Philosophy In Jain Agams: Ātma Mīmāṃsā – Soul is One

September, 2023 by Dr. Samani Mangal Pragya
In Indian wisdom tradition, only those aphorisms of Vedic Sahitas like Puruasūkta, Nāsadīyasūkta etc. were considered philosophical, which discussed ‘consciousness’. In Greek philosophy, though there were thinkers like Thales, Anaximander etc. before Socrates, who pondered over the fundamental constituents of universe, however, the commencement of Greek philosophical history is deemed to have started from the time of Socrates, because for the very first time he turned the philosophical thinking from matter to soul by saying ‘know thyself.Thus, in both eastern and western philosophies, the concept of ‘consciousness'(ātmā) was significant in the field of philosophy.

The concept of soul is a significant section of philosophy. It is not only the fundamental principle of Jainism but also of Indian philosophy. In the field of philosophy, the invisible and incorporeal substances have always been a subject of investigation just as the investigation of visible and corporeal substances. Human mind was not satisfied with the exploration of the gross world only. It tried to explore beyond the visible world. The exploration of invisible and incorporeal substances is the outcome of such effort.

Only those who had explored the truth beyond the corporeal world had investigated and accepted the existence of soul. Those who remained centred only to the mind and senses could not investigate the objects that lie in metaphysical world. This is the reason, for the continual discussions for and against on the existence of soul since thousands of years. Cārvāka played a prominent role in negating the existence of soul. Sūtrakṛtāṅga Sūtra depicts that even during the time of Lord Mahavira; there were several sects of materialist philosophy (bhūtavādī darśana) which were not willing to accept the existence of soul as a substance independent of material atoms. In āgamic age, Ajitakeshakambala and other thinkers were prominent in the rejection of existence of soul. They believed that there is no independent existence of soul apart from bhūta (material elements).

áiha kāyākārapariṇatāni cetanākāraṇabhūtanī bhūtanyevopalabhyante, na punastebhyo vyatirikto bhavāntarayāyī yathoktalakṣaṇaḥ kaścanapyātmā tat sadbhāve pramāṇābhāvāt.ä

[In this world, only material elements exist which appear in the form of body and are the cause of consciousness. Besides these material elements, there is nothing like the soul which transmigrating from one birth to other birth.]
Upaniṣad, Sānkhya, Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika, Mimānsaka and Jain-all these philosophies accepted the existence of soul. Although, Buddhist philosophy also recognizes itself as a non-believer in soul’s existence (anātmavādī), even then this philosophy accepts the existence of rebirth, karma, and fruition of karma as other theistic (ātmāvādī) philosophies do.

As it has been said above, all Indian philosophies other than materialists believe in the existence of soul unanimously. However, there are differences of opinion between them concerning the nature of the soul. Sāṃkhya holds that the souls are many, unchanging and all-pervasive entities. Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika also had a similar belief, but they do not consider soul as a conscious entity by nature. Knowledge is an adjunct attribute of soul. Mīmānsā philosophy accepts the transformations in the soul. In Ślokavārtika, there is an illustration given. As the gold remains same in its different forms, similarly, the soul in the different forms of life never loses its true form.

tasmādubhayahānena vyavṛtyanugamātmakaḥ
puruṣobhyupagantavyaḥ kunḍalādīṣu svarṇavat

In other Vedic philosophies, soul is considered to be absolutely eternal (kuṭastha nitya). According to Advaita Vedānta– soul is brahma (Supreme being). Soul is not many in numbers; it is the only one existent. In defiled (sopādhika) state, soul reflects into multiple forms.

According to Jain philosophy, soul is constituted of innumerable units, conscious in nature and endowed with knowledge. Souls are infinite in number. Each soul has an independent existence in liberated state as in worldly state. It is a substance having persistence through change (parināmī nitya) and body pervasive (dehaparimāṇa)). It is not all pervasive (sarvavyāpaka). In worldly state, soul keeps transmigrating from one state of existence (gati) to another. The root cause of this transmigration is karma. By its nature, soul moves in upward direction. When it becomes free from all karmas it reaches to the upper most end of the cosmos. In the absence of the medium of motion (dharmāstikāya) it cannot transcend the uppermost boundary line of the cosmos. In worldly state, soul remains with body. While liberating, soul leaves the body for ever and reaches to the uppermost end of the cosmos. ‘iha bondiṃ caittāṇaṃ taha gaṇtūṇa sijjhaī’. This shows that Jain have their unique concept in relation to the nature of soul that differentiates it from the other philosophical explanations.

As per Jain philosophy, knowledge is an inherent quality of soul. It is neither an attribute of prakti i.e., a primordial element as believed in Sānkhya philosophy, nor is it an exterior quality attached to the soul as Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika believes. Soul is the knower.

je āyā se viṇṇāyā, je viṇṇāyā se āyā

The soul cognizes objects with the assistance of knowledge. Knowledge is the natural attribute of the soul. The relation of soul and knowledge is like the quality and qualified relation. Quality is neither completely different from the qualified nor is it completely identical. Hence, the relation between a quality and qualified is different-cum-identical.

Soul itself is the doer of happiness or sorrows and experiencer of the results of good and bad karmas accumulated by the self. According to Jain philosophy, binding the karmas and experiencing their results -both are the attributes of soul. As the verse goes –

appā kattā vikattā ya, duhāa ya suhāa ya

In Jain philosophy, there are two classes of beings – worldly and liberated. Worldly soul is bound with karma. Therefore, it is subject to rebirths. It transmigrates to different states of existence and possesses different bodies. Mundane soul can again be classified into many more sub-classes. Mainly, the division of all the beings into six classes of beings is available in Jain philosophy [12], which is a unique and original concept.

In this chapter, concept of soul has been discussed from different perspectives. There can be a description of the mundane nature of soul from empirical viewpoint and the pure nature of soul from transcendental viewpoint. In the context of Jain ethics, monistic existence of soul receives importance. From unitive (synthetic) viewpoint (sangraha naya), oneness of souls is also expressed in āgama such as Purisā! tumansi nāma sacceva jaṃ hantavvaṃ ti mannasi. [Those whom you intend to kill is actually you, the one whom you harm is actually you and no one else etc.] This expression of Ācārāṅga simply accepts the non-dualistic existence of the soul. ‘There is no substantial difference between your soul and that of mine’ – this equality of soul in respect to nature provides an important dimension to Jain ethics. ‘To consider the souls of all beings as equal to the self’ means that all living beings are equal. They are equal from the viewpoint of their existence and nature. Although Jain philosophy believes in the multiplicity of souls, even then from the unitive standpoint, it also considers the oneness of soul. In this chapter, a detailed description about six categories of living beings (ṣaḍjīvanikāya) is undertaken. In this chapter, the concept of mobile and immobile beings, jīvāstikāy] (conglomeration of living beings) and nature of soul etc. have been put forward for discussion that can provide a new dimension to the concept of soul.

The thought on soul means a thought on the existence of the self. When an individual becomes aware of the existence of the self, he automatically gets detached from many sinful deeds. The concept of existence of soul stands very significant in the context of empirical perspectives, just as significant it is in the philosophical field.


About Author

Dr. Samani Mangal Pragya achieved her Masters in Jainology, Comparative Philosophy, and Religion in 1987, her Ph.D. work was on ‘Philosophical concepts of Jain Agamas. For many years, she was the Director of M.S. Anekant Shodhpeeth of the Jain Vishva Bharati Institute the first and only Jain University recognized by the Indian Government and the University Grants Commission. In July 2006 she was appointed as pro-vice-chancellor of Jain Vishva Bharati Institute.

She knows ancient Indian languages such as Prakrit, Sanskrit, and Pali as well as modern languages – Hindi, Gujarati, and English.

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