PHYSICS AND METAPHYSICS IN JAINISM
DR SANJAY JAIN
Physics seeks to know nature through the
study of matter, energy and their interactions and the laws of physics
are often termed as laws of nature. Thus, physics had been studied as a
philosophy of nature since antiquity. Jain scriptures too provide us
interesting insights into physics and metaphysics.
In physics, the physical attributes of matter, such as size,
shape, weight and colour are studied using experimental observations
and their interpretation through theoretical models. For example, the
observation that an object thrown up comes down is explained on the
basis of model of gravity. The research endeavours in physics are aimed
at bringing to fore secrets of nature using the existing knowledge in
physics, i.e., physics is used to unlock more physics.
There are striking similarities between what we know today
through physics and what is available in jain scriptures. For example,
the natural phenomena like propagation of sound and scattering of light
have almost similar explanations. The use of the word pudgal for matter
by jain seers brings forth their fundamental understanding of atomic
unifying basis of all matter that compares well with what we know from
physics. Pudgal is a combination of puran (fusion) and galan (fission)
and thus explains the various states of matter and the myriad variety
of materials around us. Mahavira’s Anekantawad and Einstein’s theory of
relativity share many ideas in common and can be looked upon as
philosophical / scientific translation of each other.
The metaphysical philosophy of Jainism is centered around the
sharp distinction between the characteristics of the ‘knower’
and the ‘known’. Knower, also termed as chetan, atman, self or
soul, has characteristics explicitly different than those of the known,
also termed as pudgal, jad, achetan or matter.
The knower, according
to Jainism, does not possess any of the attributes of matter. It has no
shape, size, weight or colour. It thus transcends the boundaries of
physics and falls outside the realm of physics. It becomes a subject of
metaphysics. The founding principle of Jainism is that knower cannot be
known physically as it does not follow physical laws. It is beyond any
physical means of detection because it is nonphysical or metaphysical.
According to Jainism mind, intellect and psyche are also not the knower
but can be considered its reflections.
The attributes of the
knower are richly discussed in jain scriptures. They are knowledge,
experience, belief and potency. However, these attributes should be
understood in their proper perspective. Knowledge and experience here
means stoic beholding and perception of things as they are in time and
space. This knowledge is somewhat different than the one we generally
understand and is gathered through mind’s eye, e.g., scientific
knowledge. A knower is also termed as dnyata–drishta for this reason.
The presence of knower
in a body means the presence of perception ability. The body that
houses the knower is physical and thus obeys laws of physics. Branches
of physics such as biophysics or medical physics deal, respectively,
with the physics of life in general and physics of human bodies in
particular. The sense organs through which we take the world in, i.e.,
know about it, are highly evolved and sophisticated physical systems.
We normally tend to attribute perception to these organs but Jainism
accords perception to them because of presence of chetan, i.e., the
knower in them. Just as spectacles aid seeing but don’t see by
themselves, organs aid perception but don’t perceive by themselves.
Thus, when one dies
body exists but can’t perceive. In a dead body eyes can’t see, ears
can’t hear, nose can’t smell, skin can’t feel and tongue can’t taste
because all these perceptions are not attributes of a physical body.
They are attributes of the soul that has left the body and hence organs
fail to perceive. The body that houses the self takes birth, grows and
dies. During its existence it follows all the laws of physics. But the
metaphysical soul is immortal and imperishable, i.e., it existed before
birth and will continue to exist beyond death. It neither grows nor
The knower and the
known thus form two mutually exclusive worlds. The world of known is
the world of physics where we have amassed huge knowledge of things
that can be known. But in this world the knower becomes unknown as it
is out of focus. But the interesting paradox is that knower cannot be
in focus as it is engaged in knowing. Spirituality is a journey of
disengaging the knower from the world of physics and engaging the
knower in knowing or realizing the self.
Both physicists and
spiritualists pursue research in their worlds with openness, honesty
and dedication and bring forth their revelations. In physics, the
revelations take the form of discoveries and inventions reported in
research papers and seminars. The scriptures and sermons bring forth
the revelations of self - realization by spiritualists and saints. Thus
all that can be discovered (i.e., passes the test of physics) is either
a part of existing physics or will be a future output of research in
physics but the discovery of discoverer will alone lead to the
spiritual progress of a discoverer.
In Jainism the
attachment with pudgal is considered to be at the root of all
disharmonies and binds one to the perpetual cycle of birth and death.
Thus the disciples are enjoined upon to detach from the outer world and
make a journey into the inner world with a goal of self - realization
by following the three fold path discussed in the following.
The dawning of the
reality that chetan and pudgal are explicit is called samyak dnyan
(right knowledge). Firm belief in this knowledge is called samyak
darshan (right belief) and conduct that will lead to complete self -
realization is called samyak charitra (right conduct).
Though chetan dwells in
all life, its powers seem to be weakened due to attachment with pudgal.
It is like covering an intense source of light by a thick cover and
asking where the light is. The purest soul is the one that is liberated
from the bondage pudgal. The purest soul is thus referred to as a state
of ‘kewal dnyan’ i.e., ‘only knowledge’. It is a state of
bliss, omniscience, omnipotent and omnipresence. In this state
knowledge is not ‘acquired’ through senses, i.e., acquiring knowledge
is not a process. This state is somewhat like a mirror in which the
knowledge of all reality in space and time reflects and which thus ends
all ignorance and curiosity that are the prerequisites for ‘acquiring’