Article: Jain beliefs

Contributed by Jasmine Kelly

The fundamental aim of the Jain faith is to perfect the soul, which can be done only by following the teachings of the Jinas. Jains believe that the 24 Jinas revealed the essential truths of the universe and provided guidance to reaching liberation from the cycle of rebirth.

The teachings of the most recent Jina, Mahāvīra, were set down in the scriptures, which state the principal concepts Jains should believe and by which they should live. Over the centuries teachers and thinkers have written extensively on Jain beliefs and the rules of living that support them. Living according to these rules, whether mendicant or lay, puts religious principles into practice and helps Jains develop spiritually and eventually gain emancipation.

The most basic beliefs are the seven or nine tattvas, which comprise the universe. Accepting these fundamental concepts is the definition of a Jain believer. These principles are the bedrock of further Jain beliefs, such as the soul, karma and knowledge. The Jain notion of the soul or selfjīva – is unique. Spiritual fulfilment to Jains is the return of the soul to its original purity, free of the karmas that trap it in the cycle of rebirth. Karma clouds the inherent, bright purity of the soul, sticking to and permeating it, weighing it down. The 14 stages of the 'scale of perfection'guṇa-sthāna – chart the soul's progress in ridding itself of karmas and developing spiritually. The soul's spiritual level can also be seen in the leśyā staining it particular colours.

Knowledge is needed to recognise the delusions of the world, with omniscience or absolute knowledge the highest type of knowledge. The salvation of the soul – mokṣa – comes after omniscience, when there are no karmas bound to it. The road to emancipation from the cycle of births is long and difficult, lasting numberless lifetimes. The karma attached to a soul means it is reborn in different lives, a cyclical process that lasts for aeons until the soul is free of all karma. In each lifetime the soul exists in a different type of body, depending on the karma it has accrued in previous lifetimes, which are generated by behaviour and mental attitudes. The conviction that life pervades the universe and is interconnected underlies the most famous Jain principle of ahiṃsānon-violence. Observing this tenet explains many Jain practices.

All attachments to things of the world create karmas, which hinder the soul's attributes. Monks and nuns aim to achieve complete detachment, which is made easier by renouncing the world. Making vows of renunciation also aids the self-awareness and detachment of an ideal Jain follower. The various types of vows are an important part of religious practice because they are a kind of asceticism, which burns karma. Mendicants take five 'great vows'māha-vratas – while the laity can take the aṇu-vratas – 'lesser vows'. These are limited versions of the mendicant vows, tailored to work within the lay lifestyle.

The concept of the 'three gems'ratna-traya – summarises Jain doctrine, grouping it into three elements. Karma is gradually destroyed and spirituality grows from following the three principles, ultimately resulting in liberation. The jewels provide the starting point for other Jain principles and beliefs and their associated practices. The quality of 'right asceticism' – tapas – is often dubbed the 'fourth gem', reflecting the crucial part of ascetic practices within Jainism.

The two main, related notions in Jain philosophy are anekānta-vāda and syād-vāda. Jains believe that reality has many aspects and the term anekānta-vāda means that it cannot be understood from just one angle. The term can be translated as the doctrine of 'truth from many viewpoints' or 'non-one-sidedness'. The concept of syād-vāda is frequently rendered as the doctrine of 'qualified assertion' or 'assertion of possibilities' and means that any assertion or statement about something is true only in those specific circumstances. Thus it implies that generalising is unwise because all situations are unique, even though the differences may be subtle. Overall, Jain philosophy suggests that human beings can understand the complex truth of reality only to a limited degree. Nothing is absolute and final, and different viewpoints may be equally valid and accurate, because they come from differing perspectives. Jains believe that full understanding of reality arrives only with the attainment of perfect knowledge, which is part of enlightenment.

Even though it is an ancient religion, Jainism may be considered in modern scientific terms. Traditional Jain beliefs can also be presented as four 'Noble Truths'. The first three lay out principles that may be called the 'science of the soul' while the last describes how Jain beliefs and practices lead to liberation.

Jain beliefs offer a contrast to the Western scientific method. True understanding of self and reality are central to the Jain journey towards liberation. Traditionally, Jains do not distinguish between scientific and other types of knowledge, considering the world as a complex, interconnected whole. Western thought has developed by specialising in certain areas, with the break between science and other forms of knowledge particularly marked. However, viewing the world holistically is an emerging trend in scientific thought. It increasingly acknowledges that reality is an extremely convoluted web of relationships, which can most fruitfully be approached from many different perspectives. This is one way Jain traditions continue to be relevant in the 21st century.

'Fundamentals of existence'

Becoming a follower of the Jinas involves accepting and understanding the proper view of reality, which they taught. All other Jain beliefs stem from these seven 'fundamentals of existence' – tattvas. These are:

  1. the sentience of the soul, which is found in many physical forms – jīva
  2. that some things do not have souls – ajīva
  3. influx of karma to the soul – āsrava
  4. binding of karma to the soul – bandha
  5. stopping the influx of karma – saṃvara
  6. separating existing karma from the soul – nirjarā
  7. liberation of the soul – mokṣa.

The seven tattvas are described in the Tattvārtha-sūtra, the key statement of Jain principles that is accepted as the basic religious text by all Jain sects.

