Gūṇasthāna - Stages of Spiritual Development

Posted: 04.10.2008
Updated on: 02.07.2015

Jaina Mysticism and the Mystic Way


The equivalent expressions in Jainism for the word ‚mysticism’ are: śūddhopayoga,[1] Arhat [2] and Siddha state [3], Paṅdita Paṅdita Maraṇa[4], Paramātman-hood [5], Svasamaya [6], Paṅdita Paṅdita Maraṇa[7], Sāmarthya-Yoga [8], Ahisā [9], Jñānacetanā [10], Sayambhu [11], Samatva [12], etc. All these expressions convey identical meaning of realizing the transcendental self. The traditional definition of Jaina mysticism may be stated thus: Mysticism consists in the attainment of Arhathood or Siddhahood through the medium of Samyagdarśana (spiritual awakening), Samyagjñāna (value knowledge), and Samyakcāritra (ethico-spiritual conduct) after dispelling Mithyādarśana (spiritual perversion), Mithyājñāna (perverted value knowledge), and Mithyācāritra (perverted conduct) [13] Kundakunda (1st cent. AD) departs from this terminology when he says: ‘Mysticism consists in realizing the Paramātman (transcendental self) through the Antarātman (internal self) after renouncing the Bahirātman (external self)’[14]. Haribhadra (7th cent. A. D.) also employs a different terminology when he announces: ‘Mysticism consists in arriving at the, state of Vrttisamkśaya (cessation of mental states) through the stages of Samyagdṛṣŧi and Cāritrīafter abandoning the stage of Apunarbandhaka.’ [15] (Mithyādṛṣŧi in transition).[16] At another place he says, ‘Mysticism consists in attaining to Parā dṛṣŧi (transcendental insight) through Sthirā(steady spiritual insight), Kāntāand Prabhā dṛṣŧi is (elementary and deep meditation insights) after passing through Mitrā, Tārā, Balā, and Dīprā[17] dṛṣŧis.' [18] All these definitions of mysticism are fundamentally the same. Paramātman refers to Arhat-hood, Siddha-hood, Parā dṛṣŧi, and the state of Vṛttisaṅkṣaya; Antarātman points to Samyagdarśana, Sthirā dṛṣŧi, and Samyagdṛṣŧi; and consequently to Samyagjñāna, Samyakcāritra, the state of Cāritrīand the Kāntāand Prabhā dṛṣŧi is; Bahirātman, refers to Mithyādarśana the state of Apunarbandhaka along with Mitrā, Tārā, Balāand Dīprā dṛṣŧi is and consequently to Mithyājñāna, and Mithyācāritra.

Thus we may say that the Paramātman is the true goal of the mystic quest. The journey from the Antarātman to the Paramātman is traversed through the medium of moral and intellectual preparations, which purge everything obstructing the emergence of potential divinity. Before this final accomplishment, a stage of vision and fall may intervene. Thus the whole mystic way be put as follows:


    1. Awakening of the transcendental self,
    2. Purgation,
    3. Illumination,
    4. Dark-period of the soul, and
    5. Transcendental life.

According to Underhill, ‘Taken all together they constitute the phases in a single process of growth, involving the movement of consciousness from lower to higher levels of reality, the steady remaking of character in accordance with the ‘independent spiritual world’[19]. But the Jaina tradition deals with the mystic way under the fourteen stages of spiritual evolution, technically known as gūṇasthānas. However, these stages may be subsumed under the above heads in the following way:


    1. Dark-period of the self prior to its awakening Mithyātva gūṇasthānas  (First)
    2. Awakening of the self  Avirata Samyag dṛṣŧi gūṇasthāna  (Fourth)
    3. Fall from awakening
      (a) Sāsādana gūṇasthāna (Second)
      (b) Miśra gūṇasthānas (Third)
    4. Purgation
      (a) Viratāvirata gūṇasthānas  (Fifth)
      (b) Pramattavirata gūṇasthānas (Sixth)
    5. Illumination
      (a) Apramattavirata gūṇasthānas  (Seventh);
      (b) Apūrvakaraa gūṇasthānas (Eighth);
      (c) Anivttikaraa gūṇasthāna (Ninth);
      (d) Sukmasamparāya gūṇasthāna (Tenth);
      (e) Upaśāntakaṣāya gūṇasthānas (Eleventh);
      (f) Kṣīakaṣāya gūṇasthānas (Twelfth)
    6. Dark-period post illumination Fall to the first or the fourth gūṇasthāna from the eleventh.
    7. Transcendental life
      (a) Sayogakevalī gūṇasthāna  (Thirteenth);
      (b) Ayogakevalī gūṇasthānas (Fourteenth)


