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Jain Literature
Jain literature is classified into two major categories:
  • Agam or Canonical Literature (Agam Sutras):Agam literature consists of many texts, which are the sacred books of the Jain religion. They are written in the Ardha-magadhi Prakrit language.
  • Non-Agam Literature:Non-agam literature consists of commentary and explanation of Agam literature, and independent works, compiled by ascetics and scholars. They are written in many languages such as Prakrit, Sanskrit, Apabhramsa, Old Marathi, Rajasthani, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannad, Tamil, German, and English.

Agam Literature:

Background:

Lord Mahavir's preaching were orally and methodically compiled by his immediate disciples, known as the Gandharas, and elder monks known as Srut-kevalis, into many texts (scriptures). These scriptures are known as Jain Agam or Agam Sutras., the sacred books of the Jain religion. Hence, the Jain religion does not have one sacred book, like the Bible or the Koran, but it has many books compiled by Gandharas and Srut-kevalis during the 150 years after Lord Mahavir's nirvan (death). The Agam Sutras teach great reverence for all forms of life, strict codes of vegetarianism, asceticism, compassion, nonviolence, and opposition to war. In olden times, Jain ascetics believe that the religious books and scriptures are possessions and attachments. Therefore the scriptures were not documented in any form but were memorized by ascetics and passed on by oral tradition to future generations of ascetics. The memorized sutras were divided into two major groups:

  • Ang Agams (or Ang Pravista Agams): Ang Agam sutras contain direct preaching of Lord Mahavir. They consist of 12 texts that were originally compiled by immediate disciples of Lord Mahavir known as Ganadhars. Collectively these Sutras are known as Dwädashängi. They were compiled immediately after Lord Mahavir's nirvana (death). The twelfth text is called Drstiwad, which includes 14 Purvas. The foremost of these Angas is Ächäräng Sutra. Other well-known Angas are Sutrakrutäng, Samaväyäng, Sthänäng and Vyäkhyä Prajnapti or Bhagawati Sutra.
 
  • Angbahya Agams (outside of Ang Agams): Angbayha Agam sutras provide further explanation of Ang Agam sutras. They were originally compiled by Shrut Kevali monks, who possessed total knowledge of the soul by studying 12 Ang Agams. They consist of 14 texts according to the Digambar sect, 34 texts according to the Swetambar Murtipujak sect, and 21 texts according to the Sthanakvasi and Terapanthi sects. They were compiled within 160 years after Lord Mahavir’s nirvana. They are sub-classified into Upängs, Mul Sutras, Chheda Sutras, Chulika, and Prakirna Sutras. Dashä Vaikälika, Uttarädhyayan and Ävashyaka are the most well known Sutras belonging to this category.
The Agam literature is composed in Ardhamägadhi, Präkrit language, which was the language understood in the area where Lord Mahävir went about during His life. Also, during the course of time many learned Ächäryas (elder monks) compiled many commentaries on the Agam literature and independent works on various subjects of Jain philosophy and religion.


 

In the course of time, it became extremely difficult to keep memorizing the entire Jain literature (Agam sutras - scriptures, Commentary literature, and Independent works) compiled by the many scholars.

 


 

About 160 years after the Lord’s nirvana, when Bhadrabähuswami was the head of the religious order and the Nand dynasty was ruling over Magadh region. Pataliputra, the capital city, became the center of learning and knowledge.

 


 

At that time, there occurred a twelve years of famine (around 350 BC). During that period of shortage and scarcity, it was hard for Jain monks to observe the code of conduct of religion. Bhadrabähuswami therefore decided to migrate to the south along with many followers. Under such circumstances they could not preserve the entire canonical literature.


A convention was therefore called at Patliputra, under the leadership of Acharya Sthulibhadra, after the famine. That convention prepared a uniform version of all the Ägams. In Jain tradition, this is know as the first Vächanä of Ägams.

 
 


 

Later, when the Jain congregation relaxed the vow of non possession with regards to religious scriptures for ascetics, they had already forgotten much of the oldest canonical literature such as twelfth Ang-agam known as Drastiwad, which included fourteen Purvas. The rest of agams were polluted with some modifications and errors.

 


 

About one thousand years after Lord Mahavir’s nirvana the memorized Agam Sutras and their commentaries were recorded on leafy papers (Tadpatris).

 


 

Swetambar Jains have accepted the recorded Agam Sutras (11 Ang Agams and all Angbayha Sutras) as an authentic version of Lord Mahavir's teachings, while Digambar Jains have not. They concluded that after the famine, the entire Jain canonical literature (Ang and Angbayha Agam Sutras) became extinct. In the absence of authentic Agam sutras, Digambars follow Shatkhand Agam and Kasay Pahud as their main texts and four Anuyogs (which includes about 20 texts) written by great ascetics from 100 to 900 AD as their basis to follow and practice the Jain religion.