Two more tattvas are often added, namely:

  1. meritorious action – puṇya
  2. negative action – pāpa.

These nine principles are analysed in detail in the Navatattva-prakaraṇas. Available in shorter and longer recensions, these are among the works that form the basis of the monastic curriculum.

Soul

A typical Digambara representation of a siddha, shown as an empty space. This underlines the idea that a siddha has no body and is a soul that has recovered its original purity. It regains this purity when it is liberated from the cycle of rebirth. In thi

Image of a siddha
Image by Hindi Granth Karyala © Public domain

The Jain faith revolves around the notion of the soul – jīva. The ultimate objective of the Jain religion is for the soul to attain self-realisation, which is liberation.

The soul is a concept found in many religions but Jain beliefs about the soul or self are very distinctive. In Jain cosmology the soul is a pure substance with:

  • consciousness – caitanya
  • energy – vīrya
  • bliss – sukha.

The soul always has these qualities – guṇas – and others, regardless of the body it inhabits.

Souls are found within many types of living beings, ranging from those with one sense to those with five. A soul contracts or expands to fill the available space inside a body, from a tiny, one-celled nigoda to a five-sensed blue whale.

The soul is a non-material substance – dravya – and there are infinite numbers of individual souls. They are all bound in the cycle of rebirthsaṃsāra – by the karma generated by the bodies within which they exist, until they are liberated from flesh and ascend to the siddha-śilā. There, at the top of the universe, all the siddhas – liberated, disembodied, perfect souls – exist in permanent bliss.

The opposite of jīva is ajīva, which can be described as the absence of soul. Ajīva is found in non-living things. Both forms of matter make up the universe, according to Jain cosmology.

Karma

This manuscript painting shows the structure of four of the seven hells in the triple world of traditional Jain cosmology. The lower one lives, the more one suffers. Souls are born in hellish bodies in the cycle of birth because they have created negative

Structure of four hells
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Another key Jain belief is karma. The soul is trapped in the cycle of rebirthsaṃsāra – by karma. In the cycle of births, the soul – jīva – is born into many different types of body – kāya – each with attachments to its world, including passions or emotions. Thoughts, speech and action create different types of karman or karma, which are bound to the soul, weighing it down and obscuring its shining brightness. To regain its original pure condition, the soul must rid itself of karma by progressing spiritually.

The concept of karma is found in other religions that originated in the Indian subcontinent, such as Buddhism and Hinduism. However, the Jain notion of karma is unique, as it is considered a physical material that gets stuck to the soul. It is a type of pudgala – highly subtle matter – that is insentient.

Karma is a highly complex notion for Jains, with 148 kinds grouped into eight main categories – the mūla-prakṛtis – each of which has different effects. These eight categories are classified into the uttara-prakṛtis. Each type of karma is defined by elements, such as duration, intensity and quantity, and presents different aspects.

The various types of karma influence different elements of a birth and future births. For example the lifespan of a living being is determined by its āyus-karma.

'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.

Omniscience

A manuscript painting of the universal gathering and fourfold community. The universal gathering is the place and event when a Jina preaches to sentient beings. The fourfold community – saṇgha – is made up of monks, nuns, lay men and lay women

Universal gathering and fourfold community
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Absolute knowledge – kevala-jñāna – is omniscience or enlightenment and is a prerequisite to achieving liberation. Absolute or perfect knowledge is the highest of the five different types. An omniscient person knows everything that ever happened, is happening or will happen in all parts of the universe.

The hardest type of knowledge to achieve, enlightenment occurs in the 13th stage of spiritual purity in the guṇa-sthāna. All karma is destroyed when reaching omniscience so an omniscient individual becomes liberatedmokṣa – on death.

Someone who is enlightened is called a kevalin. All Jinas attain omniscience before reaching mokṣa but not all kevalins are Jinas. Kevalins do not teach others whereas each Jina founds a fourfold community of lay men, lay women, monks and nuns, and preaches the way to achieve salvation.

Digambaras believe that only men can attain omniscience but Śvetāmbaras believe that both men and women can become enlightened.

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)

Liberation means the freeing of the soul from the cycle of birthmokṣa – so it regains its original purity. On the death of the body in which it dwells, instead of being born into another body the liberated soul – siddha – flies up to the siddha-śilā. At the apex of the universe, this is where all the liberated souls exist as separate perfect beings in permanent ecstasy.

When it experiences mokṣa the soul is liberated from flesh and is perfected. Emancipation is also known as nirvāṇa. This is the ultimate goal of the Jain religion.

Humans are the only beings that can be liberated but not all humans are considered capable of reaching emancipation. Only perfect mendicants can develop spiritually enough to reach salvation because they achieve complete detachment, which reduces karma. Such detachment is impossible for lay people, who must live in the world and take part in life in the family and community, to varying degrees. This is why only mendicants, who leave behind the householder life, can move towards liberation.

The question of whether women can attain mokṣa is answered differently in the various Jain sects. The Digambara tradition holds that women cannot reach emancipation because they can never achieve the total detachment that is necessary. In contrast, the Śvetāmbara sects assert that women can accomplish salvation.

Cycle of birth

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

One of the principal Jain beliefs is that an unliberated soul exists within the physical form of one body, dies and is then born in another life and body. This process continues until the soul has rid itself of all karma. Only then is it liberated from the cycle of birthssaṃsāra – which is often referred to as the ocean of rebirth. Jinas are often described as Tīrthaṃkaras or ford-makers, who cross the ocean of rebirth to liberationmokṣa – and create a ford for others to follow them.

