Jainism: The Eternal and Universal Path for Enlightenment: 05 Guṇsthān - Fourteen Steps to Enlightenment

Published: 26.09.2011
Updated: 02.07.2015

See your Ātmā with your Ātmā

Spiritual stages of Soul, 14 Gunsthāṇs
Relation between Guṇsthān, karma and jñān

The journey to Mokṣa begins from the present state of an individual and Siddhahood is the final state. This road is marked by 14 milestones, called Gunsthāṇs. These 14 stages of elevation to higher levels of consciousness, which are analogous to energy levels of elementary particles predicted by quantum physics in the physical universe, are like rungs of a ladder. Transition from some stages to stages below or above are allowed whereas some transitions are forbidden. The ascendency depends on following the path of purification, outlined later, in Chapter 6. The final goal is to attain kevalihood (stage 13), after which one becomes a Siddha (stage 14). Each stage has a "name", signifying the quality of attainment which are discussed in great detail in various Karma granths.

Before we describe each milestone, it may be appropriate to introduce some important landmarks on this journey to enlightenment that is the stages 2, 4, 7 and 14, which is the final destination. Briefly, the base line of the ladder or the first stage is Mithyātva, where a soul possesses wrong perception or a state of total delusion. A person who does not believe in the cardinal truths (existence and purification of soul), outlined in Chapter 2, is a deluded soul and is at stage 1 and there is no hope for him till he gets the correct perception. Faith in the cardinal truths leads to ascendancy on this ladder of states. Ascendency to higher states depends on removal of various delusions or Karma, discussed in Chapter 4. A mumuksha (seeker) strives for the qualities of compassion, tranquility, equanimity, forgiveness, truth, renouncement and detachment, which are ever present in the mind but have to be practiced or translated into action.

The perception related delusion is overcome in the fourth stage when a person gains right perception (samyakatva). As the aspirant goes ahead in thought and action (Jnān and Charitra), the perception gets clearer and thereby the character related delusion also continues to decrease and exists only at trace level at stage 7. Eventually, when the traces also disappear, the aspirant attains 8th stage. Thereafter the progress in overcoming delusion is swift. When the character related delusion is totally overcome one reaches stage 12. The rest of the defiling Karmas are instantly destroyed and the person attains omniscience, which is designated as stage 13. At this stage, one attains infinite knowledge, infinite perception and infinite bliss etc. Enlightenment arises when the delusion is totally overcome. This does not mean end of the embodiment but at this stage, the person becomes indifferent to physical aspects and remains transcendental. When the omniscient ends the current life, it gives up the body and becomes a liberated soul, the Siddha.

Within these stages, there can be upward or downward movements. In case of jiva this highest energy state is the most stable state from where one does not go to the other lower states in contrast to the physical universe where the lowest energy state (called the ground state) is the most stable (Chapter 7).

Now we discuss each of the fourteen Gunsthāṇs in some detail. The path begins with realisation of correct perception (faith in the six cardinal truths) and follows the route through correct conduct, purity of thought, destruction of all karmas and annihilation of gross as well as subtle passions, as mentioned below.

1. Mithyātva (belief in wrong faith)

Mithyātva means false perception or wrong world view. Right faith means faith in the cardinal truths, i.e. existence of soul and Moksa as mentioned in Chapter 2. A person having wrong faith does not relish the religion of the soul, which requires right faith, right knowledge and right conduct. Therefore there is no hope of salvation for him.

This wrong faith can either be "inherited" or "adopted". The sense of oneness of soul with inanimate objects like physical bodies and worldly belongings is called the inherited wrong faith. In presence of such a belief, a person remains engrossed in worldly pleasures and can not comprehend the true nature of things, leading to "adopted wrong faith".

2. Sasādan Samyakatva (belief in right faith)

A person having the right faith, that is belief in the cardinal truths (i.e. samyagdristi), is in stage 2. This is beginning point of his journey to enlightenment. After ascending to higher states, for example stage 4, one can sometimes, howsoever briefly, have doubt in the cardinal truths under the influence of anantānubandhi passion, afflicted by wrong faith (called Asādan), and will fall back to the transitory stage 2. From there he may go down to stage 1 or rise to stage 3.

3. Misra (Unstable state)

This is a confused state. The mind keeps on oscillating between right and wrong perception. Even when a person has acquired the right faith, sometimes he may be hesitant or doubtful about the veracity of the cardinal truths, required in the fruition of Samyakmithyatva Prakriti, is at this Guṇasthān.

