Understanding Jainism as an ideology in 2 Major Principles

Jainism as an ideology in 2 Major Principles

Understanding Jainism as an ideology in 2 Major Principles


Jainism has been understood in its various aspects as either a religion emphasizing the importance of non-violence and respecting and honoring one’s dignity by all means. But, most of the times Jainism is misunderstood as a theistic philosophical doctrine which involves monotheism and monism in its core beliefs about the nature of reality and defining the purpose of one’s existence. But, on the contrary, Jainism is an atheistic philosophical doctrine, emphasizing on attributes such as universal goodness, humanity, compassion and acceptance of each individual wholeheartedly. It is one of the oldest forms of non-Vedic religions.

It objects and repudiates the very practice of animal sacrifice and but at the same time it doesn’t believe in the existence of a supreme Being. Though Jainism arose as a religion and a philosophical soon after the Vedic period, it was Vardhamana (Mahavira) or ‘the great hero’ who revived it and assigned it the respect and honor that it required in order to be popular among followers. Mahavira is believed to be living sometime around sixth century BC and it is clearly stated by all the Jainas that Mahavira wasn’t the chief founder and initiator of the school and only the one who made remarkable efforts to make it alive amongst other non-Vedic schools of thought in that period. Mahavira is the last or in an empirical sense, the 24th Tirthamkaras (path-finder, prophet-guide) in the line of all prophet-guides. He was born in a princely family and led a householder’s life till the age of thirty years, after which he renounced worldly existence, his palace and set out in a path of self-discovery and liberation and practiced severe meditation and abstinence. He, thereafter attained illumination in the thirteenth year after renouncing the world. He then became a ‘jina’ or a ‘spiritual conqueror’. The term ‘Jainism’ is derived from ‘jina’ as it means ‘the religion of the followers of Jina’. Therefore, after attaining liberation from worldly ties and a life of ignorance, he was termed as ‘Mahavira’ or ‘the great hero’. The prevalence of Jainism as a religion after the death of Mahavira in 468 BC has been largely limited to India itself.

Since its very beginning, it has been truly just and fairly devoted to the oldest customs, traditions, rituals, doctrines and institutions and also due to the conservatist nature of the basic belief.

Major philosophical doctrines and ideologies in Jainism

The basic ideology about Jainism is that it creates a distinction between what is spirit and what is matter or in a broader sense, animated and non-animated i.e. jiva and ajiva respectively. By spirit, they mean to say the individual self and not referring to the supreme Soul as in the Upanishads. Jainism doesn’t believe in any universal Spirit or God in the common acceptation of that term.

Let us therefore first analyze the two terms jiva and ajiva in their ideological conceivability.

  1. Jiva: Jiva is understood as an eternal substance (dravya) which is of limited but variable magnitude. It can therefore fit comfortably into the size and dimensions of the physical body of which it is a temporary resident of. Since the soul can be altered into any possible size according to the body in which it is placed, it considers knowledge and sentience as its essence and that is a manifestation of it under the limitations caused by ajiva or inanimate nature put upon it during its worldly existence.

The soul is considered to be limited in both empirical knowledge and true realization of one’s purpose and all that can be achieved significantly only after renouncing the world, breaking of all bonds and ties of mundane existence and carve the soul to its purity and thus transform itself into omniscience. The soul is conceived to attain complete and comprehensive knowledge full with perception in the form of ‘kevala-jnana’ (eternal knowledge).

Jainas also believe in the theory of transmigration, but the only distinction in their belief from that of other philosophical doctrines such as Hinduism is that they consider the mechanism of karma (deeds) to be independent of control from an external authority such as any Supreme Being such as God and that karma works itself and assigns births to the individual based on their past actions and malicious actions committed in the previous birth. This is where Jainism can be considered to the Vedic doctrine of Mimamsa. While the Hindus consider karma to be immaterial, the Jainas consider it to be formed of matter which is a type of ajiva. Also, in the Jaina philosophy, souls are divided into a hierarchy of lower and higher souls based on the number of sense organs possessed by them. Plants possess the lowest level of consciousness according to this doctrine and humans possess the highest level of consciousness a they have all the five sense of touch, smell, sound, sight and taste and along with that they are also in possession of the mind (manas) which brings about the rationality in them.

