Entries from the Theosophical Glossary

Jainas (Sk.) A large religious body in India closely resembling Buddhism, but who preceded it by long centuries. They claim that Gautama, the Buddha, was a disciple of one of their Tirtankaras, or Saints. They deny the authority of the Vedas and the existence of any personal supreme god, but believe in the eternity of matter, the periodicity of the universe and the immortality of men’s minds (Manas) as also of that of the animals. An extremely mystic sect.

Rishabha (Sk.) A sage supposed to have been the first teacher of the Jain doctrines in India.

Tirthankâra (Sk.) Jaina saints and chiefs, of which there are twenty-four. It is claimed that one of them was the spiritual Guru of Gautama Buddha. Tirthankâra is a synonym of Jaina.

See also: Arahat, Jaina Cross, Srivasta, etc.


The Uttarâdhyayana Sûtra

The Uttarâdhyayana Sûtra

From the

Jaina Sutras

Translated from Prakrit by Hermann Jacobi

Full Text Online

See Also:

The Jaina Scriptures: A Survey with Selected Bibliography of Prakrit Editions and English Translations

Jaina Sutras and other text’s


Articles from Sunrise Magazine



The Fourteenfold Path of the Jains


The Twenty-four “Buddhas” of Jainism

A Lamp of the True Light

The Logic of Jain Mystical Doctrines


The mighty task of bringing together the various factions and of and revitalizing the great philosophy underlying the ancient Vedas was undertaken by two great luminaries born in the line of Kshattriyas, who vehemently revolted against animal sacrifice and the ritualized Vedic religion. These two spiritual sons of India were none other than Vardhamana Mahavira and Gautama Sakyamuni, both godless and yet most godlike, both endeavoring to save mankind from the trammels of samsara or the cycle of repeated earth-existences.

Vardhamana, a contemporary of Gautama the Buddha, was born in Magadha in the sixth century BC. He was the son of a Kshattriya chieftain who ruled the principality now known as Northern Bihar, and received his early education from the royal preceptors who instructed him in all branches of the Vedas, Atma-vidya and other sciences. At the age of thirty, when both his parents died, the prince renounced all worldly possessions and retired into the forest. For twelve years he practiced rigorous self-mortification and meditation and at last realized the highest truth. After having completed a systematic course of severe austerities and penances prescribed for a Jain prophet, he became a jina or conqueror, the 24th tirthankara in a succession of spiritual teachers, and was henceforth known as Mahavira, ‘great hero.’

The first tirthankara was Rishabha-deva who probably lived in the Rig-Vedic period. He was described by the poets Bana and Mayura as the incomparable saint, higher than the highest deity of the Hindu pantheon. According to the account given in The Cambridge History of India, the 23rd tirthankara was Parsvanatha, a historical person who lived 250 years prior to the birth of Vardhamana. Jain narrative literature written in Prakrit and other Indian languages extols the unexcelled virtues of the twenty-four tirthankaras, a word literally meaning “ford-maker,” one who guides the souls to the opposite shore of the ocean of transmigration. Like his predecessors, Mahavira dedicated his life to the propagation of the ethical philosophy based on the principle of non-injury or Ahimsa. The followers of Jainism abstain from causing injury even to the tiniest creatures, and always strictly adhere to the command that one should not kill. There are hundreds of didactic ballads in the vast Jain literature which illustrate the predominance of this virtue over all others.

Ahimsa is like a loving mother of all beings,
Ahimsa is like a stream of nectar in the desert of samsara,
Ahimsa is a course of ram-clouds to the forest fire of suffering,
The best healing herb for the beings tormented by the disease
Called the perpetual return of existence is Ahimsa.
The king of hills may waver
And cold the fire may grow,
The rock may swim in the water,
And the moon send forth rays of heat
The sun may rise in the West
But in the killing of beings
Religion can never consist.

Many a European Indologist who had not thoroughly studied this unique system of philosophy based on the cardinal tenet of non-injury, erroneously stated that it was an offshoot of Buddhism, misled by the fact that some doctrines were common to both systems. But when they delved deeper they discovered the fallacy of their assertions. Granted, both philosophies strongly rebelled against the animal sacrifice and polytheism of the Vedas, but they were two rival orders varying considerably in every other respect.

Jainism teaches the doctrine of the soul and Buddhism the doctrine of the non-self. Jainism explains the permanence of matter whereas Buddhism maintains the impermanence of every compound. Reality according to Jainism is something which is characterized by continual appearance and disappearance in the midst of permanence; the underlying substantiality of matter is eternal, while the various forms and modes of substance undergo transformation and change. On the other hand, Buddhism holds that all compounds are subject to change and dissolution, whether they are animate or inanimate.

The terminology of the Jain metaphysics greatly differs from that of the Buddhist. Jainism upholds the atomic structure of the universe, and its philosophy advocates a pluralistic realism. Its atomic theory may be called more scientific than that of Leucippus and Democritus. According to modern physicists matter has no substantiality other than being a center of energy from which radiation and waves of light travel — which closely approaches the Buddhist definition of matter — whereas the Jains strongly argue that matter has permanence. It is substance, dravya, that which can be seen, felt, smelled or tasted. At the other end of the scale is jiva the ‘life’ or noncorporeal entity involved in every object or being. The entire phenomenal universe may thus be divided into two major categories, the two extremes, as it were, namely jiva and pudgala, the latter term denoting primordial matter, the aggregate of atoms. In Jain philosophy the universe with its jiva and non-jiva (or ajiva) categories is called maha-skandha, the great aggregate.

In Buddhist terminology, on the other hand, this term skandha issued to indicate the five groups of mental and physical phenomena of existence, corporeality, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness. And while the word pudgala in Jain metaphysics means gross matter, throughout Buddhist literature it invariably had quite an opposite meaning — a person or individuality, soul or even atman.

The Jains consider jivas as endowed with cognition, conation, and feeling. Uncreated, and hence indestructible, the souls or jivas manifest in physical bodies in this concrete world, and thus imprisoned they have to depend on the sense organs to acquire knowledge from the objective world. In this way the jiva becomes the enjoyer of the fruits of its good and evil actions, and remains entangled in the cyclings of samsara, creating a karmic body which does not leave it until the final liberation of the soul from the bondage of births and deaths.

Dharma, adharma, akasa and kala are the other four dravyas or “substances” of Jainism, which together are said to produce a harmonious cosmos. Dharma and adharma are here used technically, with a peculiar meaning, and hence should not be confused with the Hindu connotation of righteousness, duty, or their opposites, unrighteousness, etc. In Jain philosophy, dharma means the principle of action; pervading the whole universe, it is always connected with akasa or space, and is responsible for all the movements in the organic and inorganic spheres. To clarify its true nature, the following illustration is used: although the fish is endowed with the necessary abilities to swim, if there is no pond with water, it cannot do so. The function of dharma is compared to the presence of water in the pond. Its opposite, adharma, is also a dravya devoid of form. It is the principle of rest and is likened to the branch of a tree on which a bird can perch when it wishes to stop its flight. Dharma and adharma are not causal, but rather nonoperative conditions which allow motion and rest; yet the latter are determined by the jives or ajivas which possess the intrinsic potency to move or rest. As said, they are non-atomic and non-corporeal states invisible to the senses, and are coextensive with akasa. According to Jainism, without these two principles the world would disintegrate without form or order into infinitesimal atoms, into chaos without the systematic constitution of the cosmos. Among Indian philosophers, only the Jains expounded these two categories of motion and rest.

Akasa dravya is the category which gives accommodation to the four others, namely jive, pudgala, dharma and adharma. Akasa or space is infinite in extent, and divided into two: the space which encompasses the visible universe with all its jivas and ajivas (loka-akasa), and the space which may be termed the void or the beyond (aloka-akasa). The last and sixth dravya is time or kala, without which the change which everything in the universe undergoes in the course of evolution and involution cannot be understood.

As indicated above, when jive (spirit) is dominated by pudgala (matter), it becomes chained to the wheel of birth and death, the process by which each individual attracts to itself the subtle karmic molecules which shroud its pure, intrinsic intelligence (atman). When the jiva realizes its true nature, it immediately resolves to extricate itself from the bonds of this karmic body. By practice and discipline, meditation and austerity the aspirant begins the upward march, and his attention is concentrated on destroying the accumulated karma of the past. When at last the spirit is free from the shackles of matter, it rises naturally to higher realms and abides in its inalienable state of infinite bliss, infinite wisdom, infinite power and eternal peace. Thus, while it may be said that the jiva has no beginning, yet has an end, it can also be maintained that the liberated jiva does have a beginning but no end. For though it is completely free from the bondage of matter and the ocean of samsara, it is not free from existence, and enjoys the eternal bliss of nirvana. In this manner every jiva has the potential of becoming an omniscient jina or ‘conqueror.’

There is no room in this thought system for the introduction of an artificial creator who is responsible for the creation of the universe. We are the creators of our own selves. Even the tiniest atom is itself a universe of life. Mahavira pointed out that myriads of tiny microscopic jivas within an atom and that that whole world of life is struggling for final emancipation from the domination of matter.

Jains were the first to attempt a scientific study of ancient biology. They regarded even the plants as having souls, and classified them as one-sense jivas. They described the universe as a unity in multiplicity. Spirit and matter, although opposed to each other, are coexistent eternal categories that can never be totally destroyed, for while there may be impermanence of external forms, the substantiality of matter per se never undergoes destruction.

The Jains have two different codes of ethics for laymen and monks. To realize final emancipation or nirvana, first and foremost, both householders and ascetics must adhere to the rules of ahimsa or non-injury, and then the three jewels (ratnatraya): right belief (samyak darsana), right knowledge (samyak jnana) , and right conduct (samyak charitra). These virtues should be practiced simultaneously as one follows the path which leads to ultimate liberation. A more rigorous code of disciplinary ethics is prescribed for ascetics.