The body and life into which a soul is born vary depending on the karma it has accumulated in previous lives. Only those souls that reduce their karma by practising austeritiestapas – can develop spiritually enough to progress up the scale of perfectionguṇa-sthāna. Over many many lifetimes, souls gradually reach the top of the scale and are then liberated from the cycle of rebirth.

Behaving badly – meaning, against Jain principles – in one birth means that certain karmas become attached to the soul and result in rebirth in a non-human body. Then it is more difficult to gain karmas that enable rebirth in a human body. This is vital for liberation because, out of all the types of living beings in the Jain universe, only human beings can be liberated.

A soul is usually reborn countless times in different lifetimes, sometimes developing spiritually, sometimes deteriorating spiritually. Spiritual progress is not normally a straightforward process, demonstrated in the Jain game of gyanbazi, which is similar to the Western game of snakes and ladders.

Types of bodies

Some types of living beings are illustrated in this manuscript painting. Over the course of the cycle of birth, a soul is born into various types of body according to the karma that has become attached to it. This painting shows examples of these beings.

Examples of types of living beings
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

During its time in the cycle of birth, the soul is reborn in different conditions depending on the karma gathered in various lifetimes. There are four conditions or mode of rebirthgatis:

  • human being – manuṣya-gati
  • god or heavenly being – deva-gati
  • animal or plant – tiryag-gati
  • infernal being – naraka-gati.

Living beings are also classified by the number of senses they have. The single sense of touch is the most basic and is found in the simplest form of life – nigoda – and other beings that exist in elements such as fire, water, air and earth. Human beings, gods and hellish beings have five senses

The more advanced a soul’s spirituality, the more senses its body has during this birth or lifetime.

Non-violence

The most important Jain principle is ahiṃsā. Usually translated into English as 'non-violence', ahiṃsā is thus often understood as 'doing no deliberate violence'. A more accurate translation of the Jain concept might be:

  • 'doing no harm, whether deliberate or accidental'
  • trying to actively achieve whatever is required to protect living beings by restraining oneself.

It underlies the other principal beliefs and is the foundation of Jain religious practices. The vows of Jain mendicants and lay people are based on ahiṃsā, which forms the first of the five 'fundamental vows'.

Jains must take care to avoid violent thoughts, speech or behaviour. Harming other living beings, even accidentally, creates karma that attaches to the soul, obscuring its purity and hindering its liberation. Avoiding injury to all living beings, which are all interconnected, is therefore vital to spiritual development. Deliberate violence is the worst kind but carelessness can also damage or kill living beings. This explains why carefulness and self-awareness are two of the key elements of being a perfect lay Jain or ideal mendicant, since these qualities minimise accidental violence.

Detachment

In Indian culture, the lotus flower symbolises spiritual purity and detachment from the material world. It features in many stories, including a famous parable Mahāvīra tells about following the right path to truth.

White lotus
Image by Haha169 © public domain

This is an important aim in practising the Jain faith because karma is generated by passions – kaṣāyas – or emotions, among other things. Being in a permanently calm condition free from passions, and thus karma, is a crucial stage in spiritual development. Passions are created by attachment to the world so spiritual progress requires utter detachment from the world.

When Jains renounce the lay condition to become monks and nuns, they detach themselves from all aspects of life in the world. This includes family relationships and concern for the physical body, such as tasty food, desire for warmth, comfort and personal cleanliness and the instinct to avoid or stop pain.

Jains who remain householders cannot achieve this level of detachment because they have duties to family and community. But they can work within these limits to progress spiritually. For example, they can attempt to avoid developing feelings of attachment to material things. The fifth aṇu-vrata formalises the idea of setting limits on material possessions, so that lay Jains can practise a degree of detachment.

Renunciation

Related to the goal of detachment, this concept means giving up things in order to progress spiritually. Renunciation is an important element in Jainism because it is an ascetic practice and asceticism is believed to destroy karma.

Jains renounce the world if they become mendicants, taking the five absolute vows. These vows can be described as the solemn rejection of certain behaviours and mental attitudes that generate karma.

Jains who do not become monks or nuns can also practise renunciation. They can do this by making formal vows, which can be temporary, or by just deciding privately to give something up.

Vows

Dressed in white, these nuns live by the strict rules of Jain mendicancy. The mahā-vratas – 'five great vows' – means giving up all attachments to family and secular life, and engaging in the 'wandering life'. Mendicant life aids spiritual progress.

Nuns walk down the street
Image by Eric Parker © CC BY-NC 2.0

Making vows – vratas in Sanskrit – is a significant part of Jain religious practice because they are a type of asceticismtapas – which is believed to burn karma.

There are different types of vows, but the most difficult are those associated with becoming a monk or nun. Initiation requires making the mahā-vratas or 'great vows', which are lifelong and arduous to keep.

Lay Jains can also move towards liberation by taking the aṇu-vratas – 'lesser vows'. These are limited versions of the mendicant vows because they are intended for life within the lay community. They are complemented by seven other vows. Keeping all these vows helps lay people live similarly to the mendicant life, in which renunciation and religious duties are central elements. The 'perfect lay Jain' makes all these 12 vows but taking such vows is rare among contemporary Jains.

