Secular Knowledge

By Mr. Jagmanderlal Jaini


Jaina literature even in its ruins, is very rich and varied. Professor Dr. A. Guerinot, of Paris, remarks as follows : "Tous les genres y sont representes: d'abord la dogmatique, la morale, la polemique, et l'apolopetique; mais aussi I'histoire et la legende, I'epopee et le roman, la grammaire, la lexicographir et I'astronomie, voir le theatre" (Essai de Bibliographir Jaina, P. xxxi)1. The Outlines only touch in the Appendices a few out of this vast variety of topics.

1. Professor Jacobi in his article Jainism (encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics) mentions in particular the numerous tales in Prakrit and Sanskrit employed to illustrate works of a dogmatical or edifying character; further, Sanskrit poems, in plain or ornate style, and Sanskrit and prakrit hymns "Jain authors have also contributed many works, original treatises as well as commentaries, to the scientific literature of India in its various branches-grammar, lexicography, matrices, poetics, philosophy, etc."

The original language of the canon was a Prakrit, i.e. an early derivative of Sanskrit, spoken in Bihar: it is known as Arsha or Ardha-Magadhi. In the existing Svetambara texts, modified by time, two dialects are distinguished, one being confined to verse : while the Digambaras employ a third. The early commentaries were in Prakrit. Sanskrit, first employed by the Digambaras, has been predominant since about 1000 A. D., although the Prakrit has continued in use. Of modern dialects the Marwari, a special form of Hindi, and Gujarati are preferred. F.W.T.

Jaina History And Chronology : Time is infinite; but there are in it aeons (kalpas) or cycles. Each aeon has two eras : the avasarpini, or descending era, in which piety and truth, etc. (dharma) go on decreasing, until in the end chaos and confusion reign over the earth; and the utsurpini, or ascending era, in which there is an ever-growing evolution of piety and truth, etc. Each of these two equal eras is subdivided into six ages (kalas) of unequal lenght, which have their distinguishing features fixed for them for ever.

The six ages of the avasarpini (the present era) are:


the period of great happiness;


the age of happiness;

sushama- duhshama

the age of happiness and some misery; 


the age of misery and some happiness;


the age of misery (this is the particular period in which we are living; we have passed through about 2500 years of it) 


the age of great misery

The six ages of the utsarpini have the same names, but they occur in the reverse order, duhshama-duhshama being the first age. Thus the first three ages of the avasarpini, and therefore also the last three ages of the utsarpini, are of enjoyment (bhoga-bhumi). In these men have their birth and live and die without trouble or care. Everybody gets what he wants from the wishing-trees (kalpa-vrikshas). This means that in the earliest periods of their existence men knew neither the arts and industries, nor the pastoral pursuits, nor agriculture, and that they kept body and soul together by a diet of fruits, roots, etc., wearing leaves and the bark of trees. It was in this way that the kalpa-vriksha yielded for and clothing to the people of the bhoga-bhumi. The remaining three ages, however, are of karma-bhumi, the age or land of work. In these men have to work for their subsistence in this life and also for their comforts and blessings in the life to come. It is in the first of these last three, or in the fourth age of the era, that twentyforu Tirthankaras, or guides, arose. By pursuing the Jaina course of life, as laymen and ascetics, they obtained perfect knowledge and absolute and eternal freedom from the bondage of karmas, which alone keep a man in samsara (cycle of existences); and they preached and published the Jaina religion to the world. The last of the Tirthankaras in the fourth age of the current cycle was Vardhamana, otherwise Mahavira. He was born in 599 B.C., 1 in the family of a ruling Kshatriya chief of the Naya clan (hence in Buddhist books he is called Nata putta, a son of the Natri, or Naya lineage), in the republic of Vaisali (modern North Behar), in the town of the same name (hence he is called also Vaisalika), at the site of the modern village of Besarh about 27 miles north of Patna. After living with his family during twenty-eight years as a married man with a daughter, 2 a wife, a brother, and sister,

1. Traditional date for the Svetambaras, the Digambara tradition working out at 60 years earlier. Professor Jacobi would place the death of Mahavira in 377-6 B.C. and adjust the other dates accordingly.

