Jain Philosophy
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Jain Philosophy

Jain philosophy refers to the ancient Indian philosophical system found in Jainism. One of the main features of Jain philosophy is its dualistic metaphysics, which holds that there are two distinct categories of existence, the living, conscious or sentient being (jiva) and the non-living or material (ajiva).[1]

Jain texts discuss numerous philosophical topics such as epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, cosmology and soteriology. Jain thought is primarily concerned with understanding the nature of living beings, how these beings are bound by karma (which are seen as fine material particles) and how living beings may be liberated (moksha) from the cycle of reincarnation. Also notable is the Jain belief in a beginning-less and cyclical universe and a rejection of a Creator deity.

From the Jain point of view, Jain philosophy is eternal and has been taught numerous times in the remote past by the great enlightened tirthankaras ("ford-makers").[2][3] Historians trace the developments of Jain thought to a few key figures in ancient India, mainly Mahavira (c. 5th century BCE, a contemporary of the Buddha) and possibly Parshvanatha (c. 8th or 7th century BCE, though this is disputed).[4]

According to Paul Dundas, Jain philosophy has remained relatively stable throughout its long history and no major radical doctrinal shift has taken place. This is mainly because of the influence of Umaswati's Tattv?rthas?tra, which has remained the central authoritative philosophical text among all Jains.[5]


According to ?c?rya Pujyapada's Sarv?rthasiddhi, the ultimate good for a living being (j?va) is liberation from the cyclical world of reincarnation (sa?s?ra).[6] The attainment of liberation is also associated with omniscience, and it is believed that past Jain sages like Mahavira have achieved omniscience.[7]

According to the Tattv?rthas?tra, the means to achieve liberation is three fold (this is known as the three jewels):

Right vision, right knowledge, and right conduct (together) constitute the path to liberation.

-- Tattv?rthas?tra (1-1)[8]

According to the Sarv?rthasiddhi,[9]

  • Right Vision (Samyak Dar?ana) is defined as "seeing based on true knowledge of the tattvas (substances, realities)." Right Vision is attained by right knowledge.
  • Right Knowledge (Samyak Jn?na) is defined as "knowing the tattvas such as the j?vas (living beings) as they truly are (artha)."

Jains believe that sentient beings can achieve perfect and complete knowledge of all things (omniscience). Those who have such knowledge are the enlightened kevalins. These are souls who have detached from all things, and are therefore able to perceive all things directly since their soul's knowledge is no longer blocked by anything.[10] For most beings, the omniscience of their soul is blocked by the karmic particles stuck to their soul, like a thick cloud blocks out the light of the sun.[11] Therefore, the only source of omniscient knowledge for lesser beings is the teachings of the kevalins. Since there are no longer any living kevalins, the Jain scriptures are the only source of such knowledge and are thus seen as the highest authority in Jain philosophy.[10] Because of this, Jain philosophy considers the doctrines found in the scriptures as absolute truths and philosophy's role is mainly to summarize, explain and supplement these doctrines.[12]


According to Harry Oldmeadow, Jain ontology is both realist and dualist.[13] Jeffery D. Long also affirms the realistic nature of Jain metaphysics, which is a kind of pluralism that asserts the existence of various realities.[14]

The major metaphysical distinction, writes von Glasenapp, is between the animate or sentient substances (j?va) and the inanimate substances (aj?va).[15]

Jain philosophy postulates at least seven "tattvas" (truths, realities or fundamental principles):[16][17][18][19]

  1. J?va - The living being, sentient or soul which is said to have a separate existence from the body that houses it. The immaterial J?vas are characterized by unlimited consciousness, knowledge, bliss and energy. Though they experience both birth and death, they are neither destroyed nor created.[20] It is thus both eternal in one way and yet impermanent in another. Decay and origin refer respectively to the disappearing of one state of soul and appearance of another state, these being merely modifications of the j?va.
  2. Aj?va - refers to any insentient substance. There are five ontological categories of insentients: non-sentient substance or matter (pudgala), principle of motion (dharma), the principle of rest (adharma), space (?ka) and time (k?la).[21][22] Along with j?vas, these form a set of six ontological substances (dravya). Substances are simple and indestructible elements which come together into impermanent bodies or objects.[23]
  3. ?srava (influx) - the process by which good and bad karmic substances flow into the living being
  4. Bandha (bondage) - mutual intermingling of the living being and the karmas, thereby causing its change, which cumulatively determines future rebirths[24][25]
  5. Samvara - the stoppage of the inflow of karmic matter into the soul
  6. Nirjara (gradual dissociation) - separation or falling off of part of karmic matter from the soul.
  7. Mok?ha (liberation) - complete annihilation of all karmic matter (bound with any particular soul).