Vows are hard to keep perfectly and the scriptures provide guidance for situations in which vows have been broken, on purpose or by accident. Confession – ālocanā – and penance make up part of the daily ritual of repentance – pratikramaṇa. Religious teachers set atonements – prāyaścittas – for breaches of vows and rules, which are normally fasts.

A well-known vow of the Jain faith is that of fasting to deathsallekhanā. Both lay and mendicant Jains can make this vow, which is rare and extremely difficult. Dying calmly under the guidance of a teacher can help the soul move to a higher spiritual stage in the next birth.

Five 'fundamental vows'

When Jains become mendicants, they swear to follow the 'Five Great Vows' – mahā-vratas: 1. non-violence – ahiṃsā 2. truth – satya 3. non-stealing – acaurya or asteya 4. celibacy – brahmacarya 5. non-attachment or non-possession – aparigraha.

'Five Great Vows'
Image by Shree Diwakar Prakashan © public domain

Both mendicant and lay Jains can take formal vows, but these differ in degree.

To become a monk or nun a Jain must take the mahā-vratas or 'great vows', which mark the passage into mendicant status. These 'absolute' vows direct all aspects of a mendicant's attitudes and behaviour, and are expected to be lifelong. The rules of the mendicant life support fulfilment of the vows, and mendicants frequently take additional vows. Keeping the five great vows and following all the rules that spring from the underlying principles are central to being an 'ideal ascetic', who reaches liberation.

Lay Jains can choose to take the aṇu-vratas – 'lesser vows'. The five aṇu-vratas are less rigorous than the mendicant versions because they are designed to be followed within the householder life, which involves duties to the family and wider Jain community.

Stressing the key principles of Jainism, these five vows are part of the concepts of the ideal mendicant and the perfect lay Jain. The vows require Jains to be highly self-controlled and maintain awareness of the implications of all aspects of their behaviour and thought.

'Three gems'

A Jain emblem found on the gate of a temple in India. It is made of several key Jain symbols, such as the cosmic man, the siddha-śilā, the three gems, svastika and open hand.

Jain emblem on a temple
Image by Shreyans Bhansali © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

This summary of Jain doctrine helps guide Jains towards liberation from the cycle of rebirth. The 'three gems' or 'three jewels'ratna-traya – is a term describing:

  • proper view of reality or right faith – samyag-darśana
  • proper knowledge – samyag-jñāna
  • proper behaviour – samyak-cāritra.

The three jewels form the basis of further principles and beliefs and their related practices. For example, samyag-darśana – 'right faith' – is the most fundamental, necessary condition because it means fully accepting the Jain concept of the universe and reality. When someone has 'right faith', it is the very first step in spiritual progress. Characteristically Jain beliefs and religious practices develop from this stage and from following the principles summarised in the other two gems.

Considered fundamental to the Jain faith, the triplet is discussed in numerous scriptures and is found in religious ceremonies and as part of auspicious symbols. It helps Jains progress up the guṇa-sthāna14 stages of spiritual progression – towards salvation. Only when all three are perfectly realised does the soul reach the final stage and become liberated from the cycle of rebirth.

To Jains austeritytapas – burns karma and is thus necessary to attaining liberation. Austerity in practice often means fasting. Although it is not formally a jewel of Jain doctrine, tapas is often described as the 'fourth jewel' in early Jain literature and is frequently referred to as such among contemporary Jains.

'Truth from many viewpoints'

This detail from a Śvetāmbara manuscript painting shows the mantra hrīṃ, which controls the false world that people experience. Often used in meditation or worship, it is frequently found in yantras, sacred objects or manuscripts as a powerful mantra.

Hrīṃ mantra
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The term anekānta-vāda may be translated as the doctrine of 'truth from many viewpoints' or 'non-one-sidedness'. Considered to be typical of Jainism, it means that the same reality can be seen from various angles and that reality cannot be understood from a single viewpoint.

Anekānta-vāda derives from the 24 Jinas, whose omniscience revealed full knowledge of all things everywhere at all times. The doctrine is a way of recognising that reality has many facets and no single point of view is correct. For human beings, who lack the perfect knowledge of enlightened souls, the full truth can be glimpsed in the partial truths of numerous viewpoints, even if they seem to contradict each other. The doctrine states that all views – naya-vāda, often called nayas or nyayas nowadays – have equal validity. One-sidedness – ekānta – which can be defined as asserting that a single view is the truth, is always to be avoided.

Among contemporary Jains, anekānta-vāda is often interpreted as an extension of the principle of ahiṃsā and may be used to describe tolerance of multiple, different viewpoints. It is especially applied to the doctrines of other religions. However, despite modern Jains' acknowledgement of the value of other faiths in aiding spiritual development, they hold that following the teachings of the Jinas is the only route to liberation.

'Assertion of possibilities'

The philosophical notion of syād-vāda is another distinctive Jain belief. It is usually translated into English as the doctrine of 'qualified assertion' or 'assertion of possibilities'. Human understanding of multi-facted reality is always partial and limited, but it can be known 'in some respects' – syād.

