31 March 2010
Great organizer of highly complex ideas
In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, atop a hill known as Ponnur Malai, on a large stone under a certain champa tree pilgrims may come across an engraved pair of stylized footprints (charan). These footprints are symbolic of a thinker who, nearly two millennia ago composed some of the most influential philosophical books in world history. Some scholars from generations since then remember the exact day of their first encounter with his spiritual masterpiece, the Samaya Sara.
Among the most famous of all Jain acharyas, Kundakunda, the celebrated author of the four renowned books Samaya Sara (Treatise of the True Self), Pravachana Sara (Treatise of Lectures), Niyama Sara (Treatise on Pure Rules), Panchastikaya Sara (Treatise on Five Universal Components) and Ashta Pahuda (Eight Steps), which is a collection eight texts. All his works are written in a Jain dialect known as Shourseni Prakrit. The organization of Jain ideas into certain relationships and structures taken for granted in more recent centuries was ultimately a product of his genius. Such has been his fame since early items, that many other books actually written by his pupils and others are popularly ascribed to him. In the Digambar tradition he is named immediately after Lord Mahavira and the preceptor Indrabhuti Goutam in the Mangalacharana (auspicious
blessing) prayer, and Jains of the Digambar tradition dub their tradition Kundakund-anvaya (the order of Kundakunda). However, scholars of all sects study his books with deep veneration.
He was born around the beginning of the first century AD in South India in a place becoming a Jain monk was Padmanandi, but he is better known by the place of his origin. Kundakunda mentions that he was an intellectual descendant of Bhadrabahu I, the last Shrut Kevalin. Kundakunda belonged to an ancient order called the Nandi Sangha, wherein most monks assumed names ending in ‘nandi’. The Punyashrava Katha Kosh mentions that in his previous life, Kundakunda was a cow-herder who had found and preserved ancient texts and was blessed by a wandering monk. Acharya Kundakunda’s intense learning and moral character attracted royal disciples such as King Shivakumar. The story of Kundakunda is also surrounded buy legend- it is even said he could walk in air.
Kundakunda’s influence extends far beyond Jainism. India has always been a land where philosophical debate is a standard feature of intellectual life. The concise and systematized aphorismic forms he brought to Jain literature and the literary structures in which he explained Jainism’s most advanced scientific principles relating to such area as atomic structure, cosmic dimensions, the cosmic ethers, and psychology, rivaled anything produced up to that time anywhere in the world. Hindu and Buddhist thinkers were put to the task of finding ways to respond to his explications of Jain philosophy and conduct, and he thus set unprecedented levels of erudition and rationalism in India’s overall philosophical discourse which would last through modern times.
Out of enthusiastic respect, Acharya Kundakunda has been called “Light of this Dark Age”. Several commentaries on his Samaya Sara have been written in Sanskrit and modern languages. In more recent centrues, the Samaya Sara had greatly moved leaders and scholars like Banarasi Das, Taran Svami, Shrimad Rajachandra and Kanaji Swami.