The hierarchy in Jainism

How the hierarchy in Jainism is driven by spiritual development

I pay homage to the Arihants (ones who have conquered their inner enemies)
I pay homage to the Siddhas (Liberated Ones)
I pay homage to those Acharyas (who head the Order)
I pay homage to those Upadhyays (who teach the message)
I pay homage to all Sadhus (Monks/Seekers)
These five acts of homage can wash away all sin
Of all that is auspicious
This is the foremost.

Ultimately hierarchy in Jainism is driven by spiritual development, the result of personal striving. We can look at it in two specific ways, firstly from an organisational perspective, and then from the perspective of a soul’s progress to its final goal of Moksha. The terms in the prayer above will help us understand the hierarchy and organisation of the faith as it stands today. In this discussion we will also touch briefly on the sects within Jainism and also on the role of the Law of Karma as it impact the soul’s journey.

The universal Jain prayer with which we opened is composed in one of the Prakrit languages called Ardha Maghadi. A Prakrit is a language of the common people from a particular date, as opposed to the Sanskrit of Brahminical orthodoxy. A large number of Jain scriptures are written in Ardha Maghadi, a vernacular which Lord Mahavira also spoke, perhaps in the same way that Aramaic was used. The message is not restricted to members of any caste or race, or gender. The terminology of the prayer is also universal, and has not used words which are specifically Jain.

The Jain community or Sangha is typically divided into four distinct categories, basically householders and ascetics, of both genders. The ascetics have renounced all possessions and relationships with the material world, called taking Diksha, under the auspices of the head of a particular order, known as an Acharya. From then the monk or nun is known as a Sadhu or Sadhvi. They are expected to firmly uphold the 5 great vows mentioned in yesterday’s blog. Within the monastic system, certain monks are responsible for the scriptural education of monks and nuns and these are known as Upadhyays. No monk has a permanent residence and each one wanders continuously so as to avoid attachment to any particular place, save for the 4-month rainy season, when their wandering would cause too much damage to the life forms which spring up at monsoon time.

Appearance and possessions, while minimal, distinguish the sect to which an ascetic belongs: for Shvetambar (literally “white-clad”) ascetics, possessions are restricted to two pieces of white unstitched cloth, a mouth piece and a broom to prevent injury to living beings; the Sthanakwasi ascetics will wear the mouthpiece at all times; Digambar (literally “sky-clad”) ascetics are naked and only possess a pot for water and a broom made of peacock feathers.

The division between Shvetambar and Digambar communities is thought to date back to 300 BCE. This is disagreement over the nature of freedom from possessions (and thus nudity). The Digambar community rejects the texts accepted as authentic by the Shvetambar community. In the mid-15th Century CE, the Shvetambar community became further divided over the worship of idols, leading to the birth of the Sthanakwasi order. Today, within these sects, there are a multitude of orders, headed by a number of Acharyas. There do not appear to be significant differences of philosophy or doctrine beyond this.

In looking at the monkhood, we have considered 3 of the 5 beings to whom homage is paid in the opening prayer. The two remaining ones are the liberated Siddhas, who have already attained Moksha, and the Arihants. While Arihants have yet to attain Moksha, they have already attained Enlightenment or Omniscience, while still embodied, and so are considered worshipful. Thus Mahavira attained Enlightenment, Kevalgnan, aged 42 and became an Arihant, but did not cast off his body until the age of 72. There do not appear to be significant differences of philosophy or doctrine beyond this.

While the hierarchy described above relates to the roles played in society or monastic structure, there is another way of considering the hierarchy of soul in terms of their spiritual progress, and this is also inextricable bound with the Law of Karma. Jain doctrine describes Karma in physical and psychic terms: the inclinations of a soul cause vibrations which act on physical matter in the vicinity and these bind to the soul. The precise nature of the inclination and resulting thought, word, deed and the intensity of passion involved determine the precise nature and timing of the fruits which this bound Karma will bear. The psychic dimension determines the nature of physical Karma bound.

