Article: The 'Three Gems'

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

The ‘three gems’ or ‘three jewels’ – ratna-traya – is the metaphorical expression often used for the triplet of correct faith, correct knowledge and correct conduct. Together, these form the Jain doctrine and are necessary to reach liberation from the cycle of rebirths, which is the basic purpose of the Jain faith. This is the path taught by the Jinas.

Since the three gems are fundamental to the Jain faith, they are discussed in many Jain writings. Early references, such as the Tattvārtha-sūtra and Uttarādhyayana-sūtra, describe the group of three concepts in detail but do not refer to them as the 'three gems'. Only in later texts does the term appear. Similar groups of three or four concepts are found in other religions, including Buddhism and Christianity, but there is no influence on the Jain triplet. Perhaps a group of related key concepts is easier to remember than separate principles.

The three jewels of right faith, right knowledge and right conduct can be defined as summaries of the Jain faith. Other principles and beliefs develop logically from the triplet, from which the various practices of Jainism arise. For example, samyag-darśana – right faith – is the first necessary condition of being a Jain because it entails fully accepting the Jain concept of the universe and reality. Only once an individual embraces right faith can he or she begin to make spiritual progress by accepting the other two gems and the principles and practices they imply.

This is why the three gems are always stated in this order and grouped together. The triplet helps Jains progress up the guṇa-sthāna – 14 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.

The 'conventional' and 'absolute' points of view in Jain thought distinguish between external ritual and inner self-realisation as ways of attaining liberation. Considered in this way, the three gems are conventional, since they form a means to an end.

The triplet is so fundamental to Jainism that it can be detected in all areas of religious practice. It can be seen in important symbols of the faith, such as the Jain flag and the svastika pattern frequently created as part of worship. The focus of a particular ritual among the sect of the Digambaras, it is accompanied by special mantras and hymns.

A 'fourth gem' makes its appearance early in Jain literature. Austerity – tapas – destroys karma and is thus vital in achieving spiritual emancipation. A very significant principle in Jainism, austerity is often practised as fasting and is believed to be vital to spiritual progress. Even though it is not classed formally as the 'fourth jewel', it is therefore commonly included in the concept of the ratna-traya.

Fundamental triplet

Jains strive to reach liberation from the cycle of rebirth and the triplet of the 'three gems' guides them on the journey. As the basis of Jain doctrine, the idea of the three gems is found in many written sources. Several religions have the notion of a summary or key principles of a religious faith distilled into three or four items that are considered together.

The three gems of Jainism are:

  • correct faith – samyag-darśana
  • correct knowledge – samyag-jñāna
  • correct conduct – samyag-cāritra or samyak-cāritra.

The epithet samyak or samyag applied to each of the terms is usually translated as ‘correct’ or ‘right’. Both are acceptable. ‘Right’ probably looks a stronger term but it is not out of place, as mithyā, the opposite Indian term, means ‘wrong’.

These three concepts are vital for spiritual progression and are deeply intertwined with the principles and practices of the Jain faith.

Sources

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

The triplet of right faith, right knowledge and right conduct is at the basis of Jainism, paving the road to liberation from the cycle of rebirths. It is defined as such in the earliest Jain sources.

Well-known early examples of references to the three gems are:

Indeed, the whole of chapter 28 of the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra discusses ‘the road to final deliverance’ (Jacobi’s translation 1895: 152) and is one of the central sources on the topic. Interestingly, it includes ‘austerities’ – tapas – as a fourth element. This relates to the third gem, which is concerned with behaviour.

Undoubtedly the best-known reference to the three gems is the first sūtra in the Tattvārtha-sūtra. It states that:

Right faith, right knowledge and right conduct are the way to liberation

samyag-darśana-j̄ñāna-cāritrāṇi mokṣa-mārgaḥ

Tattvārtha-sūtra 1.1

This text is generally agreed among all sects to be the fundamental statement of Jain belief. The entire Tattvārtha-sūtra elaborates these three notions as the path to liberation.

In both these texts, however, there is no generic term to refer to the triplet and the term ‘three gems’ is not used. The historical development that led to this term needs further investigation.

One of the most famous references to and definitions of the ‘three gems’ – Sanskrit ratna-traya – is found at the outset of an important Śvetāmbara treatise written much later. The Yoga-śāstra, written by the 12th-century Jain monk and teacher Hemacandra, states that:

Liberation is the foremost among the four goals [of human objectives], the means of which is yoga. This [yoga, which also is designated] the three jewels, consists of [correct] knowledge, faith and conduct. Here [in this Jaina system], the wise define correct knowledge as the understanding, either in detail or in brief, of the [seven] principles as they really are. [To have] a liking for [these] principles, explained by the Jina, is the definition of true faith. That [faith] arises either spontaneously, or [indirectly] through the knowledge of [one’s] teacher. [Proper] conduct is defined as the abandonment of all blameworthy activities. That [proper conduct] has been described as fivefold because of the division into the vow of non-harm and so forth.

