Jain Philosophy

I am very awed by the philosophy of the Jains. I consider it worth applying to one’s life to the highest degree possible. It is the most consistent and comprehensive philosophy I have encountered in this life.

The philosophy is based on seven fundamental aspects (Tattvas):

  1. There are living entities (Jiva)
  2. There are non-living entities (Ajiva)
  3. There is influx of karma (Ashrava)
  4. There is bondage of karma (Bandha)
  5. There is a way to stop the influx of karma (Samvara)
  6. There is a way to eliminate previously bound karma (Nirjara)
  7. There is liberation (Moksha)

Those who understand and believe the above 7 Tattvas to be true are said to have acquired right belief (Samyaktva) and are called Jains.

The living entity or soul is that which knows and sees. It performs various actions and bears the consequences of those various actions. It exists eternally, though it changes through various temporary modes. Since time without any beginning, the soul has been transmigrating through births and deaths, stuck in a cycle of karma. Sometimes it is born as a human, sometimes as an animal, sometimes as a plant, sometimes as a micro-organism, sometimes in hell and sometimes in heaven. It moves from one state to the other, in accordance with its karma.

Every substance in the universe is a collection of qualities. It exists permanently in its pristine form but undergoes various changes as it transforms from one mode to another while retaining its pristine existence, like water remains hydrogen oxide even when it may exist as ice, liquid water or steam. Thus the triad of permanence (Dhrauvya), creation (Utpada) and destruction (Vyaya) co-exist together. The substance (Dravya) exists since time without any beginning and will continue to do so endlessly. The mode (Paryaya) it is currently found in is temporary.

There are six such substances – soul (Jiva), matter (Pudgala), motion (Dharma), rest (Adharma), space (Akasha) and time (Kala). The first of these, the soul is the living substance. The rest are non-living. The soul is immeasurable (Amurtika) and uniquely possesses the qualities of consciousness (Chetanatva), knowledge (Jnana) and perception (Darshana). The other five substances possess the quality unconsciousness (Achetanatva) and are all immeasurable except for matter, which is measurable (Murtika). All substances possess the qualities of existence (Astitva), capacity to be an object (Vastutva), capacity to be known (Prameyatva) and the balance whereby one substance cannot change to another by losing any qualities, gaining any qualities, by transferring any qualities to another substance or by any other way (Agurulaghutva). The following details correspond to each substance:

  • Soul: it lives, dies, is the doer of actions (Kartritva), experiences pain and pleasure (Bhoktritva), is immeasurable, is conscious, knows, sees and is in its pristine form Omniscient and possesses infinite power
  • Matter: it is unconscious, is measurable, can be touched, can be tasted, can be smelt, can be seen and constitutes the body the soul associates with along with all its possessions and other material objects
  • Motion: it is unconscious, immeasurable and provides the medium for souls and matter to move through space
  • Rest: it is unconscious, immeasurable and provides the medium for souls and matter to stay fixed in space
  • Space: it s unconscious, immeasurable and provides support to all other substances including itself
  • Time: it is unconscious, immeasurable and provides the medium for other substances to change

Thus, Tattva 1 states that “there are living entities”. These living entities refer to the infinite souls which exist in the universe. Tattva 2 states that “there are non-living entities”. These refer to the infinite atoms and molecules of matter, the medium of motion, the medium of rest, space and time.

Souls are either liberated or worldly. Those who are free from a body, birth and death are liberated. Those who are still living in a body undergoing birth and death are worldly. The worldly souls remain trapped in the cycle of birth and death because of karma.

Matter consists of atoms and molecules. Atoms are indivisible but combine together to form molecules. Molecules constantly undergo fission (by breaking into smaller molecules or atoms) and fusion (to form larger molecules). Thus molecules are of various kinds based on their constituents. A special type of molecule is the karma molecule (Karma Vargana), which pervades the entire universe. This matter is subtle and cannot be detected by the sense organs.

The medium of motion (Dharma) helps in the motion of souls and matter but does not cause motion itself, like a stream provides a place for fish to swim. The medium of rest (Adharma) helps souls and matter to rest but does not make them rest itself, like the shade of a tree provides a place for a traveler to rest.