From this Guṇasthān a being does not go directly to higher stages like Deshvirat (stage 5) or Apramatta Sanyat Guṇasthān (stage 7) and does not bother about bondage of age, death and Marnāntik Samudghāt.

4. Avirat Samyagdrishti (Correct faith but imperfect conduct)

The state of the soul with unwavering right faith (in the six cardinal truths) but devoid of rigorous observance of rules of conduct (i.e., Anuvrats and Mahāvrats) is the fourth stage named Avirat Samyakatva.

A person with right faith and observing right conduct, by realizing the true intrinsic nature of soul and with spiritual experience attains the fourth stage. He realises that he is the sentient Supreme Being and is the knower, the rest of the universe being the "known", and that he does not have any relationship with the ajiva (non-self, e.g. his body) entities. The worldly manifestations of the soul are not its true nature; they disappear with the correct vision of the nature of the self. This vision, following the elimination of the Anantānubandhi passions, leads to the blissful and detached state of being and the purity of the soul persists.

At this stage, due to rise of the karmas, the souls are of three kinds:

    1. Aupshamik, where the passions exist but they are suppressed or dormant
    2. Kshayopshamic, where the passions are eliminated as they arise
    3. Kshayik, when the passions are totally eliminated. In any of these, the person becomes indifferent to the sensual pleasures although he does not observe total ahimsa, i.e. injury to moving and non moving jivas. He does not refrain from all the undesirable activities (12 kinds of abstinence). As long as this being follows non-abstinence on account of fruition of Apratyākhyānavaran passion, pride, deceit or greed, he stays in this 4th stage.

5. Deshvirat (Observance of non-violence)

The aspirant in the fourth stage further develops the purity of soul by abstaining from killing or injuring moving creatures but he does not abstain from killing or injuring non-moving creatures (e.g. vegetables) attains the fifth stage. As the Apratyākhyānavaran passion is eliminated, the experience of true nature of soul becomes more frequent than in the fourth stage. The soul develops tranquility and higher degree of peace and he becomes indifferent towards non-self entities and develops merits of Deshvirat. This is also called Vratavirat or Sanyatasanyat Guṇasthān, for internally he follows real abstinence of the Sanyamasanyam stage and follows various Anuvrats.

6. Pramatta Sanyat (Right conduct)

The sentient aspirant eliminates twelve passions and attains samyak Charitra i.e. conducts himself perfectly. This is called the sixth stage of Pramatta Sanyat Guṇasthān. Still in this stage, there exists Sanjwalan passion with usual force and unthoughtful behaviour.

Usually a seeker lives like a sādhu in this stage and follows the twenty-eight primary and their associated rules. These include five mahāvrats, five samities, six Essentials, five sense controls, uprooting of hair, non-bathing, sleeping on ground etc. Although the internal purity is retained and observed, the feelings of attachment stays in some form.

A person can be involved in unthoughtful behaviour (charitra) in many ways; eighty such behaviours are mentioned in the scriptures but the main fifteen unthoughtful behaviours amongst them are unhealthy narration of women, food, nation and guru, four passions of anger, pride, deceit and greed, behaviour of five senses, sleep and love. Though such a behaviour attract impurities, it does not destroy the abstinence acquired for attaining the sixth Guṇasthān.

Process of thought with necessary purity of operation is essential in the sixth stage, while the seventh Guṇasthān is spontaneously attained without the process of thinking.

As such the seeker may remain in that stage for very long time oscillating between the sixth and the seventh stages. One noteworthy fact is that the seeker has to first experience the seventh Guṇasthān even though he later on descends to the sixth.

7. Apramatta Sanyat (Right conduct with subdued passions)

The real seeker without the fifteen undesirable behaviours (Charitra), mentioned above, attain the Apramatta Guṇasthān. The twelve passions are extremely subdued, while Sanjwalan passions exists in a mild form. The undesirable behavior does not generate any impurities and the primary and secondary rules of conduct lead to this stage of Apramatta Sanyat. Knowingly there is no thought process other than meditation of the pure soul and its experiences. This state continues in all the further Guṇasthāns. This Guṇasthān has two kinds (i) Swasthan Apramatta Sanyat, (ii) Satishaya Apramatta Sanyat.

