Article: Scales of Perfection

Contributed by Jérôme Petit

The ultimate goal in Jainism – emancipation of the soul from the cycle of rebirth – is a very long and difficult road. This is surely why Jain doctrine has created a ‘Scale of Perfection’, which goes from total delusion to total omniscience. It presents the route to liberation in 14 stages. The scale has been named guṇa-sthāna, coined from Sanskrit words for the stages – sthāna – of qualities – guṇa. The scale allows lay men who are not necessarily Jain to become Jains, to reaffirm their faith in Jainism, to take the vows of monkhood and then to progress through the stages by eliminating the different forms of karma. At a certain stage, devotees are invited to leave their lay status and to become monks or nuns.

The theory of guṇa-sthāna is closely associated with the Jain doctrine of karma. This concept of karma is very complicated, with 148 main categories and numerous classes shaping the attributes of an embodied soul and influencing how karma plays out over one or more lifetimes. Aspects of these different categories are linked to the 14 stages of the guṇa-sthāna.

Approaching the sixth stage of the guṇa-sthāna, the individual can further develop spiritually only by becoming a mendicant. The step between lay and mendicant status is so great that the Jain doctrine proposes 11 more steps named pratimā to help lay people to make this important decision.

The history of the guṇa-sthāna concept is hard to trace, with only infrequent mentions in early Jain writings. The tenth-century text called the GommaṭasāraEssence of Mahāvīra’s Teachings – remained influential for centuries, particularly among Digambaras. In the 19th century, however, it seems that the ever-more involved theorising of the guṇa-sthāna may have helped the decline of its popularity among lay Jains. Contemporary Jains may well be unfamiliar with the complexities of the doctrine, even though the notion of spiritual progression remains a keystone of the Jain faith. In addition, scholarly work in this area is largely absent, although the great significance of the guṇa-sthāna in the path to liberation is accepted in Jain studies.

Journey to liberation

The nandyāvarta below three circles symbolising the three jewels of Jainism while the crescent at the top represents the siddha-śilā. The fruits represent souls at various stages while the auspicious symbols are in rice. Such offerings are common.

Sacred symbols in rice
Image by Cactusbones – Sue Ann Harkey © CC A-NC-SA 2.0

The fundamental aim of Jainism is the realisation of the self, the liberation of the individual soul from the cycle of births because it has no karma. To reach this state of bliss, each believer must pay attention to the 'three jewels' of:

Accomplishing the first jewel makes it possible to achieve the second, which allows progression to the third. The concept of the guṇa-sthāna provides a framework in which to fully accept and practise the 'three gems' of Jain teachings.

Jain devotees should also concentrate their thoughts on the innate purity of the self and devote their entire lives to the attainment of this goal. It is so difficult that only monks and nuns are said to be able to achieve the state of realisation – siddhi. Formally described in the guṇa-sthāna, this process leaves aside the lay community, which is the larger part of the Jain community – sangha. However, lay Jains can advance spiritually within certain limits.

Fourteen 'Stages of Qualities'

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 14 'Stages of Qualities' – guṇa-sthāna – chart the progress of the individual soul from complete delusion to omniscience, which is necessary for mokṣa – the emancipation of the soul. The guṇa-sthāna is closely linked to the Jain theory of karma, which is extremely detailed. Jain writings discuss 148 categories of karma, which demonstrate varying qualities and durations and govern different aspects of the embodied soul. At the various rungs of the ladder of guṇa-sthānas, different karmas rise and mature and then die away. At the top of the scale, the enlightened soul still retains karmas, but these disappear in the instant after it is freed from its body.

It is considered extremely difficult to move through the stages to enlightenment. It takes many, many lives in the cycle of rebirth to move from one step to another, and karmas exist and mature over many lifetimes, with more karmas being formed in each lifetime. These may mature in the next lifetime or come to fruition much later.

Lay people can ascend only to the fifth stage. Going higher up the ladder means becoming a mendicant.

The stages are detailed in this table.

'Fourteen Stages of Qualities' – guṇa-sthāna


Sanskrit term

English meaning




wrong belief

The soul is bound by the karma of delusion – mohanīya-karman. The soul has not yet been awakened to Jain belief and so it ignores the Path of Liberation. It is heavily bound by passions and attachments.



the taste of right belief

The individual is ‘rehabilitated’ after a fall from a higher stage. The Jain has only the ‘taste’ of the 'right belief'samyag-darśana – but his faith has to be reaffirmed.