It is unfortunate that Buddhist and Jain literatures present in such profusion the controversies, dialogues and arguments which took place during the lifetimes of Mahavira and Buddha. As Professor M. Winternitz pointed out, there is so much they both have in common, that one can understand why Jainism was long considered merely as a Buddhist sect; yet they differ in essential points. He goes on:

Jainism lays far more stress than Buddhism on asceticism and all manner of cult exercises, and in contrast to the Buddha, Mahavira taught a very elaborate belief in the soul. All that the two religions have in common, is the ancient Indian “ascetic morality” . . . the points of contact, too, between Buddhist and Jaina literature, are precisely those which they both share with the whole of Indian ascetic poetry.

In that glorious age when Buddha was born, there lived in the holy land of Aryavarta several other eminent philosophers or sages besides Mahavira Vardhamana, who was considered foremost among them. It would lead us too far afield to go into the various religious and philosophical cults prevalent during that specific period, but they all are part of the historical context in which Buddha appeared to set the Wheel of the Sacred Law in motion — the eternal Law that is forever valid, for the past, the present, and for eternities to come.

— By Harischandra Kaviratna, Sunrise magazine, March 1973

The Fourteenfold Path of the Jains

Any one of you who has once felt the touch of the god within never is the same again. Never can be the same again. Your life is changed; and you can have this awakening at any moment, any moment that you will take it. — G. de Purucker

The Jains are a religious group in India, comprising less than one percent of that country’s population, whose history goes back to time immemorial. Their last great teacher, the Tirthankara Mahavira, lived about 2,500 years ago, and was possibly a contemporary of Gautama Buddha. Mahavira was the 24th of the tirthankaras of the present cycle, each cycle covering vast periods.

The Jain scriptures elaborate a detailed cosmography that includes numerous invisible planes and globes in which live, and between which move, a great variety of life forms, all intelligent or guided by intelligences — deities and forces. Earth’s minerals, plants, animals, and human beings form only a minority among this vast cosmos of life. All these beings — from the most primitive with only one sense faculty, to the highest divinity — have their specific forms, conditions of life, and evolutionary stages brought on by karmic action. In their systematic approach the Jains have developed a scientific classification of 148 types of karma.

Perhaps even more remarkable is their view on ethics and the fact that the Jains adhere strictly to their ethical code in daily life. The core of their ethics is ahimsa, nonviolence in action, speech, and thought, the total abstention from doing harm. They are strict vegetarians and avoid professions that might involve harming even the smallest creature. As far as other humans are concerned, apart from not doing physical harm, they practice tolerance towards those with differing opinions, because only one who has reached omniscience can claim to have the ultimate right view.

The purpose of these practices is twofold. First, the suffering of all creatures is limited as much as possible so that they are not hindered on the path their souls have chosen. Second, the Jains purify themselves from karmas originating in violent or other inharmonious thoughts and emotions which limit clarity of mind and vision. In this way they develop great compassion for all that lives.

The final goal of the soul’s pilgrimage through all forms in space and time is to unite their consciousness fully with the qualities of the soul: infinite knowledge, infinite purity, and infinite freedom within this universe. The possibility of acquiring an unstained, clear mind and infallible intuition and insight is the ultimate dream of the truth seeker. But if we really want to know truth about ourselves and the seen and unseen universe, and to work for the well-being of the world and its inhabitants, we cannot forgo the practice of ethics, which means being in harmony with the laws of the universe.

Concerning the nature of living beings, the Jains teach that at the core of each is (1) a pure and omniscient jiva or soul; (2) great compassion and enlightenment that may at the proper moment, due to the right “call from below,” project a ray of spiritual light and energy into the receptive personal consciousness, thus temporarily setting the mind aflame to the extent that it is able to contain that ray; (3) an innate desire towards liberation; (4) a lower, passionate mind, the slave of its illusions, which continuously draws lower karmic elements around the soul, thus blinding clear vision, counteracting the free development of the higher faculties, and keeping the soul in bondage. The whole is dressed in three vestures: (1) the body of karmic matter, the cause of the physical form and of mental and emotional tendencies; (2) the “fire” or electric body, formed of fine molecules of electric matter; and (3) the physical body.

The Jains describe the path towards purity, final emancipation, and omniscience within our universe in fourteen stages. The first called “false world view,” and signifies the “normal” state of the majority of people, in which the soul is shackled by passions and illusions that have bound it from the beginningless past. We may form ideas and theories but, being unaware of the spiritual truths behind external phenomena, we will never have a real understanding of the cosmos and life, and so suffer the frustrations of that fundamental ignorance.

Due to past thoughts and feelings, we have attracted karmas that delude right views, but the innate capacities of the soul can break through this vesture of karmic limitations when it reaches a point of “readiness” brought on by itself. There comes a moment when the first flashes of true insight dawn, and from then on the individual can take the path towards final attainment into his own hands. Once he enters the path towards liberation, every event in life becomes a teacher if seen in the light of the soul. This may go hand in hand with teachings received through someone who has gained a deeper understanding of the inner life.

Through instruction and training, purity and insight increase and for the first time the pilgrim faces his enemies: gross passions that have accumulated on the soul throughout eternity, and the karmas that delude real vision. By recognizing and removing these enemies, all deceptive factors are temporarily suppressed, and he experiences unobstructed insight. This stage is the most crucial in spiritual development, for the consciousness experiences the dawn of final enlightenment. From now on he may truly be called a jaina because he has entered the path of the jinas, the “conquerors.” Perfection is reached, however, through the difficult stages that follow.

This stage of true insight may not last long and we may enter stage in which only a memory of our awakenment remains. We may take up old habits and worldly desires, and entirely forget the awakening experience. But once the soul has been touched by this illumination, it has irreversibly entered the path towards omniscience. No doubt many of us have had some such deep experience in a former life, and perhaps this is why we have a feeling of recognition when we contact spiritual teachings or objects of spiritual beauty.

One who holds on to illumination has undergone a great inner change which is reflected in his attitudes and behavior, and there is inner joy despite the challenges that await. Previously the person identified himself only with his body, possessions, and status, and everything he met in life was judged as either pleasant or unpleasant. He thought his personal willpower was the real actor in life, feeling proud when something was accomplished or frustrated when some personal aim failed. Thus he was unconsciously working against the spiritual laws of nature, and the cycle of bondage continued. Now his attention is redirected and becomes wholly focused on his essential nature. Outer things are no longer of paramount importance. He has become a more peaceful, stable, patient person and shows naturally what the Bhagavad-Gita describes as the characteristics of the wise: equal-mindedness under all circumstances, cold or hot, praise or humiliation, prosperity or loss. He knows that there is an essential nature behind the veil of illusion which before he had regarded as reality.

The pilgrim realizes, too, that all beings have a soul with the innate possibility of reaching the highest spiritual potential. This awareness of brotherhood brings forth strong feelings of compassion. Brotherhood and compassion, as well as disinterest concerning worldly desires and attachments, are therefore the qualities of a man or woman who has experienced this first spark of enlightenment. The mind opens so one can effectively reflect on universal questions which cannot be solved by the brain-mind or a materialistic approach alone, such as What is the purpose of life? What are the laws which govern life and the universe? What is the inner construction of the universe and of man? One who has caught this glimpse of the soul will never again stumble into the pitfalls of materialistic nihilism or dogmatism — the two spooks which haunt Western sciences and many religions.

Jainism not only teaches the path towards self-realization and detachment, but also allows the possibility, urged by great compassion, to postpone one’s own liberation and turn one’s face towards all sentient beings struggling on their way upward. The highest unselfishness would compel a soul on the threshold of liberation to turn back for the sake of all beings, rather than to spend eons in lofty bliss and omniscience for itself. Such souls become the tirthankaras. This brings Jain teaching close to the Buddhist and theosophical distinction between pratyeka buddhas — buddhas for themselves alone — and buddhas of compassion who accomplish all that can be achieved by a human being and then abandon their earned period of bliss and peace in order to help the world.

The higher stages on the Jain path describe what is involved in overcoming and eliminating all limitations. When one really chooses to approach truth and remove every obstruction, he needs actively to cultivate the purest ethics. This is the fifth stage. A great help towards keeping determination alive during difficult times is to take vows, before a teacher and before one’s inner self. Depending on his situation and determination, the Jain may choose the path of the layman, or undertake the more strenuous sixth stage, the path of the mendicant. The main difference between the lay and mendicant paths is the strictness with which nonviolence is practiced. Every Jain will avoid killing, or being indirectly responsible for killing, the forms in which souls are incarnated — human, animal, and as much as possible plant and mineral lives. For this reason they reject animal sacrifices or the misuse of animals in scientific laboratories. The most important lay vows are: (1) nonviolence; (2) truth, not lying under any condition, which involves great care in speaking, and perhaps not speaking when this could result in harm to any creature; (3) not stealing or taking anything that is not given; (4) no sexual misconduct, i.e., sex outside the marriage relation and excessive indulgence in sexual pleasures with one’s partner; (5) nonpossession and nonattachment to material objects and to internal possessions such as passions and sentiments.

The mendicant enters the sixth stage, where the principle of nonviolence is carried towards its absolute and includes the tiniest and most primitive life forms, even the elements. Ideally, the mendicant must not dig the earth, walk on grass, extinguish a fire, etc. Thus he develops an attitude of absolute harmlessness towards living beings and the natural environment, and takes only what is given. He has become a perfect friend to all beings and a perfect environmentalist.

