Metaphysics and Jainism

The field of study that surround metaphysics is steeped in knowledge of all things, but is based largely in the abstract. What is identity and what does it mean to “be” or have knowledge? What is the reality of time and space? These are the types of questions that metaphysics deals with, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that questions surrounding various religions are asked as well. Jainism is a religion based in spirituality–a journey from one life to the next as part of an almost endless cycle that culminates when a soul is purified to achieve final liberation from corporeal form. This is a good place to start.

Even though most religions have a reputation for providing faith-based answers to many of life’s most profound mysteries, Jainism is important to metaphysics because it does the opposite. While Jainism does provide a number of faith-based teachings and spiritual thought from historical documents left from the ancient world, it also seeks to find answers to the same questions that many scientists struggle with everyday. Because metaphysics deals in the abstract, there are many potential answers to a single question.

Followers of Jainism are the first to acknowledge that the scientific field of physics revolves around what we can prove with empirical fact. What form of matter is this particle? What is its mass? Does it have an observable shape? Physics is broken down into the physical attributes that can be used to describe all matter and how it behaves in relation to other kinds of matter.  How is this similar to Jain teachings? You might be surprised.

Jain teachings show that all life is interconnected, and that’s why it should be treated with respect. That’s why the six Dravyas of Jainism are based in the same physical concepts you would learn about in school.

Dharma is a field of motion. Adharma is rest. Akasha is space. Pudgala is matter. Kala is time. These same ideas and concepts are critical to physics (kinetic and potential energy, momentum, distance, mass, time, etc.), whereas Jain philosophy deals with the more abstract metaphysical ideas. In Jainism, Pudgala undergoes constant change. A slight suspension of disbelief might allow you to bypass surprise for understanding: Pudgala is broken down into individual units, which are smaller than individual atoms. These smaller units combine into what physics would define as an atom. Jainism takes this one step further by providing other attributes, including color, smell, taste and touch.

Pudgala is also a concept used by Buddhism, but it has a different meaning. When trying to understand the metaphysical world, one could do a lot worse than try to understand the Jain religion and the teachings that provided a great deal of context far before their time. Here is a video going more in depth on what metaphysics is about.