There can be an infinite variety of Karma, but these have been summarised eight categories, four of which determine life-span, body type, status and sensations of pain and pleasure: the remaining four are considered more dangerous and they impact the characteristics of the soul by obscuring knowledge, perception, innate spiritual energy and, worst of all, causing delusion. The deluding or Mohaniya Karma is like the ringleader in the gang of Karma!

In the blog on Jain belief, we discussed the impact of deluded misidentification with the body. It is this deluding, Mohaniya Karma which drives this process deluding our vision, making us forget our nature as souls, and deluding our conduct, manifested as the duality of like and dislike and the passions. The path to Moksha is basically overcoming the various aspects of this deluding Karma.

The soul has been born in vegetable, animal, hellish, celestial and human life forms. The human form is considered the highest as it is in this form that one can really think and discriminate about what is of spiritual benefit, and act positively and with equanimity in the face of karmic fruition, and so break the cycle. Human life is also extremely rare.

The soul’s progress is described by the 14 Gunasthanaks, often envisioned as a 14-rung ladder, starting with the very first stage, a state of total delusion, called Mithyatva, reaching the heights of the 13th and 14th stages discussed earlier as embodied and liberated Enlightenment. In the 13th stage, the four types of Karma impacting the soul’s characteristic qualities have been eliminated, but the soul is still embodied until it casts of the remaining four types of Karma as described above.

As we break through this delusion, we first attain a momentary experience of the soul. This transformative event is the result of suppressing or eliminating certain types of deluding karma which mean we are free from deluded vision and the most intense passions, even if momentarily. The experience of spiritual ecstasy and the realisation of our spiritual nature leave a lasting impression. This is the fourth stage of the ladder or 4th Gunasthanak as discussed above. The soul strives to increase the moments of self-experience and gradually its duration increases. Gradually conduct is purified with the elimination of various degrees of passion, until the soul is free from these passions and in a state of equanimous detachment from the 13th stage onwards.

Very clearly, the soul’s spiritual progress depends on the gradual process of eliminating and overcoming the various aspect of deluding Mohaniya Karma and so this must ultimately be the object of spiritual focus. This way we can move from darkness, to the ecstasy of self-realisation, and finally to the Enlightenment and Moksha.

“In the blind darkness of spiritual folly
You opened my inner eye, by applying the collyrium of wisdom with your wand
Enabling me to see reality as it
That is why I bow to you, my Guru”

This rare human life presents us with a golden opportunity. In the words of Lord Mahavira to his chief disciple Gautam:

“Life is like a drop of dew on a blade of Kussa grass.
O Gautam, do not waste even a moment.”

Ashik Shah is an active lay member of the Jain community. He was a founder of Young Jains of America, and is an active member of Young Jains in the UK. He has been in the fund management business for the last 15 years.
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An unmatched font of knowledge

Edinburgh’s global reputation as a knowledge economy is rooted in the performance and international outlook of its four universities.

As sociologist-turned US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan recognised when asked how to create a world-class city, a strong academic offering is pivotal to any forward-looking, ambitious city. “Build a university,” he said, “and wait 200 years.” He recognised the long-term return such an investment can deliver; how a renowned academic institution can help attract the world. However, in today’s increasingly globalised higher education sector, world-class universities no longer rely on the world coming to come to them – their outlook is increasingly international.

Boasting four world-class universities, Edinburgh not only attracts and retains students from around the world, but also increasingly exports its own distinctively Scottish brand of academic excellence. In fact, 53.9% of the city’s working age population is educated to degree level.

In the most recent QS World University Rankings, the University of Edinburgh was named as the 21st best university in the world, reflecting its reputation for research and teaching. It’s a fact reflected in the latest UK Research Exercise Framework (REF), conducted in 2014, which judged 96% of its academic departments to be producing world-leading research.

Innovation engine

Measured across the UK, annual Gross Value Added (GVA) by University of Edinburgh start-ups contributes more than £164m to the UK economy. In fact, of 262 companies to emerge from the university since the 1960s, 81% remain active today, employing more than 2,700 staff globally. That performance places the University of Edinburgh ahead of institutions such as MIT in terms of the number of start-ups it generates; an innovation hothouse that underlines why one in four graduates remain in Edinburgh and why blue chip brands such as Amazon, IBM and Microsoft all have R&D facilities in the city.

