A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 1

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1922 | 212,082 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of the jivas: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the fourteenth part in the series called the “the jaina philosophy”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 14 - The Jīvas

The Jains say that experience shows that all things may be divided into the living (jīva) and the non-living (ajīva). The principle of life is entirely distinct from the body, and it is most erroneous to think that life is either the product or the property of the body[1]. It is on account of this life-principle that the body appears to be living This principle is the soul. The soul is directly perceived (by introspection) just as the external things are. It is not a mere symbolical object indicated by a phrase or a description. This is directly against the view of the great Mīmāmsā authority Prabhākara[2]. The soul in its pure state is possessed of infinite perception (ananta-darśana), infinite knowledge (ananta-jñāna), infinite bliss (ananta-sukha) and infinite power (ananta-vīrya)[3]. It is all perfect. Ordinarily however, with the exception of a few released pure souls (mukta-jīva), all the other jlvas (samsārin) have all their purity and power covered with a thin veil of karma matter which has been accumulating in them from beginningless time. These souls are infinite in number. They are substances and are eternal. They in reality occupy innumerable space-points in our mundane world (lokākāśa), have a limited size (madhyama-parimāna) and are neither all-pervasive (vibhu) nor atomic (ariu)', it is on account of this that jīva is called Jivāstikāya.

The word astikāya means anything that occupies space or has some pervasiveness; but these souls expand and contract themselves according to the dimensions of the body which they occupy at any time (bigger in the elephant and smaller in the ant life). It is well to remember that according to the Jains the soul occupies the whole of the body in which it lives, so that from the tip of the hair to the nail of the foot, wherever there may be any cause of sensation, it can at once feel it. The manner in which the soul occupies the body is often explained as being similar to the manner in which a lamp illumines the whole room though remaining in one corner of the room.

The Jains divide the jlvas according to the number of sense-organs they possess. The lowest class consists of plants, which possess only the sense-organ of touch. The next higher class is that of worms, which possess two sense-organs of touch and taste. Next come the ants, etc., which possess touch, taste, and smell. The next higher one that of bees, etc., possessing vision in addition to touch, taste, and smell. The vertebrates possess all the five sense-organs. The higher animals among these, namely men, denizens of hell, and the gods possess in addition to these an inner sense-organ namely manas by virtue of which they are called rational (saṃjñin) while the lower animals have no reason and are called asaṃjñin.

Proceeding towards the lowest animal we find that the Jains regard all the four elements (earth, water, air, fire) as being animated by souls. Thus particles of earth, etc., are the bodies of souls, called earth-lives, etc. These we may call elementary lives; they live and die and are born again in another elementary body. These elementary lives are either gross or subtle; in the latter case they are invisible. The last class of one-organ lives are plants. Of some plants each is the body of one soul only; but of other plants, each is an aggregation of embodied souls, which have all the functions of life such as respiration and nutrition in common. Plants in which only one soul is embodied are always gross; they exist in the habitable part of the world only. But those plants of which each is a colony of plant lives may also be subtle and invisible, and in that case they are distributed all over the world.

The whole universe is full of minute beings called nigodas ; they are groups of infinite number of souls forming very small clusters, having respiration and nutrition in common and experiencing extreme pains. The whole space of the world is closely packed with them like a box filled with powder. The nigodas furnish the supply of souls in place of those that have reached Mokṣa. But an infinitesimally small fraction of one single nigoda has sufficed to replace the vacancy caused in the world by the palambhaḥ of all the souls that have been liberated from beginningless past down to the present. Thus it is evident the saṃsāra will never be empty of living beings. Those of the nigodas who long for development come out and contiune their course of progress through successive stages[4].

Footnotes and references:


See Jaina Vārttika, p. 60.


See Pratneyakamalamārtaṇḍa, p. 33.


The Jains distinguish between darśana and jñāna. Darśana is the knowledge of things without their details, e.g. I see a cloth. Jñāna means the knowledge of details, e.g. I not only see the cloth, but know to whom it belongs, of what quality it is, where it was prepared, etc. In all cognition we have first darśana and then jñāna. The pure souls possess infinite general perception of all things as well as infinite knowledge of all things in all their details.


See Jacobi’s article on Jainism, E. R. E., and Lokaprakāśa, VI. pp. 31 ff.

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