Bandha (Karmic Bondage)

by Marie-Hélène Gorisse

Conceptual definition

Jains consider that each of us – as well as each living being, up to the many microscopic forms of life that also exist around us even though we are not able to perceive them – is an embodied Self (ātman/appā/ādā, jīva). While the Self is permanent; its current embodied configuration is not. To explain, what we call ‘life’, is a given entanglement of the Self with matter; and that what we call ‘death’ is not an end, but the cessation of this precise entanglement with matter and the transit to another one. In such a way that we are always faced with embodied Selves. Now, the Self is radically different from this matter, may it be physical, karmic or fiery, and Jain religious practices focus on getting us free from these entanglements of the Self, especially that with karmic matter, as this is because from this entanglement, called ‘bondage’, that suffering stems.

Philosophical significance for philosophers of religion

The bondage of a Self with karma displaces several traditional questions of the field of philosophy of religion. For example, in order to cop with the loss of a dear one in death, the hope for the Jains is not for this person to leave as she was in a better realm, but it is that she avoided enough accumulation of karmic matter to leave in a better form within this realm. And this process of avoiding karmic bondage is repeated until one’s Self, who is already immortal in essence, also accesses to a state of acquired immortality. Thinking of our immortal essence, and of our mortality only illusorily brought forwards by karmic bondage, authors like Kundakunda claim “He who thinks ‘I kill’ and ‘I am killed by other beings’, he is an ignorant fool. But the one who knows thinks otherwise” (Essence of the Self, Samayasāra, SSā 247).

The bondage of a Self with karma also shakes the methodology of philosophy of religion. First, karmic bondage is a medium between the physical state of an embodied Self, its moral state, as well as its epistemic state, therefore building bridges as they little exist in other traditions. Second, the vast Jain literature on karmic bondage contains a proliferation of physical metaphors that guide the philosopher’s comprehension. It would be interesting, as we compare space-problems between different philosophical paradigms, to compare traditions of metaphors between them.

Historical context

In South Asian traditions, it is a shared conception that things which have parts are impermanent. For Jains, matter (pudgala) is the only type of substance that can associate or dissociate and, therefore, that has parts. Therefore, impermanence only comes from one’s association with matter. Contrarily to matter, (i) a Self is a single atom devoid of parts and totally independent from both other Selves and other substances; (ii) space, medium of motion and medium of rest are each a single indivisible whole that occupies all cosmic space; and (iii) time has no extension. Therefore, it is the bondage with matter, especially karmic matter, that accounts for any non-permanent feature of the Self, while any permanent feature is accounted by the isolated and essential nature of this Self.

The seminal Treatise on What there is, Tattvārthasūtra (TS 8.5, written in Sanskrit in 350-400, allegedly by someone called Umāsvāmin) lists eight types of karmic matter, divided into four harming (ghātiyā) ones:

  1. The delusory karma (mohanīya), which reduces one’s innate bliss and brings about one’s attachment to incorrect views;
  2. The knowledge-obstructing karma (jñāna-avaraṇīya), which blocks the faculties of the Self, of the mind, and of the senses;
  3. The perception-obstruction karma (darśanāvaraṇīya), which operates likewise;
  4. And the obstacle karma (antarāya), which reduces one’s innate energy.

Next to these, there are four non-harming (a-ghātiyā) types of karmic matter:

  1. The feeling karma (vedanīya), which determines whether an experience of the Self is pleasant or not;
  2. The name karma (nāman), which determines what sort of rebirth is attained;
  3. The life karma (āyus), which decides the duration of one’s life;
  4. The clan karma (gotra), which determines one’s status within a species.

In what follows, let us base our reflections on like karma. The fact that a type of karmic matter decides the duration of one’s life means nothing less than when one dies, say, because of a car accident, these external forces are only the material cause of the death of the embodied Self, while the fruition of her life karma is the efficient cause of her death. In such a conception, death happens as the fruit of the actions that one has herself performed in a previous life. This is how bound by karma we are. The metaphor of the process of sedimentation will help to understand how this karmic bondage works: take a muddy water and leave it without any movement for a sufficient amount of time. The different types of substances involved in this mixture will slowly start to separate, the more gross particles being at the bottom. In this process, the separation time differs for each mixture, since it depends upon the nature of the substances involved, as well as of the intensity of the mixing. The same happens with the Self and its bodies: their type of entanglement in the previous life mechanically has an effect on the lapse of time that the next entanglement will last. In such a way that this has nothing to do with a deserved punishment after some fault, nor with some deserved reward after some good deed. Instead, this has everything to do with the laws of physics. Jain thinkers develop a complex system, with calculations, to explain the practical effects of karmic matter on us. Notably, which mass of material particles is assimilated after a given reprehensible act, as well as the duration and intensity of this assimilation. These calculations resemble a physics, and are found as early as the Elucidation of the Teaching [of Mahāvīra] (ViyāhapannattiSutta, also known as Verses of the Venerable, Bhagavaī Sutta, old parts 5th c. BCE; new parts 1st c. CE). Later on, in the Treatise on What There Is, it is for example stated that: “Bondage to life karma lasts up to thirty-three ocean-measured periods.” (Tattvarthasutra 8.15)

The commentaries develop this, by explaining that this equates to 1/3 x 8,400,00 x 8,400,00 x 107 years. Of course, this maximal possible duration does not concern human embodied lives like yours or mine. Next to one’s life duration, the rest of the states of our embodied Self are similarly regulated by the fruition of a type of karma and can be inferred through calculation.

In his Essence of the self, Samayasāra (SSā, 3rd – 8th c.), Kundakunda is the one to redefine the Self as active only in its own domain, not in the material world of karma (kamma). Concretely, the Self is the material cause only of the modifications of consciousness, while karmic matter is the (indirect) instrumental cause of modifications of consciousness. In turn, the self is the (indirect) instrumental cause of karmic modifications, but only as a king indirectly causes the virtue in his subjects when he acts in a virtuous way and is taken as a model. Another metaphor that Kundakunda uses to think the association between the Self and karmic matter is that of the mirror-like crystal. If a red flower is reflected in a crystal, we see the crystal as red, while it is not (with the pun that the Prakrit term ‘rāga, rāya’, means both ‘red object’ and ‘attachment’). Likewise, the Self sees attachment/wrong notions superposed with it, not being it. The Self and karmic matter always keep their essential distinct natures, even in the midst of karmic bondage, which might lead one to think that they are genuinely mixed.

Whether we use the mirror-like or the sediments-like metaphors, it seems that we haveto understand the world as a whole in which things are mechanically combined together. Even though the types of substance which are the Self and non-self stuff, like karmic matter, are radically separated, they co-exist within the same conditions and so they experience paralleled modifications.

Overview of significant references/uses by contemporary scholars

Phenomena – may they be physical, subtle, or moral – can be explained in terms of karmic bondage. In the Jain system, this means that they can be expressed through calculus. This, in turn, means that equivalences between different planes of reality – physical, moral, epistemic – can always be handled thanks to these calculations based on karmic bondage. Karmic bondage therefore can serve as a translation medium. The tradition of calculation by means of karmic bondage has culminated in Jainism in a textual tradition stemming from the Essence of [the teachings of] Mahāvīra, Gommaṭasāra, written in the 10th c. by Nemicandra as a commentary to the Digambara Sacred Scriptures in Six Parts, Ṣaṭkhaṇḍāgama.