To continue his quest the mendicant will do everything to better the qualities of his character, and reflect on the various aspects of universal philosophy. Jain ethics and philosophy formulate these practices as ten dharmas or observances and twelve meditations. The ten dharmas are summarized in the Tattvarthadhigama Sutra (ix, 6) as perfect forgiveness, humility, honesty, purity, truthfulness, self-restraint, austerity, renunciation, nonattachment, and chastity. Some of the subjects suggested for reflection, as given in this sutra (ix, 7), are: everything is subject to change and therefore is transitory; it is useless to try to avoid what is inevitable, because the seed sown in the past must have its fruition according to its natural character; the inflow of karmas is the cause of mundane existence, and the inflow can be stopped; the universe has no absolute beginning or end, was never created, and operates according to its own laws without divine intervention. Such observances and reflections lead to complete renunciation of all forms of egotistic thinking.

In the seventh stage the aspirant cultivates higher meditation and awakens loftier states of awareness. In the eighth, ninth, tenth, and eleventh stages the conduct-deluding karmas such as anger, pride, deceit, greed, grief, fear, and sexual desire are either suppressed or destroyed. One can imagine that, as the pilgrim progresses further on the path, he has to face and conquer every single delusion and weakness which he has experienced in past lives. It must indeed be a dreadful experience to come face to face with all the harm we have done to the world throughout time. Everything must be conquered, and we have the power to do so as long as we do not forget that the ultimate purity, wisdom, and force for good is innate in the soul. Up to the eleventh stage the truth seeker climbs on one of two ladders: that of suppression or that of elimination. As long as the karmas are only suppressed, he will reach the eleventh stage, but the passions will resurface and may draw him back to a lower stage. But eventually he will have enough strength to eliminate the karmas and pass over the eleventh stage to enter the twelfth, that of arhat.

The last conduct-deluding, knowledge- and perception-obscuring, and energy-restricting karmas are now eliminated, and the obstructions to endless bliss and energy are no more. The aspirant reaches the thirteenth state spontaneously: he possesses omniscience during incarnation.

Samavasarana-patta: An assembly of beings come to hear a Tirthankara preach the Doctrine (c. 1800 ad, Rajasthan, in The Jain Cosmology)

The fourteenth and last state is reached by an arhat just before leaving his physical vehicle. All vibrations of the soul that attract karmas and cause bondage have ceased. Having left the physical body for the last time, he enters the disembodied state of eternal bliss and omniscience. Very rarely — in harmony with the law of cycles and their own karma — some arhats remain on earth as omniscient and liberated teachers, for the good of mankind and all living beings. Their karma is that of universal compassion and charity towards all who strive upward. Such beings are the tirthankaras, the great teachers of mankind.

— By Rudi Jansma, Sunrise magazine, October/November 2000


[Based on pp. 37-43 of the author’s Een introductie tot het jainisme, Uitgeverij Ankh-Hermes, Deventer, 2005; used with permission.]

Ahimsa paramo dharma: Nonviolence is the highest religion

Nonviolence, ahimsa, is the central doctrine of Jainism. It also plays an important role in Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and other religions, but none of them has given this principle such a prominent position, especially in the practice of religion. In Jainism, all actions are directed towards avoiding harm to other living beings, whether through physical, verbal, or mental violence —this last the underlying cause of all misery. Nonviolence has enormous consequences for daily life, for society, and for our worldview. Throughout human history it has covered humankind with a protective shield. Everywhere, past and present, there are individuals and groups who carry the principle of nonviolence in their hearts because they feel that this is what the world needs most, and lacks most. The wish not to harm living beings (including, but in the last place, oneself) is an essential characteristic of the deepest inner being of man. This is why religions which preach this doctrine have always found many sympathizers. Many older religions, such as Hinduism and Judaism, originally prescribed ritual animal sacrifices, but thanks to Jainism, Buddhism, and Christianity such things occur only rarely today, in a few Hindu sects and tribal religions and in Islam. Animal sacrifices did (and do) occur over the entire globe. Some cultures even took to large-scale human sacrifice by — so they thought — command of the gods! But how could any true god ever approve of such cruelty? Jain cosmology describes many classes of gods, and far from all are good. These gods, they explain, were humans when incarnate on earth, and may possess any of the evil or noble human qualities. Some may be kind and helpful, some highly spiritual, but others may be cruel or purposely misleading, causing accidents or worse: they may induce ignorant people to do evil things under the pretext of serving real gods or God. For example, the Mayas of Mexico and Guatemala, which in more decadent phases of their culture performed human sacrifices on a very large scale (even today animal sacrifices occur), were themselves aware that they had been misled by “second-rate” gods, and they expressed their regret in songs in the Popol Vuh.

No great effort is needed to understand how much suffering the human as well as the animal kingdom would have been spared if we humans had had the discipline to let the noble aspect of our being prevail. No wars, no slaughterhouses, no battery cages, terrorism, suppression, social injustice, or capital punishment would exist if mankind could understand and then practice nonviolence. It would not mean that humanity had nothing further to learn or would be rid of all desperation, or that tigers would suddenly eat grass. But at present we make things much more difficult for ourselves than is necessary. Instead of regarding each other as territorial and personal competitors, people could understand that all are brother pilgrims moving towards truth and unstained happiness, brothers who realize that the pilgrimage is long and often hard but who everywhere and always are on each other’s side. With many people this is the case even today. It sounds almost sentimental, but still it is the only thing of real importance in life, the true discipline around which life turns: the practice of the brotherhood of all conscious beings. Rules are not necessary to accomplish this, but listening to one’s heart certainly is.

Religions teach that every consciousness reaps what it has sown. It follows that “unavoidable violence” — such as natural calamities, disease, and damage inflicted by someone else — can be referred back to oneself and the neglect of this deep impulse from the heart. For the Jains our repeated existences on earth are but a small part of our total life cycle. They hold that we spend most of our time outside our physical bodies, in the hereafter or the “herebefore,” either as hellish or heavenly beings. The so-called hells or heavens are states of consciousness which result from our thoughts during physical embodiment. Because of its weakness or attachment, the soul is unwilling to make choices and oscillates continuously between high and low, good and bad. In this way a vibration is created that attracts and attaches confusion and ignorance to the soul, making matters still more difficult. If one has the courage to choose the higher — absolute inner nonviolence — the weakness and doubt causing these vibrations disappear. Then God will turn out to be all forgiveness and love, as a Christian might express it. The soul is the only true God according to Jainism. By living in the soul, every human being is a god.

What makes the Jains especially noteworthy is that they not only preach and talk about nonviolence, but also practice it. Jain social morality as well as their doctrine of redemption is interspersed with rules and guidelines derived from the principle of ahimsa. The five main vows which every Jain is supposed to respect are: to abstain from violence, to abstain from lying (one might say, violence against truth), to abstain from stealing, to abstain from sexual misconduct, and to be free from worldly attachment. Vegetarianism is also most strongly emphasized by Jainism as a practical consequence of nonviolence. Every Jain is supposed to think and meditate about friendship with all living beings; the happiness it gives to see others be more successful than oneself (especially in spiritual matters); compassion for all suffering beings; and tolerance or indifference towards those who behave in an uncivil or negative way towards him or her.

Ahimsa is the opposite of himsa, “violence.” Violence is clearly defined in scriptures Jains regard as authoritative. To quote just a few:

Violence (himsa) is to hurt the vitalities (pranas), through vibration due to the passions, which agitate mind, body, or speech. — Tattvarthadhigama Sutra vii:13

Any injury to the material or conscious vitalities caused by passionate activity of mind, body, or speech is certainly called violence; certainly the non-appearance of attachment and other passions is ahimsa. — Purusharthasiddhi-upaya iv:43-4

Violence is a great impediment to spiritual awakening, and someone who indulges in doing harm to living beings will not become enlightened; harming other beings is always harmful and injurious to oneself — it is the main cause of a person’s non-enlightenment. — Acharanga Sutra i.1.2

Knowing that all evils and sorrows arise from injury to living beings, and that it leads to unending enmity and is the root cause of great fear, a wise man who has become awakened should refrain from all sinful activities. — Sutrakritanga Sutra i.10.21

Seeing that everything that happens to somebody affects him personally, one should be friendly towards all beings; being completely free from fear and hatred, one should never injure any living being. — Uttaradhyayana Sutra 6.6

All living creatures desire to live. Nobody wishes to die. And hence it is that the Jain monks avoid the terrible sin of injury to living beings. — Dasavaikalika Sutra

The most forceful statement is found in the Jnanarnava: “Violence alone is the gateway to the miserable state, it is also the ocean of sin; it is itself a terrible hell and is surely the densest darkness”; and “If a person is accustomed to committing injury, then all his virtues like selflessness, greatness, desirelessness, penance, liberality, or munificence are worthless” (8.19-20).

In human relations, respect and understanding are the foundation of nonviolence. The great Jain teacher, Mahavira (6th century BCE), said that “as long as one holds on to one of the many aspects of a thing while at the same time rejecting or ignoring other aspects, one can never reach the truth.” In the Jain doctrine of anekanta (“many aspects”), truth shows itself to the observer as many aspects, and only one who has reached complete insight can see the truth as a whole. No one on earth has this power of insight in its fullness, and it may be that two people with the same measure of intelligence and dedication look at the same truth from different angles, so that their opinions appear incompatible (the concept of syadvada, from syat, “from one point of view”). The ethical consequence of this teaching is that fundamentally one can never blame someone else for having the wrong view while himself claiming to have the right view. Both views may appear correct in the final analysis, though only partly so. Two opinions may seem incompatible, but in reality there is only a paradox: when one has acquired deeper insight, one may see that both are legitimate approaches to the same truth, or that both standpoints represent only limited views of truth.


An example from the Jains, Buddhists, and Sufis is that of the blind men and the elephant. One man touches the trunk, another a tusk, a third an ear or the tail. They start to quarrel about what an elephant really is because their views differ completely. Then a sighted passerby says that all of them are both right and wrong. In comparison to an omniscient and omni-clairvoyant spiritual being all of us are blind.