 


 

Jain history indicates that during the course of time, Swetambar ascetics held three conferences for the preservation of the Jain canonical literature, commentaries, and non-canonical literature. No documentation occurred during the first conference but during the second and third conferences most of the scriptures, commentaries, and other works were documented.

  1. Patliputra Conference - around 320 BC
  2. Mathura and Valabhi Conferences - around 380 AD
  3. Valabhi Conference - around 520 AD
 

 

Around 1400 to 1600 AD, the Swetambar sect also divided into three sub-sects known as Swetambar Murtipujak, Sthanakvasi, and Terapanthi. Differences also exist among all three Swetambar Jain sects in their acceptance of the validity and interpretations of the documented Jain scriptures (Agam Sutras) and other literature.


Ang Agams (or Ang Pravista Agams):
 

 

Lord Mahavir's immediate disciples were known as Ganadharas. All Ganadharas possessed perfect knowledge (keval jnan) and attained liberation at the end of their human life. They orally compiled the direct preaching of Lord Mahavir into twelve main texts (sutras). These texts are known as Ang agams. Hence the Ang agams are the oldest religious scriptures and the backbone of Jain literature.

 


 

The twelfth Ang agam is called Drastivad. The Drastivad consists of fourteen Purva texts, also known as Purvas or Purva agams. Among Ang agams, Purvas were the oldest sacred texts. All Jain sects believe that knowledge of the Purvas (Drastivad) was gradually lost starting about one hundred fifty years after Lord Mahavir's nirvan (death). However, other Jain scriptures and literature reference the subject matter of the Purvas.

 


 

The Digambar Jain sect also believes that the other remaining eleven Ang agams were gradually lost. All Swetambar Jains believe that the eleven Ang agams were remembered by their ascetics and were properly documented by them during the last two conferences that were held in Mathura and Valabhi around one thousand years after Lord Mahavir's nirvan.


Present Status of Ang Agams:

 

Jain Sect
Total Ang Agams     
Number of Ang Agams lost       
Number of Ang Agams survived
Digambar
12
12
0
Swetambar Murtipujak
12
1
11
Swetambar Sthanakvasi        
12
1
11
Swetambar Terapanthi
12
1
11
 


Ang bahya Agams (outside of Ang Agams):
 
 

 
Monks who had knowledge of a minimum of ten Purvas were known as Srut kevlis. They possessed the total knowledge of reality (soul, matter, their relationship etc.) by studying scriptures. The Srut kevlis wrote many texts (sutras) expanding the subject matter of the Ang agams. Collectively these texts are called Ang bahya agams meaning outside of Ang-agams. The different Jain sects accept different numbers of Ang bahya texts.


 

The Digambar sect believes that all Ang-bahya-agams were also gradually lost starting about two hundred years after Lord Mahavir's Nirvan. Hence in its opinion, the complete Jain agam literature is lost within few hundred years after Lord Mahavir's nirvan.


Present Status of Ang-bahya Agams:

 

Jain Sect
Total Ang-bahya Agams
Number of Ang-bahya Agams Lost
Number of Ang-bahya Agams Survived
Digambar
14
14
0
Swetambar Murtipujak
34
0
34
Swetambar Sthanakvasi
21
0
21
Swetambar Terapanthi
21
0
21

 
Classification of Ang bahya Agams:
 

The Swetambar sect has divided Ang bahya agams into the following categories:

  • Upang sutras:The scriptures which provide further explanation of Ang-agams.
  • Chhed sutras:The subject matters described in Chhed sutras are only for ascetics not for lay people. They relate to the conduct and behavior of monks and nuns. They also explain how they can repent for their sins and mistakes.
  • Mool sutras: The scriptures which are essential for ascetics to study in the earlier stages of their monkhood.
  • Chulika sutras: The scriptures which further enhance or decorate the meaning of Ang agams.
  • Prakirna sutras: The scriptures which describe independent or miscellaneous subjects of the Jain religion.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The following is the list of number of Ang bahya Agams recognized as authentic scriptures by different Jain Swetambar Sects:



Category of Ang bahya Agams
Swetambar Murtipujak   
Sthanakvasi and Terapanthi
Upang agams
12
12
Chhed sutra agams
6
4
Mool sutra agams
4
3
Chulika sutra agams
2
2
Prakirna sutra agams
10
0
Total Ang bahya agams                          
34
21



Digambar Literature:

The Digambar sect believes that there were 26 Agam sutras (12 Ang agams + 14 Ang bahya agams). However, they were gradually lost starting from one hundred fifty years after Lord Mahavir's nirvana. Hence, they do not recognize the existing Agam-sutras (which are recognized by the Swetambar sects) as their authentic scriptures.


