Jainism : The Eternal and Universal path

Truth is interwoven in the Universe

Fossil record on Earth, Nature’s chosen path
Universality of Law,
Self , Foundations of Jainism,

Universality of Jainism

Life is made up of a sequence of situations and we continuously move from one situation to another, sometimes struggling and some times getting the desired outcome. In this process we quickly realise that this struggle has taken up all our life. At the end it appears that the life has been wasted in trivialities. In the ultimate analysis, as far as the physical assets are concerned, life is a zero sum game. One is born with no assets and upon death, leaves all of them behind. The net outcome would not have been different irrespective of the way we chose to lead our life. This can hardly be the purpose of life. This,however, is not true of the conscious assets. One is born with his sanchit karmas and, upon death, carries with him the arjit karmas. As we will discuss in this chapter, in the scheme of nature, it can be shown that life on earth exists for a specific purpose. Any “religion” is expected to guide us to understand this purpose and help us realise it.

Every age has its specific problems and a “true religion” is expected to show the path to resolve these problems at all times, in all domains and in all possible situations. In this respect a religion has an eternal role. Problems of conflict at all levels ( personal, societal, and national), consumerism, terrorism, impact of the life style on environment, to cite a few, are the hallmarks of current era and mental peace or satisfaction is hard to achieve, as many will admit. Much of these conflicts have arisen because science and technology is progressing at such a fast pace, much faster than the human mind can adapt to, and the mental, philosophical and spiritual faculties are not able to cope up with the physical changes thrust upon us.In this era of competitive development of different faculties there is no time to think what is right and what is wrong. Once there is a scientific discovery, technical progress can proceed with a rapid pace and can take control of our lives. It takes the mind significant time to comprehend, philosophise transform and understand its implications. Failure of all religions to cope up with the progress of science is resulting in loss of their relevance in day to day life. To make philosophy and religion relevant to modern way of life requires that it be reinterpreted in modern, scientific language to meet the contemporary challenges. When contradiction is found between science and religion, the tendency is to choose the former, because it has made itself relevant to our daily needs. Science has made tremendous progress in the past 400 years and can not be ignored. Rather it should be synthesized and integrated with religion to make the philosophy more wholesome and comprehensive. Instead the puritans stick to the age old interpretations and follow them even if they can not be applied to day to day problems and appear irrlevant. This probably is the reason why people, even those who sincerely follow their religion, end up with gradual erosion of their conviction.

In an absolute sense, there is no measure or absolute criteria for right and wrong. What is right today in a given situation can be wrong tomorrow in another situation and what is nectar (amrut) for one can be poison for another. In this ambiguous situation it is difficult to decide the correct path, except that we must realize that we are the products of nature and the mother nature is all powerful and is always right. We must therefore take clues from nature.

Scientific studies show that over the 14000 million years since the Universe formed from a great explosion, the “Big Bang” and 4500 million years since the Earth came into existence, jiva and Ajiva, both have evolved in a certain direction. It seems that the mother nature is proceeding with a goal, a goal of development of consciousness. on Earth. We should therefore first determine the direction in which the nature is going and then decide the direction in which we should proceed , that is, with it or against it; help nature in achieving its goal faster or choose our path without caring about it. We seem to have a choice. We take the help of science or guidance from nature to find and define the “path” the Earth has taken and then we can exercise this choice. Such an approach would not be subjective, nor it would be wrong.

Nature’s path based on fossil record

If we look at the history of evolution of species on Earth we find that over time the very primitive species have evolved into the most developed species. Life first started on the Earth about 3500 million years ago. Since then, the nature has been following a direction, a direction of evolution of consciousness. This record is preserved in form of fossils on Earth from the very beginning as shown in Figure 1.1. Let us look  at this record in some detail.

