Article: Kundakunda

Contributed by Jérôme Petit

From the Digambara sect, Kundakunda is a teacher ācārya and author of a philosophical work that has deeply influenced a lineage of Jain thinkers and mystical poets. First written for monks, his work acquired great popularity among the religious-minded laity. Kundakunda’s writings focus particularly on the soul and the vital importance of internal spiritual activity. His thought is based on the distinction between two ways of religious activity, namely the:

  • conventional vyavahāra-naya where devotees follow the right conduct in everyday practice
  • absoluteniścaya-naya in which aspirants are invited to know the real nature of the self.

Kundakunda wrote in Śaurasenī Prakrit, using verse to express clearly a number of complex concepts. Enjoying canonical status among the Digambaras, his works have been greatly influential among Jains of all sects.

Life and legend

This detail of a painting from an Ādityavāra-kathā manuscript shows a monk about to receive his daily alms. Even though he wears white robes like a Śvetāmbara monk, the mendicant is making the ritual gestures of the Digambara sect

Giving alms to a monk
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

As with many important authors of long ago, nothing is known about Kundakunda’s life. He is traditionally dated in the second to third centuries but recent scholarly research puts him in the fourth to fifth centuries. His name is quoted as one of the leaders of the Mūla-saṅgha, the most ancient Digambara monastic order.

His name probably comes from Kuṇḍakundapura, a village in Tamil Nadu, south India. Kundakunda is known under four other names, among which Padmanandi is the most quoted in the epigraphical sources. Another proof of his origins in south India is that his name is associated with the Drāviḍa-saṅgha, a Jain monastic order established in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. Kundakunda was probably close to the Pallava dynasty in Tamil Nadu, which ruled large parts of central and southern India between the early fourth century and the late ninth century. Therefore he would have probably been active in Kanchipuram, the Pallavan capital city, a centre of Hindu learning but also tolerant of other religions

A set of holy footprints – pādukā – is related to him in Ponnur Hill in Tamil Nadu, the place where he is believed to have attained liberation.

The traditional story about Kundakunda’s life is summarised here. In the town of Kurumarai in south India lived a rich merchant called Karamuṇḍa and his wife Śrīmatī. They employed a cattleman named Mathivaran.

One day, Mathivaran watched a huge fire rage in the forest but could see a group of trees that was still green. He went towards the living trees and saw the hut of a Jain monk among them. Inside the hut, he saw a box containing some Jain Āgamas, to which he attributed the miracle. He took the manuscripts and worshipped them every day. One day, a Jain monk visited the house. The merchant gave him food and the cattleman gave him the Āgamas. In return, the monk gave them his blessing

As the merchant did not have any children, what should happen happened. The cattleman died and was reborn as Karamuṇḍa’s son. Growing up in the merchant’s house, the extremely clever boy became a very important philosopher and a renowned religious master named Kundakunda.

The second part of the story is more cosmological and evokes Kundakunda’s journey in the Pūrva-videha. The Pūrva-videha is a mythical land where Sīmandhara-svāmī, one the great sages in Jainism, lives eternally. Kundakunda travelled here by translocation of the body – āhāraka-śarīra. In this way he attended Sīmandhara-svāmī’s samavasaraṇa and the legend says that he attained final liberation during this event.

The second part of the story is also told about two other important Digambara philosophers, Umāsvāmīn and Pūjyapāda.


Kundakunda’s work is written in Śaurasenī Prakrit, the language of the Digambara canonical scriptures. He used the classical Prakrit metre named gāhā, gāthā in Sanskrit. His style is very clear and some expressions strike the reader strongly and leave no doubt.

The works attributed to Kundakunda can be separated into three main groups:

  • the first one comprises three important treatises known as the ‘Three Offerings’ – prābhṛta-traya – or the ‘Three Dramas’ – nāṭaka-traya
  • the second group contains a series of eight ‘Offerings’ – prābhṛta in Sanskrit, pāhuḍa in Prakrit
  • the last one gathers together all the other works.

'Three Dramas'

A typical Digambara representation of a siddha, shown as an empty space. This underlines the idea that a siddha has no body and is a soul that has recovered its original purity. It regains this purity when it is liberated from the cycle of rebirth. In thi

Image of a siddha
Image by Hindi Granth Karyala © Public domain

These texts are the most significant and influential of Kundakunda’s writings. They aim to aid the soul in its fight to break free of the bondage of karma and reach emancipation by providing details of the knowledge and processes involved.

