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The Jaina Philosophy of Non-Absolutism

The Jaina Philosophy of Non-Absolutism
Item Code: NAE461
Author: Dr. Satkari Mookerjee
Publisher: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 1978
ISBN: 9788120812925
Pages: 308
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 8.5 inch X 6.0 inch
weight of the book: 443 gms
About The Book

These are the Mahavira Extension Lectures 12 (2nd Series), delivered by Dr. Mookerjee, under the patronage of Sri Santi Prasad Jam. Jainism reveals an ideology entirely different from the Vedic. The study of Jainism in its earlier aspects suggests some kind of animistic philosophy of the people, and especially its literature, having been written in Prakrit, shows a definitive trend towards a sort of folk-philosophy interested in overstraining the moral aspects without any theistic bias. This folk-philosophy reveals elements developed into logical doctrines remarkable for their originality, acuteness and subtlety. Dr. Mookerjee lays bare the fundamentals of the Jaina doctrine, Syãdväda of Anekantavada, with all the relevant problems to the benefit of the reader. With a rich background in other darsanas both East and West the author has endeavoured to give a thorough and powerful exposition of Jaina Thought, which could be done only by an adherent of Jaina faith.


The earliest parts of Jaina literature are earlier than the Buddha. We find the latter referring to Mahavira who was his contemporary, but in all probability the earliest Jaina literature, though not extant, is much earlier than Mahãvira. The Buddhists and the Jainas have been opponents from the beginning and the idea of the lay and uninformed public that they are advocates more or less of the same type of thought because they both praise non-injury or Ahimsã as supreme moral conduct is absolutely false. Though Buddhism has always contested with the systems of Indian thought that are avowedly loyal to the Upanisads, yet a careful analysis will show that much of the ideas of Buddhism have sprung from a hostile response to the Upanisadic ideas as interpreted in Buddha’s time and that much of it can be regarded as being reconstructions on the Upanisadic ideas, but we cannot say the same of Jainism. It reveals an ideology entirely different from the Vedic. It cannot however e gainsaid that in the later days the Jainas contested the Buddhists, the Vedãntists and the Naiyayikas and they participated in some of their ideas and have adopted some of their stock arguments. The study of Jainism in its earlier aspects suggests a view that there must have been some kind of animistic philosophy among the inhabitants of the country though we are unable to say who, they were. The Jaina literature was written in Prakrit and from its general trend one would regard it as a sort of folk-philosophy interested in overstraining the moral aspects -without any theistic bias. This folk-philosophy had however elements in it which in the hands of later writers were connected into logical doctrines remarkable for their originality, acuteness and subtlety. This took place by way of writing commentaries on the old Agamas and also by way of independent treatises, written in abstruse Sanskrit of the commentary literature that prevailed between the 8th and the 12th centuries.

Dr. Mookerjee has undertaken to give us in this treatise a ‘ugh shaking of a logical tree that was planted in the Agamas. The fruits were inaccessible in the high branches in the concealment of the foliage but now after thorough shaking Dr. Mookerjee has given, they are lying at the foot of the tree and one who passes may well pick them up. The difficulty of such a task will be apparent only to those that are acquainted with the difficulty of the texts which form the basis of Dr. Mookerjee’s work. The interminable shades of controversy hinted at often in cryptic language make it impossible to glean the ultimate result for any one who has not within his grip the logical and dialectical literature of the different schools of Indian philosophy — a qualification not easily acquired.

