p. 126 f.

“11 'Yājñavalkya, he said, when such a person (a sage) dies, do the vital breaths (prāṇas) move out of him or no?' 'No', replied Yājñavalkya; 'they are gathered up in him, he is swelled, he is inflated, and thus inflated the dead lies at rest.'

12 'Yājñavalkya', he said, 'when such a man dies, what does not leave him?' 'The name', he replied, 'for the name is endless, the Viśvedevas are endless, and by it he gains the endless world.'

13 'Yājñavalkya', he said, when the speech of this dead person enters into the fire, breath into the wind, the eye into the sun, the mind into the moon, hearing into the quarters, into the earth the body, into the air (or space) the self, into the shrubs the hairs of the body, into the trees the hairs of the head, when the blood and the seed are deposited in the water, where is then that person?' Yājñavalkya said: 'Take my hand, my hand, my friend. We two alone shall know of this; let this question of ours not be (discussed) in public.' Then these two went out and argued, and what they said was Karman (work), and what they praised was Karman, viz., that a man becomes good by good work, and bad by bad work. After that Jāratkārva Ārtabhāga held his peace.” [64|65]

याज्ञवल्क्येति होवाच यत्रायं पुरुषो म्रियत उदस्मात्प्राणाः क्रामन्त्याहो नेति। हेति होवाच याज्ञवल्क्योऽत्रैव समवनीयन्ते स उच्छ्रत्याध्माय ह्याध्माति मृतः शेते॥ ११॥ याज्ञवल्क्येति होवाच यत्रायं पुरुषो म्रियते किमेनं न जहातीति। नामेति। अनन्तं वै नाम। अनन्ता विश्वे देवाः। अनन्तमेव स तेन लोकं जयति॥ १२॥ याज्ञवल्क्येति होवाच यत्रस्य पुरुषस्यग्निं वागप्येति वातं प्राणश्चक्षुरादित्यं मनश्चन्द्रं दिशः श्रोत्रं पृथिवीं शरीरमाकाशमात्मा ओषधीर्ले ओमानि वनस्पतीन्केशाः अप्सु लोहितं च रेतश्च निधीयते। क्वायं तदा पुरुषो भवतीति। आहर सोम्य हस्तमार्तभागावामेतस्यैव वेदिष्यावो न नावेतत्सजन इति। तौ होत्क्रम्य मन्त्रयांचक्राते। तौ ह यदूचतुः। कर्म हैव तदूचतुरथ यत्प्रशशंशतुः कर्म हैव तत्प्रशशंसतुः। पुण्यो वै पुण्येन कर्मणा भवति पापः पापेनेति। ततो ह जारत्कारव आर्तभाग उपरराम॥ १३॥

The purpose of the questioner in the foregoing passage of the Bh. Ār. is, as the reader will have remarked, to elicit from Yājñavalkya a declaration about the nature of Soul, for thereby he would be led on to explain its identity with Brahma. But this Yājñavalkya will not do, because his intention in the whole disputation is to prove that all the speculations of his opponents do not lead up to the true knowledge of Brahma. The first two paragraphs deal with the man who on dying reaches moka. In § 11 Yājñavalkya declared that the prāṇas do not move out of him, but remain in the corpse; accordingly the prāṇas cannot be the Soul. The next question in § 12, what remains of such a man is answered evasively by Yājñavalkya. But his opponent is not to be put off easily; so he makes straight for the point: where is the person of a man, after his body has been dissolved into its elements and the constituent parts of his psyche have been reunited with their cosmical prototypes fire, wind, etc.?

Yājñavalkya again avoids the declaration [65|66] which his opponent seems to have expected, by referring to karma. They discuss the subject, in private, and therefore their view is not fully stated; but from the hints given in the text it must have come to this: the karma of a man who dies brings about a new set of prāṇas to start a new life, a good or a bad one according to the nature of the karma he had accumulated in his previous life. At any rate it is quite clear that both disputants assumed psychical life to be brought about by the combination and co-operation of the five prāṇas, and had no idea of any permanent substratum of man's personality. If such a belief, in immortal souls had been current at the time of the composition of Bh. Ār., it would have come out in the course of the discussion, or rather it would have been absurd for the author to put into the mouth of Ārtabhāga the questions which he makes him ask. After all, the discussions as we read them in the Brh. Ār., are not to be taken as historical records, but the whole disputation is an invention of the author after the model of a similar disputation on ritualistic items in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa. Therefore the general ideas embodied in this part of the Bh. Ār. also must be considered to belong to the common stock of ideas current during the Upaniṣad Period. I do not contend that the sages of that time did deny the existence of permanent souls, but that the very idea that there might be immortal souls had not yet entered their mind.