Thus anekanta is the doctrine about how truth presents itself to us, and syadvada teaches that we can approach the truth from different angles. These are accompanied by a third theory, nayavada, concerning partial knowledge. Even though there may be different views, none of which represents the whole truth, each of them contains a nucleus of truth. Therefore it is always useful to try to understand another, because his or her story too contains a core of truth and thus adds a further approach. To try to fight each other with words (and eventually with weapons) to impose one’s views of right is a form of violence and so contrary to this philosophy. These three widespread approaches to truth are the result of the human mind which, in its present stage of evolution, is by nature divisive because unable to grasp the whole. But once we see that such mental activity can never lead us beyond its natural limitations, we will realize that we should seek the higher path of renunciation of all illusions or “partial truths,” and direct our meditation exclusively to that which is beyond. This journey may take lifetimes, but once we have made the first step, deaths and rebirths cannot hamper us from reaching our goal. We will never again be satisfied with less.

A major paradox which the world as a whole is struggling with involves this very philosophy of ahimsa and anekanta: if the other party is unwilling to behave nonviolently, what should we do? On the personal level we can offer the “other cheek” to our opponent and forgive his evildoing to ourselves again and again. This is the real practice of ahimsa. But on a community level the question becomes different: Should we fight terrorists? Should we tolerate large-scale industrial destroyers of the environment and respect their point of view? Should we regard them as unavoidable agents of karma, fulfilling the unpleasant duty of destroying the old so that something new can be born and grow?

As to terrorists, as long as they are impersonally serving an ideal other than some private psychological frustration, they probably think they are doing the best they can for their people, religion, ethics, or whatever their conviction may be — however blinded by ignorance they may be concerning the real meaning of religion and service. Jain teachings suggest that we should try to understand the core of their motivation and the cause which aroused their feelings and the feelings of those they represent. When two people or groups such as nations or religious brotherhoods are involved in an unpleasant relationship, both are part of the problem, both suffer from ignorance, especially about the other’s real inner intentions — for which they may be willing to sacrifice comforts and possession, their family, and even their lives. Both may think they serve the universal good of a divine plan or justice. Both may even be driven by compassion — though limited by insufficient wisdom. A terrorist for the one may be a hero for the other; a national leader may be a devil for those who suffer on the other side. Talking and serious willingness to listen and understand may turn the worst enemies into the best friends, recognizing each other as brothers serving the same cause of higher human dignity and destiny. So anekanta, if implemented, can avoid tremendous amounts of fear, misunderstanding, and suffering in the human community (and even in animal and other communities — which are usually forgotten during our conflicts).

Still, however many “other cheeks” we may present, however much we talk and try to understand, some will always remain enemies because of their own psychology. In such a case, let the parties battle with words and psychological confrontation on as small a scale as possible — at best, on the personal level — and let as few as possible be actively involved. Karma is the only real judge. Let the karmic debt be as small as possible. When the two sons of the first Indian king came into conflict, with power over the whole world at stake, both had strong armies but decided not to inflict suffering on thousands of their subjects, and so fought personally until one triumphed (after which they became friends).

As to “tolerating” destructive forces instigated by selfishness: if we ourselves and our chosen governments did not have the same selfish attitudes or indifference, humankind would naturally design laws which would make such behavior impossible. Even those who destroy without concern in the end will admit the righteousness of such laws and submit themselves to them, though it may take generations for this outlook to become the norm. Just as criminals feed but on the thoughts we all nurture together, even the most decent man or woman is in degree co-responsible for the performance of the affairs of the world. Not so long ago, in the nineteenth century, protests against slavery were ridiculed; nowadays we regard slavery as something utterly inhuman and contemptible. Won’t the same be said about our present behavior towards the environment and our cruelty towards animals a century or two from now? Let us sow the seeds for the centuries to come.

There are as many viewpoints as there are thinkers, and none of them is entirely perfect. Thus the world exhibits a richness of philosophies, all the result of deep human pondering. But because no matter-bound, limited soul can perceive the universe in its entirety, all these thinkers remain within the influence of their personal context. This does not mean, of course, that one viewpoint may not contain more truth than another, or that no opinion is entirely wrong. If we were to lose sight of that, we might adopt an attitude of lazy tolerance and thus approve of any viewpoint — without any point of reference to universal truth or ethics. Jains are no postmodernists. There is a final truth concerning and including all, and it can and will be known. Jains have often been staunch participants in disputes, with the objective of coming closer to real understanding and defending the deepest truth they can grasp. But feelings of respect and tolerance always remain in their heart, because they are aware that they also do not know and see everything — but in the future they will reach unstained omniscience and omni-clairvoyance, as will each person’s opponent.

— By Rudi Jansma, Sunrise magazine, April/May 2005

The Twenty-four “Buddhas” of Jainism

The barefoot beggar who wanders through India sweeping the dust from his path lest unintentionally he crush by his step some beetle or seed may very well be a cultivated and highly intelligent individual. A follower perhaps of the ancient religion of Jainism whose members, in business, government, university and on hospital staff, find in their teachings such logical and encouraging expositions of the spiritual purpose for all life that they, like millions before them, literally and deliberately abandon comforts of family and home, and undertake severest austerities in order to reach, while still human, the “world of the gods.”

Once it would have seemed incredible that anyone voluntarily could give up his all — wealth, status and normal pleasures — for “nothing.” Now we’re coming to understand that the all they abandon is nothing. The nothing is all. It is vivid, joyous, transcendent living. Nor is the decision impulsive. Since childhood through business and marriage his life has been oriented to the ideal of human perfectibility laid out some 2,500 years ago by Mahavira, the last of the twenty-four tirthankaras, or “buddhas,” of Jainism.

Who was Mahavira and the tirthankaras he followed? Northern Buddhists refer to “Thirty-five Buddhas of Confession” who, H. P. Blavatsky explains, are identical with the Jain tirthankaras. These buddhas, tirthankaras, are the divine teachers and monarchs of every mythology. They were “once living men, great adepts and Saints, in whom the ‘Sons of Wisdom’ had incarnated, and who were, therefore, so to speak, minor Avatars of the Celestial Beings — eleven only belong to the Atlantean race, and 24 to the Fifth race, from its beginnings.” (The Secret Doctrine, II. 423.)

The title “Buddhas of Confession” designates those “awakened ones” who profess or place their trust in certain religious principles, as in the Buddhist “Confession of Faith”: I take refuge in the Buddha; I take refuge in the light of his teachings; I take refuge in the company of the Holy Ones. With the Jains it is the tirthankaras, their teachings, and the company of Noble Ones who are “an island . . . of safe refuge” day and night. (Akaranga Sutra, I, 6, 3 3).

“Confession” is not used in the Christian sense of forgiveness of sin. Jains consistently reject the idea of a personal god who creates and destroys, forgives and damns. The nearest they come to this idea is when, upon reflection over the events of the day, a disciple discovers that he may have unintentionally hurt or inconvenienced someone, he to himself admits, confesses, to such an act and immediately attempts to assuage any ill feelings his act may have caused — in that other, or within his own psychological nature. If a young mendicant confesses to his guru some “sin” or personal hangup, he does not seek forgiveness, but insight, and strength to rid his soul “of the thorns . . . of deceit, misapplied austerities, and wrong belief, which obstruct the way to final liberation and cause an endless migration of the soul.” (Uttaradhyayana, xxix, 5)

As said, Mahavira was the 24th tirthankara. The term, the mystical counterpart of the Buddhist tathagata, means a “ford-finder, ford-builder, ford-crosser.” As such, it applies to those heroic human souls who have gone ahead on the spiritual evolutionary pathway, have crossed the river of births and deaths and, reaching the other shore — nirvana — have returned to show those left behind the way to salvation. In Eastern philosophy, “salvation” is the attainment of perfected humanhood or god-consciousness, and thus release from all connection and attachment to this particular world. It is also the attainment of omniscience, an awareness so universal that the former this-world personal awareness is as blindness.

Twenty-four tirthankaras return — as “spotless suns” to “bring light into the whole world of living beings” — during each cosmic year, or kalpa, of “two thousand million oceans of years.” Diagrammatically the Jains describe a cosmic year as one turning of a twelve-spoked wheel, each spoke representing an age. Thus, there are six ages on a descending arc when spiritual darkness and general deterioration prevail; and six on an ascending arc, when knowledge, civilization and happiness increase. The Kalpa Sutra and other Jain texts give such detailed descriptions of the lives, teachings and characteristic appearances of these heroic men that their likenesses have been personified in countless colossal statues throughout India.

The first tirthankara of the present cosmic age was Rishabhadeva, son of the 14th or last of the Manus — those mythological semi-divine progenitors and rulers of mankind. He like the Olympian Prometheus, brought knowledge, the fire of the gods, to early man.

During his reign he taught, for the benefit of the people, the seventy-two sciences, of which writing is the first, arithmetic the most important, and the knowledge of omens the last, the sixty-four accomplishments of women, the hundred arts, and the three occupations of men. — Kalpa Sutra, p. 211

With this knowledge, thoroughly explained in their writings, men could “cut the umbilical cord” and become independent and self-reliant. And although it may seem to be forgotten during cycles of darkness, this wisdom will be re-collected, for the Jains believe that that which is stored within the soul of the race, like the lessons learned in infancy, will not be lost, but will develop later and flourish in peak periods of civilization.

Rishabhadeva according to the sutras was a man of great beauty and size who lived 8,400,000 years — first as a prince, king and householder, then “houseless” in a state inferior to perfection and finally as a perfected one, having reached nirvana and returned to teach — “when his . . . karma was exhausted.” His greatness and longevity, like that of succeeding tirthankaras (though given for the latter in decreasing proportions), corresponds to the longevity of the giants and titans of Biblical and other allegories.