It is curious that Jainism should have the misfortune of not being able to attract scholars to rediscover it for our new age unlike Buddhism and other systems of Indian philosophy. When I was toiling on the subject in the early days of the first quarter of the century there were but two scholars who had turned their attention to this subject. It is a curious fact that no professor of philosophy in Europe is conversant with Sanskrit and practically no Sanskritist in Europe is conversant with European philosophy. To rediscover an ancient system of Indian thought in a modern language one should have not only a professed mastery over Sanskrit but also a technique of philosophic expressions which necessarily depends on a good knowledge of European philosophy. My pupil and friend Dr. Satkari Mookerjee possesses, I feel pride in saying, a mastery of Sanskrit that is required in handling difficult Sanskrit texts and he has also the knowledge of European philosophy which has given him the facility of transvaluing old Indian thoughts in modern ways in a correct manner — a power that a few that I know possess. I must congratulate both Dr. Mookerjee and Jainism that Dr. Mookerjee undertook to explain a most difficult problem of Jainalogy in such a lucid and clear manner. I have glanced over the pages and I am delighted to discover how clearly and with what precision he has been able to present the Jaina logical thoughts before his readers. Dr. Mookerjee’s earlier work on the Buddhist doctrine of flux has been well appreciated by those who have read it and I feel sure this book will add to his reputation not only as a scholar of eminence but as the Head of the Department of Sanskrit in the Calcutta University.


The present work is not an exhaustive account of Jaina thought, but an analytical study of its foundation. In it the doctrine known as syãdvada or anekãntavãda, which is so basal to the structure of Jaina metaphysics and constitutes its most original contribution to philosophical speculation, has been thoroughly dealt with all the relevant problems. A critical student of Philosophy, Indian and European alike, will find in it a fresh and vigorous approach to problems which have engaged the thought of all philosophers of the world. Jaina philosophy is frankly realistic and so stands in a close relation of kinship to the other realistic schools of thought, particularly Nyãya, Mimamsa and Sãñkhya. I have drawn out the relationship that exists among these systems and discussed their points of contact and their points of departure with equal emphasis. The systematization of Jaina philosophical speculation is chronologically a later phenomenon. The Jaina Masters entered the arena of philosophical polemics after Dignaga and Dharmakirti and their redoubtable successors had shaken the philosophical conscience of the time. This belated arrival of Jaina philosophy, though it had its moorings in the agamas which were licked into shape in the early centuries of Pre-Christian era, was responsible for its added vitality and enhanced strength. Jaina philosophy was saved from dogmatism, which was smashed to pieces by the vigorous polemics of the Buddhist philosophers. Uncritical avowal of faith was taboo in those days and this called for philosophical justification of one’s articles of faith. The Jaina had to accept the rule of the game and the result is a fullfledged philosophy, that has come down to us as an invaluable heirloom.

The philosophy of syãdvãda has been more maligned than understood. I have spared no pains to give a loyal representation of it and have shown that it is not a philosophical monstrosity that rival philosophers in their unphilosophical impatience have tried to make it out. Though born in an orthodox Brahmin family and though my personal philosophical convictions are rather enlisted on the side of Sankara’s Vedãnta, I felt a close affinity of Jaina thought to Vedãnta, which however a superficial observer may find to be diametrically opposed in their attitude and findings. It must not be forgotten that Vedãnta is frankly realistic in its logic and epistemology. And the logical evaluation of phenomenal reality as a mass of irrational surds and contradictions by Vedãnta is almost endorsed in toto by Jaina thought subject to a fundamental reservation, viz., its peculiar attitude of logical thought. The Jaina accepts the findings of Vedãnta, but refuses to draw the same conclusion. Herein lies the originality of Jaina thought in that it seeks to reorientate our logical attitude and asks us to accept the exposure of contradictions as the true measure of reality. The academic world and the average man of culture have heard much of Vedãnta, though its vigorous polemical apparatus still lies hidden in inaccessible Sanskrit works; and the impression of the generality of mankind is that India has produced only idealistic systems of thought. It is hoped that a critical student of Indian thought will feel the necessity of revising his opinion in this regard. Suffice it to say that Vedäntic idealism was not a facile overgrowth and it is necessary to understand realistic philosophy with all its strength in order to be able to appreciate idealism. Indian philosophy does not stand by mysticism, though it culminates in it. But the mysticism is not the result of dogmatic faith. It is reasoned out of logical thought and is rather an overflow. The inadequacy of logic was realized at the end of the journey and the necessity of cultivating a superior power of vision, which is not satisfied with the negative findings of reason, was realized as the key to unlock the mystery of ultimate reality.

