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Criticism of Jainism

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Criticism of Jainism

Jainism has been engaged in debates with the other philosophical and religious traditions, in which its theories and practices have been questioned and challenged.

There are two criteria of criticism of any system of thoughts; one is based on rational evaluation of its doctrines, texts, teachings and practice, and the other criterion pertains to the consistency or inconsistency of the practitioners in applying the teachings.



The Jain theory of Karma has been challenged from an early time by the Vedanta and Sāṃkhya branches of Hindu philosophy. In particular, Vedanta Hindus considered the Jain position on the supremacy and potency of karma, specifically its insistence on non-intervention by any Supreme Being in regard to the fate of souls, as nāstika or atheistic.[1] For example, in a commentary to the Brahma Sutras (III, 2, 38, and 41), Adi Sankara, argues that the original karmic actions themselves cannot bring about the proper results at some future time; neither can super sensuous, non-intelligent qualities like adrsta—an unseen force being the metaphysical link between work and its result—by themselves mediate the appropriate, justly deserved pleasure and pain. The fruits, according to him, then, must be administered through the action of a conscious agent, namely, a supreme being (Ishvara).[2][note 1]

Jainism's strong emphasis on the doctrine of karma and intense asceticism was also criticised by the Buddhists. Thus, the Saṃyutta Nikāya narrates the story of Asibandhakaputta, a headman who was originally a disciple of Māhavīra. He debates with the Buddha, telling him that, according to Māhavīra (Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta), a man's fate or karma is decided by what he does habitually. The Buddha responds, considering this view to be inadequate, stating that even a habitual sinner spends more time "not doing the sin" and only some time actually "doing the sin."[3]

In another Buddhist text Majjhima Nikāya, the Buddha criticizes Jain emphasis on the destruction of unobservable and unverifiable types of karma as a means to end suffering, rather than on eliminating evil mental states such as greed, hatred and delusion, which are observable and verifiable.[4] In the Upālisutta dialogue of this Majjhima Nikāya text, Buddha contends with a Jain monk who asserts that bodily actions are the most criminal, in comparison to the actions of speech and mind. Buddha criticises this view, saying that the actions of mind are most criminal, and not the actions of speech or body.[5] Buddha also criticises the Jain ascetic practice of various austerities, claiming that he, Buddha, is happier when not practising the austerities.[6][note 2]

While admitting the complexity and sophistication of the Jain doctrine, Padmanabh Jaini compares it with that of Hindu doctrine of rebirth and points out that the Jain seers are silent on the exact moment and mode of rebirth, that is, the re-entry of soul in womb after the death.[7] The concept of nitya-nigoda, which states that there are certain categories of souls who have always been nigodas, is also criticized. According to Jainism, nigodas are lowest form of extremely microscopic beings having momentary life spans, living in colonies and pervading the entire universe. According to Jaini, the entire concept of nitya-nigoda undermines the concept of karma, as these beings clearly would not have had prior opportunity to perform any karmically meaningful actions.[8]

Jain' Karma is also questioned on the grounds that it leads to the dampening of spirits with men suffering the ills of life because the course of one's life is determined by karma.[9] It is often maintained that the impression of karma as the accumulation of a mountain of bad deeds looming over our heads without any recourse leads to fatalism. However, as Paul Dundas puts it, the Jain theory of karma does not imply lack of free will or operation of total deterministic control over destinies.[10] Furthermore, the doctrine of karma does not promote fatalism amongst its believers on account of belief in personal responsibility of actions and that austerities could expatiate the evil karmas and it was possible to attain salvation by emulating the life of the Jinas.[11]


The doctrines of anekāntavāda and syādavāda are often criticised on the grounds that they engender a degree of hesitancy and uncertainty, and may compound problems rather than solve them. It is also pointed out that Jain epistemology asserts its own doctrines, but at the cost of being unable to deny contradictory doctrines. Furthermore, it is also argued that this doctrine could be self-defeating. It is argued that if reality is so complex that no single doctrine can describe it adequately, then anekāntavāda itself, being a single doctrine, must be inadequate.[12] This criticism seems to have been anticipated by Ācārya Samantabhadra who said: "From the point of view of pramana (means of knowledge) it is anekānta (multi-sided), but from a point of view of naya (partial view) it is ekanta (one-sided)."[13]

In defense of the doctrine, Jains point out that anekāntavāda seeks to reconcile apparently opposing viewpoints rather than refuting them.