His teachings and those of his successors left a remarkable impress on the thought life of India. The Rig Veda (c. 15th-14th century BC), for instance, could well refer to the Jains when it mentions an Order of “Silent Ones,” who wear the wind as a girdle, and who, filled with the power of their silence, rise in the air to fly in the paths of the gods. And who protected both the useless, cruelty of animal sacrifice and the ineffective intonations of religious ritual. Even then Jain pundits rejected, as they do still, the authority of the Vedas, claiming that they were not only written by rakshasas (demons), but that the holy teachings of the brahmans were originally taken from their secret doctrines. Then, too, the Jains refused to discriminate against caste or sex. In fact, some of the tirthankaras served as equals with their wives, while the 19th, Malli, was a princess.

“Since the time that the Arhat Arishtanemi died, . . . eighty-four thousand years have elapsed,” says the Kalpa Sutra (183) of the 22nd tirthankara. However, later scholars place him during the historic Mahabharata wars and contemporary with Krishna (d. 3102 BC), whose ‘biography’ has striking similarities to Arishtanemi’s, as Buddha’s does to Mahavira’s. Parsva, “the people’s favorite,” preceded Mahavira by only 250 years. The figures descriptive of his size, length of life, and number of followers are by our reckoning quite normal. Born at Varanasi (Benares), he lived 100 years and established a community of — note the proportions — 16,000 monks and 38,000 nuns; 164,000 male and 327,000 female votaries; several thousand sages of whom 1,000 men and 2,000 women are said to have reached perfection. His following, which included Mahavira’s parents, is still numerous.

Mahavira himself was born 650 years before Christ at the beginning of an era of decline that will continue 40,000 years. (The Wonder That Was India, A. Basham, p. 290. Authorities vary on the length of his life, some give it as 599-527 B.C., others believe he lived 93 years — see Kalpa Sutra 148.) He came to counteract the forces of deterioration and to bring some measure of light to sustain mankind which, during this period will, according to Jain ancient tradition, decrease to the size of pygmies and live, only for 20 years, in caves of spiritual darkness. His life, given in the Akaranga and Kalpa Sutras, follows the pattern of his predecessors. These sutras relate how “the venerable ascetic Mahavira” at a propitious moment, left the world of the gods and “took the form of an embryo in the womb of Devananda,” wife of the brahman Rishabhadatta; and how the mother beheld in a dream the fourteen auspicious visions that foretell the birth of a Great One.

However, on the 83rd day of her pregnancy, Indra (Sakra in some versions), king of the gods, intervened. While she lay sleeping, he took the embryo from her womb and placed it in the womb of Trisala, wife of Siddhartha the kshatriya; meanwhile transferring the foetus that was to have been Trisala’s child back into the womb of Devananda.

Could it be that this amazing operation — related also in the Puranic story of Krishna’s birth — subtly suggests that while Mahavira was a ” great soul” as his name implies and of the highest or priestly caste, as a tirthankara it was necessary for him to be born a kshatriya, the caste of the warrior, of those dedicated to service and discipline? Jainism is primarily a religion of “conquerors,” deriving its name from ji, jina. Not, however, as those dauntless in war, but like Arjuna and the heroes of many religious allegories, the Jains oppose with steadfast will the insidious inner foes — cruelty, ignorance, selfishness — which would subject the unwary to lifetimes of pain. In this spirit they welcome to their Order recruits from every class, who will henceforth, trained by self-discipline, join them as preservers of Law, guardians and protectors of the rights of great and small — just as in Galilee the Good Shepherd is the preserver and protector of his flock.

Though a man should conquer thousands and thousands of valiant (foes), greater will be his victory if he conquers nobody but himself. . . .

Better it is that I should subdue my Self by self-control and penance, than be subdued by others. . . .

Thus I became the protector of myself and of others besides, of an living beings, whether they move or not.

Uttaradhyayana Sutra, ix, 34; i, 16; xx, 35

Mahavira was born amid rejoicing and salutations from gods, goddesses, demons and men. He grew up as a wonder-child, precocious and attended by miracles. He was educated as a prince, married the lovely Yasoda, and became in time a father and later a grandfather. After thirty years as a householder, his parents having died and his daughter married, he asked and was given release from responsibility by his brother and by community authorities. Thus freed, he gave his wealth to the poor, renounced the world and became a houseless wanderer.

For twelve years he disciplined himself by inflexible rules of purity, self-control, study and contemplation. Then, one day while sitting in deep meditation under a Sal tree near an old temple, he attained enlightenment:

the complete and full, the unobstructed, unimpeded, infinite and supreme, best knowledge and intuition, called Kevala. . . . he knew all conditions of the world, of gods, men, and demons; whence they come, where they go, whether they are born as men or animals, or become gods or hell-beings; their food, drink, doings, desires, open and secret deeds, their conversation and gossip, and the thoughts of their minds; he saw and knew all conditions in the whole world of all living beings. — Akaranga Sutra, ii, 15,25-6

Thus Mahavira became an arhat, a jina, having conquered his karma, overcame danger and reached omniscience. But he did more. He returned. First he instructed the gods, and then, during thirty years’ wandering throughout India, he taught the Way of renunciation, noninjury and final liberation to all. And his following grew into a large community.

His most famous pupil, H. P. Blavatsky suggests, was Gautama Buddha (c. 563-483 BC). It is possible that they walked together, the young prince of Kapilavastu and the last of the great tirthankaras, discussing problems of life and the cause of suffering, disease and death. All the while Gautama’s thoughts matured, and a harmony arose between their ideas which has withstood the years.

Both Jainism and Buddhism originally sought to restore clarity to India’s spiritual tradition. Both were revolts against ritual, sacrifice and superstition, whether prescribed by the Vedas, the Brahmanas, the “false” gods of Hindu priests, or by a Supreme Creator who dispenses good and evil, heaven and hell at his whim. And both propagated similar philosophical doctrines, though with differences in terms and emphasis. Buddha’s Middle Way and Noble Eightfold Path of steady, commonsense development are so appealing that his teachings have spread to every land. Mahavira, though enunciating the same high ethics, placed such stress on renunciation and strict discipline that his influence was considerably limited and his membership confined within India. Even today, with two-fifths of his present two million or so followers living in or around Bombay, only a small portion of the ancient Jain doctrines has reached the West.

Eventually the deeper teachings of both religions became obscured. Legends, ceremonial rites, interpretations and misinterpretations have added confusion. Translations into languages lacking subtleties, by translators biased or shortsighted, have failed to convey the metaphysical meanings of the original teachings. Inevitably splits occurred. Not long after Mahavira’s death questions of interpretation arose over rituals, dividing the Jains into the Svetambaras, “white-clad,” and the Digambaras, “sky- or space-clad.” Later schisms came about over monastic procedure, but never has there been division over doctrines.

During Mahavira’s lifetime his teachings were carried unwritten from heart to heart and preserved in living memory. They, like the hymns of his predecessors, were considered too sacred to be corrupted by symbol or cipher. Not until 1,000 years after his death, in the 5th century AD, did the monks succumb to demands of the rapidly increasing membership for books: both for study and in order to systematize and perpetuate the canonical texts before they were irretrievably lost or distorted. Thus began the compilation and elucidation of Jain tradition which researchers ever since have found to be a veritable treasure trove. Remarkably scholarly, these voluminous writings, as no others, consolidate India’s vast and continuous philosophical and cultural heritage. Not only do they incorporate teachings from the remote, prehistoric succession of tirthankaras, but they also detail the lives and customs of kings, sages and average villagers, and discuss scientifically and in parable both Jain and “heretical” views on the nature of life, matter, cosmos and man.

This rich treasury was produced in monasteries which, during the first centuries AD, were centers not only of occultism but of learning generally. As such they encouraged the copying, exposition, and translation into popular dialects of rare old manuscripts, both secular and sacred. Thus were inspired a galaxy of illustrious poets, writers, commentators, philosophers, scientists and logicians, who were welcomed in the royal courts of the Gangas, Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas and others.

Literary vocations have always been attractive to the Jains whose strong moral convictions limited them from many occupational pursuits. Agriculture of course was taboo. They who find it abhorrent to kill or cause to be killed, or allow to be killed, even the life of a plant, who subsist on grain, fruit and vegetables which contain no eggs, seeds, sprouts or source of life, could never engage in farming, in manufacturing or selling farm equipment, nor in armaments or intoxicants. Instead they become merchants, lawyers, bankers, educators and doctors — and usually influential and successful. Their charities are proverbial, providing financial assistance to the poor, the widowed, the victims of disaster. Their hospitals are exemplary, and so are their innumerable refuges for ill, aged and neglected animals and insects. All of which quietly but consistently perpetuates their age-old protest against cruelty, whether for sport, profit or sacrifice, whether by derogatory thought or by actually overworking, underfeeding or injuring man, beast or smallest life.

They have also fostered and engaged in the arts. Characteristic grace and delicacy are as obvious in their earliest cave-temples, of Orissa, Junagadh and elsewhere, as in the breathtaking magnificence of the mountaintop temple of Deva Kota, “Abode of the Gods,” or in the jeweled and marbled splendors of those at Calcutta, Jaipur, Bombay and Rajasthan. And all are richly engraved with symbols which enfold deep meaning in simplest form. The Jain cross, for example, emblazoned on the head of the great Serpent of Time, or centered over the heart of their tirthankaras, and on so many of their other carvings, are as ancient as, and possibly antedate, the tau and the swastika of prehistoric Egypt, Chaldea, Europe and America. This cross is wonderfully suggestive in that its four outstretched arms — representing the four conditions of matter, the four stages of life, or the four degrees of awareness — become a swastika when they bend to form the Circle of Eternity, when the soul, equipoised at the center, attains perfection.

