Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Tattvartha Sutra: That which is

Umasvati's "Tattvartha Sutra" is one of the oldest philosophical works recognized by all Jaina traditions, and is much like an encyclopedia. The translation by Natmal Tatia introduces the work as having the theme of "non-violence, non-absolutism and non-possession." Self-reliance is seen as a core principle to life. The "self" is central to realising every other truth and the path to omniscience is presented. Various truths and ethics in the form of crisp verses guide the reader towards liberation.

It is fairly hard to follow the verses without aid from the notes by the translator. A few terse and pithy lines from to Sutra to encourage wider readership and appreciation of this great work.

What do souls do?
parasparopagraho jivanam
Souls render service to one another.

Soul is defined as:
upayoga laksanam
Sentience is the defining characteristic of the soul.

On variety of views:
naigama-samgraha-vyavahara-rjusutra-sabda nayah
The philosophical standpoints are: the common person's view, generic view, practical view, linear view and literal view.

On charity:
anugrahartham svasyatisargo danam
Charity consists in offering alms to the qualified person for one's own benefit.

On contemplation:
vitarkah srutam
Contemplation is pondering over the contents of the scriptures.

On India:
bharatah sadvinsa-pamcayaojanasata-vistarah sat caikonavimsatibhaga yojanasya
The continent of Bharata is 526 6/19 yojanas wide.

India was then 7695 KM wide. Today, India is 2933 KM wide, east to west.

On liberation:
tadanantaram urdhvam gacchaty a lokantat
When all karmic bondage is eliminated, the soul soars upwards to the border of cosmic space

The appendix includes notes on numbers, measurement of time, measurement of space, and other headings useful to interpret the verses. Number 2 is considered the minimum numerable as one does not lend itself to counting. Various grades of infinity are discussed as well.

The Tattvartha Sutra is based on the sermons of Lord Mahavira transmitted through his immediate disciples. The attempt to achieve omniscience and liberation through incessant thought and analysis is refreshingly enlightening even today.