Evidence of whatever happens on Earth, in form of any activity involving either living and non-living, eventually gets washed off by rain and rivers in to the sea and deposits there together with the dust at the bottom. The history of life is preserved as fossils in these sediments. It is clear from these records that life on earth began about 3500 million years ago, about 1000 million years after the Earth was formed, with relatively simple single-celled micro-organisms, the first prokaryotes. They evolved into multi-celled (eukaryotic) organisms and then slowly into mobile (moving) and flying species. Mammals and humans arrived on the Earth very recently. Hominids, the predecessors of Homosapiens emerged only about 6 million years ago. This sequence or the tree of life is shown in figure 1.1. If we ignore small perturbations which have punctuated the evolution occasionally, we find that broadly the nature itself has followed a direction, a path of evolution of consciousness to higher and higher level. Thus we
may conclude that the natural or “true” path is the one which evolves consciousness to a higher level. We can then say that every action which enhances the consciousness to a higher level is “dharma” and any step which goes in the reverse direction, i.e. reduces the level of consciousness is “adharma”.

Jainism classifies species in one sensed (touch) to five sensed (touch, smell, taste, hearing and vision) species. Nature seems to have started with one sensed organisms and slowly evolved in to five sensed organisms. Extrapolating this trend into the future, it can be predicted that the level of consciousness will develop further with time and a super human will no doubt arise. Jainism prescribes a methodology to attain higher level of consciousness, evolution to the next stage, if nature continues to tread this evolutionary path. This stage will be accompanied by higher level of jn¹n.

Study of the fossil record in sediments has taught us many other aspects of evolution.The main features are summarized below.

1. As already mentioned, evolution of consciousness has been the path taken by nature: from single cell to multi-cellular, to more complex marine species and ultimately.

Fig1.1 The evolutionary record of species on Earth, beginning with single celled species to multi celled species, to marine species, mobile animals, plants, mammals and flying species to humans. Predecessors of Humans (Hominids) first appeared on the Earth about 6 million years ago, rapidly evolving in to Man (Homosapien) who first appeared about 200000 years ago.

to mammals and to humans via a detour through plants etc describes the direction of this evolution. Plants adopted a direct process of getting energy from the environment through inorganic processes (photosynthesis) whereas other species found a way of getting energy through organic material, for example, food.

The fossil record also tells us that although physical evolution occurs gradually,consciousness occasionally makes a big jump.In the history of life on earth, four revolutions have occurred. The first was the origin of life, about which we know little. The most primitive, for example monocellular species like algae (prokaryotes), remained completely dependent on environment for their survival and natural transmutation for evolution. Then came higher level of species which proactively interacted with the environment and modified themselves by interaction. The second big revolution came when species acquired mobility with the onset of Phanerozoic era. This occurred about 550 million years ago. The third revolution is the appearance of mammals. The last revolution is the appearance of humans who can consciously evolve by will and can even change the environment. This started only about 6 million years ago with appearance of hominin genus, ardipithecus and man, as we know today, i.e. homosapiens appeared only about 200,000 years ago. Thus we see that the development of consciousness over the geologic times is going on at an ever accelerating pace. The next revolution does not seem to be far away and we are already at its doorsteps.

The most primitive species (e.g. algae) had only mati jn¹n and later the higher species (mammals e.g.) developed sruta jn¹n. The humans have discovered laws and developed ways of calculations by which they can acquire a kind of avadhi jn¹n transcending space and time. They can reasonably well estimate what happened in the remote past anywhere in the universe and can well predict the future. The evolution of consciousness thus has been accompanied by evolution of jn¹n to a higher state, i.e. from mati to shruta to avadhi as can be seen from the species existing at various times in this evolutionary chain. Extrapolating this in to the future would imply that further evolution will lead to higher levels of consciousness and jn¹n, with time i.e. to manahpary¹y and ultimately to Keval jn¹n. There is nothing which remains to be known after one acquires Keval jn¹n. And eventually, every one should become a kevali, if nature has its way. Although this is only an extrapolation, considering the logic on which science works, this looks inevitable.

2. The fossil record shows that the evolution is accompanied, not only by development of new species, but extinction of some of the old forms of life. Sooner or later, extinction of all and every species will occur and they will be replaced by new species, i.e. we can say that extinction is the ultimate fate of all species.

3. The higher species may arise not necessarily from the highest existing species but can occur from any level, even much lower. There are instances that a lower species has given rise, by a quantum jump, to a much higher level (from the point of view of consciousness) of species. This implies that we can not predict what species will evolve to the higher level and when and therefore all forms of life must be considered sacred and need to be preserved for achieving higher level of consciousness. Disappearance of even very ‘low’ ranking species may delay or derail the process of acquiring higher level by natural selection.

