Jainism is a non-Brahmanical philosophical tradition of India. Enriched by the deep insights of 24 spiritual gurus or tirthankaras, from Risabha (the first) to Mahavira (the last), Jainism has its own distinctive flavor that distinguishes this philosophy from others. To understand the concept of time in Jainism, it is necessary to have an overall idea of the metaphysical system of the Jainas. Jainas believe in a many-sided view of reality, known as anekantavada, or the theory of pluralism. This concept of reality can accommodate identity and difference, permanence and change. There are two main important terms in Jaina philosophy, dravya and astikaya, which pervade Jaina writings. The concept of kala (time) is to be understood in terms of these two concepts.
Umasvati, a famous Jaina philosopher, defines dravya or substance as that which possesses qualities and modes. Substance is always characterized by qualities and modes. Jainism offers six substances as ultimately real, and time is one among them. They are jiva (the soul), pudgala (the matter), dharma (the principle of motion), adharma (the principal of rest), akasa (space) and kala (time).
Amongst the six substances, five are known as astikaya, a term which, negatively speaking, helps to understand the concept of time. In the Dravya- Samgraha, a famous book of the Jainas written by Nemichandra, the term astikaya is explained in the following way: This term consists of two parts, asti, meaning “to exist” and kaya, meaning “body.” Therefore this term refers to those five substances that exist and occupy space. The term kaya also technically is to be understood as consisting of many indivisible particles (pradesa). So, five out of the six substances apart from time can be characterized as astikayas. This notion of indivisible particles points to the fact that the Jainas believe in the general atomic conception of the universe. The five substances are called astikaya (extended) because the particles of which they are made are not separate. This is also the reason why time is not classified as an extended substance, even though it has existence.
According to Jaina philosophy, time is real, as it possesses origination, decay, and permanence, the characteristics of all real things. Time is as real as the five others, as it is the accompanying cause or condition of the modification of substances. This reality of things is explained by the Jaina philosophers by recognizing the two aspects of things, parjaya (the mode) and dravya (the substance). The former is the series of temporary modes with coming and going, and the latter is the core thing that remains constant. Time as a real substance possesses all these states. The above can be explained by taking an example from our everyday life. When a man clenches his fingers into a fist, then this phenomenon—clenching of the fingers—occurs (origination), and the previous state of the fingers necessarily is at end (decay), yet so far as the fingers are concerned, they continue to be substantially the same (permanence).
In the famous Jaina text entitled Pancastikayasara, the atomic conception of time is discussed. The characteristics of time atoms are such that each atom is distinct and can never be mixed with other time atoms. This is the reason for advocating the theory that time has one pradesa only, or in other words, the time atoms can never be combined. And this also leads to the point that the time atoms can only constitute a unidimensional series that is unilateral. In Jaina terminology, this is known as urdha-pracaya (unilateral) as opposed to the tiryak-pracaya—a multidimensional series or horizontal extension. All other substances except time possess extensions in both these dimensions. As kala (time) consists of infinite samaya (instants), it possesses only unilateral extension. This unilateral extension of kala points to the fact that the world is constantly progressing with the help of time.
The Jainas held that there are two kinds of kala, vyavahara kala (conventional time) and nis- cayakala (transcendental time). Vyavahara kala is also known as samaya in Jaina philosophy. In our daily life we use the concepts of moments, hours, and days to indicate the beginning and end of a particular event. This conventional or practical time is indicated by modification, activity, distance, and proximity. The Jainas describe modification as the self-variation in a thing without a change in its substance. Activity is caused by the movement of a body. Distance and proximity are to be understood here in relation to time. In our everyday life we label a thing as new or old by observing its state of modification. On watching the sunrise in the east, we say we have the daybreak, and so we gather the ideas of midday, evening, and night by observing the movements of the heavenly bodies. A thing under actual observation is said to be proximate in time, otherwise it is distant in time. In this way, the external objects indicate and refer to the conventional or empirical time denoted by moments, hours, and days, as we call them.
In the Jaina literature, pancatikaya-sara, the conventional or empirical time periods, are discussed elaborately. The minutest unit of kala is samaya. This unit is defined as a period of time taken by an anu (atom) in traversing to its consecutive anu. Vyavahara kala, or conventional time, consists of infinite samaya. The time undertaken by an adult person in inhaling and exhaling is termed a prana. Seven pranas make one stoka. Seven stokas compose one lava. Thirty-eight and one-half lavas form one nali. Then comes muhurta, which is equal to two nalis. Thirty muhurtas form one divaratra (day and night). Fifteen divaratras form one paksa. One month comprises two pak- sas. Two months equal a ritu (season). Three ritus make one ayana. A year is formed by two ayanas. These divisions and subdivisions of time are linked to the different units of measurement pertaining to vyavahara-kala or conventional time.
