Explain Jains, Please

Discussion in 'Eastern Philosophy' started by one_raven, Aug 8, 2007.

  1. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    It has been said that a perfect Jain will starve to death while levitating above a rock.

    Can someone please explain the reasoning and philosophy behind the Jain belief that everything - including rocks - have a soul?

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  3. te jen Registered Senior Member

    Well, you could start with the Wikipedia entry on Jainism - that's a good summary.

    The word "soul" is a loaded one, especially in trying to compare Jainist thought with Western religious thought. I'd rather use the word "consciousness" for the purposes of this discussion.

    A human considered as a whole clearly possesses consciousness. Many people would agree that other animals like chimps, dolphins, dogs, cats etc. possess some levels of awareness. When considering all forms of life, I think it is impossible to draw a line between consciousness and non-consciousness; it is obvious that an amoeba must have a very limited kind of consciousness, but it would seem arbitrary to say that it has none whatsoever. The Jainist maintains that all living things have consciousness and therefore strive to do as little harm to them as possible.

    The same argument could be made for parts - if you have consciousness, then what about your kidney or your foot? Do we demand a specific seat to consciousness or is it everywhere in the body to one extend or another? And even if you take the position that consciousness resides in the brain alone, then exactly how does that happen? Is it certain parts of the brain? Relationships and interactions between neurons? The neurons themselves? The reductionist viewpoint cannot determine where to draw the line here, either, and so the very molecules and atoms that make up the brain are seen as having some very limited consciousness themselves.

    The same idea can be developed with the question of living vs. non-living things. A mouse is alive. Yes, certainly. So is its heart. So is the cell that resides in the ventricle. The mitochondrion in that cell? Yes, we guess so. What about the enzymes in the mitochondrion? Hmmm.... What about the molecules that make up the enzyme? Urrrr.....

    Since one cannot draw lines with conviction, the Jainist simply assume that everything is alive and conscious at some level or another. The Jainist also firmly believe that their karmic existence is entirely dependent on how they treat other living things, they strive to have as little impact as possible.

    Thus the thought of the Jainist starving to death while hovering above a rock. A little extreme, in my opinion.
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  5. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    But don't they extend the idea beyond "all living things" to "all things"?
    Jains, as far as I am aware, DO believe rocks have souls, and it is injurious to them to even touch them, so strive to do that as little as possible.
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  7. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    I have never heard this.
  8. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    Perhaps I have been misinformed.

    This is why I am asking about it.
    I have yet to meet a Jain (but one lay Jain by marriage).
  9. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    Reading through the Wiki article, it makes a lot more sense to me now.


    As far as anyone knowledgable here can tell, is the wiki article accurate?
  10. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    I have known several Jains but the rock hypothesis is new to me, all I know is that they follow the teachings of Mahavira, are strict vegetarians (no eggs) and do not eat anything that grows underground.

    I recall my Jain friends saying the religion was basically one of ascetism and spiritualism, abstaining from all materialism and sensualism. Their priests routinely go on long fasts avoiding food and water for unbelievably long periods of time (there was a Jain temple near my house and once a priest fasted for 72 days).

    I think there are differences in how priests (and nuns) follow the principles (more strict, they usually dress in bare minimum clothing, shave heads, live on charity). Its a common sight in some places to see the Jain holy people walking barefoot (I believe they avoid shoes so as not to kill insects) in the morning towards the temple for prayers. The holy people have no material possessions AFAIK and live either on temple premises or charity housing. They also own no clothes and are given them by devotees (just a sheet they wrap around themselves). They live the life of ascetism. I think Jainism does not recognise any caste system or differentiate between people on basis of class or creed.

    Lay people follow the dietary rules and basic principles, but otherwise assimilate with society. Most Jains are in trade and I recall the owner of the cloth shop wearing heavy gold chains and bracelets and being extremely well fed, so I suppose they are not bound by the ascetic rules.

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    I am not familiar with any philosophy ascribing consciousness to inanimate objects though.
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2007
  11. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    Some interesting philosophies of Jainism:
    Apparently the story of the Blind men and the elephant explains both these.

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  12. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    There are some striking similarities between Jain Dhamma and Buddha Dhamma.
    Siddharta and Vardhamana, it seems, were contemporaries (Siddhartha - 565-483 BCE, Vardhamana 550 - 420 BCE) - I wonder what influence they had on one another.
    One source I read called Jain a syncretic religion and referred to Hinduism and Buddhism, implying that Vardhamana was influenced by Siddhartha.

    Legend has it that Siddhartha spent some time with the aescetics before gaining understanding of the Buddha Dhamma - were they Jains, perhaps?

    I need to research this more - but it is bed time.
  13. Wisdom_Seeker Speaker of my truth Valued Senior Member


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    , I once read a book called "Siddhartha", and it is about the life of Siddhartha (duh´:bugeye: ), on one occation he gets to know the Buddha, but he does not accept his Dhamma because Siddhartha said that enlightment cannot be taught, only experienced, so he continued his journey to inner-knowledge alone; never forgetting the words he had exchanged with the Buddha. I won´t tell the rest in case you want to read it, it is a pretty good book (free ebook in the link above).

    I always wondered how come that in the book Siddhartha met the Buddha? I never quite understood that, but now it makes more sense. I never knew that Siddhartha actually met a Buddha before he became enlightened, so I took it as that part was a metaphor or something, but it is quite feasible with Siddhartha and Vardhamana being contemporaries.
  14. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    Wisdom Seeker,
    The book Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse, is not a biography of the Buddha Siddhartha - it is a piece of fiction.
    It is loosely based on the life of the real Siddhartha, but there is a good deal of poetic license taken.
    In the book the Buddha he was referring to was the real life Siddhartha - the Siddhartha in the book was just a simple seeker.

    It was a very good book, but it was fiction.
    I started a discussion on it regarding the use of the name Siddhartha quite a while back.

  15. te jen Registered Senior Member

    I'm not knowledgable enough to know the absolute accuracy of the wiki article.

    According to a BBC site (http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/jainism/beliefs/soul.shtml) that discusses the religion, Jainists distinguish

    Ekendriya - Beings with one sense
    Jains include many things as jivas that non-Jains regard as either inanimate or plants. They classify these as immobile beings, with only one sense - the sense of touch:

    Earth-bodied: clay, sand, metal etc
    Water-bodied: fog, rain, ice etc
    Fire-bodied: fire, lightning etc
    Air-bodied: wind, gas etc
    Plant-bodied: trees, flowers, vegetables etc ​

    and so on. So they consider these things as jivas, having souls but being very limited in their capacity for awareness.
  16. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    This is what I was talking about.
    This is what was explained to me.
    Clay and sand has a soul, so walking on the ground menas you are being injurious to another being.
    Plants have souls, so eating means you are being injurious to another being.

    Thus, the saying that a perfect Jain will starve to death while levitating above a rock.

    If this is true, what I am looking for is the philosophical basis of this belief - why do they believe that sand has a soul?
  17. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    Perhaps this will make it clear?


    I have to admit I don't know much about this.
  18. Wisdom_Seeker Speaker of my truth Valued Senior Member

    Hi Raven, I know that the book is fiction, but sometimes fiction contains some metaphorical truth in it

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    I think this is the case of this book.

    I mentioned it not only because Siddhartha met a Buddha, but mainly because it explains the philosophy on which they believe that even rocks have a soul.

    Mainly, everything, absolutely everything is a manifestation of the same thing, what some people call God; the unification of everything, even rocks.

    The way I see it, you can see the water as the blood of the Earth, and the Rocks are the bones, such as animals are the mind.

    Bones are as necessary for us as blood is. The thing is: each rock has a purpose of being, like each bone of our body has a purpose of being.

    Rocks are a divided part of God, which ultimate goal is to be together with God again, so are we. So in this basis, the soul of the rock will eventually evolve (millions and millions of years) and manifest in a vegetable form, then bacteria, then an animal form, and it will eventually become a conscient being, and it will become a Buddha. So if time is an illusion, and the present is eternity, then the rocks are as Buddha-nature as we are.

    I don´t really know about this, it is just refferenced in that book, and I have heard gurus talking about it. If time is an illusion, then everyone and everything is One with God right now.
  19. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    Thanks, Sam.

    I can't say that I agree with you, but what you said made me think of something else similar to the concept you are talking about.
    No, I don't think rocks have souls and will eventually work their way up through Samsara to become Buddhas - not at all.
    However, thinking about Karma (I don't know if you have read much about my ideas of Common Subconsciousness and Karma Manifest or not) but everything has a part to play in shaping our futures and surroundings.

    Every action, every idea, every word affects and influences all of us.
    They all act as ripples in a pond, having an impact on everything in that pond and all interracting with each other.
    Everything you do contributes to those ripples and influences them.

    I wrote about the effect of Karma Manifest (Look Here) and it being the equivalent of God.

    A rock, just like everything else, has an effect on Karma Manifest - it will make you change your path - you can sit on it and rest - you can use it as a weapon - it could make you change your views...

    If Karma Manifest is the equivalent of being God, and rocks can have an impact on Karma Manifest - rocks are a part of God.

    I know this sounds silly and a bit difficult to understand (and I lectured YOU on being clear and expressing ideas clearly!

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    ) but maybe I will revisit it tonight, if I have time, and try to explain it better.

    Anyway, Wisdom_Seeker, thanks for giving me something to chew on.
  20. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    There are other belief systems in which inanimate objects have souls or spirits. The way I use the term "spirit" leaches some of it from the creator of an object to the object. I speak of Stonehenge as preserving a bit of the spirit of a people about whom we know nothing else. For example, expending that much energy on that object tells us a great deal about what their culture considered important.

    But animism does not automatically require that inanimate objects (interesting conflict of word etymologies right there) react to the universe in exactly the same way we do. Just as dogs appreciate having their necks bitten to reinforce their position in the pack hierarchy (try it, but for his sake gently and for your sake not on an alpha), who are we to assume that rocks don't appreciate being stepped on? This was one of the key points in Heinlein's bible of the 1960s, Stranger in a Strange Land. Michael Valentine Smith had the ability to grok--communicate outside the human community. I remember him refusing to walk on grass, until he grokked the lawn and learned that being walked on does not bother grass at all.

    BTW, I have not observed anything close to a consensus among philosophers or biologists that there is no dividing line between organisms with and without consciousness. I think consciousness is generally regarded as a function of the brain, and animals with no brains therefore don't have the necessary organ to manifest consciousness. To say that every action taken by a flatworm, much less an ameoba, is the strict outcome of a set of behaviors preprogrammed into its primitive synapses (or their even more primitive analogs) is--and I can't resist the double-entendre--a no-brainer.

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    I also do not believe that there is a consensus that the soul = consciousness. You get into trouble right off with the Jungians and even the last unreconstructed Freudians, who make a fundamental distinction between the conscious and the unconscious or subconscious, respectively.

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