?v?t?mbara Jains also often add two more realities to the above list: good karma (punya, merits) and bad karma (papa, negatives).[17][18][19]

Each entity can be analyzed in numerous different ways according to Jain thinkers. Umasvati outlines numerous "gateways" of investigation called nikshepas. These are: n?ma (name), sth?pan? (symbol), dravya (potentiality), bh?vat? (actuality), nirde?a (definition), sv?mitva (possession), s?dhana (cause), adhikarana (location), sthiti (duration), vidh?nat? (variety), sat (existence), samkhy? (numerical determination), ksetra (field occupied), spar?ana (field touched), k?la (continuity ), antara (time-lapse), bh?va (states), andalpabahutva (relative size).[26]

Helmuth von Glasenapp pointed out that a central principle of Jain thought is its attempt to provide an ontology that includes both permanence and change. As such, every being contains something that is lasting and something which is inconstant. For example, in a pot, its material atoms are imperishable, but the form, color and other qualities are subject to change.[27]


Jain philosophy accepts three reliable means of knowledge (pramana). It holds that correct knowledge is based on perception (pratyaksa), inference (anumana) and testimony (sabda or the word of scriptures).[28][29] These ideas are elaborated in Jain texts such as Tattvarthas?tra, Parvacanasara, Nandi and Anuyogadvarini.[30][29] Some Jain texts add analogy (upamana) as the fourth reliable means, in a manner similar to epistemological theories found in other Indian religions.[31]

In Jainism, jñ?na (knowledge) is said to be of five kinds - Kevala jñ?na (Omniscience), ?rutu jñ?na (Scriptural Knowledge), mati jñ?na (Sensory Knowledge), avadhi jñ?na (Clairvoyance), and manah pray?ya jñ?na (Telepathy).[32] The first two are described as being indirect means of knowledge (parok?a), with the others furnishing direct knowledge (pratyak?a), by which it is meant that the object is known directly by the soul.[33]

Relativity and Pluralism

Jain epistemology includes three related doctrines which deal with the complex and manifold nature of knowledge: anek?ntav?da (the theory of many-sidedness), sy?dv?da (the theory of conditioned predication) and nayav?da (the theory of partial standpoints). Long calls these three the "Jain doctrines of relativity".[34]


A Jain illustration of the blind men and an elephant parable. At the top, the Kevalins are shown having the ability to view all perspectives.

One of the most important and fundamental doctrines of Jainism is an?k?ntav?da (literally the 'non-one-sided' view).[35] It refers to a kind of ontological pluralism and to the idea that reality is complex and multi-faceted and therefore can only be understood from a multiplicity of perspectives.[36][37] As Long notes, this is ultimately an ontological doctrine that holds that "all existent entities have infinite attributes."[36] Jain thought generally affirms the reality of all of our perceptions, even those which contradict each other such as continuity and change, arising and perishing.[36]

This doctrine is often illustrated through the parable of the "blind men and an elephant".[38] In this story, each blind man felt a different part of an elephant and then claimed to understand the true appearance of the elephant, but could only partly succeed.[] This principle is based on the idea that objects are infinite in their qualities and modes of existence. Because of this, they cannot be completely grasped in all aspects and manifestations by finite human perception. According to the Jains, only the Kevalis--omniscient beings--can comprehend objects in all aspects and manifestations.[39]

Indeed, the Jain texts depict Mahavira as answering certain metaphysical questions that were considered 'unanswerable' by the Buddha. Mahavira is depicted as answering these with both a qualified "yes" and a "no", depending on the perspective of the questioner. Thus, the soul is both eternal in its intrinsic nature and yet also changing (due to the karmas affecting it and the various states that arise and pass away within in) and the universe is both eternal (beginningless) and yet also non-eternal (since it goes through cycles).[40] Thus, the Jains saw their metaphysics as a middle path, embracing both permanence and impermanence as metaphysically fundamental, against that of the Buddhists (who defended impermanence) and the Brahmins (who generally held a doctrine of permanence).[41]

Anek?ntav?da encourages its adherents to consider the views and beliefs of their rivals and opposing parties. Proponents of anek?ntav?da apply this principle to religion and philosophy, reminding themselves that any religion or philosophy--even Jainism--which clings too dogmatically to its own tenets, is committing an error based on its limited point of view.[42] The principle of anek?ntav?da also influenced Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi to adopt principles of religious tolerance, ahi?s? and satyagraha.[43]


A closely related theory is Nayav?da, which means "the theory of partial standpoints or viewpoints."[44] Nayas are partially valid, philosophical perspectives from which anything can be seen.[26] An object has infinite aspects to it, but when we describe an object in practice, we speak of only relevant aspects and ignore irrelevant ones.[44] Jain philosophers use the theory of partial viewpoints in order to explain the complexity of reality, part by part.[45]

This is how Jains can describe objects with seemingly contradictory statements (the soul is both permanent and impermanent etc.). Since it is only from certain perspectives that each statement is made, there is no contradiction.[46] Nayav?da holds that all philosophical disputes arise out of confusion of standpoints, and the standpoints we adopt are, although we may not realise it, "the outcome of purposes that we may pursue".[47]

According to Long, Um?sv?ti lists seven partial viewpoints:

naigamanaya (common view), samgrahanaya (generic view), vyavah?ranaya (pragmatic view), rjus?tranaya (linear view), ?abdanaya (verbal view), samabhir?dha naya (etymological view), andevambh?tanaya (acuality view). The common view is how an entity is generally perceived- what one might call a 'common sense' or unrefined perspective. A generic view seeks to classify the entity. A pragmatic view assesses the entity in terms of its possible uses. A linear view looks at the entity as it is in the present moment. A verbal view seeks to name the entity. An etymological view uses this name and its relations with other words to discern its nature. And an actuality view is concerned with the concrete particulars of the entity.[26]

