Article: Karma-prakr̥ti

Contributed by Jean Arzoumanov

Islamic terminology

This page from a Persian translation of a Jain text and commentary demonstrates some of the misinterpretations of the translator. The 'Karma-prakṛti' discusses the details of Jain karma theory but the translator Dilārām introduces Hindu and Islamic words

Distortion of Jain doctrine
Image by Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Although Dilārām's translation tends to approach and explain Jain doctrine through an apparently Hindu lens, he often uses Islamic terms for concepts found in Vedic thought. This mixture of Muslim and Hindu concepts and names suggests close interplay between Hindu and Persian cultural worlds in this period.

For example, Dilārām often refers to the concept of God using a Hindu framework but in terms taken from Islamic theology. In the original commentary on verse 1, Hemrāj glosses the word prakṛti with the words qudrat-i ḥaqq – 'strength of God', which is a proper Muslim theological term – and the Sanskrit word māyā – 'creative illusion'. The word 'prakṛti' here means 'nature, character' but also means 'nature (of the world)' as a principle, which is associated in the Advaita Vedānta with māyā as a creative power and an attribute of God. The counterpart of māyā is avidyā – 'ignorance'. Dilārām introduces these concepts when he says:

Māyā means knowing each thing as being the contrary of what it is; thus, according to the principles of the Vedic word, Allah is everywhere but man knows the contrary

Commentary on verse 58, folio 18 recto

Translation by Jean Arzoumanov

Thus Dilārām refers constantly to God, whom he calls ḥaqq and sometimes allah. God is described as the 'absolute creator' (kār-sāz-e moṭlaq Wilson 262, folio 29 recto, ḫāleq) under whose authority the world revolves. However, these expressions come directly from Islamic notions. The only Hindu name found in the text is Nārāyaṇa, which is a proper name of Viṣṇu (Wilson 262: verse 33 on folio 45 verso and verse 38 on folio 34 verso). Even so, Dilārām's text can be described as largely Hindu creed in partly Islamic garb.

Dilārām's distortions of the original commentary can also be found in this extract, translated into English:

The meaning of ṛjumati [simple knowledge] is that amongst devatās men revere one or two devatās, that is deities, but they ignore that the sole refuge is ātman, the creator of all creatures; apart from the sacred and supreme will of his generous and true essence, nothing exists; this is why man must place himself under the protection of the real God so that, trusting with hope in his heart’s truth and apart from other creatures, he may spend his life in safety and happiness; the meaning of vipula-jñāna [extensive knowledge] is that through it, we think that Nārāyaṇa is the lord of all deities.

Wilson 262, verse 38, folios 34 recto and verso

Translation by Jean Arzoumanov

In the same way, Dilārām's discussion of salvation is not only Hindu but also Islamic. In this devotional context, salvation – najāt – as opposed to wandering and suffering – ʽaḏāb – plays an important part. The passions are the main obstacle to spiritual progress. Dilārām takes up the metaphor of a watchman who denies access to the king’s chamber and amplifies its mystical aspect:

As watchmen at the King’s door or in other places deny access to petitioners without the King’s order, likewise, desire, greed, avidity, etc, keep away from God’s way.

Wilson 262, verse 27, folio 49 verso

Translation by Jean Arzoumanov

In other words only those who truly know God, and thence honestly know themselves, can obtain salvation and perfect knowledge.

Dilārām often explains Hindu tenets in his translations and commentaries in terms and concepts taken from Islam. He may have done this when translating Jain texts into Persian to improve his readers' understanding by framing concepts in more familiar terms. However, Dilaram’s Hindu background comes through strongly in his work and may be because he could grasp and express particular notions only from his own viewpoint and knowledge.

Dilārām uses predominantly Sufi terms to express properly Hindu notions. Examples include:

  • reyāḍat – 'discipline' which is used to translate yoga in other Persian texts
  • maʽrifat-i ḥaqq – 'revealed knowledge of God'
  • mušāhida – 'contemplation'
  • muršid – 'master'
  • murīd – 'disciple'.

These and other words form a semantic network that allows Dilārām to explain the Karma-prakṛti according to his own beliefs and also make it understandable to a reader of Persian. As a consequence, his commentary reflects the importance of Sufi Islam as a means to express and understand the divine and its experience in Indo-Persian culture. It is difficult to evaluate how far Dilārām was involved in Islamic culture but he was evidently interested and absorbed some of its key notions.

This insight into Dilārām’s literary world makes clear how free he feels to draw on different traditions to further his argument and shape a seemingly continuous flow of religious precepts, even at the risk of stretching the original text beyond recognition.

Author

The text known nowadays as Karma-prakṛti has been traditionally credited to the celebrated 11th-century Digambara philosopher Nemicandra. Often called Nemicandra Cakravartin, he is considered to have lived in modern Karnataka.

Nemicandra's most influential work is the two-part Gommaṭasāra, which discusses the key Jain concepts of the soul and karma. His other writings are on points of doctrine.

His designation of cakravartin comes from the title Siddhānta-cakravartin – 'Universal King of the Doctrine'. This refers to his mastery of the Digambara canon, called the Siddhānta.

Title of Nemicandra

Nemicandra is traditionally referred to as Siddhānta-cakravartin – 'Universal King of the Doctrine' – making him the first notable author to carry this regal title. It is justified through a metaphor by the author himself in the Karma-kāṇḍa.

jaha cakkeṇa ya cakkī cha-kkhaṇḍaṃ sāhiyaṃ aviggheṇa
taha mai-cakkeṇa mayā cha-kkhaṇḍaṃ sāhiyaṃ sammaṃ

[Just] As a Cakravartin conquers the six parts [of the Bharata Kṣetra] with the wheel of his chariot [cakra] without any hindrance, so the sixfold [treatise] [meaning the Ṣaṭkhaṇḍāgama] has been properly mastered by me through the cakra of intelligence.

Karma-kāṇḍa (Shastri, page 397)
Translation by Jean Arzoumanov

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Related Manuscripts

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    Bodleian Library. MS. Wilson 262. Nemicandra. 21 July 1796

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