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Part 3: Jain Reform Movement

Philosophical Basis for Religious Reform


This article explores the philosophical basis for religious reform with a view to show that the Jaina philosophy is most suited for such a reform movement. We have seen that ‘reform’ means ‘change for the better.’ It is brought about intentionally, deliberately and knowingly by religious leaders. Their aim is to keep up the spirit of religion and to adjust the outward / external aspects (spatio-temporal) to the historical, natural, socio – political and cultural changes. This chapter argues that according to the Jaina philosophy, reality is neither exclusively static and unchanging (kutasthanitya) nor exclusively a flux (anitya, ksanika). It is both permanent from the point of view of substance and changing from the point of view of modes (paryayas), that is it is parinami nitya. It follows from this view that we must not hold any one-sided view about the nature of reality. Instead we must adopt the perspective that reality is many-sided- Anekanta. Each view should be treated as partial (a naya) and true from a certain perspective. This is true of ‘dharma’ also. From one point of view dharma is eternal and unchanging but from another, it is subject to change based on modes. The Jaina doctrine of Anekanta and naya helps to avoid conflict and confrontation between different perspectives. Secondly, the Jaina view that we must always think of everything relative to dravya, ksetra, kala and bhava, provides the sound logico-philosophical foundation for religious reform. Those who refuse to change are not really faithful to their own philosophy. Finally the true understanding of the unique theories of Anekanta and Naya make Jaina religion not only non-aggressive and non-dogmatic but help to develop the spiritual attitude of Sarva-dharma-samabhavana and respect for all religions.

In order to understand what is meant by the philosophical basis of religious reform, we will have to distinguish between different theoretical disciplines which deal with religious phenomena such as history of religion, psychology of religion and sociology of religion. All these three disciplines deal with religion. But their perspectives are different. However, they all agree insofar as the nature and method of their enquiry is empirical. They all are factual sciences. On the contrary, philosophical inquiry is neither empirical nor factual; rather, it encompasses both conceptual or logical aspects and normative inquiry.

The conceptual enquiry clarifies different concepts of religion, religious deterioration, religious reformation etc. while the normative enquiry discusses the criteria of judging religious deterioration versus progress or reform.

While empirical inquiry provides causal explanations of religious phenomena, philosophical inquiry provides reasons or arguments, justifying validity or otherwise of certain change in belief system or practice.

This chapter therefore will discuss the following issues; (a) Differences between the Semitic religion, especially Christianity and the ancient Indian religions viz, Vedic, Buddhist and the Jaina. (b) The underlying metaphysics of the three Indian religions and how the specific Jaina metaphysics is congenial to religious reform. (c) Criteria for progress and (d) concept of religious reform and the agency through which reform is brought about.

Differences between the Prophetic and Indian Religions

We may begin with the general features of the ancient Indian religions and distinguishing them from those of prophetic religions.

(A) Theo Centric Vs Moksa Centric

Ancient Indian religions are not based on ‘historical revelation from God to a prophet’ as in the case of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Firstly, ancient Indian religions are not necessarily theocentric and hence atheism is not regarded as irreligiosity. None of them believe in creatio ex nihilo and none of them accept the beginning of time. In Semitic religions God plays a major role

  • God creates the universe out of nothing
  • There is a firm dividing line between creator and creation.
  • Creation involves time

This means “Creation did not take place in time but that time is itself an aspect of the world.”[1]In Jain philosophy, Kala becomes a category in itself.

God is portrayed as loving in Christian thought. He showers kindness, mercy and grace on those who pray to him. The historical theory of religion, claims that God,

and the religion built around him, merely reflects a historical circumstance or person or belief.

The death and resurrection of Jesus conforms to this historical type and explains Christianity more plausibly than God incarnating himself to die for the sins of others.

(B) Prophetic Vs Self –Revealed or Non-Prophetic

A prophet is essentially one who is called to speak or proclaim for God against all unrighteousness and disloyalty to Yahweh. Prophets pronounce judgment against evil and prophesized or announced what was bound to happen in the light of the truths of Yahweh.

Revealed theology deals with those truths which are accessible to human beings only through the prophet. Revelation cannot be grasped by one’s own unaided intellect. This theology believed in God – Who is creator, father and the Holy Spirit.

