A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 1

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

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

Part 22 - Jaina Atheism


The Naiyāyikas assert that as the world is of the nature of an effect, it must have been created by an intelligent agent and this agent is Iśvara (God). To this the Jain replies,

“What does the Naiyāyika mean when he says that the world is of the nature of an effect”?

Does he mean by “effect,”

  1. that which is made up of parts (sāvayava),
  2. or, the coinherence of the causes of a non-existent thing,
  3. or, that which is regarded by anyone as having been made,
  4. or, that which is liable to change (vikāritvain).

Again, what is meant by being “made up of parts”? If it means existence in parts, then the class-concepts (sāmānya) existing in the parts should also be regarded as effects, and hence destructible, but these the Naiyāyikas regard as being partless and eternal. If it means “that which has parts,” then even “space” (ākāśa) has to be regarded as “effect,” but the Naiyāyika regards it as eternal.

Again “effect” cannot mean “coinherence of the causes of a thing which were previously non-existent,” for in that case one could not speak of the world as an effect, for the atoms of the elements of earth, etc., are regarded as eternal.

Again if “effect” means “that which is regarded by anyone as having been made,” then it would apply even to space, for when a man digs the ground he thinks that he has made new space in the hollow which he dug.

If it means “that which is liable to change,” then one could suppose that God was also liable to change and he would require another creator to create him and he another, and so on ad infinitum. Moreover, if God creates he cannot but be liable to change with reference to his creative activity.

Moreover, we know that those things which happen at some time and do not happen at other times are regarded as “effects.” But the world as a whole exists always. If it is argued that things contained within it such as trees, plants, etc., are “effects,” then that would apply even to this hypothetical God, for, his will and thought must be diversely operating at diverse times and these are contained in him. He also becomes a created being by virtue of that. And even atoms would be “effects,” for they also undergo changes of colour by heat.

Let us grant for the sake of argument that the world as a whole is an “effect.” And every effect has a cause, and so the world as a whole has a cause. But this does not mean that the cause is an intelligent one, as God is supposed to be. If it is argued that he is regarded as intelligent on the analogy of human causation then he might also be regarded as imperfect as human beings. If it is held that the world as a whole is not exactly an effect of the type of effects produced by human beings but is similar to those, this will lead to no inference. Because water-vapour is similar to smoke, nobody will be justified in inferring fire from water-vapour, as he would do from smoke.

If it is said that this is so different an effect that from it the inference is possible, though nobody has ever been seen to produce such an effect, well then, one could also infer on seeing old houses ruined in course of time that these ruins were produced by intelligent agents. For these are also effects of which we do not know of any intelligent agent, for both are effects, and the invisibility of the agent is present in both cases. If it is said that the world is such that we have a sense that it has been made by some one, then the question will be, whether you infer the agency of God from this sense or infer the sense of its having been made from the fact of its being made by God, and you have a vicious circle (anyonyāśroya :).

Again, even if we should grant that the world was created by an agent, then such an agent should have a body, for we have never seen any intelligent creator without a body. If it is held that we should consider the general condition of agency only, namely, that the agent is intelligent, the objection will be that this is impossible, for agency is always associated with some kind of body. If you take the instances of other kinds of effects such as the shoots of corn growing in the fields, it will be found that these had no intelligent agents behind them to create them. If it is said that these are also made by God, then you have an argument in a circle (cakraka), for this was the very matter which you sought to prove.

Let it be granted for the sake of argument that God exists. Does his mere abstract existence produce the world? Well, in that case, the abstract existence of a potter may also create the world, for the abstract existence is the same in both cases. Does he produce the world by knowledge and will? Well, that is impossible, for there cannot be any knowledge and will without a body. Does he produce the world by physical movement or any other kind of movement? In any case that is impossible, for there cannot be any movement without a body. If you suppose that he is omniscient, you may do so, but that does not prove that he can be all-creator.

Let us again grant for the sake of argument that a bodiless God can create the world by his will and activity. Did he take to creation through a personal whim? In that case there would be no natural laws and order in the world. Did he take to it in accordance with the moral and immoral actions of men? Then he is guided by a moral order and is not independent. Is it through mercy that he took to creation? Well then, we suppose there should have been only happiness in the world and nothing else. If it is said that it is by the past actions of men that they suffer pains and enjoy pleasure, and if men are led to do vicious actions by past deeds which work like blind destiny, then such a blind destiny (adrṣṭa) might take the place of God. If He took to creation as mere play, then he must be a child who did things without a purpose. If it was due to his desire of punishing certain people and favouring others, then he must harbour favouritism on behalf of some and hatred against others. If the creation took place simply through his own nature, then, what is the good of admitting him at all ? You may rather say that the world came into being out of its own nature.

It is preposterous to suppose that one God without the help of any instruments or other accessories of any kind, could create this world. This is against all experience.

Admitting for the sake of argument that such a God exists, you could never justify the adjectives with which you wish to qualify him. Thus you say that he is eternal. But since he has no body, he must be of the nature of intelligence and will. But this nature must have changed in diverse forms for the production of diverse kinds of worldly things, which are of so varied a nature. If there were no change in his knowledge and will, then there could not have been diverse kinds of creation and destruction. Destruction and creation cannot be the result of one unchangeable will and knowledge. Moreover it is the character of knowledge to change, if the word is used in the sense in which knowledge is applied to human beings, and surely we are not aware of any other kind of knowledge. You say that God is omniscient, but it is difficult to suppose how he can have any knowledge at all, for as he has no organs he cannot have any perception, and since he cannot have any perception he cannot have any inference either. If it is said that without the supposition of a God the variety of the world would be inexplicable, this also is not true, for this implication would only be justified if there were no other hypothesis left. But there are other suppositions also.

Even without an omniscient God you could explain all things merely by the doctrine of moral order or the law of karma. If there were one God, there could be a society of Gods too. You say that if there were many Gods, then there would be quarrels and differences of opinion. This is like the story of a miser who for fear of incurring expenses left all his sons and wife and retired into the forest. When even ants and bees can co-operate together and act harmoniously, the supposition that if there were many Gods they would have fallen out, would indicate that in spite of all the virtues that you ascribe to God you think his nature to be quite unreliable, if not vicious. Thus in whichever way one tries to justify the existence of God he finds that it is absolutely a hopeless task. The best way then is to dispense with the supposition altogether[2].

Footnotes and references:


See Guṇaratna’s Tarkarahasyadīpikā.


See Ṣaḍdarśanasamuccaya, Guṇaratna on Jainism, pp. 115-124.