Finally, there is a remaining philosophical question, namely, how come that it is not only an internal death, out of the exhaustion of one’s life force, how come that it can also happen due to external factors, like the being hit by a truck? We are not here dealing with a type of occasionalism, since originated aggregates are efficient causes only in their own realm. But this remaining question makes us think that at least, such a conception is only possible if one conceives the world as a rational whole in which things make sense together, even though only the omniscient ones can experience that. In this dynamic, it is interesting to notice that a lot of South Asian traditions share this holistic approach.

Related emic terms

Pudgala (matter), harming/non-harming karma, permanence/impermanence, life karma, calculation.

Related etic terms

Embodied self, permanence/impermanence, material/efficient cause, holism, metaphors.

List of references

ĀS = Āyāraṃgasutta. In Kumar, Muni Mahendra (tr.): Āyāro (Ācārāṅga Sūtra). Jain Canonical Text Series 1. New Delhi: Today and tomorrow’s Printers & Publishers, 1981.

Bajželj, Ana. “The Jain Ontological Model according to Kundakunda and Umāsvāti.” Asian Studies 1.17, 2013: 3–16.

GS = Nemicandra, Gommaṭasāra, in Gommatsara Jiva-Kanda (the soul), Rai Bahadur J. L. Jainia (trans.), The Sacred books of the Jainas 5, Lucknow: The Central Jaina Publishin House, 1927.

Jaini, Padmanabh, 1979, The Jaina Path to Purification, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Johnson, William. Harmless souls: Karmic bondage and change in early Jainism with special reference to Umāsvāti and Kundakunda. In: Lala Sundar Lal Jain Research Series 9. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1995.

Pragya, Unnata, 2021, The Concept of Samudghāta in Jaina Philosophy, PhD defended in London.

Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli. 1923, “The pluralistic Realism of the Jainas”, Indian Philosophy 1, London: Georges Allen & Unwin Ltd, pp. 236–285 (reed. 2008, Delhi: Oxford University Press).

SSā = Samayasāra of Kundakunda. (1) Chakravarti, A (ed., tr. and comm.): Ācārya Kundakunda’s Samayasāra. Benares 1950 (5th ed. Bharatiya Jnanpith, New Delhi 2008). (2) Jaini, J. L. (ed., tr. and comm.): Samayasara by Shri Kunda Kunda Acharya. Sacred Books of the Jainas 8, The Central Jaina Publishing House, Lucknow 1930. (3) Zaveri, Jethalal, (ed., tr. and comm.): Samayasāra by Ācārya Kundakunda. Jain Vishva Bharati University, Ladnun 2009.

TS = Tattvārthasūtra of Umāsvāmin. In Tatia, Nathmal (tr.): That which is. Tattvārthasūtra. A Classic Jain Manual for Understanding the True Nature of Reality. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1994.

TSBh = Tattvārthasūtrabhāṣya of Umāsvāti, ibid.

Wiley, Kristi, 2011, “The significance of adhyavasāya in Jaina karma theory”, International Journal of Jaina Studies 7/3 (Online), pp. 1–26.

YS = Yogaśāstra, Hemacandra, in The Yogaśāstra of Hemacandra. A twelfth century Handbook on Śvetāmbara Jainims, Olle Qvarnstrōm (trans.), 2002, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Keyword Videos and Podcasts

Each participating scholar chose a keyword to illustrate with a video or podcast.

Please click on the links below to view or listen to each scholar’s contribution.

Oludamini Ogunnaike – Qalb

Yuko Ishihara – Two-fold-being-in-the-world.

Marie-Helene Gorisse – Upayoga.

Maki Sato – Kami.

Louis Komjathy – Pneumatology.

Louis Komjathy – Daoist standing meditation.

Herbert Moyo – Isintu.

Ayodeji Ogunnaike – Ori.


Conceptual definition

Jain renunciants follow a rigorous method towards salvation, in which renunciation from worldly life, a non-violent way of life, the dissociation of Self and non-Self stuff and a purification from karmic matter towards omniscience become in time different facets of the same effort to access to a superior order of being in which the Self resumes its essential nature. At this stage, each Self is absolutely isolated. To reach this, everything that is not the Self – passions, wrong notions, matter, etc. – has to be patiently removed from the Self through continuous practices of renunciation. Renunciatory practices that enable this Self restauration are meant to block further inflows of karmic matter and to burn already adhering karmic matter. They include restraint in speech, mental and bodily activity (gupti), following given rules of behavior (samiti), reflecting on the miseries in life (anuprekṣā), practicing austerities (tapas) and behaving in a moral way (dharma), which itself includes cultivating self-control (saṃyama), abandon the world (tyāga), being detached from things (akiñcanya) and practicing chastity (brahmācarya).

Philosophical significance

In traditions such as Jainism, philosophical and religious teaching firstly aims to promote a type of behavior, a method to concretely modify an unsatisfying situation by modifying oneself. Traditions like this are foremost about transformative practices of the self. One does not only need to be aware of the core categorial distinctions – in Jainism, the distinction between Self and non-Self – one also has to realize her true nature through a set of practices, prominently renunciatory ones.

First, renunciatory practices are more precisely a type of internal sacrifice, where one has to give up current self conceptions before embracing new ones.

Second, renunciatory practices either remove one after one the many layers of self construction which are actually alien to what the self essentially is. For example, repentance and atonement are mechanisms aiming at modifying the self from a reappraisal of its past acts, removing labels deemed unfit. Or renunciatory practices displace the networks of association that exists between oneself and the surroundings. In this dynamic meditation, by modifying habits, relocates associations that prevent what is considered a proper self identification.

Historical context

In South Asia in the 6th c. BCE, considerations on the nature of the world and of human beings’ position in it were developed against a backdrop of Vedic practices of devotion revolving around a sacred fire. Two pan-Indian conceptions notably emerged from the idea that, besides entailing fruits in this life, the correct devotional practice could also secure beneficial consequences in one’s after-life. First, a conception of human life as a long circle of rebirths; second, the belief in the efficacy not only of the devotional act, but of all acts. These beliefs laid the basis of the renowned theory of karma, according to which our current situation in life is determined by our acts in previous lives. Acknowledging this conception, most South Asian traditions aimed at liberation (mokṣa) from the bounding karmic network and, each in its own way, put an emphasis on ceasing the acts that lead to further karmic footprints. This usually takes the form of ascetic practices such as meditation or abstinence, in order to renounce the clinging to transitory passions by reaching equanimity, and to perform as few acts as possible or only dispassionate egoless ones. This, in turn, implies renouncing the social and ritual life of the householder and becoming a wandering mendicant. As such, most of the South Asian traditions are, in different proportions, part of a ‘renunciatory paradigm’. In this renunciatory paradigm, Jainism is the tradition that goes the further. Jains were one of the ascetic groups called ‘śramaṇa’, ‘strivers’, to refer to the hardships of this path to liberation. Jain śramaṇas were more precisely called the ‘nirgrantha’, ‘the ones who are free from possessions’, since Jain male mendicants were singled out as the ones practicing nudity.