Syād-vāda means that an assertion is correct only in certain, very specific circumstances. The assertion cannot be applied accurately to circumstances in which one of particular four factors is different. Because there is always something different in two situations, even if they appear very similar or almost identical, the doctrine emphasises that nothing is absolute. Thus an assertion can be accurate about one aspect of reality but not about all.

To Jains reality has numerous aspects, which cannot be accurately described by human languages. The concept of syād-vāda is used with sapta-bhaṅgi-naya – 'formulation of sevenfold predication' or 'formula of seven assertions' – to describe reality. The term sapta-bhaṅgi-naya describes how one item, being or situation can be described accurately yet partially in seven ways. Together, these seven statements about something describe reality accurately and properly. For example, a soul may be defined as eternal because it has permanent qualities – guṇas – but it is not eternal because its modes – paryāyas – are always different in its various births. Both these statements are true, yet they counter each other.

The concepts of syād-vāda and sapta-bhaṅgi-naya are part of Jain philosophy, used alongside anekānta-vāda to explain reality. All these notions stress that reality is too complex for humans to appreciate with their limited knowledge. Complete understanding of the truths of reality comes with absolute knowledge, which can be gained only by people of advanced spiritual development.

Jainism in scientific terms

The 'Four Noble Truths' of Jain dharma are presented in the concentric circles. These show gradual progress towards the ultimate aim of Jain belief, which is becoming a siddha or liberated soul – that is, achieving mokṣa.

'Four Noble Truths' of Jain dharma
Image by K. V. Mardia © K. V. Mardia

A summary of the essence of Jain belief may be termed the 'Four Noble Truths'. A new coinage uses the vocabulary of modern science to describe the basic Jain principles of the soul and karma. For example, the concepts of karmic matter and the workings of karma though the cycle of rebirth are likened to photons and computers.

Contemporary research into emotional intelligence underlines the vital importance of listening and empathy to being a good lay Jain.

The four noble truths are related to other summaries of Jain doctrine, such as the 'three jewels' and the svastika.

Jainism and scientific thought

Final liberation requires complete understanding of reality, which has many sides and is unknowable from a single viewpoint. By following the teachings of the Jinas, an individual soul can develop this knowledge, which includes all forms of understanding. Thus Jain philosophy combines science and ethics in the route leading to emancipation, unlike the Western approach, which splits knowledge into different areas. To Jains spiritual questioning and scientific inquiry are paths to the essential truth.

The Jain faith emphasises the interconnectedness of all forms of life and the ethical nature of living and the quest for knowledge. These traditional viewpoints are surfacing in contemporary scientific research, which is starting to appreciate how things cannot be seen in isolation but must be understood by looking at all aspects.

Images

  • Image of a siddha A typical Digambara representation of a siddha, shown as an empty space. This underlines the idea that a siddha has no body and is a soul that has recovered its original purity. It regains this purity when it is liberated from the cycle of rebirth. In this cycle, karma causes a soul to be born into a succession of bodies until it progresses spiritually to enlightenment and then to liberation. The siddhas exist without bodies in the siddha-śilā at the top of the universe in endless bliss.. Image by Hindi Granth Karyala © Public domain
  • Structure of four hells This manuscript painting shows the structure of four of the seven hells in the triple world of traditional Jain cosmology. The lower one lives, the more one suffers. Souls are born in hellish bodies in the cycle of birth because they have created negative karma after committing violence or being very materialistic in their previous lives.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • 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
  • Stages of 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: 1) grasping the broad outlines; 2) reflecting; 3) gradually realising it could be an elephant; 4) certainty that it is an elephant. Manuscripts of the Cūlikās are traditionally not illustrated. These are 20th-century attempts to translate abstract words into figurative art characteristic of the Illustrated Agam Series, overseen by the Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsin leader Pravartak Shri Amar Muni.. Image by Diwakar Prakashan / Padma Prakashan © Diwakar Prakashan / Padma Prakashan
  • Universal gathering and fourfold community The universal gathering – samavasaraṇa – and the Jain fourfold community depicted in a manuscript painting. The universal gathering is both a place and an event, when the omniscient Jina preaches to all sentient beings. The fourfold community – saṇgha – is made up of monks, nuns, lay men and lay women.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Home of liberated souls This painting from a manuscript 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. After eventually reaching enlightenment and shedding all karma, a soul escapes the cycle of rebirth and rises to the siddha-śilā. Then the new perfect being exists with others in neverending bliss.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons 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
  • Examples of types of living beings Some types of living beings are illustrated in this manuscript painting. Over the course of the cycle of birth, a soul is born into various types of body according to the karma that has become attached to it. This painting depicts examples of these beings, such as a god, various animals, plants and insects. . Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • White lotus In Indian culture, the lotus flower symbolises spiritual purity and detachment from the material world. It features in many stories, including a famous parable Mahāvīra tells about following the right path to truth.. Image by Haha169 © public domain
  • Nuns walk down the street Dressed in white, these nuns live according to the strict rules of Jain mendicancy. Taking the mahā-vratas – 'five great vows' – means giving up all attachments to family and secular life, and engaging in the 'wandering life' – vihāra. They must seek alms and fulfil six duties each day, called āvaśyaka. The mendicant life helps them develop spiritually, moving closer to final liberation.. Image by Eric Parker © CC BY-NC 2.0
  • 'Five Great Vows' When they become mendicants, monks and nuns swear to follow the 'Five Great Vows' – mahā-vratas – for the rest of their lives: 1. non-violence – ahiṃsā 2. truth – satya 3. non-stealing – acaurya or asteya 4. celibacy – brahmacarya 5. non-attachment or non-possession – aparigraha.. Image by Shree Diwakar Prakashan © public domain
  • Jain emblem on a temple A Jain emblem found on the gate of a temple in India. It comprises several key Jain symbols, inside the shape of the cosmic man. At the top is the siddha-śilā, holding a liberated soul, and below are the three gems of Jain doctrine. Then a svastika symbolises the four conditions of being or the fourfold Jain community. Beneath this is the open hand of non-violence, containing the wheel representing the cycle of rebirth and the 24 Jinas. At the foot is a phrase from the 'Tattvartha-sūtra', often translated as 'Souls give service to one another'.. Image by Shreyans Bhansali © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
  • Hrīṃ mantra This detail from a Śvetāmbara manuscript painting shows the mantra hrīṃ. This sacred syllable controls the false world that people experience and is often used in meditation or religious rituals to help worshippers keep the truth in mind. It is frequently found in yantras, on sacred objects or in manuscripts as a powerful mantra.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • 'Four Noble Truths' of Jain dharma The 'Four Noble Truths' of Jain dharma are presented in the concentric circles. These show gradual progress towards the ultimate aim of Jain belief, which is becoming a siddha or liberated soul – that is, achieving mokṣa.. Image by K. V. Mardia © K. V. Mardia