The earlier religion does not recognize the next prophet. For the Jews, Christ is not the prophet. But the Christians regard the old testament of the Jews as well as the new; revealed to Jesus Christ. Similarly the Christian do not recognize Muhammad who came after Jesus as their prophet.

(C) Original Sin Vs Ignorance as Cause Of Bondage

All the Semitic religions are theo-centric having common public prayers and worship. They believe in the Original Sin, disobedience to God. This original sin that Adam and Eve, the first couple disobeyed the command of God and hence led to the downfall of mankind. Due to this the whole mankind has to repent and only God’s Grace will lead to their salvation.

Indian religions conceive themselves as eternal religions which were discovered by Vedic Rsis, Buddhas and Tirthankaras. They conceive of the problem of spiritual Ignorance (ajnana or avidya) and not evil as the cause of suffering. They are not theo-centric but self-centric – moksa-centric. In Indian religions the highest knowledge, is attained through self. Though there are prophets, they talk in terms of their own self – experience that is transcendental. Religion is therefore eternal. There is no God who sends the messiah who will die for the original sin.

(D) Linear Time Vs Cyclical Time

Indian religions believe in time as cyclical as against the western tradition, which visualizes the concept of time as linear. The concept of time itself suggests that there is a definite history and science through which the universe governed on its own or by creator God, and is constantly undergoing changes.

The Indian religions believe that time is beginningless (anadi) and endless (ananta). This belief shows that, according to them, time is eternal. There are the various ages which follow one after another wherein the time ascends and descends. According to Jainism, tirthankaras come periodically and restate and rejuvenate religious spirit during such ages.

According to Hinduism the present time is Kaliyuga; it is a regressive time descending cycle. They believe that God will incarnate and will reform religion; especially Vaisnavism which believes in the incarnations of Visnu.

“Whenever there is decline of righteousness and rise of unrighteousness, O Bharata (Arjuna), then I send forth (create, incarnate) myself”.[2]

They believe that the last avatar of Visnu is yet to arrive who will destroy adharma and restore the dharma.

“For the protection of the good, for the destruction of the wicked and for the establishment of righteousness, I come into being from age to age”.[3]

At the succeeding age the Saints come and reveal the religious spirit through their insights. The modern age, is characterized by the age of the enlightened reformers who enhance the spirit of religion.

Traditional Jaina view regarding time is that it is cyclical. Each cycle of time is divided into two half cycles, viz. utsarpini and avasarpini, the ascending and descending order, unlike the western linear concept of time. Present time is the fifth Ara that is Dusama of the avasarpini kala. The first and the second Ara were of crores of years. It was the yugalika period when there were kalpavruksas (wish – fulfilling trees) and so there was no need to work and even attaining moksa was not possible. No Tirthankaras are born, as it is needless for them to be born. Then transition or change took place where kalpavruksas stopped fulfilling wishes in the third Ara and hence there was chaos. The first Tirthankara Rsabha was born to Kulkara Nabhi. Because of the chaos, people came to Rsabha who organized society. Here he taught seventy-two arts to males and sixty-two to females. Institution of marriage was established. Society became civilized. After having accomplished this task he took initiation and established the religious order. He attained the supreme knowledge (kevala jnana) and he established the five-fold order (1) Ahimsa, (2) Satya, (3) Asteya, (4) Brahmacarya and (5) Aparigraha – for the benefit of the people. His successor the second Tirthankara, born in the Fourth Ara, reorganized the five-fold order into four fold (caturyama dhamma) whereby Brahmacarya was incorporated in Aparigraha.

This tradition of caturyama dhamma was carried up to Parsva, twenty- third Tirthankara. His successor Mahavira reformed the caturyama dhamma once again to pancayama dhamma as propounded by Rsabha. After Mahavira no Tirthankara is born. This marks the beginning of the fifth Ara. Here one observes changes that have taken place. These changes were according to dravya, ksetra, kala and bhava. These four-causal conditions affect changes that ought to take place from time to time. The older the system, the more changes are required for its survival.

