Introduction To Jainism: The Fourteen-Fold Path to Freedom (1)

Published: 23.10.2008
Updated: 30.07.2015

Infinite knowledge, infinite purity,
and infinite freedom are the goal

All living beings - the earthly minerals, plants, animals and men form only a minority in this vast cosmos of life - from the most primitive with only one sense faculty to the highest divine, have their specific forms, conditions of life and stages of evolution due to karmic action. In their always very systematic approach, the Jains have elaborated a scientific classification of 148 types of karma, as discussed in chapter 4. The core of Jain ethics is ahimsā - nonviolence in action, speech and mind - the total abstention from doing harm to any living being, even the smallest and least developed. As far as humans are concerned, apart from not doing physical harm, they practice tolerance towards different opinions - because no person can, unless he has reached omniscience, claim to have the ultimate correct and complete view. As said, Jains are strict vegetarians, and avoid professions, which might involve physical harm, even to the smallest of creatures.

The purpose of these practices is twofold. First, suffering is limited as much as possible for all creatures and they are not hindered on the path their souls have chosen. Second, they purify themselves from karmas, which cling to the soul due to violent or otherwise unharmonious thoughts, and emotions, which limit clarity of mind and true vision, and in this way they develop an almost superhuman compassion for all that lives.

The final goal of the soul’s pilgrimage through astounding varieties of forms of existence, in fact all space and time units that can be conceived within the universe, is to reach the point where the consciousness is fully at one with the qualities of the soul: infinite knowledge, infinite purity and infinite freedom within this universe. The possibility of acquiring an unstained clear mind and infallible intuition and insight is no doubt the ultimate dream of every scientist or other truth-seeker. If we really want to know truth about ourselves and the universe and its laws, and the purpose of our existence, of seen and unseen worlds, and our relation with all be-ing and be-ness, and, above all, if we wish to work for the well-being and betterment of the world, for all its inhabitants and for the human condition, we can not avoid practicing of ethics, which means acting in harmony with the laws of the universe.

The Jains divide the path towards purity and final emancipation and omniscience within our universe into fourteen stages[71] or gunasthānas. Even though it may not be possible for us to live in all respects like a Jain, taking notice of the general principles may be helpful, and is indeed in itself purifying. Opinions differ, and some say that this teaching was invented in the last two millennia, but it may also be a very ancient teaching, as it seems that the concept of the gunasthānas is already visible in the Indus script, and it continues today in the form of the snake ladder game, in which the ladder represents the spiritual path, whereas the snake form denotes passion (S.R. Jain, personal communication).

The first stage is what the Jains call “false worldview.”[72] This signifies our “normal” state of being, in which the soul is caught in, and suffers from, false appearances or worldly illusions. We have been bound by passions and illusions from the beginningless past. It is the stage in which the soul (jīva) has always been, until it reaches the first recognition of its own nature. It is the normal state in which the majority of people find themselves, unaware of the practical possibility of a spiritual life. We may form our ideas and theories, but being unaware of the spiritual truths that lie behind the external manifestation of phenomena we will never have a real understanding of the nature of the cosmos and of life, and we are suffering the frustrations of that fundamental ignorance. This stage describes the situation of humanity at large in the present stage of evolution, which is karmic: due to past thoughts and feelings we have attracted those species of karmas that delude right views. But the soul has the innate capacity of to break away through its vesture of karmic limitations. There comes a moment, somewhere along the pilgrim’s road of the soul, when the first flashes of true insight dawn; and this is truly a historic event in each one’s individual journey. The stage when this occurs is called, literally translated “capability of correct-and-false insight-ness.”[73]. When this occurs one progresses at once to the 4th stage of the ladder.

