Pudgula and Paramanu, The Atomic Theory of Jainism

Pudgala or atomss

by Jayaram V

As an outsider or a Hindu, what I like most about Jainism is its emphasis upon virtuous living. In Jainism there are no middle paths and shortcuts. You may follow them at the peril of delaying your liberation; but if liberation is your ultimate aim, you must sacrifice every possible comfort and follow that path no matter the pain and suffering. Jayaram V


Strange it may seem, thousands of years before the west came out with its quantum theory, the ancient Indians thought of the existence of atoms as the building block of matter. Reference to matter consisting of atoms appear not only in some schools of Hindu philosophy such as the Nyaya Vaisheshika School, but also in Jainism, which regards matter as the aggregate of atoms and as the source of bondage and the cause of all karma.

The original nature of Jiva is a pristine state, a mass of pure consciousness, devoid of any coarseness or grossness which it develops as it enters the mundane world and becomes subject to the laws of karma. Since matter carried such an important influence in the lives of the individual jivas, the Jain monks considered it as their duty to study matter in its various aspects and work out a possible solution to over come its impact.

The atomic theory of Jainism was thus a product of deep enquiry into the mysteries of the material world, not just the idle curiosity of a bored group of philosophers monks, for in that revelation was also hidden a solution to the problem of the human suffering. Some details of the atomic theory of Jainism are mentioned below.

Matter is referred to as pudugala in Jainism. It is considered an aggregate of individual atoms (paramanu) held together by the forces of Nature. Depending upon the type of atoms involved, matter may assume varying degrees of fineness or coarseness and accordingly impacts the lives of various types of jivas or beings who are caught in the mire of samsara (the cycle of life and death) and the law of karma.

According to this belief of Jainism, an atom is without any point, without a beginning and without an end. It is eternal, can neither be created nor destroyed. It is invisible, imperceptible. Only the adepts can perceive it through their all knowing vision.

Atoms of unlike nature come together to form a skanda or a kind of compound atom. Everything you find in the world are aggregates of atoms only. All the objects are formed by the combination of various types of atoms, while the world itself is a much bigger aggregation of individual and compound atoms, or skandas. The atoms show two types of activity or movement, a directional movement from one point to another and more complex transformative one involving change from one state or condition to another.

According to Jain theory of atoms, atoms can travel at incredible speeds from one part of the universe to another. They may traverse the entire universe in a matter of moments. All the atoms are the same in their essential nature, but by coming together in varying degrees and combinations they make possible the diversity of our world.

The individual souls who exist in varying states of freedom and bondage are not made up of matter, but bound by it as their bodies and sense objects when they are caught in the phenomenal existence. They cannot escape from their association with matter until they are liberated, which can be accomplished with good conduct, austerities and pure living. To be free from the hold and association with matter in all forms and conditions is the ultimate aim of every follower of Jainism and the nobles goal.

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