A peculiarity of Jainism is to essentially associate these renunciatory liberating practices with the imperative of non-violence. Besides, to cultivate this non-violence involves having an awareness of the existence of the life-forms, of other Selves, that surround us. Finally, since Selves are in essence unobstructed knowledge, perception and bliss, the last main facet of the Jain renunciatory stance consists in epistemic progress up to omniscience. Concretely, to get closer to the realization of our real nature is to follow practices that could be classified into a four-fold way:

  1. Practices of abstinence, in the line of no sexual intercourse, no food for given periods of time, non-possession up to the nudity of the Digambar monks;
  2. Practices towards self-control, like meditation or mortification of the flesh;
  3. Penances, today mainly consisting in fasts and recitation of prayers;
  4. Practices of non-violence, such as not eating meat, nor any product derived from animals, not drinking non-filtered water containing microscopic forms of life, walking with extreme caution so as to avoid killing life forms on the ground, and not using any other modes of transportation for the monastic community.

This is sufficient to see that Jainism is an arduous renunciatory path, in which the disciple needs methods to assist her. One such method is an incitement to cultivate a pessimistic attitude towards the world by means of twelve contemplations (Prakrit: aṇuvekkha; Sanskrit: anuprekṣā) on the miseries of life. These can be found in canonical and post canonical texts, like in the Tattvārtha-sūtra. These are incitements towards contemplation of human beings and their relation to the surrounding world, which prompt the awareness that:

(i) everything in the world is not enduring;

(ii) all beings are helpless;

(iii) when an individual is spiritually free, only she has been able to achieve it, and only she can enjoy it, no other individual can assist and share, each individual is isolated;

(iv) all relationships of an embodied Self are temporary, not real;

(v) empirical reality from life to death to life is endless and full of calamities;

(vi) the empirical universe is an abode for Selves that do not know their real nature;

(vii) embodied Selves are bound in impure, rotten and stinking bodies;

(viii) the influx of karmic matter is the main cause of miseries;

(ix) the stoppage of the influx of karmic matter is possible by means of penances;

(x) the purification of karmic matter that is already bound is possible by means of penances;

(xi) the doctrine (Prakrit: dhamma; Sanskrit: dharma) preached by the Jinas leads to spiritual freedom;

(xii) human enlightenment is rare and difficult to obtain, it is an essential duty of all humans to get it prior to their death.

Significant references/uses

First, in global philosophy of religion, traditions like Jainism focused on self centered transformative practices are important as they help to reshape the prevalent conception of divinities and the definition of religion.

Second, renunciation here mainly consists in acting in a controlled and restrained manner. This type of attention is also crucial for contemporary environmentalists, because this injunction goes in particular against the practices of mass consumption. In Jainism, even the laity must be careful and not desire beyond their needs. In this dynamic, a care for not wasting resource, as well as vegetarianism or veganism become important values. Besides, Gandhi’s style of action centered on self-control, as enjoined by the Gītā, was a source of inspiration for Indian environmentalists. It is worth pointing out that Gandhi’s stance was deeply influenced by Jainism.

Related emic terms

Saṃvara (blockage of the inflow of karmic matter), nirjarā (destruction of karmic matter), gupti (restraint speech, mental and bodily activity), samiti (rule of behavior), dharma (moral behavior), saṃyama (self-control) tapas (austerity), akiñcanya (detachment), brahmācarya (continence), anuprekṣā (reflexions on the miseries in life).

Related etic terms

Transformative practices, techniques of the self, controlled act, self-control, meditation.


ĀS = Āyāraṃgasutta. In Kumar, Muni Mahendra (tr.): Āyāro (Ācārāṅga Sūtra). Jain Canonical Text Series 1. New Delhi: Today and tomorrow’s Printers & Publishers, 1981.

Bhatt, Bhansidar. “Twelve aṇuvekkhās in early Jainism.” In: Nalini Balbir and Joachim Bautze (eds.): Festschrift Klaus Bruhn zur Vollendung des 65. Lebensjhares dargebracht vin Schülern, Freunden und Kollegen. Reinbek: Dr. Inge Wezler Verlag, 1994, pp. 171–94.

Dundas, Paul. The Jains. Routledge, 1992.

Johnson, W. J. Harmless souls: Karmic bondage and change in early Jainism with special reference to Umāsvāti and Kundakunda. In: Lala Sundar Lal Jain Research Series 9. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1995.

TS = Tattvārthasūtra of Umāsvāti. In Tatia, Nathmal (tr.): That which is. Tattvārthasūtra. A Classic Jain Manual for Understanding the True Nature of Reality. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1994.


by Marie-Helene Gorisse

Conceptual definition

At the heart of Jainism is the belief that every living being is the transitory embodiment of a permanent Self (jīva) and individuals are meant to progress until they reach a state at which their Self is no longer embodied again. Embodied, the Self is co-extensive with the body it occupies, like light in a room, and this is what explains why we have sensations from the top of our head to the tips of our toes. However, the innate cognitive powers of the Self are obstructed by this entanglement, especially when it comes to karmic matter. While liberated, the Self is essentially unobstructed consciousness whose experience (upayoga, uvaoga) consists of cognition (āna) and intuition (darśana).

Furthermore, not only Jainism is the teaching of those worshiped beings who are unobstructed cognition and unobstructed intuition, but we too are, in principle, similar omniscient Selves. Consequently, we can know what is beyond the mundane, human epistemic range, either thanks to an openness to this higher order of being within ourselves through meditative practices; or by relying on the Scriptures—the teaching of the liberated beings—which, in turn, can be fully understood only by beings with a similar mind.

Philosophical significance

An important theme in mainstream Western philosophy of religion is the tension that exists between faith, belief, and reason. In fact, a prevalent number of discussions are articulated around this tension and on what counts as good evidence to support a given worldview. For instance, should one entrust the regulated use of the epistemic abilities of human beings within their inherent limitations, or should one rather entrust the transformative experience ensured by religious practices, the testimony of miracle, or the shared observation that good, morality, and harmony exist in the world, etc.? In this dynamic, does science discredit religion? And what about the epistemic status of intuitions? In these discussions, theistic arguments usually tend to show that faith is only seemingly, but not in truth, contrary to reason.

An interesting feature of Jainism is that its religious practices aim at the practitioner’s liberation from wrong beliefs (mithyātva), which is the final step before her liberation from the infinite circle of rebirths. In such a perspective, the exercise of consciousness as cognition has a central position, while intuition—which includes the closest equivalent to faith (śraddhā)—is a preliminary requisite meant to ensure that one has the correct mindset thanks to which the transformative practices of Self-realization can happen, hence shifting the complementarity and tension between faith, belief, and knowledge.