Metaphysical Basis for Religious Reform

 Parinami Nitya

Every religion undergoes changes, which are natural and even those, which are brought about deliberately by human or divine efforts. The metaphysical question concerning reformation is about the relation between permanence and change, nitya and anitya. If religion is regarded as eternal and unchanging then the notion of change becomes inexplicable. On the other hand if religion is regarded as constantly changing then, the idea of identity of a religious tradition becomes inexplicable. In this regard the metaphysics of Jainism seems to be very congenial to account for both permanence and change. As anekanta-vadin, the Jaina will neither assert that religion is exclusively external and unchanging nor will it assert that it is exclusively impermanent and changing and this is true not only of religion but of all things. If the question is raised whether religion is eternal or non-eternal, permanent or changing the Jaina answer would be that from a certain point of view it is Nitya, permanent and from another point of view it is changing. It seems, therefore, that the Jaina philosophy is against both the notion of exclusive permanence and exclusive change, and like everything else in the world dharma is nitya from substantive point of view and anitya from the modal point of view. This does not mean that both are independent of each other. Whenever the question about permanence and change is raised the following alternative answers are given.

(1) Permanence alone is real: According to Advaita Vedanta, reality is permanently unchanging (kutastha Nitya). Therefore change is superimposed on the permanent unchanging reality.

(2) Change alone is real: According to Buddhism everything is permanently changing (Sarvam anityam). Reality according to them is momentary (sarvam ksanikam). Therefore it is difficult for them to account for the permanent nature of religion.

The above views have an extreme position. But the following views hold both permanence and change to be true but have different metaphysical standpoint.

(3) Permanence and changes are separate: According to the samkhyas the Purusa is permanent and prakriti is constantly in the play of change. But both are separate from each other.

(4) Both permanence and change are real: According to Jainism, both permanence (dhrauvya) and change (utpada-vyaya) are real. Change is inherent in the permanent reality. They are equal and none is subordinate to the other.

“For Jaina thinkers, reality is constituted of apparent contradictions. So its one-dimensional exposition is not possible. It is an inalienable complex of permanence and change, existence and non-existence, oneness and many-ness, universality and particularity etc. Because of this complexity, reality is styled “anekantic”. It is thus multidimensional, possessing antagonistic dimensions of permanence and change, one and many etc. These antagonistic dimensions are infinite in number, of which we know only a few of them. Thus the Jaina philosopher differs from all absolutists in their approach to the unfoldment of the inner nature of reality. The Jaina advocates change to be as much ontologically real as permanence. Being implies becoming and vice-versa. Becoming or perpetual change constitutes the very life of the universe. It also makes us reminiscent of the Buddhist philosophy of universal flux and of the unchanging, static, permanent absolute of Vedanta. ”[4]

Utapada Vyaya Dhrauvya

To be characterized by origination, destruction and permanence- this verily is the nature of a thing as such. It is this nature that is called real. And this real nature is constant- that is; it persists in the same form throughout the three phases of time. It never so happens that a particular thing or a thing as such is characterized by origination, destruction and permanence at one time and not characterized by them at another time.

Utpada Vyaya Dhrauvya Yuktam Sat[5]

Not to give up one’s specific nature is the dhrauvya or permanence that characterizes all substances whatsoever. To originate and perish in the form of a different transformation every moment is the utpada-vyaya or origination-cum-destruction that characterizes them.

This, therefore, can be applied to religion, which exists eternally. Jaina religion believes in the inherent capacity of the divinity of all the souls and that all souls can get liberation. The eternal path of liberation is propounded by the Tirthankaras and expressed in the scriptures. The five principal precepts of non- violence, truth, non- stealing, celibacy and non-possession are basic eternal and universal principles, both moral and spiritual in nature. These basic principles are to be followed at all places, all times, at any given conditions material and mental. In the history of Jainism there have been changes taking place and changes brought about deliberately within the existing conditions – dravya, ksetra, kala and bhava keeping the eternal principles unaffected with the support of two essential philosophical doctrines – Anekantavada and syadavada to adjust to the mutually contradictory situations.

Inheriting within its framework the principles of permanence and change and giving equal status to both without giving autonomy to any, Jainism has full advantage to account for change, not only to external conditions but conditions within the religion itself.

