Article: Kundakunda

Contributed by Jérôme Petit

Eight 'Offerings'

This 18th-century statue of a Jina from the Deccan has no emblem – lāñchana – to identify him. The emblem is usually on the central panel of his pedestal. With characteristics such as closed eyes, nudity and a very plain style, this figure is Digambara.

Jina statue
Image by Sailko © CC BY-SA 3.0

Describing all the principles of the Jain doctrine and the way to practise them, the eight Prābhṛtas or ‘Offerings’ are short treatises, easy to learn by heart. They are all written in verse and are of varying lengths.

The Darśana-prābhṛta, or Prakrit Daṃsaṇa-pāhuḍa, is a text of 36 stanzas on the concept of ‘right faith’ – samyag-darśana. It provides two philosophical points of view, telling the reader to:

  • believe in the principles preached by the Jina
  • consider right faith to be the realisation of the self.

The second text is the Cāritra-prābhṛta or Cāritta-pāhuḍa in Prakrit. This is a 44-stanza text on ‘right conduct’ – samyak-cāritra – which is the essential tool for liberation. It goes into great detail about the correct conduct for both monks and lay men. Lay conduct is divided into 11 stages. Progressing from one to another requires the lay Jain to take all the groups of lay vows, namely the:

  • five partial vowsaṇuvrata
  • three vows of virtues – guṇa-vrata
  • four disciplinary vows – śikṣā-vrata.

The Sūtra-prābhṛta – Sutta-pāhuḍa in Prakrit – has 27 stanzas. It is a metaphorical composition around the term sūtra, which means both ‘thread’ and ‘sacred texts’. Stating how a needle is not lost with a thread, the text discusses how, in the same way, a man is not lost in the cycle of transmigration with the knowledge of sacred texts. This prābhṛta is also interesting because it describes the ascetic practices reserved for women.

Eleven topics are dealt with in the Bodha-prābhṛta or Bodha-pāhuḍa. In 62 stanzas the text explores the:

  • sanctuaries dedicated to Jinas – āyatana
  • soul seen as the real holy templecaitya-gṛha
  • image of great Jain figures to be worshipped – pratimā
  • faith – darśana – that shows the path of liberation
  • idol of a Jina – Jina-bimba – as an embodiment of knowledge
  • appearance of a Jina – Jina-mudrā – as an example of passionlessness and self-control
  • knowledgejñāna – without which nothing is possible
  • divinity – deva – that is free from delusion
  • holy places – tīrtha – that are in reality the Jain principles like right faith or self-control
  • nature of the Arhat as a support for meditation and asceticism – pravrajyā – for ideal monks.

The fifth Prābhṛta is the Bhāva-prābhṛta or Bhāva-pāhuḍa. This 163-stanza text discusses the mental state – bhāva – necessary to reach the purity of all psychic or spiritual transformations – pariṇāma-suddhi. In this long text Kundakunda describes all the categories of detailed virtues that one should practise to move along the path of liberation. These are:

  • 12 reflections – aṇuprekṣā
  • 25 meditations – bhāvanā
  • seven principles – tattva.

All the disciplinary objects are nothing if they are practised without bhāva or good psychic disposition.

The next Offering is the Mokṣa-prābhṛta or Mokkha-pāhuḍa, a 106-stanza text describing the three kinds of self:

  • the external – bahir-ātman – represented by sense-organs
  • the internal – antar-ātman – represented by psychic states
  • the supreme – paramātman – represented by the Jina free from karmic particles.

Here Kundakunda mainly discusses the supreme self and invites his followers to discriminate between the self – jīva – and the non-self – ajīva.

The Liṅga-prābhṛta or Liṅga-pāhuḍa in Prakrit is a text of 22 stanzas. It stresses that mendicants’ internal attitude – bhāva-liṅga – is most important and that outward appearances – dravya-liṅga – will not make them true monks.

