Article: Jain beliefs

Contributed by Jasmine Kelly

'Scales of perfection'

The 14 stages of the 'scale of perfection' – guṇa-sthāna – map the soul's progress towards final liberation. Lay people can reach the fifth stage of partial self-control – deśa-virata – but to advance further they must become mendicants.

Fourteen guṇa-sthānas
Image by Shree Diwakar Prakashan © public domain

The 'scale of perfection'guṇa-sthāna – is a way of guiding human beings gradually towards liberation. As people follow the beliefs and practices associated with each of the 14 successive stages, they advance spiritually.

To advance to the sixth stage, Jains must become mendicants. The gulf between the lay and mendicant lifestyle is so big that there is another step-by-step framework to help lay people become monks or nuns. The 11 levels of the pratimā enable lay Jains to live more like mendicants in stages, although they can decide not to progress further.

As it travels up the 'scale of perfection', the soul reaches levels of spiritual development where it destroys its bound karma and stops new karma from sticking to it. It can thus attain, in stages, absolute knowledgekevala-jñāna – and finally liberation, which means the soul is freed of all karma and is perfected once again. Spiritual development requires that the human within which the soul is embodied for this lifetime accepts Jain principles and undertakes practices that reduce karma.

Leśyā

A soul's level of spiritual development can be gauged by its leśyā. This is a staining of the soul a certain colour. The soul's leśyā takes various colours, with certain colours indicating spiritual level.

A perfect soul has no karmas, so its inherent purity and clarity can be seen. As a soul develops spiritually, it gets lighter and brighter.

Knowledge

Plate 20 from the 1998 'Illustrated Śrī Nandī Sūtra' illustrates the four stages in 'perception knowledge' – abhinibodhika-jñāna or mati-jñāna. These lead gradually from a faint notion to a definite idea through reasoning.

Stages of knowledge
Image by Diwakar Prakashan / Padma Prakashan © Diwakar Prakashan / Padma Prakashan

There are five types of knowledgejñāna – in traditional Jain thought, namely:

  1. mind-based and sensory knowledge – mati-jñāna
  2. scriptural knowledge – śruta-jñāna
  3. extra-sensory knowledge or clairvoyance – avadhi-jñāna
  4. knowledge of others’ minds or telepathymanaḥparyāya-jñāna
  5. omniscience or absolute knowledge – kevala-jñāna.

Knowledge is a fundamental element of the quest for spiritual progress. As a soul develops spiritually, freeing itself of karma, it acquires greater knowledge, until it accomplishes perfect knowledgekevala-jñāna. This is achieved solely at the highest spiritual levels, shortly before final emancipationmokṣa.

Thus a soul can gain the different types of knowledge with spiritual progress. But knowledge is also a way to advance spiritually, because the correct view of reality is the first, basic step in spiritual progression. Accepting the teachings of the Jinas is the first of the three jewels while the second is 'correct knowledge' or 'proper knowledge' – samyag-jñāna. It means grasping properly the fundamental truths, as revealed by the Jinas.

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