For example, in the times when there were no vehicular travels domesticated animals were used. To prevent exploitation of those animals the first vow of non-violence mentions the five transgressions bandhe (to bind), vahe (to kill), chavicheda (to mutilate), aibhare (to put extra burden), and Bhakta pana vuchaya( not to provide enough food and water)

But today when the vehicles are used widely in cities and in remotest villages there is a need to reframe this vow. The morality of this vow can be expressed and practically followed not only by stopping the overexploitation of animals but to stop exploitation of human beings who work as laborers – domestic and industrial.

The vow of non – possession helps the individual to limit his possession and craving for unnecessary articles. This is possible when the whole religious institutions understand this vow in true spirit. Unnecessary building and highly decorating temples and to raise funds for the maintenance of them raises the fundamental question about the vow of non – possession followed by these religious institutions. Religious institutions themselves should follow austerities by functioning in a simple manner and to realize that religion is not tyranny of the few rich who donate already hoarded money to these institutions.


The view of multifaceted reality gives a strong foundation for the various mutually contradictory views to co- exist. As against the view of change alone or permanence alone is real, Anekantavada holds reality to be permanent from a particular viewpoint and changing from another viewpoint. From this it follows that the eternal permanent aspect of religion is in the language of acarya Tulsi, atma dharma and the changing aspect is the loka dharma. “Reality according to Jainism is not merely multiple but each real, in its turn, is manifold or complex to its core. Reality is thus a complex web of manyness (aneka) and manifoldness, (anekanta).”[6]

Anekantavadin postulates the interrelatedness of all reals in the universe and, therefore, that one who has a total cognizance of one thing would have a total cognizance of everything and vice versa.

“Anekantavada as a theory of reality, according to which reality is infinitely manifold, or relativistic in its determinism has been observed to be inherent in the co-ordinate conception of identity –in-difference. And the nayavada or the method of stand points and syadavada or the methods of dialectical predications bring out and sustain the relativistic character of reality”.[7]

Hence any predications in religion have to be followed by the above two ways of dialectics. Any formulated rule of conduct or rituals which form the part of religion have to be preceded by the word “syat” that is, from a particular viewpoint the formulated conduct and rituals analyzed in the scriptures are valid at only a particular time place as they are part of mutable loka dhama.

The way of expressing through seven-fold predications (saptabhangi) gives a strong base and ample scope for Jainism to become a universal religion. Especially the four-fold aspect of dravya, ksetra, kala and bhava as propounded in the scriptures in relation to the changes give a strong support for dynamism in Jainism. “The Jainas regarded all things as anekanta (na- ekanta) or in other words they held that nothing could be affirmed absolutely, as all affirmations were true only under certain conditions and limitations”.[8]

The immutable permanent (dhrauvya) atma dharma comprises ways of liberation -samyaktva, the nine tattvas and five principles precepts. The ways of overcoming aversion and attachment to attain the inner essence are true at all times and at all places.

The mutable changing (utpada- vyaya) loka dharma comprises of; ways of external conduct, both for sramanas and sravakas, which require deliberate attempts to keep up to the changing times.

Any person living in either India or Antarctica can definitely follow the permanent aspect of religion. But there would definitely be modifications in the ways of external code of conduct, since the different climatic and geographical conditions would require different ways of living.

Hence what is eternal is immutable irrespective of caste, color, creed, gender etc. and what is non-eternal is the modal aspect of religion. Therefore any true religious man would always say about dharma that it is kathancit sasvata and kathancit asasvata.

The present situation is a challenge to the authorities of organized religion. For them the modal aspect has been mistaken as the permanent true nature of religion. External rituals, which have actually evolved in later day, are taken to be permanent without which religion cannot be followed and true eternal religious principles are given the secondary position. Because of such an external approach the Jainas (especially sramanas) are reluctant to see the modern changes and become more and more ritualistic. They are turning their backs to the revival of the eternal and universal principles because of their extremely outdated ways of following the code of conduct. This is a fallacy of the Jainas themselves to deny and oppose changes according to the prevailing conditions.

Criteria for Progress

As argued earlier there is need for reform to revive the true spirit of religion keeping the eternal and permanent aspect to the forefront and allowing scope to moral and spiritual progress.