1. Dark Period of the Self prior to its Awakening or mithyātva gūṇasthāna. 

In this gūṇasthāna the empirical souls remain in a perpetual state of spiritual ignorance owing to the beginningless functioning of MohanīyaKarma. This Karma on the psychical side genders a complex state of Moha' having spiritual perversion (Mithyādarśana) and perverted conduct (Mithyācāritra) as its ingredients. Here the effect of Mithyādarśana is so dominant that the self does not evince its inclination to the spiritual path, just as a man invaded by bile infected fever does not have liking for sweet juice [20]. This Mithyādarśana vitiates knowledge and conduct alike. In its presence both knowledge and conduct, however extensive and suffused with morality they may be, are impotent to disintegrate the hostile elements of the soul and to lead us to those superb heights, which are called mystical. Consequently the darkest period in the history of the self is the one when Mithyādarśana overwhelms the self. It obstructs all our mystical endeavours.

Thus the plight of the self in Mithyātva gūṇasthāna resembles that of a totally eclipsed moon or a completely clouded sky. It is a state of spiritual slumber with the peculiarity that the self itself is not cognizant of its drowsy state. Led astray by the perverted attitude, the soul staying in this gūṇasthāna identifies itself with bodily colour, physical frame, sex, caste, creed, family, friends and wealth.[21] The consequence is that it is constantly obsessed with the fear of self-annihilation on the annihilation of the body and the like [22] and is tormented even by the thought of death [23]. Besides, it is the victim of the seven kinds of fear [24] and the eight kinds of pride.[25] Again under the influence of Mithyādarśana ‘One accepts the Adharama (wrong religion) as the Dharma (right religion), the Amārga (wrong path) as the Mārga (right path), the. Ajīva (non-soul) as the Jīva (soul), the Asādhu (non-saint) as the Sādhu (saint), the Amukta (un-emancipated) as the Mukta (emancipated) and vice versa.’ [26] Kundakunda [27] and following him Yogīndu, Pūjyapāda, Śubhacandra, Kārttikeya etc. recognise this Mithyātva gūṇasthāna as the state of Bahirātman. In this gūṇasthāna there are such souls as will never triumph over this darkest period and hence will never win salvation. [28] They are technically called Abhavyas.Haribhadra aptly calls them Bhavābhinandīs [29] (those who welcome transmigratory existence). In contrast to these souls, there are, according to Haribhadra, Apunarbandhakas who are also occupying this gūṇasthāna.[30] The difference is that the latter are moving in the direction of becoming Samyag dṛṣŧi is and consequently do not commit sinful acts with much strong inclination, do not attach undue value to the worldly life and maintain proprieties in whatever they do [31], whereas the former are Mithyā dṛṣŧi is proper, and consequently they are mistaken as to the nature of things, evince no disgust for worldly existence and are like the man to whom unworthy acts appear worthy of performance.[32] The Apunarbandhakas may be further said to have developed first four Yoga dṛṣŧi is, namely, Mitrā, Tārā, Balā, and Dīprā. It may be Bhavābhinandīs.


2. Awakening of the Self or Avirata Samyag dṛṣŧi- gūṇasthāna

Spiritual awakening is the result of Granthibheda (cutting the knot of ignorance) [33]. By virtue of cutting the knot, the Bhinnagranthi sees supreme verity and acquires unswerving conviction in the true self.[34] This occurrence of Samyagdarśana (spiritual awakening) is consequent upon the instruction of those who have realized the divine within themselves or are on the path of divine realization.[35] ‘Even as a person born blind can see the world as it is on the sudden acquisition of eyesight, so can a soul having experienced the vision the truth as it is. Even as a person suffering from long-drawn disease experiences extreme delight on the sudden disappearance of the disease, so does a soul eternally bound to the wheel of worldly existence feels spiritual joy and bliss on the sudden dawn of enlightenment.’ [36]

This is to be borne in mind that the spiritual awakening is to be sharply distinguished from the moral and the intellectual conversion. Even if the man in the first gūṇasthāna gets endowed with the capacity of intellectual and moral achievements, it cannot be said to have dispelled the spiritual darkness. The characters portrayed by Jaina ācāryas of Dravya-lingi Muni and of the Abhavyas who have attained to the fair height of intellectual knowledge and moral uplift illustrate this sort of life without spiritual awakening. Thus the flower of mysticism does not blossom by the water of mere morality and intellectuality, but requires spiritual manure along with it.