This is a transition between the wrong belief of stage 1 and the right belief in stage 4.



right belief without self-control

This is important because the believer is now truly a Jain and cannot go back to the wrong belief of the first stage. He has right belief – samyag-darśana – but still lacks self-control.



partial self-control

The individual has partial self-control and is now ready to take the vows of the Jain lay man – aṇu-vratas. The 'believer' thus becomes an 'active member' of the Jain community.


pramatta-virata or sarva-virata

complete self-control with carelessness

This marks the passage from secular life to becoming a mendicant. The devotee has complete self-control, though still demonstrating some carelessness, yet is ready to take the vows of Jain mendicants – mahā-vratas. This step is very high indeed, which is why there are some degrees between the fifth and the sixth guṇa-sthāna, as detailed in the pratimā.



complete self-control without carelessness

The mendicant now has complete self-control without carelessness, and so can observe all the vows without any faults.



new process

Having become practised in self-control, the mendicant is engaged in the new process of struggling to stop the secondary passions or emotions – no-kaṣāyas – through meditation.



no return process

The mendicant reaches the point where he or she cannot return to a lower stage and tries to destroy the secondary passions through meditation.



war against the subtle passions

The mendicant wars against the subtle passions – kaṣāyas – through meditation.



one whose delusion is pacified

From this stage, the monk becomes a 'perfect ascetic', free from attachment, but has not yet attained omniscience. Stages 9 to 11 make a separate scale named the ‘Ladder of Pacification’ – upaśama-śreṇi – from which a fall is still possible.



one whose delusion is destroyed

The ascetic free from attachment has now destroyed delusion. He or she has not reached omniscience but the passions are completely eliminated. From here, there is no return possible to a lower level of spirituality.



omniscient one who still has activity in the body

The sayoga-kevalin is an omniscient being who still has physical activity. The soul is still within the body, in order to achieve the lifespan – āyus – of the particular ascetic.
This is the stage attained by eminent Jain persons, the Jinas, the Arhats and so on.



omniscient one without any activity

The ayoga-kevalin is an omniscient without any activity, remaining completely still.
This is the instant before death when all the categories of karma are destroyed, including those that:

  • determine lifespan – āyus
  • sets individual characteristics – nāma
  • fixes social environment – gotra
  • relates to sensations – vedanīya.

The top of the ladder leads to mokṣa, in which the soul is perfected – siddha – having become free of all karmic particles. On the death of the physical body, the soul rises up to the siddha-śilā, where it dwells for eternity experiencing its own realisation.

However, Digambaras do not believe that women can reach liberation as they hold that nudity is part of complete detachment and self-control – expressed in one of the five 'fundamental vows' of mendicants – and that women cannot go nude. This is because Digambara followers believe that women's bodies contain microscopic beings that men's do not, and which hinder the level of spiritual purity they can achieve. In addition, traditional social attitudes towards women make it impossible for them to shed their clothes as part of advanced spirituality while the scriptures stress the dangers for monks who mix with women.

Wiley states that 'A Digambara nun (āriyikā) takes the vow of non-possession in a modified form, and she wears a white sari. Therefore, she is classified as an advanced celibate layperson in the 11th pratimā.' (159)

Theory of karma

The elaboration of the guṇa-sthāna is closely linked with the theory of karma.

At every stage, some of the 148 categories of karma – the prakṛtis – must be unbound from the soul so it can progress to the next step. At the top of the scale, none of the karmic categories bind the pure soul and thus it can be liberated.

Classes of karma

The Western game of snakes and ladders is probably based on a Jain visualisation of the unsteady progress of the soul through the cycle of rebirth. This 19th-century chart shows the uncertain path of spiritual development, involving many ups and downs.

Snakes and ladders
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The 148 categories of karma are classified into eight main groups – the mūla-prakṛtis. These are divided into several secondary sets – the uttara-prakṛtis. Each category is defined by elements, such as duration, intensity and quantity, and presents different aspects. Among those aspects, three are particularly important for the guṇa-sthānas:

  • bandha – bondage – the period after the karma has entered the soul and during which it remains dormant before producing its effect
  • udaya – maturity – when the karma comes into effect
  • sattā – existence – the total length of time the karma is bound to the soul.

Karma and the guṇa-sthānas

Three stages of karma during the 14 guṇa-sthānas
Image by Jérôme Petit © Jérôme Petit

At every stage of the guṇa-sthāna, certain categories of karma do not bind the soul any longer and others do not come to maturity or fruition any more. The existence of all the categories of karma is attested all along the scale. Some categories disappear in the 12th guṇa-sthāna.