The above divisions are dependent on some external factors, such as the motions of the heavenly bodies. But in addition to the motions of the heavenly bodies, vyavahara kala or conventional time is dependent on niscayakala, or transcendental time, for the determination of its measure. This niscayakala is variously designated as paramarth- kala or dravyakala. Vartana, or continuance, is the main characteristic of niscayakala. Brahmadeva, a commentator on Jainism, holds that vartana is the accompanying cause of the modifications of things, like the stone beneath a potter’s wheel or like fire in the matter of studying in winter. This vartana is the characteristic of real time. The stone underneath the potter’s wheel does not directly impart motion to the wheel, but still the stone is indispensable in the matter of the movement of the wheel. Similarly, fire is not directly responsible for one’s study, but study is impossible in winter without fire for heat and light. The case of time is comparable.
Therefore the changes that can be observed in things point to something more than those changes and the changing things. Every change is accompanied by a definite point of time, called samaya, or conventional time, while the continuing reality underlying this conventional time is the dra- vyakala, or transcendental time. The transcendental time is conceived as having both a beginning and an end. This point brings an important feature of the Jaina understanding of time. The samaya, or instants arranged unilaterally, are conceived of as permanent—beginningless and endless. This is indicative of the fact that the transcendental time can never be made an object of sense perception. But one can arrive at knowledge by inference. Another characteristic is that time is amurta or formless; in this respect it is similar to the concept of soul. Time or kala is described as niskriya, or devoid of activity, and it is different from soul, which is sakriya or active.
The Jaina conception of transcendental time is to be contrasted to the idea of time as appearance. In fact the concept of time plays a very important role in the pluralistic metaphysics of the Jaina system. Nothing can be conceived in this universe without time.
Jainism with its realistic viewpoint of thinking accepts the reality of change, which in turn indicates the reality of time. It is not possible to deny the reality of time, as every change involving birth, growth, and decay happens within the framework of time.
Thus time is confined within the limits of lokakasa, or the space that is occupied by other substances; the aloka, which is beyond this, has not time within it. But as aloka is a substance, it must have modifications also. Now how are these modifications possible in the aloka, signifying void which has no time within it? This point is stated in the following way. Aloka, although it is beyond the loka, is still a part of the akasa, or space. Time being within the akasa, it brings about modifications in any part of it, just as a pleasant object coming in contact with a particular part of a body causes pleasant feeling all over the body, or a potter’s stick moves the whole wheel by striking at a particular point of the pot. Innumerable and partless atoms of time fill the lokakasa. In Alokakasa there is absence of matter, and so there is absence of kalanus, or instants.
Anu is the smallest part of a substance, and when these anus are combined inseparably, the substance constituted of them is an extended substance. The five substances—jiva, pudgala, akasa, dharma, and adharma, are extended substances, because their smallest constituents are mixed together, and they remain inseparably combined with one another. But the case is different with time. Time has also minute kalanus, or instants, but these anus or ultimate particles are not capable of mixing up with one another. Therefore, these ultimate particles remain always separate. It is for this reason that Jaina thinkers compare time substance with a heap of jewels. The jewels embedded in a garland remain separate; similarly these anus do not form a kaya; that is, they do not aggregate as the other five substances do. In addition, each kalanu occupies only one pradesa , or space point. Therefore, it does not possess an aggregate or volume space point comparable to that portion of space that is obstructed by an anu or atom. These time atoms are imperceptible, formless, and inactive. Thus they have no extension, but they possess existence.
There is again another principle of classification, on the basis of which substances are classified as conscious or unconscious. Following this line, jiva alone is singled out as conscious, and all other substances, including time, are labeled as insentient.
In conclusion, it may be pointed out that the Jainas make change the essential character of all reality, which is intelligible only in terms of time. Jaina thought, with its law of pluralism accompanied by time as a constant variable, stands unique among the philosophical traditions of India.
See also Christianity; God and Time; Hinduism,
Mimamsa-Vedanta; Hinduism, Nyaya-Vaisesika;
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