VEDIC, BUDDHIST AND JAIN TRADITIONS
Concept of Great Elements
philosophical systems aim at a quest for Supreme Truth or Reality, based
upon the concept of Universe. All of them try to
explain the creation and existence of the Universe from their own
points of view.
to Um¡sw¡ti, the author of the renowned Jain philosophical text Tattv¡rth¡dhigama-s£tra,
the definition of Reality is sat, i.e.,
existence. He uses the word dravya
or substance for Reality. In the process of the creation of the world,
various philosophies mention the role of the well-known five great
elements viz. p¤thiv¢, ap, tejas, v¡yu and ¡k¡¿a.
Jain philosop[hy also mentions these elements but in different contexts.
The first four, except ¡k¡¿a
are included by them in the pudgala
dravya. Ëk¡¿a is
considered to be a different dravya
in Jain thought. To point out this difference of substances from the five
great elements in other
systems, it is necessary to see in brief the ]Sa·dravyas
in Jainism. Jain system has divided the universe in two main categories, j¢va
and aj¢va, which comprise of six substances (dravyas). This aj¢va
category is a positive variety standing opposed to j¢va. It is not merely of the form of negation. Aj¢va
consists of five substances - ¡k¡¿a
(space); dharma, i.e., medium of motion; adharma
(medium of rest), k¡la (Time)
and pudgala (matter). Excluding k¡la,
all other substances are of the nature of astik¡yas.
Astik¡ya means a combination or
collection of areas or aspects. Because they exist, they are called asti
and because they have many prade¿as
like bodies, they are called k¡yas.
These astik¡yas or extensive substances are j¢v¡stik¡ya, ¡k¡¿¡stik¡ya,
dharm¡stik¡ya, adharm¡stik¡ya and pudgal¡stik¡ya.
J¢va also is called astik¡ya
because, according to Jainism each j¢va
has innumerable prade¿as. By
contraction and expansion of its prade¿as,
the j¢va occupies different
proportions. It is just like the flame of a lamp whose light can fill a
small room as well a big hall.1
So a j¢va can occupy a smallest body of a bacterium or the biggest body
of a great fish.
five fundamental substances in the form of five astik¡yas
are eternal (nitya); immutable (avasthita) and devoid of form (ar£pin).
They are not externally created, but
are evident by their own nature.
pudgalas are possessed of r£pa.
The properties are capable of being grasped through the sense-organs. So
they are m£rta or r£pin. Though the atoms on account of being supra-sensuous, are not
grasped through the sense-organs, but under some specific transformation
they do develop the capacity to be grasped through the sense-organs.
Generally it is defined that aj¢va
is that which has no consciousness, but which can be touched, tasted, seen
and smelt; but according to Jainism, these four characteristics belong to pudgala or matter which can be touched, tasted, seen and smelt
because matter has gross forms. It shows that the scope of the aj¢va
category of Jainism comprises not only pudgala
or matter but something more, that is, dharma,
adharma, ¡k¡¿a and k¡la.
to the Jain system, ¡k¡¿a is not included among the well-known five great elements,
i.e., p¤thiv¢, ap, tejas, v¡yu
and ¡k¡¿a. Ëk¡¿a is a
substance which allows dharma, adharma,
k¡la, pudgala and j¢va
to remain within itself and which allows them to enter itself. It means
that ¡k¡¿a acts as a support
for the remaining substances which act as occupants. It is
self-supporting. The Jain concept of space is unique in its originality,
for it holds space as positional quality of the world of material objects
and space as the container of material objects and other substances.
seed of the Jain concept of space is embodied in the Jain ¡gamas
like the Bhagavat¢ S£tra
etc. In the post-¡gama age,
Um¡sw¡t$¢ had sown the seed of its metaphysical aspects on the basis of
its ¡gamic conception. The Jain thinkers retained the substantial
existence of space as conceived by the Ny¡ya
Vai¿eÀikas;2 but they had discarded the elemental concept of space of the S¡Ækhyas.
