An Introduction to Jain Philosophy
- ISBN: 9781733223607
- Published By: DK Printworld
- Published: December 2019
In An Introduction to Jain Philosophy, Parveen Jain illustrates Jain philosophy (and overall Jainism) in an accessible and invigorating way. This is accomplished in part by the clear structure of the book. Jain begins the book by providing a history of what characteristics make Jainism, Jainism. Then he gives a concise history of the Tirthankaras and their roles as leaders and teachers of dharma. This supplies the reader with an understanding of the history and main characteristics of Jainism, allowing Jain to move into specifics like psychology, meta-physics, ethics, and practice. The story of Jainism unfolds naturally and concisely, making the book a great resource for someone who is unfamiliar with Jainism and philosophy of religion as a whole.
Coming from a Jewish studies background, it was fascinating for me to read an in-depth account of a religious-ethical system which has a completely different structure than monotheistic religions. The difference is due in part to the fact that monotheisms typically have one key god figure who decrees something as ethical or not. In contrast, the ethical system of Jainism is ordered around a principle—to practice non-violence.
Moreover, Jainism arguably has a more capacious understanding of “truth” and “Ultimate Truth.” In Jain Dharma,” Jain writes, “this pursuit of the Ultimate Truth by different religions is described as the dharma (doctrine) of Anekāntavāda—the tenet describing multiple manifestations of Ultimate Truth. This is an encompassing and eternal doctrine because it ascribes that no single unilateral (partial) view of truth can be considered predominant (absolute truth) among the diversity of coexisting multilateral expressions of truth that are found in the world’s many traditions” (3). In this respect, Jainism differs from monotheisms like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and this has ethical implications.
For example, in Judaism, the commandment, “You shall have no other gods besides Me” (Exod. 20:3) is a straightforward commandment that states that there is an absolute truth, and that it is unethical to acknowledge any other gods ahead of the god who is speaking. This means that, at least in some interpretations of Judaism, any ethical commandment given from God should be seen as an absolute truth. For example, if God (as understood by some Jews) were to say that “it is forbidden to eat mangos because doing so is unethical,” this would plainly mean that the consumption of mangoes is unethical. Jainism, however, can accommodate no such “divine command theory” of ethics.
Instead, and as mentioned above, the ethics of Jainism are largely informed by the principle of non-violence (ahimsa). Jain writes that “the ascetics who can be considered genuine gurus have their lives piously driven by non-violence (ahimsa), and they are in pursuit of the realization of the unblemished, natural state of their individual souls” (62). Jain further argues that “non-violence goes beyond simple adherence to a moral code. It is a universal principle of virtue such that philosophy, culture, and social infrastructure are all emanating from non-violence” (221). Non-violence is not just a passive goal, the author contends, but an all-encompassing way of life.
Although I greatly admire Jain’s book and count it among my favorite works of philosophy of religion, I think it could be improved by addressing more issues of contemporary concern, especially the role of gender and women within Jainism. While I understand the goal of this book is to give a comprehensive look at the philosophy/philosophical concepts of Jainism, as opposed to physical practice and anthropological ideas, practice is addressed enough in my opinion (For example, Chapter 9, “Jain Yoga: Meditation and Union with Divinity”) that upon finishing the book it did feel strange that challenges facing women were not highlighted. It is not as if there are no philosophical challenges facing women in Jain religion and culture. Furthermore, there are two issues that I think would have fit well in this book are the following. The first is the debate between the Shvetambaras and Digambaras sects regarding whether women can achieve mokṣa. Jain defines mokṣa as “The state which a spiritually enlightened jiva(soul) attains upon discarding all eight karmas… subsequent to achieving perfection in all respects - perfect perception, unbound perfect wisdom, and perfect conduct”(323). Mrinal Joshi explains disagreement as follows: “Though both [Shevtambaras and Digambaras] allowed women to become nuns, Digambaras believed that a woman could not attain [mokṣa]. She had to be reborn as a male to attain[mokṣa]. However, Shvetambaras believed that a woman was as much capable of attaining [mokṣa] as a man was” (Mrinal Joshi, Women in Jainism: A Case Study of Gujarat Inscriptions, Rawat, 2009).The second is concerning a debatably implied gender hierarchy, that women face regarding property ownership and inheritance within Jain law. Mrinal Joshi also addresses this conversation in greater detail in their aforementioned book. Overall though, Jain does a wonderful job providing a resource that is accessible and clear not only for people who are not familiar with Jainism, but also for those who are familiar. Once again, I want to reiterate and applaud Jain on his clear and concise conveying of deeply academic topics like psychology and metaphysics in such an accessible way. This is a book that starts as an introduction to Jainism upon first reading, but then becomes a necessary part of the modern philosophy of Jainism’s canon.
Ethan Prager is an independent scholar.Ethan S. PragerDate Of Review:February 28, 2022