Article: Tattvārtha-sūtra

Contributed by Nalini Balbir


This painting from a manuscript shows gods enjoying luxury and amusements in the heavens, the highest of the three worlds of traditional Jain cosmology. Though the souls born as gods in the upper world have pleasurable lives, they are still bound in the c

Gods enjoy life in the heavens
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The Tattvārtha-sūtra is divided into ten chapters or adhyāyaya without titles.

To translate the distribution of Tattvārtha-sūtra material into modern terms, it is convenient to follow K. K. Dixit’s analysis (Ref. 3: 1974: 1):

it takes up in its first chapter problems pertaining to epistemology,
in the second those pertaining to an empirical study of the animate world,
in the third and fourth those pertaining to mythological cosmography,

In the latest English translation of the work, called That Which Is and published in 1994, the ten chapters have been given the following titles:

  1. The Categories of Truth
  2. The Nature of the Soul
  3. The Lower and Middle Regions
  4. The Gods
  5. Substances
  6. The Inflow of Karma
  7. The Vows
  8. Karmic Bondage
  9. Inhibiting and Wearing Off Karma
  10. Liberation


The total number of aphorisms or sūtras ranges from 344 to 357. The variation is explained by differences among Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras. Some sūtras may not be included by one sect while others may be divided into two or even combined into one.

In the text itself, the architecture of the whole work is built on the terms found in the initial sūtra. Many Jains consider it to be typical of the Tattvārtha-sūtra.

First sūtra of the Tattvārtha-sūtra


samyag–darśana–jñāna–cāritrāṇi mokṣamārgaḥ

Literal translation

right faith–cognition–conduct is the way to salvation

That Which Is translation
(1, p. 5)

The enlightened world-view, enlightened knowledge and enlightened conduct are the path to liberation.

Fundamentals of Jain belief

A variety of animals is shown in this painting from a manuscript as examples of five-sensed beings. Throughout the cycle of birth, a soul is born in different types of body according to the karma it has collected from previous lives.

Five-sensed animals
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The basics of the Jain system are specifically mentioned here.

The aim is to be liberated or to reach salvation. This means to become free from the cycle of rebirth and leave for ever the world of transmigration. Hence the Tattvārtha-sūtra is also known by the name Mokṣa-sūtra or Aphorisms for Salvation.

A believer can reach salvation by following the principles of correct faith, correct understanding and correct conduct. The way these terms are arranged in the original text emphasises that all three together are necessary. They form the triplet commonly known as the ‘three gems’ or ‘three jewels’ – ratna-traya.

These terms are far from being obvious, and have been the starting point of considerable discussion, especially darśana – ‘faith, vision, intuition’. It comes first because it means that, before anything else, the individual must at least have a positive approach to the doctrine he is going to learn about and begin acting out. If he refuses certain basic principles at the start, there is no need for him to continue. Thus it is a crucial first step.

In practice, it means belief in tattvas. This means recognising the existence and truth of certain ‘realities’, ‘principles’ or ‘that which is’.

Seven tattvas




what is living or sentient, also called the soul


what is without life, just a substance


flowing of karmic particles into the soul


bondage or the association of karmic particles with the soul


blocking the flowing of new karmic particles into the soul


exhausting karmic particles already present in the soul


salvation, when all karmas have been totally destroyed

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