Jainism : The World of Conquerors: 4.3 (a) ► Nine Real Entities (Jiva)

Published: 30.11.2015

Jain philosophy conceives of nine 'real entities' (nava tattvas): living beings (jiva), non-living things (ajiva), merit (punya), demerit (paapa), influx of karma (aasrava), karmic bondage(bandha), prevention of karmic influx (samvara), shedding of karma (nirjaraa) and the liberation (moksa). The Tattvartha Sutra (1.4) considers merit and demerit as influx of karma and hence mentions seven 'real entities'. These entities are substances and are located in the cosmic space (The Tattvartha Sutra: 5.3, 5.12).


Jiva means soul or aatmaa. The term jiva is used to describe the embodied souls, which are eternal substances. Each soul is an aggregation innumerable soul units that occupy infinite space-points, has power to expand or contract to the size of the body as the soul units adjust themselves in space points, is eternal and its characteristic is consciousness. (Jain S. tr. Pujyapada's Sarvarthasiddhi 1960: 5.8, 5.16). The embodied soul transmigrates in the worldly cycle because of its karmic bondage, forgets its own characteristics, and mostly identifies itself with its body, made of matter, which causes its difficulties and degradation.

Souls are of two kinds: liberated and worldly. Liberated souls are disembodied souls who have shed all karmic matter and have no more births or deaths. Worldly souls are embodied souls and are subject to the cycle of birth and death, and karmic bondage and its effects.

Liberated souls dwell in a state of bliss at the apex of the occupied universe (siddha silaa) and possess eight attributes: infinite faith (ananta-darsana), infinite knowledge (ananta-jnaana), perfect conduct (ananta-caritra), infinite energy (anantavirya), infinite bliss (ananta-sukha), eternity (aksaya), non-materiality (amurta), and equality to other souls (aguru-alaghu).

Worldly souls are living beings, of any destiny, the classification of which is a subject not only of theoretical but also of great practical interest. As the primary duty of the souls is to live in harmony with each other and not to harm any living being, and their function is to help one another (Parasparopagraho jivanam), it becomes incumbent upon worldly souls such as humans to comprehend the various forms of worldly life (Jain S. 1990: p.147). Jain scriptures have described jiva in great detail, the classifications of which broadly accords with modern science, but the detail refers to earlier phases of natural science.

Worldly souls may have a mind or may not have a mind. The word 'mind' has specific and deep connotations in Jain scriptures, differing from its usual meaning (Jain S. 1990: 5.19); all souls have a psychic mind, the functioning of which depends upon the presence of specific knowledge-obscuring karma. Those with 'mind' have both physical and psychic mind and have the power of thought and intelligence (Tattvartha Sutra; 2.25); those with only psychic mind are considered to be without 'mind'. Worldly souls are divided into two forms: immobile (sthaavara) and mobile (trasa); these characteristics depend upon the consequences of specific karma.

Immobile souls are of five types and are characterised as having only one physical sense and that is of touch. They are:

  • 'earth-bodied' (prithvi-kaaya) such as gems, salt, soil, mercury;
  • 'water-bodied' (ap-kaaya) such as snow, dew, water, fog, rain;
  • 'fire-bodied' (tejas-kaaya) such as fire, light from a flame, lightning; (Some airbodied and fire-bodied souls are mobile);
  • 'air-bodied' (vayu-kaaya) such as wind;
  • 'vegetable-bodied' (vanaspati-kaaya) which are of two kinds: 'common-bodied'

(saadhaarana) and 'individual-bodied' (pratyeka). Examples of commonbodied worldly souls are root vegetables, sprouting pulses and freshly sprouting leaves. Individual-bodied worldly souls include fruit, grains, leaves and flowers. Commonbodied souls are also known as nigodas.

Jains believe that each of earth, water, fire and air has four types, for example, earth: generalised earth, earth body, embodied earth and earth embodied in transit. When souls are born with bodies made of material clusters of earth (soil, salt, etc), they are called 'earth-bodied'; similarly, 'water-bodied', 'fire bodied' and so on.

Because of the Jain belief that nearly everything is possessed of a soul, Jainism has been characterised as animistic by some scholars, but a careful study of the Jain scriptures shows this to be an inadequate assessment. Jainism makes a clear distinction between soul and non-soul.

These five forms of immobile souls are further divided into 'fine' (suksama) and 'gross' (sthula); the vegetable-bodied souls are gross, the rest are fine. Fine jivas pervade the whole universe and are invisible. The gross jivas can be experienced by the sense organs and are present only in part of the universe. Jain scriptures have classified immobile souls further into twenty-two types.