Space is constituted of infinite space-points (Pradeshas) which extend towards infinity in all directions. Each such Pradesha has the capacity to support infinite substances. That region of space where the other five substances exist is called world-space (Lokakasha). The rest is non-world-space (Alokakasha). World-space consists of uncountable space-points. Motion and rest pervade space indivisibly.

Time is constituted of infinite moments which have no start and no end. Each space-point contains infinite moments and the moments of one space-point do not mix with those of another, like separate heaps of gems. Time helps other substances to change but does not cause the changes itself, like a potter’s wheel provides support to the pot.

Every moment each worldly soul directs its consciousness towards some object while its body engages in some activity. This attracts karma molecules towards the soul. This attraction of karma molecules is the influx of karma (Ashrava).

There are five primary causes of this inflow:

  1. Wrong belief (Mithyatva): if a soul does not believe in karma, liberation or even its own existence, it will continue to experience birth and death
  2. Non-restraint (Avirati): if a soul does not take the necessary measures to stop the inflow of karma, it will continue
  3. Carelessness (Pramada): if a soul is careless or neglects its restraint, more karma is likely to inflow
  4. Passion (Kashaya): if a soul continues to act under the influence of passion, more karma will inflow
  5. Activity (Yoga): the activities of mind, speech and body by their very nature cause the inflow of karma

Wrong belief is found in a soul who does not understand or believe in the 7 Tattvas outlined above. The true cause of wrong belief is a dangerous type of karma called faith-deluding karma (Darshana Mohaniya Karma). Acting under the influence of wrong belief leads to the influx of more faith-deluding karma. Thus the cycle of karma is self-sustaining. A soul with wrong belief necessarily has non-restraint, carelessness, passion and activity.

A soul with right belief who is still unable to take the necessary measures to stop the inflow of karma due to laziness, disregard or lack of strength is said to have non-restraint. Such a soul must have carelessness, passion and activity. All householders possess some non-restraint although there are those who possess partial restraint. A monk who has completely renounced the world in order to pursue liberation is said to have attained restraint.

A monk who has renounced the world but is still unaware or careless in his spiritual practice is said to have carelessness. He necessarily has passion and activity also.

Passions are found in all worldly beings who have not made substantial spiritual progress. They provide the motives behind the soul’s actions thereby nourishing the seeds of karma. All worldly beings who have experienced infinite lives yet persist to lead worldly lives time and again. They do so because of the passions. There are four passions – anger, pride, deceit and greed. The true cause of the passions is another dangerous type of karma called the conduct-deluding karma (Charitra Mohaniya Karma). Acting under the influence of the passions leads to an influx of more conduct-deluding karma.

A monk who has renounced the world and keeps up his spiritual practice without carelessness could still be under the influence of passion. Such a soul still has activity. He who has completely eliminated all the passions is verily the conqueror (Jina). Such a monk is called passionless (Vitaraga).

The conquerors may still engage in acts through mind, speech and body so long as their lifespan is not over. They experience an influx of only pleasurable karma (Sata Vedaniya Karma).

As the influx of karma takes place, the karma molecules attach themselves to the soul. They remain attached with the soul for a certain duration and for this period they show their effects, gradually severing from the soul in the process. Once they have shown all their effects, the duration is over and the molecules have completely severed from the soul. This is how the soul experiences the fruits of its past actions.

Bondage of karma is the process by which the karma molecules attach themselves to the soul. Actions done under the influence of severe passions result in bondage of a longer duration and a stronger intensity.

Passions can be infinitely-binding (Anantanubandhi), vow-preventing (Apratyakhyanavaraniya), restraint-preventing (Pratyakhyanavaraniya) and flaming-up (Sanjvalana). Infinitely-binding passions are so severe that they prevent right belief. They also result in the strongest bondage. Vow-preventing passions are severe but do not prevent right belief. However they prevent any kind of restraint. They result in strong bondage. Restraint-preventing passions are milder and allow the restraint of a householder. They prevent the total renunciation of a monk though. They result in weaker bondage. Flaming-up passions are very mild and are found in monks. They prevent the attainment of the Vitaraga state. They result in the weakest bondage.

