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Agama - Jain Scriptural Texts

Jain scripture sees it as a miracle that no one blames the great teacher Mahavira for the inherent contradictions in his teachings. The application of the notion of scripture is complex in Jainism. Jain scriptures are many and varied. The Jain religion does not have one sacred book like the Bible or Koran, but it has many books complied by many followers.

Jain scripture rejects both the Hindu Vedas and non-Jain writings as sources of religious authority and practice. Modern Western scholarly studies of Jain scripture have developed by unconsciously imposing Western patterns and categories. Texts are not ritualized, but religious books do have a ritual role outside the puja in signifying the corpus of Jain scripture. Thus renouncers and pandits give their sermons, their own inventions.

The major division in the Jain community arose in the fifth century BC, and became formalized around 300 BC, when the Jain scripture called Agams [the Agamas] was compiles. The various Jain sects accept or reject to varying degrees the Agams. Among the sects are the; Digambaras (sky clad)who reject clothing. Svetambaras (white clad)who do not reject clothing.

Both Shvetambaras and Digambaras assert that the earliest Jain compositions consisted of 14 oral texts, called the Purvas. The Jain scripture - the fourteen Purvas - are said to have been transmitted from the time of Mahavira. There were said to be fourteen of these, but in time the knowledge of them was lost, and they became totally extinct. The Svetambara hold that these fourteen Purva were incorporated in the twelfth Anga, the Drishtivada, which was lost before the thousandth year of their era, i. e. before the redaction under Devarddhi. Anyhow a detailed account, or table of contents, is found in the fourth Anga, the Samavayanga, and in the Nandi-Sutra. There are two reasons for believing that this tradition is correct. First, the word 'purva' means 'former,' and second, the Anga do not derive their authority from the Purva, and there would be no need to fabricate the idea.

In the centuries before the Common Era, the goal of Jain thinkers and scholars was to memorize all of Jain scripture. It is believed that the last Jain to have done so was Bhadrabhanuswami, who died about 170 years after Mahavira. It was extremely difficult to keep memorizing the entire Jain literature complied by the many scholars of the past and present. In fact, significant knowledge was already lost and the rest was polluted with modifications and errors.

While these two divisions of Jainism are in broad agreement about the main teachings and practices of the Jain tradition, they differ over the question of what exactly constitutes the canon of Jain scripture. Other councils held in subsequent centuries were predominantly represented by members of the Svetambara sect and focused on establishing the canon of Jain scripture.

In olden times it had been the custom of the Brahmans, and hence of the Buddhists and Jaina, to rely on the memory more than on MSS. How early these MSS. were first written is not known In addition to these canonical texts, a number of Jain texts were written later as commentaries and philosophical expositions of Jain scripture. The Tattvarta Sutra is the most important Jain scripture which the followers of this religion adhere even today. It was written in Sanskrit in the 2nd Century AD.

The Jaina Canon, or Siddhanta, was drawn up at the council of Valabhi, under the presidency of Devarddhi. This date corresponds either to 454 or 467 AD, and is incorporated into the Kalpa-Sutra. The tradition, perceiving the Siddhanta in danger of becoming extinct, caused it to be written in books. Written in ancient PrSkrt, the Agama is considered the oldest Jain scripture extant. It consists of two books called Sruta-skandhas which differ in style and the manner in which the subject is treated.

The most extreme commitment to ahimsa is found in Jainism, as seen from the Acaranga Sutra, a Jain scripture deriving from around the fourth century BC. The Dasavaikalika, a Jain scripture says that a monk should go from house to house and beg his food just as a bee collects honey from flowers without hurting or without getting attached to them. Kalpasutra, an important Jain scripture written in Prakrit, narrates the lives of the first and the last Tirthankars and of other ancient saints and the preaching of the Tirthankars. According to accounts in the Jain scripture the Kalpasutra, Parshvanatha once saved a serpent that had been trapped in a log in an ascetic's fire. The snake was later reborn as Dharana, the lord of the underworld kingdom of nagas (snakes). "The essence of the wisdom of a wiseman," says the Jain scripture Uttaradhyayana Sutra, "lies in this that he hurts no creature : to be equal-minded to all creatures and regard them as one's own self is ahimsa." The worship of trees, often associated with the cults of a class of supernatural beings known as yaksus (and their female counterparts, the yaksis) is richly documented in early Jain scripture.

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Page last modified: 20-11-2011 19:13:27 ZULU