Anupam Jain: The Role of Mathematics in Jainism

Dr Anupam Jain’s talk on the role of mathematics in the workshop on ‘Dharma in Jainism’ brought to light the rich mathematical knowledge presented in the Jaina philosophy. He started by defining Jaina mathematics as mathematics found in Jaina Canonical Literature or in literature written by Jainācaryas or Jaina scholars. His talk tried to explore the different purposes of developing mathematics in Jainism. He enlisted the wide spectrum of applications of Jaina mathematics, namely, to explain cosmological details and description of the three fold universe, to understand different types and subtypes of Karmas, to note auspicious time and place for religious ceremonies, to learn the basic mathematics required in daily life and to explain Jaina logic system. He presented his research on the history of Jaina mathematics by listing out the major scholars in the Jaina tradition who greatly contributed to the development of mathematics and by categorizing the major works on mathematics based on the different schools of Jainism it belongs to and their contribution to different field of mathematics. He gave a detailed picture of the major topics of mathematics discussed in Jaina mathematics in correspondence with the concepts in modern mathematics. Contents of Jaina mathematics was broadly classified into two categories: wordly mathematics which is useful in everyday life and para-worldly mathematics which deals with philosophical questions in Jainism like Rajju, Palyopama etc. By referring to the scope for vast range of future study in this field, he also gave methodological suggestions to study the texts available. With a great amount of passion, he emphasized the possibilities of availability of the manuscripts and the need of the study of original texts for authentic research.

Dr. Jain focuses on the importance of collaborative efforts between philosophers and scientists and mathematicians to further the cause of systematic knowledge. This, he notes, becomes especially important in case of knowledge systems like Jainism where one could find a large textual tradition on science, which is not accessible to the ‘conventional’ practitioner of sciences, but is of great importance to a Jaina scholar. It is at this juncture that a scholar of Jaina philosophy and a ‘conventional’ mathematician interested in Jaina systems of mathematics could learn from each other and work on furthering the knowledge which is abundantly available in the older texts, and especially commentaries on these texts. He also emphasizes the importance of knowledge of language (like knowledge of Sanskrit and Prakrit) in these processes.

In his words, the responsibility is upon all of us ‘to put the Jaina mathematical contribution before the academic word in right manner with all necessary references so that the scientist may take vision and help from it to solve the problems of nature and work for betterment of mankind’. One can gather that Dr. Jain is of the opinion that mathematics, not just that which exists in textbooks, but also in older texts of different traditions of Indian thought, will provide us with knowledge that can be used in a contemporary sense. He is also hopeful that the mathematical formulations of Jainācaryas can help us understand phenomenon and concepts on which we don’t have complete grasp yet, like infinite paradoxes. Mr. Jain’s presentation was met with overwhelming enthusiasm from fellow participants and it was obvious that we have a project ahead of us, in form of learning from the abundance of knowledge which might not have been looked at as of yet.

Report by: Sheetala Bhat and Laxmi Priya SN


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