Jain thinkers also use the doctrine of standpoints in order to provide a doxography of non-Jain philosophical systems. According to Jain philosophers, other philosophical systems rely on only one of the seven standpoints, while excluding the others. This is explains why they have reached false conclusions. For example, Nyaya-Vaisesika is often associated with the first naya (the common view), Vedanta with the second naya (generic view), Materialism with the third naya (pragmatic view) and Buddhism with the fourth (the linear view). Meanwhile, Jainism is seen as the only philosophy able to combine all seven nayas.[48]

One influential theory of Nayav?da is the dual-perspective model of Kundakunda.[26] Kundakunda held that the perspective of the soul is the only 'certain' (niscaya), 'supreme' (param?rtha) or 'pure' (suddha) perspective. Because of the adherence of karmic particles, the soul loses knowledge of itself as being pure, however, it is never truly modified. All other things in the universe are worldly and are to be viewed as having merely transactional and provisional value.[49]

As such, the worldly perspective is ultimately false, while the supreme perspective is the ultimate truth and according to Long, corresponds to the kevalajñ?na of a Jina.[50] Kundakunda's philosophy is especially influential in Digambara thought, though it has also influenced some ?vet?mbara scholars. However, other ?vet?mbara thinkers like Yashovijaya famously criticized Kundakunda for his reliance on one single standpoint, i.e. for ek?ntav?da (absolutism).[51][52]

Another influential theory of nayas was that of Siddhasena Div?kara, who in his Sanmatitarka ('The Logic of the True Doctrine), divided the traditional nayas into two main categories: those which affirm the substantiality of existence (dravy?stikanayas) and those which affirm impermanence (pary?y?stikanayas).[53] Siddhasena also identified the various nayas with the different Indian philosophies, all of which are seen as one-sided and extreme views, while the Jain view is seen as being in the middle and as embracing all the various points of views, which, while seemingly contradictory, are just partial perspectives of the whole truth.[54]


Sy?dv?da is the theory of conditioned predication, which provides an expression to anek?nta by recommending that the indeclinable "sy?d" or "sy?t" ("in a certain sense") be prefixed to every phrase or expression.[55][56] In the context of Jain thought, sy?d (often paired with eva, "surely" or "certainly") means "in some specific sense, or from some specific perspective, it is certainly the case that...".[57] As reality is complex, no single proposition can express the nature of reality fully. Thus the term "sy?d" should be prefixed before each proposition giving it a conditional point of view and thus removing any dogmatism in the statement as well as indicating that the sentence is true only from a specific point of view.[58]

Since it ensures that each statement is expressed from seven different conditional and relative viewpoints or propositions, sy?dv?da is known as saptibha?g?n?ya or the theory of seven conditioned predications. These seven propositions, also known as saptibha?g?, are:[59][60]

  1. sy?d-asti--from a certain perspective, it is,
  2. sy?d-n?sti--from a certain perspective, it is not,
  3. sy?d-asti-n?sti--from a certain perspective, it is, and it is not,
  4. sy?d-asti-avaktavya?--from a certain perspective, it is, and it is indescribable,
  5. sy?d-n?sti-avaktavya?--from a certain perspective, it is not, and it is indescribable,
  6. sy?d-asti-n?sti-avaktavya?--from a certain perspective, it is, it is not, and it is indescribable,
  7. sy?d-avaktavya?--from a certain perspective, it is indescribable.

Each of these seven propositions examines the complex and multifaceted nature of reality from a relative point of view of time, space, substance and mode.[59] To ignore the complexity of reality is to commit the fallacy of dogmatism.[58] According to Long, this sevenfold analysis is seen by Jain philosophers as being universally applicable and "to be exhaustive of the possible truth-values that a given proposition can convey."[61]

However, as Long notes, there is a limitation to the theories of relativity applied by Jain philosophers. This limitation is the idea that the conclusions of the doctrines of relativity must be consistent with the Jain worldview. This is summarized by Siddhasena as follows: "A well presented view of the form of naya only lends support to the ?gamic doctrines while the same, if ill presented, destroys both (i.e. itself as well as its rival)."[61] Thus, the relativity doctrines are seen by Jains as being limited by the normative claims of the Jain tradition, since these are seen as being founded on the ominiscient perspective of the enlightened ones.[62]

J?vas, the Living

Classification of Sa?s?ri J?vas (transmigrating souls) in Jainism
An explanation of the five types of material bodies associated with a Jiva.