Based on the observation of physical characteristics and their inter relation in several species, Darwin found that they have physically evolved in different ways over time as a consequence of interaction with the environment and concluded that evolution takes place by natural selection and life is a struggle for existence and survival of the fittest. One point is clear from the Darwin’s theory that evolution is a product of two processes, which are operating all the time: interaction and adaptation. Both are the traits of soul i.e. consciousness. Adaptation essentially means learning and there is no devolution, i.e. unlearning. Evolution, however, is not confined to physical evolution only; the underlying trend is evolution of consciousness;. Whether mechanical interaction
with the environment leads to physical evolution of the brain or consciousness is the motive force which by interaction with matter leads to learning process which in turn raises the consciousness level remains to be determmined by further research at molecular level. Be it as it may, the journey of life on earth has been from a very low level of consciousness in single celled species to the highest level seen currently in humans. Evolution, like karma (Chapter 4) has two components: Sanchit, the cumulative evolution from the single celled algae to the present human life and arjit, that is the extent to which we evolve in the present life. Thus we owe our present state of consciousness, indeed our very existence, not only to “our” past lives or to our parents but to the lives of all the species which have existed till now, alive and dead; extant and extinct. This is the fundamental concept leading immediately to the importance of nonviolence. As far as we can extrapolate, the evolutionary trend of consciousness should continue in the future. This then is the path of nature and it has set itself a goal of raising the level of consciousness to ever increasing level.

The question then arises “Can we humans, by some technique, attain the next state, which, in comparison to us, may be considered an enlightened state”. It may just only be a step away. According to Jainism, the answer is “Yes, we can”. That is Jainism all about. At any point of time, the population has a wide spectrum of consciousness levels. A small fraction is highly advanced, at the highest end of consciousness level, most are at the average level and a few are at the lower tail end.
The distribution should be similar to the Maxwellian distribution of energy. Those at the highest level are close to the next stage where nature is going to take us in course of time by Darwinian evolution, i.e. they are almost there. They, by practicing the techniques propounded by Jainism (as discussed in chapter 6), and surely by other paths as well, can attain the next level of consciousness.

One important point may be noted here regarding the origin and evolution of life. All species are symmetrical and have binary system (two eyes, two arms, two legs etc). All the life on earth therefore probably has the same root. There are three basic type of species on the earth: Archea, Bacteria and Eucarya and it has been speculated that all plant and animal kingdom has originated from them (Fig. 1.2). In essence all of them have a common root, the Last Universal Common Ancestor, termed LUCA. If this is true, all of them may have the same root as can be seen in the phylogenetic tree of life (Fig. 1.2).
There is another fundamental point to be noted in context of Jainism: Jainism postulates that jiva and pudgala are separate entities, uncreated (without beginning and end), everlasting, coexisting and interacting, influencing each other yet unrelated.
While Jiva or ¹tm¹ is sentient (conscious), incorporeal, immaterial, formless,weightless, colourless, odourless, eternal, matter is corporeal, non-sentient, non psychical, inert entity. One can not be produced from the other. Modern scientific thought speculates, but has not been able to prove, that life has originated from matter

Figure 1.2 : The Phylogenetic Tree indicating common root, [Last Universal Common Ancestor, LUCA] for all plant and animal kingdoms on the earth.

The probability that molecules will assemble in such a way that they will give rise to living species is extremely small, calculated by some scientists to be 10 -140 . This is too small to result in any organization required even for the simplest species over the life time of the universe. Yet scientists have hypothesized, after a long debate, that there may be favourable conditions, architecture, catalysts and templates by which the molecules can get together fast to form complex large organic molecules and then living organisms and search for such routes from inanimate to animate are continuing. This hypothesis got a big boost by the experiment of Miller and Urey. In these experiments, when an electric discharge was passed in a mixture of simple life forming molecules like carbon di oxide, ammonia, water and methane etc , complex large molecules, like amino acids, proteins and similar building blocks of life were formed in a short time. This experiment however has not resulted in a living organism, howsoever simple and primitive. Although science has shown that matter (having mass M), which is corporeal and inert, can convert in to energy (E) (following the famous law E=Mc2, where c is the velocity of light), which itself is incorporeal and capable of bringing in transformation into matter and vice versa. It has however not answered the question “how does something as unconscious as matter can give rise to something as immaterial as consciousness”. Is life just an aggregation of chemical elements or it is something more? Can assemblage of material components spontaneously produce self conscious ego, aware of itself? In day to day experience we see that only life can give rise to life and it is impossible to produce life from non living matter. We will debate this question further in Chapter 2, but be as it may, let us first consider the universality of the path taken by nature.