Yoga-śāstra 1.15-18
Qvarnström’s translation 2012: 26-27

This passage first refers to the general Hindu conception, which traditionally counts four ‘human objectives’ – puruṣārtha. They are:

  • religious conduct – dharma
  • material goals, such as earning money – artha
  • satisfaction of worldly desires and pleasures – kāma
  • liberation from the cycle of rebirthsmokṣa.

In the Jain context, liberation is the most important. The means to reach it is yoga, which here literally means ‘conjunction, combination’. The combination of the three Jain terms is known as the ‘three gems’ or ‘three jewels’ in common Jain parlance today.

Other religions

Similar ideas to the 'three jewels' can be found in other religious faiths as summaries of key principles or elements. For example, Buddhism uses ‘the three gems’ metaphorically to refer collectively to the:

But there is no connection with or influence from one tradition on the other in this usage.

Similarly, right belief, right knowledge and right conduct are sometimes equated with ‘the holy Trinity’ (Jaini 1923: 23) in Christianity when the author wants to underline that Jainism is not peculiar.

Definitions

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

 

Tattva

Truth

1

jīva

sentient souls

2

ajīva

non-sentient or matter

3

āsrava

influx of karma in the soul

4

bandha

bondage of karma with the soul

5

saṃvara

stopping the influx of karma

6

nirjarā

falling away of karma from the soul or cleansing off

7

mokṣa

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

 

Name

Meaning

Types of beings that have it

1

mati-jñāna

sensory knowledge, coming from the five senses and the mind

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

2

śruta-jñāna

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

3

avadhi-jñāna

extrasensory knowledge or clairvoyance

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

4

manaḥ-paryāya-jñāna

knowledge of other’s minds or telepathy

Human beings who are highly advanced spiritually

5

kevala-jñāna

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

Jinas

Right conduct

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

The final gem is samyak-cāritra. Once the essential truths are recognised and have been intellectually grasped, the time for action comes.

The notion of ‘right conduct’ relates to ethics and practice. It encompasses a large number of categories that define proper behaviour for Jain mendicants and lay people. Given the difference in their ways of life, it is to be expected that the prescriptions vary for these two groups.

Rules for mendicants

The table outlines the types of rules regulating the behaviour of mendicants.

Rules for right conduct for Jain mendicants

Vows – vratas

Precautions – samitis

Protectionsguptis

five ‘great vows’ – mahā-vratas

Relating to precautions when:

  • walking – īryā-samiti
  • speaking – bhāṣā-samiti
  • accepting alms – eṣaṇā-samiti
  • taking and putting down the monastic equipment – ādāna-nikṣepa-samiti
  • excreting – utsarga-samiti

Relating to activity of:

  • mind – mano-gupti
  • speech – vāg-gupti
  • body – kāya-gupti

As well as taking five 'absolute vows', Jain mendicants should follow the precautions and protections. These two sets of rules are meant to reinforce self-control and, therefore, the mendicantlowers the risks of harming living beings. The rules thus contribute to non-violenceahiṃsā – which is the first, most important mahā-vrata. Primarily, respecting these prescriptions helps to prevent the influx of new karmasāsrava-nirodha or saṃvara – in the soul, which greatly aids spiritual progress. Related categories for mendicants are the:

Rules for lay people

The behaviour of lay Jains can also be regulated. Even though a 'perfect lay Jain' follows far fewer rules than a 'perfect ascetic', the lay vows are challenging. The lay vows amount to 12 and comprise the:

  • five 'minor vows' – aṇu-vratas – which are based on the 'great vows' of the mendicants
  • three guṇa-vratas
  • four śikṣā-vratas.

Each of the vows is supplemented by the description of possible transgressions – aticāras.

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).

Religious practice

Two svastikas are below the three jewels of Jainism. The crescent at the top represents the siddha-śilā and the line above it the liberated soul. Auspicious symbols made of rice grains and other substances are common in temples

Svastikas and other auspicious symbols in the temple
Image by Cactusbones - Sue Ann Harkey © CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0

In the course of time, right faith, right knowledge and right conduct have so often been known as the ‘three gems’ that this notion now appears in various areas of religious practice. The gems occur in symbolism, worship ceremonies, mantras and hymns. The Digambara Jains seem to favour it as an element of worship more than their Śvetāmbara fellows.