In the absence of authentic scriptures, Digambars follow two main texts, three commentaries on main texts, and four Anuyogs consisting of more than 20 texts as the basis for their religious philosophy and practices. These scriptures were written by great Acharyas (scholars) from 100 to 1000 AD. They have used the original Agam Sutras as the basis for their work.


Shatkhand agam:

The Shatkhand agam is also known as Maha kammapayadi pahuda or Maha karma prabhrut. Two Acharyas; Pushpadant and Bhutabali around 160 AD wrote it. The second Purva agam named Agraya niya was used as the basis for this text. The text contains six volumes. Acharya Virsen wrote two commentary texts, known as Dhaval tika on the first five volumes and Maha dhaval tika on the sixth volume of this scripture, around 780 AD.


Kashay pahud or Kashay prabhrut:

Acharya Gunadhara wrote the Kasay-pahud. The fifth Purva agam named Jnan pravad was used as a basis for this scripture. Acharya Virsen and his disciple, Jinsen, wrote a commentary text known as Jaya dhaval tika around 780 AD.


 

Digambar Main Texts:

Agam
Description
Author(s)
Year
Shatkhand agam or Maha kammapayadi pahuda or Maha karma prabhrut

Acharya Pushapdant and Bhutabali
160 AD
Kashay pahud or Kashay prabhrut

Acharya Gunadhara

Dhaval-tika
Commentary on Shatkhand-agam Vol. 1-5
Virsen
780 AD
Maha-dhaval-tika
Commentary on Shatkhand agam Vol. 6
Virsen

Jaya-dhaval-tika
Commentary on Kashay pahud
Virsen and Jinsen



Four Anuyogas:

  1. Pratham anuyoga (Dharma kath anuyoga) - Religious Stories:This anuyoga consists of the following texts, which contain religious stories, art, literature, history, poetry, and like literature.
Padma puran
Ravisen
650 AD
Harivamsa puran
Jinsen II
783 AD
Adi puran
Jinsen II
783 AD
Uttar puran
Gunabhadra
879 AD
  1. Charn anuyoga - Conduct:This anuyoga consists of the following texts, which contain principles of observances, conduct, behavior, and like literature.

 

Mulachar
Vattaura
600 AD
Trivarnachar
Vattaura
600 AD
Ratna karanda shravak achar
Samantabhadra
600 AD

 

  1. Karan anuyoga (Ganit anuyog) - Mathematics:This anuyoga expounded the texts, which had mathematical viewpoints. It consists of the following texts, which contain geography, mathematics, astronomy, astrology, and like literature.
Surya prajnapti
Unknown

Chandra prajnapti
Unknown

Jaya dhaval tika
Virsen/Jinsen
780 AD
Gommat sar
Nemichandra Siddhant
1000 AD
  1. Dravy anuyog - Philosophy:This anuyoga consists of the following texts, which contain philosophical doctrine, theories, metaphysics, Tattvajnan, and like literature.
Niyamasar Kunda kunda
100 AD 
Panchastikaya Kunda kunda 100 AD 
Pravachanasar
Kunda kunda
100 AD
Samaya sara
Kunda kunda
100 AD
Tattvartha sutra
Umaswami 200 AD
Commentary on Tattvartha sutra
Samantabhadra 600 AD
Commentary on Tattvartha sutra Pujyapad 700 AD
Commentary on Tattvartha sutra
Akalank 750 AD
Commentary on Tattvartha sutra
Vidyanand
800 AD 
Aptamimamsa Samantabhadra
600 AD 
Commentary on Aptmimamsa  Akalank  750 AD 
Commentary on Aptmimamsa  Vidyanand  800 AD 

 

 


Summary:

 

The Jain literature, which was compiled by Ganadharas and Srut-kevlis, is known as Agam literature. These texts are the Holy Scriptures of the Jain religion. The Agam Sutras show great reverence for all forms of life and strict codes of vegetarianism, asceticism, nonviolence, and opposition to war. The existing Agam Sutras are accepted as the authentic preaching of Lord Mahavir by the Swetambar sects, but the Digambar sect does not accept them as authentic. Digambars follow two main text and four Anuyogs written by great Acharyas (scholars) from 100 to 1000 AD as the basis for their religious philosophy and practices. The Jain literature, which is not classified as Agam Sutras, is known as non agam literature.



List of 45 Jain Agams


Summary of Digambar and Swetambar Agams


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