Mobile Souls: Mobile beings are those who have more than one physical sense. Their senses vary between two and five and they are classified according to the number of senses they possess. Mobile living beings having up to four senses are known as 'deficient-sensed' (vikalendriya), while the others are known as 'efficient-sensed' (sakalendriya). The 'deficient-sensed' are of six types:

  • souls with two senses of touch and taste; examples are worms and marine molluscs;
  • souls with three senses of touch, taste and smell; examples are ants, lice and snails;
  • souls with four senses of touch, taste, smell and sight; examples are bees, butterflies, spiders, scorpions and other insects.
  • souls with five senses of touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing; examples are human beings, reptiles; birds, fish, amphibians and all mammals, infernals and celestials.

The five sensed living beings could further be classified into souls with mind and without mind. Those with mind may be humans, celestials, infernals, and some animals.

From the point of view of birth, both infernals and celestials are classified as 'spontaneous' (upapaat). Humans and animals are classified as 'in utero' (garbhaja). They are also classified into groups depending upon how they are incubated: 'nourished and reared in eggs' (andaja) e.g. birds and reptiles; 'nourished and reared by placenta and the umbilical cord' (jaraayuja) e.g. humans and most mammals; offspring born without an umbilical cord (potaja) e.g. elephants, spontaneous birth in spoiled products (rasaja) e.g. milk, curd, ghee; spontaneous birth due to perspiration (sansvedaja) or from the secretions of animals and humans' (sammurchim), and from the earth (udbhijja) e.g. moth (Dasaavaikalika Sutra: 4.39).

A worldly soul, accompanied with its subtle karmic and luminous bodies, transmigrates to another existence in a fraction of a second. Its motion may be in straight lines to the place of rebirth or with maximum of three turns; the impetus of the motion in a straight line is provided by its previous body, while the karmic body provides the impetus of the turns. The karmic body determines the destination and physical form of the living being, while the luminous body provides the preliminary energy for formation of the vital organs. The liberated soul always moves in a straight line to its destination in Siddhasilaa, the apex of the occupied universe. (Tattvartha Sutra: 2.26-2.31).

The different species have varied places of conception (yoni), which may be a womb, other physical centres or nuclei, and can be hot or cold, covered or open, living or non-living. Jain scriptures refer to 8.4 million types of nuclei that can give birth to the soul (table 6.3), to whom Jains ask for forgiveness in their daily ritual of penitential retreat for the harm done, knowingly or unknowingly (Doshi 1979:120-121)

Table 4.2 Types of nuclei for birth of the soul.

Senses Types of living beings Number
One-sense earth-bodied 700,000
water-bodied 700,000
fire-bodied 700,000
air-bodied 700,000
individual-bodied plant life 1,000,000
common-bodied plant life 1,400,000
Two-senses e.g. worms 200,000
Three-senses e.g. ants 200,000
Four-senses e.g. butterflies 200,000
Five-senses birds, fish, animals 400,000
infernals 400,000
celestials 400,000
human beings 1,400,000
TOTAL 8,400,000

Jiva possesses 'life forces' (praanas) essential for the soul to live, hence it is known as praani. The life forces are of two kinds: external or physical, and internal or psychic. Worldly souls possess both physical and psychic life forces, while liberated souls possess only psychic life forces. Praanas are essential to the jiva for its existence and for proper functioning of its sense organs. When a living being dies, the life forces cease to function.

Physical life forces are often types: the sense of touch, the sense of taste, the sense of smell, the sense of sight, the sense of hearing, mental energy, vocal energy, physical energy, respiration, and the span of life.

Psychic life forces are of four types: faith, knowledge, conduct, and spiritual energy,

Different living beings have a differing number of physical life forces, but all species have the above four psychic life forces; the degree depends upon karmic bondage. In addition to the life forces, living beings are also characterised by six 'vital completions' (paryaaptis). The vital completions represent the gradual development of all the essential functioning organs of worldly beings. These are completed within fortyeight minutes. Jivas, which died after the development of the appropriate vital completions, are called completioned (paryaaptaa) and those who died before are noncompletioned (aparyaaptaa).

The scriptures define 'vital completion' (paryaapti) as the attainment of the vital organs, by the living being: the body, speech, mind, senses, food digestion and respiration. These vital organs create life forces (praanas). Jiva Kanda (chapters 3 and 4) describes paryaapti and praana in detail, noting that newly conceived souls have the capacity to develop food digestion, body, sensory organs, respiration, speech and mind, depending upon their destiny.