As outlined above, the universe is composed of two main kinds of substances, the j?va (living) and the aj?va (non-living). These are un-created existents which are always interacting with each other. These substances behave according to natural laws and the intrinsic nature (sah?v?) of a substance. Understanding this intrinsic nature is the true nature of the Jain dharma.[63]

J?vas are categorised into two types--liberated and non-liberated. A j?va has various essential qualities: knowledge, consciousness (caitanya), bliss (sukha) and vibrational energy (virya).[64][65] These qualities are fully enjoyed unhindered by liberated souls, but obscured by karma in the case of non-liberated souls resulting in karmic bondage.[66] This bondage further results in a continuous co-habitation of the soul with the body. Thus, an embodied non-liberated soul is found in four realms of existence--heavens, hells, humans and animal world - in a continuous cycle of births and deaths also known as sams?ra. According to Jain thinkers, all living beings (even gods) experience extensive suffering and unquenchable desire (while worldly happiness is fleeting and small in comparison, like a mustard seed next to a mountain). With the exception of the enlightened ones, all living beings are all subject to death and rebirth.[67]

A soul is clothed in various material bodies, of which there are five, each one finer than the other (see image on the right). Every being has at least two bodies, the fiery body and the karmic body. These two bodies don't feel pain or pleasure and can pass through solid matter. A being can have two more other bodies apart from these basic ones, and only the earthly body can be perceived by the eyes.[68] Jains believe that a soul with higher powers can partially leave the body, act outside of it and then return later. This is called samudghata.[69]

According to the Jain philosophy, there are an infinite number of independent j?vas (sentients, living beings, souls) which fill the entire universe.[70] The j?vas are divided into various categories, these include the stationary beings like trees and the beings that move. Jains developed a hierarchy of living beings, depending on the various senses (indriyas) and vital aspects (pranas) that they have. Animals are classed as five sensed being, while plants and various microorganism have one sense.[66] The vitalities or life-principles are ten, namely the five senses, energy, respiration, life-duration, the organ of speech, and the mind. Humans, gods and so on are five sensed beings that also have an inner sense or thinking mind (manas).[71][72] Regarding sex, the Jains believed that there were three main sexes: male, female and the third sex (napumsaka-veda, all beings without sex organs are part of this third sex).[73] The Jains also affirmed the existence of tiny one-sensed beings called nigodas which exists everywhere and fill the universe.[74]

A unique Jain view is that plants have a form of consciousness like other animals. This is supposed to be seen in their desire for nourishment, reproduction, and self-preservation. They are even seen as capable of expressing moral feelings and thus eventually climbing the ladder of beings towards liberation.[75]


Structure of Universe according to the Jain scriptures.

Our world according to Jain cosmology is a massive structure, wide at the bottom, narrow in the middle and broad in its upper regions. It contains various realms or sub-worlds, including the siddhaloka (world of the enlightened ones), the heavens, various hells, and the human realm (at the center of the universe), which is a system of island continents (including Jambudvipa at the center) divided by mountains and surrounded by oceans with a giant mountain at the very center (Mt. Meru).[76][77]

Jain cosmology denies the existence of a supreme being responsible for creation and operation of the universe. In Jainism, this universe is an uncreated entity, existing since infinity, immutable in nature, beginningless and endless.[22] It has no creator, governor, judge, or destroyer.[78][79]

Jain philosophers constantly attacked the doctrine of creationism. In his Mah?pura, ?c?rya Jinasena critiqued the concept of a creator god:[80]

Some foolish men declare that the creator made the world. The doctrine that the world was created is ill advised and should be rejected. If god created the world, where was he before the creation? If you say he was transcendent then and needed no support, where is he now? How could god have made this world without any raw material? If you say that he made this first, and then the world, you are faced with an endless regression.

Jainism does uphold the existence of heavenly and hell beings who die and are reborn according to their karma.[81][82] Gods are believed possess a more transcendent knowledge about material things and can anticipate events in the human realms.[83] However, once their past karmic merit is exhausted, gods die and are reborn again as humans, animals or other beings.[83][84]

Souls are also believed to be able to achieve total perfection, a state commonly called param?tman, the "supreme self" (also commonly referred to as "God" in English as well).[52] In Jainism, perfect souls with a body are called arihant (victors) and perfect souls without a body are also called siddhas (liberated souls).[85][86][87]

Time Cycles

Division of time as envisaged by Jains.

According to Jainism, time is without beginning and eternal. The k?lacakra, the cosmic wheel of time, rotates ceaselessly.[88] The wheel of time is divided into two half-cycles, utsarpi (ascending, a time of progressive prosperity and happiness) and avasarpi (descending, a time of increasing sorrow and immorality).[89][90][91]

Each half cycle is further sub-divided into six aras or epochs. As the universe moves through these epochs, worlds go through changes in happiness, life span, and general moral conduct. No divine or supernatural beings are responsible for these changes, rather they happen due to the force of karma.[92] Jains believe that the time cycle is currently in the descending phase.[93]

During the each motion of the half-cycle of the wheel of time, 63 ?al?k?puru?a or 63 illustrious persons, consisting of the 24 T?rtha?karas and their contemporaries regularly appear.[94]

The Non-Living Reality

The five unconscious (aj?va) substances (dravya) are:[95]


Pudgala is a term for any non-living particulate matter. The Jains developed an elaborate theory of atomism. Paramus or atoms were the basic and building blocks of matter. They cannot be perceived by the senses and cannot be further divided.[96] An atom also always possesses four qualities, a color (varna), a taste (rasa), a smell (gandha), and a certain kind of palpability (sparsha, touch) such as lightness, heaviness, softness, roughness, etc.[97]

