Article: Liberation

Contributed by Jasmine Kelly

The definitive aim of the Jain religion is the final liberation of the soul – mokṣa – from the cycle of birth. Jains believe that the soul is caught in the cycle of rebirth – saṃsāra – and can only attain liberation when it is free of all karma.

Also called salvation or emancipation, liberation is achieved after a long process, which can last thousands of years or longer in the cycle of time. The soul is trapped within different bodies by karma, which binds to it and weighs it down. Produced by activities, karma affects the type of body into which a soul is born, and its condition. After the death of that body, the soul takes birth in another body. This process repeats – called the cycle of birth – and ends only when a soul has no karma. When its body dies, the soul is then released from all flesh instead of being reborn. This event is reaching liberation. After emancipation, the soul exists in the siddha-śilā.

The path to liberation is found in the scriptures, which record the teachings of the Jinas. Two concepts in particular guide Jains towards liberation. The 'three gems'ratna-traya – summarises Jain doctrine in a set of three easily recalled phrases while the 'scale of perfection'guṇa-sthāna – lays out the route to salvation in 14 steps.

Of all the beings in the universe, only human beings can be liberated. Jains agree that only mendicants can observe the level of detachment necessary for emancipation but there are sectarian differences over whether women can be liberated.

The Jain faith has similar theories to those found in other religions that originated in India. However, the major concepts in Jainism are unique, differing in key aspects from those of Buddhism and Hinduism.

This piece is a summary of the article "Liberation". The full article will be available soon.

Moving towards liberation

As one of the principal concepts in the Jain faith, liberation – mokṣa – needs to be considered alongside the closely related concepts of the soul, karma and rebirth.

The soul or selfjīva – in Jainism can be thought of consciousness or sentience. It is found in all living beings, and those objects that are not alive are ajīva – without consciousness. Each individual soul is embodied within one of all the various types of different living beings and is destined to be born into a new body when the present one dies. This process continues over eternity in what is called the cycle of rebirthsaṃsāra. The body to which the soul moves depends on the karma the soul has gathered in previous lifetimes. The soul reaches emancipation only when it has no karmas attached to it.

The soul is trapped in the cycle of birth by the karmas that are bound to it. Generated by the activities of mind, speech and behaviour, karmas arise from passionskaṣāyas – aroused by attachments to the world. Karma can be burnt away from the soul by asceticismtapas – such as fasting, and by spiritual practices, such as meditation. Detachment from worldly concerns helps stop new karmas being formed.

Spiritual development is not a smooth path. The interplay of karmas and the choices of living beings can result in birth as a spiritually advanced being being followed by life as a lowly being, perhaps even a hell creature. Therefore the soul usually takes numerous lives to progress spiritually to the point of having no karma. When it is competely free of karma, it becomes enlightenedkevala-jñāna. This perfect knowledge comes from the soul's realisation of its true nature and is the necessary step before liberation.


This manuscript painting shows the siddha-śilā. Found at the top of the triple world, on the forehead of the Cosmic Man, the siddha-śilā is the home of liberated souls.

Home of liberated souls
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Jains believe that a soul can become omniscient while it is within a living body. When the human being dies, the soul is not immediately reborn within another body. Instead, it is instantly emancipated from the cycle of births and regains its full nature, which is perfection. This is the moment of mokṣa.

The liberated soulsiddha – flies to the very top of the occupied universeloka-ākāśa – to join the other emancipated souls.

All of the siddhas dwell together in the siddha-śilā. Also called the siddha-loka or īśat-prāgbhārā-bhūmi, it is commonly represented in Jain art as a horizontal crescent shape. There each siddha remains a separate soul and experiences absolute bliss for infinity.

Guidance of the Jinas

A Jain temple-library holds sacred books, individually wrapped and labelled. The rice on the table in front is an offering left by worshippers. Jains consider their scriptures to be holy objects, with books often the focus of religious rituals.

Jain holy texts
Image by Malaiya © CC BY-SA 3.0

The 24 Jinas are considered to have revealed the unchanging truths of the world, which include the path to salvation. The followers of the Jinas – the Jains – can find the route to liberation in the scriptures and in the examples set by the Jinas themselves.

The notion of the 'three gems' or 'three jewels' – ratna-traya – summarises Jain doctrine, namely:

  • accepting the Jinas' teachings
  • fully grasping Jain principles
  • living in accordance with these tenets.

The 'fourth gem' of austerities stresses the importance of ascetic practices in destroying karma.

The 'scale of perfection'guṇa-sthāna – sets out the different stages of spiritual development in terms of the connected beliefs and practices. These two frameworks are key to observing the precepts of the Jain faith and progressing towards liberation.

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