The most important of Kundakunda’s works is the Samaya-sāraEssence of the Supreme Self. It is a text of 415 stanzas that focus on understanding the pure nature of the self or soul in order to attain liberation. Kundakunda insists on the difference between the conventional and the absolute points of view. The conventional point of view is like a translation of the absolute point of view into an accessible language, just like people of different countries need translations to understand each other.

Kundakunda helps the reader to discriminate between what belongs to the self – jīva – and what belongs to the non-self – ajīva. The qualities of the self are knowledgejñāna – and faith – darśana. The attribute of the soul is upayoga. Kundakunda focuses also on the role played by the self in the process of the making of karmic particles. Then he insists on the fact that merit – puṇya – is not at all enviable because it produces karmas, just as demerit – pāpa – does. In a famous stanza, Kundakunda warns that a chain made of gold binds as much as one made of iron.

The text examines the other categories of truthpadārtha – in order to describe the:

The two last chapters of the book deal with how the all-pure knowledge – sarva-viśuddha-jñāna – of these principles must lead to liberation – mokṣa – of the self.

The Pravacana-sāra – Essence of the Doctrine – is also a very important text, which is divided into three books. It deals with consciousness and the soul, which are key topics in Jain belief.

The first one defines three kinds of upayoga. This term is difficult to translate because it describes the manifestation of consciousness, the capacity of cognition. The three types of upayoga are the:

  • unsuitable consciousness – aśubha-upayoga – which results in human, sub-human and hellish births
  • suitable consciousness – śubha-upayoga – which causes births in heaven
  • pure consciousness – śuddha-upayoga – which leads the soul to omniscience.

The omniscient soul is above physical pleasure and pain, and has a direct, true vision of all objects. The soul is called the ‘knower’.

The second book defines the relations of the substance, its quality and the modifications it undergoes. The soul is a sentient substance – jīva. Its main quality is the manifestation of consciousness – upayoga – which inclines towards perception – darśana – and knowledge – jñāna. The soul endures modifications because it is soiled by karmas created during infinite lifetimes. It realises itself as pure when the passions are not developed. In order to reach this purity, Jain monks must follow an internal and external discipline of non-attachment. The practice of ascetism and absolute non-attachment is the subject of the third book. A monk who follows proper conduct, who is peaceful in asceticism, is on his way to attaining liberation.

The Pañcāstikāya-sāra – Essence of the Five Constitutive Elements – is a kind of compilation of what has been described in the two previous texts. It describes the five entities that constitute the universe, which are also known as the five substances – dravya. Kundakunda insists on the primacy of the sentient substance – jīva – and describes its characteristics. Then the text deals with the nine categories of truth – padārtha – like the Samayasāra does. These lead the soul to the last one, which is liberation.

Eight 'Offerings'

This 18th-century statue of a Jina from the Deccan has no emblem – lāñchana – to identify him. The emblem is usually on the central panel of his pedestal. With characteristics such as closed eyes, nudity and a very plain style, this figure is Digambara.

Jina statue
Image by Sailko © CC BY-SA 3.0

Describing all the principles of the Jain doctrine and the way to practise them, the eight Prābhṛtas or ‘Offerings’ are short treatises, easy to learn by heart. They are all written in verse and are of varying lengths.

The Darśana-prābhṛta, or Prakrit Daṃsaṇa-pāhuḍa, is a text of 36 stanzas on the concept of ‘right faith’ – samyag-darśana. It provides two philosophical points of view, telling the reader to:

  • believe in the principles preached by the Jina
  • consider right faith to be the realisation of the self.

The second text is the Cāritra-prābhṛta or Cāritta-pāhuḍa in Prakrit. This is a 44-stanza text on ‘right conduct’ – samyak-cāritra – which is the essential tool for liberation. It goes into great detail about the correct conduct for both monks and lay men. Lay conduct is divided into 11 stages. Progressing from one to another requires the lay Jain to take all the groups of lay vows, namely the:

  • five partial vowsaṇuvrata
  • three vows of virtues – guṇa-vrata
  • four disciplinary vows – śikṣā-vrata.

