Article: The 'Three Gems'

Contributed by Nalini Balbir


Becoming popular in the late 20th century, the Jain flag contains several holy symbols. While the colours represent the Jinas and the Five Supreme Beings, there are also the svastika, three jewels and the crescent holding a liberated soul.

Jain flag
Image by Jaume Ollé © CC BY-SA 3.0

The three jewels cover the central Jain principles.

Encompassing faith, knowledge and action, the concept embraces the different stages of progress towards liberation.

Each gem naturally leads to the next one, although the three elements are important at all spiritual levels.

Right faith

This crucial condition is the bedrock of being a member of the Jain faith. It requires that an individual accepts basic Jain beliefs, from which other principles flow. Samyag-darśana – ‘right faith’ – is defined as the:

firm conviction concerning the true nature of things

tattvārtha-śraddhānaṃ samyag-darśanam

Tattvārtha-sūtra, 1.2
translated by Folkert 1993: 115

This means recognising the existence of ‘that which is’ or ‘the fundamental verities’ (Sukhlalji 1974: 7 of the translation). These are the seven truths of Jainism – the tattvas – which are listed in the table.

Seven fundamental tattvas – truths – of Jainism






sentient souls



non-sentient or matter



influx of karma in the soul



bondage of karma with the soul



stopping the influx of karma



falling away of karma from the soul or cleansing off



liberation from the cycle of rebirth

To this list are sometimes added these two notions, which Wiley translated in 2004 (212) as:

  • auspicious varieties of karma’ – puṇya
  • ‘inauspicious varieties of karma’ – pāpa.

Recognition of these realities is an act of faith and is a prerequisite for further spiritual progress. Until someone recognises these notions as truths, he or she is the prey of ‘wrong’ or ‘incorrect’ faith – mithyā-dr̥ṣṭi – or does not have right faith in its perfect form.

This may happen if the individual is subject to one of the possible transgressions – aticāras – of right faith. These are:

  • doubt – śaṅkā – about one of the truths or the whole system
  • desire or inclination towards other doctrineskāṅkṣā
  • hesitation 'about the value of the results of various human activities' (Williams 1963: 46) or feeling repelled by Jain asceticsvicikitsā
  • admiring other sectarian groups – para-pāṣaṇḍi-praśaṃsā
  • overtly praising other sectarian groupspara-pāṣaṇḍi-saṃstava.

Whatever beliefs or practices are addressed to false divinities, ascetics or scriptures amount to wrong faith.

Right 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

Samyag-jñāna comes second in the triplet because it relates to the intellectual understanding of an object viewed in its details. Literally 'correct knowledge', it means grasping properly the fundamental truths. For instance, the individual first recognises that there are living beings and non-living beings. Appreciating that they are very different, the individual then knows what is what. In short, correct knowledge means properly understanding the Jain view of the world, in all its elements, including the Jain universecosmology – and Jain history as viewed by the tradition, which is known as Universal History.

‘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). Knowledge is an innate quality of the soul, but it is obscured by karmas until an advanced stage of spirituality.

Jains believe there are five types of knowledge. This table, based on page 112 of Wiley 2004, summarises the types of knowledge – jñāna.

Types of knowledge – jñāna




Types of beings that have it



sensory knowledge, coming from the five senses and the mind

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



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



extrasensory knowledge or clairvoyance

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



knowledge of other’s minds or telepathy

Human beings who are highly advanced spiritually



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


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