All schools of philosophy in India, except the Cãrvãka School of Materialism which seems to be the direct antithesis of philosophy, are agreed that philosophical speculation is a necessary discipline of the mind which steels convictions and attenuates doubts. But the ultimate truth cannot be realized by philosophical discipline alone, which is only a means to that end. Indian philosophers are agreed that the plenum of knowledge can be attained by the development of a super-vision which is a potentiality in all of us. The progressive development of knowledge and the instinctive discontent with partial conquests of science and philosophy in the domain of knowledge are the augury and the assurance of infinite perfection which is the logical consummation of our destiny. The Jaina is emphatic that omniscience is the condition as well as the result of perfection, and however much we. may advance in our philosophical enquiry and scientific pursuit, which are not antagonistic in their aim in spite of their difference in method and lines of approach, it cannot by itself bring about the final consummation. But there is no alternative short cut to this. One must proceed on the road of philosophical speculation and elect to pass through the grind of the intellectual drill that philosophy prescribes until the terminus is reached. The terminus of philosophy is the beginning of spiritual career. The necessity of the pursuit of philosophy is vindicated by the fact that no thoughtful man can get rid of it. Even the man, who decries philosophy and condemns its culture, can hope to make out his case by only having recourse to philosophy. The denunciation of philosophy itself results in the setting up of a rival philosophy.

India’s philosophical culture is characterized by a sincerity of purpose and seriousness of outlook which cannot fail to extort the unstinted admiration of all but the cynic. Another characteristic of Indian speculation is the unfettered freedom of thought which was unknown in other climes. There was no state persecution for philosophical opinions, and censorship of thought was unknown, provided it did not instigate the subversion of the moral order. The same was true of religion. India has been the land of freedom of religion, which is however a recent growth in the West. This was made possible in India for the reason that Indians did not seek to make political and economical capital out of their religious persuasion. They never confounded things of Caesar with things of God. Another reason seems to be the perfect agreement and unanimity on the necessity of moral discipline. Indian thought was agreed on the moral condition that the animal in man was to be supplanted by the divine. There may be some truth in the contention that India’s tolerance of other faiths has resulted in the weakening of her political power. Indians are not even today intolerant of other creeds; but the political consequences are to be set down to the account of the proselytizing zeal of alien faiths which seek t strengthen their political interests by multiplication of converts. India in the past has effected the solution of religious differences by pinning them down in their respective spheres of influence as spiritual forces; and I am convinced that the solution of her present- day problems can be achieved if political labels cease to be put on the difference of faith — religious, philosophical and intellectual.

It may not be out of place to speak a word on the genesis of the present work. I was invited by Mr. S. C. Seal, the Secretary of the Bharati Mahavidyãlaya, to deliver a course of twelve lectures on Jaina Philosophy under the auspices of the Bhãrati Jaina Parisad. I accepted the offer and have subsequently retouched my lectures and added to them on the request of friends who are interested in my academic pursuits and in the propagation of Indian thought. One thing I may be permitted to claim as the special feature of the present work, viz., that I have kept my philosophical convictions completely in the background and have endeavoured to give as thorough and powerful an exposition of Jaina thought as could be done by an adherent of the Jaina faith. And this has been possible because my philosophy is broad enough to embrace all differences of approach and conclusions. Though an idealist by temperament and conviction I do not believe that the cause of idealism and of truth will thrive only on the degradation of realism. On the contrary I am convinced of the fact, paradoxical though it may sound, that a powerful realistic philosophy is the foundation on which a powerful idealism is to be erected. Up till now I have written little on Vedãnta barring a few papers and I consider that my treatment of Buddhistic and Jaina Philosophy will prepare the ground for the reception of my contemplated work on Vedãnta, which will take considerable time and labour.

