Jacobi's letter on Acaranga controversy of meat-eating

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Jacobi's letter on Acaranga controversy of meat-eating  (1933) 
by Hermann Jacobi
Prof. Jacobi's letter to Mr. Motilal Ladha clarifying controversy of meat eating in Acaranga Sutra. This letter was first published in H. R. Kapadia's article Prohibition of flesh eating in Jainism in the book The Review of Philosophy and Religion (vol. IV, No. 2) (1933).


Dear Sir, Your letter dated 10-1-1928 duly at hand. I have carefully gone over the passage of the Acaranga Sutra II 1.10.6 which refers to the eating of 'meat' and 'fish' by Jaina monks or nuns. The result at which I arrived forms the subject of this letter.

Let me begin with the origin of the controversy in about AD 1900. In my translation of the Acaranga Sutra (S.B.E., vol. XXII, Oxford, 1884) I have rendered in the passage under consideration, mamsa and maccha by 'meat' and 'fish'; for, such is the original or primary meaning (mukhyartha) of mamsa and matsya. The Jainas took offence at this rendering and complained about it to Professor Max Muller, the editor of the S.B.E. Series.

In order to justify my translation, I tried to make it probable that in ancient times the prohibition of animal food may not have been so rigorous as it notoriously was in more modern times. But my suggestion has not been accepted, and Mr Khimji Hirji Kayani communicated to me the following explanation of the passage in question by the high priest of the Jain community of Bombay:

"A monk or a nun on a begging tour is prohibited from receiving conserve of fruits containing a large portion of bark or an exterior covering of a fruit, and if inadvertently received then the monk or nun should bury underground the remaining portion of such conserve which cannot be eaten etc."

A similar explanation was given to me by several yatis on my visit to India in the cold season of 1913-14. I duly took notice of their interpretation which I promised to publish when a second edition of my translation of the Acaranga Sutra should be issued, but I refrained from further discussing or disputing the point, and there the matter rested.

Now, the point to be decided is whether mamsa and matsya can be proved to have the meaning conserve of fruits assigned to them by the orthodox interpreters of the passage under consideration. In proof of this assertion no evidence has been brought forward either from Sanskrit Literature or from glossaries (kosas). It is true that matsya-phala and mamsa-phala are names of certain plants, but not the words matsya and mamsa by themselves; and even that meaning would not suit the requirement of our case. Mamsa and maccha occur only once more in the Pindesana (1,9, 3) and there they must be taken in their primary sense of 'meat' and 'fish.' That passage has reference to a meal which is being prepared for a guest or a sick person. After the usual opening words we read mamsam va maccham va majjijjamanam pahae. The attribute majjijjamanutti "being fried or roasted" shows that by mamsa and maccha 'conserve of fruits' cannot be meant. The householder, who makes those preparations for the reception of a guest, need not be a Jaina layman; it is, therefore, not to be wondered at that he has meat or fish roasted for the guest. It will thus be seen that the exegetical rules of philology oblige us to attribute to the words mamsa and maccha, in the doubtful passage, their primary meaning 'meat' and 'fish.' But how are we to reconcile this result with the prohibition of animal-food? Even if it be granted that this prohibition had not been as strictly observed of old as in historical times, still we cannot suppose that at any time a Jaina monk should explicitly admit that under certain conditions he was ready to accept as alms 'meat' and 'fish'; for, that would be the meaning of the passage if understood in its literal sense. I think I can suggest a way out of the dilemma, without either putting an inadmissible practice to the ancient Jaina monks. For, two Sanskrit passages, one in the Mahabhasya of Patanjali and the other in the Tatparya-tika of Vacaspati-misra seem to me to throw some light on the quotation in hand. In discussing a Varttika ad Panini (III, 3, 9) Patanjali illustrates the meaning of nantariyakatva by the following example: ' 'kascit mamsarthi matsyan sa-sakalan sa-kantakan aharati nantariyakatvat, sa yavad adeyam tavad adaya sakala-kantakany utsrjati evam ihapi ', etc. (The same passage is repeated verbatim in the Mahabhasya ad IV. 1,92).

Vacaspatimisra in commenting on Nyayasutra IV 1, 54 says: 'tasman mamsarthiva kantakan uddhrtya mamsam asnann anartham kantaka-janyam apnotity evam prajnavam duhkham uddhrtyendriyadi-sadhanam suklam moksayate.' Patanjali and Vacaspatimisra are separated by nine centuries: during all this time (and probably much longer) the standard example of an object containing the substance which is wanted in intimate connection (nantariyaka) with much that must be rejected, was 'fish' of which the flesh may be eaten, but the scales and bones must be taken out. By being generally understood in this way, and having become proverbial, as it were, the expression 'fish with many bones' came to be properly used, I assume, to denote metaphorically any substance similarly constituted. In this metaphorical sense, I believe, bahu-atthiyena mamsena va macchena va bahu-kanthaena has been used in the passage of Acharariga Sutra under consideration. A close examination of that passage is very much in favour of my supposition. It runs thus:

se bhikkhu va Java samane siya nam paro bahu-atthiena mamsena macchena va bahu-kanthaena utvanimantejja | ausanto samana abhikankhasi bahu-atthiyam mamsam padigahettae | etappagaram nighosatn socca nisamma se puvvam-eva aloejja | ausoti va bhaini ti va no khalu kappai me bahu-atthiyam mamsam paddigahettae | abhikankhasi me daum javatiyam tavatiyam poggalam daiayahi, ma atthiyaim | etc.

The layman asks the monk whether he will accept 'meat with many bones'. Now if the alms-giver had actually offered meat, the answer of the monk would of a certainty have been: 'No, I am no flesh-eater.' Instead of this refusal he says: 'It is against our rules to accept "meat with many bones": "if you desire to make me a gift, give me as much of the substance as you like, but not the bones."' It is worthy of remark that the monk makes use of the (popular) phrase 'meat with many bones' when declining the offer, but not when he states that he will accept; there he uses not a metaphorical expression, but the direct designation poggala, substance. This change of appellation is due to the consciousness that the first expression is metaphorical and open to misunderstanding. This meaning of the passage is, therefore, that a monk should not accept as alms any substance of which only a part can be eaten and a great part must be rejected. The same principle governs the preceding paragraphs of the 10th uddesao. In 4, some such substances are mentioned by name viz. different parts of sugarcane, etc. and in 5 we find mamsa and maccha which expression, if I am right, comprises all the remaining substances of a similar description which have not been mentioned in the preceding paragraph.

Bonn, yours faithfully,

14 February 1928. H. JACOBI

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The author died in 1937, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 75 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.