2. According to the Digambaras Mahavira never married and was a celibate throughout his life.
Vardhamana, who had been from the beginning of a reflective turn of mind, bade a final farewell to his home and kindred, and retired into the solitude of the forests, very likely the Maha-vana, which skirted the village of his birth on its northern side. There he meditated upon the misery which filled the earth, and sought to discover the means to a permanent release from the grasp of this eternal and inevitable suffering . After fourteen years of asceticism Mahavra felt that he had solved the rddle of human misery, and was prepared to preach it to the world as Jainism. This he did during a wandering life extending over thirty years from 557 B.C. to the year of hs nirvana, or final liberation, 527 B.C.,1 at Pava-puri in modern Bihar. Pava-puri is a place of pilgrimage : it is reached from Bakhtiarpur, a station on the East Indian Railway. The country abounds in clumps of tall palm-trees, which stand prominent and majestic against a clam and mild sky. A small river, now dried up, called the Paimar, is in the middle of the road to Pava-Puri. Crossing the Paimar, we come in sight of the Pancha Pahari, the five hills on the site of the ancient city of Raja-griha, which also is a resort of Jaina pilgrims visiting Pava-puri. About 3 miles from the Paimar the journey is ended, and we near the calm and beautiful temples which constitute Pava-Puri. It is a small place, rendered attractive by its simple surroundings and its sacred traditions. There are several resting-houses for Jaina pilgrims, and about half a dozen temples erected by pious Svetambaras and Digambaras. The pilgrims are of both sexes and are numerous, chiefly on the occasion of the Devali, the day on which Lord Mahaviira attained nirvana. This is the great Indian illumination feast, which falls early in winter. The pilgrimage continues till the end of March, when the attendance begins to decrease. The main temple, which contains the sacred footmarks of Mahavira, stands in the middle of a tank, covered with lotuses and other aquatic plants, and thronged with fishes of various kinds. The insulated temple of our last lord is reached by a bridge of stone. In the temple itself, in a low chamber facing the east, there are three niches. The central one, the larges of the three, contains the footmarks of Lord Mahavira; the niche on the right of it those of his disciple and apostle Gautama; and that on the left those of his other grate apostle Sudharma Acharya. Both these saints flourished in the time of Mahavira and attained nirvana within sixty-two years of his death at Pava.

It s not long since in the west both the personality of Mahavira and the originality of his doctrine were denied. His personality was merged in that of his great contemporary and rival, Gautama Buddha. His doctrine was stated to be an offshoot of Buddhism, or a rebellious variety of Brahmanism. Both these errors of western savants have now been abjured. As to the historicity of Mahavira, Professor Guerinot, among others, has emphasized five great points f difference between Lord Mahavira and Gautama Buddha, relating to their birth, the deaths of their mothers, there renunciation, illumination, and death. To this may be added the actual testimony of the Buddhist scriptures, which refer to Nata-putta and the sect of Nirgranthas. This almost alone s enough to establish the individuality of Mahavira and his sect.

As to the relative antiquity of Jainism and Buddhism. Jaina study is deeply indebted to Professor Jacobi. His introductions, in 1884 and 1894 to vols. xxii and xlv of the Sacred Books of the East historically proved that, if there was any borrowing between Jainism and Buddhism, is was not on the side of Jainism. Dr. Jacobi's researches may be brefly summarized : for detals reference must be made to his learned discussions. He lays down four distinct lines of evidence to prove the antiquity of Jainism:-

1. References in old Buddhist books to well-known acknowledged doctrines of Jaina theology, metaphysics, and ethic : for example -
(1) A reference to cold water possessing a soul (i.e. to jivas, or souls, of the jala-kaya) in the commentary on the Brahma-jala Sutta of the Digha Nikaya.
(2) A reference in the same work to the Jaina rejection of the Ajivaka doctrine that the soul has colour.
(3) A reference in the Samanna-hola Sutta of the same Nikaya to the four vows of Parsva-natha. This is of special importance, as showing that the Buddhists were also aware of the older tradition of the Jainas with regard to the time and teachings of Parsvanatha.
(4) A reference in the Majjhima Nikaya (56) to the conversion of 
Upali, a lay disciple of Mahavira, after a dispute with the Buddha as to the comparative iniquity of the sins of the body and the mind.
(5) A reference in the same work (56) to the three sorts of dandas, `hurtful acts', namely, of body, speech, and mind, in which the Jainas believe.
(6) In the Anguttara Nikaya (iii, 74) Abhaya, a prince of the Lichchhavis of Vaisali, refers to the Jaina affirmation of ability to attain full knowledge and to annihilate karmas, old and new, by means of austerity.
(7) A reference in the same Nikaya (iii, 70.3) to the Dig-virativow and the Uposatha day. The Dig-virati vow is : "I shall go only in certain fixed directions to-day." Uposatha is keeping a fast in which the layman in supposed to be in his thought and behavior like an ascetic.
(8) In the Maha-vagga (vi, 31) Siha, the general of the Lichchhavis, and a lay disciple of Mahavira, goes, against his master's prohibition, to see the Buddha, and is converted by him on being taught the akriyavada doctrine of Buddhism, which made him relinquish the Jaina doctrine of Kriya-Vada, inculcating a belief in soul, in the world, and in action (believed to be our own, wither by our performing it, by our having it performed, or by our allowing it to be performed).