The 11th stage is an important step as only one category of karma can bind the soul – the sāta-vedanīya-karman, which causes the feeling of what has been obtained. However, 59 categories of karma can still come to maturity. At the 14th and final stage, none of the categories bind the soul, but 12 categories come to maturity and 85 categories are still in existence.

Based on information given in Glasenapp 1915, this table presents details of the categories of karma – the prakṛtis – involved at every stage of the guṇa-sthāna.

Numbers of karmic bondage, maturity and existence at guṇa-sthāna stages

Guṇa-sthāna level

Karmic bondage

Karmic maturity

Karmic existence

























































The graph shows at a glance how progression through the scale provokes the fall of the karmic bondage.

Duration of karma

The types of human lives are shown in this painting from a manuscript. The length of life and many of the experiences of a lifetime are determined by karma, which comes mainly from behaviour in previous lives.

Kinds of human lives
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The theory of karma gives also an idea of the time taken by the karma to fall or mature. This is the duration – sthiti – calculated with a minimum and a maximum.

The minimum a karmic category binds the pure soul is one muhūrta – approximately 48 minutes. The maximum can total 70 koṭakoṭi sāgaropama – 7 x 10225 years. If the maximum is followed, it could be a very long path through the scale of perfection!

Eleven 'Steps of Perfection'

This manuscript painting shows the 'fourfold community' of Jains listening to a Jina. All four parts of the Jain community are crucial and interdependent. Lay men and lay women are shown on the top rows with monks and a nun below

Fourfold community
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

Progressing from the lay part of the Jain community to the mendicant element is understood to be very difficult. To help the lay person move from the fifth guṇa-sthāna up to the sixth, the Jain doctrine proposes 11 more steps – the pratimās.

The Sanskrit term pratimā means 'image' or 'statue'. In particular, it refers to the Jinas represented in art in the kāyotsarga posture. This involves standing as immobile as a statue, with arms held loosely alongside the body, which is seen as a model to follow because it is associated with very deep meditation.

The 11 steps are meant to allow lay people who wish to progress spiritually to live increasingly similarly to the mendicant lifestyle. The pratimās involve meditation and gradually renouncing activities and habits to improve self-control and improve detachment.

The table gives details of the 11 pratimās.

'Eleven Steps of Perfection' – pratimās


Sanskrit term

English meaning




step of belief

The lay person simply has a firm faith in the Jain teaching.



step of taking the vows

The believer becomes a full 'member' of the Jain community by taking the fundamental vows of all Jains, namely to:

  • never injure living beings – ahiṃsā
  • always tell the truth – satya
  • never steal – asteya
  • be chaste – brahmacarya
  • not acquire possessions – aparigraha.



step of equanimity

The lay person practises meditation in the posture of kāyotsarga and tries to consider everything with the same eye, giving the same weight to all points of view.



step of fasting during holy days

The devotee fasts on certain days, training to face the difficulties of fasting.



step of renouncing food containing living beings

The lay person pays attention to the habits of daily life by rejecting food containing living beings. Examples include roots and tubers, such as potatoes, onions and aubergines.



step of renouncing sexual enjoyment

The lay person renounces sexual enjoyment during the daytime, which is a first step before complete celibacy. It is sometimes read as rātri-bhukta-tyāga – the ‘renunciation of eating at night’ – which prevents accidentally harming living beings.



step of complete celibacy

The devotee accomplishes total celibacy.



step of renouncing daily activities

This step marks a real transition from the 'householder life' to that of a mendicant, in that the devotee does not take an active role in the normal duties of the household and business.



step of renouncing possessions

This step sees the lay person definitively leave the life of a householder by renouncing all possessions.



step of renouncing permitted activities

The devotee only eats what other people give him and does not cook his own food, which is permitted before this stage. Even advisory roles in standard household and business life are given up.



step of renouncing prescribed food

This point marks the lay person's final stage towards initiation as a mendicant. He or she is now ready to attain the sixth guṇa-sthāna and to take the vows of monk or nun.
The devotee lives with a group of ascetics, adopting the mendicant lifestyle. After this preparatory stage, the novice may progress to full initiation as a mendicant.
The Śvetāmbara tradition names this step the 'becoming monk' – śramaṇa-bhūta.
The Digambara tradition has more parts in this stage, namely the:

  • junior monk – kṣullaka – who wears three pieces of cloth, and the junior nun – kṣullikā
  • monk – ailaka – who wears one piece of cloth.