Historical context

In South Asian philosophico-religious traditions, the divine, the absolute, is usually, primarily consciousness (cit), cognition/knowledge (jñāna), insight (prajñā), the subject of experience (puruṣa), or the Seer (draṣṭṛ). Jain conceptions of the Self (ātman, jīva) as unobstructed cognition, unobstructed intuition, unobstructed bliss, and unobstructed energy, which focus on the cognitive part of these items, are no exception to this state of affairs. Nor is the fact that our spiritual progress consists of a path that is both virtuous and epistemic up to omniscience. In fact, even though the oldest Jain texts say very little on the Self, they already agree on characterizing it in terms of consciousness. For example, in the canonical On Behaviour, Āyāraṃga Sutta (ĀS, written in early Ardhamāgadhī in 3-2 BCE), even though an apophatism according to which the Self is not long, nor small, nor round, etc. is developed, even there, it is said “that which is the Self is that which knows, that which is the knower is the Self, that by which one knows is the Self” (ĀS 171) and “while having knowledge and intuition, there is no condition of (this) unconditioned (Self)” (ĀS 176).

Umāsvāmin and Kundakunda are the two authors who systematize a classical Jain epistemology and ontology out of these canonical texts. To begin with, the first chapter of the seminal Treatise on What there is, Tattvārthasūtra (TS, written in Sanskrit in 350–400, allegedly by someone called Umāsvāmin, probably by an unknown author), is devoted to the seven categories of reality and describes the many ways of knowing them. The following chapters are then dedicated to a detailed analysis of each category, starting with the Self (jīva). There, the defining characteristic (lakṣaṇa) of the Self is experience [of consciousness] (upayoga) (TS 2.8). Further on, the Commentary on the treatise on what there is, Tattvārthasūtrabhāṣya (TSBh, written in Sanskrit by Umāsvāti in 400–450) divides this cognitive operation into cognition (jñāna) and intuition (darśana) (TSBh 2.9.1). This gives rise to two lengthy classifications. First, a taxonomy within which all living beings are classified depending on the number of sense faculties they possess and can use when experiencing the world around them, and on whether or not they have a mind, from one-sensed beings like an earth-being to five-sensed beings like humans. Second, a full-fledged epistemology which will be the basis of a tradition of systematic inquiry on our knowledge faculties, from the functioning of inferential reasoning, to that of perception or of verbal testimony. Most of what is called “Jain philosophy” actually consists in these treatises of epistemology.

The second major author is Kundakunda. Kundakunda is actually not a single author, but the name that stands for the collective authorship of a Jain textual tradition (composed in Prakrit, more precisely in Jain Śaurasenī, between the third and ninth centuries around Karnataka). This tradition includes the Essence of the self, Samayasāra (SSā), which presents the Self in similar lines: “The essential characteristic of the Self as seen by the omniscient is permanently exercise [of consciousness] (uvaoga)” (SSā 1.24). However, this tradition differs from canonical and classical Jainism, and will be the basis for a mystical branch in Jainism. There, it is considered that the Self is never genuinely bound with karmic matter. Therefore, the practices which aim at a gradual dissociation between the Self and karmic matter and which are traditionally associated with Jainism, like endurance of hardships, restrained and careful acts towards all living beings, penances, or the study of the Scriptures, are dismissed as “worldly practices.” Indeed, since the Self is bound with karmic matter only from a conventional perspective, then the one who knows from the ultimate perspective realizes that in fact, the Self has never been genuinely bound. Henceforth, the direct inward experience that is Self-knowledge is the only practice that matters. Kundakunda wants us to realise that this is actually the core message of Mahāvīra, since Mahāvīra advocated meditative practices on the Self as the culmination of rigorous asceticism.

Significant references/uses

First, Jain views on what the exercise of consciousness consists of and how this defines the Self and distinguishes it from every unconscious thing are likely to give new perspectives of the hard problem of consciousness. Especially since there is the belief that a concrete change within the substance of the Self has to happen for it to be disassociated from the body and karmic matter. There is not much done on these subjects currently, but one should investigate the precise karmic associations, types of bodies and many metaphors (alloy between gold and silver) with this in mind. This will also help scholars to understand the intricate relationship between the ontological and the epistemological in Jainism.

Second, this splitting of the exercise of consciousness into cognition and intuition is also most likely to shed new light on the epistemological status of diverse faculties.

Related emic terms

Self (ātman, jīva), cognition (jñāna), intuition (darśana), obstructed and unobstructed by karmic matter, sense faculties of living beings, faculties of knowledge, wrong beliefs (mithyātva), faith (śraddhā), Self-knowledge, meditation

Related etic terms

Faith, belief, reason, intuitions, hard problem of consciousness

List of references

ĀS = Āyāraṃgasutta. In Kumar, Muni Mahendra (tr.): Āyāro (Ācārāṅga Sūtra). Jain Canonical Text Series 1. New Delhi: Today and tomorrow’s Printers & Publishers, 1981.

Bajželj, Ana. “Kundakunda on Modal Modifications of Omniscient Jīvas.” In N.Balbir and P.Flügel (eds.): Jaina Studies. Selected Papers presented in the ‘Jaina Studies’ Section at the 16th World Sanskrit Conference, Bangkok Thailand and the 14th World Sanskrit Conference, Kyoto Japan. DK Publishers, New Delhi 2018: 97–111.

Bajželj, Ana. “The Jain Ontological Model according to Kundakunda and Umāsvāti.” Asian Studies 1.17, 2013: 3–16.

Balcerowicz, Piotr. “The philosophy of mind of Kundakunda and Umāsvāti,” in: Jonardon Ganeri (ed.): The Oxford Handbook of Indian Philosophy. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2017: 190–208.

Bronkhorst, Johannes. “Kundakunda and Sāṃkhya on the soul.” In N. Balbir (ed.): Svasti. Essays in honour of Prof. Hampa Nagarajaiah for his 75th Birthday. Muddushree Granthamala Series 75. K. S. Muddappa Smaraka Trust, Bangalore 2010: 215–226.

Den Boer, Lucas. Early Jaina Epistemology. A Study of the Philosophical Chapters of the Tattvārthādhigama with an English Translation of the Tattvārthādhigamabhāṣya I, II.8-25, and V, PhD dissertation, not yet published, defended in April 2020.

Gorisse, Marie-Hélène. “Characterising the Self: Knowledge and liberation in the Samayasāra“. In Cāruśrī. Essays in honour of Svastiśrī Carukīrti Bhaṭṭāraka Paṭṭācārya, Hampasandra Naganarajaiah and Jayandra Soni (eds.), Sapna Book House, Bangalore, 2019: pp. 95-107

Jaini, Padmanabh S. The Jaina Path of Purification. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1979.

Johnson, William J. “Kundakunda. Two standpoints and the socio-religious function of Anekāntavāda.” In N.K.Wagle and O.Qvarnström (eds.): Approaches to Jain Studies, Center for South Asian Studies, University of Toronto, 1999: 101–112.

. Harmless souls: Karmic bondage and change in early Jainism with special reference to Umāsvāti and Kundakunda. In: Lala Sundar Lal Jain Research Series 9. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1995.