2. Indirectly also the Buddhist records attest the importance and probable high antiquity of Jainism :-
(1) They mention the Jainas (Nirgranthas) as opponents and converts of Buddha, and never imply, much less assert, that they are a newly founded sect.
(2) Makkhali Gosala divides mankind into six classes, of which the third is the Nirgranthos. A new sect could not have held such an important place in a division of mankind.
(3) The Buddha had a dispute with Sachchaka, who was a non-Nirgrantha son of a Nirgrantha father. This also proves decisively that the Jainas were not an offshoot of Buddhism.

3. The third line of evidence consists of the Jaina books themselves. There are no reasonable grounds for rejecting the recorded traditions of a numerous class of men, as being a tissue of meaningless fabrications. All the events and incidents relating to their antiquity are recorded so frequently and in such a matter-of-fact way that they cannot be properly rejected, unless under force of much stronger evidence than that adduced by scholars who are skeptical as to the antiquity of Jainism. In the Uttaradhyaayana Sutra (xxiii) an interview between Gautama and Kesin, the followers of Mahavira and Parsva-natha respectively, is held in a garden : after a conversation carried on in more or less occult terms the two leaders recognize the fundamental unity of the doctrines of their respective teachers, and leave the garden fully convinced that they are workes in the same field. This again points to an older Jaina faith, which prevailed before the advent of Mahavira and which was vigorously reformed by him.

4. The last line of evidence is the ancient character of Jaina philosophy, e.g. :
(1) The "animistic" beliefs of the Jainas.
(2) The absence of the category of Quality in their enumeration of the principal constituent elements of the Universe.
(3) The inclusion of dharma and adharma, the principles of motion and stationariness, in the class of substances.
From the above considerations Professor Jacobi concludes that Jainism was evolved at a very early period of Indo-Aryan history. it is evident that the Jaina creed has at least as many centuries as Buddhism between its present state and its origination.

Thus we see that Mahavira, a prince-ascetic of Vaisali, breathed his last at Pava-Puri in 527 B.C. after having during thirty years preached Jainism in Northern India; also that he was not the founder, but only a reformer of a previously existing creed, whereof Parsva-Natha was the head. Parsva-Natha died in 776 B.C. This is in accordance with Jana tradition. Epigraphical evidence-chiefly the Mathura inscriptions dealt with by Dr. further-shows that there are dedications and offerings of a very ancient date made to Rishabha. Now Jainism claims that it was founded by Rishabha many and many a long century ago, and that this first prehcher was followed by twenty-three others, of whom Parsva-Natha was the twenty-third. being followed by Mahavira, the last Tirthankars, who attained nirvana 250 years after Parsva-Natha. Thus historical research allows the beginning and confirms the conclusion of the sacred Jaina tradition. its main tenour has yet to be verified. The next link in the Jaina tradition is the historicity of Nemi-Natha, who was a prince in Kathiavadh and flourished before Parsva-natha. He is said to have preceded Parsva-Natha by 5,000 years. But Indian history before 327 B.C. is mostly a reconstruction by analogy; and we need not pause to reject or defend the exact five millenniums which are said to separate Nemi-Natha from the historical Parsva-natha. But the authenticity of his life need not be rejected without strong evidence. He was a prince born of the yadaya clan at Dwaraka, and he renounced the world, when about to be married to princess Rajamati, daughter of the Chief Ugrasena. When the marriage procession of Nemi-Natha approached the bride's castle, he heard the breating and moaning of animals in a cattle pen. Upon inquiry he found that the animals were to be slaughtered for the guests, his own friends and party. (It must be remembered that he was a Kshatriya and that the Kshatriyas as a rule hunt and take meat; although many of them renounce it altogether, and their women, even in modern India, do not partake of it). Compassion surged up in the youthful breast of Nemi-Natha, and the torture which his marriage would cause to so many dumb creatures laid bare before him the mockery of human civilization and its heartless selfishness. He flung away his princely ornaments, and repaired at once to the forest. The bride who had dedicated herself to him as a prince followed him also in his ascetic's life and became a nun. He attained nirvana at Mount Girnar, in the small state of Junagadh in Kathiawadh; and on the same lovely mountain is shown a grotto where the chaste Rajamati breathed her last, not far from the feet of Nemi-natha. There is a romance and idealism in the lives of these two wonderful souls; but the tradition is perfectly matter-of-fact, and there is no ground for rejecting it, As to the question of date, Nemi-natha was a cousin of Krishna, the Lord of the Bhagavad-Gita, and the great guide and friend of Arjuna. Krishna, and his clan the Yadavas, are known to have been in Dwaraka, a maritime city not far from the seat of Nemi-Natha's activity and nirvana. Scholars of Hindu literature may be able to throw light upon the activity of Jainas or Nirganthas (or had they still a third name in Kathiawadh under Nemi-Natha?) of about the time of the Maha-Bharata. A little more confirmation of the plausible and uncontroverted Jaina tradition will be a great point gained as it will push back the light of knowledge of Jaina history by at least a thousand or more years.

