Contributed by Jasmine Kelly
The Jain faith revolves around the notion of the soul – jīva – which can also be understood as sentience or consciousness. The ultimate objective of the Jain religion is for the soul to attain self-realisation, which is liberation – mokṣa – from the cycle of births.
The soul is a concept found in many religions but Jain beliefs about the soul or Self are very distinctive. For Jains there is an infinite number of individual souls. All souls are trapped by karmas in bodies within the cycle of rebirth until they reach liberation from the cycle of birth – saṃsāra. This occurs when a soul is free of all karmas and can realise its inherent attributes.
The innate qualities of the soul are obscured by karmas when the soul is embodied. The quantity and type of karmas bound to a soul stain it one of six colours. The soul's spiritual level corresponds with its leśyā.
Produced by activities, whether mental or physical, karmas are either negative or positive but all bind to the soul. Activities come from attachment to the world, which must be conquered to progress spiritually. The different kinds of karma attach to the soul, influencing the type of body it is born into in various lifetimes. Souls can be born into all kinds of living beings, but only souls born into human bodies can attain emancipation, by following the teachings of the Jinas.
Liberated souls – siddhas – are perfected and realise all their innate qualities. They exist without bodies at the top of the universe, in perpetual bliss.
Jain notions about the soul are similar to those of other religious faiths that first developed in India, but there are some key differences.
In Sanskrit, the soul or self is jīva – 'that which is sentient or has consciousness'. The opposite of jīva is ajīva, which can be described as the absence of soul. Ajīva characterises non-living things. Both forms of matter make up the universe, according to Jain cosmology.
In Jain cosmology the soul is one of the three types of substance – dravya. It is non-material, not made up of atoms or molecules. In its pure condition, the soul does not have material properties of colour, odour, form and taste. It is a pure substance with:
The soul always has these innate qualities – guṇas – although karma may obscure them. The first two attributes together produce consciousness – caitanya. This awareness or sentience is jīva and distinguishes this non-physical substance from the other two substances – dravyas – in the universe.
There are infinite numbers of individual souls. The soul is either embodied or disembodied. Souls within bodies have karma bound to them, dooming them to be born and reborn within the cycle of birth until they can rid themselves of all karma. Souls that exist outside bodies are perfected souls, known as siddhas – liberated souls – because they are emancipated from the cycle of birth. This final liberation of the soul – mokṣa – is the ultimate objective of the Jain religion.
Souls exist within bodies because they have karma bound to them. All souls are embodied at one stage, even those that have been liberated from the cycle of birth – saṃsāra – and are now perfect. To regain its original pure condition, the soul must rid itself of all karma by progressing spiritually.
There are many different types of karma, both positive and negative. Both kinds of karma limit and corrupt the soul, hiding its essential qualities and trapping it within the cycle of rebirth. Karma is both a product of the soul's embodiment and a source of it.
Being born into many different bodies, with attachments to the world they live in and passions or emotions, means the soul gets karma bound to it. A soul's level of spiritual development can be gauged by its leśyā.
Produced by the interaction between karma and soul, leśyā is a staining of the soul, making it certain colours. These six colours indicate spiritual level and have no bearing on the colour of the body.
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.
A soul that cannot attain the proper insight necessary for salvation – and therefore salvation itself – because it does not have the quality of bhavyatva.
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.
Title meaning ‘Enlightened One’ in Sanskrit and Pali. It is most frequently used for Siddhārtha Gautama, whose teachings form the basis of the Buddhist faith. He lived about 563 to 483 BCE in the north-eastern area of the Indian subcontinent, around the same time and in the same area as Mahāvīra, the last of the 24 Jinas.
His life story is similar to that of the Jinas in certain ways, such as:
After six years he reached enlightenment while meditating and from then on was known as Buddha – 'Awakened One' or 'Enlightened One'.
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.
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.
A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.
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.
A principle or system of teachings, especially religious philosophy.
Substance. There are two main types of substances in the universe in Jain belief:
The second type is divided into pudgala – non-sentient matter – and the non-material substances of:
The last is not always included in this category.
Follower of the majority faith in India and an adjective describing something belonging to Hinduism. Hindus have numerous gods and diverse beliefs and practices, though many believe in the soul, karma, the cycle of births and liberation. Roughly a billion Hindus comprise the third largest religion in the world.
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.
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.
'Knowledge', of which there are five main types:
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'.
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:
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:
Also one of the 14 'gateways' or categories of investigation of mārgaṇā – 'soul-quest'.
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.
Karmic stain, the colour of which indicates a soul’s degree of purity. There are traditionally six colours:
Also one of the 14 'gateways' or categories of investigation of mārgaṇā or 'soul-quest'.
The universe in Jain cosmology, composed of the upper, middle and lower worlds. Human beings can live only in part of the Middle World.
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.
Hell. There are seven levels of hells in the lower world of Jain cosmology.
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.
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.
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:
Matter. One of the five insentient material substances of dravya that make up the universe along with the sentient substance, jivastikaya.
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:
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.
An omniscient soul that has achieved mokṣa. All liberated souls live in the siddha-śilā, at the top of the universe, in perpetual bliss.
The realm of liberated souls, at the apex of the universe. All the liberated souls – siddha – dwell there in eternal bliss.
Wellcome Trust Library. Beta 365. Bhāvadeva. Probably 15th to 16th centuries
British Library. Or. 11921. Unknown author. 1488