Equally suggestive in pose and conception are the many spectacular colossi of the tirthankaras. Some of their earliest works, like their votive plaques depicting the cross-legged naked figure of a tirthankara in meditation, are reminiscent of, and some (The Wonder That Was India, p. 367) believe inspired, the original statues of Buddha. This is particularly noticeable in the red sandstone Mathura sculpture of the arhat Parsva, produced in the first or second century A.D. The simplicity of his position, seated cross-legged and protected by the expanded hood of a serpent, conveys the same feeling of patience and peace as do the statues of Buddha. And yet it differs. The eyes, so alert and intense, take in with their gaze, the world.

— By Eloise Hart, Sunrise magazine, December 1975

A Lamp of the True Light

Vast as is the legacy of the skilled and illustrious Jain scholars and artisans, equally extensive is the contribution of the humble and industrious aspirants whose dedication and perseverance is their bulwark. Both, irrespective of position or skill, draw inspiration and strength from three basic rules or jewels of wisdom: right faith, right knowledge, right conduct. Simple to say, but not so easy to follow in the fullness the Jains expect. They, like the raja-yogins, consider these three inseparable, and regard a one-sided development to be self-defeating and dangerous.

Thus, while it is essential to have faith or respect for the tirthankaras and for their teachings, such faith is worthless unless founded on understanding. On a threefold understanding: instinctive, so that one reacts automatically without thought or consideration; intellectual, the mind comprehending clearly intricacies of doctrine; and spiritual, with heart, higher mind and conscience satisfied and at peace. But even such perception is worthless unless translated into action that is positive and compassionate. For only in this way does one begin to know the world for what it is, and become an example and a teacher. Only in this way are superstitions, blind faith and ignorance destroyed. The Jains find it particularly galling that anybody should seek merit by bathing in a “sacred” river, walking on burning coals, sprinkling “holy” water or incense, or propitiating “man-made” deities.

These three jewels of wisdom are predicated on the principle of universal equality — of the identic and innate spirituality of all that exists. The Jain at a young age “regards small beings and large beings, the whole world as equal to himself; he comprehends the immense world, and being awakened he controls himself among the careless.”‘ And he “confesses,” or pledges himself, to three vows which he will follow with increasing dedication all through his life. The first vow is to do no harm, no violence, to any living thing; not to kill, or cause to be killed, or consent to others killing, any living thing, whether by deed, word, or thought. For thoughts of blame and dissension, almost more than acts, cause suffering.

Perhaps today there would be less questionable conduct if we placed such importance on motive, if we recognized the tremendous forces for good or for evil that are generated by thought and desire. The Jains understand this well, defining a murderer, for instance, as one who, although he finds no opportunity to execute his will, resolves in his mind to kill another. They also consider each individual responsible for crimes he commits unintentionally, for if one lives harmoniously he will not be in a place, at a time, or in a condition where he would, even unknowingly, do harm to any living thing. Thus they endeavor to be ever restrained and in control, avoiding and renouncing wrong beliefs, living with care, wisdom and kindliness.

The second vow is to speak no untruth; to utter no words in anger, greed or fear that might cause dismay; not to conceal or falsify truth by long-winded explanations, by clinging to one’s own opinions, or by pronouncing vain benedictions or casting spells. But at all times to use moderate and controlled language, for truth which is not pleasant and wholesome is, for them, not truth.

He who is of a wrathful disposition and calls everything by its true name, who renews a composed quarrel, will, like a blind man groping his way with a stick, do harm to himself, being still subject to passion and possessing evil Karman. Sutrakritanga, 1, 13 (5)

Rishabhadeva had brought the knowledge of omens as the last and least of his gifts, but later tirthankaras rejected it as “unworthy” of study or practice. This, despite the fact that in those days all varieties of magical spells were employed by “holy” shamans to effect miraculous physical and psychological benefits. Jain admonitions are clear: he who casts “spells for making somebody fall down, rise, yawn; for making him immovable, or cling to something; for making him sick, or sound; for making somebody go forth, disappear, (or come). . . . They practice a wrong science, the unworthy, the mistaken men.” (Sutrakritanga, 1, 12, 18)

The third vow is to refuse to accept anything, whether given or found, that is not rightfully one’s own. These vows “proclaimed by the first Tirthakara, according to the teaching of the last Tirthakara,” Mahavira, apply to the laity. Two others are taken later when members become monks.

The Jain householder, fulfilling his vows and attending to the duties of family and society, is aware that during this period of his life such training is essential. In these small obligations and services for others one finds, he is told, unparalleled opportunity to develop the self-control, responsibility and compassion necessary for later advancement. In fact, even one who “still lives in the house” and faithfully fulfills his creed, will eventually free himself from ignorance, from the whirlpools of birth, and reach “the world of the gods.”

However, knowing that the long process of evolution can be hastened, he undoubtedly looks forward to the time when he can directly begin his spiritual career. In the meantime he curbs impatience and prepares himself by periodic fasting, giving alms, mentally renouncing worldly possessions and attachments, and studying the more metaphysical teachings. Then, when children leave home and obligations become less demanding, both husband and wife are ready. They respond naturally, without hesitation, to the needs of the soul. No longer circumscribed by the immediacy of daily affairs, they now direct their full attention and concern to the wide field of study and training necessary to accelerate development of those higher faculties which will enable them to know the “constant, permanent, eternal, true Law,” and so knowing, to help, teach and protect all that lives.

The unwise sleep, the sages always wake. . . . Not minding heat and cold, equanimous against pleasure and pain, the Nirgrantha (Jain) does not feel the austerity of penance. Waking and free from hostility, a wise man, thou liberatest (thyself and others) from the miseries. –Akaranga Sutra, I, 3, 1 (1-2)

Following tradition, every Jain who becomes monk or nun, as token of this decision, obtains permission from family and authorities, distributes wealth, shaves his head and abandons jewels and clothing — exchanging them for the simple white garments of the Order. Those of the Digambara, “sky-clad,” dramatically signify this total renunciation by abandoning clothes entirely, taking literally the verse: “Those are called naked, who in this world. . . (follow) my religion according to the commandment.” (Akaranga Sutra, 1, 6, 2 (3)). They interpret text word for word, just as do those devotees who fasten gauze over their mouth, strain their water, and sweep their path lest unintentionally they harm even the smallest creature.

However, there are deeper implications to these concepts, far more philosophical than the benevolent “reverence for life” exemplified by Albert Schweitzer, Mahatma Gandhi or St. Francis. The teachings of Jainism explain comprehensively that nature is united in cosmic kinship, a brotherhood, a Oneness of man and sun, of gnat and burgeoning tree. Sweeping, straining and veiling are but outward proclamations of this intense inner awareness, and the realization that “the soul which suffers for its carelessness, is whirled about in the universe, through good and bad karma.” (Uttaradbyayana, x 15). Their teachings regarding karma are intricate and profound.

Naked, “space-clad,” suggests the purity of ancient Jainism when its followers were named Nirgranthas, “the unbound” — nir-grantha meaning “no knot,” thus one untied from personal attachments. Nakedness also signifies the lucidity which Mahavira restored to Jain traditions, when “like a lamp he put the Law in a true light,”‘ discarding the obscuring lens of superstition and ceremonial ritual. And it encompasses the fourth and fifth vows taken now by the Nirgrantha. Chastity giving up all sexual pleasures, physically and mentally: renouncing attachment to possessions and enjoyment derived from the senses.

As the crane is produced from an egg, and the egg is produced from a crane, so they call desire the origin of delusion, and delusion the origin of desire. . . .

Misery ceases on the absence of delusion, delusion ceases on the absence of desire, desire ceases on the absence of greed, greed ceases on the absence of property. — Uttaradhyayana, xxx (6, 8)

More technically this casting off of the “illusion-garments” of our this-world thought and emotion and putting on the “wind as a girdle,” the ethereal robes of the spirit, refers to the time when the Self (Atma),* temporarily or permanently, sheds its three lower bodies; and in the two higher “subtle ones,” travels in consciousness to distant places, and to the world of the gods and there “develops into its natural form, obtains perfection, enlightenment, deliverance, and final beatitude.” These translucent robes may also correspond to the three “vestures” of Buddhism, those consciousness-vehicles used by greatly advanced human beings, the bodhisattvas, when they wish either to undergo experience in some other sphere, or to work in the invisible realms of our earth to help mankind.

*The five vehicles of the Self (Atma) which Jainism enumerates are: (1) the audarika or physical body; (2) the karmana or carrier of karma, the body of cause and effect which brings about the conditions and experiences through which the reincarnating self evolves from life to life; (3) the taijasa or body composed of fire particles which cause digestion, or (in a fuller sense, this is the body of thought, which is composed of the radiant fire of intelligence; (4) the aharika or carrier of the soul when it journeys to places far away; and (5) the vaikriya, a subtle body of the soul which can be changed at will. (Jaina Sutras, translated by Hermann Jacobi, II, 406n.)

Warnings are repeatedly given in the sutras of Jainism not to identify the Self with any of its bodies, for the real Self transcends a millionfold the limitations of the personal, false self.