S¡Ækhyas in their Prak¤tiv¡da,
i.e., the doctrine of the fundamental cause of the material universe,
mention ¡k¡¿a as produced
from tanm¡tras. It is also
stated to have originated out of the Mass or Inertia (tamas)
in the Prak¤ti as a result of
its transformation, when the original equilibrium comes to an end. So in S¡Ækhya,
¡k¡¿a is janyapad¡rtha
of an evolved entity or element; but not an independent absolute
substance. The Ny¡ya-Vai¿eÀikas conceive
¡k¡¿a as one of the
categories of dravya and the
fundamental principle of creation. The Ved¡ntin
also maintains the view that ¡k¡¿a
is Brahman as the characteristic
marks are mentioned.3 As all the
prominent characteristics of Brahman
are ascribed to ¡k¡¿a it
cannot be the etheral ¡k¡¿a
but Brahman. But according to Jainism, in the purest form, this objectively
real entity ¡k¡¿a does one
function only, i.e., to accommodate other substances of the universe. The
function of the other dravyas is
to attain room and the function of the space is to give room to them.4 The aphorism in Tattv¡rth¡dhigamas£tra
(lok¡k¡¿e avag¡hah) (V.12)
implies the division of space into lok¡k¡¿a
and alok¡k¡¿a. The five
fundamental substances are accommodated in lok¡k¡¿a.
So the differentiation of space is to accommodate other substances.
substance pudgal¡stik¡ya, goes
under the aj¢va category.
This term pudgala is used in Buddhist literature also, but there it is used in
the sense of soul. In Jainism j¢va
and pudgala are totally
different categories. Pudgala
generally means Matter. It has two parts pud
and gala. The first part
means 'to combine' and second
part gala means 'to dissociate'. So the etymological meaning of pudgala
is that substance which undergoes modifications by combination and
dissolutions. The definition is significant because this process of
combination and dissolution does not occur in other substances.
is of two types - a¸u and skandha
or atoms and aggregates or molecules. An indivisible material particle is
called atom. It is the smallest possible form of pudgala.
Skandha means an aggregate or
something tied together. It is significant that each and every atom
possesses touch, taste, smell and colour and is potentially capable of
forming earth, water, fire and air. These are no distinct and different
kinds of atoms of earth etc., i.e., the atoms are ultimately not
different. For example, airy atoms can be converted into water, watery
atoms can be converted into fire and so on. Ultimately all the atoms
belong to one and the same class of pudgala.
Sometimes they form earth, sometimes they form water and so on. Thus
according to Jainism, earth, water, fire and air are not
ultimately separate and independent entities but only different
forms of pudgala. There are no
qualitative difference among them. The school of Ny¡ya-Vai¿eÀika
does not agree to this view of Jain as seen before that
regards earth, water, fire and air as absolutely different and
independent substances and so their atoms are also ultimately distinct and
function of pudgala is to form
the basis of the body and
organs of speech, mind and respiration. Pleasure, pain, life, death also
are the benefits due to pudgala.
we call pudgala as synonymous
with matter, pudgala is not pure
matter untouched from consciousness like the insentient matter of the S¡Ækhya.
The pudgala skandha has also an element of consciousness. The j¢va
and aj¢va categories of Jainism are not empirical abstractions of
consciousness and non-consciousness. In the following characteristics of
the conception of the gross elements in Jainism this point will be very
gross elements excluding ¡k¡¿a are included in pudgala.
It is interesting to know that unlike the gross elements in S¡Ækhya
and Ved¡nta, the gross elements contained in pudgala are not totally insentient. But they are sentient as well as
insentient also. Among the twofold classification of j¢vas as trasa and sth¡vara
the sth¡vara j¢vas are of five kinds - p¤thiv¢k¡ya, apk¡ya, tejask¡ya,
v¡yuk¡ya and vanaspatik¡ya.
