Justice T.U.Mehta


"It is only when we transcend the limits of ordinary biological man that we can come in contact with pure personality which Upanisadas call Atman or the self. This pure self is one in all and is identical with the highest reality of the Universe. It is pure spirituality and pure experience (Jnana) and as such, the absolute concrete Truth. Self is the ultimate reality and experiences are extraneous to it."

Jainism sees the whole universe as a great cosmic mechanism ‘with its own self propelling force', and we being a part of that mechanism, our ‘religion' consists of conducting ourselves in harmony with that mechanism is and how it works.

This brings to us many questions of metaphysical importance, viz., who created this universe and who sustains it ? Are our destinies governed by some outside force or is there any other set of rules which govern our fate ?

The man, in his pursuit to seek answers to these questions seems to have evolved the concept of God. Some believe that ‘God' has created this universe and sustains it. It is further believed that the man is punished for his sins-the original of which commenced with Adam and, Eve tasting the forbidden fruit. They do not believe in the theory of trans-migration of soul but contend that a day of reckoning will come when everyone will be alive from his grave to receive God's judgement for his good and bad deeds in this life. This is the occidental idea of an everlasting individual personality as conceived by Greeks and passed on to Christianity. the redemption of every individual according to the view lies in offering sincere repentance and prayers to be relieved of sins.

Some philosophers are more sophisticated in their explanation about the existence of the Divine. There are two principal schools of thought --One is ontological and the other is cosmological. As will be seen hereafter, both these schools come to the conclusion that the scheme of the universe is finally sustained and controlled by some outside divine force, the ultimate cause and hence the ultimate truth.

The Jaina approach is totally different. It has no place for God as the creator or sustainer of this universe. In Jainism there is no outside force, regulating prizes and punishment. A soul, liberated completely from the bondage of karmas, is all-knowing, all-powerful, omniscient and possesses all the attributes of what we understand by the expression ‘God'. Pleasure and pains of life are the result of ones own actions called ‘Karmas’ and as result of these Karmas every soul takes rebirth and proceeds further in its journey towards liberation. In Jainism, as in other Indian religious systems, individual personality has always been regarded as a transitory mask as the whole Jaina philosophy is based on the existence of the duality of Jiva and Ajiva, Spirit and Matter. The spirit survives even after the matter appears to decay and dies. This leads Jainas to the theory of re-incarnation and rebirth in accordance with he Karmas (actions) of the past births. Even your good actions bind you if they are done with a motive to gain rewards. Law of Karma is inexonerable but one can destroy his Karmas to be free from their bondage by one's own efforts. There is no outside element, to drag you out of this bondage. The great seers and prophets can guide you and point out to you the path of redemption but ultimately it is for you to find out the path suitable to you and to start walking on that path by conviction, courage and fortitude.

This approach of Jainism has earned for itself a comment that is atheistic.

Is Jainism atheistic ? Before answering this question, it would be necessary to know what is ‘atheistic'. If theism consists only in the belief in a personal or impersonal God as creator and sustainer of this universe, then certainly Jainism is atheistic as it does not believe that this universe is created and shaped by some personal or impersonal entity called God. Nor do the Jainas believe that rendition of justice for the good or bad deeds of human beings is at the mercy of some capricious will or whim of the Divine.

Approach of Jaina philosophers to this question is purely rational. While they flatly reject the notion of a supremely authoritative God, it does not reject God-head itself. It studies the component elements of the whole Universe, scrutinises the true nature and character of each, analyses their effect on the evolution of life, tries to find out the ultimate goal of the progression, and by a very subtle and logical process of metaphysics, shows the way to achieve God-hood. It has innate faith in the capacity of the spirit, the creative force called ‘Atman' to achieve God-hood and makes no distinction between the potentially of the creative force inherent in a blade of grass and the one inherent in humanly frame of Mahavira, the last and the most distinguished Tirthankara (Prophet) of our times, to achieve the final God-hood. It emphasises that the achievement of God-hood does not depend upon the favours of any agency outside your own self, and each soul (Atman) can achieve the same by his own understanding and efforts. What is required is the will to exert.