Those in this stage who do not ascend to the Kshapak Shreni or the Upsham Shreni and alternate between the Pramatta and Apramatta states are called Swasthān Apramatta Sanyat. The seekers having developed special unity with the self-attain further purity and are called Satishaya Apramatta Sanyat. From this stage the path is straight forward. As they apply all their spiritual might and develop oneness with the soul, they progressively attain higher Guṇasthāns, destroying the twenty one Prakrities of Charitra Mohaniya karma, after which they definitely obtain omniscience (thirteenth Guṇasthān). If their effort is not complete and only succeed in subsiding (rather than destroying) the twenty-one prakrities, they progressively attain eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh Guṇasthāns.

8. Apuravakaran (Purity of thought)

The soul attains an unprecedented (apurva) state of purity in this Guṇsthān and continuously retains it. Various souls undergo different types of transformation in this stage, which is somewhat subjective. Souls ascending on the Upsham Shreni as well as the Kshapak Shreni undergo the same form of transformation.

9. Anivrittikaran (Destruction of gross passions and most Karmas)

Each soul undergoes transformation required to attain infinite purity, but the magnitude of modification required may vary for different souls. The soul at this stage by the strength of contemplation subsides the twenty Prakrities of Mohaniya karma and the thirteen of the Nāmkarma. Souls of persons in this Guṇasthān do not return to the previous state and do not further attract karmic matter for future births.

10. Sukshma Samprāya (State of purity with subtle passions)

In spite of the purity, minor greed still persists, intentionally or unintentionally. The greed of attaining Moka is the most difficult to overcome, because that is actually the motive force for the journey to enlightenment. Those who have their sukshma karmas either subsided or destroyed are said to be in the Sukshama Samprāy Guṇasthān.

11 Upashānt Kashāy (State of mild passions)

The person in this Guṇasthān has subsided all external and internal passions. Out of the four destructive karmas, the Mohaniya is in the Upashānt state while the other three have the Kshayopasham state. Since the soul has complete detachment with imperfect sentience, this stage is also called Upshānt Kashāy Veetrāg Chhadmastha Guṇasthān.

12. Kshina Kashāy (Annihilation of all passions)

The souls that have annihilated all passions and attained perfect detachment with complete elimination of all the karmas occupy this Guṇasthān named Kshina Kashāy. Since there is yet some minor imperfection in sentience, though complete detachment has been attained, this Guṇasthān is called Kshina Kashay Veetrāg Chhadmastha. The saints following the perfect conduct in this stage have annihilated the Mohaniya Karma altogether and the remaining three destructive karmas are at Kshayopshama stage. As soon as these three karmas are destroyed, they will attain the thirteenth Guṇasthān.

13. Sayog Kevali Jin (Enlightened souls, Enlightened preachers)

The souls have achieved the nine accomplishments (Kshayik right faith, conduct, consciousness, perception, charity, gain, Bhog, Upbhog and vitality) and have become Kevalies. They become super-sensuous.Now their sentience does not require senses to observe or light to see. Since their mind, speech and body is still operating, they are Sayog and since they have conquered both the psychic and material karmas they are called the Jins and their Guṇasthān is called, Sayog Kevali Jin. These Kevalis enlighten the path of emancipation for others by their divine discourses on the path of liberation of the soul. Influx of Sata Vedniya karma due to mental thinking, bodily movement and speech does not convert to bondage due to the complete absence of passions.

14. Ayog Kevali Jin (Liberated souls)

The Kevalis in this Guṇasthān are without any activity of mind, speech and body and have attained omniscience. Therefore, this Guṇasthān is called Ayog kevali Jin. In this stage the Kevalis destroy all the Prakrities of the Aghāti Karmas, responsible for their rebirth, and attain Siddhāhood.

Siddha Parmeshti

Those who have journeyed through the fourteen Gunasthans of the worldly existence, become bereft of all the eight psychic and the conventional karmas (Chapter 4) and enjoy the state of eternal bliss. They attain the eight great attributes (Samaykatva, Anant jnān, Anant Daran, Anant Virya, Sukshamatva, Awagahanatva, Agurulaghutva, and Avayabādhatva) due to the destruction of all the karmas. Being bereft of any psychic, conventional or matter karmas, their soul would not assume new form of life, i.e. it is free from the cycles of birth and death. They are enlightened and complete in themselves. At this stage, their souls move to the uppermost part of the universe, for it is no more in their nature to move about in any of the ten directions of the universe; these blessed souls are enlightened and called Siddhas.

Although a seeker has to go through all these stages, the time taken is different for different individuals, depending on their conviction, effort and practice. One can jump several stages at once or can even attain highest state instantaneously, as in Tantra practices. All it takes is to activate the superconscious mind.

