Indian and Oriental Religions


Excerpt Zimmer, Heinrich, Philosophies of India, New York:

Meridian Books, 1956, pp 211214, 227232

The image of the released one seems to be neither animate nor inanimate, but pervaded by a strange and timeless calm. It is human in shape and feature, yet as inhuman as an icicle; and thus expresses perfectly the idea of successful withdrawal from the round of life and death, personal cares, individual destiny, desires, sufferings, and events. Like a pillar of some supraterrestrial, unearthly substance, the Tirthankara, the "CrossingMaker," the breaker of the path across the stream of time the final release and bliss of the other shore, stands supernally motionless, absolutely unconcerned about the worshiping jubilant crowds that throng around his feet.

At Sravana Belgola, Hasan District, Mysore, is a colossal figure (Plate VIII) of this kind that was erected about 983 A.D. by Camundaraya, the minister of King Rajamalla of the Ganga dynasty. It is hewn from a vertical rock needle, a prodigious monolith, on a hilltop four hundred feet about the town. The image measures fiftysix and onehalf feet in height and thirteen feet around the hips, and is thus one of the largest freestanding figures in the world; the feet are placed on a low platform. The savior represented is indicated by vines clambering up his body, which refer to an episode in the biography of Gommata (also called Bahubali, "strong arm"), the son of the first Tirthankara, Rsabhanatha. He is supposed to have stood unflinchingly for a year in his yoga posture. The vines crept up his arms and shoulders; anthills arose about his feet; he was a tree or rock of the wilderness. To this day the entire surface of this statue is anointed every twentyfive years with melted butter, as a result of which it still looks fresh and clean.

There is a legend to the effect that the image goes to a date much earlier than 983 A.D., and that for ages it was forgotten, the memory of its location being completely lost. Bharata, the first of India's mythical Cakravartins, is supposed, according to the account, to have erected it; Ravana, the fabulous chieftain of the demons of Ceylon, paid it worship; and when it passed, there after, from the memory of man, it became covered with earth. The old legend tells us that Camundaraya was informed of its existence by a traveling merchant and so made a pilgrimage to the sacred place with his mother and a few companions. When the party arrived, a female earthdivinity, the yaksim Kusmandi, who had been an attendant of the Tirthankara Aristanemi, manifested herself an pointed out the hidden site. Then, with a golden arrow, Camundaraya split the hill and thecolossal figure could be seen. The earth was cleared away and craftsmen were brought to cleanse the image and restore it.

The emblems of the Tirthankaras are as follow: 1. Rsabha, bull, 2. Ajita, elephant, 3. Sambhava, horse, 4. Abhinandana, ape, 5. Sumati, heron, 6. Padmaprabha, red lotus, 7. Suparsva, swastika, 8. Candraprabha, moon, 9. Suvidhi, dolphin, 10. Sitala, srivatsa ( a sign on the breast), 11. Sreyamasa, rhinoceros, 12. Vasupujya, buffalo, 13. Vimala, hog, 14. Ananta, hawk, 15. Dharma, thunderbolt, 16. Santi, antelope, 17. Kunthu, goat, 18. Ara, nandyavarta (a diagram), 19. Malli, jar, 20. Suvrata, tortoise, 21. Nami, blue lotus, 22. Aristanemi, conch shell, 23. Parsva, serpent, 24 Mahavira, lion. The standing attitude in which they are commonly shown exhibits a characteristic, uppetlike rigidity that comes ofand denotesinner absorption. The posture is called "dismissing the body" (kayotsarga). The modeling avoids details and yet is not flat or incorporeal; for the savior is without weight, without throbbing life or any promise of delight, yet is a bodyan ethereal reality with milk in its veins instead of blood. The empty spaces left between and the arms and the trunk, and between the legs, are consciously intended to emphasize the splendid isolation of the unearthly apparition. There is no striking contour, no interesting trait of individuality, no cutting profile breaking into space, but a mystic calm, an anonymous serenity, where we are not even invited to share. An the nakedness is as far removed as the stars, or as bare rock, from sensuality; for in Indian art nakedness is not intended to suggest either sensuous charm (as in the Greek Images of the nymphs and Aphrodites) or an ideal of perfect bodily and spiritual manhood, developed through competitive sport (as in the Greek statues of the youthful athletes who triumphed in the sacred contests at Olympia and elsewhere). The nakedness of Indian goddesses is that of the fertile, indifferent mother earth, while that of the stark Tirthankaras is ethereal. Composed of some substance that does not derive from, or link one to, the circuit of life, the truly "skyclad" (digambara) Jaina statue expresses the perfect isolation of one who has stripped off every bond. His is an absolute "abiding in itself," a strange but perfect aloofness, a nudity of chilling majesty, in its stony simplicity, rigid contours, and abstraction.

The Qualities of Matter

According to Jaina cosmology, the universe is a living organism, made animate throughout by lifemonads which circulate through its limbs and spheres; and this organism will never die. We ourselves, furthermorei.e., the lifemonads contained within and constituting the very substance of the imperishable great bodyare imperishable too. We ascend and descend through various states of being, now human, now animal; the bodies seem to die and to be born, but the chain is continuous, the transformations endless, and all we do is pass from one state to the next. The manner in which the indestructible lifemonads circulate is disclosed to the inward eye of the enlightened Jaina saint and seer.