  1. Ajiva: Ajiva refers to all the elements of the Universe and also within the individual which are devoid of any sort of consciousness of life. Conventionally, it is fivefold, but the chief elements constituting it are matter (pudgala), time and space. Matter, in particular of these is manifold or of various elements and therefore it can become atomic in its final stage. It possesses various attributes such as color, taste, odor and touch. Sound can also be considered an attribute of ajiva but only to the extent to being composite and not in the atomic form. There aren’t any quantitative distinctions among atoms in their properties or aspects but they are quite varied in their qualitative and materialistic aspects since they combine with each other in different manners. Earth, fire, water and air are conceived to be formed due to the different combination of the atoms and they thereby sustain souls till the time they get liberated from all worldly desires.

Time, on the other hand is considered to be infinite and all-pervasive. And all things are in time and all change takes place in it. The universe, is conceived as having no particular origin and no end but still it is evident of persistent change and space is considered as extending beyond the world conceived by humans and is thus infinite and all-pervasive just like time.

Ideals of knowledge and reality under the doctrine of Jainism

  1. Knowledge: Knowledge (jnana) is conceived as self-luminous or as an attribute which is inherently divine, illuminating and awakening in nature and in such a manner that it doesn’t require any external authority to illuminate it. So, knowledge helps one understand not only their soul but also itself in the process.

It is a mode of the self and therefore the individual possesses it. The self in this context is conceived as an unalterable entity but in such a manner that it derives the capability to modify its magnitude. It is also capable of undergoing various changes even after retaining its magnitude and knowledge leads to the revelation of objects.

One can interpret that Jainism is both pluralistic and realistic in its ideology. It is pluralistic because it focuses on the varied aspects of the spirit and the matter and it is realistic because it clearly states that one must have a certain extent of experience in order to possess true knowledge but experience shouldn’t be simply stated as been experienced and it also should have been experienced in its essence, it shouldn’t be based on some trivial verbal descriptions or hearsay and it should be something unique and subjective for each individual involved in it.

Now, one must wonder that simply based on some random experience, how can one attain eternal knowledge about the Ultimate Reality and attain liberation from all worldly ties?

So, in order to make the understanding more specific, Jainism has classified knowledge as well into mediate (paroksa) and immediate knowledge (pratyaksa). But, again it clearly iterates the importance of experience under both circumstances of mediate and immediate knowledge to be an element of pratyaksa only.

  1. Immediate knowledge: Perceptual knowledge and immediate knowledge are often misunderstood as signifying the same thing but in fact they are quite distinct and knowledge and understanding and attention towards sensory information is simply one aspect of immediate knowledge and it is not limited to the perception of sensory information. Jainism presumes each individual to be possessing at least the basic knowledge about attention to certain sensory stimuli and it doesn’t require any sort of external aid in order to understand objects. It states the importance of kevala-jnana (eternal knowledge) as direct and immediate but it doesn’t upon the co-operation of any sense. It presupposes the self in itself and so everything else following the self is understood and presumed to be self-sustained and autonomous in its nature. The self is supposedly comprising of knowledge in its most pristine form and is therefore termed as primary perception (mukhyapratyaksa). It can also be synonymously understood as intuition as it understands and attempts to predict each stage and phase of each bit of information. The possessor of such knowledge bound by intuition and inference is termed as an arhan (the worthy one) or the perfect (siddha). But, even in immediate knowledge there is another variant of perception which can be aided externally by several contributing factors in order to understand and perceive information about the world which is known as common perception (samvyavaharika-pratyaksa). Since it can be perceived through the aid of the external factors or the mind it is twofold. Therefore, it is largely understood to be comprising of sensory knowledge.
  2. Mediate knowledge: Mediate knowledge refers to various types of attending and registering to information such as inference and verbal testimony. Recognition (pratyabhijna) is one of them and it is conceived as unique in Jainism. Recognition is understood as aided by perception or supplemented by memory in the conventional Indian schools of thought. Therefore, when one tends to recognize or know a person in his identity and nature, he is assumed to have been known by us in previous births of the Soul that is conceiving the current skin of the body in which we exist as individuals. On the other hand, the Jains consider recognition to be a new type of knowledge which is based on perception and memory, it still doesn’t comprise of perception in essence. It identifies the recognition of people in different moments such as the past and the present.