What exactly is the state of enlightenment? There are eternal laws which govern all the activities in the universe. Bhagvān Mahāvir communicated them in his Samosaran by Tripadi: The three states: everything (matter as well as sentient beings) originates, abides (while changing) and is destroyed. This is the first eternal law.

Transformations in these states are carried out under the theory of Karma. Therefore Karmavād, discussed in Chapter 4 is the second eternal law. The third is Anekāntavād, discussed in chapter 3 which indicates the true nature of things, that "one is many and many is one" and everything has infinite ways of manifestation. These laws are self-sufficient, self-evident, self-manifesting, self-proving and self-radiating. Understanding them or realizing them is not enough but experiencing them operating on the universe is enlightenement. When this is seen, ignorance, fear and attachment is automatically abandoned.

However we must realise that the most important aspect of enlightenment is that 'no body' can achieve it. When enlightenment is achieved, no "body" remains, no "mind" remains. None of the attributes of mind remains. Therefore it is not correct to say "I want to achieve enlightenment". Even that desire will prohibit enlightenment to be attained. "I" will exist no more. Nothing remains; all that we are familiar with is lost. Only the soul (which is energy) will survive but it cannot be identified with any one. This experience itself is the first step to enlightenment. Two other points regarding enlightenment may be noted. Firstly enlightenment is instantaneous, occurs suddenly whenever it occurs, and secondly, when the enlightenment occurs, the self knows that it is enlightened. No other proof is required. If any doubt remains, it means that enlightenment has not been achieved.

The essence of describing all these steps in detail is to emphasise that it is important to keep the goal in view and take steps one by one. If one believes in the possibility of enlightenment by this path, one has already taken the first step to stage 2. Observing non-violence, searching for truth, giving up stealing and collection of things moves one up to stage 4 with several accompanying siddhis. Giving up anger, greed and attachment physically leads one up to stage 6 and giving them up in thought moves him further up the ladder. When all wishes, including the wish for enlightenment and Mokṣa ceases, all actions by deed, mind and thought are abandoned and right faith, right conduct, pure consciousness and clarity of perception is attained, one moves up to the highest state of liberation.

We have used several Sanskrit terms in the above discussion without defining them. To explain them would result in digressing from the main theme and the reader is referred to dictionaries[1]  where these terms are defined.

The ascendancy of soul to various higher stages can be attained by correct perception together with certain practices. These practices are described in the next chapter.


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Jainism - The Eternal and Universal Path for Enlightenment - Narendra Bhandari- jainismbook_final_28-5-2011.pdf

Edited by:
Acharya Vijay Nandi Ghosh Sūri

Published by:
Research Institute of Scientific Secrets from Indian Oriental Scriptures (RISSIOS), Ahmedabad

Online Edition 2011: HN4U


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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. 14 Stages
  2. Aghāti
  3. Aghāti Karmas
  4. Agurulaghutva
  5. Ahimsa
  6. Ajiva
  7. Anant
  8. Anekāntavād
  9. Anger
  10. Anuvrats
  11. Apramatta
  12. Apramatta Sanyat
  13. Avirat Samyagdrishti
  14. Ayog Kevali Jin
  15. Bhagvān Mahāvir
  16. Body
  17. Charitra
  18. Charitra Mohaniya
  19. Chhadmastha
  20. Consciousness
  21. Contemplation
  22. Deceit
  23. Equanimity
  24. Fear
  25. Greed
  26. Gunsthāṇs
  27. Guru
  28. Jain Vishwa Bharati
  29. Jin
  30. Jiva
  31. Jnān
  32. Karma
  33. Karmas
  34. Karmic matter
  35. Kashay
  36. Kevali
  37. Kevalis
  38. Kshayik
  39. Kshayopasham
  40. Kshina Kashāy
  41. Ladnun
  42. Mahāvrats
  43. Meditation
  44. Misra
  45. Mithyātva
  46. Mohaniya
  47. Mohaniya Karma
  48. Moksa
  49. Mokṣa
  50. Non-violence
  51. Omniscient
  52. Prakriti
  53. Pride
  54. Quantum Physics
  55. Samosaran
  56. Samyak Charitra
  57. Samyakatva
  58. Sanjwalan
  59. Sanskrit
  60. Sata
  61. Sayog Kevali Jin
  62. Siddha
  63. Soul
  64. Sukshma
  65. Sukshma Samprāya
  66. Sādhu
  67. Tantra
  68. Upashānt Kashāy
  69. Virya
  70. siddhas
  71. Ātmā
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