As the last Tirthankara, then, Mahavira is the direct source of the existing Jaina sacred books. Mahavira's speech is stated to have been intelligible to all-eve to the animals and birds-who were present at his sermons. It is a noticeable fact that Jainism is perhaps the only religion said to have been expounded to all living creatures, all understanding in their several ways the message of peace and freedom which it brought. To the absent, and to all who come after his nirvana, Mahavira's chief disciples and apostles, the Gana-dharas, explained the truth of things in accordance with the Jina's speech. Until them the faith was promulgated only by word of mouth and by tradition, of which memory was the chief repository and means of continuance. The preceding Tirthankaras are, it may be said in passing, credited with having taught the same articles of faith and practice as Mahavira. Only a sarva-jna, one who knows all, can fully understand the whole truth as expounded by Mahavira; and as men's capacity in respect of memory went on decreasing, so the real tradition of Jainism also became every day dimmer and more and more inaccurately represented. The whole of Mahavira's teachings, when systematize, consisted of (1) twelve Angas, the last Anga, the Drisht-vada, being subdivided into (a) fourteen Purvas, (b) Five Parikarmas, (c) Sutra, (d) Prathamanuyoga, and (e) the five Chulikas; and (2) the Anga-bahya Sruta. 

After the nirvana of Mahavira in 527 B.C. the knowledge of the eleven Angas and fourteen Purvas was to a greater or lesser degree extant during 683 years, i.e. down to A.D. 156. The tradition continued to disappear, and its history, as recorded in the Jaina Pattavalis, is as follow : During sixty-two years after Mahavira, i.e. until 465 B.C., three Kevalins, Gautama, Sudharma, and Jambu, were the propagators, and all these three attained nirvana, Jambu being the last in the present era. After these, during 100 years i.e., until 365 B.C. five Sruti-kevalings, Vishnunandin, Nandimitra, Aparajita, Govardhana, and Bhadrabahu, carried on the tradition. so far the different Pattavalis agree in dates and names, as well as in the number of Munis who flourished in the two periods. But hence forward the different traditions divide the remaining

521 years into different sub-periods and with different ascetics in them. But they generally agree in holding that the Sruti-kevalins were followed by the DasaPurvins, the Dasa-Purvins by the Ekadasa-Angins, and the Ekadsa-Angins by the minor or Catur-Angins and Eka-Angins. After this all the Pattavalis agree that no one was left with the knowledge of even one Anga, as it was first preached by Mahavira and then explained to the world by his chief disciples, the Gana-dharas.

In the time of Mahavira and the Kevalins writing was not employed to record the teachings of Jainism. Like the Brahmans, Buddhists, and others, the Jainas (they were called the Nagganthas or Nirgranthas) also had recourse to a highly trained memory for the preservation and propagation of their faith. But, as we have seen above, the knowledge of the Jaina scriptures was decaying generation after generation; and in the fourth century B.C. the Jainas had also begun to split up into the Svetambaras and Digambaras. The Jaina Siddhanta was considered to be in imminent peril of being quite destroyed, if matters were left as they then were. Recourse was had to the art of writing, which during several centuries had been progressing in the land.

