Bhagavati-sutra (Viyaha-pannatti)

by K. C. Lalwani | 1973 | 185,989 words

The English translation of the Bhagavati-sutra which is the fifth Jaina Agama (canonical literature). It is a large encyclopedic work in the form of a dialogue where Mahavira replies to various question. The present form of the Sutra dates to the fifth century A.D. Abhayadeva Suri wrote a vritti (commentary) on the Bhagavati in A.D. 1071. In his J...

Translator’s foreword (Volume 2)

The second volume of the Bhagavatī Sūtra comprising of Śatakas three to six of the original Prakrit is going out to the readers just after a year of the publication of its first volume this very day. This volume, like the earlier one, has enough food for, thought for the inquisitive as well as the pious minds.

Śatakas three and four have a lot of myth contained therein. There is an exhaustive account of the diverse Indras, their vimānas, diverse categories of gods under them including the Sāmānikas who are almost their equals, their principal consorts and assemblies. There are, again, similar details about the Lokapālas who are the gods of the diverse directions, their progeny-like gods, gods who take orders from them, etc. With such a large galaxy of gods recognised, we cannot say that there are no gods in Jainism; but surely there is no Creator God. The interesting point here is that the Jainas have identified the celestial beings as a distinct category of existence with its hierarchy, mode of behaviour, etc., which has not been done by anyone else.

To a scientific mind, there is contained, in the same account, a complete phenomenology as observed to the south of Mount Meru, Jambūdvīpa in particular, some items of which may not be difficult to detect, but not so all. Some of these phenomena are man-made but most others are made by the agency of nature, and hence are beyond human control. In this account, anyone interested in phenomena will easily reap a rich harvest of technical terms which can enrich our own vocabulary.

In Ś.3.U.2., there is an interesting account of an event in Mahāvīra’s own life, recorded in his own words, which happened when he was a monk. It was the final year of his monkhood when he was at a place named Suṃsumārapura. At that time, Camara, the Indra of the Asurakumāras, prayed for Mahāvīra’s support in his effort to dislodge Śakra, the Indra of the Devas. In this encounter, Camara, who had an inferior status and power, was routed by Śakra who hurled his thunderbolt at him. As Camara slipped down from heaven, he took shelter between the two legs of Mahāvīra as he stood under a tree in deep meditation. This, was a very secure shelter which saved Camarendra’s life. The account is interesting in this that even gods in all mythology, Jaina or non-Jaina, Oriental or Occidental, are subject to similar passions like anger, hatred, jealousy, etc., as are human beings, and like the latter, they, too, do not hesitate to take up arms for an open trial of strength.

In Ś.3.U.4-6., as elsewhere in this volume, there is a considerable discussion on supernatural powers, vikurvaṇā or power to transform, and samudghāta or power to quick transformation, of various agencies, sub-human, human and celestial. The elaborate discussion would give the impression that these powers were actually in possession of these agencies, though they were rarely used. How a modern mind will take this account is anybody’s guess.

Ś.5. provides a useful relief from mythology when discussion starts on sun-rise and sun-set. It is an interesting Jaina view that Jambūdvīpa is served by two suns. This, however, is not corroborated by modern science. Then follows a discussion on the measures of day and night whose total length together on any one-day is fixed, but the respective lengths of the two vary. This is our own experience that days in summer are longer than nights, as nights in winter are longer than days. For this purpose, the standard, measure used by the Jainas is a muhūrta, which is equivalent of 48 minutes. Further, there are discussions on rains, winter, winds, sprouting capacity of the grains, loss of this capacity, and so on, and some of these are elaborated further in the Śatakas following.

Ś.5.U.3. has an illuminating discussion on life-span which, is the outcome of a karma giving it. Life-span is itself a bondage, and there is movement with life-span. U.3. has a discussion on sound. There is also an interpolation here on embryology, obviously referring back to the transfer of Mahāvīra’s embryo from the womb of a Brāhmaṇa woman to that of a Kṣatriya woman. Such a thing is not yet known to modern surgery, but the Jainas have considered this as a difficult, if not an impossible, method of operation. Whatever the medical value of this account, its historical value lies in this that even before the Christian era, people of the Jaina sect widely believed in this so much so that it was known to the author of the Kalpa Sūtra who inserted it in his account of Mahāvīra’s life in a very illuminating fashion.

A discussion on activities which started with Monk Manditaputra [Maṇḍitaputra] in Ś. 3. is resumed in Ś. 5. U. 6. with Indrabhūti Gautama, this time discussing it threadbare from practical angle with reference to a buyer and a seller, an archer, fire-bodies, etc., ending with a discussion of prohibited acts. Lifespan appears again for discussion in U. 5., and U. 7. has an important point of logic to discuss, viz., cause and noncause.

On a question by Monk Nirgranthīputra, Mahāvīra discusses a lot of atomic physics as was relevant in his own time. Pudgala or Matter which is substance has been dissected by Mahāvīra into its smallest unit called paramāṇu which is divisible no further, and this is an early anticipation of electrone, proton, etc. From this discussion again we receive terminologies such as aṇu, paramāṇu, skandha, sapradeśa, apradeśa, samadhya, amadhya, and so on. The discussion as such might appear elementary in modern age when atomic physics has made enormous progress, but at a time when atomic physics was not born in Europe, Mahāvīra’s views were surely very much advanced.

Similarly Ś.5. has a discussion on time and time-sense, and time has been divided into its smallest unit called samaya which can be divided no further. This aquires relevance from the Jaina view that Kāla or Time is a substance like Matter, and is hence divisible into its smallest unit which is divisible no further.

In Ś.5., there is an interesting discussion with the senior monks belonging to the order of Pārśva about the cosmos. In Mahāvira’s time, there were many such groups of monks of Pārśva’s order wandering in this country. After the discussion, these monks were convinced about the correctness of Mahāvīra’s stand, and were absorbed in Mahāvīra’s order. There is reason to believe that most or all followers of Pārśva recognised Mahāvīra as the Tīrthaṅkara of the new age and accepted his leadership. This was a great act of unification of the order which took place in Mahāvīra’s life, and one gets a glimpse of it in the aforesaid chapter.

Ś.6. has two interesting items to introduce, tamaskāya and kṛṣṇarāji. The former is a body made from dark matter, while the latter is a dark formation made from water-bodies. their diverse names have been given and their enormous expanse has been indicated. It is for some physical geographer to identify the two. Besides, the Śataka has sundry items, old as well as new, such as, karma, intake, matter, etc., etc. This frequent change in topics saves the reader from scholastic boredom.

Thanks are due to the authorities of Jain Bhawan, Calcutta, for undertaking the publication of this volume. Thanks are also due to Professor Suniti Kumar Chatterjee for his kind and appreciative note on volume one of this work.

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