Further Reading

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

Full details

Jain Cosmology
Colette Caillat
and Ravi Kumar
translated by R. Norman
Bookwise (India) Pct. Ltd; New Delhi, India; 2004

Full details

Commentary on Tattvārtha Sūtra of Vācaka Umāsvāti
Pandit Sukhlalji
translated by K. K. Dixit
L. D. series; volume 44
L. D. Institute of Indology; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1974

Full details

Cosmology Old & New: Being a modern commentary on the fifth chapter of Tattvārthādhigama Sūtra
G. R. Jain
Jñānapīṭha Mūrtidevī granthamālā: English series; volume 5
Bhāratīya Jñānapīṭh Publication; New Delhi, India; 1991

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

Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Tradition
Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty
University of California Press; Berkeley, California, USA; 1980

Full details

‘Colours of the Soul: By-Products of Activity or Passions?’
Kristi L. Wiley
Philosophy East and West
edited by Kim Skoog
volume 50: 3
University of Hawai'i Press; 2000

Full details

‘Evolution of the Jaina Theory of Leśyā’
Suzuko Ohira
Jain Journal
volume 13–14
1978–80

Full details

‘The Colours of the Soul and the Origin of Karmic Eschatology’
Erik Af Edholm
On the Meaning of Death: Essays on Mortuary Rituals and Eschatological Beliefs
edited by Sven Cederroth, Claes Corlin and Jan Lindström
Uppsala Studies in Cultural Anthropology series; volume 8
Upsaliensis Academiae; Uppsala and Stockholm, Sweden; 1988

Full details

Gender and Salvation: Jaina Debates on the Spiritual Liberation of Women
Padmanabh S. Jaini
University of California Press; Berkeley, California, USA; 1991

Full details

‘Ahimsa and Compassion in Jainism’
Kristi L. Wiley
Studies in Jaina History and Culture: Disputes and Dialogues
edited by Peter Flügel
Routledge Advances in Jaina Studies series; volume 1
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2006

Full details

Escaping the World: Women Renouncers among Jains
Manisha Sethi
South Asian History & Culture series; volume 8
Routledge Taylor & Francis Group; London, UK and New Delhi, India; 2011

Full details

Jain Vrata-tap
Saryu Vinod Doshi
Rajkot, Gujarat, India; 2002

Full details

‘Negotiating Karma, Merit, and Liberation: Vow-taking in the Jain Tradition’
M. Whitney Kelting
Dealing with Deities: The Ritual Vow in South Asia
edited by Selva J. Raj and William P. Harman
State University of New York Press; Albany, New York, USA; 2006

Full details

‘Fasting unto death according to the Jaina tradition’
Colette Caillat
Acta Orientalia
volume 38
Oriental Societies of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden; Stockholm, Sweden; 1977

Full details

A Handbook on the Three Jewels of Jainism: The Yogaśāstra of Hemacandra
Hemacandra
translated by Olle Qvarnström
Pandit Nathuram Premi Research series; volume 29
Hindi Granth Karyalay; Mumbai, Maharashtra, India; 2012

Full details

The Philosophy of Jainism
edited by Kim Skoog
Philosophy East and West
special issue; volume 50: 3
University of Hawai'i Press; 2000

Full details

‘Modern Science and the Four Noble Truths of Jains’
K. V. Mardia
Young Jains International Newsletter
volume 22: 1
February to May 2008

Full details

‘The Scientific Foundations of Jainism’
Shamil Chandaria
Jain Spirit
volume 1
March to May 2003

Full details

Many-Sided Wisdom: A New Politics of the Spirit
Aidan Rankin
O Books; Winchester, Hampshire, UK and Washington DC, USA; 2010

Full details

Steps to Liberation: 2500 Years of Jain Art and Religion
Jan van Alphen
Etnografisch Museum Antwerpen; Antwerp, Belgium; 2000