Some karma molecules are meritorious (Punya) and some are demeritorious (Papa). The meritorious molecules show their effects in the form of pleasurable experiences, favorable circumstances, victories, human and heavenly births, etc. The demeritorious molecules show their effects in the form of painful experiences, unfavorable circumstances, losses, ignorance, wrong belief, passion, obstructions, animal or hellish births, etc.

It should be noted that the activity itself decides whether there will be an influx of Punya or Papa whereas the passion behind the activity decides the duration the karma will be bound to soul along with the intensity with which it shows its fruits. Highly passionate states of the soul result in a high intensity of Papa, a low intensity of Punya and a longer duration in general. Soul states with minor passions result in a lower intensity of Papa, a higher intensity of Punya and a shorter duration in general.

Thus, Tattva 3 states that “there is influx of karma”. This is caused by wrong belief, non-restraint, carelessness, passions and activity. Depending on the type of activity, a certain karma flows towards the soul. Tattva 4 states that “there is bondage of karma”. The severity of this bondage is determined by the passions. Bound karmas leave the soul after showing their effects in various forms.

At the moment when bondage takes place, there are 4 factors which are determined: the type of bondage (Prakriti Bandha), the quantity of bondage (Pradesha Bandha), the duration of bondage (Sthithi Bandha) and the intensity of bondage (Anubhaga Bandha).

The type of bondage determines which type of karma will be bound. The quantity of bondage represents the actual number of molecules bound. The duration of bondage determines how long the karma will remain bound while showing its effects. The intensity of bondage determines how intensely the karma’s effects will be experienced.

There are eight types of karmas:

  1. Knowledge-obstructing karma (Jnanavarniya Karma): this prevents the soul from knowing some or all qualities of an object, like a veil prevents sight of the face
  2. Perception-obstructing karma (Darshanavarniya Karma): this prevents the soul from seeing or perceiving a certain object, like a watchman prevents sight of the king
  3. Feeling-producing karma (Vedaniya Karma): this makes the soul experience pleasure and pain with more pain than pleasure, like licking honey from a sword which cuts the tongue
  4. Deluding Karma (Mohaniya Karma): this defiles the beliefs and conduct of the soul, creating wrong belief and various passions, enticing it to do various foolish acts like the scent of a flower entices a bumblebee
  5. Lifespan Karma (Ayu Karma): this keeps the soul in one particular life, like a lodging room in an inn
  6. Body Karma (Nama Karma): this creates various physical and superficial bodily attributes, like a painter who uses different colors
  7. Status Karma (Gotra Karma): this determines whether a soul will have a high or low status, like a potter who makes tall and short pots
  8. Obstructing Karma (Antaraya Karma): this obstructs the soul’s acts of charity, benefit, enjoyment, repeated enjoyment and will-power, like a treasurer prevents the king from withdrawing too much wealth

Four of these are considered dangerous (Ghatiya) – knowledge-obstructing, perception-obstructing, deluding and obstructing. So long as they exist, they prevent the soul from realizing its four pristine attributes respectively – Omniscience (Kevala Jnana), capacity to see all objects in the universe (Kevala Darshana), complete joy in one’s own perfect nature (Ananta Sukha) and potential to achieve everything possible (Ananta Virya). The other four are considered non-dangerous (Aghatiya) and they create the superficial environment the soul’s body has to experience in that life. Feeling-producing karma prevents the soul’s undisturbed existence, lifespan karma prevents the soul’s eternal existence, body karma prevents the soul’s disembodied existence and status karma prevents perfect equality. The conquerors destroy all dangerous karmas and possess all pristine attributes. Once a conqueror destroys the remaining four at the end of his lifespan, he becomes a perfected soul (Siddha).

An ordinary worldly soul normally possesses more than one body. Humans possess a gross physical body (Audarika Sharira), a subtler electric body (Taijasa Sharira) and a yet subtler karmic body (Karmana Sharira). The karmic body is where the newly bound karma molecules attach. The quantity of bondage actually determines the proportion of the karmic body occupied by the newly bound karma.