The Digambara belief that souls cannot be emancipated while embodied within women means that women are technically not permitted to become nuns among the sect. The highest pratimā level a Digambara woman can reach is the 11th stage, according to Wiley (2004). Therefore she remains a lay woman, although she lives as a mendicant and takes the vows of a mendicant, albeit with a slightly modified vow of non-attachment.

History and reception

This 1869 photograph from 'The People of India' shows a Jain merchant in Lahore, now in modern Pakistan. As part of the fourfold community, lay Jains donate money to temples and give alms to mendicants.

Nineteenth-century Jain trader
Image by J. Forbes Watson & J. W. Kaye © Smithsonian Institution

It is quite difficult to trace the history of these two scales of perfection in Jainism. Literary references are sparse until the first list of the guṇa-sthānas appears in the Digambara text called ṢaṭkhaṇḍāgamaTreatise in Six Parts, composed around the third century CE. The Tattvārtha-sūtra, the only scripture accepted as authoritative by both main sects of Digambara and Śvetāmbara, also mentions the guṇa-sthānas.

The most influential text to discuss the guṇa-sthāna is Nemicandra's two-volume work, the GommaṭasāraEssence of Mahāvīra’s Teachings. Written in the tenth century, it remained persuasive for centuries, especially among Digambaras. Writings on the scales of perfection became more technically involved during the 19th century, which may have helped reduce their readership among lay Jains.

Although nowadays Jains retain the idea of spiritual progression, the formal, highly technical theories of the scales of perfection are far less widespread than in previous centuries. Scholarly interest in the concept also seems to be quite unpopular, with the work of Von Glasenapp in the early 20th century followed some eighty years later by more modern research. Despite this lack of substantial academic investigation, scholars of Jain studies generally recognise the importance of the guṇa-sthānas in the journey towards liberation.

Early references

The Uvāsaga-dasāoTen Lay Men – is the seventh Aṅga of the Śvetāmbara canon and describes right conduct for lay Jain society. It does not evoke the guṇa-sthānas but mentions the pratimās. This text invites the devotee to reaffirm his faith in the Jain doctrine and encourages him to focus on his inner religious life. Thus the 'Story of Ānanda' shows how a lay man feels ready to progress through the stages of being an upāsaka, becoming the steady 'ideal lay man' who is the central figure of the text.

Then that Āṇanda, the servant of the Samaṇa, engaged in conforming himself to the standards of an uvāsaga. Perfectly, in thought, word and deed, he practised, maintained, satisfied, accomplished, proclaimed and completed the observance of the first standard of an uvāsaga according to the sacred writings, according to the rules prescribed in them, according to the right way, and according to the truth.
Then that Āṇanda, the servant of the Samaṇa, completed the observance of the second standard of an uvāsaga, and likewise that of the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, and eleventh standards.

Verses 70 to 71
translation by Hoernle, page 46, 1885

On the Digambara side, Kundakunda refers to the scales of perfection, mentioning both guṇa-sthānas and pratimās, but he never develops the theory. His own doctrine focuses on the purity of the self and follows an absolute point of view away from a conventional point of view where these scales take place.

The soul possesses neither stages of biological development (jῑva-sthāna) nor states of spiritual development (guṇa-sthāna), all these are modifications of the matter.

Samayasāra 2.17
translation by Zaveri / Kumar 2009

The one author to describe the scales is the philosopher Umāsvāti, whose authority is recognised by both Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras. In the ninth chapter of his Tattvārtha-sūtra, he evokes the guṇa-sthānas in their ancient form. Indeed, the scale begins with the fourth stage, at the very moment when the individual becomes a resolved Jain.

The first complete list is given in the ṢaṭkhaṇḍāgamaTreatise in Six Parts. It is a voluminous treatise seen as a pro-canonical text by the Digambaras and the ultimate source of their teachings. Written around the third century CE, it provides a simple list of the 14 stages without any technical information.

The 'Gommaṭasāra'

Inspired by the Ṣaṭkhaṇḍāgama, Nemicandra wrote in the tenth century a voluminous compendium named GommaṭasāraEssence of Mahāvīra’s Teachings. The work is divided into two books, with one each devoted to:

  • the soul, called 'Jīva-khaṇḍa', which lists the 14 guṇa-sthānas under the name of ‘compositions of the soul’ – jīva-samāsa
  • karma, called 'Karma-khaṇḍa', which goes into details of the karmic categories involved at each stage.