In modern times, the triplet is depicted on the Jain flag in the form of three dots on the same horizontal plane. The dots also appear as part of other symbolic representations of the Jain faith, such as the designs of rice grains lay Jains make on tables of offerings in the context of worship – pūjā. In its complete and most common form, this design shows:

  • at the top a dot and crescent moon symbolising final liberation from the cycle of rebirthssiddhi or mokṣa
  • the three dots symbolising the three gems that are the path to liberation
  • the svastika symbolising the four possible types of rebirths – gati (example in Wiley 2004: 130; Cort 2001: 17).

Religious practices centring on the three gems seem to be more popular among Digambara circles. Or, at least, more evidence is available from this sect.

The diagrams known as ratna-traya-yantras – ‘three-jewel diagrams’ – focus on the triplet, with relevant formulas – mantras – inscribed in their centres. These mantras either venerate each of the three jewels individually or pay ‘homage to right faith, right knowledge and right conduct’ in Sanskritsamyag-darśana-jñāna-cāritrebhyo namaḥ (see drawings in Jainendra Siddhānta Kośa, volume 3, 1987: 358).

These diagrams may be used in connection with ‘worship of the three gems’ – ratna-traya-pūjā. Accompanied by hymns, in Sanskrit or in the vernaculars, each term is praised, with its details described (Jñānapīṭha Pūjāñjali 1957: 220–289; 313–323).

Both diagrams and hymns of worship appear in the performance of the ratna-traya-vrata – ‘specific observance relating to the three gems’. A Digambara manual describing the ceremony says that the three-gem observance should be undertaken in the months of:

  • Bhādrapada
  • Caitra
  • Māgha.

It implies forms of fasting and, more specifically, recitation of the formula ‘homage to right faith, right knowledge and right conduct’ every morning  (Siṃhanandī Vrata-tithi-nirṇaya 1956: 195–196). The duration of the observance varies on the ability of the performer. Worshippers should draw a relevant diagram – yantra – either in their own house or in a temple, near a Jina image.

Fourth gem

At the end of his fast a man is fed sugar-cane juice. Many lay people fast during festivals. Believed to help destroy karmas bound to the soul, fasting is also a way of gaining merit – puṇya. The ending of a fast is usually a time of celebration.

Completing a fast
Image by Chandu Shah © Chandu Shah

A significant aspect of right conduct is penance, mainly fastingtapas. This is encouraged in the Jain faith as it helps to expel karmas that have already become attached to the soul. This expelling process is known as nirjarā. Given the central place of ascetic practices in Jainism, it is not surprising to see that samyak-tapas – ‘correct asceticism’ – is sometimes regarded as a fourth gem. As noted previously, one of the main Śvetāmbara writings on the three jewels, chapter 28 of the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra, adds a fourth jewel.

‘Austerities’ – tapas – is the fourth term supplementing the list in chapter 28 of the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra:

Right knowledge, faith, conduct and austerities; this is the road taught by the Jinas who possess the best knowledge

28.2

translated by Herman Jacobi, 1895: 152

The text explicitly sets out this additional element as part of the road to salvation and gives it the same status as the other three gems. It also clearly relates to the third jewel, which is concerned with behaviour.

The fourth gem is echoed in contemporary Jain conceptions, although in common parlance Jains speak only of the ‘three gems’.

Images

  • 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
  • Jain flag Becoming popular in the late 20th century, the Jain flag contains several holy symbols. The colours represent the Jinas and the Five Supreme Beings. The four arms of the holy svastika represent either the four conditions of existence – gati – or the fourfold community. The three dots above symbolise the 'three jewels' of the Jain faith while the crescent represents the siddha-śilā, with a liberated soul inside.. Image by Jaume Ollé © CC BY-SA 3.0
  • 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
  • '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
  • 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
  • Svastikas and other auspicious symbols in the temple Two svastikas are placed below three circles symbolising the three jewels of Jainism. The crescent at the top represents the siddha-śilā and the line above it the liberated soul. Auspicious symbols made of rice grains and other substances are common in temples.. Image by Cactusbones - Sue Ann Harkey © CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0
  • Completing a fast At the end of his fast a man is fed sugar-cane juice. Many lay people fast during festivals. Believed to help destroy karmas bound to the soul, fasting is also a way of gaining merit – puṇya. Feeding someone who is completing a fast is also a way of getting merit. The ending of a fast is usually a time of celebration.. Image by Chandu Shah © Chandu Shah