The Sūtra-prābhṛta – Sutta-pāhuḍa in Prakrit – has 27 stanzas. It is a metaphorical composition around the term sūtra, which means both ‘thread’ and ‘sacred texts’. Stating how a needle is not lost with a thread, the text discusses how, in the same way, a man is not lost in the cycle of transmigration with the knowledge of sacred texts. This prābhṛta is also interesting because it describes the ascetic practices reserved for women.

Eleven topics are dealt with in the Bodha-prābhṛta or Bodha-pāhuḍa. In 62 stanzas the text explores the:

  • sanctuaries dedicated to Jinas – āyatana
  • soul seen as the real holy templecaitya-gṛha
  • image of great Jain figures to be worshipped – pratimā
  • faith – darśana – that shows the path of liberation
  • idol of a Jina – Jina-bimba – as an embodiment of knowledge
  • appearance of a Jina – Jina-mudrā – as an example of passionlessness and self-control
  • knowledgejñāna – without which nothing is possible
  • divinity – deva – that is free from delusion
  • holy places – tīrtha – that are in reality the Jain principles like right faith or self-control
  • nature of the Arhat as a support for meditation and asceticism – pravrajyā – for ideal monks.

The fifth Prābhṛta is the Bhāva-prābhṛta or Bhāva-pāhuḍa. This 163-stanza text discusses the mental state – bhāva – necessary to reach the purity of all psychic or spiritual transformations – pariṇāma-suddhi. In this long text Kundakunda describes all the categories of detailed virtues that one should practise to move along the path of liberation. These are:

  • 12 reflections – aṇuprekṣā
  • 25 meditations – bhāvanā
  • seven principles – tattva.

All the disciplinary objects are nothing if they are practised without bhāva or good psychic disposition.

The next Offering is the Mokṣa-prābhṛta or Mokkha-pāhuḍa, a 106-stanza text describing the three kinds of self:

  • the external – bahir-ātman – represented by sense-organs
  • the internal – antar-ātman – represented by psychic states
  • the supreme – paramātman – represented by the Jina free from karmic particles.

Here Kundakunda mainly discusses the supreme self and invites his followers to discriminate between the self – jīva – and the non-self – ajīva.

The Liṅga-prābhṛta or Liṅga-pāhuḍa in Prakrit is a text of 22 stanzas. It stresses that mendicants’ internal attitude – bhāva-liṅga – is most important and that outward appearances – dravya-liṅga – will not make them true monks.

The final Prābhṛta is a text 40 stanzas long, called the Śīla-prābhṛta, Sīla-pāhuḍa in Prakrit. It covers virtuous conduct, focusing on chastity because sensory pleasure leads to the cycle of rebirths by creating attachments that produce karmic particles. On the contrary, virtuous conduct is like a fire that burns away the deposit of old karmas.

Other works

At the peak of the universe, the crescent-shaped siddha-śilā is where liberated souls – siddhas – exist in neverending bliss.

Image by Anishshah19 © CC-BY-3.0

Although numerous works are ascribed to Kundakunda, most of them are probably not his work. In addition to the writings described earlier, two other texts are associated with Kundakunda. These are concerned with meditation and the three gems of Jain doctrine.

The Dvādaśa-anuprekṣā or Bārasa-Aṇupekkhā in Prakrit is a quite popular text of 91 stanzas. This is the only composition that has been signed by the author, as ‘Kundakunda Muni’. The Twelve Reflections deals with the subjects on which every Jain has to focus his or her thoughts, such as the:

The twelfth topic is the perfect knowledgebodhi – which is difficult to attain – durlabha.

The Niyama-sāraEssence of Rules – is a composite text of 187 stanzas. It is a discussion of the ‘three jewels’ which are necessarily – niyamena – considered to constitute the Jain path of liberation. After a description of ‘right knowledge’ and ‘right faith’, Kundakunda examines the more practical topics comprising ‘right conduct’.

From a conventional point of view, it consists mainly of following the:

From an absolute point of view, right conduct means performing the six dutiesāvaśyaka. Practising these duties simultaneously with knowledge and faith, as heat and light are both found in the sunshine, will lead to self-realisation.

