Justice T.U.Mehta


Since Jainism firmly believes in the doctrine of karma and puts sole reliance on the development of spiritual force by one's own personal efforts, and further exhorts its followers to develop Asarana-bhavana (none can refuge or save us), the question, which naturally arises, is, what is the place of prayers in Jainism ? Prayers are offered to God or to the Divine force which is supposed to control the whole universe. But if the Jainas do not believe in God or in the existence of any outside Divinity controlling our fate, any idea of prayer would be irrelevant to them. The question is very legitimate. It is true that strictly according to the Jaina doctrines the prayer in the sense of asking favour of Divine dispensation has no place in Jaina doctrines for two main reasons, namely, (1) The soul which has been emancipated and which then becomes Omniscient has no desire left and has no motivation for the good or the bad of the universe. Its character is purely that of a knower and a seer. If it could be pleased by prayers, it could also be displeased by something else; If it could bestow favours, it could also bestow frowns. To attribute such human frailties to a liberated soul is to deny its liberation.

(2) Secondly, once we accept the doctrine of karma, all results must be sought in that doctrine and therefore unless the prayers are adjusted in the karma doctrine, they remain totally non-productive.

However, it would be totally wrong to say that prayers, if understood properly, have no place in Jaina philosophy. Jainas do not understand prayers as a means of seeking favours from a superior force. True Jaina prayers are nothing but the appreciation and adoration of the virtues possessed by the liberated souls and the expression of ardent desire to achieve these virtues in one's own actual life. It is for this reason that Jaina scriptures have actually enumerated the virtues of different categories of souls such as Arihanta, Siddha, Acarya and Sadhu.

It is basic to the Jaina belief that the Tirthankaras (prophets) and their teachings are only to point out to us the way to get liberation. But how to get liberation and how to put these teachings into practice is entirely left to us. We achieve only to the extent to which we exert. However, the path shown by those who have achieved must be studied with utmost respect and sincerity, because it is the path which the seers have actually taken in their lives and have obtained the results. We should therefore be entirely thankful to these great seers for providing to us such guidance. One expresses such thankfulness out of sheer gratitude, extols and enumerates their virtues and wishes that such virtues may also develop in one's own life. Jainas further believe that by constantly being reminded of the virtues which made them great, our mind gets oriented to these virtues and being constantly in mental company with the great, we too tend to be influenced by their greatness by developing the virtues which they possessed. This, in Jaina philosophy, is the true process of prayers and it is in this manner that one also gets the fruits of his prayers.

It is a psychological truth that human mind gets oriented to the thoughts which it entertains constantly. Oriented and conditioned mind always impels the physical senses of the body to follow the pursuits of its liking. Therefore, being convinced of the teaching of the great seers, if we totally surrender ourselves to these teachings and constantly bear in mind the efficacy of these teachings and try to put them in practice, it is the best prayer we can offer and if such type of prayer yields some results, we would surely be justified in saying that the results which were so yielded were due to the ‘favour' of the great masters who showed the path to us. For indeed the masters have shown favour to us, as to the whole humanity, in pointing out to the right way to obtain salvation.

Illustrative of this line of thinking is the prayer offered by the great Acarya Samantabhadra in the following words :


Na pujayarthastvayi vitarage,

Na nindaya natha vivanta vaire,

Tathapi te punya gunasmrtirnah,

Punatu ceto duritam janebhyah.


‘Oh lord, you are really a Vitaraga (one who has shed all passions ) and so you are not pleased by prayers nor you displeased by adverse criticism, because you have destroyed all types of adversary feelings. All the same, the remembrance of your merits purifies one's mind from all the sins'.

A prayer of this type is the best karma (action) one can resort to, and according to the doctrine of Karma we must get the fruits of our actions.

It is interesting to note that the most outstanding of the Jaina prayers is contained in what is known as ‘Navakara Mantra' which contains nothing sectarian or personal to any individual and asks for nothing in return. It does nothing more than offering sincere veneration to those souls which are already liberated and which are on the path of liberation. These souls may belong to any sect or religious belief but so long as they are on the path of liberation or, are, infact, liberated, one who is a true Jaina bows down to them. This incantation is as under :

Namo Arihantanam -- I bow down to all ‘Arihantas'.

Namo Siddhanam -- I bow down to all ‘Siddhas'.

Namo Ayariyanam -- I bow down to all ‘Acaryas'.

Namo Uvajjhayanam -- I bow down to ‘Upadhyayas'.

Namo Loe Savvasahunam -- I bow down to all the ‘Sadhus'.


‘Arihantas ' are those blessed souls who have successfully shed away in this life all the karmas which blur the potency of the soul; ‘Siddhas' are those souls who have achieved the final emancipation and have attained a bodiless state of pure bliss; ‘Acaryas' are those merciful souls who teach us the path of salvation and ‘Sadhus' are those saints who are themselves on the path of salvation and are striving for liberation.

These five are called ‘Panca-paramesthi' - five types of great souls - those who have been liberated and those who are on the path of liberation. A Jaina bows down to them all, not necessarily because they have followed or are following a particular type of religion but because they have already attained what was worth attaining or because they are striving to attain what is worth attaining. As Acarya Hemcandra puts it :

"Bhava bijankura-janana ragadyah ksayamupagata yasya, Brahma va Visnurva Haro Jino va namastasmai." meaning, "I bow down to him whose all passions such as attachment and malice, which sow the seeds of birth and rebirth, have been destroyed. It matters not whether he is Brahma, Visnu, Sankara or Jina."

The Jainas have built big and beautiful temples and are adoring, imposing and serene marble idols of Tirthankaras. Idol-worship has its own rights and Jainas seem to have adopted the same at a subsequent stage because Jaina scriptures have not recorded that Lord Mahavira at any time worshipped an Idol. In fact the whole emphasis of Jaina doctrines is on the Atman which has no form. However, if the majority of Jainas have resorted to the worship of the idols of Tirthankaras, it would not go against the basic principles of Jainism if the said worship is carried out on the lines discussed above.

It would, however, undoubtedly follow that adoring the idols by jewelry and other ornaments and taking out processions of idols, etc. have no philosophical background or justification - except perhaps expressing devotion. Attribution of ornamental glitter to one who is a Vitaraga is a gross negation of all that for which Jainism stands, and amounts to crude perversion of basic doctrines of Jainism.

Thus, prayers and Bhakri are differently understood by the Jainas but they do occupy a prominent place in Jaina thinking.