Let us begin by debating criteria of a universally acceptable “religion”. In terms of the foregoing discussion, the foremost condition is that a universal religion should preserve all species, enable every one to exist, and treat all, lower as well as higher species, as equals, and improve their physical, mental and spiritual well being to enable them to evolve to a higher consciousness state. There are common requirement for accomplishing them, which should be inclusive, and not exclusive, meaning thereby that they should benefit all and not some selected forms of life. The principle for one and all to coexist involves non-violence towards each other; for them to discover their true nature involves search for truth; physical well being requires principle of sharing and equidistribution of resources and not amassing wealth by a selected few. These are the principles of nonviolence, truth, (minimizing ones requirements or non-hoarding) and achorya (non stealing) as enunciated in Jainism. We can therefore call Jainism a universal religion.

Thus we can see that whether one calls himself a Jain or not , most human beings follow these four principles of Jainism. Besides, these four principles, there is the fifth principle of proper sexual conduct i.e. celibacy or Brahmacharya, introduced by Mah¹vir in 5th century B.C. , a primary requirement for attaining enlightenment which we will discuss in Chapter 6.

Jainism divides the universe in two distinct parts; living and non-living but gives equal importance to both. Just as physics is the science of the physical universe, Jainism is the science of soul, and more, since it also takes the physical universe into consideration. As any physicists will agree, the universe is governed by certain laws; the laws of physics are universal, applicable at all times and places, can not be violated and there is no scope for miracles. Only when we do not understand a particular phenomena in terms of the known laws of physics, we call it a miracle but the moment the phenomena is explained, the miracle ceases to exist. The same is true of living beings. The science of living beings or soul is more complicated but according to Jainism, it also follows certain laws. When we do not understand these laws fully, we invoke God, but moment the phenomena are understood, the need for a “GOD” disappears. Jainism has propounded these laws applicable to living beings, the soul. These laws, Jainism claims, have been enunciated by the Enlightened souls after they realized the state of omniscience through meditation and other techniques.

According to Jainism, there are six cardinal truths (Chapter 2), applicable to jivas. The Ajiva is made of space, matter (pudgala), dharm¹stik¹ya, adharm¹stik¹ya and time constituting the physical universe. Although science agrees with existence of space, matter and time, what dharm¹stik¹ya and adharm¹stik¹ya are remains a mystery and will be debated in Chapter 7. These six entities of the universe are eternal, beginningless, indestructible, fixed in number and except matter, are incorporeal. These eternal entities behave according to laws, are independent of each other, can not influence each other nor can they be influenced by any thing internal or external, nor can they act on their own i.e. they are passive. Their extent in space determines the boundaries of the universe (Loka).

Jainism has propounded two basic theories or fundamental principles on which our understanding of the universe and universal processes are based. These are : Anek¹ntav¹d (multifacedness) and Karmav¹d (causality). Both are equally applicable to physical as well as to the conscious (¸tma or Self) universe. Anek¹ntav¹d describes the true nature of the universe and Karmav¹d describes the basic laws which govern all the processes in the universe. Anek¹ntav¹d (Chapter 3) implies that the soul has multiple properties, some even contradictory, and all manifest at the same time. It is therefore beyond logic or description. This is the true nature of soul. Anek¹ntav¹d does not consider the physical universe as an illusion as some oriental dharmas do but accepts it also as real. Karmav¹d, the law applicable to the soul, is equivalent of causality in the physical universe. Every action has a consequence and every effect has an underlying cause. It is the basic law which governs all the processes of Jiva (as well as Ajiva). It implies that a soul is free to act in any way, i.e. has choice of action , it is the karta but is bound by its consequences and can not escape the consequences of its actions, i.e. it is also the bhokta. The effects can not be mitigated in any way. The fate is therefore choiceless. Karmav¹d (Chapter 4), besides defining the governing laws for self and interaction of self with matter, in its broader perspective, also includes operative aspects i.e. practices and applications by which one can act in accordance with the law. Because of the practical aspects, it is followed by the Jains rigorously in day to day life. Anek¹ntv¹d, the theory of non-absolutism, on the other hand is abstract and its basic foundations have not been fully developed. This principle, describing the fundamental nature of matter and jiva will be discussed in some detail in Chapter 3.