1) Wrong belief, 2) taste of right belief, 3) mixed, 4) right belief without self-control, 5) partial self-control, 6) complete self-control with carelessness, 7) the opposite (i.e. complete self-control without carelessness), 8) new process, 9) no return process, 10) war against the subtle passions, 11) pacification, 12) destroyed delusion, 13) Jina with still an activity, and 14) Jina without any activity must be understood as the fourteen compositions of the soul leading gradually to the realization.

'Jīva-khaṇḍa', verses 9 to 10


The Gommaṭasāra enjoyed great popularity among Digambara circles until the 18th century. The poet and merchant Banārasīdās provides a personal account of its influence in his autobiography, written in 1641. Inspired by the philosophy of Kundakunda, he believed that he could not devote his entire life to the realisation of the self or soul, because he was still attached to secular activities. Reading the Gommaṭasāra, Banārasīdās realised that one should act in harmony with one's place in the scale of perfection. He was then appeased and could continue to feed both his family and his inner life.

In the mid-18th century, the Digambara scholar Paṇḍit Ṭoḍaramal wrote a Gommaṭasāra-pūjā. This poem praises the qualities of the Gommaṭasāra, attesting to the long popularity of the text.

Increasingly complex theory

The theory of guṇa-sthānas then reached a complexity that lay society could not grasp easily.

In the 19th century the poet Daulatrām wrote a short treatise for lay Jains, called the ChahaḍhālaSix Chapters or Six Shields. This text never refers directly to the guṇa-sthānas but the chapters of the book are organised to form a progression from delusion to realisation that is similar to the 'Scale of Perfection' of the guṇa-sthānas.

Contemporary attitudes

Members of an extended Jain family outside a temple at Dīvālī. Festivals are popular times to take vows, which may be temporary or longer-lasting. Common vows include undertaking fasts or other dietary restrictions, remaining chaste or studying scripture.

Family at the temple
Image by pyjama – Ross Thomson © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Nowadays the notion of the 14 guṇa-sthānas seems to be more an object of study than a genuine practice among Jain lay society. The idea of a spiritual progression is certainly present but the technical aspects of the guṇa-sthānas do not seem to be very popular. At every stage of the guṇa-sthānas a certain kind of karma should ripen or fall, which is described by the treatises with great precision. A strong mathematical background is required to follow the theory, which perhaps means that most people cannot easily understand it.

Three main scholars have studied the guṇa-sthāna theory in particular. The German academic Helmuth von Glasenapp devotes to it a chapter of his thesis on the Doctrine of Karman in Jain Philosophy, which was first published in German in 1915 and translated into English in 1942. In 1996, Sagarmal Jain wrote an entire book on the guṇa-sthānas, followed in 2007 by Sādhvī Darśanakalāśrī.

P. S. Jaini and Nathmal Tatia also evoke the guṇa-sthāna theory in their studies as being a major element of the Jain path to liberation.


  • Sacred symbols in rice The nandyāvarta is laid out below three circles symbolising the three jewels of Jainism while the crescent at the top represents the siddha-śilā. The fruits represent souls at various stages while the auspicious symbols are in rice. Such offerings are common in temples.. Image by Cactusbones – Sue Ann Harkey © CC A-NC-SA 2.0
  • Fourteen guṇa-sthānas 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. Ascending the ladder of guṇa-sthānas takes many lifetimes and, once at the top, the next stage is the final emancipation of the soul from the cycle of rebirth.. Image by Shree Diwakar Prakashan © public domain
  • Snakes and ladders The Western game of snakes and ladders is probably based on a Jain visualisation of the unsteady progress of the soul through the cycle of rebirth. Depending on its karma, the soul takes birth in different states in any one of the three worlds. This 19th-century chart clearly shows that the path of spiritual development is uncertain and difficult, and may involve many ups and downs.. Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • Three stages of karma during the 14 guṇa-sthānas The three stages of the categories of karma during the progression through the 14 guṇa-sthānas. These are firstly, bondage – bandha – secondly, maturity – udaya – and, finally the existence – sattā. As the higher stages of the 'scale of perfection' are reached, all the stages of karma fall.. Image by Jérôme Petit © Jérôme Petit
  • Kinds of human lives The types of human lives are shown in this painting from a manuscript. The length of life and many of the experiences of a lifetime are determined by karma, which comes mainly from behaviour in previous lives. Examples of experiences that are shown include suicide, mendicancy and soldiery.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Fourfold community This manuscript painting illustrates the 'fourfold community' of Jains listening to a Jina preach. All four elements of the Jain community are crucial and interdependent. Lay men and lay women are shown on the top two rows while monks and a nun are on the bottom. All the figures are kneeling and raise their hands in a gesture of respect.. Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London
  • Nineteenth-century Jain trader This photograph from an 1868 publication, 'The People of India', is of a Jain merchant in Lahore, which is now in the modern state of Pakistan. Traditionally barred from jobs that may involve violence, historically many Jains have been traders. As part of the fourfold community, lay Jains make donations to temples and give alms to mendicants.. Image by J. Forbes Watson & J. W. Kaye © Smithsonian Institution
  • Family at the temple Members of an extended Jain family outside a temple at Dīvālī. Festivals are popular times to take vows, which may be temporary or longer-lasting. Common vows include undertaking fasts or other dietary restrictions, remaining chaste, studying the scriptures or donating money to charity.. Image by pyjama – Ross Thomson © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Further Reading