The same idea relative to soul comes out in teaching of the Upaniṣads that consciousness [66|67] ceases with death: na pretya sajñāstīti Bh. Ār. 2, 4, 13. 4, 5, 13. saṁjñā here means according to Śaṅkara viśea-saṁjñā i.e. consciousness of one's personality. This is no doubt the true meaning of saṁjñā in this passage; for saṁjñā has both meanings: 'consciousness' and 'individual name', which are here combined in Śakara's rendering. The loss of self-consciousness is interpreted in another passage (Chāndogya Upaniṣad, 6, 9, 1. 10, 1) by the merging of the individual being in Brahma.

“As the bees, my son, make honey by collecting the juices of distant trees, and reduce the juice into one form, and as these juices have no discrimination, so that they might say, I am the juice of this tree or that tree, in the same manner, my son, all these creatures, when they have become merged in the True (either in sleep or in death), know not that they are merged in the true.” In the next Khaṇḍa the same idea is illustrated by the simile of rivers and the ocean.

यथा सोम्य मधु मधुकृतो निस्तिष्ठन्ति नानात्वयानां वृक्षाणां रसान् समवहारमेकतां रसं गमयन्ति। ते यथा तत्र न विवेकं लभन्तेऽमुष्याहं वृक्षस्य रसोऽस्म्यमुष्याहं वृक्षस्य रसोऽस्मीत्येवमेव खलु सोम्येमाः सर्वाः प्रजाः सति संपद्य न विदुः सति संपद्यामह इति

These similes illustrate unmistakably the loss of conscious personality in death, which indeed could be the consequence from the absence of any permanent substratum of it. Now all words and expressions in the Upaniṣads which might be used to denote the concept of Soul, can be proved not to denote the immortal Soul in our sense of the word. But it is not necessary here to enter in these details; we are here concerned with the main issue only viz. that the [67|68] concept of immortal souls is entirely absent in the Brāhmaṇas and the oldest Upaniṣads.

2. Chapter: - Original Non-distinction between Spirit and Matter

From what has been demonstrated in the preceding chapter we are led to conclude that the distinction between Spirit and Matter was not yet grasped by the thinkers of the oldest Upaniṣads. For how could they have got at the concept of Spirit, when they did not possess the idea of permanent Souls? We need, however, not rely on this inference only; we can prove directly from the Upaniṣads themselves that they do not yet distinguish principally between Spirit and Matter. For this purpose we will examine some passages in the sixth Prapāhaka of the Chāndogya Upaniṣad where the evolution of the world from original Being (sat) is taught.

In the second Khaṇḍa Uddālaka declares to Śvetaketu, his son. “In the beginning, my dear, there was that only which is, one only, without a Second” सदेव सोम्येदमग्र आसीदेकमेवाद्वितीयम्; Here the question has been raised already in old times whether this Sat is Spirit or Matter. For we learn from the first Sūtras of the Brahma Sūtra as explained by the commentators, that the Sāṅkhyas declared the Sat to be primeval matter, called pradhāna or prakṛti in their system. But the Vedāntins identified the Sat with Brahma which is essentially spiritual. Their argument against the Sāṅkhya view is contained in the 5th. Sūtra (īkaternāśabdam). For the text quoted above continues: “It (Sat) thought, may I be many, may I grow forth It sent forth fire.” तदैक्षत बहु स्यां प्रजायेयेति तत्तेजोऽसृजत. [68|69]

The Vedāntin's argument is that 'thinking' cannot be predicated of matter which is acetana not intelligent accordingly the Sad being intelligent because it 'thought' is what we call Spirit. The argument of the Vedāntin would be unimpeachable, if the author of the Upaniṣad had distinguished Spirit and Matter in the same way as the Vedāntin did, which however he did not. For he continues: “That fire thought, may I be many, may I grow forth. It sent for the water”. तत्तेज ऐक्षत बहु स्यां प्रजायेयेति तदपोऽसृजत. And again: “Water thought, may I be many, may I grow forth. It sent forth earth (food)”: ता आप ऐक्षत बहुव्यः स्याम प्रजायेमहीति ता अन्नमसृजन्त. Now there can be no doubt that Fire, Water, and Earth, however subtile they may have been imagined by the author or the Upaniṣad, must be classed with Matter, and not with Spirit.

Yet they too 'thought' aīkata; and if 'thinking' did prove that the Sat is Spirit then those elements too had likewise to be considered to be Spirit. It is true that in the next Khaṇḍa the Sat is called devatā but the same designation is also given to Fire, Water and Earth. They would, therefore, at the same time be Spirit as well as Matter. This is an actual dilemma, and there is no other way out of it than to assume that in the period of the oldest Upaniṣads the distinction between Matter and Spirit had not yet clearly been grasped however difficult it may be for modern thinkers to realize such an attitude of the primitive mind.