‘Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics' makes distinction between naive atheism and philosophical atheism. If this distinction is accepted, one can say that Jainism believes in philosophical atheism. This is obviously different from gross materialism. The difference consists in the Jaina conviction, and outcome of a serious philosophical speculation, and not a naive refusal to believe what cannot be visualized. Heinrich Zimmer rightly observes that Jainism is not atheistic but is trans-theistic.

Indian tradition uses the word ‘Nastika', i.e., non-believer or atheistic three senses, viz. (1) Disbelief in the theory of karman and the life beyond, (2) Disbelief in God and (3) Disbelief in the ultimate authority of Vedas. It is the second and third sense in which some Hindu thinkers have labelled Jainism as atheistic. Strictly speaking, it would be only in the third sense that Jainas may be called atheistic because Jainas do not believe in the finality of Vedas. Mahavira’s dialogue with his first disciples called ‘Ganadharas' shows that the teacher has not totally disclaimed the Vedas, but has tried to explain some of their aspects by putting his own interpretation. So far as the second sense is concerned, it is the Carvaka school which would fall within its category because the carvakas do not believe either in the theory of karma or rebirth. There is the total denial of all that cannot be apprehended by senses.

It is pertinent to note that in the Indian system of philosophical thoughts, Jaina thinkers were not the only ones who denied the existence of a supreme God. Nyaya and Vaisesika systems were originally atheistic and became theistic only after their fusion. Sankhya also denied the existence of God and hence it is referred to as ‘Nirisvara', i.e., Godless. Thus the rejection of the idea of a supreme authority outside ones own-self as shaping the destiny of the whole universe is rejected by some of the most important schools of philosophers in the process of evolution of Indian metaphysics.

Then the question which naturally arises is how do the Jainas explain the origin and governance of Universe ? What is the ‘Raison detre' of this existence ? Jaina system maintains that the universe is without beginning or an end. It broadly classifies the universe into two categories, viz. (1) Jiva (soul) and (2) Ajiva (non-soul). Jiva is the creative spirit, the motivating force, the consciousness which pervades even in the things which are apparently immobile and inanimate. Ajiva is the matter non-sentient, non-motivating and non-conscious. This elements of Ajiva is the world which is in existence outside the ‘I' element. Every living being has the consciousness of ‘I'. This ‘I' exists inspite of the fundamental changes in the shape and character of its body. This body undergoes many changes from birth to childhood, then to youth and to old age and finally to death but ‘I' consciousness remains the same. That consciousness is that of ‘Jiva'. The rest is ‘Ajiva'. If we analyse all the objects of this universe, we shall come across these two broad classifications of ‘Jiva' and ‘Ajiva'.

According to Jaina philosophers both these elements of the universe are eternal and ever existent. They are not created by any one and they operate by their own force, action and interaction. This interaction between these two every existing and eternal elements of universe supplies motivating force, consciousness and push of Jiva to Ajiva. The result is the large and amazing varieties and activities of objects in the universe.

Obviously, this line of reasoning rules out the necessity of a creator or a sustainer of the universe, because according to in the universe is an incomprehensible automation and the work of a philosopher is only to find out and understand the secrets of this automation. Religion, according to Jainism does not consist of any ritual but is only an attempt to adjust yourself properly in the mechanism of this automation. As Dr. S. Radhakrishnan puts it, "the Jaina view is that the whole universe of being, of mental and material factors has existed from all eternity, undergoing an infinite number of revolutions produced by the powers of nature without the intervention of any external deity."

