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Image: Blank first page of Praśnottara

Title: Blank first page of Praśnottara

Source:
The British Library Board
Shelfmark:
Or. 2136 ms. B
Author:
Śruta-sāgara
Date of creation:
16th century
Folio number:
1 recto
Total number of folios:
76
Place of creation:
western India
Language:
Sanskrit
Medium:
paper
Size:
25.9 x 11.5 cms
Copyright:
CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
Image copyright: Creative Commons Public Domain

Background

The Praśnottara – Answers to Questions – or Dharma-ratnākara – Ocean of Jewels of the Dharma – is a Śvetāmbara sectarian work, the main concern of which is to refute practices typical of rival monastic orders. Such works emerged parallel to the rise of numerous gacchas from the 12th century onwards. Their subjects are Jain ethics and its principles. These are openly or covertly discussed with the aim of assessing their truth or validity when viewed as part of the contests between different groups. The differences between these gacchas are mainly of practice. The authors of such works largely draw on textual references to show that the practices they defend are rooted in the tradition, and that those of their rivals are innovations coming out of the blue. They usually proceed in two stages:

  1. proving wrong their rivals’ practices 
  2. establishing – pratiṣṭhā or siddhi – the practice they consider valid.

The alternative titles of the work underline this twofold process of argumentation.

Composed in 1627 CE (1684 VS), this work provides a hitherto missing link in the 16th-century controversies surrounding the official hierarchy of the Tapāgaccha and the dissident group led by the scholar mendicant Dharma-sāgara. Originally a disciple of the Tapāgaccha leader Hīravijaya-sūri, Dharma-sāgara separated from him and became a highly controversial figure. Dharma-sāgara died in 1596–97 (1653–54 VS), but the controversies continued after his death, as this work shows. Dharma-sāgara formed his own group, who became known as the 'Sāgara Group'. Śruta-sāgara, the author of this work, was one of them.

The Praśnottara is an answer to the ‘36 statements’ – jalpa or bola written in Gujarati by Soma-vijaya, who died in 1639–40 CE (1696–97 VS). Soma-vijaya represented the official Tapāgaccha hierarchy and position. Śruta-sāgara undertakes a systematic refutation of each point Soma-vijaya argues. Each of the 36 statements in his work starts with exactly the words or the phrases Soma-vijaya uses. The points of contention relate to:

  • problems connected with non-violence in the case of the omniscient being
  • the harmful or non-harmful character of certain karmas
  • issues of mythology or ethics 
  • practice relating to worship, dating of festivals and so on.

The answers to the 36 statements can be found in this manuscript as follows:

36 answers and folio numbers

36 answers

Folio detail

Number 1

starts on folio 1 verso

Number 2

ends on folio 27 recto line 9

Number 3

starts on folio 27 recto line 9

Number 4

starts on folio 28 recto line 4

Number 5

starts on folio 32 recto line 1

Number 6

starts on folio 36 verso line 5

Number 7

starts on folio 49 recto

Number 8

starts on folio 53 recto line 2

Number 9

ends on folio 55 verso line 2

Number 10

starts on folio 55 verso line 2

Number 11

starts on folio 55 verso line 14

Number 12

starts on folio 59 recto line 5

Number 13

starts on folio 59 verso line 5

Number 14

starts on folio 60 recto line 15

Number 15

starts on folio 62 recto line 1

Number 16

starts on folio 63 recto line 11

Number 17

starts on folio 63 verso line 11

Number 18

starts on folio 64 recto line 4

Number 19

starts on folio 64 recto line 11

Number 20

starts on folio 64 verso line 6

Number 21

starts on folio 65 verso line 13

Number 22

starts on folio 66 recto line 11

Number 23

starts on folio 66 verso line 7

Number 24

starts on folio 68 recto line 11

Number 25

starts on folio 68 verso line 11

Number 26

starts on folio 69 verso line 1

Number 27

starts on folio 70 verso line 15

Number 28

starts on folio 71 recto line 6

Number 29

starts on folio 71 verso line 2

Number 30

starts on folio 71 verso line 17

Number 31

starts on folio 72 recto line 6

Number 32

starts on folio 72 verso line 2

Number 33

starts on folio 72 verso line 7

Number 34

starts on folio 72 verso line 15

Number 35

starts on folio 73 recto line 5

Number 36

starts on folio 73 verso line 9


Efforts to trace references to this work and other manuscripts of the text have come to nothing. The British Library manuscript is precious because it seems to be unique. It deserves a full exploration, which Nalini Balbir plans to prepare. It should help in reconstructing the textual history of controversies and Śvetāmbara sectarian polemics in the 17th century.

