Article: Tattvārtha-sūtra

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Chapters and fundamentals

The seven tattvas are arranged logically. The first two lay out the basic ideas from which the rest follow. Numbers three to seven define the spiritual progression of the soul, while the last three directly relate to the concept of right conduct.

The seven tattvas are covered in chapters two to ten of the book.

Seven tattvas in That Which Is

Principle

Chapter number and title in That Which Is

jīva
ajīva

2. The Nature of the Soul
3. The Lower and Middle Regions
4. The Gods
5. Substances

āsrava

6. The Inflow of Karma

bandha

8. Karmic Bondage

saṃvara
nirjarā

9. Inhibiting and Wearing Off Karma

mokṣa

10. Liberation

Other chapters

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

Chapter 1 can be thought of as the base of the building because it deals with understanding, types of knowledge and ways of knowing a given object.

Chapter 7 is central to Jain ethics because it deals with the vows – vrata – of the ascetics and householders. Placing it between chapters on how karma enters and is bound to the soul is justified by the fact that the way one behaves or the vows one observes decide karmic inflow and binding.

In this sense, they foreshadow the spiritual exercises that are covered in later chapters. These spiritual exercises are ways of destroying karmic particles or preventing the inflow of new ones.

Sectarian versions

There are four main differences between Digambara and Śvetāmbara editions of the text.

Digambara and Śvetāmbara versions of the Tattvārtha-sūtra

Digambara

Śvetāmbara

the substance of 'time' – kāla – is a separate class within the category of 'substances' – dravya

'time' is included in the general category of 'substances'

number of heavenly beings

number of heavenly beings

certain types of karma are included among those that can have a good or non-destructive effect

other types of karma are included among those that can have a good or non-destructive effect

understanding of the sūtras

understanding of the sūtras

Digambara and Śvetāmbara writers have discussed both the definition of 'time' and the details of the sūtras at length in the commentaries. Despite sectarian disagreements over interpretations and categorisation of some items, all Jains admit the authority of the text.

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