The Concept of Divinity in Jainism: Where was God before the creation of the Universe?

A soul can only achieve liberation by getting rid of all the karma attached it

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Jain temple at Ranakpur dedicated to Tirthankara Adinatha. Wikimedia

December 10, 2016: Jainism is a rational, ethical religion with an independent philosophy. The religion has a rich ritual system, a well-developed cult and beautiful temples.

Jainism does not believe in a divine creative spirit. Instead, they pay homage to Tirthankaras- the ford-makers. It believes that God is a spiritual being. It believes that the attainment of perfection and purity in the soul leads to Godhood.

The divinity is achieved through the path of salvation or the Moksha Marga. ‘Aptha’ is the lord who reveals the path of salvation to the mankind out of his love and mercy for the humans suffering in the samsara. The Idea of God is illegitimate in Jainism. The soul is responsible for moral life and religious experience.

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Jainism has its own sole idea of divinity. Philosophy is the supreme soul. There is no difference between ‘Aatman’ and ‘Paramatman’. The Universe is governed by the laws of nature. God is nothing but an omniscient soul which teaches reality as it is and is free from all forms of defilements. It is the foundation of the beliefs of Jainism. God is not the architect of the Universe. The assumption of God as a creator is logically inconsistent. The Universe is eternal. So, the concept of God as the creator of the universe is irrelevant. However, it does not deny the existence of a supreme soul which is the state of divinity i.e., Paramatman.

The Jain writings are very contemptuous of the idea of God as the creator of the universe.

Where was God before the creation of the Universe? Where is he now? How can an immaterial God create something that is material? If God is perfect and complete, how did the will to create the universe arise in him? No single being had the potential to build the entire universe. No form of God is essential to keep the universe in existence.

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Jains believe in the attendant deities of Tirthankaras who help humans with their power. There is Goddess of wisdom and knowledge and also other guardian deities. There are Gods in heaven and in hell. There are kings and Gods in heaven. However, the Kings of heaven are still subject to reincarnation and karma. Gods of Tirthankaras are free from attachment and hatred. They are just pure souls living in paradise. They don’t grant wishes.

Basically, it has the following forms of divinity:

  1. Paramatman: The pure and perfect soul
  2. Demi Gods, Yaksa and Yaksis
  3. Arihantas- Tirthankaras

The philosophy of Jainism is based on the spiritual consciousness and not on any form of external revelation or any particular writing. The concept of God in Jainism subscribes to the opinion that omniscience is possible when the soul has reached the pinnacle of purity and perfection. The concept of divinity is viewed in the state of pure consciousness and perfect soul. Jains do not believe in a God who must be obeyed. There is not a god for judgment. The quality of a human’s life is determined by his karma. Karma has nothing to do with spiritual beings; it is a physical process.

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Every soul can be a perfect soul. These perfect souls do not have any interest in human beings. They don’t have a desire for anything. Thus, these Gods don’t demand any worship. They can’t intervene in the human world.

In many ways, the Jain attitude to perfect beings is both intelligible and satisfying, and sufficient to demolish the claim that Jainism is an atheistic religion. If one wants to argue that Jainism is atheistic then one must do so from a specific, limited, idea of what it means to be divine.

The beliefs of Jainism regarding the perfect souls are satisfying and comprehensible. Only a person with a limited idea of the meaning of divinity will disagree with the beliefs of Jainism.

 by Diksha Arya of NewsGram. Twitter: @diksha_arya53