As mentioned above, Jainism is not a religion in the strict sense. Neither it is matter of faith. Nor it is something which ‘God’ has communicated to the earthlings, through his incarnations or through prophets for removing the misery of the people. It is something beyond religion and faith- it is a path: a path for common people for attaining enlightenment by their own efforts. It is a difficult path because enormous effort is required to follow it. At the same time it is an easy path because various procedures and landmarks are well defined and the path is clearly charted and one does not have to invent it or depend on some one else for help.

In spite of its originality and antiquity, Jainism is not widely known or accepted. In the eastern philosophy “Dharma” (erroneously considered synonymous with religion) actually implies “true nature’ or the “path” in contrast to the western philosophy where it is equated to religion or faith. Jainism is an atheist faith, giving equal importance to the physical world and spiritual thought. We make an attempt here to interpret its basic tenets in the modern context. The purpose of every living being is to discover its true nature and find and follow the “path” of increasing his level of consciousness. Every one has to discover and chart this for himself. It depends on his present state and the best mode to achieve the goal depends on individual’s personality. The goal of life is certainly not related to the material well being or economic prosperity only, simply because upon death, which is unavoidable, all the material wealth has to be left here. The material wealth should be a means for achieving higher goals. The only trait which accompanies the soul upon death of physical body is his karmas (Chapter 4). Various religions and faiths in this context serve only as examples of various paths or procedures followed by some others who have accomplished the goal of liberation but each of these paths may or may not be suitable for every one. One should study them to discover the path most suitable for him. The aim of every path is to know the truth, and if possible, to realize one’s true nature. The fanaticism and conflict arise because the practices each religion prescribes for attaining this goal have to be followed with rigor and without compromise, if they have to be effective. If goals of all the religions are the same, they can not be totally exclusive and there should be some commonality between them. One common factor in today’s world, in which everyone has faith, is in the laws discovered by science, since they can not be violated. The methodology of science is truly universal in the sense that any one can study, test and use it. There is no dispute in any one’s mind about scientific theories, be they related to electricity, gravity, nuclear physics, chemical combinations or functioning of the body or brain. Therefore it is desirable to make scientific enquiry in to various religions, their basic theories and practices. If some aspects of all religions can be tested and established using scientific methodology, then we can prepare a common ground and live with each other in harmony.

This approach, however, is not without objections and flaws. Many learned persons and Gurus consider science and religions to be exclusive and believe that religion is not amenable to scientific scrutiny. In contrast, Jainism claims itself to be based on science and has given importance to scientific study, although here too the opinions may be divided. Jainism has some well developed theories and practices, some being common to Buddhism and Hinduism. We will therefore discuss some aspects of Jainism in terms of Modern physics in Chapter 7.

The corner stones of Jainism is that every human or living being is born with a purpose or goal and there are procedures to achieve the desired goal. Although every one has to discover the purpose of his life and his status in the spiritual domain (Guªsth¹n, Chapter 5) by himself and starting from there, chart his path, the ultimate goal is defined as attainment of enlightenment which is the state of “Mok¬a” or “nirvana”. In this respect Jainism is applicable to all who seek enlightenment, an eternal state of omniscience and bliss. Enlightenment is understanding and “seeing” the ultimate lawsThis approach, however, is not without objections and flaws. Many learned persons and Gurus consider science and religions to be exclusive and believe that religion is not amenable to scientific scrutiny. In contrast, Jainism claims itself to be based on science and has given importance to scientific study, although here too the opinions may be divided. Jainism has some well developed theories and practices, some being common to Buddhism and Hinduism. We will therefore discuss some aspects of Jainism in terms of Modern physics in Chapter 7. The corner stones of Jainism is that every human or living being is born with a purpose or goal and there are procedures to achieve the desired goal. Although every one has to discover the purpose of his life and his status in the spiritual domain (Guªsth¹n, Chapter 5) by himself and starting from there, chart his path, the ultimate goal is defined as attainment of enlightenment which is the state of “Mok¬a” or “nirvana”. In this respect Jainism is applicable to all who seek enlightenment, an eternal state of omniscience and bliss. Enlightenment is understanding and “seeing” the ultimate laws operating in the universe (on both Jiva and Ajiva). Once these laws are experienced, all ignorance, fear and attachment automatically vanish.The important point to remember is that life is governed by some laws, which can not be violated and does not depend on favour and fear of an almighty “God” . In this respect, the Self is the master and not a slave of his own destiny. He is not helpless but must take responsibility for his own actions.

