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  JAIN CONCEPTION OF DIVINITY
       
by Prof. A. Chakravarti

   According to Jainism, the divinity is associated with the revelation of the Moksha Marga or path of salvation. Aptha or the Lord is the one who reveals the Moksha marga or the path of salvation for the benefit of mankind. Out of love and mercy to the suffering multitude in samsara, the Lord reveals Moksha marga or the path of liberation. What is the nature of the divine personality who is thus actuated by Universal love and mercy in revealing the Moksha marga? What are his qualifications to adopt this divine mission? He must be an Omniscient being; space and time have no limitation to his knowledge. This infinite knowledge he acquires by an elaborate process of Yoga or spiritual discipline. By the practice of Yoga and developing Dhyana or contemplation on the pure self, he is able to destroy all the bondage due to Karmas. So long as his pure self is hidden by dense cloud of Karma, its brilliance and its true nature is completely hidden. When the karmic bondage is broken by Thapas or Yoga, the cloud that hides the intrinsic brilliance and purity of the self is dispersed. Then the pure self shines forth in all its brilliance, which is in the form of infinite knowledge. Then, the divine personality becomes the All Knowing, Sarvagya. In different periods of world’s history, such divine persons appear on the stage. They revive the Dharma. They reveal the path of salvation to people submerged in Samsara who out of ignorance revel in sensual pleasures. The divine personality who after destroying the Karmic bondage obtains infinite knowledge does not quit the worlds satisfied with his personal achievement. On the other hand, he spends the rest of his life in teaching the people truth, which he realised; he devotes his tie and energy going from place to place inspiring people to turn to the right path so that they may save themselves ultimately. This period of his life is called Dharmaprabhavana, propounding the Dharma to men and women. Such a divine personality, who after destroying the Karmas obtains Omni science and is engaged in preaching Dharma leading the people in the path of salvation, is considered Aptha or the divine Lord by the Jains. He is worshipped by then as God: -  
Moksha margasya netharam
Bhetharam karma bhubrutham  
Gnyatharm visva thathvanam  
Vande thatguna labdhaye.