I must thank my pupil Mr. Nathmal Tatiya, M.A., Puranchand Nahar Research Fellow, for preparing the contents. The index and abbreviations have been done by Mr. Anantalal Thakur and my best thanks are due to him. I cannot express my gratitude to Prof. S. N. Dasgupta in adequate terms for having furnished a Foreword in spite of his indifferent health and multifarious preoccupations. My debt of gratitude has become heavier to Dr. Syamaprasad Mookerjee by his approval of my dedication of the book to him. Lastly I must thank Mr. Shantiprasad Jam, Mr. Satisehandra Seal, and Mr. Chhotelal Jam for their interest in the propagation of Jaina thought. It will be a sacred investment of their money if the multi-millionaires of the Jaina community shed their indifferentism to Jaina culture and make it worthwhile for scholars to devote their labour to Jaina thought by presentation of books and other forms of aid, the lack of which was seriously felt as a handicap by the present author. One word and I finish. Mr. Nathmal Tatiya, M.A., and Mr. Sitamsusekhar Bagchi M.A., B.L., have been my critics and they helped me with their words of appreciation. These two scholars are carrying on researches on Jaina Philosophy under my guidance and I wish that they should be liberally patronized by lovers of Jaina culture. Dr. Satindra Kumar Mookerjee, M.A., Ph.D. read the book in typescript up to Chapter VI and I owe a good deal to his criticism and suggestions. I wish it were possible for him to go through the whole book and I had the benefit of his criticism of the remaining chapters — a fastidious scholar, that he is, who lets nothing pass unchallenged either in the way of linguistic form or of matter of argument. The present writer wished to incorporate a chapter on Naya, but the press could not wait and so this has to be postponed for a second edition, if one is called for. A word of explanation seems necessary for my elaborate treatment to the Nyãya Conception of Universals in a book on Jaina Philosophy. My apology is that in this I have only followed in the footsteps of Yasovijaya, who in his Nyayakhandakhadya, a remarkable exposition of Jaina Philosophy in the manner and terminology of the Neo-logicians of Bengal and Mithilã, has mcrporated in his work all the arguments of the Atmatattvaviveka with the exposition of its commentators, Raghunatha Siromani Gunananda and Narayana. Yasovijaya has unbounded admiration for Raghunatha and has paid him handsome compliments his originality of thought even while he differs from him. I e given the references to the Atmatattvaviveka, but could have made the same to Yasovijaya’s work, which quoted from the former book verbatim and literatim. In this I have followed the plan and procedure of Yasovijaya and I felt that a departure would make the treatment of this fundamental problem of philosophy inadequate and imperfect. I have however criticized the later exponents of Jaina thought and in this I trust I have only exercised the prerogative of an exponent, who need not be a yes-man. I have offered my criticism in honest faith and I have referred to Vimaladãsa in support of my position. I believe that the problem of the relation of universals to particulars is purely logical and not spatio-temporal. The universal is logically related to the particular and this relation is not capable of being understood in terms of space-time 4ietermination.

The universal is a fact which can be understood by logical thought alone and space-time does not constitute either a determination of or a barrier to its ontological status. It is everywhere and every when in the sense that it cannot be conceived to ontologically non-existent, though for self-manifestation it requires a spatio-temporal event as its medium, in between its media. It “is neither given nor presented but is taken” in the ‘language of Bradley.

I shall consider my labour to be amply justified if it succeeds in stimulating the interest of a student of philosophy in Indian thought in general and in Jaina thought in particular.


IThe Logical Background of Jaina Philosophy1-22
IIINumerical Difference And Absolute Non-Existence49-72
IVAbsolute Negativism And Absolute Particularism73-96
VThe Inexpressible or The Indefinite97-116
VIThe Dialectic of Sevenfold Predication117-176
VIIIThe Nyaya Conception of Universals212-265
IXThe Jaina Conception of Universals266-286

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