The language of the oldest Upanishads gives evidence to the correctness of the view I have sought to establish. For those words which in [69|70] later times are used to express the idea of Spirit or of attributes of Spirit, viz. Cetanā, caitanya, cetana, ceta, cit, buddhi [2] are entirely absent from the oldest Upaniṣads. Of course there are words for 'thought', and 'thinking' as dhi, prajñā, prajñāna, vijñāna, but these were originally looked upon as functions of the mind; mana however is, according to our text, only a refined product of Earth, as will be evident from the discussion of some important parts of the same Prapāhaka, which we must now enter upon.

Fire, Water and Earth, the first products of the primeaval Sat are not to be identified with the same elements as they are generally understood. I should rather call them proto-elements; for they never occur single, but always are combined in such a way that all three are present in every thing whatsoever. In this regard they bear the closest resemblance to the three guas in Sāṅkhya philosophy Sattva, raja and tama; this resemblance, nay almost identity, is so striking that scholars now agree in assuming that the Sāṅkhyas have derived their idea of the three guṇas from that of the three proto-elements tejaḥ, āpa, annam in the 6th Prapāhaka of the Chāndogya Upaniṣads. These proto-elements, then, enter into combination for the formation of everything. How they build up the body and psyche of man is taught in the 5th Khaṇḍa of our text.

“The earth (food) when eaten becomes three-fold; [70|71] its grossest portion becomes feces, its middle portion flesh, its subtilest portion mind. (1). Water when drunk becomes threefold; its grossest portion becomes urine, its middle portion blood, its subtilest portion breath. (2). Fire when eaten becomes threefold; its grossest portion becomes bone, its middle portion marrow, its subtilest portion speech. (3). For truly, my child, mind comes of earth, breath of water, speech of fire (4).”

अन्नमशितं त्रेधा विधीयते। तस्य यः स्थविष्ठो धातुस्तत्पुरीषं भवति यो मध्यमस्तन्मांसं योऽणिष्ठस्तन्मनः। १। आपः पीतास्रेधा भवन्ति यः स्थविष्ठो धातुस्तन्मुत्रं भवति यो मध्यमस्तल्लोहितं योऽणिष्ठः स प्राणः। २। तेजोऽशितं त्रेधा भवति यः स्थविष्ठो धातुस्तदस्थि भवति योह् मध्यमः स मज्जा योऽणिष्ठः सा वाक्। ३। अन्नमयं हि सोम्य मनः आपोमयः प्राणस्तेजोमयी वागिति। ४।

Mind, breath, and speech combined form the psyche of man; they consist of the subtilest essence; aimā, as it is called in the next Khaṇḍa, of earth, water, and fire. But a still more subtile aimā than those spoken of before, is the Sat which upholding the psyche makes it a soul jīva, as may be gathered from the following two passages.

“When a man departs from hence, his speech is merged in his mind, his mind in his breath, his breath, in fire, fire in the Highest Being (i. e. Sat). Now that which is that subtile essence (the root of all) in it all that exists has its self. It is the true. It is the Self and thou, Śvetaketu art it.” (8th, Khaṇḍa 6. 7.)

अस्य सोम्य पुरुषस्य प्रयतो वाङ्भनसि संपद्यते मनः प्राणे प्राणस्तेजसि तेजः परस्यां देवतायाम् स य एषोऽणिमा। ६। ऐतदात्म्यमिदं सर्व तत्सत्यं स आत्मा तत्त्वमसि श्वेतकेतो इति। ७।

[71|72] The next passage is in the 11th Khaṇḍa. This (body) indeed withers and dies when the loving Self has left it; the living Self dies not. That which is that subtile essence etc. वाव किलेदं म्रियते जीवो म्रियते इति स य एषोऽणिमा इत्यादि. The last sentence (Sa ya eo aima etc.) occurs nine times in our text. It inculcates the great teaching of the Upaniṣads that Brahma is the root of all. The word brahma, however, does not occur in the whole of the 6th Prapāhaka; but in the eighth (8, 4) it is said: “the name of this Brahma is the True” एतस्य ब्रह्मणो नाम सत्यमिति.

It will be seen that jīva in the second passage comes much nearer of our concept of Soul, but it differs from it in one essential point; it does not possess permanent personality. For on mukti this jīva merges in Brahma and loses its individuality (see above, na pretya Sajñāstīti). According to the teaching of the Upaniṣad there can be no personal immortality of the Souls.