The final Prābhṛta is a text 40 stanzas long, called the Śīla-prābhṛta, Sīla-pāhuḍa in Prakrit. It covers virtuous conduct, focusing on chastity because sensory pleasure leads to the cycle of rebirths by creating attachments that produce karmic particles. On the contrary, virtuous conduct is like a fire that burns away the deposit of old karmas.

Other works

At the peak of the universe, the crescent-shaped siddha-śilā is where liberated souls – siddhas – exist in neverending bliss.

Image by Anishshah19 © CC-BY-3.0

Although numerous works are ascribed to Kundakunda, most of them are probably not his work. In addition to the writings described earlier, two other texts are associated with Kundakunda. These are concerned with meditation and the three gems of Jain doctrine.

The Dvādaśa-anuprekṣā or Bārasa-Aṇupekkhā in Prakrit is a quite popular text of 91 stanzas. This is the only composition that has been signed by the author, as ‘Kundakunda Muni’. The Twelve Reflections deals with the subjects on which every Jain has to focus his or her thoughts, such as the:

The twelfth topic is the perfect knowledgebodhi – which is difficult to attain – durlabha.

The Niyama-sāraEssence of Rules – is a composite text of 187 stanzas. It is a discussion of the ‘three jewels’ which are necessarily – niyamena – considered to constitute the Jain path of liberation. After a description of ‘right knowledge’ and ‘right faith’, Kundakunda examines the more practical topics comprising ‘right conduct’.

From a conventional point of view, it consists mainly of following the:

From an absolute point of view, right conduct means performing the six dutiesāvaśyaka. Practising these duties simultaneously with knowledge and faith, as heat and light are both found in the sunshine, will lead to self-realisation.

Other works are attributed to Kundakunda but they are probably by other hands. Among them are:


The Offerings – Prābhṛtas – described above had a profound influence on later Digambara philosophers. The style and the topics of some of Kundakunda’s stanzas can be found in:

  • Pūjyapāda’s Samādhi-śataka
  • Yogīndu’s Paramātma-prakāśa
  • Amṛtacandra’s Puruṣārthasiddhy-upāya
  • Guṇabhadra’s Ātmānuśāsana.

The ‘Three Dramas’ – Nāṭaka-trayas – have had a particular impact because they were the object of commentaries over a long period of time. Amṛtacandra in the 10th century and Jayasena in the 12th century wrote Sanskrit commentaries that were translated into and glossed in Hindi during the pre-modern period. These Hindi renderings assured the texts great popularity. Nowadays, these texts are translated into modern Indian languages and are thus accessible to devout lay Jains.

The Samaya-sāra has a special destiny, maybe because it is Kundakunda’s clearest and most powerful work. Amṛtacandra commented on it in Sanskrit prose, adding 278 Sanskrit verses. These verses were later taken out to form a new text, known under the title of Samayasāra Kalaśa – Jars containing the Samayasāra. Rājamalla translated and commented upon this in the 16th century. This commentary fell into the hands of Banārasīdās, who produced a new, free adaptation of the text entitled Samayasāra Nāṭaka. This version enjoyed great popularity in the 17th century and was probably read during meetings of the Adhyātma movement. Later associated with Banārasīdās, this movement was born in the second half of the 16th century and gathered together lay Jains of all sects in different cities of north India. The most important groups were in Agra and Jaipur. Kundakunda’s work was the basis of their discussions and their main source of inspiration.

Kundakunda’s style and thought found a special resonance in the late 19th century in the work of Rājacandra. This Gujarati mystical poet also emphasised that religious activity should focus on internal austerities practised with special psychic disposition – bhāva. Like Kundakunda, Rājacandra stressed the simultaneous necessity of both aspects in order to realise that the self is the supreme self.

Today, Kundakunda is read by a variety of audiences. He is popular among Jains of all sects who try to have an internal religious life. Digambara monks consider the majority of his work to be part of their canon of sacred writings. Philosophers and historians of philosophy also read Kundakunda. They read his works for his penetrating insight and in the context of religious rivalry. Kundakunda’s writings can be compared with the very popular Vedānta school of Hindu thought, which also stresses the inner spiritual life.

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