Samayasāra Nāṭaka: Bhāshāṭīkā Sahita
edited by Buddhilāla Śrāvaka
Śrī Vītarāga Sat Sāhitya Prasāraka Ṭrasṭa; Bhāvanāgara, Gujarat, India; 1976

Full details

Prākṛta evaṃ saṃskṛta sāhitya meṃ Guṇa-sthāna kī avadhāraṇā
Sādhvī Darśanakalāśrī
Rājarājandra Prakāśana Ṭraṣṭa; Rājagaḍha, India; 2007

Full details

Chahaḍhālā ṭīkā sahita
Māṇekacand Dośī, Maganalāl Jain and Paṇḍit Ṭoḍarmal Smārak Ṭrasṭ; Sampādak and Jaipur, Rajasthan, India; 2007

Full details

Pt. Daulatram’s Chhahadhala
translated by S. C. Jain
edited by Kusum Jain
Keladevi Sumatiprasad Trust; Delhi, India; 1993

Full details

Doctrine of Karman in Jain Philosophy
Helmuth von Glasenapp
translated by G. Barry Gifford
edited by Hiralal R. Kapadia
Asian Humanities Press; Fremont, California, USA; 2003

Full details

The Uvāsagadasāo, or The religious profession of an Uvāsaga: expounded in ten lectures, being the Seventh Anga of the Jains
translated and edited by A. F. Rudolf Hoernle
Bibliotheca Indica series; volume 105
Asiatic Society of Bengal; Calcutta, Bengal, India; 1880 and 1890

Full details

Guṇasthāna siddhānta: eka viśleṣaṇa
Sagarmal Jain
volume 87
Pārśvanātha Vidyāpīṭha; Vārāṇasī, Uttar Pradesh, India; 1996

Full details

The Jaina Path of Purification
Padmanabh S. Jaini
University of California Press; Berkeley, California USA; 1979

Full details

Samayasāra of Śrī Kundakunda
translated by Appaswami Chakravarti
edited by A. N. Upadhye
Bhāratīya Jñānapītha Mūrtidevī Jaina granthamālā: English series; volume 1
Bhāratīya Jñānapīṭha; Banaras, Uttar Pradesh, India; 1971

Full details

translated and edited by Jethalal S. Zaveri and Muni Mahendrakumar
Jain Vishva Bharati University; Ladnun, Rajasthan, India; 2009

Full details

Gommaṭasāra: Śrīmat Keśavaṇṇa viracita Karṇāṭaka-vṛtti, Saṃskṛta-ṭīkā Jīvatattva-pradīpikā, Hindī anuvāda, tathā prastāvanā sahita
edited by Ā. N. Upādhye and K. C. Jain
Jñānapīṭha Mūrtidevī Jaina granthamālā: Prākr̥ta granthāṅka series; volume 14, 15, 16, 17
Bhāratīya Jñānapīṭha; New Delhi, India; 1978

Full details

Gommaṭsāra: Jīvakāṇḍa
Nemicandra Siddhantacakravartin
translated and edited by J. L. Jaini assisted by Sital Prasada
Sacred Books of the Jains series; volume 5
Today and Tomorrow's Printers; New Delhi, India; 1927

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Gommaṭsāra: Karma-kāṇḍa
Nemicandra Siddhantacakravartin
translated by J. L. Jaini, assisted by Brahmachari Sital Prasada
Sacred Books of the Jainas series; volume 6 and 10
Central Jaina Pub. House; Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India; 1927 and 1937