Other works are attributed to Kundakunda but they are probably by other hands. Among them are:


The Offerings – Prābhṛtas – described above had a profound influence on later Digambara philosophers. The style and the topics of some of Kundakunda’s stanzas can be found in:

  • Pūjyapāda’s Samādhi-śataka
  • Yogīndu’s Paramātma-prakāśa
  • Amṛtacandra’s Puruṣārthasiddhy-upāya
  • Guṇabhadra’s Ātmānuśāsana.

The ‘Three Dramas’ – Nāṭaka-trayas – have had a particular impact because they were the object of commentaries over a long period of time. Amṛtacandra in the 10th century and Jayasena in the 12th century wrote Sanskrit commentaries that were translated into and glossed in Hindi during the pre-modern period. These Hindi renderings assured the texts great popularity. Nowadays, these texts are translated into modern Indian languages and are thus accessible to devout lay Jains.

The Samaya-sāra has a special destiny, maybe because it is Kundakunda’s clearest and most powerful work. Amṛtacandra commented on it in Sanskrit prose, adding 278 Sanskrit verses. These verses were later taken out to form a new text, known under the title of Samayasāra Kalaśa – Jars containing the Samayasāra. Rājamalla translated and commented upon this in the 16th century. This commentary fell into the hands of Banārasīdās, who produced a new, free adaptation of the text entitled Samayasāra Nāṭaka. This version enjoyed great popularity in the 17th century and was probably read during meetings of the Adhyātma movement. Later associated with Banārasīdās, this movement was born in the second half of the 16th century and gathered together lay Jains of all sects in different cities of north India. The most important groups were in Agra and Jaipur. Kundakunda’s work was the basis of their discussions and their main source of inspiration.

Kundakunda’s style and thought found a special resonance in the late 19th century in the work of Rājacandra. This Gujarati mystical poet also emphasised that religious activity should focus on internal austerities practised with special psychic disposition – bhāva. Like Kundakunda, Rājacandra stressed the simultaneous necessity of both aspects in order to realise that the self is the supreme self.

Today, Kundakunda is read by a variety of audiences. He is popular among Jains of all sects who try to have an internal religious life. Digambara monks consider the majority of his work to be part of their canon of sacred writings. Philosophers and historians of philosophy also read Kundakunda. They read his works for his penetrating insight and in the context of religious rivalry. Kundakunda’s writings can be compared with the very popular Vedānta school of Hindu thought, which also stresses the inner spiritual life.


  • Giving alms to a monk This detail of a painting from an Ādityavāra-kathā manuscript shows a monk about to receive his daily alms. Even though he wears white robes like a Śvetāmbara monk, the mendicant is making the ritual gestures of the Digambara sect. Holding his water pot and broom in his left hand, he presses all the fingertips of his right hand on his right shoulder in the āhāra-mudrā – 'food-gesture'. When ready to eat, he stands on a dais above the donor. The lay man offering him food holds a pot of purified water, which he uses to wash the monk's feet in a mark of respect.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Image of a siddha A typical Digambara representation of a siddha, shown as an empty space. This underlines the idea that a siddha has no body and is a soul that has recovered its original purity. It regains this purity when it is liberated from the cycle of rebirth. In this cycle, karma causes a soul to be born into a succession of bodies until it progresses spiritually to enlightenment and then to liberation. The siddhas exist without bodies in the siddha-śilā at the top of the universe in endless bliss.. Image by Hindi Granth Karyala © Public domain
  • Jina statue This 18th-century statue of a Jina from the Deccan has no emblem – lāñchana – to identify him. The emblem is usually on the central panel of his pedestal. Demonstrating typical characteristics such as closed eyes, nudity and a very plain style, this figure belongs to the Digambara sect. . Image by Sailko © CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Siddha-śilā At the peak of the universe, the crescent-shaped siddha-śilā is where liberated souls – siddhas – exist in neverending bliss.. Image by Anishshah19 © CC-BY-3.0

Further Reading

edited by Mahendrakumāra Jaina and Jayacandra Chābaṛā
Śrī Digambara Jaina Svādhyāya-Mandira Trust; Sonagaḍha, Gujarat, India; 1995

Full details

translated by Jayakumara Jalaja
edited by Manīṣa Modī
Pandit Nathuram Premi Research series; volume 6
Hindi Granth Karyalay; Mumbai, Maharashtra, India; 2006