Glossary

Ahiṃsā
The principle of non-violence that is one of the five chief vows of Jainism.
Common Era
The period of time starting with the year when Jesus Christ was traditionally believed to have been born. Using CE is a more secular way of dating events in a multinational, multi-religious world.
Gaccha
Literally a Sanskrit word for 'tree', gaccha is used by Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjak Jains to describe the largest groups of their mendicant lineages. It is often translated as 'monastic group', 'monastic order' or 'monastic tradition'. These groups are formed when some mendicants split from their gaccha because of disagreements over ascetic practices.
Jain
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
Kevala-jñāna
Omniscience, enlightenment or perfect knowledge – the highest of the five types of knowledge , where one knows everything wherever and whenever it is. It is extremely difficult to attain, equivalent to the 13th stage of spiritual purity in the guṇa-sthāna. Digambaras believe only men can achieve it whereas Śvetāmbaras believe that both men and women can become enlightened.
Paramātman
The highest soul, the liberated soul, the Absolute, often used instead of siddhi. Jains believe that a soul or ātman can achieve liberation from the cycle of birth through its own spiritual development. This concept has been called God in Western thought since the start of the Christian era.
Pūjā
Sanskrit for 'worship' or 'homage'. All Jains perform rites of honour to the 24 Jinas. Rites of worship take place daily, with more elaborate ceremonies performed on holy days. Mendicant and lay Jains perform different rituals. Some sects worship images – mūrti-pūjaka – and others do not, and different sects have various practices. Focused on images or not, worship can be:
  • external or material – dravya-pūjā – involving offerings of food, drink and precious substances
  • internal or mental – bhava-pūjā – including singing hymns of praise, reciting mantras and meditating.
Satya
Reality or truth. This is very important to Jains and the satya-vrata is the second of the mendicant's Five Great Vows and the lay person's Five Lesser Vows.
Śvetāmbara
'White-clad’ in Sanskrit, the title of one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which both male and female mendicants wear white robes. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.
Tapā-gaccha
A Śvetāmbara mūrti-pūjaka sect, first established in the 13th century and reformed from the 19th century. Today nearly all mūrti-pūjak mendicants belong to this sect.
Vikrama-saṃvat
Often abbreviated, Vikrama-saṃvat is the calendar associated with Emperor Vikramāditya. It begins in about 56 BCE so the equivalent date in the Common Era can be calculated by subtracting 57 or 56. Based on Hindu traditions, it is a lunar calendar often used in contemporary India.
Dharma
Duty, religious codes or principles, the religious law. Jains think in terms of dharma or underlying order in the universe.Related to this, the term is also used for the true nature of an object or living entity. For example, the dharma of:
  • fire is to burn
  • water is to produce a cooling effect.
The 15th Jina of the present age is called Dharmanātha or Lord Dharma . His symbolic colour is gold and his emblem the vajra – diamond thunderbolt. There is no historical evidence of his existence.
Ascetic
Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land. Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.
Disciple
An active follower of a religion, especially one who passes on teachings to others.
Sect
An organised group of believers in a religion, often distinguished from other groups within the same religious faith who have differences of doctrine or practice.
Gujarati
The language that developed in Gujarat, in western India. It is also spoken in neighbouring states. Also a term for someone or something associated with or coming from Gujarat.
Pratiṣṭhā
Ritual installation of an idol in a temple. A new statue or picture is often the centre of a noisy procession through the streets to the temple, where a ceremony to consecrate the image takes place. Public rejoicing surrounds the pratiṣṭhā.
Dharma-sāgara
Tapā-gaccha monk who died in 1596. He wrote polemical texts challenging the validity of other Jain sects , especially the Kharatara-gaccha .
Hīravijaya
(1527–1596) Leader of the Tapā-gaccha sect , whose learning and devotion impressed the Mughal Emperor Akbar. Influenced by Hīravijaya, Akbar issued proclamations supporting Jain values , such as banning animal slaughter during the Śvetāmbara festival of Paryuṣaṇ .

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