Further Reading

Samayasāra of Śrī Kundakunda
Kundakunda
translated by Appaswami Chakravarti
edited by A. N. Upadhye
Bhāratīya Jñānapītha Mūrtidevī Jaina granthamālā: English series; volume 1
Bhāratīya Jñānapīṭha; Banaras, Uttar Pradesh, India; 1971

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

‘Dyānatrāy: An Eighteenth Century Digambara Mystical Poet’
John E. Cort
Essays in Jaina Philosophy and Religion
edited by Piotr Balcerowicz
Lala Sundara Jain Research series; volume 20
Motilal Banarsidass; Delhi, India; 2003

Full details

‘"Faith" and "System": Darśana in the Jain Tradition’
Kendall W. Folkert
Scripture and Community: Collected Essays on the Jains
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

'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

The Atma-Siddhi (or Self-Realisation) of Shrimad Rajchandra
Śrīmad Rājacandra
translated by Rai Bahadur J. L. Jaini
Shrimad Rajchandra Gyan Pracharak Trust; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1987

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Jainendra Siddhānta Kośa
Jinendra Varṇi
volume 38
Bhāratīya Jñānapītha Publication; New Delhi, India; 2003

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Jñānapīṭha Pūjāñjali
edited by A. N. Upadhye and Pandit Phulchandr Siddhantashastri
Hindī granthāṅka series; volume 7
Bhāratīya Jñānapīṭha; Kashi, Uttar Pradesh, India; 1957

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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

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Vrata-tithi-nirṇaya
Siṃhanandī
edited by Nemichandra Shastri
Jñānapīṭha-Mūrtidevī-Jaina-Granthamālā series; volume 19
Bhāratīya Jñānpīṭha; Kashi, Uttar Pradesh, India; 1956

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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

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Jaina Yoga: A Survey of the Mediaeval Śrāvakācāras
Robert Williams
London Oriental series; volume XIV
Oxford University Press; London, UK; 1963

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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

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Glossary

Ahiṃsā

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

Aṇu-vrata

The 'Five Lesser Vows' that householder Jains take. These are not as strict as the 'Five Greater Vows' that ascetics observe but are more practical in daily life. Few Jains take these non-compulsory vows these days. The vows are to:

  • do no harm
  • always tell the truth
  • take only what is given
  • be sexually restrained
  • not be attached to material things, which includes emotions and states of mind.

Anuprekṣā

A term used by Digambaras for thinking about the 12 topics that stress the negative nature of the world of rebirths and that help to overcome it:

  1. impermanence
  2. helplessness
  3. the cycle of rebirth
  4. solitariness
  5. the isolated nature of the soul
  6. the impurity of the body
  7. the influx of karma
  8. stopping the influx of karma
  9. the elimination of karma
  10. the nature of the universe
  11. the difficulty of reaching omniscience
  12. the teachings of the sacred law.

Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit

A dialect of the Prākrit language used for many Śvetāmbara Jain scriptures.

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.

Aticāra

Infraction, violation of conduct. There are five infractions for each of the five mendicant vows and for each of the 12 lay vows. For instance, overburdening pack animals breaks the vow of non-violence for a lay Jain.

Auspicious

Favourable or lucky. Auspicious objects bring good fortune and may predict good events or a bright future. 

Buddha

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:

  • his mother had significant dreams on the night of conception
  • he was born a prince into a kṣatriya family
  • as an adult he renounced his wealthy, pleasurable life to seek the meaning of life through asceticism.

After six years he reached enlightenment while meditating and from then on was known as Buddha – 'Awakened One' or 'Enlightened One'.

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.

Christianity

A religion based on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, called the Christ or Anointed One. Jesus is an historically attested figure, who lived around 4 BCE to 30 CE in modern Israel. Adherents hold that Jesus is the Messiah or saviour, fulfilling a prophecy in the Hebrew Bible.

Commentary

An essay explaining a text. Commentaries on the scriptures are common in the Jain tradition and there are various types, including the:

  • bālāvabodha
  • bhāṣya
  • cūrṇi
  • niryukti
  • ṭīkā.

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.

Dharma

Duty, religious codes or principles, the religious law. Jains think in terms of dharma or underlying order in the universe.

Related to this, the term is also used for the true nature of an object or living entity. For example, the dharma of:

  • fire is to burn
  • water is to produce a cooling effect.

The 15th Jina of the present age is called Dharmanātha or Lord Dharma. His symbolic colour is gold and his emblem the vajra – diamond thunderbolt. There is no historical evidence of his existence.

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.

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.

Gati

Type of destiny, mode of rebirth in the cycle of rebirth. There are four:

  • god
  • human being
  • animal
  • infernal being.