Progress is determined by following three factors:

(1) External to Internal: When it is perceived that certain types of conduct are the expressions and results of certain types of character, a higher value comes to be placed upon the inner character than upon the outward deed and the center of moral judgment shifts from act to the intention. Act is qualified by intention. The virtuous acts like philanthropy, benevolence, etc accompanied an outward expression of the good conduct provided they are accompanied with the inner aspect of compassion etc. Mere external actions that show only obedience to the codes of conduct would mean mithyacara. Even higher values of non-violence, truth, non-stealing, celibacy and non-possession will be expressed in not just external non-killing or mere external denouncing clothes but to value the principles which internally generate a meaningful approach towards religion. This meaningful approach can be in relation to one’s dravya, ksetra, kala and bhava and in respect to anekanatavada and nayavada.

(2) Extreme to Moderate: In Jainism, religiosity of an individual is determined on the basis of hard extreme austerities he or she performs. But at times these have failed to elevate a person’s character because mere external deliberation of hard austerities would mean just control over the external physical body and not necessarily control over four passions. This is so, because it is observed in the lives of Tirthankaras who have undergone some such austerities. But people fail to recognize the inner transition of such great beings in the process of which food, hunger, thirst, is not taken into consideration by such persons. In the minds of today’s people it would generate an ego in the mind of the performer of such lengthy and hard austerities. Hence the moderate approach towards one’s own self in relation to mere external austerities (bahya tapa) and a disciplined inner attitude (abhyanatara tapa) which provides an aspirant a stable ground to adjust to those conditions which require a particular way of living.

(3) Local to Universal: There is a change in the social structure since the times of Mahavira – from a village unit to cities and to nations. The spiritual preaching of the tirthankaras is universal in nature devoid of any absolutism. Hence these changes in the social structure are applicable in relation to changing material conditions (dravya), geographical and environmental conditions (ksetra), historical periods (kala), and psychological changes (bhava). “Dravya, ksetra, kala and bhava form the eternal quaternary for our practical guidance. The same question can be and even must be answered differently according to differences in substances, place, time and circumstances. This gives a knockout blow to rigid consistency and conservative orthodoxy, social or political and perhaps indicates the wonderful essential sameness of religion and true conduct in different forms, in different countries and ages”.[9] The vratas accompanied by the bhavanas, and the navatattvas, are truly the universal principles. These can be followed irrespective of any race, class, castes, and gender. They are the immutable fundamentals of Jaina religion.

Therefore it is necessary for the Jainas to keep up with times the permanent aspect by accommodating the changes in ways of begging, nudity and clothing, cleanliness, traditional ways of imparting religious knowledge and giving discourses and incorporating secular modern knowledge. To give a dynamic approach towards life by living in more hygienic manner, by respectful moderate eating habits, and by practicing religious values consonant with the changing circumstances would definitely help Jainism to become a universal religion practiced by all. “Religion has been one single important force which has influenced life in all its aspects from social to trans-social, both at individual and group level. It transcends culture, race, caste, class, nationality, gender, age and all social differentiations which human beings have created in the context of time and space.”[10]

All the three criteria show that intention is more important than mere external acts in the religious field. When it is imbibed properly, then conduct is transferred to character. The code of conduct prescribed by religion is not followed because virtue yields fruits in the next life but because they constitute an end in them. This leads to living a highly spiritual life, which provides a holistic approach to a way of encountering the world through anekanta and syadavada.

[1] Arvind Sharma., The Jaina perspective of Philosophy of Religion, p.6.

[2] S. Radhakrishanan, Bhagavata gita , 4.7

[3]Ibid. , 4.8.

[4] K. C. Sogani, Jaina Mysticism and other essays, p. 109.

[5]Tattvartha sutra Of Vacaka Umasvati , 5.29.

[6] Y. Padmarajiaha, A comparative study of Jaina Theories of Knowledge and Reality, p. 275.

[7]Ibid. , p. 303.

[8] Arvind Sharma, Op.Cit., p.81.

[9]  Jindal, Epitome of Jainism, p. 189.

[10] (ed) N. k. Singhi in  Ideal Ideology and Practice pg 1

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Jain Reform Movement

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