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‘Banārasīdās Climbing the Jaina Scales of Perfection’
Jérôme Petit
Tracing Ancient India Through Texts and Traditions: Contributions to Current Research in Indology
edited by Robert Leach and others
Puṣpikā series; volume 4
Oxbow Books; Oxford, UK; forthcoming

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That Which Is: Tattvārtha Sūtra
Umāsvāti / Umāsvāmi
translated by Nathmal Tatia
Sacred Literature series
International Sacred Literature Trust in association with Harper Collins; London, UK; 1994

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Ṣaṭkhaṇḍāgama with Vīrasena’s Dhavalāṭīkā
Puṣpadanta and Bhūtabali
translated and edited by Hiralal Jain et alia
Jaina Sāhityoddhāraka Fund; Amaravati, Andhra Pradesh, India; 1939–1959

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Historical Dictionary of Jainism
Kristi L. Wiley
Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements series; series editor Jon Woronoff; volume 53
Scarecrow Press; Maryland, USA; 2004

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Literally 'limb' in Sanskrit, Aṅga is a term for the first category of 11 texts that form the Śvetāmbara scriptures. There were originally 12 but the last has been lost for centuries.


Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land.

Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.


Avoiding or stopping sexual relations, often after taking a religious vow. A celibate practises celibacy.

Common Era

The period of time starting with the year when Jesus Christ was traditionally believed to have been born. Using CE is a more secular way of dating events in a multinational, multi-religious world.


Not feeling attached to any things, people or emotions in the world, whether positive or negative. Jains believe that detachment from the world is necessary to progress spiritually towards the ultimate aim of freeing the soul from the cycle of rebirth.


An enthusiastic follower of a religion. Can also describe a keen enthusiast of an individual, concept or activity.


Sanskrit for 'meditation', one of the six internal austerities or tapas that help purify the soul of karma. Meditation is deep thought about religious doctrine or mental focus on spiritual matters over a period of time. An important part of many religions, meditation is especially important in Jain belief because it forms key elements of religious practice and spiritual development.


'Sky-clad' in Sanskrit, used for one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which monks are naked. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.


A principle or system of teachings, especially religious philosophy.


The 14 stages of spiritual development the soul passes through to gain liberation from the cycle of birth. The stages go from the state of delusion to the state of omniscience without activity, which is reached just before death of the body. When the body dies after the soul has attained the 14th stage, the soul instantly becomes liberated – a siddha.


Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.


A 'victor' in Sanskrit, a Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over karma and teaches the way to achieve liberation. A synonym for Tīrthaṃkara, which means 'ford-maker' or one who has founded a community after reaching omniscience through asceticism. The most famous 24 – Ṛṣabha to Mahāvīra – were born in the Bharata-kṣetra of the middle world, but more are found in other continents. There have been Jinas in the past and there will be some in the future.


Sanskrit for 'self', 'soul' or 'that which is sentient'. It makes up the universe along with ajīva, or non-sentient material substance. It is a material substance that changes in size according to the body it inhabits in each life. It is born in different bodies in various places in the Jain universe based on karma from earlier lives. The soul is liberated from the cycle of birth when it has achieved spiritual purity and omniscience. Also called ātma or ātman.


Action or act, thought of as physical in Jainism. Created by mental or physical action, karma enters the soul, which then needs religious restraints and practices to make it flow out. Karma can be both:

  • negative – deriving from harmful acts
  • positive – arising from beneficial actions.

Both types of karma trap a soul in continual rebirth. A pan-Indian concept, karma has extremely complex, detailed and technical divisions and subdivisions in Jainism.


'Passion' that causes activity, which results in new karma binding to the soul. It must be eliminated by restraints or austerities so the soul can be liberated. Passion may be attraction – rāga – or aversion – dveṣa – and has degrees of intensity. There are traditionally four passions:

  • anger – krodha
  • pride – māna
  • deceit – māyā
  • greed – lobha.

Also one of the 14 'gateways' or categories of investigation of mārgaṇā – 'soul-quest'.


'Absence of concern for the body'. This commonly refers to a standing or sitting posture of deep meditation. In the standing position the eyes are concentrated on the tip of the nose and the arms hang loosely by the body. The individual remains unaffected by whatever happens around him.


Omniscience, enlightenment or perfect knowledge – the highest of the five types of knowledge, where one knows everything wherever and whenever it is. It is extremely difficult to attain, equivalent to the 13th stage of spiritual purity in the guṇa-sthāna. Digambaras believe only men can achieve it whereas Śvetāmbaras believe that both men and women can become enlightened.