An atom occupies one space point. It is uncreated and indestructible. Atoms combine (bandha) change their modes, and disintegrate (bheda) but their basic qualities remain.[] An atom can also be bound together with other atoms to create an aggregate (skandha). Material aggregates are categorized according to how fine (suksma) or coarse (sthula) they are. The finest kind of material aggregate is on the atomic scale (extra fine matter), then comes "fine" matter (includes karmic particles), then anything that can be sensed in some way (like smell) but not seen, then comes matter which can be seen but not touched (like light), then there is the category of coarse things (which includes any fluids) and finally there is extra coarse matter (solids).[98] Material things can give off light or darkness. Darkness is seen as a kind of matter in Jainism and so is sound.[98]


Dharma (Medium of Motion) and Adharma (Medium of Rest) are substances which account for the principles of motion and rest. As such, they are a kind of aether.[20] Also known as Dharm?stik?ya and Adharm?stik?ya, they are said to pervade the entire universe. Dharma and Adharma are not motion or rest themselves, but mediate motion and rest in other bodies. Without the medium of motion, motion itself is not possible and vice versa. It is a precondition for movement/rest, like the water which allows for fish to swim. This doctrine is unique to Jainism.[20]


?ka (Space) is a substance that accommodates souls, matter, the principle of motion, the principle of rest, and time. It is an all-pervading receptable made up of infinite space-points (pradesha).[20] According to Jains, Space is a substance, in the nature of a vacuum but not a pure vacuum.

Scale of time in Jain texts shown logarithmically.

It is an extended continuous vacuum. As pure vacuum it will be non-existent, and non-extended; which will devoid it of even one positive quality. Therefore, Jains propound that Space, which is endowed with infinite extension is a substance in itself.


In Jainism, time (K?la) is that which mediates change, it causes what is new to become old, and so on. For Jains, time is that which supports the changes to which subtances are subject.[99] From one point of view, it is an infinite and endless continuity, from another standpoint, it is made up an infinite number of atomic moments (samaya). Some Jain philosophers hold that time is a substance, while others do not.[99]

According to Champat Rai Jain, "Nothing in nature can exist destitute or devoid of function. Function is discharged by the displacement of energy in the case of simple units and things. If there were no Time-substance to help in the performance of the movement of the displacement of energy, things would be doomed to remain in the same condition always."[100]

Karma and Rebirth

Karma as action and reaction: if we sow goodness, we will reap goodness.
The various realms of existence in Jainism
Classification of karmas as mentioned in Jain texts

In Jainism, as in other Indian religions, it is karma which is responsible for the different forms of life that souls will take.[101] Karma is envisioned as a material substance (or subtle matter) that can bind to the soul, travel with the soul in bound form between rebirths, and affect the suffering and happiness experienced by the jiva in the lokas.[102]

Jain texts compare karma to dust which gets stuck to a damp cloth (i.e. the soul and its passions).[101] As such, karma is a kind of pollution that taints the soul with various colours (le?y?).[103] Based on its karma, a soul undergoes transmigration and reincarnates in various states of existence--like heavens or hells, or as humans or animals.[89] Jainism does not believe in an intermediate state like some schools of Buddhism, instead the souls is seen as "leaping like a monkey" in a sheath of subtle karmas from the dead body to a new body.[104]

Karma is believed to obscure and obstruct the innate nature and striving of the soul, as well as its spiritual potential in the next rebirth.[105] The vibrational energy of a soul is said to be what draws karmic particles to it and creates bondage. While the earliest texts focus on the role of the passions (kas?ya, especially hatred) in attracting karmas, Umasv?ti states that it is physical, verbal and mental activity which are responsible for the flowing in of karmic particles.[106]

According to von Glasenapp, the main causes for the binding of karma are wrong view, defective self discipline, the passions and activity.[107] Harming any life form will definitely have negative karmic effects.[108][109]

According to Paul Dundas, the main difference between the Buddhist view of karma and the Jain view is that even involuntary actions would still lead to negative karmic effects for the person who did them. Furthermore, mental actions that are not carried out, causing someone else to carry out a bad action or merely approving of the action was not seen as being significantly different (with regard to karmic retribution).[106][110]

In Jain works on karma, karmas are generally divided into 8 types, four harming (gh?tiy?) karmas and four non-harming karmas. The harming karmas are the "delusion karma" (mohan?ya) which leads to wrong views, the "karma which blocks knowledge" (jñ?n?varaya), the "karma that obscures perception" (darshan?varan?ya) and the "obstacle karma" (antar?ya), which obstructs the innate energy of the soul.[111] The non-harming karmas are "feeling" (vedan?ya) karma which relates to pleasant or unpleasant experiences, "name" (n?man) karma which determines one's rebirth, "life" (?yus) karma that determines the lifespan and "clan" (gotra) karma which determines one's status.[103]

The Jain doctrine also holds that it is possible for us to both modify our karma, and to obtain release from it, through the austerities (tapas) and purity of conduct.[89] The ultimate Jain goal is spiritual liberation, which is often defined as release from all karmas.[112] According to Jainism, some souls called abhavya (incapable) can never attain moksha (liberation).[113][114] The abhavya state is entered after an intentional and shockingly evil act.[115]


Sculpture depicting the Jain concept of ahimsa (non-injury)
A depiction of a Jain monk and a tree depicting the five great vows. The Muhapatti (mouth covering) is a symbol of ahimsa and it is supposed to prevent small animals from flying into the mouth of the ascetic.
The twelve vows of a Jain lay disciple