The concept of the absolute matter, creator and sustainer of the Universe is born out of human experience that everything tangible and intangible is the result of causation and creativity and therefore there must be some ultimate cause or a creator from whom everything else has resulted. This line of reasoning has led the human mind to various type of philosophical speculations and approaches. It may not be illogical or irrational to think that there must be some coordinating force which is transcending the material world and human understanding. But Belief in this transcendental co-ordinating energy has led mataphysics to the discovery of an all powerful and all embracing Divine soul. All the objects of universe are subject to its ordinance and will. It is ultimate and real cause of all things tangible and intangible experienced in life. Thinkers have adopted two well-known approaches ontological and cosmological. Ontology is metaphysics concerned with essence of things or being in the abstract. Cosmological approach accepts the law of causality or the principal of ‘Sufficient reason'. To ontological approach God is real as there is some force beyond our minds and ideas. He is "That than which nothing greater can be conceived" (St. Anselm). The starting point for cosmological approach is not God but are wordly objects, it states that every existing thing or feature, we encounter in the universe must have a cause or reason. There must be something else which has brought it into existence. This ‘something else' is itself an effect or result of some prior cause. If, say the cosmologists, you go on tracing this link of effect and its cause, you must ultimately conclude that there is one final reality, the root cause of all effects, and it has sufficient reason within itself. This approach historically goes back to Aristotle's argument that there must be an ‘unmoved cause' of motion.

Jaina thinkers hold both these views to be true only partially. To Jainas, the conclusions drawn by these two views leave much to be desired from logical point of view. Having once accepted the existence of some force beyond our mind and ideas, it is of no use to claim further that this force can be realised through the cultivation and development of spiritual potentiality inherent in ourself.

‘Thou art that' (Tattavamasi) is as much the call of the Jainas as that of the Upanisadas. Western ontologists have failed to recognise this. With regard to cosmological approach, the Jainas fully adhere the theory of causation, being most vocal advocates of the theory of Karman. They would, however, disagree with the cosmologists that root cause of all effects is external to our own self. Jainism maintains you are your own cause and your own effect and it is by your own effort and exertion that you can reap results, good or bad. If there is an ultimate cause, it is within you and not outside you. You are, therefore, your own master, your own God. You are not servile or subservient to any outside agency. Finality is your own potential. As Brhadaranyaka Upanisad puts it :

"Whoever worships God as other than the self, thinking. He is one and I am another, knows not." Bhagavadgita also recognises this truth wherein Lord says -- "Isvarah sarva bhutanam hrddeserjuna tisthati." Oh Arjuna, God dwells in the heart of every being. Aristotle uttered a great truth, ‘To be happy means to be self sufficient'. Salvation, according to Jain seers, is not a gift of capricious gods, but is to be won by earnest seeking and self discipline. Man, according to them is the sole and absolute master of his fate; but so long as his vision is clouded by ignorance, resulting in attachments, envy and arrogance, he is not able to see the path of freedom. If he is found fettered by chains, these chains are of his own forging, and by proper efforts, only he can rend them asunder.

The Indian philosophical system of ‘Nyaya' is very much akin to the thinking of Western ontological philosophers on this point. Jaina reply to Nyaya philosophers is that if God, as an outside and over powering force, is taken as the creator and sustainer of the universe on the analogy of the effects having intelligent human causes, then even God, like human beings must be presumed to be imperfect having all human desires of creation, fun and frolic. Moreover, many questions such as the creator of God and reason for the creation of universe by God and why God should take trouble of dispensing justice, etc, remained unanswered.

Albert Einstein, the greatest physicist of our age rightly observes with reference to the idea of existence of an omnipotent, just and omni-beneficient personal God as under :

"... ... if this being is omnipotent, then every occurrence, including every human action, every human thought and every human feeling and aspiration is also His work; how is it possible to think of holding men responsible for their deeds and thoughts before such an almighty being ? In giving out punishment and rewards. He would to a certain extent be passing judgement on Himself. How can this be continued with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to Him ?"

Jainas have, attempted to examine the root of the whole universal existence and have concluded that each individual soul is responsible for his own fate and that everything in the universe is eternal. Science also tells us that the matter is indestructible. It may change form but essence remains the same. That is exactly what Jainas say---

Soul, according to Jainas, is clouded by karmic action of matter on account of its association with the matter from time immemorial. But by proper efforts it can become free from the bondage of karma and achieve its pristine purity by becoming itself all knowing and all powerful, sans aspirations and sans desire. It is then all bliss, peace and joy (Sat Cit Ananda). It is its own creation and it is the ultimate Reality.