The type and quantity of bondage are determined by the activities of mind, speech and body while the duration and intensity are determined by the passions influencing the activities.

The inflowing karma can be checked or stopped if a soul makes the necessary effort to do so. If a soul acquires right belief, it can prevent the inflow of wrong belief. Thus right belief is the first step towards stopping the influx of karma. If a soul acquires restraint then it will prevent the influx of several Papa karmas which lead to various miseries of worldly existence. If a soul further abandons carelessness, the influx of karmas will be even weaker and will consist nearly of all Punya karmas. If a soul manages to control all passions to the level of their total subsidence, there will only be an influx of pleasurable-feeling karma. Once the conquerors stop all activities of mind, speech and body, there will be no more influx of karma.

A soul that sincerely undertakes vows, resolves to improve its conduct, makes effort towards reducing its passion and adopts a spiritual way of life will surely reduce the inflow of karma thereby creating a path to escape birth, death and transmigration. Equanimity while facing results is important in reducing the influx. Some techniques monks and householders employ to reduce the influx of karma include:

  • Carefuleness (Samiti): this includes carefulness while walking, talking, taking food, moving or placing objects and disposing waste or excreta
  • Control (Gupti): this includes controlling the activities of mind, speech and body while keeping them as auspicious as possible
  • Virtues (Dharma): these include 10 ultimate virtues of forgiveness, humility, straightforwardness, contentment, truth, restraint, penance, renunciation, detachment and chastity
  • Contemplation (Bhavana): these include 12 pure contemplations on spiritual issues such as the impermanence of the world and worldly pleasures, the lack of protection in the face of death and old age, the lack of any permanent relationship with family and friends as the soul experiences various lives, the solitude of the soul through activities, their results, births and deaths, the separateness of the soul from the body and other material objects, the impurity of the body which houses flesh, excreta, sweat and always needs to be cleaned, the influx of karma, stopping the bondage of karma, eliminating the previously bound karma, the transitory nature of the universe and all substances in it, the rarity of acquiring right faith, right knowledge and right conduct, the greatness of the true God (Omniscient passionless soul), scripture (one which increases true knowledge) and preceptor (passionless monk with total restraint)
  • Sufferings (Parishaha): these include bearing with equanimity 22 hardships such as hunger, thirst, heat, cold, insect bites, nudity, boredom, temptations of women, traveling on foot, discomfort while sitting still, sleeping on the floor, ridicule, injury, temptation to beg or ask for favors, failure to attain food, knowledge or any other accomplishment, disease, prickling pain, filth, respect of followers, conceit of knowledge, lack of knowledge and skepticism towards the truth
  • Conduct (Charitra): this includes adopting a permanent state of equanimity, reinstating previously lost equanimity, perfect non-violence, passionless conduct except for subtle greed and the conduct of a conqueror
  • Vows (Vrata): these include vows of non-violence (Ahimsa), truth (Satya), non-stealing (Achaurya), non-possessiveness (Aparigraha) and chastity (Brahmacharya)

Carefulness, control, virtues, contemplation and vows can be practiced to a limited extent by householders. They are adopted completely by monks. Conduct refers to that of monks and the advanced conducts can be attained only by those in higher spiritual stages. The 22 sufferings are endured by monks.

Thus, Tattva 5 states that “there is a way to stop the influx of karma”. This stoppage of influx is achieved by acquiring right belief, practicing restraint, discarding carelessness, discarding passions and checking the activities of mind, speech and body. A householder can achieve this to a limited extent and a monk achieves this to a large extent. Only those in advanced spiritual stages totally stop the inflow of karma.

Previously bound karma can be eliminated before its duration if one does penance, like a fruit can be artificially ripened and plucked before its time. Penance involves controlling one’s desires. While doing penance, a soul engaged in the stoppage of influx (Samvara) can also apply effort towards eliminating previously accumulated karma. This is the elimination of karma (Nirjara) conducive to liberation.