Further, Jainism states that when two objects say X and Y are perceived to be similar in appearance and identity, they aren’t perceived as resembling each other but in fact, they are perceived as simply instances of each other. Therefore, in this case and also in an instance of “an apple is red in color”, recognition and perception are distinct and do not go hand in hand to each other and while the perception reveals a different structure for the object while recognition gives it a completely different approach to understanding.

Reality is another aspect which has been emphasized a lot by Jainism in its teachings and philosophical doctrines as well. The Jaina view/conception of reality is related to the Upanishadic view of reality which considers changes in reality to be happening in actuality. But, it also considers reality to be possessing multiple characteristics. Reality is considered as perpetually changing and transient in nature, i.e. constantly changing and transforming itself but still maintaining its identity throughout the process. Whatever Jainism teaches is supposed to have both a general (samanya) and a particular (visesa) aspect. For instance, a pen is considered in general as a pen due to the function of writing that it supports and with the possession of writing ink within it but on the other hand, it is specific in the shape, size, color and brand it has been manufactured under and also in its price with other pens.

But, Jainism takes both the generalized and specific aspects to be constituting the reality of an object and therefore contribute to the complexity of an object.

While they can be separable and distinct in their thought but they are inseparable in fact. The relation between the two objects involved is that of identity in difference (bhedabheda).

The general/universal features can be of two types namely crosswise (tiryak-samanya) and lengthwise (urdhvata-samanya).

The conventional understanding of reality in Jainism is understood as being bound both by origination and destruction and also by permanence. Reality is indeterminate in nature (anekanta) and it cannot be defined absolutely in a concrete manner in a specific scheme of things. There are three separate ways in which reality is conceived, one view is that “it always is” (asti), another view is that “it never is” (nasti) and the third view is that it is inscrutable and therefore it does not admit of being expressed in either of the ways (avaktavya). None of the given views are considered as true by Jainism. Each of the views present only a single aspect of reality and can be considered to be true only if taken in relation to those aspects and not absolutely in essence.

The first four steps of understanding reality as a concept are stated as follows: a) maybe, a thing is, b) maybe, it is not, c) maybe, it is and is not, d) maybe, it is inexpressible.

Despite of presenting the above given four views, there have been several speculations and different perspectives of understanding the reality of different objects due to their different attributes and qualities. Therefore, one comes across three other views which further expand one’s skepticism about the true nature of reality. These three views are as follows: e) maybe, a thing is and is inexpressible, f) maybe, a thing is not and is inexpressible and g) maybe, a thing is, is not and is inexpressible. In essence, the three views presented later are simply a further elaboration of the earlier four views and form a combination which can be considered as “the doctrine of maybe” (syadvada) or the doctrine of standpoints.

In essence, Jainism can be considered as both pessimistic and ascetic. There is a great emphasis laid on the vow of non-violence (ahimsa) and therefore no follower of Jainism would intentionally kill any insect or any animate object. Ascetics or Jaina monks who have renounced worldly/mundane presence and adopted the path of meditation and penance, follow most of the vows presented in the doctrine of teachings very rigorously without any considerations or exceptions of leniency in them but the followers who are persistently also pursuing mundane existence in the Universe do follow the same vows but with their own modifications and liberal inputs in them.

Jainism poses a goal of restoring the ultimate purity to the Soul in order to attain omniscience (kevala-jnana). Freedom/liberation in Jainism refers to both merit (punya) and demerit (papa). It begins its teachings with faith in teaching (samyagdarsana) followed by right knowledge (samyagnana) and right conduct (samyak-caritra). Moksa or nirvana is a consequence of faith, right knowledge and right teaching.

Movement of karma (asrava), bondage (bandha), karma-check (samvara), falling off of karma (nirjara) and liberation (moksa) along with jiva and ajiva are considered as the seven principles of Jainism.


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