Article: Knowledge

Contributed by Jasmine Kelly

Knowledge – jñāna – is an important attribute because it is needed to progress spiritually, as it helps people recognise the delusions of the world. It is an inherent quality of the soulguṇa.

The Jains split knowledge into five types, which are linked to level of spiritual development. The highest type of knowledge is omniscience or absolute knowledge – kevala-jñāna. Once this has been reached, the salvation of the soulmokṣa – follows when the body dies.

The concept of the ratna-traya'three jewels' – associates spiritual level with the attributes of correct faith, knowledge and behaviour. True knowledge is fully grasping the teachings of the Jinas, which forms the basis of behaviour that aids spiritual progress. The development of different types of knowledge is also connected to specific phases in the guṇa-sthāna14 stages of spiritual progression.

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Types of knowledge

This manuscript painting depicts the shapes of divine clairvoyance – avadhi-jñāna. The first of the three types of 'direct knowledge', clairvoyance comes with advanced spirituality. The gods are on a higher spiritual plane than human beings but they canno

Shapes of divine clairvoyance
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Knowledge is one of the innate qualities – guṇas – of the soul – jīva – but may be obscured by karmas. All souls retain this characteristic, even those that are deluded by attachments to the world and thus ignore the path of liberation.

[the first gem of] ‘Correct faith’ may or may not exist, but knowledge or cognition of one form or the other always exists in a soul

Sukhlalji 1974: 18

Like the other qualities of the soul, knowledge has various modes – paryāyas – that change constantly. Knowledge – jñāna – has five modes, which are usually described as the five types of knowledge.

This table, based on page 112 of Wiley 2004, summarises the types of knowledge.

Number

Name

Meaning

Types of beings that have it

1

mati-jñāna

sensory knowledge, coming from the five senses and the mind

All living beings, even those that have only one sense, that of touch

2

śruta-jñāna

verbal cognition, implying language in gestures or words, especially knowledge of ‘what has been heard’. This means the tradition as handed down by the Jinas or scriptural knowledge

Five-sensed beings with the ability to reason

3

avadhi-jñāna

extra-sensory knowledge or clairvoyance

Beings in the heavens and hells are born with this but humans can gain it through specific practices

4

manaḥ-paryāya-jñāna

knowledge of other’s minds or telepathy

Human beings who are highly advanced spiritually

5

kevala-jñāna

omniscience or knowledge of everything everywhere, whether it relates to the past, present or future

Kevalins and Jinas

Three gems

This concept is a key Jain doctrine, which effectively summarises the steps towards liberation. The second gem or jewel is samyag-jñāna, which literally means 'correct knowledge'. Also translated as 'right knowledge' or 'proper knowledge', samyag-jñāna means fully understanding the basic truths. These are the tattvas or seven 'fundamentals of existence'.

Accepting the tattvas is the first step – first jewel – in being a follower of the Jinas but properly grasping these first principles is the second. The concept of right knowledge means the believer must completely comprehend the Jain view of the universe, including its cosmology and traditional history, frequently known as Universal History.

Significance

Found in Digambara temples, a śruta-skandha-yantra represents the scriptures and scriptural knowledge – śruta-jñāna. In the form of a tree, it has 24 branches showing types of sacred texts. This example in Tamil Nadu is surrounded by Jina images.

Śruta-skandha-yantra
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

Knowledge is a central element of Jain doctrine from the beginnings of 'right faith' to final liberation.

As a soul develops spiritually, freeing itself from karma, it acquires greater knowledge, until it accomplishes perfect knowledge – kevala-jñāna. This is achieved solely at the highest spiritual levels, shortly before final emancipationmokṣa. The possessor of perfect knowledge knows everything – whether past, present or future, and knows everything in all its modes.

Thus a soul can gain different types of knowledge with spiritual progress. But knowledge is also a way to advance spiritually, because 'proper knowledge' – samyag-jñāna – is required for 'proper behaviour' – samyag-cāritra or samyak-cāritra. Without knowledge of what is right and wrong, there can be no substantial spiritual development.

Related Manuscripts

Related Manuscript Images

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