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translated and edited by Avināśa Sāṭhaye
Pandit Nathuram Premi Research series; volume 13
Hindi Granth Karyalay; Mumbai, Maharashtra, India; 2010

Full details

translated and edited by Devendrakumār Śāstrī
Paṇḍit Ṭoḍarmal Smārak Ṭraṣṭ; Jaipur, Rajasthan, India; 1991

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Niyamsara (the Perfect Law)
translated and edited by Uggar Sain and Brahmachari Sital Prasada
Central Jaina Pub. House; Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India; 1931

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Niyamasāra: Śrīmad Padmaprabha Maladhārīdeva Tātparyavṛtti nāmaka saṃskṛta ṭīkā sahita
translated and edited by Hukamacanda Bhārilla
Paṇḍit Ṭoḍarmal Sarvodaya Ṭraṣṭ; Jaipur, Rajasthan, India; 1960

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Pañcāstikāya-Sāra: The Building of the Cosmos
translated by Appaswami Chakravarti
edited by A. N. Upadhye
Bhāratīya Jñānapītha Mūrtidevī Jaina granthamālā: English series; volume 4
Bhāratīya Jñānapīṭha; New Delhi, India; 1975

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Pravacanasāra (Pavayaṇasāra)
translated and edited by A. N. Upadhye
Shrimad Rajachandra Ashram; Agas, Gujarat, India; 2000

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translated and edited by Hukamacanda Bhārilla
Paṇḍit Ṭoḍarmal Smārak Ṭraṣṭ; Jaipur, Rajasthan, India; 1990

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Samayasara (the Soul-Essence)
translated and edited by Jagmandar Lal Jaini and Brahmachari Sital Prasad
Jagmandarlal Jaina Memorial / Sacred Books of the Jainas series; volume 3 / VIII
Pandit Ajit Prasada, Central Jaina Pub. House; Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India; 1930

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translated and edited by Pannālāl Jain
Rāyacandra Jaina Śāstra Mālā series; volume 14
Śrīmad Rājacandra Āśram; Agas, Gujarat, India; 1919

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translated and edited by Jethalal S. Zaveri and Muni Mahendrakumar
Jain Vishva Bharati University; Ladnun, Rajasthan, India; 2009

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Samayasāra of Śrī 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

‘On the Epithet: nāṭaka for the Samayasāra of Kundakunda’
Bansidhar Bhatt
Jainism and Prakrit in Ancient and Medieval India – essays for Prof. Jagdish Chandra Jain
edited by N. N. Bhattacharya
Manohar; New Delhi, India; 1994

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‘Vyavahāra-naya and Niścaya-naya in Kundakunda’s Works’
Bansidhar Bhatt
Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft
volume 28: supplement 2
Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft; 1974

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‘Kundakunda versus Sāṃkhya on the soul’
Johannes Bronkhorst
Svasti – essays in honour of Prof. Hampa Nagarajaiah for his 75th Birthday
edited by Nalini Balbir
Muddushree Granthamala series; volume 75
K. S. Muddappa Smaraka Trust; Bangalore, Karnataka, India; 2010

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Harmless Souls: Karmic Bondage and Religious Change in Early Jainism with Special Reference to Umāsvāti and Kundakunda
William J. Johnson
Lala Sundar Lal Jain research series; volume 9
Motilal Banarsidass; Delhi, India; 1995

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‘Kundakunda echt und unecht’
Walther Schubring
Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft
volume 107

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‘Kundakunda's concept of Vyavahāra Naya and Niścaya Naya’
S. M. Shah
Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute
volume 56
Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute; Pune, Maharashtra, India; 1975

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‘Upayoga, according to Kundakunda and Umāsvāti’
Jayandra Soni
Journal of Indian Philosophy
volume 35: 4

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‘The Bārasa-Aṇuvekkhā of Kundakunda’
Chandrabhal Tripathi
and Bansidhar Bhatt
Mahāvīra and His Teachings
volume VII: 1
Bhagavān Mahāvīra 2500th Nirvāna Mahotsava Samiti; Bombay, Maharashtra, India; 1977

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‘Introduction: An Essay on Kundakunda, his Date, his Pravacanasāra and other works, etc’
A. N. Upadhye
Pravacanasāra (Pavayaṇasāra)
edited by A. N. Upadhye
Shrimad Rajachandra Ashram; Agas, Gujarat, India; 2000

Full details

‘The works of Kundakunda: an annotated listing of editions, translations and studies’
Royce Wiles
Vasantagauravam: Essays in Jainism
edited by Jayandra Soni
Vakils, Feffer and Simons; Mumbai, Maharashtra, India; 2001

Full details



Preceptor, teacher. A title given to a Jain religious teacher, usually one who is a head monk.


