Tillo Detige: Ritual, Devotion and Liberation: the Case of the Digambara Bhaṭṭārakas

In his paper, Tillo Detige presented Jain rituals and devotion as ‘technologies of the self’ aimed at acquiring liberation. Detige analyzed Dirgambara bhaṭṭāraka and ācārya rituals as case studies while also making allusion to scriptural references recounting the benefits and forms of practice of these bhaktic rituals. While explaining the difference between Jina-bhakti, guru-bhakti and ācārya-bhakti, Detige clarified that—guru-bhakti was aimed at acquiring perfect knowledge which leads to liberation. What is more, positing that ritual and devotion are central elements of Jaina dharma that act at both the soteriological and epistemological levels, Detige quoted Ācārya Kundakunda’s words: “may the praise of your multitude of virtues performed by this ignorant one, accompanied with guru-bhakti, grant me perfect knowledge.”

The presenter also established the relationship between asceticism and equanimity and elaborated on both bhakti and tapas as means to achieve liberation within Jainism. Detige acknowledged the diversity of paths towards liberation within the Jaina tradition, explaining in the words of Āvaśyaka Niryukti (11th century), that “progressing on the path toward liberation is done by bhakti of Jina images, mendicant lineages, mendicant groups and congregations, ācāryas, the Jina’s teachings and the other scriptures, just as by striving with asceticism (tapas) and equanimity (saṃyaṃa).

In relation to bhakti as means for salvation, Detige quoted Jacobi to assert that bhakti as the supreme means of salvation “did not originate with monks, but with the lay community,” and made reference to several manuscripts and manuals with instructions for the pujas, whose practice have maintained continuity over the years. Additionally, the presenter described the veneration ritual of the bhaṭṭāraka as constituted by: (1) ambulatory practices, (2) washing and anointing of the feet, (3) offerings and (4) dance in a bhaktic atmosphere; and furthermore explained that the ācārya was similarly worshiped (in the fashion of the Jina image). Hence, as mentioned by Detige, the bhaṭṭāraka were deeply venerated as ‘ideal’ ascetics, just as the contemporary Digambara munis are venerated following the same ritual, devotional, eulogistic, and commemorative practices, given that both are ascribed the same ascetic virtues.

Detige explained the ritual as a form of “giving up” before “the absence of the Jina”, given the understanding that the liberated Tirthankara (1) is transactionally nonexistent, (2) non responsive to prayers or petitions, and (3) dispenses no saving grace. Moreover, Detige explained that even if the object of devotion is unresponsive or absent, the bhakti or puja is a relational dialectical act where the emotions and mental states arise are real in relation to present dialogical partners. In this sense, Detige elaborated on the reflexive nature of the pūjā where the role of the Jina is exemplary, as an ideal fixed before the worshipper’s eyes whose inner-reflexive rite revolves around (1) the contemplation of the qualities that the Jina represents, (2) the emulation of his ascetic virtues (tyāg), (3) the induction of spiritually valuable attitudes and dispositions, and (4) the concentration of their virtues and perfection. Furthermore, Detige made a direct link between bhakti and karma in relation to the ways to gain puṇya or pāpa (1) by one’s own actions (karaṇa), (2) by instructions to others (kāraṇa), and (3) by one’s attitudes towards other’s actions (anumodana), stressing the important nature of the reflexive attitude within these bhaktic rituals.

Hence, as posited by Detige, the practice of these rituals is to be understood as a technology of the self, directed toward the cultivation of specific skills and attitudes for liberation, where the ritual itself is conveyed as a meditative practice, or a form of spiritual exercise that is both theoretical (rational, conceptual, abstract and textual) and practical (relational, embodied and experiential), providing both the conceptual and the soteriological knowledge necessary for the Jaina path of liberation.

Report by: Sissi Hamann


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