   This is the adoration of God expressed by one of the great Jain saints.  
        Him who is the leader in the path of salvation  
        Him who destroys the huge mountain of Karmas  
        Him whose knowledge apprehends the whole of reality  
        I worship with the object of obtaining similar qualities for myself.  
   Such divine personalities are called Thirthankaras by the Jains. After performing the merciful duties of preaching the Dharma to the people, this divine person quits the body and becomes pure self of Paramathma. While the attains the Paramathmasvrupa or Nirvana, he is called Siddha. When the self attains its pure nature and is completely liberated from all bonds of Karma, he becomes Siddha or the perfect self.  
   This conception of divinity according to Jainas is quite different from the gods conceived by the other faiths. The conception of gods according to puranic Hinduism pictures divinity as an existing human being with all the foibles characteristics of an ordinary human being. He has got the qualities and the weakness of ordinary human personality to an exaggerated extent. He is conceived as a great householder with wife and children and concubines actuated by emotions, anger and hatred while exhibiting intense affection towards the kith and kin. Such a conception of divinity is rejected by the Jains because it is not in conformity with their conception so spiritual purity and perfection. Because Jaina thinkers rejected such popular conception of divinity, Hindu writers on religion accuse the Jains of being irreligious and atheistic. But judged from the higher philosophical standpoint of Sankara or Ramanuja, the Jaina conception of divinity is not far different from Sankara’s Paramathma or Parabrahma. The only difference between the Jaina and thinkers and the other Hindu thinkers is this: The Hindu thinkers while postulating the higher spiritual ideal of Paramathma also accommodate the popular deities in their pantheon while the Jaina thinkers completely reject such a compromise as an entirely inconsistent with the higher spiritual ideal.   
 The popular religion of Jainas.  
   The above account of god-hood is according to Jaina philosophy. The ultimate reality of Siddhahood is transcendental. It is described as Arupi – having no from. Contemplating such a spiritual ideal is not within the reach of the imagination of the ordinary people. They want something more concrete to influence their life and conduct. Mere Philosophy and logic cannot influence the of the common man for the simple reason that he cannot understand such an ideal. From the very early days, Jainism has presented to the ordinary man the godhood represented the idol of Thirthankara – the Lord who revealed the path of salvation and who provided the ferry for crossing the ocean of Samsara actuated by love and sympathy for making; he lived among the people preaching the Dharma though he himself attains the goal of the life. It is this ideal of religion which can be easily comprehended by the common man. Temples are built and images of such Thirthankaras are installed therein for the people to worship. Probably, the Jainas were the earliest to build temples and to install idols representing the Thirthankaras.  
   Vedic religion of early Aryans were not associated with temple worship. Hence, they did not trouble them selves to build temples for their gods. Their religious life was entirely associated with the Yoga ceremony and sacrifice. Sacrificial ritualism only requires a Yagasala. This Yagasala is prepared for the time being. Yagakunda is the place where they kindle the fire. The offerings to various gods are poured into the fire so kindled because they believed that fire would carry these offerings to the respective gods to whom they were intended. When the ceremony is over, the Yagasala prepared for the occasion will be of no use thereafter. The gods conceived by the Vedic Aryans are the impersonal natural elements, which were normally perceived by the ordinary man around him. They did not require a symbolism to represent their concept of divinity. Hence, they did not indulge in building temples and installing idols representing the gods.     After the Nirvana of Goutama Buddha, the disciples of Buddha constructed places of worship in the form of Stapes a superstructure built over some relic of Buddha. Later on, they introduced the image of Buddha to worship by the Buddhist ascetics and laymen. But the early Jainas who considered the Thirthankara the Lord worthy of worship or Arhanta even while he was living in their midst, flocked round him worshipping him with flowers and singing hymns in praise of God. Jina the conqueror then disappeared from their midst leaving the body behind and assuming the pure spiritual nature of Siddhahood. The worshippers of the Lord naturally set up image of the Lord who was no more with them and continued their religious offerings before this representation. Temple worship is therefore the logical result of the Jaina conception of godhood. The image installed in the temple being the representation of the Omniscient Lord or Arhanta, it is of the shape of a man engaged in yogic contemplation either sitting or standing. This representation of human personality naturally avoids and abnormal or mythic ideas.  
   Jaina sacred literature describes how such a representation of the earliest Thirthankara Lord Rishabha was installed in a temple in Mount Kailas built by the emperor Bharatha the son Lord Rishabha. Then the historic period during the third century B.C., emperor Kharavella who was ruling over Kalinga built a temple and installed the idol of Lord Rishabha in his capital Buvaneshwar. This is narrated in an inscription found on the rock in Hathikumpha Hill. He invaded Magada for the purpose of bringing back this idol of Lord Rishabha which after victory, was brought back to his capital Buvaneshwar. To witness the installation ceremony, several prince went to the Capital City of Kalinga. The same inscription mentions the Pandya king who was of Jaina faith went to Kalinga in his ship to witness the religious ceremony of installing the idol of Lord Rishabha. From this inscription, we may safely infer that about the third century B.C., temple worship was common among the Jains. This fact is further corroborated by various inscriptions found in Matra dating back to even fifth  century B.C. The temples in South India and Deccan are all built by the Pallava and Chalukya rulers of the Land. Most of these kings were followers of Ahimsa faith. Hence as rulers owing allegiance to Jaina faith, they built temples and installed idols representing the Thirthankaras. This plan was adopted by later Puranic Hinduism, which had sprung up in South India. Since Jaina society is divided into Householders and Ascetics, the Jaina laymen who lived in cities and villages had to adopt temple worship in order to promote spiritual development. The ascetics who spent most of their times in secluded places such as forests and mountain caves engaging themselves in the practice of Yoga, did not find temple worship as a necessary part of their religious life. But the laymen cannot be so indifferent to the temple worship. They engage throughout the day in their occupation either as an agriculturist or as trader in the morning or in the evening. After completing his daily avocations, he will go to the temple for the purpose of worship. This practice kept up even now by the Jaina laymen. In the place they reside, whether a village or town, there will a temple  for them to go worship.  
   Even after the split of Jaina society into two sects -  Swethabras – the white robed an  Digambaras – the sky clad, this practice of temple worship was kept up. The natural difference in their practice is the form of idol in their respective temples. In a Digambara, the idol of Thirthankara will be a nude form of man.  This represents the yogic contemplation after completely renouncing all attachment to the world.  That must be the form of Arhanta  Parameshsthi when he attained Omniscience or infinite knowledge, infinite perception, infinite power and infinite bliss. But every Thirthankara according to Jaina tradition was born in a royal family. He had the right to succeed as ruler. Before actually inheriting the kingdom and ruling over it for some years,  he renounced his royal heritage. Then he choose the path of ascetic and took the austerity of the practice of yoga before he reached the goal of spiritual liberation. The Swethabras emphasises the royal birth and hence they adore their idols in the temple with gold, silver and  precious stone befitting the royal dignity of his earlier life of Thirthankaras. There is a sub-sect of Swethabras called Sthanakvasis. These Sthanakvasi Swethambra Jains do not practice idol worships. Probably due to the influence of the Moghul rulers, the Sthanakvasi Swethambra Jains are not in the habit of building temples and installing idols therein. They merely build a big prayer hall. They go there to pray and contemplate upon spiritual quality of the Thirthankaras. This represent the complete anti-thesis towards temple worship.  
   Even we carefully examine these different practices of worships, we have to admit that they are not really in conflict with one one another. Even the great Digambara Saint Sri Kunda who is held in reverence by al the Jains clearly expressed the view that yogic Dhyana or contemplating the pure self or Paramatma is the ultimate ideal of religious life. But since common man is not capable of such an ideal, the lesser and the more concrete from temple worship is prescribed for him. Even the great Advaita philosopher Sankara adopts the same point of view maintaining that the ultimate ideal to aimed at every thinker is Paarmatma or Parabrahma. Sankara concedes the right of the common man for a more concrete form of temple worship. The common wants something, which he can understand and appreciate. The abstract ideal of the yogi may not mean anything and certainly will not influence his life. The common is therefore given the right of the temple worship, which would certainly useful in purifying his mind and promoting his ethical development, which is necessarily the stepping-stone for higher spiritual discipline. In this respect, the Vedantis, Jains and Buddhists – all the three are agreed on this concession shown to the common man in promoting the spiritual development.

 

                                                                                                               

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