There are some very interesting teachings about the concept of “correct-and-false insight-ness.” This stage is so special because from then on for the first time in his soul’s history the individual can take charge of its path towards final attainment. The soul itself has the innate capacity[74] - bhavyatva - to initiate this event, and it has always been inherent in the nature of the soul, but slumbering. This breakthrough only occurs when the soul has grown to a point of “readiness” to be touched by the inner impulse, once we have placed ourselves in the right karmic conditions. Bhavyatva may be awakened from its dormant state by listening to spiritual teachings, or meeting with a spiritually developed person. Even seeing the beautiful and pure image of a great spiritual teacher may evoke the noble qualities of the soul.

Another factor that has always been inherent in our soul, even when it was still clothed in the forms of the most primitive beings, is the urge or initial cause, or “autonomous capacity”[75] to free itself from the chains of bondage-causing inclinations. This is the fundamental, ever-pressing driving force of evolution towards liberation. The translator of one English version of the Tattvārthadhigama Sūtra, Nathmal Tatia, writes: “Moral and spiritual consciousness only dawn for the soul when it is sufficiently conscious of, and confronted with, the force that has eternally been keeping it ensnared. To facilitate this, the soul has an innate, beginningless ‘autonomous capacity’ that is always struggling to relieve the soul of its karmic burden. This capacity is the willpower which drives the soul towards liberation” (p. 280). These two factors - the potentiality to become free and the urge to self-liberation - are the indispensable precursors to the following stage.

But let us first reflect on the nature of living beings as presented in the Jain teachings. We see that at the core there is:

  1. a jīva or soul that is pure and omniscient by its very nature;
  2. a component of great compassion and enlightenment that may at the proper moment, due to the right “call from below,” project a ray of spiritual light and energy into the recipient personal consciousness, thus temporarily enlightening the mind and setting it aflame to the extent that it is able to contain that ray;
  3. an innate desire or driving force towards liberation;
  4. a lower, passionate mind that is the slave of its illusions, which continuously draws karmic elements of a lower nature around the soul, thus blinding clear vision and counteracting the free development of the higher faculties and keeping the soul in bondage.

The whole is dressed in three vestures:

  1. the karmic body, or body composed of karmic matter particles, the causal body of the outer form as well as one’s personal mental and emotional tendencies;
  2. the electric body formed of fine molecules of electric matter and
  3. the physical body.

The one strongest obscuring karma,[76] which had until this moment clung to the innately pure soul and obstructed it from shining forth forcefully, is now temporarily pushed aside due to the spiritual impulse. In such moments when the spiritual sun breaks through the clouds, many worldly interests of physical, psychological and mental character disappear into the background. One realizes that there is a true essential nature far above the illusions of everyday life. This gives great inner peace, and within that peace, a strong desire for spiritual advancement and learning. Once the soul has entered the path towards moksha or nirvāna (enlightenment), every subsequent event in life becomes a teacher if seen in the light of the soul. This then may go hand in hand with actual teachings received through a more advanced person who has gained a deeper understanding of the inner life.

Through this instruction and training, purity and insight increase further, and numerous karmas are removed, as when the sun evaporates a cloud which obscures it and great energy shines forth. The urge towards liberation that was always inherent in the soul now becomes very strong and for the first time the pilgrim is placed face to face with his enemies: his own gross passions that have accumulated around the soul since beginningless time, and the factors (karmas) that have always been deluding real vision. Recognizing and forcefully removing these enemies or forces, all deluding factors are temporarily suppressed and one experiences an unobstructed insight. This is the nature of the stage called “correct world-view.”[77] It is the most crucial stage in the development of the soul.

The consciousness now experiences an insight that it had never had before, the first dawn of final enlightenment. Thus far, through good deeds and thoughts, through the awakening inner urge, through the inner capacity of the soul to send rays of enlightenment to the mind which has become recipient, and the growing insight accompanied by natural instruction, and by facing and suppressing the soul’s “enemies,” the aspirant has been approaching the gate. From now on, he can enter the gate and tread the path of spirituality that makes him an ever greater and wiser beneficial force for all living beings. And he (or she) will succeed. From now on he may truly be called a Jaina, because he has entered the path of the jinas, the conquerors. Perfection is reached, however, through the difficult stages that follow.