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

Gujarati

The language that developed in Gujarat, in western India. It is also spoken in neighbouring states. Also a term for someone or something associated with or coming from Gujarat.

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.

Guṇa-vrata

A set of three restraints on Jain householders that is meant to reinforce the practice of the minor vows or aṇu-vrata:

  • dig-vrata - limit travelling from home, because it inevitably involves unknowingly killing living things
  • bhogopabhoga - limit using disposable things or reuse things as much as possible
  • anarthadaṇḍa - limit meaningless activity, including fidgeting.

Guru

Sanskrit term meaning both:

  • a spiritual teacher
  • 'heavy', in contrast to laghu or ‘light'.

Hindu

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.

Hymn

The terms stavan, stavana, stava, stotra and stuti are all used for a prayer, song, chant or hymn to a Jina, a god or any other holy figure. Religious songs are always hymns of praise in Jainism. These devotional songs may be performed during daily rites or on special occasions, such as completion of a fast or a wedding. The hymns may be performed:

  • solo or in groups
  • as a form of meditation
  • as a rite offered as part of worship.

Idol

An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.

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.

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.

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.

Mantra

A sacred sound, syllable, word or phrase that is believed to produce spiritual change if recited correctly. A mantra can be recited aloud or silently, and is often repeated. Mantras are closely associated with religions that originated in India, such as Hinduism and Buddhism as well as Jainism. The chief Jain mantra is the Namaskāra-mantra, which is recited daily, while another mantra very popular in Indian culture generally is Auṃ.

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.

Mysticism

A system of contemplative prayer, meditation and complete detachment from worldly affairs in the hope of gaining direct spiritual experience of the divine. In Jainism those who practise mystical techniques hope to gain true self-realisation and thus destroy karma and be liberated.

Paramātman

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.

Parīṣaha

'Affliction’, used especially for mendicants, who have to overcome the 22 traditional afflictions or hardships that could shake their commitment:

  • hunger
  • thirst
  • cold
  • heat
  • biting insects
  • nudity
  • displeasure
  • women
  • wandering
  • erratic life
  • lodging
  • abuses
  • strikes and blows
  • begging
  • not getting alms
  • disease
  • pricks and itching
  • dirt
  • good treatment
  • knowledge
  • ignorance
  • faith

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.

Pūjā

Sanskrit for 'worship' or 'homage'. All Jains perform rites of honour to the 24 Jinas. Rites of worship take place daily, with more elaborate ceremonies performed on holy days. Mendicant and lay Jains perform different rituals. Some sects worship images – mūrti-pūjaka – and others do not, and different sects have various practices. Focused on images or not, worship can be:

  • external or material – dravya-pūjā – involving offerings of food, drink and precious substances
  • internal or mental – bhava-pūjā – including singing hymns of praise, reciting mantras and meditating.

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.

Saint

Someone who is declared by a religious organisation or by popular acclaim to be of outstanding goodness and spiritual purity, usually some time after his or her death. The person's holiness is often believed to have been demonstrated in the performance of miracles. Saints are frequently held up as examples for followers of a religious faith.

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.

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.

Sūtra

In common use it refers to any sacred text. However, strictly speaking, it means an extremely concise style of writing, as illustrated in the Tattvārtha-sūtra, or a verse.

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.

Tattvārtha-sūtra

Extremely famous Jain holy text written in Sanskrit in perhaps the fifth century CE. Śvetāmbaras call the author Umāsvāti while Digambaras know him as Umāsvāmin. Going into the principles of karma in ten chapters, it discusses the principles and the reality of existence in a concise style – sūtra. The Tattvārtha-sūtra is a key text, fundamental to all Jain sects. Its title is often translated into English as That Which Is.

Uttarādhyayana-sūtra

An ancient Jain text outlining the rules of monastic conduct, said to be Mahāvīra's final sermon. These 36 lectures provide rules for ascetics but also discuss various topics, such as karma and the substances in the universe, and recount the tale of Nemi's renunciation.

Vernacular

The everyday or common language spoken by people in a particular country or region, often contrasting with the literary form or the national or official language. Similarly, vernacular architecture reflects local conditions and conventions more than other considerations, such as national or international design trends, and may be built by non-professional architects.

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. 

Yantra

Sanskrit for 'instrument' or 'machine', a yantra is a mystical diagram used in religious rituals. Yantras are typically formed of symmetrical, concentric circles and may also have the diagram of a lotus in the middle of numerous squares. Containing the names of the Jinas and sacred mantras, such as oṃ, yantras are meditation aids.

Yoga

Spiritual discipline. But Jains also use it to mean an ‘activity’ that produces vibrations.

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

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