Full details

‘Women and Jainism in India’
Nalini Balbir
Women in Indian Religions
edited by Arvind Sharma
Oxford University Press; Delhi, India; 2002

Full details

‘Observations on the sect of Jains’
Henry Thomas Colebrooke
Asiatic Researches
volume 9
1807

Full details

Jains in the World: Religious Values and Ideology in India
John E. Cort
Oxford University Press USA; New York, USA; 2001

Full details

The Jains
Paul Dundas
Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices series; series editor John Hinnels and Ninian Smart; volume 14
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2002

Full details

Scripture and Community: Collected Essays on the Jains
Kendall W. Folkert
edited by John E. Cort
Studies in World Religions series; volume 6
Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard University & Scholars Press; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; 1993

Full details

Jainism: An Indian Religion of Salvation
Helmuth von Glasenapp
translated by Shridhar B. Shrotri
Lala Sundar Lal Jain Research series; volume 14
Motilal Banarsidass; New Delhi, India; 1999

Full details

La religion djaïna
Armand Albert Guérinot
Paul Geuthner; Paris, France; 1926

Full details

‘On Mahāvīra and his Predecessors’
Hermann Jacobi
Indian Antiquary
volume 9
1880

Full details

'Uttarâdhyayana Sûtra'
translated and edited by Hermann Jacobi
Jaina Sutras Part II: Uttarâdhyayana Sûtra and Sûtrakritâṅga
Sacred Books of the East series; series editor F. Max Müller; volume 45
Clarendon Press; Oxford, England UK; 1895

Full details

Religion and Culture of the Jains
Jyoti Prasad Jain
Jñānapīṭha Mūrtidevī granthamālā: English series; volume 6
Bhāratīya Jñānapīṭh; New Delhi, India; 1975

Full details

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

Full details

Collected Papers on Jaina Studies
Padmanabh S. Jaini
Motilal Banarsidass; New Delhi, India; 2000

Full details

‘Le Jainisme’
Olivier Lacombe
L'Inde classique: manuel des études indiennes
edited by Louis Renou and Jean Filliozat et alia
volume 2
Imprimerie Nationale; Paris, France and Hanoi, Vietnam; 1953

Full details

‘Une secte religieuse dans l’Inde contemporaine’
Louis Renou
and Marie-Simone Renou
Études
École Française d’Extrême-Orient; Paris, France; 1951

Full details

‘Women and the Reproduction of the Jain Community’
Josephine Reynell
The Assembly of Listeners
edited by Michael Carrithers and Caroline Humphrey
Cambridge University Press; Cambridge, UK; 1991

Full details

The Doctrine of the Jainas: Described after the Old Sources
Walther Schubring
translated by Wolfgang Bühlen
edited by Satya Ranjan Banerjee
Lala Sunder Lal Jain Research series; volume 15
Motilal Banarsidass; New Delhi, India; 2000

Full details

Mahāvīra and His Teachings
A. N. Upadhye, Bal Patil and Dalsukh Malvania
volume VII: 1
Bhagavān Mahāvīra 2500th Nirvāna Mahotsava Samiti; Bombay, Maharashtra, India; 1977

Full details

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

Full details

Glossary

Ahiṃsā

The principle of non-violence that is one of the five chief vows of Jainism.

Ascetic

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.

Asceticism

The practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition. Asceticism involves self-denial – for example refusing tasty food or warm clothes – and sometimes self-mortification, such as wearing hair-shirts or whipping oneself.

Buddhism

The religion founded by Buddha, often called the 'Middle Way' between the self-indulgence of worldly life and the self-mortification of a very ascetic way of life. Buddhism has similarities to Jain belief but some significant differences. For example, Buddhists hold that the world around us is a short-lived illusion and do not believe in individual, everlasting souls.

Caturvidha-saṅgha

The ‘fourfold society’ of Jain tradition, which is made up of ascetics and the laity, and of males and females.

Cosmology

A belief system about the universe that covers its origin, structure and parts, and natural laws and characteristics such as space, time, causality and freedom.

Deity

A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.

Detachment

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.

Digambara

'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.

Doctrine

A principle or system of teachings, especially religious philosophy.

Dravya

Substance. There are two main types of substances in the universe in Jain belief:

  • jīva – non-material, sentient substance
  • ajīva – substance without soul.

The second type is divided into pudgala – non-sentient matter – and the non-material substances of:

  • ākāśa – space
  • dharma-dravya – principle of motion
  • adharma-dravya – principle of rest
  • kāla – time.

The last is not always included in this category.

Fast

Giving up or limiting food or specified foods for a period of time, usually as part of a religious practice. Fasting is a key part of Jainism, chiefly because it is believed to:

  • help destroy karmas that bind to the soul
  • gain merit – puṇya.

Guṇa-sthāna

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.

Hinduism

The majority faith in India, often called Sanātana Dharma or Eternal Law. With no single named founder, Hinduism has a pantheon of gods and a range of different beliefs. Most Hindu traditions revere the Veda literature but there is no single system of salvation or belief, although many Hindus believe in the soul, karma, the cycle of births and liberation. Large Hindu communities exist in southern Asia, with smaller groups across the world.

Initiation

Formal or ceremonial admission into an organisation or group.

Jain

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

Jina

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.