SSā = Samayasāra of Kundakunda. (1) Chakravarti, A (ed., tr. and comm.): Ācārya Kundakunda’s Samayasāra. Benares 1950 (5th ed. Bharatiya Jnanpith, New Delhi 2008). (2) Jaini, J. L. (ed., tr. and comm.): Samayasara by Shri Kunda Kunda Acharya. Sacred Books of the Jainas 8, The Central Jaina Publishing House, Lucknow 1930. (3) Zaveri, Jethalal, (ed., tr. and comm.): Samayasāra by Ācārya Kundakunda. Jain Vishva Bharati University, Ladnun 2009.

Soni, Jayandra. “Upayoga according to Kundakunda and Umāsvāti.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 35.4, 2007: 299–311.

Tatia, Nathmal. Studies in Jaina Philosophy. In Sanmati Publication 6. Calcutta: The Modern Art Press, 1951.

TS = Tattvārthasūtra of Umāsvāmin. In Tatia, Nathmal (tr.): That which is. Tattvārthasūtra. A Classic Jain Manual for Understanding the True Nature of Reality. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1994.

TSBh = Tattvārthasūtrabhāṣya of Umāsvāti, ibid.

Debate on Self and Persistence

Udayana’s Concept of the Self and Arguments for its Existence and Persistence

Agnieszka Rostalska, Ghent University

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This essay 1 constitutes an introduction to the concept of the self and arguments for its existence and persistence offered by the 10th-century, Indian philosopher Udayana. Theoretically and methodologically, it aims to develop cross-cultural philosophical inquiry into the concept of the “self”, and related issues of its existence and persistence. The proposal breaks with the orientalist, epistemic problematics of the “East-West” dichotomy by focusing on “persistence,” and, by orienting the ‘public debate’ around an exposition of the relatively unknown philosophical views of the 10th-century South Asian philosopher Udayana (rather than, say, a “Western European” figure or school). Further, it will undergo online annotations, which will serve as an impulse for a public discussion between engaged group of scholars 2 specializing in less-commonly taught philosophies.3 As a consequence, the views of Udayana on the “self” will serve as a starting point for a cross-cultural counterfactual thought-experiment engaging diverse global philosophical traditions.

Cross-cultural counterfactual thought experiment involving UDAYANA

As result of many years of academic research I have spent directing my focus towards the so-called *Indian philosophical traditions (*Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, materialist, etc.), I have chosen the Nyāya philosophical school as a sample model of rational theological enquiry. Nyāya is one of the major darśanas or schools of philosophical thought in India, essentially concerned with epistemology and logic . The term ‘nyāya’ has etymological roots in ‘naya’, signifying the skillful art of reasoning or methods ensuring fairness in argumentation and legitimate tactics. The figure of Udayana is in this context meaningful, as he is considered a “father” of the theistic refinements of this tradition –notably the author of two independent manuals: 1. Nyāyakusumāñjali (An Offering of Flowers), dedicated to the arguments for the existence of *God/Īśvara, and 2. Ātmatattvaviveka, or: Investigation of the Reality of the Self, developing arguments for the existence of the self (ātman), which is the main text of this study.

I identify Udayana among the key innovative philosophical thinkers coming from India. His scholarship dedicated to novel ideas of Self and *God is backed up by sharp arguments developed to defend these notions. In my view, Udayana’s works are worth recognizing for study by philosophers of religion. The text of the Ātmatattvaviveka (later for short: ATV) is overlooked even by more narrow field specialists. Most scholars dedicated to the exposition of the Nyāya concept of Self refer to the sūtras and their commentaries (e.g. Chandha 2013). There are yet to be studies of how Udayana’s independent and novel treatise engages with other traditions of Indian philosophy. Notable interpretations of Udayana’s works were done by Bimal Krishna Matilal (1994), Arindam Chakrabarti (1982), and Chakravarti Ram-Prasad (2001, 2017). Kisor Kumar Chakrabarti (1999) did a partial translation of this work and some commentary on it in his book Classical Indian Philosophy of Mind: The Nyāya Dualist Tradition. Udayana is an example of how cosmopolitan, comparativist philosophers of religion may critically engage with others without defending any religious sect per se. I hope that a debate on this text will invite the participants into dialogue, which makes theoretical pursuits in philosophy of religions a truly global, comparative, and inclusive endeavor.

Introducing Udayana

The philosophical ideas of a particular thinker are always inseparable from their socio-cultural and historical milieu. Who was Udayana? Which intellectual environment inspired his philosophical endeavors?

Udayana was born in a Hindu Brahmin family and lived in ca. 11th century.4 in Mithilā (near Dharbhaṅgā in today’s state of Bihar, India. Amma, 1985: 3). His scholastic commentary Nyāya–vārttika–tātparya–ṭīkā–pariṣuddhi (“Correctness of the Notes on the Meaning of the Gloss on the Commentary on Nyāya”) – also known as Pariṣuddhi or Nibandha – on Vācaspati Miśra’s Nyāyavārttikatātparyaṭīkā suggest that he belonged to the lineage of early Nyāya (or prācīna Nyāya) tradition. As such, this text is a final voice in a series of the earliest or classical commentaries of the Nyāyasūtras of Gautama.5 (later for short: NS), the primary treatise of the Nyāya tradition.

Udayana was also an innovator of the Nyāya tradition, as he is the one who synthesized the tradition of Nyāya with its ‘sister–school’ Vaiśeṣika,.6 which gives a syncretic aspects to his texts. Some scholars credit him as the pioneer of a new Nyāya (or Nāvya-Nyāya) tradition, due to his intricate writing style and use of technical terminology.

Udayana’s works are as deeply engaged with competing schools of thought as with peers in the Nyāya tradition, such as Bhāsarvajña (ca. 860–920). Perhaps for this reason, Udayana’s works are regularly commented upon as an authority by later Indian thinkers and present-day Naiyāyika philosophers. Some contemporary interpreters (i.e., Matilal 1977: 97) compare his mastery of logical argumentation with regards to existence of “God” and “soul” with that of Italian Dominican Thomas Aquinas (13th century).7 Udayana’s scholastic style, which predates that of Aquinas, first presents objections (pūrvapakṣa) of the opponent (real or imaginary, at times reformulating standpoints so that they appear even stronger), confronts the objections (uttara-pakṣa), and then endorses his own views.

Udayana engaged in both intellectual debates through his writings, and through debates in public (vāda). A story about his life reveals that when Udayana won in a public debate with the Advaita dialectician Śrīhīra. His son Śrīharṣa composed the text Khaṇḍanakhaṇḍakhādya (“The Sweets of Refutation”) to avenge his father’s defeat and public humiliation (Bhattacharyya 2010: 298). An example of Udayana’s intellectual debating is his Nyāyakusumāñjali, which engaged atheistic Indian materialists (Cārvāka), Sāṃkhya and Mīmāṃsā philosophers, as well as Jain and Buddhist thinkers. His Ātmatattvaviveka, or the Investigation of the Reality of the Self also known as Bauddhādhikkāra (Reproach to the Buddhists), is meant to oppose four Buddhist schools, mainly: Sautrāntika, Vaibhāṣika, Yogācāra, and Mādhyamika, as well as early Advaita Vedāntins, and Materialists, among others. Overall, Udayana’s focus in these debates is directed towards the Buddhist philosopher Jñānaśrīmitra,.8 a follower of Dharmakīrti’s school. Thus, I think it is very appropriate to have Udayana’s works as the focus of a contemporary public debate among a wide variety of philosophical perspectives. 