The capacity for completion of the vital organs (paryaapti) to evolve life forces is the living fabric of all plants, animals and humans; the result is a specific body with its components developing from ingestion. The initiation of the formation of body components is a function of body-producing karma (of body, major and minor limbs), but its completion requires the energy supplied by the life forces developed in metabolic reactions to ingestion. The concept of vital completion represents the organisation of material intake into a specific pattern of chyle, blood, tissue, fat, bone, marrow and semen, as nutritional molecules form the bodies of human, animals, plants and other lower beings. The solid portions of food develop into hardened substances, such as bones; the liquid into fluids such as blood; and food material is further assimilated to develop the sensory organs. The movement of the body develops respiration, and vital completion capacity develops speech and the mind. The vital completions are six in number:

Table 4.3 The number of vital completions and life forces in living beings.

Type of Living Being Vital Completions Life Forces
One-sense 4 4
Two-senses 5 6
Three-senses 5 7
Four-senses 5 8
Five-senses without mind 5 9
Five-senses with mind 6 10

  1. Food-intake vital completion (aahaara paryaapti), by which beings ingest, digest, absorb and transform molecules of food particles into waste products (khala) and molecules of nutrients or energy (chyle).
  2. Body vital completion (sarira paryaapti), by which molecules of nutrients are utilised for the release of energy, creating blood, tissue, fat, bone, marrow, semen etc.
  3. Sense-organ vital completion (indriya paryaapti), by which full development of appropriate sensory organs occurs.
  4. Respiratory vital completion (svaccosvaasa paryaapti) is responsible for the development and functioning of respiration.
  5. Speech vital completion (bhaasaa paryaapti) is responsible for the development and functioning of the voice-organs.
  6. Mind vital completion (mana paryaapti) is responsible for the development and functioning of the mind (thoughts, mental processes).

Jain scriptures such as the Tattvartha Sutra, Jivaajivaabhigam Sutra and Jivakand contain details of worldly beings. They describe 303 forms of human beings. 15 are born in the 'land of action' (karmabhumi), 30 are born in the 'land of pleasures' (bhogabhumi) and 56 are born on 'islands' (antardvipa). Of these, 101 types they may be 'completioned', or 'non-completioned' in utero, thus making 202 types. They describe another 101 types, which are invisible to the human eye, 'spontaneously generated from secretions', similar to the creatures whose secretions produce them.

ns', similar to the creatures whose secretions produce them. These texts describe 20 types of animals, which are divided into five groups: fourfooted land animals; climbing land animals; slithering animals; aquatic creatures; flying creatures. Each group has four types.

They classify celestials into 198 types: 5 anuttars, 9 greivayakas, 12 vaimaanikas, 9 lokaantikas, 3 kilbisikas, 10 jyotiskas (including caraacara), 8 vaana vyantaras, 8 vyantaras, 10 bhavanpatis, 10 tiryagjhrunbhakas, and 15 paramaadhaamis. Each of these 99 types of heavenly being could be 'completioned' or 'non-completioned', making 198 types in all.

Infernals are of 14 types, 7 'completioned' and 7 'non-completioned'. One of each type is spontaneously born in each of the seven hellish regions: ratnaprabhaa, sarkaraaprabhaa, vaalukaaprabhaa, pankaprabhaa, dhumaprabhaa, tamahprabhaa and tamastamah prabhaa.

There are 535 types of five-sensed worldly beings, 22 types of one-sensed beings and 6 types of two- to four-sensed beings. Thus, Jain scriptures describe, in total, 563 types of worldly living beings, and advocate Jains to acquire the knowledge of jivas for the observance of ahimsaa and the other teachings of Jainism.

Let us end this chapter by some thoughts of Kundakunda on the soul:

  • 'I am alone, pure, having the nature of perception and the knowledge, always formless, nothing whatsoever (living or non-living) related to me, even an atom is mine'(Samayasaara: 1.38).
  • 'In the soul, there is no colour, no smell, no taste, no touch, no visible form, no body, no bodily shape and no skeleton' (Samayasaara: 2.50).
  • 'The self, ignorant of its true nature, treads on the wrong path and attains karmic bondage; the self-aware of its true nature, always treads on the right path and does not attract any karma' (Samayasaara: 3.127).

Title: Jainism: The World of Conquerors
Dr. Natubhai Shah
Publisher: Sussex Academic Press
Edition: 1998
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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Ajiva
  2. Aksaya
  3. Bandha
  4. Body
  5. Consciousness
  6. Garbhaja
  7. Ghee
  8. Indriya
  9. Jain Philosophy
  10. Jainism
  11. Jiva
  12. Karma
  13. Karmic Body
  14. Karmic matter
  15. Kundakunda
  16. Mana
  17. Moksa
  18. Paapa
  19. Parasparopagraho Jivanam
  20. Potaja
  21. Punya
  22. Rasaja
  23. Samvara
  24. Sarira
  25. Science
  26. Siddha
  27. Soul
  28. Space
  29. Space points
  30. Sutra
  31. Tattvartha Sutra
  32. Tattvas
  33. Trasa
  34. Udbhijja
  35. Vikalendriya
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