In the Bṛhad Āraṇyaka, in the part which is ascribed to Yājñavalkya, the teaching of the Upaniṣads relative to Brahma and the souls has reached its highest development. The Chāndogya Up. does not attempt to define the nature of Brahma, but according to Yājñavalkya its nature is pure intelligence. [3] Thus we read II 4, 12:

“Thus verily, O Maitreyī does this great Being, endless, unlimited, consisting of nothing but knowledge rise from out these elements, and vanish again in them. There is no consciousness in [72|73] death.”

एवं वा अरे महद्भूतमनन्तमपारं विज्ञानघन [4] एवैतेभ्यो भूतेभ्यः समुत्थाय तान्यैवानु विनश्यति न प्रेत्य संज्ञास्तीति.

Yājñavalkya had no doubt recognized the paramount importance of intelligence (vijñāna) not only for the conception of the highest Being (Brahma) but also, and perhaps primarily, for that of the human soul. For Bh. Ār. III 7, 16-23 contains a discussion of the several constituent parts of the psyche; there we meet with a set of eight instead of the usual five prāṇas spoken of above in the first chapter, the additional ones being tvac, vijñānam and reta. The importance of vijñāna is apparent in the explanation of sleep in II 1, 17 put in the mouth of Ajātaśatru, king of Kāśi.

“When this man is thus asleep, then the intelligent person (puruṣa) having through the intelligence of the prāṇas absorbed within himself all intelligence, lies in the space, which is in the heart. When he takes in these different kinds of intelligence, then it is said that the man sleeps. Then the breath is kept in, speech is kept in, hearing is kept in, seeing is kept in, the mind is kept in.”

यत्रैष एतत्सुतोऽभूद्य एष विज्ञानमयः पुरुष एषं प्राणानां विज्ञानेन विज्ञानमादाय य एषोऽन्तर्ह्रदय आकाशस्तस्मिञ्छेते। तानि यदा गृह्णाति अथ हैतत्पुरुषः स्वपिति नाम। तद्गृहीत एव प्राणो भवति गृहीत वाग् गृहीतं चक्षुर्गृहीतं श्रोत्रं मनः॥

This vijñānamaya puruṣa comes still nearer to our conception of soul than the jīva of the Chāndogya Up.; but like the latter it has no permanent existence, and in mukti it merges in Brahma. It is worth remarking that the Kauṣītaki Up. which apparently [73|74] is the youngest of the group the old Upaniṣads, uses prajñā as almost synonym with vijñāna of our text, and prajñātmā with vijñānamaya purua. But there is no appreciable advance over the standpoint reached already by Yājñavalkya (or the school of thinkers represented by that celebrated name).

To sum up the results of the first part of our investigation: In the first chapter we have traced the development of the idea of Soul from the crude notions of the primitive Aryans through a long course of progress to the final form given it by the most advanced authors of the oldest Upaniṣads. They stopped short of recognizing the personal immortality of the souls, for otherwise they would have placed themselves in opposition to the unanimous teaching of the Upaniṣads, viz. the identity of the souls with Brahma. To take this last step had therefore to be left to the thinkers of the next period. -

In the second chapter I have explained that the heterogeneity of Matter and Spirit was as yet unknown in the period of the oldest Upaniṣads, but that in this respect an advance had been made in so far as Brahma considered as an intelligent principle comes near the true idea of spirit. It was reserved for the next period to principally distinguish between Matter and Spirit. The inquiry into the further development of the ideas treated above will form the subject of the Second Part. Before, however, entering upon it, it is necessary to state that in the Upaniṣads the beginnings of two very important theories are the first time clearly [75|75] discerned, the theories of retribution (Karma) and of metempsychosis (punar janma).

From the passage about Karma quoted in the first chapter we learn that this subject was not to be discussed in public; we thence conclude that at that time the theory of Karma was not yet generally known and accepted, as it certainly was ever since, but was still regarded as an arcanum, a secret teaching, not to be divulged to the masses. The migration of souls, first appearing in the Upaniṣads, is several times hinted at in them; at some length it is explained in Bh. Ār. VI 2, and Chānd. Up. V. 10. Waving minor differences the opinion is that the souls first go to the moon, and those which are to be reembodied descend thence. They finally reach earth as rain and become food; he who eats it, will become the father of the individual in his new birth. It goes without saying that this belief is widely different from the theory of rebirth as it has been understood during the middle age of Indian history down to the present day.

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


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Studies in Jainism (1946)

Edited & corrected version by HN4U

Compiled by PK


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            30. Saṁjñā
            31. Soul
            32. Space
            33. Studies in Jainism
            34. Sāṅkhya
            35. Sūtra
            36. Upanishads
            37. Upaniṣads
            38. janma
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