Icon of Adi Sankarācārya, the Advaita philosopher, who criticised the doctrine of anekāntavāda.

Anekāntavāda received much criticism from the Vedantists, notably Adi Sankarācārya (9th century C.E.). Sankara argued against some tenets of Jainism in his bhasya on Brahmasutra (2:2:33–36). His main arguments centre on anekāntavāda:[14]

It is impossible that contradictory attributes such as being and non-being should at the same time belong to one and the same thing; just as observation teaches us that a thing cannot be hot and cold at the same moment. The third alternative expressed in the words — they either are such or not such — results in cognition of indefinite nature, which is no more a source of true knowledge than doubt is. Thus the means of knowledge, the object of knowledge, the knowing subject, and the act of knowledge become all alike indefinite. How can his followers act on a doctrine, the matter of which is altogether indeterminate? The result of your efforts is perfect knowledge and is not perfect knowledge. Observation shows that, only when a course of action is known to have a definite result, people set about it without hesitation. Hence a man who proclaims a doctrine of altogether indefinite contents does not deserve to be listened any more than a drunken or a mad man.
Adi Sankarācārya, Brahmasutra, 2.2:33–36

However, many believe that Sankara fails to address genuine anekāntavāda. By identifying syādavāda with sansayavāda, he instead addresses "agnosticism", which was argued by Sañjaya Belaṭṭhaputta.[15] Many authors like Pandya believe that Sankara overlooked that, the affirmation of the existence of an object is in respect to the object itself, and its negation is in respect to what the object is not. Genuine anekāntavāda thus considers positive and negative attributes of an object, at the same time, and without any contradictions.[15]

Another Buddhist logician Dharmakirti ridiculed anekāntavāda in Pramānavarttikakārika:[15] "With the differentiation removed, all things have dual nature. Then, if somebody is implored to eat curd, then why he does not eat camel?" The insinuation is obvious; if curd exists from the nature of curd and does not exist from the nature of a camel, then one is justified in eating camel, as by eating camel, he is merely eating the negation of curd. Ācārya Akalanka, while agreeing that Dharmakirti may be right from one viewpoint, took it upon himself to issue a rejoinder:[15]

The person who criticises without understanding the prima facie view is acting like a jester and not a critic. The Buddha was born a deer and the deer was born as Buddha; but Buddha is adorable and deer is only a food. Similarly, due to the strength of an entity, with its differences and similarities specified, nobody would eat camel if implored to eat curd.


According to Jain beliefs, the universe was never created.[16][note 3] According to Jain doctrine, the universe and its constituents—soul, matter, space, time, and principles of motion—have always existed. All the constituents and actions are governed by universal natural laws. It is not possible to create matter out of nothing and hence the sum total of matter in the universe remains the same.[note 4] Jain text claims that the universe consists of Jiva (life force or souls), and Ajiva (lifeless objects). Similarly, the soul of each living being is unique and uncreated and has existed since beginningless time.[17] The Jain theory of causation holds that a cause and its effect are always identical in nature and hence a conscious and immaterial entity like God cannot create a material entity like the universe.