Authoritative scriptures. The holy texts that are considered authoritative depend on the group and the period.


City in modern-day Uttar Pradesh. One of the capitals of the Mughal Empire, Agra contains many fine examples of Mughal architecture, including the Red Fort and the Taj Mahal.


The ‘absence of soul’ in non-living things. There are five types of ajīva:

  • the medium of motion – dharma-stikaya
  • the medium of rest – adharma-stikaya
  • space – ākāśa-tikaya
  • visible matter – pudgala-stikaya
  • time – kāla.

The last is not always counted. Together with jīva or 'substance with soul', ajīva forms the universe.


Sanskrit term meaning 'destroyer of enemies'. The enemies are the inner desires and passions. It is also a synonym for Jina. An Arhat is a liberated soul who has not yet left his fleshly body, but, as an omniscient being, is 'worthy of worship'.


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.


Karmic influx. Karma is a very subtle matter that is attracted to the soul by actions. Āsrava refers to the beginning of the process, when karma enters into the soul and becomes bound with it.


'Karmic bondage'. This refers to the period when the karma has entered the soul and lies dormant before producing its effect or coming to fruition.


Internal, spiritual. Opposite of Dravya


A practice for internal self-improvement, such as meditation or reflection. It is also the term for:

  1. a synonym of anuprekṣā among the Digambaras
  2. 25 supporting practices that uphold mendicant vows.


Enlightenment, awakening.


Either avoiding sexual activity outside marriage or being totally celibate. Chaste can also mean a pure state of mind or innocent, modest action. 


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.


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.


Vision, insight or perception. It works with the quality of jñāna – knowledge in the soul – to gain deep, true understanding and is ever-changing.

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


Sanskrit for 'meditation', one of the six internal austerities or tapas that help purify the soul of karma. Meditation is deep thought about religious doctrine or mental focus on spiritual matters over a period of time. An important part of many religions, meditation is especially important in Jain belief because it forms key elements of religious practice and spiritual development.


'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.


A principle or system of teachings, especially religious philosophy.


Substance. There are two main types of substances in the universe in Jain belief:

  • jīva – non-material, sentient substance
  • ajīva – substance without soul.

The second type is divided into pudgala – non-sentient matter – and the non-material substances of:

  • ākāśa – space
  • dharma-dravya – principle of motion
  • adharma-dravya – principle of rest
  • kāla – time.

The last is not always included in this category.


To explain or translate a word or phrase in a text. A glossary is a collection of such explanations. A gloss may be a short note in the margin or between the lines of a text or it may be an extended commentary.


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.


'Self control'. There are three types of restraint relating to this:

  • mind - manas
  • speech - vacas
  • body - kāya.

The guptis are intended to minimise using the mind, body or speech for spiritually unimportant purposes or even aimlessly.


The most widely spoken group of languages in India, originating in the northern part of the subcontinent. Local dialects and Hindi languages are spoken all over northern India and in surrounding countries. Standard Hindi is used in administration by the central government of India, along with English.


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.


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


Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.

Jaina Śaurasenī

A variety of Prakrit. A spoken language, it became used primarily for drama in northern India during the medieval period and is the language used for the main Digambara scriptures.


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.


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.


'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'.


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.


'Passion' that causes activity, which results in new karma binding to the soul. It must be eliminated by restraints or austerities so the soul can be liberated. Passion may be attraction – rāga – or aversion – dveṣa – and has degrees of intensity. There are traditionally four passions:

  • anger – krodha
  • pride – māna
  • deceit – māyā
  • greed – lobha.

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


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.


Believers in a religion who are ordinary worshippers, not clergy or members of religious orders. In Jainism, lay people are often called 'householders', indicating that they live in houses and have domestic responsibilities, unlike ascetics.


The universe in Jain cosmology, composed of the upper, middle and lower worlds. Human beings can live only in part of the Middle World.