According to some contemporary scholars, Udayana has “demolished in final fashion the claims of the Buddhist logicians” (Bhattacharyya 2010: 298).” Tachikawa writes that Udayana, “made the greatest contribution to driving the Buddhists out of India (…) He may be said to have brought the conflict between the Buddhist logicians and Hindu logicians to an end (…) Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism was subsequently unable to produce any scholar capable of refuting Udayana” (Tachikawa 1981: 8). A more moderate version of these claims is to recognize how Udayana’s personage may be identified to provide scholars today with important evidence about the contents and history of Indian philosophy.

The context for the Ātmatattvaviveka

For the purposes of this essay, I wish to focus on Udayana’s unique texts on the existence of Self (ATV). In terms of intellectual debate, the text’s objective is to refute the Materialists and Buddhists theories of emergent self (materialism), and no-self and momentariness (Buddhism). The Materialists of Udayana’s time argued that cognitions are qualities of the bodily organs, and that consciousness arises out of the bodily processes and is born when the body matures and dies when the body dies. Most Buddhists from the 11th century argued that cognitions are only causally connected in a stream of awareness events, but do not reside in a substance called the self. For them, cognitions are not qualities, but are produced by an association of bodily sense organs with preceding karmic dispositions. I am taking a departure from dwelling upon these polemical aspects of Udayana’s thought. There are, of course, other ways to read the ATV. The primary aim of this essay is to foreground the conception of “self” proposed by Udayana, and then make some remarks on his conception of “persistence.” 

It is useful to pause at this point to highlight Udayana’s method of approaching different philosophical perspectives. Udayana’s arguments constitute a fascinating polemics with other schools of thought; here, Udayana scholastically presents the opposing views – the doctrines opposed to the Nyāya’s concept of the Self – to refute the rivals and establish his own innovative interpretation of the traditional Nyāya postulations. He presents four distinct counterarguments which correspond to the views held by his opponents: 1. Momentariness theory [Buddhist, mainly Sautrāntika] 2. Unreality of external objects, consciousness alone is real [Yogācāra Buddhist, “idealist”], 3. Non-difference between a quality and a qualified/quality-possessor (or quality’ and ‘substance’) [Buddhist and Advaita Vedāntin], 4. Non-perception (anupalambha) or non-experience of the self different from the body [Buddhist and Materialist]. (Bhattacharyya, 2010: 300, Amma, 1985 :13). According to Udayana, “There are (these) views opposed to the reality of self, namely, that everything is of momentary duration, that there is nothing real apart from consciousness, that qualities and things endowed with them do not differ from each other and that the (so called) self is never perceived (or observed)”9 [ATV 20, Dravid ed. p. 5]. Before introducing Udayana’s arguments in more detail, it will be useful to first define the related concepts which were brought out in their original context. 

Nyāya’s rational ātma-logy – conceptualization

The term for “self” across the Indian philosophical traditions engaged with by Udayana is “ātman.” The concept of ātman has a long history on the Indian subcontinent, which is attested by the Upaniṣadic (Upaniṣads, composed ca. 800–400 BCE) principal concern with the knowledge of the Self (ātman). Here, the term ātman, generally signifies the immutable, undifferentiated, unconditioned, and autonomous principle of existence in human beings).10 Liberation from rebirth (mokṣa) pertains to realization, or direct perception of the Self, ātman.

The issue of how the concept of the ‘self’ is defined in the Nyāya tradition is directly linked to another question prevailing across all competing traditions in India, mainly: can the existence of ‘self’ be known through the means of knowledge (pramāṇas), such as perception, inferential reasoning, testimony? Moreover, if, and how is the state of ‘liberated consciousness’ desirable by the self? Is it a happy or blissful state? These are the kinds of questions that guided the public and intellectual debates of Udayana and his peers.

To approach Udayana’s conception of the self, first, I will briefly outline the standard Nyāya views on ‘self’11, which were the object of critique by and debate with mainly Materialist and Buddhists opponents. Their critiques predominantly motivated Udayana’s response in the ATV. Udayana supposes his readers prior knowledge of the concept of the self and the main Nyāya arguments for its existence and persistence, for convenience, I will briefly introduce them in the next paragraph. Afterwards I am going to turn to Udayana’s emphases and modifications. This will lead to examining Udayana’s endorsement of the existence of permanent self (against the Buddhist ‘no-self’ theory and ‘emergentism’).

Nyāya tradition admits the existence of infinitely many selves/souls (ātman), which are eternal, immaterial and non-composite substances with characteristic qualities (e.g. cognition, pleasure, pain, or desire). The selves are singular and different in all organisms.12 They experience when associated with ‘body vehicles’ composed of homogeneous atoms of a particular material substance. Their connection with a living body consciousness emerges not as a necessary but as an accidental feature. Before the connection with the mind (manas), an individual self is not conscious. In other words, the self must be embodied in order to experience awareness and cognitions (NS 3.1.18–26).

The Nyāya tradition may be briefly summarize to attribute three main characteristics of the self:

First, the self is different from the mind and the senses, which enables it to realize its own activity. However, the instance of mind is here not an active or cognitive faculty but solely a passive internal organ, which neither thinks nor acts. It serves as an instrument for the self to experience (pleasure, pain, desire, aversion, merit, demerit, etc.) and cognise. Cognition is here a property of the self, since the self is a locus of awareness, and not a cluster of physical elements or non-sentient intermediaries. The self owns its qualities: cognitions, dispositions, memories, feelings, and actions. The self is therefore not pure consciousness, as Materialists or Idealists would claim, but is a highly individuated self with a personality. 

Second, the self is the substratum of knowing (jñānādhikaraṇam-ātmā).13 Self is not conscious by nature, it is an inherent cause of consciousness or knowledge. Knowledge is an adventitious attribute of the self. Through the connection with a living body consciousness emerges, but not as necessary but as an accidental feature.

Third, because the self is a continuous spiritual substance, it retains its identity through the events of one lifetime and from one lifetime to another. Moreover, the Nyāya thinkers would argue that the self endures beyond death. Their argument is as follows: “Because, immediately being born, an infant has the experience of joy, fear and sorrow [and this] as a result of the ‘lingering of the memory’ (smṛtianubandha) of the past experiences” (Gangopadhyaya transl. vol. 3, 1972: 33). The commentator Pakṣilasvāmin Vātsyāyana in the Nyāya-bhāṣya (later for short: NBh) explains that the recollection of one’s past experiences produces the experiences which are indicated by emotions. The underlying assumption here is that of rebirth, since how does the newborn know how to emotionally respond? Or, why does a newborn immediately try to reach out to the mother’s chest for nourishment? According to this tradition, the answer is that these reactions are linked to memories. They are the result of previous experiences. The continuity of self stretches into the past, and consequently is projected into the future. This gives the self two fundamental forms of identity, i.e., the identity of knowing: one and the same self apprehends cognitions. And, the identity of action: one self inherits karmic fruits of action and suffers or enjoys them.