Jain ethics is rooted in its metaphysics, particularly its karma theory.[116] Jain philosophers hold that harmful actions (hi?s?) cause the soul to be tainted and defiled with karmas.[117] In fact, karma (good and bad) is constantly flowing (asrava) into soul as a result of actions by body, speech and mind, like water flowing into a lake.[118]

As such, those who seek to stop (samvara) the influx of bad karmas (in order to reach liberation) should practice right conduct by observing certain ethical rules.[119] Right conduct (samyak ch?ritra), is defined in the Sarv?rthasiddhi as "the cessation of activity leading to the taking in of karmas by a wise person engaged in the removal of the causes of transmigration."[9]

To prevent karmic particles from sticking to and tainting the soul, Jainism teaches five ethical duties, which it calls five vows. These come in two main forms, the anuvratas (small vows) for Jain laypersons, and mahavratas (great vows) for Jain mendicants.[120]

The Five vows, which are taken even by Jain laypersons (who have knowledge of the doctrine) are:[121]

  1. Ahi?s? ("non-violence", "non-harming", "non-injury"):[122] The first major vow taken by Jains is to cause no harm to other human beings, as well as all living beings (particularly animals, but also plants).[122] This is the highest ethical duty in Jainism, and it applies not only to one's actions, but demands that one be non-violent in one's speech and thoughts.[123][117] According to the Tattvarthasutra, harming is defined as "the severance of vitalities out of passion".[124] According to a Jain ethical text called the Pururthasiddhyup?ya, "non-manifestation of passions like attachment is non-injury (ahi?s?), and manifestation of such passions is injury (hi?s?)."[125] Vegetarianism and other nonviolent practices and rituals of Jains flow from the principle of ahi?s?.[126]
  2. Satya, "truth": This vow is to always speak the truth. Neither lie, nor speak what is not true, and do not encourage others or approve anyone who speaks an untruth.[123][120]
  3. Asteya, "not stealing": A Jain layperson should not take anything that is not willingly given.[122][127] Additionally, a Jain mendicant should ask for permission to take it if something is being given.[128]
  4. Brahmacharya, "celibacy": Abstinence from sex and sensual pleasures is prescribed for Jain monks and nuns. For laypersons, the vow means chastity, faithfulness to one's partner.[123][120]
  5. Aparigraha, "non-possessiveness": This includes non-attachment to material and psychological possessions, avoiding craving and greed.[120] Jain monks and nuns completely renounce property and social relations, own nothing and are attached to no one.[129][130]

Jain ascetics are even more scrupulous regarding the vows, for example, regarding the first vow of ahimsa, they will often carry a broom or another tool to sweep the floor of small animals in front of them.[131]

Jain texts further prescribe seven supplementary vows, including three gu?a vratas (merit vows) and four ?ik vratas (training vows).[132][133] The three gu?a vows are:[134]

  1. digvrata - Restriction on movement with regard to the four directions.
  2. bhogopabhogaparimana - Vow of limiting consumable and non-consumable things
  3. anartha-dandaviramana - Refraining from harmful occupations and activities (purposeless sins).

The four ?ik vows are:[135][134]

  1. samayika - Meditate by sitting still and concentrate periodically (for one muh?rta of 48 minutes, or for two or three muhurtas).
  2. desavrata - Limiting movement to certain places (house, village, etc) for a fixed period of time.[136]
  3. upvas / paushad - Fasting for 24 hours on certain days (usually four times in a moon-month) or living a day which mimics the life of a Jain Monk.
  4. atihti samvibhag - Offering food to ascetics and needy people.

Finally, there is a vow called Sallekhana (or Santhara), a "religious death" ritual observed at the end of life, historically by Jain monks and nuns, but rare in the modern age.[137] This vow is a voluntary and gradual reduction of food and liquid resulting in the dispassionate ending of life.[138][139] This is believed to reduce negative karma that affects a soul's future rebirths.[140]

Liberation and the Path

A Jain sculpture, the central figure is a depiction of a fully liberated soul, a siddha. The cut out outline of a human form symbolizes the non-material nature of siddhas.[141]
Kevala Jñ?na of Mahavira
Fourteen stages on the path to liberation

?c?rya Pujyapada's defines liberation (moksha, kevala jñana) in his Sarv?rthasiddhi as follows:[6]

"Liberation is the attainment of an altogether different state of the soul, on the removal of all the impurities of karmic matter and the body, characterized by the inherent qualities of the soul such as knowledge and bliss free from pain and suffering."

At the moment of final liberation, a Kevalin (liberated soul) will become free of their body and in an instant rise up to the siddhaloka, the realm of liberated souls at the top of the universe. As explained by Dundas, the enlightened soul "will exist perpetually without any further rebirth in a disembodied and genderless state of perfect joy, energy, consciousness and knowledge."[141]

Jains believe that the number of liberated souls is infinite. While these souls interpenetrate each other and all have the same qualities, Jainism strongly resists the idea that they are part of some monistic world soul (as in found in some schools of Hinduism).[141] According to Haribhadra, this Hindu monism makes no sense.