One such spin out making its mark is PureLiFi, founded by Professor Harald Haas to commercialise his groundbreaking research on data transmission using the visible light spectrum. With data transfer speeds 10,000 times faster than radio waves, LiFi not only enables bandwidths of 1 Gigabit/sec but is also far more secure.

Edinburgh’s universities play a pivotal role in the local economy. Through its core operations, knowledge transfer activities and world-class research the University generated £4.9bn in GVA and 44,500 jobs globally, when accounting for international alumni.

With £1.4bn earmarked for estate development over the next 10 years, the University of Edinburgh remains the city’s largest property developer. Its extensive programme of investment includes the soon-to-open Higgs Centre for Innovation. A partnership with the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, the new centre will open next year and will supply business incubation support for potential big data and space technology applications, enabling start-ups to realise the commercial potential of applied research in subjects such as particle physics.

It’s a story of innovation that is mirrored across Edinburgh’s academic landscape. Each university has carved its own areas of academic excellence and research expertise, such as the University of Edinburgh’s renowned School of Informatics, ranked among the world’s elite institutions for Computer Science. 

The future of energy

Research conducted into the economic impact of Heriot-Watt University demonstrated that it generates £278m in annual GVA for the Scottish economy and directly supports more than 6,000 jobs.

Set in 380-acres of picturesque parkland, Heriot-Watt University incorporates the Edinburgh Research Park, the first science park of its kind in the UK and now home to more than 40 companies.

Consistently ranked in the top 25% of UK universities, Heriot-Watt University enjoys an increasingly international reputation underpinned by a strong track record in research. 82% of the institution’s research is considered world-class (REF) – a fact reflected in a record breaking year for the university, attracting £40.6m in research funding in 2015. With an expanding campus in Dubai and last year’s opening of a £35m campus in Malaysia, Heriot-Watt is now among the UK’s top five universities in terms of international presence and numbers of international students.

"In 2015, Heriot-Watt University was ranked 34th overall in the QS ‘Top 50 under 50’ world rankings." 

Its established strengths in industry-related research will be further boosted with the imminent opening of the £20m Lyell Centre. It will become the Scottish headquarters of the British Geological Survey, and research will focus on global issues such as energy supply, environmental impact and climate change. As well as providing laboratory facilities, the new centre will feature a 50,000 litre climate change research aquarium, the UK Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Oil and Gas, and the Shell Centre for Exploration Geoscience.

International appeal

An increasingly global outlook, supported by a bold international strategy, is helping to drive Edinburgh Napier University’s growth. The university now has more than 4,500 students studying its overseas programmes, through partnerships with institutions in Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Sri Lanka and India.

Edinburgh Napier has been present in Hong Kong for more than 20 years and its impact grows year-on-year. Already the UK’s largest higher education provider in the territory, more than 1,500 students graduated in 2015 alone.

In terms of world-leading research, Edinburgh Napier continues to make its mark, with the REF judging 54% of its research to be either world-class or internationally excellent in 2014. The assessment singled out particular strengths in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, where it was rated the top UK modern university for research impact. Taking into account research, knowledge exchange, as well as student and staff spending, Edinburgh Napier University generates in excess of £201.9m GVA and supports 2,897 jobs in the city economy.

On the south-east side of Edinburgh, Queen Margaret University is Scotland’s first university to have an on-campus Business Gateway, highlighting the emphasis placed on business creation and innovation.

QMU moved up 49 places overall in the 2014 REF, taking it to 80th place in The Times’ rankings for research excellence in the UK. The Framework scored 58% of Queen Margaret’s research as either world-leading or internationally excellent, especially in relation to Speech and Language Sciences, where the University is ranked 2nd in the UK.

In terms of its international appeal, one in five of Queen Margaret’s students now comes from outside the EU, and it is also expanding its overseas programme offer, which already sees courses delivered in Greece, India, Nepal, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

With 820 years of collective academic excellence to export to the world, Edinburgh enjoys a truly privileged position in the evolving story of academic globalisation and the commercialisation of world-class research and innovation. If he were still around today, Senator Moynihan would no doubt agree – a world-class city indeed.

For further information www.investinedinburgh.com