Body, house, wealth and wife, sons and friends and enemies
All are different from the soul, only the fool thinks them his own. . . .
Death is not for me, Why then should I fear? Disease is not for me. Why then should I despair?
I am not a child, nor a youth, nor an old man — all these states are only of my body. . . .
Time and again in my foolishness I have enjoyed all kinds of body and have discarded them. Now I am wise! Why should I long for rubbish? . . .
The soul is one thing, matter another — that is the quintessence of truth.
Whatever else may be said, is merely its elaboration. — Ishtopadesa, 8, 29, 30, 50

As for the Jain mendicants who, having entered the sacred Way, now spend the remainder of their lives in selfless service either within a monastery or as a wanderer, it is said that —

as water does not adhere to a copper vessel, or collyrium to mother-of-pearl (so sins find no place in them); their course is unobstructed like that of Life; like the firmament they want nothing to support them; like the wind they know no obstacles; their heart is pure like the water (of rivers or tanks) in autumn; like the leaves of a lotus they cannot be soiled by anything. — Sutrakritanga, II, 2 (70)

Omniscient, wandering about without a home, crossing the flood (of the Samsara), wise, and of an unlimited perception, without an equal, he shines forth like the sun, and he illumines the darkness like a brilliant fire. — Ibid., I, 6 (6)

How descriptive this is of that mystical “union with God” experienced by the Great Ones of every age. Others — poets, artists and philosophers like William Blake, Fra Angelico, Plotinus and Jacob Boehme — have realized it in lesser degree, but sublimely. Even the humblest may know of its wonder, may catch for an instant this vision of truth. And usually for them, as for the Jain, one touch gives their life direction. Thereafter, each moment’s thought, each mundane act, is hallowed by significance; for each, now consciously directed, affects potently not only their individual destiny but the whole of life.

— By Eloise Hart, Sunrise magazine, January 1976

The Logic of Jain Mystical Doctrines

The teachings of Jainism are presented in their sutras and commentaries with such mathematical exactness and logic one can’t help exclaiming, how true, how clear, how reasonable! And at the same time he feels a stirring of higher faculty. Intuition and imagination are alerted and grasp at meanings too tenuous and metaphysical for brainmind calculation.

For instance, their philosophical reasoning is, one might say, triangular, with positive and negative viewpoints conjoined by an expandable “perhaps” — syadvada. (The Cultural Heritage of India 1:406) For example, from the moment of birth, life is ever increasing; one growing continually in experience and wisdom. Equally true, from the moment of birth, death moves closer and closer. How then can we say for certain that life increases or that it decreases? And since these two opposite ideas cannot be conveyed simultaneously, is it not sensible to admit, perhaps? Perhaps at any moment one is growing, and perhaps he is dying. Both concepts are true, both essential for full understanding. Furthermore, it is this perhaps concept which necessitates consideration of other perspectives and, by the inevitable contrasts and comparisons, prevents intellectual imbalance, rigidity, or dogmatism.

Metaphysically such three-sided viewing is vital whenever one seeks to comprehend the relative, the perhaps, nature of identity and permanence, as they exist temporarily, amid variety and change. And Jain logicians never hesitate to examine the manifold aspects of reality in every situation of life, from their eternal and absolute, essential nature, as well as from their changeable and illusory aspects. Following this method, they view the Self (Atma) as finite when it manifests in bodies of temporary duration, but as permanent and infinite when seen in its true nature, substance-free, incorporeal, and eternally transmigrating from body to body, from life to life.

Carrying this “affirmative-negative-perhaps” concept a step further, the Jains present a fivefold, and then a sevenfold system. The five ways or stages of comprehension are (Ibid., 427-8; Uttaradhyayana, xxiii):

1. by perception through the five senses;
2. indirectly by reading scriptures and listening to teachers;
3. by direct cognition or clairvoyance, that extrasensory perception latent in all, by which one ‘sees’ events happening at a distant place, or at some past or future time;
4. by thought transference, mental telepathy, as when a mother senses the need of her child, or when a teacher communicates to his pupil in silence, wordlessly; and
5. by limitless knowledge or enlightenment.

To explain the sevenfold system they em the familiar story of the blind men and the elephant, and give seven different assertions, each true from one viewpoint yet questionable from another. Six blind men describe an elephant according to the part of the animal they touch and the state of their mind at that moment. Thus the leg is a pillar of a temple; the ear, a winnowing fan, etc. Only a seventh, sighted man sees the whole elephant, yet he, in a flash of insight, realizing that his perception too is limited and incomplete, exclaims: “who can positively affirm or deny anything, especially when dealing with subjective matters of philosophy?”

Beyond this the Jains proceed to examine each subject, whether in its threefold, fivefold, or sevenfold nature, from its realistic, its complex, and its subtle aspects. Serious students have always found their contributions in this field comprehensive, and their illustrative parables fascinating — such as that of the five men who search for truth, as told and explained in twenty pages of the Sutrakritanga (II, 1).

Briefly: There were once five clever men who set out to find truth. Each in time came to a quiet forest lotus-pool, in the center of which grew one tall, white lotus of exquisite beauty. Four of the men found its attractiveness irresistible and waded out to possess it. But each after a few steps became hopelessly stuck in the mud. The fifth man, a monk, approached the pond with peaceful step, stopping at its shore to marvel at the lotus. Then, at his command, this most perfect of flowers flew up and into his hand!

The lotus-pool, text explains, is the world. The water is karma, the mud stands for pleasures and amusements, the four ineffectual men represent four heretical doctrines current at the time, and each is duly described. The monk of peaceful step is the Law, and the perfect lotus, nirvana.

Karma and Ahimsa, “noninjury,” are fundamental doctrines of Asian thought, yet Jainism gives them a unique interpretation. Karma, usually regarded as action and action’s consequences, to the Jains is that flow of subtle atomic matter which clings to the soul like the cocoon of a silkworm — clings momentarily, or for aeons, depending upon the intensity of thought-emotion which originally gives it adherence and which continues to sustain it.

Ahimsa, harmlessness — an intrinsic aspect of karuna or compassion — is the quiet, clear conviction of heart, mind, and soul that all things are of spirit and in essence identic, equal, and sacred. Size, rank, development — appearances — make no difference. In its ultimate expression, it is the oneness of life experienced by mystics who feel themselves united with God.

Ahimsa is the way of life, positive and harmonious, that dissipates the karmic body which clouds the soul’s perception. When one’s thoughts, beliefs, and actions are attuned to noninjury, to compassion, the forces of love flow through his life enriching all others. He is harmless as a gentle doe, beneficial as the autumn sun. Incurring no new karma, he walks even through the forests of hell unafraid and at peace. In following this path the Jains feel they help those in need directly by being and by example. Never do they interfere in another’s development, for that in their view would be cruel, and as crippling to his mind and to his soul as a straitjacket or hypnotist’s spell.

This apparent indifference has led those too-quick-to-judge to claim that Jainism is wholly selfish, and that its disciples follow the path of the pratyeka rather than that of the compassionate buddhas. This the Jains deny, declaring that the pratyekas, though holy men who have reached a lofty state of knowledge by their own efforts and do no harm to anyone, have been so concerned with their own salvation they have not associated themselves with any Order nor followed any teacher. Therefore, their doctrines are limited, one-sided, and not the true Law of the tirthankaras, nor have they reached the high state of nirvana attained by the buddhas of compassion.

Further insights into Jain mystical doctrines can be gained from a study of their intricate teachings. For instance, they believe universal life is composed of an infinite number of interacting particles, each particle being in essence a jiva or “life” — an eternal and intrinsically individual consciousness-life, which embodies in karmic vehicles of its own making.

Thus, while the jivas, whether of atom, man, or god, are fundamentally pure, omniscient and harmonious, they are limited in degree both by their own karmic impediments and by the karmic impediments of the groups of particles which make up the bodies in and through which they at any particular period manifest.

The Jains often compare the Self to gold, which may be shaped, melted and reshaped in a hundred forms without diminution of its brilliance and malleability. Just so the Self loses none of its essential characteristics as it takes manifestation, in a continuous flow, in and through myriad and ever-progressive form-bodies.

The largest group of these interacting soul-particles is made up of jivas manifesting at such a low level of consciousness that we think of them either as immovable and unconscious, or as unseen. But it is these invisible jivas principally, and those microorganisms — the particles of earth, of running water (boiling kills jivas), of wind or air, and of fire — which enable us to see the color of sunrise, hear music captured by genius, and enjoy the fragrance of flowers.

The Uttaradayayana Sutra divides these groups of particles first into visible and invisible, subtle and gross, developed and undeveloped; then further subdivides them by particular characteristics, giving length of life, place of existence, etc., etc. One can’t help marveling at the scientific curiosity of the early Jains and the wealth of information they accumulated.

The next group of particles, consisting of the vegetables, trees and plants, has developed the sense of touch. This is an interesting classification considering current investigation into plant sensitivities and responses to thought, word and touch. Worms, oysters, wasps and butterflies belong to a higher grouping, having evolved both touch and taste. Then come the ants, centipedes and all insects which have in addition the sense of sight. The life expectancy of this class ranges from a moment to an aged forty-nine days! Flies, bees, moths, scorpions, crickets, etc., can hear, so belong to a superior class. Finally, “beings with five organs of sense are of four kinds: denizens of hell, animals, men and gods” (Ibid., xxxvi, 156) — each of which is described in detail.

All jivas grow ultimately toward humanhood where, having mind, they learn the Law and, discriminating between the favorable and unfavorable, the beneficent and injurious, begin to strip off the accumulation of karmic adhesions and regain divinity. No outside god, living and operating in some lofty world, can help here. “Salvation” comes only from the Self within, and from the teachings and examples of the twenty-four tirthankaras or buddhas and bodhisattvas. Until that time all beings, whether monstrously large or infinitely small, are carried along in the current of their actions, born again and again “to reap the fruit of their own acts.” (Adaranga Sutra, 1, 6, 1, 3).

It has been said of old: all sorts of living beings, of manifold birth, origin, and growth, born in bodies, originated in bodies, grown in bodies, feeding on bodies, experience their Karman, are actuated by it, have their form and duration of life determined by Karman, and undergo changes through the influence of Karman. This you should know, and knowing it you will be careful and circumspect. . . . Sutrakritanga, II, 3, 37

How exactly is the karma-body built? When the mind is active, thinking, when the will is stirred, or the body moves in action, they each set up conditions which attract to the soul by karma an inflow of molecules. If the state of mind, will, or body, is strongly motivated by self-indulgent and possessive desires, by feelings of fear and anger, or of personal love, the particles of this karmic flow adhere and form a deposit or sheath about the Self. And there it remains until dissipated by a corresponding retributive reaction, the time and quality of which is determined largely by the quality of the original motivation.