Digambara monk who lived in the second or third centuries CE. Little is known of his life but his mystical writings, concentrating on the soul and internal religious experience, have been enormously influential in Jain thought. Key works include Samayasāra, Niyamsāra, Pañcāstikāya and Pravacanasāra.


Believers in a religion who are ordinary worshippers, not clergy or members of religious orders. In Jainism, lay people are often called 'householders', indicating that they live in houses and have domestic responsibilities, unlike ascetics.


The 'liberation' of the soul from its body and thus from the cycle of rebirth because it has no karma and becomes omniscient. The ultimate aim of Jainism is to achieve mokṣa and become a liberated soul in siddha-śilā.


A man who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to formally enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, monks perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.


The Digambara mendicants are 'sky-clad' because they believe that all the Jinas and their male ascetic followers went nude as part of their vow of renunciation. This vow entails renouncing all possessions, including clothing. Female Digambara ascetics wear white saris and are thus technically spiritually advanced celibate laywomen. Śvetāmbara mendicants of both sexes, however, wear white clothing. The difference of opinion over whether the vow of non-possession includes clothing was one reason for the Jain community's split into these two major sects early in the Common Era.


A woman who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, nuns perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.


'Learned one' in Sanskrit and used originally for a Hindu brahmin scholar and teacher. Nowadays a Jain pandit is a scholar who has been educated traditionally and is expert in the sacred texts of at least one of the Jain sects.


The highest soul, the liberated soul, the Absolute, often used instead of siddhi. Jains believe that a soul or ātman can achieve liberation from the cycle of birth through its own spiritual development. This concept has been called God in Western thought since the start of the Christian era.


Matter. One of the five insentient material substances of dravya that make up the universe along with the sentient substance, jivastikaya.


The ‘three jewels’ that form the fundamentals of Jainism, without which spiritual progress is impossible. They are:

  • right faith – samyak-darśana
  • right knowledge – samyak-jñāna
  • right conduct – samyak-cāritra.


Giving up something. A lay person who becomes an ascetic renounces the life of a householder within society, instead choosing the physical hardships of being a monk or nun. The formal renunciation ceremony in Jainism is dīkṣā.


Sanskrit term meaning 'with a home’ – that is, a ‘householder’ or lay Jain. A synonym for a lay person, emphasising that he or she is a member of a household, with responsibilities to the family, community and society that a Jain mendicant does not have.


'Right conduct'. A person who has faith in the principles of Jainism and knows them should put them into practice. This is the third of the Three Jewels vital for spiritual progress.


'Right insight' or the proper view of reality, which means faith in the principles of Jainism taught by the Jinas. The first of the Three Jewels of Jainism and a necessary first step in spiritual progress.


'Right knowledge'. Once one believes the principles of Jainism, one has to learn them and know them properly. The second of the Three Jewels.


Sanskrit for 'community'. The Jain ‘fourfold community’ is composed of monks, nuns, lay men and lay women.


A classical language of India, originally used by priests and nobility. Sanskrit has a rich literary and religious tradition. With only a few thousand native speakers nowadays, it is predominantly used in Hindu religious ceremonies and by scholars.


Reality or truth. This is very important to Jains and the satya-vrata is the second of the mendicant's Five Great Vows and the lay person's Five Lesser Vows.


Set of sacred texts that believers accept as authoritative within a religion. Synonymous with canon.


Term for either everyday or material life, not the spiritual, or for a social or political system that concentrates on the material world, rejecting spiritual or religious influence. A secularist believes that religion has no place in fields such as education and politics.


The realm of liberated souls, at the apex of the universe. All the liberated souls – siddha – dwell there in eternal bliss.


'Hearer’ of the teaching. This commonly refers to the Jain lay woman, who follows the teachings of the 24 Jinas and is not a member of the clergy or a religious order. The masculine form is śrāvakā.


A Jain lay man, similar to the term śrāvaka. The feminine form is upāsikā.


Vows are extremely important in Jain religious life. Mendicants take the compulsory Five Great Vows – mahā-vratas – as part of their initiation – dīkṣā

Lay people can choose to take 12 vows, which are divided into:

  • aṇu-vratas – 'Five Lesser Vows'
  • guṇa-vratas – three supplementary vows
  • śikṣā-vratas – four vows of spiritual discipline

All of these vows are lifelong and cannot be taken back. The sallekhana-vrata is a supplementary vow to fast to death, open to both ascetics and householders. 

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