This stage of temporary true insight may refer to a rare and deep mystical experience. But, perhaps on a lesser scale, many of us may have experienced moments of extraordinary clarity. To our regret these moments never last very long, and after some time we are merely left with the memory, unable to recall them. We had suppressed our tendencies, but not yet conquered them. Still we have not been overcome by our old passions: we spend a time in a stage in which the insight is no longer clear. But then we may even start to doubt whether we have not just been floating on a self-inflated cloud. This stage of memory of “something” is called “mixed stage,”[78] but due to so many down-pulling karmas, our own heritage, in a moment we may be drawn down as it were, we take up our old habits and worldly desires, and may entirely forget the experience: we continue our life as before. But only for the time being. Once the soul has been touched by this enlightened experience, one has irreversibly entered the path towards moksha, enlightenment and omniscience. No doubt, many of us have gone through some deep experience in a former life. Perhaps this is why one may experience a feeling of recognition when coming in contact with spiritual teachings or objects of spiritual beauty in the present life. A modern theosophical writer put it thus: “Any one of you who has once felt the touch of the god within never is the same again. Never can be the same again. Your life is changed; and you can have this awakening at any moment, any moment that you will take it” (G. de Purucker).

Someone who has experienced “correct-and-false insight-ness” and holds on to it has undergone a great inner change, which reflects itself in outer attitudes and behavior. He feels great inner joy, despite the tremendous difficulties that still await him. First a person had identified himself with his body, with his possessions, his status, the compliments or rebukes he receives etc., and everything he met in life was judged as either pleasant or unpleasant. He had identified himself with his ego, thinking that his personal willpower is the real actor in life, thus feeling proud when something had been accomplished, or frustrated when some personal aim had failed. Thus, unknowingly, he has always been trying to work against the spiritual laws of nature, to row against the stream of the spirit. In this way the cycle of bondage was continued. Now his attention is entirely redirected and becomes wholly focused on his own nature (svabhāva). Outer things, his body, possessions, psychological conditions such as anger, fear, hatred, self-pity, pride, passions, greed are no longer of paramount interest. He becomes interested in seeing the self within, in knowing the spiritual side of nature rather than outer appearances. In this way gains a great pureness of mind and behavior, which will enable him to practice the purity in motivation and conduct and the one-pointedness that are needed to follow the path further towards its ultimate goal. For the world around him, he has become a more peaceful, tranquil, stable and patient person and naturally shows what the Hindu Bhagavad-Gītā describes as the characteristics of the wise: equal under all circumstances, cold or hot, praise or humiliation, prosperity or loss, etc. He knows now that there is an essential nature behind the veil of illusion he had thus far regarded as realities. But of he now realizes that these “realities” are transitory. They are nothing but “modes[79]“ of an inherently free and omniscient living soul. This applies to all forms of life, all living beings, all of which are forms of expression of an essential core, which is of a fundamental all-encompassing conscious nature.


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Prakrit Bharti Academy
Society for Scientific & Ethical Living
13-A, Main Malviya Nagar, Jaipur-302017
Phone: 0141 -2524827, 2520230

First Edition, 2006
ISBN No. 81-89698-09-5

Translated and revised edition of:
" Jainisme - Een introductie"

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Ahimsā
  2. Anger
  3. Body
  4. Consciousness
  5. Deśa-Virata
  6. Dr. Nathmal Tatia
  7. Fear
  8. Greed
  9. Gunasthānas
  10. Indus script
  11. JAINA
  12. Jaina
  13. Jīva
  14. Karma
  15. Karmas
  16. Karmic Body
  17. Karmic matter
  18. Mithyādrishti
  19. Moksha
  20. Nirvāna
  21. Nonviolence
  22. Omniscient
  23. Paryāya
  24. Pride
  25. Samyak-Drishti
  26. Samyak-Mithyātva
  27. Sarva-Virata
  28. Soul
  29. Space
  30. Svabhāva
  31. Sāsādana
  32. Sūtra
  33. Tattvārthadhigama Sūtra
  34. Tolerance
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