It will not be idle to point out here that the soul in this gūṇasthāna is called Samyagdṛṣŧi, Antarātman,[37] Bhinnagranthi,[38] and the occupant of Sthirā dṛṣŧi.[39] Being spiritually awakened, the Samyagdṛṣti considers his own self as his genuine abode regarding the outward physical dwelling places as artificial.[40] He renounces all identification with the animate and inanimate objects of the world and properly weighs them in the balance of his discriminative knowledge.[41] His is the only self that has acquired the right of Mokśa. Besides, he practices universal compassion (Anukampā) [42], does not hanker after worldly opulence and empyrean pleasures, [43] shows no feeling of disgust at the various bodily conditions caused by disease, hunger [44] etc., and is free from all fears.[45] Again, being overwhelmed by fear, inferiority and greed for profit, he does not recognize Hiṅsā as Dharma. [46] Apart from this, he has deep affection for spiritual matters and strengthens the conviction of those who are faltering in their loyalty to the path of righteousness [47] and disseminates spiritual religion through various means best suited to time and place. [48]


3. Fall from Awakening or (A) Sāsādana gūṇasthāna and (B) Miśra gūṇasthāna

If the spiritual awakening is due to the total annihilation of Darśana Mohanīya (Visiondeluding) Karma, the self has thrown over all the chances of its fall to the lower stages. [49] But if the spiritual awakening is consequent upon the suppression of Darśana Mohanīya Karma, the self either falls to the lower stages or remains in the same stage with the emergence of certain defects ordinarily incognizable.[50] If the self descends to the first gūṇasthāna, again darkness overwhelms him; [51] or the self falls to the third gūṇasthāna, namely, Miśra gūṇasthāna wherein total scepticism as regards matters spiritual prevails.[52] Sāsādana gūṇasthāna is the intermediary stage of the self which has fallen from the peak of the mountain of Samyagdarśana, but has not arrived at the stage of the Mithyātva gūṇasthāna.[53] In this stage the peculiar taste of the fall from Samyagdarśana like the peculiar taste of sweet food after its vomiting is experienced. [54]


4. Purgation or (A) Viratāvirata gūṇasthāna and (B) Pramatavirata gūṇasthāna

After dispelling the dense and intense darkness caused by the vision-deluding (Darśana Mohanīya) Karma, the passionate and ardent longing of the awakened self is to purge the conduct deluding (Cāritra Mohanīya) Karma which now stands between it and the transcendental self. Only those who are in possession of sturdy will are capable of doing so, says Amṛtacandra.[55] In the fifth gūṇasthāna, the aspirant who is a householder is incapable of making himself free from all Hisāroot and branch.[56] In consequence, he adopts the five partial vows (Aṇūvratas) along with the seven Śīla vratas in order to sustain the central virtue of Ahisāas for as possible.[57] This state of the self's journey has been called Viratāvirata or Deśavirata gūṇasthāna, since here the aspirant avoids intentional Hisāof two to five-sensed Jīvas, but he has to commit the intentional Hisāof one sensed Jīvas namely the vegetable bodied, fire bodied [58] etc. Besides, the Hisāwhich is committed in being engaged in a certain profession, in performing domestic activities and in adopting defensive measures, cannot be avoided by him.[59] This shows that the householder's life is a mixture of virtue and vice, [60] which obstruct the purgative way pursued by the mystic.

Hence the aspirant, being motivated by certain incentives to spiritual life (Anuprekśās) gradually renounces the householder's type of living, becomes a saint in order to negate Hisāto the last degree. [61] In consequence, the saint observes five Mahāvratas, five Samitis, three Guptis and practises internal and external austerities with special attention to meditation, devotion, and Svādhyāya. Besides, he gets food by begging, eats only a little, gets over sleep, endures troubles, practices universal friendship, adheres to spiritual uplift, and turns away from acquisitions, association and life-injuring activities.[62] Thus from the life of Muni, ‘vice totally vanishes and there remains virtue which will also be transcended as soon as the flight into the realm of spirit is made.’ Since in this stage complete meditational self-submergence is lacking, though there is complete self-restraint (Saṅyama), this stage is styled Pramattavirata gūṇasthāna, i.e. here Pramāda exists with self-restraint.[63] Nevertheless this stage may be regarded as the terminus of purgative way. It may be noted here that the self in the fifth gūṇasthāna and onwards is called Cāritrī. [64]


5. Illumination of


    • Apramata Virata
    • Apurvakaraṇa
    • Anivrtikaraṇa,
    • Sukṣmasamprāya,
    • Upaśāntakaṣāya and
    • Kṣīnankaṣāya gūṇasthānas

