Article: The 'Three Gems'

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Order of the three gems

When they define the triplet, Jain authors insist on a certain sequence of the terms, which obeys logic and rationality. The standard order of the 'three gems' follows a process of understanding and action.

This is clearly stated in the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra:

There is no (right) conduct without right belief, and it must be cultivated (for obtaining) right faith; righteousness and conduct originate together, or righteousness precedes (conduct). Without (right) faith there is no (right) knowledge, without (right) knowledge there is no virtuous conduct, without virtues there is no deliverance, and without deliverance there is no perfection

chapter 28, verse 29 to 30
translation by Hermann Jacobi, 1895: 156

Thus the first element of samyag-darśana – ‘right faith’ or ‘right perception’ – refers to the initial act of accepting the doctrine in general.

‘Right knowledge’ – samyag-jñāna – is the second stage, where the follower understands the details of the principles.

‘Right conduct’ – samyak-cāritra – comes last as it refers to whatever relates to practice and ethics. It presupposes knowledge of the principles. For instance, the knowledge of what life is and how many organisms it includes is necessary to observe the vow of non-violence in all its aspects.

Variations in the sequence may arise for metrical reasons if the list takes place in a verse, like the passage from the Yoga-śāstra quoted above. In this verse, Hemacandra uses the variant śraddhāna – ‘belief’ – instead of the standard term darśana.

Unity of the three gems

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 three gems can be thought of as summarising the steps towards liberation from the cycle of rebirths. The first gem is the vital first stage of the difficult spiritual path from total delusion towards self-realisation. The other two jewels constitute fundamental notions in later spiritual development. All stages of spirituality are defined in the guṇa-sthāna – 14 stages of spiritual progression.

Jains have always believed that spiritual development is completed in stages. Emancipation of the soul, which is the ultimate aim of Jainism, means destroying all the types of karmas that defile it. The karmas are hindrances to the attainment of omnisciencekevala-jñāna – and to the fulfilment of bliss. Karma is controlled and destroyed at successive levels of spirituality. There are no shortcuts to liberation, which lies at the end of an extremely long and challenging path. Even the Jinas travel this route, though they do it considerably quicker than other people. Because the three jewels together summarise the path, Jain teachers insist on the necessary association of the three gems.

Liberation is reached through the 14 stages of spiritual progression – the guṇa-sthāna. For instance, at the first and lowest stage, the soul is in a state of wrong perception or belief – mithyā-dr̥ṣṭi. The third stage – samyag-mithyātva – charts the journey between wrong belief and right belief. Right belief definitely comes in the fourth stage, called samyag-dr̥ṣṭi. The path to right knowledge and right conduct is traced in the rest of the 14 steps of the 'scale of perfection'.

At the 13th stage, both belief – samyag-darśana – and knowledge – samyag-jñāna – are in their perfect form, yet this is not the stage of liberation because perfect conduct is not reached in the penultimate level. Perfect conduct is reached in the 14th stage, whereupon liberation – mokṣa – can take place. In this context, samyak-cāritra means both dispassion and total absence of activity (Sukhlalji 1974: 3).

The famous 20th-century Jain saint and philosopher Rājacandra expresses in the Gujarati-language Ātma-siddhiSelf-Realisation – the itinerary of someone aspiring to the realisation of the soul:

If such aspirants to soul-realisation get wise (guidance) of a True teacher, they acquire Right Belief [samakita, the Gujarati form of samyaktva = samyag-darśana], and lead a life of internal purification. He[,] who giving up bias for (one’s particular) school of thought and religion, follows the precept of the True Teacher, gets pure Right Belief. In it there is neither distinction nor party (or partisanship). (He) lives in the nature of one’s own self, believes in the experience (of one’s own realisation), is continuously attentive to one’s own inner nature – (such are the marks of one who has the) highest Right Belief. This Right Belief increasing, removes false belief. Then rises right conduct (cāritra), and the soul abides in or attains the dignity or status of non-attachment. Living in the perfect knowledge of the full nature of one’s self, this is called Perfect Knowledge (kevala-jñāna). (This is attained in human body and though) the body is retained, there is Liberation.

Ātma-siddhi, 109–113
translation by J. L. Jaini 1923: 88–91

The 18th-century Digambara mystical poet Dyānatrāy, on the other hand, explains how the triple gem itself is reached:

The auspicious gems
are god, scripture and guru.
They create the triple gem
of faith, knowledge and conduct.

Cort 2003: 289

Conventional and absolute viewpoints

The triplet is thus the means to reach liberation. In the tradition of thought that distinguishes a 'conventional' viewpoint and an 'absolute' viewpoint for each notion, it is restricted to a means.

The conventional viewpoint – vyavahāra-naya – stresses religious practices as a central part of spiritual practice whereas the absolute viewpoint – niścaya-naya – focuses on realising the soul directly, without rituals. The Digambara philosopher Kundakunda is the first to express this point clearly:

From the conventional viewpoint, conduct, faith and knowledge are indicated [as attributes] of the knower [= the soul]. But [from the absolute viewpoint] there is neither knowledge, nor conduct nor faith; the [soul as] knower is pure.

Samayasāra 1.7
translation by Nalini Balbir

A commentator on this verse explains it through a comparison. He says that fire is always one and the same, yet burning, cooking and shining are mentioned as its properties, in relation to different purposes or external factors. In the case of a complex reality such as the soul, the teacher distinguishes between its different characteristics in order to make the student understand what it is (Chakravarti 1971: 17).

Thus the triplet, consisting of three components, is an empirical conception – a 'conventional' view – while in the transcendental or 'absolute' conception, the soul is ultimately pure consciousness (Jainendra Siddhānta Kośa volume 3: 389 under ratnatraya).

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