Article: Story Aṅgas

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Results of bad karmas

In this manuscript painting, beings in hell are tortured by animals, demons and other infernal beings. Suffering is the hallmark of the seven hells that make up the lower world of three in the Jain universe.

Tortures in the hells
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

In the initial tale in the first section, Mṛgāputra is the very unfortunate elder son of a royal couple. Born blind, deaf, dumb and crippled, he is totally disfigured, without hands, feet, ears or nose, and suffers from several diseases. His existence kept secret, Mṛgāputra lives in a cellar, fed only by his mother.

When a blind man comes to Mahāvīra’s universal gathering, Indrabhūti Gautama asks the Jina whether there are any other people like this man. Mahāvīra tells him about Mṛgāputra. Gautama goes to Mṛgāputra's house and insists on seeing the child, who is a repugnant sight. The monk recognises that the infernal sufferings Mrgāputra endures now are surely the result of cruel deeds he had committed deliberately in his previous birth. He asks Mahāvīra about this.

The answer is the story of Mṛgāputra’s previous birth. He was a tyrant who oppressed the population. As a result he suffered from many incurable diseases. After death he was reborn as a hell-being, then took form in the womb of Queen Mṛgā. The experience of pregnancy here is in sharp contrast with that of mothers destined to give birth to a future Jina. The embryo caused unbearable sufferings to his mother, who tried abortion, but unsuccessfully.

Indrabhūti Gautama’s second question relates to Mṛgāputra’s future destiny. Mahāvīra’s answer is the description of all his future births. Mṛgāputra will die at the age of 26 and be reborn as:

  • a cruel lion
  • an infernal being in the first hell
  • a reptile
  • an infernal being in the second hell
  • a bird
  • an infernal being in the third hell
  • a lion
  • an infernal being in the fourth hell
  • a snake
  • an infernal being in the fifth hell
  • a woman
  • an infernal being in the sixth hell
  • a man
  • an infernal being in the seventh hell
  • an aquatic animal with five sense organs
  • a succession of all sorts of animals, plants and one-sensed beings – listed without further elaboration
  • a bull that will die while digging the earth on the bank of the Ganges, which will collapse
  • a merchant’s son who, after listening to ascetics, will become a monk following proper conduct
  • a god in the first heaven
  • a human being in an opulent family in the Mahā-videha area of the Jain universe who will then reach emancipation.

The purpose of such narratives is to produce dizziness in the reader or hearer through the description of the whirl of rebirths and circulation in the three worlds that form the Jain universe.

The other nine characters in this section demonstrate equally the consequences of cruel behaviours through their lives. These include behaving in the following ways:

  • treating men and animals cruelly
  • engaging in lust
  • engaging in adultery, committed by a brahmin priest in chapter 5
  • stealing
  • trading in animal products
  • working as a butcher and eating meat, as demonstrated by Chaṇṇika in chapter 4
  • working as a fisherman, as Śaurikadatta does in chapter 8
  • demonstrating the wrong understanding of official functions and misusing power, as does Nandivardhana in chapter 6
  • demonstrating the wrong practice of medicine, as with Umbaradatta in chapter 7

The terrible Devadattā illustrates the cruelty of women in chapter 9 while women's lack of restraint is shown in chapter 10, which features Anju.

Result of good karmas

In this detail from a manuscript painting Śvetāmbara monks receive alms from lay people. This manuscript of the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra, a major text outlining the rules of monastic life, dates back to the 16th century

Giving alms to Śvetāmbara monks
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In contrast, the second part of the Vipāka-śruta has the peaceful atmosphere produced by characters who enjoy happy lives because they follow the proper code of conduct and also did so in earlier births. Only the first story, that of Subāhu-kumāra, is narrated. It is identical for the nine other characters, except for change of names and locations.

Prince Subāhu’s opulence, beauty and happiness are so great that they attract Indrabhūti Gautama’s curiosity. Mahāvīra’s answer is the story of the previous birth where he had shown himself to be a perfect Jain lay man. In particular, he was a paragon in the practice of suitable alms-giving to Jain monks, knowing exactly how it should be done, such as:

  • welcoming the monk with joy
  • offering proper food, in conformity with the rules.

This is the virtue praised in this section of the work (Balbir 1983). As a result, the ‘five heavenly things’ appear in the donor’s house:

  • shower of gold
  • shower of flowers of all colours
  • falling of clothes
  • sounding of divine drums
  • divine exclamation of the phrase, 'What a gift!'

Although the perfect donor still has to go through various rebirths before reaching emancipation, he or she will experience only positive forms of existence before then. This translates into births as a god in various heavens or as a human being.

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