Criticism of religious practices

Fasting to death

Santhara, commonly called Sallenkhana is a procedure in which a Jain stops eating with the intention of death. In Rajasthan, it was petitioned that High Court of Rajasthan should declare santhara illegal. In response, the Jain community said that the practice of Santhara was a religious activity which was protected under article 25 of the Indian constitution. They, would however abide by the decision of the High court.[18][19]


The religion of Jains included women in their fourfold sangha; the religious order of Jain laymen, laywomen, monks and nuns.[20] The early svetambara scriptures prevented pregnant women, young women or those who have a small child, to enter to the ranks of nun.[21] Regardless, the number of nuns given in those texts were always the double of the number of monks. Parsva and Mahavira, two historical teachers of Jainism has huge numbers of female devotees and ascetics.[21]

According to the svetambara's scriptures such as Chhedasutra, women were given lesser authority than their male counterparts.[21] The reasons for this, in the commentaries, were that things which could endanger the vow of chasity should be avoided. Nalini Balbir writes that the belief that women are more fragile then men were all-pervading in these texts.[22]

The [24] Digambara Jain theologians have written that due to bodily secretions, women suffer from itching which gives them uncontrollable sexual urges.[24] They believe that women cannot take higher vows of ascetic renunciation, because naked women would have two deep emotions: shame of being naked and fear of sexual assault which they might face.[24]

The Svetambara sect, however, disagrees with this position, holding that one of the Tirthankaras, Mallinath, was a woman[23] and even today the majority of Svetambara monastics are female.[25]


  1. ^ For the Jain refutation of the theory of God as operator and dispenser of karma, see Jainism and non-creationism.
  2. ^ In the 8th century Jain text Aṣṭakaprakaraṇam (11.1–8), Haribhadra refutes the Buddhist view that austerities and penances results in suffering and pain. According to him suffering is on account of past karmas and not due to penances. Even if penances result in some suffering and efforts, they should be undertaken as it is the only means of getting rid of the karma. He compares it to the efforts and pains undertaken by a businessman to earn profit, which makes him happy. In the same way the austerities and penances are blissful to an ascetic who desires emancipation. See Haribhadrasūri, Sinha, Ashok Kumar, & Jain, Sagarmal (2000) p. 47
  3. ^ Compare Ajativad in Advaita Vedanta.
  4. ^ Similar to law of conservation of mass


  1. ^ Pande 1978, p. 1
  2. ^ Reichenbach, Bruce R. (April 1989), "Karma, causation, and divine intervention", Philosophy East and West (Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press) 39 (2): 135–149 [145],  
  3. ^ Malalasekera 2003, p. 211
  4. ^ Thomas 1975, pp. 205–206
  5. ^ Krishan 1997, p. 64
  6. ^ Bronkhorst 1993, pp. 29–28
  7. ^ Jaini 2000, p. 124
  8. ^ Jaini 2000, p. 128
  9. ^ Kalghatgi 1988, p. 184
  10. ^ Dundas 2002, p. 101
  11. ^ Krishan 1997, p. 50
  12. ^ Webb, Mark Owen. "The Jain Philosophy". The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Archived from the original on 2 March 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-18. 
  13. ^ Pandya, V. (2001) p. 5210
  14. ^ Nakamura, Hajim (1992) pp. 169–70
  15. ^ a b c d Pandya, V. (2001) pp. 5209–10
  16. ^ "Glory of Jainism", p. 12, by R. B. Pragwat, V. G. Nair, year = 1969
  17. ^ Nayanar (2005b), p.190, Gāthā 10.310
  18. ^ "Indian Affairs Annual 2007", p. 18, by Mahendra Gaur
  19. ^
  20. ^ Balbir, p. 121.
  21. ^ a b c Balbir, p. 122.
  22. ^ Balbir, p. 122-123.
  23. ^ a b "Religions - Jainism: Jain sects". BBC. 2009-09-11. Retrieved 2011-09-28. 
  24. ^ a b c Sexual Knowledge, Sexual Science: The History of Attitudes to Sexuality edited by Roy Porter, Mikuláš Teich. p. 71-72. 
  25. ^ "Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America: Native American creation stories", p. 693, by Rosemary Skinner Keller, 2009


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