The Nyāya tradition considered the existence of self as a given long before Udayana’s involvement in their debates.14 The self is enlisted in the NS 1.1.9 as one of the objects of knowledge, prameyas. It is discussed in that text as the topic of inquiry, as something yet to be determined. The Naiyāyikas do not support this conclusion first and foremost on the basis of testimony of sacred text, like the Vedas, nor to the reliable utterance of some source provided by an authoritative speaker (for instance a sage (ṛṣi) or another noble person). They leave space for a possibility of learning about the ‘self’ through testimony. Among all accepted  means of knowledge, the self’s (ātman) existence is postulated with the use of inferential proofs, i.e. through the process of inference (anumāna).15 The self cannot be perceived directly. What this means is that the self is something known based on experienced inner states . The following sūtra states that the self (ātman) is an object of inference based on ‘marks’: desire, aversion, effort, pleasure, pain, and knowledge (NS 1.1.10). Udayana’s broader intellectual context therefore included a predilection to conceptualize “self” as physically imperceptible that is only known by its inferential marks.16

Perhaps the above makes it all the more remarkable that the Nyāya tradition insists that a clear understanding of the true nature of the self is a condition for final liberation (mokṣa). According to Nyāya, mokṣa, or liberation from rebirth, or apavarga, the final liberation or beatitude, is the soteriological aim of all philosophical endeavors. In the emancipated state the self is disembodied, and retains only its formal qualities (like oneness, separateness from other selves, etc.). Freedom from pain, or suffering (duḥkha), is brought about through the removal of all blemishes (attitudes and inclinations) and termination of activity. The self is released from the cycle of rebirth, yet it does not endure in the state of bliss, or eternal happiness (Chakrabarti 1983: 174–5) and persists without further cognitive states (Ram-Prasad 2001: 85–91).17

Udayana’s writings do not fundamentally challenge the positions above. Instead, Udayana’s writings can be seen to bolster these claims, with arguments about how ‘self’ (ātman) is directly apprehended through internal perception. His innovation, in the ATV, is that the self can indeed be an object of direct cognition. 

Udayana’s ‘self-awareness’ of the self

Amid the debates with the Materialists and the Buddhists of the time, Udayana’s objective is to remove the grounds by which these intellectual peers were able to redirect the conventional Nyāya arguments in service of their own positions. In the case of the Buddhist philosophers, the Nyāya claim that the existence of permanent self (ātman), i.e. a quality–possessor, may be inferred, was turned into an argument for no-self/anātman.

It seems that Udayana was not convinced by the dismissal provided by the Vaiśeṣika philosophers18, who argued that the self’s non-perception is no evidence for the self’s non-existence, since this non-perception is due to the self’s subtlety (saukṣmya). Udayana also observed that “[t]he self is not regarded by the Buddhist as cognizable or perceptible” [ATM Dravid ed. p. 343] . To only double down on imperceptibility, as did the Vaiśeṣika, was simply not adequate. Following Vācaspati Miśra’s interpretation of the possibility of knowing the self – through perception, he considers an argument [ATM, ibid.] about the non-apprehension of the self, which K. K. Chakrabarti (1999: 268) paraphrases formally as:

Whatever is not cognized is nonexistent.

The self is not cognized.

Therefore, the self is nonexistent.

Udayana considers two cases of non-apprehension: either that the self is not apprehended by anyone (universally) or by the individual (particular). The first scenario is in his opinion questionable, as there is a possibility that the self is perceived by some or all. In other words, non-apprehension may provide a basis for doubt, but it does not disprove the existence of the self. In the second case, the individual’s non-apprehension “applies even to cognisable entities”, which also does not disprove the existence of self and its possibility of being perceived. 

Udayana’s objective was to determine how the self might be known despite granting that it cannot be experienced empirically. Unless a thing is perceived, it cannot be called perceptible. So if the self is perceptible, it cannot remain unperceived. But how might the self be perceived? Udayana’s first innovation was to make an argument for indeterminate perception:

“But what is the proof for the existence of the self? Perception itself for sure. The awareness as ‘I’ is a matter of experience for all living beings. Certainly this awareness cannot be unobjective or endowed with dubious objectivity as it is neither verbal nor subject to contradiction. It is also not generated by the middle term in an inference. Even a person who has no knowledge of any middle term has self-knowledge. Nor is it recollection as what is not experienced cannot be recollected. It is also not reasonable to say that this awareness is an objectless cognition which is beginningless and is generated by a beginningless urge. This can be said of the common cognitions of blue, yellow etc. also. If self-awareness could be discredited on the ground that it is the product of some beginningless urge, how can any other cognition be credited as valid so that one could depend upon the cognitions of blue, yellow etc.?” [ATV, ibid., p. 344]

This paragraph represents his major argument for the existence of the self. Udayana points here that the indeterminate self-awareness, common to all living beings, is: non-verbal, incorrigible (not subjected to contradiction), not inferential, not recollection, not an objectless construction (non-objective construction, vikalpa).

Udayana introduces the idea of “indeterminate perception” in order to argue that the self is perceived much in the way that other categories of things are perceived. In Sanskrit the basis for this claim is the concept of nirvikalpaka, “in the raw,” where indeterminate perception grasps a qualifier of something prior to forming a robust conceptual deployment and organization of it and does not require a ‘mark’ since its object is perceived directly. The other manner of perception is savikalpaka, or “determinate” cognition, where something may be much more immediately produced as a concept within a verbal propositional. Something indeterminately perceived is not ineffable or inscrutable. Self-awareness simply does not require language; while ordinary cognitions  are subjected to language and assessment (K. K. Chakrabarti ibid. 271).

Udayana’s argument is that living beings have an indeterminate perception about themselves. If the Buddhists admit that the objects of indeterminate perceptions are real, then they must concede that the self is such an object, too.

Udayana thereby argued that while there are erroneous perceptions of the self, that does not mean there is no self. Self is something as real as the color blue. It is not an “objectless cognition which is beginningless and is generated by a beginningless urge” (or, a subconscious impression, vāsanā which is not generated by some previous perception).  In other words, if we would try to challenge the reality of self-awareness in this way, by reducing it to an object-less cognition generated by subconscious impressions, in a similar fashion we would challenge the reality of the color blue.

The general idea of indeterminate perception is not difficult to understand. Udayana’s argument invokes color as the basis of the claim. There can be a determinate perception of things that are “blue,” but Udayana’s analysis finds that ​​a determinate perception of blue presupposes indeterminate awareness of blue. Udayana then extends that claim to the self. There is an indeterminate perception of what is “self.”

Udayana states further that: “Nor is self-cognition baseless or objectless because the self is not cognised by external senses. Even the cognition of intellect or consciousness would the be baseless or objectless. If self-consciousness is the ground of reality of intellect then in the case of the self too the evidencing ground is the mental perception of the self”  [ATM, ibid. p. 346]. Dravid (ibid.) explains this passage as follows: “Just as consciousness is its own evidence so the self is evidenced by mental and not external sensation. Not only the self, even pleasure, pain etc. are known to be real only through mental sensation.”