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.


An extraordinary event that cannot be explained by natural causes or human effort and therefore is believed to be caused by divine or supernatural powers.


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.

Monastic order

A single-sex group of ascetics that vows to follow rules set out by a founding religious teacher. They formally renounce the world to become monks and nuns. They usually have a hierarchy of leaders at different levels to govern them.


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.


Sage. A common term for a Jain monk.


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.


Progressive elimination through religious practice of karmic matter that has entered the soul.


The petrified footprint of a dead mendicant or holy figure, which is treated as a commemorative sacred object.


Wrong or bad action. Similar to a bad merit in Buddhism.


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.


A term for any of the dead vernacular languages of ancient and medieval India. It may be contrasted with classical Sanskrit, the language used by priests and the aristocracy. The Jains used a large variety of Prakrits, with the Jain canon written chiefly in Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit.


Term for the period before the 'modern' age, which began around the 1500s in Western Europe. The pre-modern era was characterised by general belief in the divine and a strong sense of tradition and social order. In contrast, the modern period witnessed the spread of:

  • scientific knowledge and method
  • mechanisation and technologies such as the printing press
  • capitalism
  • individualism
  • increasing lack of belief in organised religions.


To deliver a speech on a religious topic, usually given by a prophet or member of the clergy. It may be a formal task of a religious office or open to all believers in a religious faith. Often covering social and moral subjects, preaching may be intended to:

  • remind hearers of religious principles and rules
  • encourage piety
  • persuade non-believers of the correctness of the preacher's religious beliefs.


Sanskrit for a 'right or good action'. Similar to a merit in Buddhism, it helps to reduce karma.


The ‘three jewels’ that form the fundamentals of Jainism, without which spiritual progress is impossible. They are:

  • right faith – samyak-darśana
  • right knowledge – samyak-jñāna
  • right conduct – samyak-cāritra.


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.


Literally, Sanskrit for 'universal gathering'. A holy assembly led by a Jina where he preaches to all – human beings, animals and deities alike – after he has become omniscient. In this universal gathering, natural enemies are at peace.


Carefulness, which has five aspects. Ascetics can reduce accidental violence by being careful and observing rules in these five areas:

  • motion – īryā
  • speech – bhāṣā
  • cooking, eating and begging for food – eṣaṇā
  • lifting and placing items, moving things – ādānanikśepaṇa
  • disposing of bodily waste – pariṣṭhāpana.


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.


Stoppage of karmic influx.


'Right conduct'. A person who has faith in the principles of Jainism and knows them should put them into practice. This is the third of the Three Jewels vital for spiritual progress.


'Right insight' or the proper view of reality, which means faith in the principles of Jainism taught by the Jinas. The first of the Three Jewels of Jainism and a necessary first step in spiritual progress.


'Right knowledge'. Once one believes the principles of Jainism, one has to learn them and know them properly. The second of the Three Jewels.


The most sacred area of a temple, church or religious building, often where the image of a deity is housed and worshipped. An outdoor space that is associated with a deity may also be considered a sanctuary.


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.


Reality or truth. This is very important to Jains and the satya-vrata is the second of the mendicant's Five Great Vows and the lay person's Five Lesser Vows.


Set of sacred texts that believers accept as authoritative within a religion. Synonymous with canon.


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.


An omniscient soul that has achieved mokṣa. All liberated souls live in the siddha-śilā, at the top of the universe, in perpetual bliss.


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.


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.


'Reality’, defined in the seven principles that form the basis of the Jain system of thought:

  • jīva – sentient entities
  • ajīva – non-sentient entities
  • āsrava – influx of karma into the soul
  • bandha – bonding of karma with the soul
  • saṃvara – stopping the inflow of karma
  • nirjarā – progressive elimination of karma
  • mokṣa – liberation.

This list comes to nine items when good action – puṇya – and bad action – pāpa – are counted separately. One who has reached right insight – samyag-darśana – believes the tattvas as an item of faith.


A place that has become sacred owing to its connection with a Jina or another holy figure. It becomes a place of pilgrimage because one of the auspicious events of his life took place there. In another meaning the word refers to the Jain community of monks, nuns, lay men and lay women, or can be used for a mendicant, viewed as a ‘walking tīrtha'.


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. 

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