Godavarisha Mishra: Reconciling the Differences: Kundakunda and Restructuring Jaina Dharma

The Jain philosopher Kundakunda, who lived around 127–170 CE, was born in the village of the same name located in present-day Tamil Nadu (although Mishra conceded that many villages in southern India claim to have been his birthplace). Mishra said that Kundakunda could be considered third in importance since Mahāvīra because of his role in restructuring Jainism after the split which took place around 79–89 CE. The nirgrantha (literally ‘knotless’ or ‘bookless’) tradition of the Tīrthaṅkaras had split into various prasthānas (schools).

Kundakunda wrote many important philosophical texts. His most influential work was the Samayasāra, which focuses on the unity of thought which pervades all modes of life in the world (anekānta). His style may differ from that of Umāsvāti’s Tattvārthasūtra, but this can be explained by the fact that it falls within a different genre. Although written from within the Digambara tradition, the Samayasāra is distinctly non-sectarian in spirit. For Mishra, Kundakunda desired to “transcend irrelevant differences.” He listed the three fundamental doctrines of Mahāvīra as: (1) non-absolutism, (2) karma, and (3) ahiṃsā. This would explain the title of the work, which can be translated (following the southern Indian tradition) as “the essence of religion.” Kundakunda tried to bring out the “universalistic implications” of Jaina philosophy. Therefore, the Samayasāra can be described as an inspirational text for any philosopher, Jaina or not.

Mishra also highlighted the common roots of Jainism and Buddhism, noting that both are śrāmana religions which arose in this “secular space” of the Indian tradition. He also pointed out the many philosophical interactions between Jainism and Buddhism recorded in Jaina scriptures and recalled an author who even claimed that Buddha and Mahāvīra were the same historical character.

Finally, Mishra stated that in order to understand Jaina texts one needs to study from within the tradition. It is not enough to have a Jain surname; one needs to actively participate in the philosophy in order to understand it and to eventually attain mokṣa.

Report by: Matteo Culotti and Lucy Forrest

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