Dundas outlines his critique as follows:

"if the world-soul were inherently pure, it would be difficult to explain why the phenomenal world is manifestly impure, while if it were impure, there would then be no point in the liberated j?vas merging with it."[141]

Jain philosophers developed a schema of 14 stages of spiritual development called Gunasthana (Sanskrit: "levels of virtue").[142][143] These stages correspond to the abandoning of the various causes of karmic binding.[144]

Those who pass the last stage are enlightened siddhas and become fully established in Right View, Right Knowledge and Right Conduct.[145]


Umaswati, the first Jain philosopher to write a systematic exposition of Jain thought

The philosophy of early Jainism can be found in the Agamas. Though these early texts contain much philosophical content, it is not systematic and can be inconsistent.[146]

Umaswati was probably the first systematic Jain philosopher. His Tattv?rthas?tra drew together all the ancient Jain doctrines and presented them in a systematic sutra style. His work was extremely influential and is accepted by all Jain schools of thought today.[147]

The main Digambara commentaries on the Tattv?rthas?tra are those of P?jyap?da (6th century), Akala?ka (8th century) and Vidy?nandi (9th century) while the main Svetambara commentaries are Siddhase?a Ga?in's 8th century commentary and the Sva-bhya.[148][147]

Harry Oldmeadow notes that Jain philosophy remained fairly standard throughout history and the later elaborations only sought to further elucidate preexisting doctrine and avoided changing the ontological status of the components.[149] Dundas argues that this philosophical stability is largely do to the influence of Umaswati's work.[5]

However, the Jain tradition has since ancient times been divided into the ?vet?mbara and the Digambara traditions. The schism arose mainly on account of differences in question of practice of nudity amongst monks and whether women could achieve liberation in female bodies. Apart from these differences, there are no other major philosophical differences between Jain sects, though there are different interpretations of the basic doctrines such as an?k?ntav?da. This doctrinal conservatism in Jainism has led scholars like Padmanabh Jaini to remark that in the course Jain history there were never any radically new movements (like Mahayana, tantra or bhakti) which effectively challenged mainstream Jainism.[150]

After the period of the early philosophers, like Umaswati, there follows a period of increasing philosophical sophistication, with a focus on epistemology (pramana) and logic (nyaya). This era saw the work of great epistemologists like Siddhasena Divakara, Samantabhadra and Akalanka.[147] The work of Kundakunda, particularly his theory of the two truths, was also extremely influential, especially on Digambara philosophy.[151] Jain philosophers' preoccupation with epistemology continued into the early modern period, which saw several great Jain scholars who wrote on the navya-nyaya ("new reason") philosophy, such as Ya?ovijaya (1624-1688).

The Jain encounter with Islam also led to theological debates on the existence of God and on the use of violence.[152] According to Paul Dundas, Jain thinkers faced with the muslim destruction of their temples also began to revisit their theory of ahimsa (non-violence). Dundas notes how the 12th century Jain thinker Jinadatta Suri argued in favor of violence in self-defense.[153]

Shree Tulsi, ?c?rya Mah?prajña and other monastics researching the Jain Agamas.

The modern era saw the rise of a new sect, the ?v?t?mbara Terapanth, founded by ?c?rya Bhik?u in the 18th century. Terapanth scholars like Tulas? (1913-1997) and ?c?rya Mah?prajña (1920- 2010) have been influential intellectual figures in modern Jainism, writing numerous works on Jain philosophy.[154]

The modern era also saw the rise of new sects led by the laity as well as various influential intellectual figures. The non-sectarian cult of Shrimad Rajchandra (1867 - 1901) is well known due to it being a major influence on Mahatma Gandhi.[155] Another influential figure was Kanjisvami, who was known for his stress on the mystical philosophy of Kundakunda.[156]

Contribution to Indian Thought

As one of the earliest and most influential of the sramana systems, Jainism influenced other Indian systems of thought. Scholarly research has shown that philosophical concepts that are typically Indian - Karma, Ahimsa, Moksa, reincarnation and like - either have their origins in the sramana traditions (one of the most ancient of which is Jainism). The sramanic ideal of mendicancy and renunciation, that the worldly life was full of suffering and that emancipation required giving up of desires and withdrawal into a lonely and contemplative life, was in stark contrast with the brahmanical ideal of an active and ritually punctuated life based on sacrifices, household duties and chants to deities. Sramanas developed and laid emphasis on Ahimsa, Karma, moksa and renunciation.[157][158]

Jain ideas seem to have had some influence on the Buddha and on Early Buddhism, and both worldviews share many common ideas (karma rebirth, an uncreated universe, ahimsa, denial of the Vedas).[159][160] The Buddha is depicted as practicing forms of asceticism which are found in Jainism (though he later rejected many of these practices as too extreme).[161] Helmuth von Glasenapp also argues that the Jain idea of non-violence, and particularly its promotion of vegetarianism, had an influence on Hinduism, especially on Vaishnavism.[162] Furthermore, von Glasenapp argues that some Hindu philosophical systems, particularly the dualistic Vedanta of Madhvacarya, was influenced by Jain philosophy. He also states that it is possible that Shaivasiddhanta was influenced by Jain thought as well.[162]

The Jain system of philosophy and ethics is also known for having had a major impact on modern figures like Dayanand Sarasvati and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.[163]