When karma is eliminated without any effort towards liberation, as is done regularly in the world, it is involuntary elimination (Akama Nirjara). If it is eliminated through effort, then it is voluntary elimination (Sakama Nirjara). Voluntary elimination is indeed useful towards liberation.

There are 12 types of penance (Tapa) – 6 external (Bahya) and 6 internal (Abhyantara). The external penances instill in a soul detachment from the body while the internal penances lead to the elimination of various karmas.

The external penances are:

  1. Fasting (Anashana): not taking any food and water
  2. Partial fasting (Avamaudarya): Taking less food and water than Inez’s appetite
  3. Renunciation of taste (Rasa Parityaga): renouncing tasty foods such as butter, ghee, milk, sweets and spicy food
  4. Food constraints (Vritti Parismkhyana) : taking food only if certain conditions are met
  5. Mortification (Kaya Klesha): Disciplining the body by enduring heat, cold and discomfort while maintaining one posture for prolonged periods
  6. Self-absorption (Vivikta Shaiyasana): Staying and sleeping in a lonely place, with all sense organs withdrawn

The internal penances are:

  1. Repentance (Prayashchita): confessing one’s sins or trangressions and taking vows or doing penance as required
  2. Reverence (Vinaya): showing proper respect to one’s preceptor, the spiritual order, elderly monks, knowledge and the sources of knowledge
  3. Selfless service (Vaiyavrittya): selflessly serving one’s preceptor, elderly monks, the spiritual order and other worthy persons
  4. Study (Swadhyaya): studying the scriptures, clearing doubts, engaging in contemplation about spiritual concepts and giving spiritual discourses
  5. Discarding the ego (Vyutsarga): withdrawing attachment towards the body, bodily activities, pride and other internal attachments
  6. Meditation (Dhyana): powerful concentration on the soul

A monk who with pure intentions repeatedly engages in such penances eventually attains liberation. Meditation is said to be the ultimate penance which eliminates all dangerous and non-dangerous karmas in the end.

Thus, Tattva 6 states that “there is a way to eliminate previously bound karma”. This elimination is achieved by regularly doing penance. This penance involves external practices and internal practices.

A soul who realizes he has wandered through births and deaths far too long eventually discards the pursuit of obligations, wealth and pleasure. He then begins to make efforts towards liberation. Through his effort, he stops the influx and hence the bondage of new karma. He also begins to eliminate previously bound karma through penance.

Finally he eliminates all passions completely, leaving only slight greed. This greed is the desire for liberation. Once this too is eliminated, he has now achieved the passionless state (Vitaraga). All deluding karma has been eliminated.

Within 48 minutes, he eliminates all knowledge-obstructing karma, perception-obstructing karma and obstructing karma. He is now an Omniscient conqueror (Jina) who is worthy of veneration. Those who venerate him and follow his footsteps are the Jains.

There are a special class of Omniscients who upon attaining Omniscience preach the truth to the world, benefiting many beings afflicted with misery. This is the fruit of their perfect right belief and compassion harbored earlier. Such an Omniscient helps many millions to cross the ocean of birth and death. Since he creates this noble ford (Tirtha), he is called a ford-maker (Tirthankara). Other Omniscients do not preach to others but they certainly answer questions.

Once an Omniscient has benefited many beings throughout his lifespan, in his last moments he deeply absorbs himself in meditation and eliminates all remaining karmas. Within one moment of this, he rises to the top of the world-space where the abode of the perfected souls (Siddha Shila) exists. Here he enjoys his own perfect nature forever, absorbed in endless peace and knowledge.

This state is called liberation (Moksha).

I bow down to the liberated ones, the Siddhas. May all who read this too attain that perfect state, where there is no more pain and suffering.

Thus, Tattva 7 states that “there is liberation”.

One comment on “Jain Philosophy
  1. Arnav says:

    I am still learning and lack complete knowledge. So please forgive me if there is anything in this article which is incorrect, incomplete or against the teachings of the Omniscient. Also please do not consider any statement absolutely true since logic and language have their limitations.
    Finally, if there are any who have been hurt by anything in this article, I ask their forgiveness. I wish peace and happiness on all.

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