Jainism is considered as “The eternal religion”. What is eternal in this universe, in which everything is subject to change, one may ask. According to the modern scientific view even universe is not eternal. It was born in a Big Bang about 14 billion years ago and it will meet its end in not too distant future. In such a transient universe, only the laws of physics are eternal, physicist believe. They were operative before the universe was born and they will control the fate of the universe, even after it dissolves. In fact the birth of the Universe was a consequence of the laws of physics. Like wiseKarmav¹d, the law governing jiva is eternal and therefore it is believed that Jainism is eternal.

Any Dharma, which claims to be eternal, must therefore be consistent with the laws of physics. What these laws are and how they match with the basic tenets of Jainism, will be discussed in the following chapters but now we turn to the central point of Jainism, the Cardinal Truths in Chapter 2.

12 thoughts on “Jainism : The Eternal and Universal path

    • Sociologically, what you’re saying here seems iubefrtarly true. Lots of Americans seriously into yoga and meditation; relatively little political awareness or interest, certainly on basic social justice issues. Food politics and environmentalism fare a bit better. And charitable engagement seems much more popular than political activism. Philosophically, I can’t quite make sense of it. Do yoga and meditation naturally produce compassion, or is that a cultural add-on as well? Even when it’s limited to the self and family members, I wonder whether it’s inevitable. And if so, why? If it is inevitable, then it would seem like if you continue on a spiritual path, that sense of compassion should naturally grow to include all people. While that won’t necessarily produce a certain type of politics (depending on your beliefs, being compassionate could translate into anti-abortion activism rather than advocating for the poor or against militarism). However it would certainly seem to preclude being a torturer or KKK member. If compassion is not an inevitable part of spirituality, then what do you mean by the divine, the sacred, etc.? Is it simply an altered state of consciousness with no ethically relevant dimensions whatsoever?I don’t have any answers but would be interested to hear your thoughts.

      • Posted on Christian, I remember tklaing about the question, What happens when we die? in your Paradigms of Consciousness class and being completely blown away by the idea that when we die, our molecules get redistributed into the environment and the experiences that the whole person had while alive are still recorded in those molecules which then potentially find their way into other human beings. It certainly made me think of life, death, and consciousness in a new way.

        • Only the molecules of the physical body get redistributed on the earth. The conscious body with it’s karma takes rebirth.PL. Study the chapter in biology.

  1. You are kindly aware that Jainism does not subscribe to Bigbang theory which has been questioned by leading Astro-physists also. In Jainism the path for salvation is Ratnatraya i.e Samyagdarshangyancharitra all the three combined and simultaneous or one by one individually or in sequence. I request you to read Jain Cosmology and Jain Chronology in Tilloyapannati and Jambudweeppragyti.

    • Whether Jainism subscribes to Big Bang theory or not, it is correct as far as it goes ( up to 14 billion years in the past) as shown by observations. The two, Big Bang and Jain Cosmology can be reconciled if Big Bang is the last phase of an overall Steady State Universe.

    • Nick We seem to find interest in the same mesteriys and questions though it’s been a few years since I navigated the pathways of thought you delve into now. There is plenty of room to explore these concepts, but our world isn’t mature enough to shift AWAY from reductionist/materialist science without dropping itself into an ocean with no floatation device. There is value to come from both approaches. Material science is an anchor that keeps in check the degree of credence we lend to concepts. I don’t like the term reductionist because to me it implies that the thing in question is being thought of as less than it is. As if it’s value has been diminished or any other potential value that could be placed on it has been denounced, when science doesn’t take it upon itself to say what isn’t.The concepts you entertain about the nature of reality are among my favourite and most interesting

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