These gūṇasthānas from the seventh to the twelfth are the meditational stages or the stages of illumination and ecstasy. In other words, these are the stages of Kāntāand Prabhā dṛṣŧis.[65] It is to be noted here that the self oscillates between the sixth and the seventh gūṇasthānas thousands of times and when it attains steadiness, it strenuously prepares itself either for suppressing or for annihilating the conduct-deluding Karmas.[66] This oscillation is the result of the struggle between Pramāda and Apramāda. By the time the aspirant reaches the seventh gūṇasthāna, he has developed a power of spiritual attention, of self-merging and of gazing into the ground of the soul. It is through the aid of deep meditation that the mystic now pursues the higher path. In consequence, he arrives at the eighth and the ninth stages known as the Anivrtikaraa and the Anivrtikaraa gūṇasthāna, where exists the state of profound purity. In the tenth gūṇasthāna known as Sukma-samprāya there is only subtle greed that can disturb the soul.[67] The soul suppresses even this subtle greed in the eleventh gūṇasthānas known as Upaśāntakaṣāya and thus absolves itself from the rise of all types of passions. If the self follows the process of annihilation instead of suppression it rises directly from the tenth to the twelfth gūṇasthāna known as Kṣīnankaṣāya gūṇasthāna.[68] Here the conduct deluding Karma is destroyed instead of being suppressed. Pūjyapāda rightly observes that meditation produces supreme ecstasy in a mystic who is firmly established in the self. Such an ecstatic consciousness is potent enough to burn the Kārmic fuel; and then the person remains unaffected by external troubles and never experiences discomposure. [69]


6. Dark Period of the Soul post Illumination:

Owing to the suppressed passions gaining strength, the illuminated consciousness of the eleventh gūṇasthāna falls to the lowest stage of Mithyātva or to the fourth stage of Avirata Samyagdṛṣŧi gūṇasthāna The consequence is that the ecstatic awareness of the transcendental self gets negated and an overwhelming sense of darkness envelopes the mystic. It may be noted that not all mystics experience this dark period. Those of them who ascend the ladder of annihilation escape this tragic period, whereas those who ascend the ladder of suppression succumb to its dangers and pains. Mystics of the latter type no doubt will also reach the pinnacle of transcendental life, but only when they climb up the ladder of annihilation either in this life or in some other to come.


7. Transcendental life of (A) Sayogikevalī and (B) Ayogakevalī gūṇasthāna:.

The slumbering and the un-awakened soul, after passing through the stages of spiritual awakening, moral and intellectual preparation, now arrives at the sublime destination by dint of ascending the rungs of meditational ladder. In the thirteenth stage the soul possesses dispassionate activities (Yoga) and omniscience (Kevalajñāna), hence it is known as Sayogikevalī gūṇasthāna.[70] It is a state of Jīvana-Mukta, a supermental state of existence and an example of divine life upon earth. The fourteenth stage is called Ayogakevalī gūṇasthāna, as there the soul annuls all activities (Yogas), but preserves omniscience and other characteristics. In this stage the soul stays for the time required for pronouncing five syllables - a, i, u, ¨, l¨¨.[71] After this, disembodied liberation results (Videha Mukti). To be more clear, the self in the Sayogikevalīand Ayogakevalī gūṇasthānas bears the title of ‘Arhat’ [72] and after this, the title of ‘Siddha'’.[73] This state of Siddha is beyond all gūṇasthānas. [74]

It may be noted here that the self in these gūṇasthānas is called Paramātman [75], the doer of Vṛttisaṅkṣaya [76], and the possessor of Parādṛṣŧi. [77] This perfected mystic is established in truth in all directions.[78] He experiences bliss, which is super sensuous, unique, infinite, and interminable.[79] Whatever issues from him is potent enough to abrogate the miseries of tormented humanity. [80] His presence is supremely enlightening. He is the spiritual leader of society. [81] Just as a mother educates her child for its benefit and a kind physician cures diseased orphans, so also the perfected mystic instructs humanity for its uplift and dispenses spiritual pills to the suffering humanity. [82] He is always awake.[83] He has transcended the dualities of friends and foes, pleasure and pain, praise and censure, life and death, sand and gold, attachment and aversion.[84] Since he is the embodiment of spiritual virtues, he leads a life of super-moralism but not of amoralism.[85] Thus we may conclude by saying that the cognitive, conative and affective tendencies of the perfected mystic reveal their original manifestation in supreme mystical experience, which is ineffable and transcends all the similes of the world. [86]

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