According to the Svetambaras, the Canon was reduced to fixity by the Council of patali-putra (modern Patna, in Bihar) near the end of the fourth century B. C. But it final form was due to the Council at Valabhi, under the presidency of Devarddhi ganin, nearly eight hundred yeats later, about 454 A. D. Eighty-four works were now recognized: forty-one Sutras. Thirty Painnas (or commentaries), and the Maha-bhashya. The forty-one Sutras contain the eleven Angas (according to the Digambaras they are lost) tweve Upangas, five Chhedas, five Mulas, and eight miscellaneous, of which one is the Kalpa sutra of Bhadra-bahu, translated by Dr. Jacobi in the Sacred Books of the East, vol, xxii.

The Digambaras seem to fold that their sacred books came to be written after the Vikrama year 114, or A.D.57,when the almost total extinction of men learned in the Angas made it necessary to have the sacred lore reduced to writing. And then they took down, according to the remenbered words spoken by Mahavira and the Kevalins who folloved him. the scriptures relating to the seven tattvas, the mine padarthas, the six dravyas, the five asti-kayas, the hells, the heavens, the Siddha-kshetras, the madhy-loka with its many seas and continents, the Jivas wtih their classes, and the eighty-four lakhs (=8,400,000) of conditions in the cycle of existences.

As to the later history of these scriptures, the Jaina tradition proceeds to relate that they were sunk in boatfuls by Sankara Acharya, the Vedantist, about the Vikrama year 846 (A. D. 789). Some of the books, however, were saved in Nepal in the North, in Sravana Belgola (Mysore), and in the Mewar country pious Rajas and Maha-Rajas, After Sankara Acharya's death and under more tolerant kings the followers of Jainism sought out these books and published them all over the country. These, then, are the direct originals of the many translations and commentaries which constitute the largest proportion of the books in the Jaina libraries attached to the temples or established apart.

Thus it would seem that the Jaina Sastras are very far from being the direct representatives of the teachings of the last Tirthankara, whose word alone, according to them, is infallible and deserving of unquestioned faith. The above sketch of the vicissitudes of Jaina sacred literature is sufficient to make us think twice before accepting the trite saying of Jaina pandits and others that the word of Kevalins must be taken as truth itself. Jainism claims to be eternal. But Jainism, or the spirit of Jainism, is not identical with the body of written Jainism, as it exists to-day. Twenty-four centuries have passed since Mahavira

1 The division of the Jain community into the two sects of Svetambaras, "White-robed," and Digambara, "Sky-robed," i.e, naked, took place, according to their concurrent testimony, 609 years after Mahavira, i.e. about 80 A. D. But in gcrm it existed as early as the time of the first Council. The points of difference are minor ones, the Digambaras holding that the Perfect Saint lives without food, that a monk should not own anything, even clothes, and that salvation is not possible for a woman, for which last reason they do not admit of nuns. They also disown the canonical books of the Svetambaras.

Later divisions gave rise to various other sects, such as that of the Lunkas (1452 A. D.), which denounces idols, and that of the still somewhat numerous Sthanaka-vasis, or Dhundhias (1653 A.D.), holding the same view. Other sects, ancient and mediaeval, are mentioned in literary and epigraphical documents.

In theology, in addition to the beliefs in karma, reincarnation, etc., which Jainism held in common with other Indian religious and metaphysical systems, it boldly laid down the principle that man, by following the requisites of faith, knowledge, and conduct, can attain divinity; that God is only the highest, the noblest, and the fullest manifestation of all the powers which lie latent in the soul of man.

In philosophy Jainism holds the doctrine of many points of view. The universe may by studied in many aspects, and different view-points give rise to different statements and conclusions. As to details, the most important sections o Jaina philosophy deal with the three jewels, the seven tattvas, the nine padarthas, the six dravyas, and furnish a detailed description of the first tattva, soul, and of the last, nirvana, the soul's final liberation.

In ethics the first principle is ahimsa, non-hurting of any kind of life, howsoever low may be the stage of its evolution.

It is upon these three doctrines that the whole of Jainism is found mainly to rest.



Article Courtesy : Mr. Pravin K. Shah, Chairperson Jaina Education Committee
 Federation of Jain Associations in North America
509, Carriage Woods Circle Raleigh, NC 27607-3969, USA, E-Mail :


Mail to : Ahimsa Foundation