Udayana’s objection to the Buddhist’s arguments about causation provides another insight into Udayana’s conception of the self. The Buddhist claim was that there is no self because each moment of time is the product of an entirely different set of co-determinating factors. While these factors might create the background for a succeeding state of affairs, that succeeding state’s identity is utterly different. That is, while one state of affairs – either that of a so-called individual or even that of the entire world – might succeed one after the other, the Buddhists argued there is no grounds to claim these states of affairs belong to the identical, same individual or world. Udayana explains this as the theory of momentariness, which he argues is unable to explain how empirical consciousness is continuous. He appeals here to the Nyāya inferential proof for the self from recollection: “it is the definite ascertainment of the earlier and later cognitions being caused by the same agent” [ATM p. 349]. K. K. Chakrabarti (ibid., 275)19 explains this argument as follows: “the support or source or object (ālambana) of I-consciousness is permanent, because it is also the object of recognition.” Udayana argues that if there is grounds to claim there is a continuity that connects moments, then there is grounds to claim there is something like a “self” that provides that continuity and identity, and bounds previous perception and latter recollection of the knowing agent. If perceptions and recollections did not belong to the same knower, then the teacher’s cognition could be remembered by a student. According to Udayana, this is absurd.

Udayana zeroes in on the Buddhist’s agreement about karma. He states that the theory of momentariness cannot sufficiently explain the law of karma (accumulation of merits and demerits), according to which it is one person who reaps the fruits of his/her activities. For a previous state is succeeded by the next state and there is a (split second) gap, between the preceding and succeeding states. Something must, according to Udayana, connect across these gaps. “It is the self with merit that by its contact with things brings about their movements (Dravid p. 375)”. Furthermore, according to Udayana, the Buddhist’s of his time were not able to explain memory. By Udayana’s account, Nyāya conceptions of causality do not run into these problems. The self is the material cause of our awareness of ourselves. It is the same self which both perceives and remembers (Bhattacharya 2010: 308). 

Finally, Udayana points out that the attempts to reject the reality of the self, would pose a difficulty for one’s final release – “A non-self-aware person cannot be a redemption seeker” (ATV ibid., p. 376). Without the ‘self-awareness’ of the self, nothing can be desired or avoided, including one’s own final release or liberation.

Self’s persistence 

Although there is a double reference to “after-life” through the concepts of 1. paraloka, the other or future world, or plane/realm of existence) or 2. svarga, “heaven” or temporary plane where the selves which have not yet reached the state of mokṣa, final release or liberation, the theological considerations of “afterlife” are not the focus of the Nyāya tradition within which Udayana wrote the ATV.20  Given the arguments about karma above, the notion of “after-life” would have to be accompanied by a conception of “pre-life”. And as we have seen in the mentioned earlier ‘newborn’s inheritance’ argument21, revoked by Udayana, to ensure present recollections of past experiences, there should be a continuous self – the agent of apprehension (anubhava), dispositions (saṃskāra), and recollection (Amma (1985: 146).

The correlative terms for “persistence” such as “beginingless” (anādi), and endless (ananta) in Nyāya philosophy, suggest that “persistence” is a well–suited concept to describe Udayana’s ideas. Persistence is a term much better suited to cross-cultural thinking, too. Udayana’s conception of the self draws upon the Nyāya terminology of ātman. And, as we saw above, it does involve the concept of karmic disposition. Udayana’s decision to use the concept of karma was not merely to serve a role in his arguments against the Buddhists. Karma is related to how this idea of self persists.

There is much literature about the philosophical understandings of “karma” across the various schools and thinkers of Indian philosophy. From Udayana’s perspective the persistence of a self provides the grounds for discussions about karma. While his position is that while the conceptual understanding of karma depends on the self, the conception of the self does not depend solely upon karma. Instead, karma is among those phenomena that provide justification of the self as ātman.

As noted earlier, Udayana conceives of the self within the Nyāya tradition as a continuous, spiritual substance. On the grounds that newborns do not learn joy, for example, they must retain this as a lingering memory of the past experiences (see above, Gangopadhyaya transl. vol. 3, 1972: 33). These recollections of emotions indicate the persistence of the self through past experiences. But these past experiences do not destroy “free will”, since Udayana, like other Naiyāyikas, makes knowledge as that which mediates the possibility of freedom. “Why should the unconditioned self be contemplated? Because by means of continuous contemplation of it, release is attained” (ATV, ibid. p. 377). The self is capable of gaining sufficient knowledge for the release from pleasure and pain, which are the indicators of karmic retribution. Udayana asks, “what is the nature of the contemplation of self? It is discrimination. Discrimination from what? From the body, etc. which are other than the self” (ibid.) Thus, acts of cognition to discriminate the self from extraneous phenomena is the means to freely realize persistence of the self.

Udayana’s discussion of how the self can achieve the purest of ideas is based in Nyāya’s singular unifying concept – niḥśreyasa – which results from reaching a state which amounts to attaining comprehensive knowledge (tattvajñāna) of all there is to know. Niḥśreyasa, more than knowledge of the self, is an all-encompassing knowledge state. This is not the same transcendental state that is underscored in the more “spiritually” aligned theological systems – such as, in particular, mokṣa, or salvific liberation from embodied existence. Niḥśreyasa as such has no necessary connections with life hereafter (Potter 1977: 29–34). This knowledge amounts to nothing more nor less than the destruction of all mithyajñāna, false understandings.22 The liberating aspect of the nihśreyasa state is that no pleasures are transported across. Not even the positive pleasures of life, desire-driven satisfaction, from luxuries of appetite to sensual-sexual pleasures (Halbfass, 1997, 155–6).

The introduction of niḥśreyasa is useful to show how Udayana understands persistence of the self. The self can be released, and continue to exist independently in a joyless unending free-time seamless horizon – and steeped in deep-sleep state minus the dreams (suṣuptasya svapnādarśane, see: NS 4.1.62, M. Gangopadhyaya (transl.) part. 4, 1973: 86). In this state, the self is atemporal (nityatva) and cannot be extinguished. And there is no merging with the other, no greater or smaller of which could be thought. Udayana’s formulation of “release without transcendence” amounts to a unique model of liberation that explains the persistence of the self.23 The release of the self from indeterminate cognition occurs not because of any mental state succeeding it but by means of time associated with the destruction of the self’s destiny.


In this essay, I identified Udayana as one among the key innovative philosophical thinkers coming from India. As a relatively overlooked source of philosophical arguments about self and persistence, I have proposed Udayana’s works to be worth recognizing for study by philosophers of religion. While the historical context of the Ātmatattvaviveka is that of debates with Materialists and Buddhists, I have shown how Udayana’s polemics may be read to present some positive formulations on his understanding of “self”, “self-awareness”, and “persistence.” Udayana’s use of “indeterminate perception” enabled his texts to conceptualize an idea of self that persists both prior and after the state of existing as a human being. The objective of this present essay is neither to analyze the philosophical merits of Udayana’s argumentation nor recommend his approach as a means of doing “global-critical philosophy of religion.” I do hope that readers might gain new understandings about how ancient texts overlooked by Western canons pertaining to the philosophy of religion may be read to propose novel conceptions of self and persistence.


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