Jīva

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.

Jñāna

'Knowledge', of which there are five main types:

  • mind-based and sensory knowledge – mati-jñāna
  • scriptural knowledge – śruta-jñāna
  • extra-sensory knowledge or clairvoyance – avadhi-jñāna
  • knowledge of others’ minds or telepathy – manaḥparyaya-jñāna
  • omniscience or absolute knowledge – kevala-jñāna.

With spiritual progress, one can gain the different types of knowledge.

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

Karma

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.

Kaṣāya

'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'.

Kevala-jñāna

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.

Kevalin

One who has attained omniscience. A kevalin is different from a Jina in that he does not teach the path of liberation to others.

Laity

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.

Leśyā

Karmic stain, the colour of which indicates a soul’s degree of purity. There are traditionally six colours:

  • kṛṣṇa – black
  • nīla – blue
  • kāpota – ‘pigeon-colour’, usually grey
  • tejas – ‘fiery’, usually red or yellow
  • padma – ‘lotus colour, usually yellow or pink
  • śukla – white.

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

Loka

The universe in Jain cosmology, composed of the upper, middle and lower worlds. Human beings can live only in part of the Middle World.

Mahā-vrata

The five vows taken by ascetics. Monks and nuns must follow these ‘absolute’ vows of:

  • non-violence – ahiṃsā
  • truth – satya
  • taking only what is given – asteya
  • celibacy – brahmacarya
  • non-attachment or non-possession – aparigraha.

The 24th Jina Mahāvīra added a fifth vow to his predecessor Pārśva's four, making the vow of celibacy not just implicit but a separate vow.

Manaḥ-paryāya-jñāna

Telepathy. The fourth of the five types of knowledge - jñāna - by which one has direct access to others’ minds. Humans in advanced states of spiritual development gain this kind of knowledge.

Mokṣa

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.

Monk

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.

Nigoda

The most basic form of vegetable life in which an infinite number of souls live together in a sub-microscopic body. Born and dying together, they breathe and eat together, and pervade the entire universe.

Nirvāṇa

Release from the bondage of neverending rebirths, in which an enlightened human being undergoes his or her final death, followed immediately by salvation instead of rebirth. Note that this differs from the Buddhist concept of the same name.

Nun

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.

Penance

A voluntary action undertaken to make up for a sin or breach of a religious principle, frequently an act of self-punishment or physical hardship.

Pratimā

A series of 12 vows that constitute 11 stages of progressive renunciation for a lay Jain. These vows are:

  • five aṇu-vrata
  • three guṇa-vrata
  • four śikṣā-vrata

Preach

To deliver a speech on a religious topic, usually given by a prophet or member of the clergy. It may be a formal task of a religious office or open to all believers in a religious faith. Often covering social and moral subjects, preaching may be intended to:

  • remind hearers of religious principles and rules
  • encourage piety
  • persuade non-believers of the correctness of the preacher's religious beliefs.

Pudgala

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

Renunciation

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.

Rite

A sequence of actions that must be followed to perform a religious ceremony. The set of actions is largely symbolic, for example offering food to statues symbolises sacrificing to a deity. The ritual actions are often accompanied by set phrases.

Sāgāra

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.

Sallekhanā

The progressive eradication of passions and other negative features in order to reach total spiritual purity. In practice, it is the ritual of fasting unto death.

Saṃsāra

Cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth caused by karma binding to the soul as a result of activities. Only by destroying all karma can this perpetual cycle finish in mokṣa – liberation. The karma gained in life affects the next life, and even future lives, for example:

  • in which of the three worlds the life is lived out
  • which of four conditions – gati – the body takes, namely human, divine, hellish or as a plant or animal.

Saṇgha

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

Sanskrit

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.

Sapta-bhaṅgi-naya

The ‘sevenfold predication’, a series of seven statements describing the various angles from which reality can be viewed:

  • in some respects it is
  • in some respects it is not
  • in some respects it is and it is not
  • in some respects it is not able to be expressed
  • in some respects it is and it is not able to be expressed
  • in some respects it is not and is able to be expressed
  • in some respects, it is, it is not, it is not able to be expressed.

Satya

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.

Scripture

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

Sect

An organised group of believers in a religion, often distinguished from other groups within the same religious faith who have differences of doctrine or practice.

Siddha

An omniscient soul that has achieved mokṣa. All liberated souls live in the siddha-śilā, at the top of the universe, in perpetual bliss.

Siddha-śilā

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

Śrāvaka

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

Subcontinent

The Indian or South Asian subcontinent is a term for the geographical area roughly covering modern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Śvetāmbara

'White-clad’ in Sanskrit, the title of one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which both male and female mendicants wear white robes. 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.

Tapas

Austerity or asceticism in general. A tapas is an act of austerity or self-discipline that produces bodily heat – tapas – that burns up karma. Austerities may be internal – mental – or external – physical. Both lay and mendicant Jains practise austerities. Fasting is the most common external austerity for lay people these days.

Vrata

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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Contents

Related Manuscripts

  • Snakes and ladders

    Snakes and ladders

    Victoria and Albert Museum. Circ. 324-1972. Unknown author. Late 19th century

  • Front cover

    Front cover

    Royal Asiatic Society. Tod MS 34. Unknown author / Bhavadeva-sūri. 1404

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