The lifemonads enjoying the highest states of being, i.e., those temporarily human or divine, are possessed of five sense faculties, as well as of a thinking faculty (manas) and span of life (ayus), physical strength (kayabala), power of speech (vacanabala), and the power of respiration (svasocchvasabala). In the classic Indian philosophies of Sankya, Yoga, and Vendanta, the same five sense faculties appear as in the Jaina formula (namely touch, smell, taste, hearing, and sight); however there have been added the socalled "five faculties of action." These begin with speech (vac, corresponding to the Jaina vacanabala), but then go on to grasping (pani, the hand), locomotion (pada, the feet), evacuation (paya, the anus), and reproduction (upastha, the organ of generation). Manas (the thinking faculty) is retained, but is linked to further functions of the psyche, namely buddhi (intuitive intelligence) and ahankara (egoconsciousness). Also added are the five pranas, or "life breaths." Apparently the Jaina categories represent a comparatively primitive, archaic analysis and description of human nature many of the details of which underlie and remain incorporated in the later, classic Indian view.

Frogs, fish, and other animals not born from the womb are without thinking faculty (manas)they are called, therefore, asanjnin ("insensible"); whereas elephants, lions, tigers, goats, and the rest of the mammals, since they have a thinking faculty, are sanjnin. The various beings in the hells, and the lower gods, as well as human beings, also are sanjnin.

In contrast to those views that represent the soul as being minute, like an atom (anu), or the size of a thumb, and dwelling in the heart, Jainism regards the lifemonad (jiva) as pervading the whole organism; the body constitutes, as it were, its garb; the lifemonad is the body'sanimating principle. And the subtle substances of this lifemonad is mingled with particles of karma, like water with milk, or like fire with iron is a redhot, glowing iron ball. Moreover, the karmic matter communicates colors (lesya) to the lifemonad; and these colors are six in number. Hence there are said to be six types of lifemonad, in ascending series, each with its color, smell, taste, and quality of tangibility, as follows:

6. white (sukla)

5. yellow, or rose (padma, like a lotus)

4. flaming red (tejas)

3. dovegrey (kapota)

2. dark blue (nila)

1. black (krsna)

These six types fall into three groups of two, each pair corresponding precisely to one of the three gunas, or "natural qualities," of the classic Sankhya and Vedantic writing. The Jaina lesyas 1 and 2 are dark; they correspond to the guna tamas, "darkness." Lesya 3 is smoky grey while 4 is of the red flame; both pertain of fire, and thus correspond to the guna reja (firerajas, "red color"; cf. ranj, "to tinge red"; rakta, "red"). Lesyas 5 and 6, finally are clear and luminous, being states of comparative purtiy, and thus are the Jaina counterparts of the classic guna sattva: "virtue, goodness, excellence, clarity; ideal being; the supreme state of matter." In sum, the six Jaina lesyas seem to represent some system of archaic prototypes from which the basic elements of the vastly influential later theory of the gunas was evolved.

Black is the characteristic color of merciless, cruel, raw people, who harm and torture other beings. Darkblue characters are roguish and venal, covetous, greedy, sensual, and fickle. Dovegrey typifies the reckless, thoughtless, uncontrolled, and irascible; where as the prudent, honest, magnanimous, and devout are fiery red. Yellow shows compassionconsideration, unselfishness, nonviolence, and selfcontrol; while the white souls are dispassionate, absolutely disinterested, and impartial.

As water flows into a pond through channels, so karmic matter of the six colors flow in the monad through the physical organs. Sinful acts are cause an "influx of evil karma" (papaasrava), and this increases the dark matter in the monad; virtuous acts, on the other hand, bring an "influx of good or holy karma" (punyaasrava), which tends to the monad white. But even this holy karma keeps the lifemonad linked to the world. By increasing the yellow and white karmic matter, virtuous acts produce the gentler, more savory tiesbut these are ties, even so; they do not suffice to consummate release." "Influx" (asrava) of every type has to be blocked if nirvana is to be attained, and this arrestment of life can be affected by abstention from actionall action whatsoever, whether good or bad.

A basic fact generally disregarded by those who "go in" for Indian wisdom is this one of the total rejection of every last value of humanity by the Indian teachers and winters of rejection from bondage of the world. "Humanity" (the phenomenon of the human being, the ideal of its perfection, and the ideal of the perfected human society) was the paramount concern of Greek idealism, as it is today of Western Christianity in its modern form; but for the Indian sages and ascetics, the Mahatmas and enlightened Savior, nonactivity, in thought, speech, and deed, is possible only when one has become dead to every concern of life: dead to pain and enjoyment as well as to every impulse to power, dead to interests of intellectual pursuit, dead to all social and political affairsdeeply, absolutely, and immovablyuninterested in one's character as a human being. The sublime and gentle final fetter, virtue, is thus itself something to be severed. It cannot be regarded as the goal, "CrossingMaker," a stepping place to superhuman sphere, moreover, is not only superhuman but every superdivinebeyond the gods, their heavens, their delights, and their cosmic powers. "Humanity," consequently, whether in the individual or in the collective aspect, can no longer be of concern to anyone seriously striving for perfection along the way of the ultimate Indian wisdom. Humanity and its problems belong to the philosophies of life that we discussed about: the philosophies of success (artha), pleasure (kama), and duty (dharma); these can be of no interest to one who has literally died to timewhom life is death. "Let the dead bury the dead"; that is the thought. This is something that makes it very difficult for us of modern Christian West to appreciate and assimilate the traditional message of India.