Eight kinds of karma, with 144 divisions of each, are discussed in Jain literature. How, among other aspects, each is attracted; how it affects the whole as well as every part of one’s nature, one’s mind, one’s psyche, one’s environment, behavior, past, present and future conditions; and how each may be changed, added to, or dissolved. In the Uttaradhyayana, xxxiii, 1-3, the scope of this teaching is revealed.

The process of dissolving the karma-body is the way to perfection: the Path of spiritual evolution, progress on which is accomplished by unwavering concentration on the noblest aspects of life. Right, best, or spiritual thought: accepting into the mind only that which is high and uplifting, and shutting out all that is base, ugly, ignoble. Right, best, or spiritual action: acting carefully at all times, righteously, compassionately; renouncing all activities, mental, emotional and physical that are motivated by lower egoity; renouncing attachments to this world.

This is the way the knots of karma are untied, so that the Self, no longer fettered, moves from human to divine awareness. This is accomplished by following five simple yet powerfully ennobling vows, which were called “the place of peace” by the twenty-four Great Ones who illumine the darkness.

Jainism has much to offer this nuclear age with its tensions and confused morality, much, which can be expressed perhaps in one word: kindliness. Whether sweeping insects from their path, or studying the tirthankaras’ vast wisdom, the Jains’ concern is first and always for the welfare of all others.

— By Eloise Hart, Sunrise magazine, February, 1976

Articles from The Theosophist


By Babu Ram Das Sen, Ordinary Member of the Oriental Academy of Florence.

The Jain religion never spread beyond the limits of India. Being thus much less widely known, it has never stood high, like Buddhism, in the estimation of foreigners. Even in India itself, after flashing like a meteor across the religious sky for a short time, it long since grew comparatively dim. As a matter of course, it has failed to command any considerable degree of notice from beyond.

Arhata was the founder of the Jain religion, and was a king of the Benkata hills in the South Carnatic. Early retiring from the world, he went about exhorting the people to follow the example of Rishabha Deva, whose character he held up as a model to imitate.

The Degambar and Switambara sects of the Jains diverged and came into notice long afterwards.

Rishabha Deva is mentioned in the fifth book of Srimat Bhagavata. He is, according to the Hindus, a part-incarnation of Vishnu. The Jains acknowledge him as the first Arhata, and he is styled Arhata, because, following in the wake of Resava, he attempted to effect a religious reformation. According to the Puranas, Rishabha was father of Bharata, and flourished in very early times. The Jains do not deny the existence of God; but they hold the Arhata themselves to be that God. It is said in Vitara gastati, a Jain work, that “there is only one Creator of the world, and no other, who is eternal and omnipresent; and besides him, everything else here is a source of evil, and unsubstantial even as a dream. O Arbata! There is nothing in this world, which thou hast not created.” The attributes of the Jain God are different from those of the Vaidantic God. With them God is omniscient, conqueror of anger, envy, and of every evil passion; revered in the three worlds and the speaker of truth; Arhata only is the true God.

In their opinion virtue is the only avenue to salvation. Virtue absolves man from the bonds of action and thereby restores him to his original purity of nature.

Salvation is in its very nature ever up-lifting. The Jains have it thus: There is a limit beyond which even the sun, moon, and the planets cannot rise; and, when they reach their point of climax, they come down again. But the souls that have once attained to perfection, never come down again. The very tendency of the soul is ever to rise high. It grovels below, only because of its mortal tenement that holds it in; or, because it is weighted down with its clayey environment. As soon as this mortal coil is shuffled off, it resumes its original nature. Infinite is space. Infinite so is the progress of the soul; or infinite is the improvement the soul is capable of. A pumpkin, for instance, though in itself light enough, would, if enveloped in clay, or weighed heavily otherwise, sink to the bottom of the sea; but, if it could disburthen itself there, it would steadily work its way up to the surface again. Even so is the nature of the soul.

The Jain moralists say: —

Wisdom is an attribute of man. Wisdom only can lead to salvation, or enable man to sail safely over the solemn main of life. Wisdom only can dispel the gloom of false knowledge, like mists after sun-rise. Wisdom only can absolve man from the consequences of action. Wisdom is Supreme; and no action can equal wisdom. Wisdom is joy. Wisdom is summum bonum. Wisdom is Brahma himself.

Further on, in the ethical part of the Jain religion, it is said; —

“A man should dwell only where virtue, truth, purity and good name are prized, and where one may obtain the light of true wisdom.

Man should not dwell where the sovereign is a boy, a woman, or an ignoramus; or, where there are two kings.

A man should go nowhere without an object in view.

A man should not travel alone; nor sleep alone in a house or on an elevated place; nor enter any man’s house suddenly.

A good man should not wear torn or dirty clothes; nor put on his body a red flower, except it be a red lily.

A wise man should never deceive gods or old men; and neither should be a prosecutor or a witness.

When you come back from a walk, you should take a little rest, then put off your clothes, and wash your hands and feet.

A grinding mill, a cutting instrument, a cooking utensil, a water jar, and a water pot, are the five things that bring men to sin; which, again, in its turn, causes them to deviate from the paths of virtue. For these are the sources of envy. Take what care you will, they are sure to give rise to envy.

The ancients prescribed several virtues to enable man to escape from this sin. Hence men should always practise virtuous actions.

Kindness, charity, perfect control over the passions, worshipping the gods, reverence to the Guru, forgiveness, truth, purity, devotion, and honesty: — these are the virtues that every house-holder should possess.

Virtue is too extensive. Its most prominent feature, however, is doing good to mankind.

There are two kinds of virtues — that which atones for our sins, and that which secures or brings about salvation. The first-mentioned virtue embodies the redemption of the fallen, benevolence, humility, perfect control over the passions, and mildness. These virtues destroy sin.

Priests, gurus, guests, and distressed persons, when they come to our house, should first be welcomed, and then fed to the best of our means.

We should relieve and soothe as much as we can the sick, the hungry, the thirsty, and the frightened.

Being so fortunate as to have been born men, we should always be engaged in something useful either to ourselves or to others.”

There is very little difference between the Hindu and the Jain systems of morality. This is owing to the Hindus and Jains living together and in the same country, and to the fact that most of the ethics of the Jains were derived from the Aryan code of morality.

The Theosophist, Vol. I., No. 3, December, 1879

HPB on Jainism and its relation to Buddhism (from Isis Unveiled)

It is clear that Gautama-Buddha, the son of the King of Kapilavastu, and the descendant of the first Sakya, through his father, who was of the Kshatriya, or warrior-caste, did not invent his philosophy. Philanthropist by nature, his ideas were developed and matured while under the tuition of Tir-thankara, the famous guru of the Jaina sect. The latter claim the present Buddhism as a diverging branch of their own philosophy, and themselves, as the only followers of the first Buddha who were allowed to remain in India, after the expulsion of all other Buddhists, probably because they had made a compromise, and admitted some of the Brahmanic notions. It is, to say the least, curious, that three dissenting and inimical religions, like Brahmanism, Buddhism, and Jainism, should agree so perfectly in their traditions and chronology, as to Buddhism, and that our scientists should give a hearing but to their own unwarranted speculations and hypotheses. If the birth of Gautama may, with some show of reason, be placed at about 600 B. C., then the preceding Buddhas ought to have some place allowed them in chronology. The Buddhas are not gods, but simply individuals overshadowed by the spirit of Buddha — the divine ray. Or is it because, unable to extricate themselves from the difficulty by the help of their own researches only, our Orientalists prefer to obliterate and deny the whole, rather than accord to the Hindus the right of knowing something of their own religion and history? Strange way of discovering truths!

The common argument adduced against the Jaina claim, of having been the source of the restoration of ancient Buddhism, that the principal tenet of the latter religion is opposed to the belief of the Jainas, is not a sound one. Buddhists, say our Orientalists, deny the existence of a Supreme Being; the Jainas admit one, but protest against the assumption that the “He” can ever interfere in the regulation of the universe. We have shown in the preceding chapter that the Buddhists do not deny any such thing. But if any disinterested scholar could study carefully the Jaina literature, in their thousands of books preserved — or shall we say hidden — in Rajpootana, Jusselmere, at Patun, and other places;* and especially if he could but gain access to the oldest of their sacred volumes, he would find a perfect identity of philosophical thought, if not of popular rites, between the Jainas and the Buddhists. The Adi-Buddha and Adinatha (or Adiswara) are identical in essence and purpose. And now, if we trace the Jainas back, with their claims to the ownership of the oldest cave-temples (those superb specimens of Indian architecture and sculpture), and their records of an almost incredible antiquity, we can hardly refuse to view them in the light which they claim for themselves. We must admit, that in all probability they are the only true descendants of the primitive owners of old India, dispossessed by those conquering and mysterious hordes of white-skinned Brahmans whom, in the twilight of history, we see appearing at the first as wanderers in the valleys of Jumna and Ganges. The books of the Srawacs — the only descendants of the Arhatas or earliest Jainas, the naked forest-hermits of the days of old, might throw some light, perhaps, on many a puzzling question. But will our European scholars, so long as they pursue their own policy, ever have access to the right volumes? We have our doubts about this. Ask any trustworthy Hindu how the missionaries have dealt with those manuscripts which unluckily fell into their hands, and then see if we can blame the natives for trying to save from desecration the “gods of their fathers.”

Isis Unveiled, Volume 2, p. 322-323

© 2020 Universal Theosophy