Major Jain philosophers

Numerous Jain philosophers have contributed to the development of Jain thought. Below is a partial list of some of the main Jain philosophers.[164][165]

  • Um?sv?ti or Umasvami (possibly between 2nd-century and 5th-century CE) - The author of the first Jain work in Sanskrit, the Tattv?rthas?tra, which systematised Jain philosophy in a form acceptable to all sects of Jainism.
  • Samantabhadra (c. 2nd - 5th century CE) - The first Jain writer to write on ny?ya, (in his Apta-Mim?ms?). He also composed the Ratnakaranda ?r?vak?c?ra and the Svayambhu Stotra.
  • Kundakunda (c. sometime between the 2nd century and the 8th century CE[166]). - An exponent of Jain metaphysics and an influential two truths theory. He was the author of Pañc?stik?yas?ra "Essence of the Five Existents", the Pravacanas?ra "Essence of the Scripture", the Samayas?ra "Essence of the Doctrine", Niyamas?ra "Essence of Discipline", Atthap?huda "Eight Gifts", Dasabhatti "Ten Worships" and B?rasa Anuvekkh? "Twelve Contemplations".
  • Siddhasena Div?kara (c. 5th century) - Jain logician and author of important works in Sanskrit and Prakrit, such as, Ny?y?vat?ra (on Logic) and Sanmatis?tra (dealing with the seven Jaina standpoints, knowledge and the objects of knowledge).[167]
  • Akalanka (c. 5th century) - key Jain logician, whose works such as Laghiyastraya, Pram?nasangraha, Ny?yaviniscaya-vivarana, Siddhiviniscaya-vivarana, Astasati, Tattv?rthar?jav?rtika, et al. are seen as landmarks in Indian logic. The impact of Akalanka may be surmised by the fact that Jain Ny?ya is also known as Akalanka Ny?ya.
  • Pujyapada (6th century) - Jain philosopher, grammarian, and Sanskritist. Composed Samadhitantra, Ishtopadesha and the Sarvarthasiddhi, a definitive commentary on the Tattv?rthas?tra and Jainendra Vyakarana, the first work on Sanskrit grammar by a Jain monk.
  • Manikyanandi (6th century) - Jain logician, composed the Parikshamaukham, a masterpiece in the karika style of the Classical Nyaya school.
  • Jinabhadra Ga?i (6th-7th century) - author of Avasyaksutra (Jain tenets) Visesanavati and Visesavasyakabhasya (Commentary on Jain essentials). He is said to have followed Siddhasena and compiled discussion and refutation on various views on Jaina doctrine.
  • Mallavadin (8th century) - author of Nayacakra and Dvadasaranayacakra (Encyclopedia of Philosophy) which discusses the schools of Indian philosophy.[167]
  • Yog?ndudeva (8th century), author of Param?tmapraka?.
  • Haribhadra (8th century) - Jain thinker, author, philosopher, satirist and great proponent of anek?ntav?da and yoga studies. His works include ?a?dar?anasamuccaya, Yogabindu, Yogadisamuccaya and Dhurtakhyana. he pioneered the Dvatrimshatika genre of writing in Jainism, where various religious subjects were covered in 32 succinct Sanskrit verses.[167]
  • Prabhacandra (10th century) - Jain philosopher, composed a 106-Sutra Tattvarthasutra and exhaustive commentaries on two key works on Jain Nyaya, Prameyakamalamartanda, based on Manikyanandi's Parikshamukham and Nyayakumudacandra on Akalanka's Laghiyastraya.
  • Nemichandra (10th century), author of the Gommats?ra, a great compendium of Digambara doctrine.
  • Abhayadeva (1057 to 1135) - author of Vadamahrnava (Ocean of Discussions) which is a 2,500 verse tika (Commentary) of Sanmartika and a great treatise on logic.[167]
  • Acharya Hemachandra (1089-1172) - Jain thinker, author, historian, grammarian and logician. His works include Yogastra and Trishashthishalakapurushacaritra and the Siddhahemavyakarana.[167] He also authored an incomplete work on Jain Ny?ya, titled Pram?na-Mim?ms?.
  • Vadideva (11th century) - He was a senior contemporary of Hemacandra and is said to have authored Paramananayatattavalokalankara and its voluminous commentary the syadvadaratnakara, a work which focuses on the doctrine of Sy?dv?da.
  • Vidyanandi (11th century) - Jain philosopher, composed a commentary on Acarya Umasvami's Tattvarthasutra, known as Tattvarthashlokavartika.
  • Ya?ovijaya (1624-1688) - Jain logician and one of the last intellectual giants to contribute to Jain philosophy. He specialised in Navya-Ny?ya and commentaries on most of the earlier Jain Ny?ya works by Samantabhadra, Akalanka, Manikyanandi, Vidy?nandi, Prabh?candra and others in the then-prevalent Navya-Ny?ya style. Ya?ovijaya has to his credit a prolific literary output - more than 100 books in Sanskrit, Prakrit, Gujarati and Rajasthani. He is also famous for Jnanasara (essence of knowledge) and Adhayatmasara (essence of spirituality).
  • Vinayavijaya (17th century), author of the encyclopedic Lokaprak?sha.

See also



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