Thus j¢vas whose body consists of p¤thiv¢
is called p¤thiv¢k¡ya,
the j¢va whose body consists of
ap is called ¡pk¡ya. These are
sentient and non-sentient. Earth is the body of the sentient being as well
as sentient body itself. These are elemental souls, which live and die and
are born again in the same or
other elemental bodies. Their sentient part increases. To explain further,
a metallic stone drawn from the mine in its natural condition is sentient
but as soon as we make some chemical reaction on it, it becomes
non-sentient. Earth which has
not suffered the blow of friction is sentient, but once there is friction
it becomes insentient. In a similar way, the water which is flowing
through a river is sentient but as soon as water is boiled it becomes
non-sentient. All these are ekendriya j¢vas or j¢vas
having only one sense. In
the case of vanaspatik¡ya, the
plants are the j¢vas of one
sense. Each plant may be the body of one soul or may possess a multitude
of embodied souls. Thus, the doctrine of the gross elements having the
sentient and non-sentient aspects, and the theory that there are souls
even in inorganic objects like metals, stones, water, etc. are special
features of the Jain system of thought.
to the Vai¿eÀika system air or
v¡yu contains only the quality
of touch. The other qualities colour,
taste and smell are absent in air, but according to Jainism, colour,
taste, touch and smell are found invariably together and therefore
whenever there is touch, form, taste and smell will necessarily be there.
This Jain theory is validated by the modern science, according to which
air can be converted into bluish liquid by continuous cooling, as steam can be converted into water, and the liquid contains
all the four qualities of touch, colour, taste and smell. So the gross
elements excluding ¡k¡¿a
possess not only the specific qualities but, as these elements are
included in pudgala, all the qualities of pudgala
as touch, form, taste and smell are present in each element.
six dravyas together are called
universe. In their original state, they are stable and firm but on account
of their mutual relation, new things emerge and old things perish. The
working of universe is nothing but the substances experiencing the power
of production, destruction, duration and transformation in respect of
their forms and status. According to Ved¡nta
and the Ny¡ya-Vai¿eÀika
system, satt¡ is absolutely
permanent having no change whatsoever. But the Jain philosopher Um¡sw¡ti
decrees that "the thing which is characterized by origination,
destruction and permanence is 'real'".5
During the period of taking new forms and leaving old ones, the substance
does not leave its essence. In both origination and decay, it remains as
it is. This immutable nature is called permanence. For example, a thing,
say clay, assumes various shapes and under-goes diverse changes such as
jug, pan etc. As illustrated by Ch¡ndogya
v¡c¡rambha¸aÆ vikaro n¡madheyaÆ m¤ttiketyeva satyam
unchangeable substance, i.e., clay alone is true and the changing forms
are more illustrations of senses or mere objects of names. But Jainas do
not suppose that substances alone are true and the qualities are false and
illusory appearences. They argue, that in actual experience in all changes
there are three processes: (1) some qualities remain unchanged, (2) some
new qualities are generated, (3) some old qualities are destroyed. For
example, when a jug is made, the lump-clay is destroyed, the jug is
generated and the clay is permanent. Due to these unchanged qualities a
thing is said to be permanent though it undergoes change. When a lump of
gold is turned into a rod or a ring, all the specific qualities which
connote the word 'gold' are seen to continue, though the forms are
successively changed and with each change some of its qualities are lost
and some new ones are acquired.
to the interaction of the six dravyas, new things emerge and old things perish. Through the
interaction of soul and matter, the Universe rolls. Matter is the cause of
making bodies. It forms the physical basis for the body, speech, mind,
respiration of the worldly souls. When the worldly career of the beings is
over, they give up the gross body and accompany the subtle body and again
receive physical particles appropriate for the gross body in the next
short, the Jain system refuses to attribute either absolute permanence or
absolute transience to anything, but treats everything as either permanent
or transitory. This system retains the elemental nature of the gross
elements to some extent but
at the same time it gives its own interpretation to the term ¡k¡¿a.
Tattv¡., V.16 -
Vai¿eÀika S£tra, I.15
Br., S£. I.1.22 -
Tattv¡rth¡dhigama S£tra, -
©1995 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi