Jaina philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F005-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved October 22, 2019, from

4. Kundakunda, Umāsvāti and Siddhasena Divākara

These three thinkers are the pioneers of Jaina philosophy whose basic ideas set the trend for most later thinkers. Biographical details of all of them are mixed with legend and there are differences of opinion as to whether they really wrote all the works ascribed to them; there is also a lack of consensus about their dates.

Kundakunda. If recent research is correct in considering him to have belonged to the second or third century ad, then this would make him the first significant and independent thinker of the post-canonical period whose views are accepted as representing the essence of Jaina thought. Although he was a pioneering Digambara thinker, probably from South India, appreciation for his views also comes from the Śvetāmbara sect of Jainism. He was also known as Padmanandi. The name Gṛdhrapiccha, erroneously used for him since about the fourteenth century, has led to confusion because it is also an alias for Umāsvāti.

A total of eighty-four works on various themes are ascribed to Kundakunda, of which fifteen are extant and three may be said to be philosophical masterpieces, all written in the Prakrit language. These are the Pañcāstikāyasāra (Essence of the Five Existents), the Pravacanasāra (Essence of the Scripture) and the Samayasāra (Essence of the Doctrine). The Pañcāstikāyasāra is an elementary work dealing with the Jaina substances (excluding time because it does not occupy any spatial points) and the fundamental truths, to which two additional categories are added, namely the meritorious and demeritorious acts related to karma (puṇya and pāpa). The Samayasāra emphasizes, among other things, two standpoints mentioned in the canonical literature which seem to have no relation to the standard sevenfold standpoint (see Manifoldness, Jaina Theory of). These are the ‘definitive’ standpoint (niścayanaya), used synonymously with the ‘pure’ or ‘transcendental’ (śuddha or paramārtha) standpoint, and the ‘mundane’ standpoint (vyavahārikanaya). It is an illuminating work dealing with the nature of the soul and its contamination by matter, and whether the soul’s intrinsic nature is in any way affected or changed through karma bondage in so far as it is the doer and enjoyer of activities. An attempt is made to reconcile these problems, solutions to which depend on the standpoint from which one approaches the issues. The Pravacanasāra is an insightful work whose three sections clearly delineate its scope: knowledge, the objects of knowledge, and conduct. The problem of substance, quality and mode, is one of the pivotal issues in Jaina philosophy and a few points are outlined below in order to show how Kundakunda deals with it. It forms the subject matter of the second section of the Pravacanasāra, which the tenth-century commentator Amṛtacandra says Kundakunda ‘properly discusses’.

The problem is basically that of how change in the world may be explained given the permanent, eternal nature of the two basic substances of ultimate reality; this has obvious implications for the essential nature of the soul. Kundakunda begins the section with the statement: ‘The object of knowledge is made up of substances, which are said to be characterized by qualities, and with which, moreover, are (associated) the modifications’ (Pravacanasāra II, 1; trans. A.N. Upadhye). The basic problem is then evident when he says: ‘There can be no origination without destruction, nor is there destruction without origination; origination and destruction are not possible in the absence of permanent substantiality’ (II, 8). How ‘origination’ and ‘destruction’, which in fact refer to change, are to be understood is expressed by Kundakunda in typical Jaina language in II, 19: ‘The substance forever retains its position, its own nature, as endowed with positive and negative conditions according as it is looked at from the substantial and the modificational viewpoints.’ This is further elaborated:

All substances are nondifferent from the substantial viewpoint, but again they are different from the modificational view-point, because of the individual modification pervading it for the time being. According to some modification or the other it is stated that a substance exists, does not exist, is indescribable, is both or otherwise.

(II, 22–3)

What Kundakunda means by origination and destruction is distinctively Jainist and is clarified later in the same section: ‘In this world, in which modifications originate and pass away at every moment, nothing is absolutely produced or destroyed; what is the production of one modification is the destruction of another; and thus origination and destruction are different’ (II, 27). The change that occurs in matter is understandable on the analogy of objects and colour. Just as gold (regarded here as a substance), for example, can have not only different shades of colour (with colour being its basic quality) but also different forms (with the object made out of gold being its modification), so too all substances retain their substantiality despite the apparent destruction of their qualities and modes. The situation is more complicated with the soul substance. The problem is technical, and relates to two ‘operations’ (upayogas) ascribed to the soul, namely ‘indeterminate intuition’ and ‘determinate knowledge’; these operations are described as two qualities (guṇas) of the soul. The concern is with the unity or identity of the soul and involves the question of whether the two upayogas operate in the soul simultaneously or in succession, and if in succession, which is first, and whether they maintain their distinctness in the state of omniscience. Kundakunda maintains that they operate successively at the mundane level and simultaneously at the transcendental level of omniscience. His view, which is also held by Umāsvāti, represents the attitude of the Digambara sect and is opposed, for example, by Siddhasena Divākara, who, in regarding quality and mode as synonyms, says that they are not separate operations in the state of omniscience. His view represents the general Śvetāmbara standpoint, based on the fact that the canonical literature distinguishes only substance and quality, without mentioning the standpoint connected with the modifications of a substance.

Umāsvāti. He is famous for the first Jaina work written in Sanskrit, called the Tattvārthasūtra or Tattvārthādhigamasūtra (Mnemonics on the Meaning of the Fundamental Principles). Again, biographical details are scanty and both the sects of Jainism claim him as one of their own (with the Digambaras also calling him Umāsvāmī) and regard his work, in traditional Indian manner, as authoritive for Jaina thought. His dates vary from the second to the fifth centuries ad, with recent preference for the fourth or fifth centuries. Of the five works ascribed to him, the Praśamaratiprakaraṇa (Treatise on the Love for Tranquility) – a popular work dealing with ethical issues and addressed to ascetics and householders – and the Tattvārthasūtra are philosophically important. There is an ongoing debate about whether, as the Śvetāmbaras believe, a commentary on the Tattvārthasūtra was written by Umāsvāti himself, or whether, as the Digambaras believe, the first commentary on it is Pūjyapūda’s fifth-century Sarvārthasiddhi (Attainment of the Meaning of Everything). There are two versions of the work by the two sects, with hardly any philosophically significant differences.

The Tattvārthasūtra contains a series of aphorisms, divided into ten chapters, which are understandable only with a commentary. The value of the work is evident from the fact that throughout the history of Jaina philosophy, every major thinker has written a commentary on it. Until around the tenth century, the Digambara thinkers, such as Akalaṅka (c. eighth century) and Vidyānandin (c. ninth century), took centre stage. They wrote in a difficult style and hardly any research related exclusively to their writings has been done.

Commentators often took the opportunity to criticize other views and defend the Jaina standpoint. For example, in his commentary on Umāsvāti’s aphorism on the means of knowledge and the standpoints (Tattvārthasūtra I, 6), Vidyānandin enters into an interestingly detailed debate with the Buddhists (even quoting from Dharmakīrti’s seventh-century work on the means of knowledge, Pramāṇavārttika) regarding the knowledge of an object, namely, whether an object is cognized as a whole or in parts. The issue is raised in the context of the Buddhist view that an object as a whole does not exist, against which it is asserted that a part of an object, which can be understood to be a whole in itself, cannot then be cognized, putting the Buddhist standpoint in jeopardy. Vidyānandin, applying the Jaina theory of standpoints, says that both a part of an object and the object as a whole are cognized from different standpoints.

Umāsvāti’s contribution lies in presenting the basic issues in Jaina philosophy in a systematic form, so much so that his work usually forms the standard for Jaina thought as a whole. The ontology, metaphysics and epistemology summarized in §§1–2 are based on his Tattvārthasūtra.

Siddhasena Divākara. It seems certain that Siddhasena lived in the fifth century ad and that he wrote in Sanskrit and Prakrit. He is generally considered to have belonged to the Śvetāmbara sect, although he is claimed by both the sects of Jainism as one of their own, serving as the first Jaina logician for both. Apart from the canonical literature, there seems to be little influence from other sources in his writings, despite similarities of ideas between him and, for example, Kundakunda. Reference to Siddhasena’s work on logic, the Nyāyāvatāra, has been made in §2. His second most important work on philosophy, written in Prakrit, is the Sammaisutta (Mnemonics on Proper Understanding; Sanskrit, Sanmatisūtra), dealing with the seven Jaina standpoints, knowledge and the objects of knowledge. It is in the last section that he clearly discusses the issue of the standpoints, taking into consideration the quality of a substance, which according to him is not sanctioned by Jaina scripture as a separate category.

Siddhasena is also credited with having written twenty-one short compositions, each consisting of thirty-two verses (and simply called the ‘thirty-twos’), on a variety of themes, including eulogies to Mahāvīra, critiques of Buddhist and Hindu schools, and an exposition of Jaina concepts. The work on logic is also written in this form.

Citing this article:
Soni, Jayandra. Kundakunda, Umāsvāti and Siddhasena Divākara. Jaina philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F005-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2019 Routledge.

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