Article: Upāṅgas

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Upāṅga 1 – source-book of descriptions

This manuscript painting depicts the 24th Jina Mahāvīra and the 'universal gathering' – samavasaraṇa. This Sanskrit term means the event during which the omniscient Jina preaches to all sentient beings – human beings, animals and deities. It also describe

Mahāvīra and the universal gathering
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The first Upāṅga – known as Uvavāiya-sutta in Prakrit, Aupapātika-sūtra in Sanskrit – is divided into three sections.

The first is called ‘Samavasaraṇa’ and provides full details of everything connected with Mahāvīra’s universal gathering in the city of Campā, in eastern India. It is a source-book for standard patterns of description, which are often referenced in other parts of the Śvetāmbara scriptures. These descriptions are in canonical prose, characterised by long compound words and stereotyped formulas. Among the main topics of description are:

  • the city of Campā
  • the open sacred place – ceiya – its garden and main tree
  • the king and the queen
  • a report of Mahāvīra’s body from head to toe, describing all the auspicious physical marks of a Jina’s body – lakṣaṇas
  • the various categories of ascetics who assemble to attend the preaching, which leads to descriptions of related notions, such as ascetics’ special powers and a standard account of asceticism as both external and internal, the former concerned with fasting and other penances relating to food while internal penances are atonements, respectful attitude, service to others, study, meditation and rejection of the body in the kāyotsarga posture
  • the four main classes of gods – Bhavanavāsins, Vyantaras, Jyotiṣkas and Vaimānikas
  • King Kūṇika’s journey to the preaching place, including a list and sketch of the eight auspicious symbols.

The second section deals with the spontaneous birth of gods or hell-beings, technically known as upapāta. This is the title of this section. Mahāvīra deals at length with Indrabhūti Gautama's questions on matters relating to the modes and places of rebirths of various types of beings. These rebirths depend on how one behaved in the former existence. Among the types of people considered are those who observe vows, hermits in the forest and initiated ascetics. This exposition includes a review of categories of non-Jain ascetics – parivrājaka – and their scriptures. They are Brahmins who believe in the authority of Vedic scriptures. Then comes the story of Ambaḍa, one of these ascetics, and questions about his rebirth, as well as about the rebirth of other kinds of ascetics.

The very final section of the text deals with ‘explosive annihilation of karmas’ – samudghāta – which leads to the abode of final emancipationsiddhi.

Upāṅga 2 – relationship between body and soul

This manuscript painting depicts the gods' lives of enjoyment in the heavens. The costly furnishings, jewels and rich clothing of the beautiful gods underline the pleasures of the topmost of the three worlds of Jain cosmology.

Heavenly pleasures
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The general frame of the Rāya-paseṇaijjaor Rāyapaseṇiya in PrakritRāja-praśnīya in Sanskrit – is that of numerous stories. The second Upāṅga follows a character through his three rebirths.

The setting of the tale is, again, Mahāvīra’s universal gathering. A god named Suryābha arrives there, displaying his celestial powers and staging before him 32 types of dramas. He then returns to his abode for his coronation ceremony. Wondering about the cause of such powers, Indrabhūti Gautama asks Mahāvīra about their origin.

The Jina narrates the god’s previous existence, when he was King Pradeśi – also called Paesi or Prasenajit. The king has wrong views about the relationship between the body and the soul, which he expresses during talks with the monk Keśi, a chief disciple of the 23rd Jina, Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva. Later on, Pradeśi becomes convinced by Keśi’s views, takes the vows of a Jain lay man, fasts unto death and is then reborn as the god Sūryābha.

In answer to Gautama’s next question about Sūryābha’s future destiny, Mahāvīra explains that he will be reborn as a son in a prosperous family living in the Mahā-videha. Because of his resolute faith in Jainism, he will have the name Dṛḍha-pratijña – ‘who is firm in his resolution’. He will have a perfect education but, instead of living the life of a wealthy youth, he will give up worldly life, become a monk, lead the life of a perfect ascetic, become omniscient and finally be emancipated.

In the first part of the Rāja-praśnīya there are lengthy descriptions of the celestial vehicle – vimāna – Suryābha uses to descend from his heavenly abode to the earth. This vehicle resembles a town. Hence, this part of the work is important for all the architectural data it includes, as all the parts of this vimāna, from the gates to the temples, pillars and platforms are described precisely.

In this part, there is also technical information about dramatic performances and music, whereas the third part of the work provides information about the subjects taught in education.

Dialogue between Pradeśi and Keśi

The second part of the Rāja-praśnīya is the central one. It stages the dialogue of King Pradeśi with the monk Keśi on the relationship between the body and the soul. The king argues that body and soul are identical. He is presented ‘as a kind of naïve empiricist’ (Dundas 2002: 94), who puts forward cruel and extreme tests he has carried out personally to support his point. For instance,

my city guards brought me a thief, [his hands] tied behind his neck, and together with him witnesses, stolen goods and a garland. I had that man thrown alive into a metal vessel, had it covered with a metal lid, had it soldered together with [the same] metal and tin, and watched by men loyal to me. Then some time later I went where the metal vessel stood, had it opened, saw that man myself, but [there was] no fissure, opening, hole or crack whatsoever in that metal vessel, from where his soul from within had escaped outside. Now if, Venerable Sir, in this metal vessel there had been a fissure […], from where his soul from within had escaped outside, then I might believe, put my faith in, approve of [the teaching of the Jains] that the soul and the body are different

Bollée 2005: 113–114

Among Pradeśi’s other experiments several others involve thieves. Examples include:

  • a thief who weighs the same when alive and dead, showing that the soul has not left the body on death
  • the corpse of a dead thief that is cut into whatever number of pieces does not show anything other than bits of flesh.

On another occasion, the king takes the example of a young person and an old person. He asserts that the old person does not have the same capacities as the young one. According to him, this proves that the body is the only active factor in the process and that therefore body and soul are the same.

The monk Keśi replies to Pradeśi’s points using comparisons that show the body is only a vessel. Considering the thief’s constant weight, he reminds the king that there is no change in the weight of a leather bag before and after it has been inflated with air. In the case of the young and old, he uses that of a basket. Someone cannot carry a heavy load of iron in an old basket, but is able to do so with a new one.

The discussion goes on because the king considers the comparisons, clever though they are, are not factual. The situations he describes can be observed by one’s own eyes, which he believes makes them more valid.

Finally, the king is convinced by the comparison Keśi uses to argue that the soul contracts and expands to fit the body in which it is located. Keśi states that the soul of the smallest insect – a kunthu – and the largest animal – the elephant – are the same size. He compares the souls of these two very different physical beings with a lamp, which can brighten a small or large space depending on whether it is in a basket, a pot, a room and so on. The monk also explains that there are things that can be seen only by omniscient beings (Dundas 2002: 94).

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