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Jainism : The World of Conquerors: 4.6 ► Jain Concept of Knowledge

Published: 05.12.2015

Sensory, scriptural, clairvoyance, telepathy and omniscience are the five forms of knowledge (Jain S. 1960: 1.9). The first two are indirect, dependent upon as the senses, mind or scriptures; the other three are direct perceived straight through the soul. The knowledge, which leads to liberation, is the Right Knowledge, but the knowledge that continues the process of transmigration on the worldly cycle is wrong or erroneous knowledge (mithyaajnaana) and the sensory, the scriptural and the clairvoyance may be erroneous (Jain S. 1960: 1.31).

Sensory knowledge (mati jnaana) is the knowledge derived from sensory experience and found in most worldly beings, and is arrived at through the sensory organs and the mind. It covers all types of empirical knowledge. It is the cognition of an object through the operation of the senses alone, the mind alone, or the senses and the mind combined. However, Jain scriptures state that without the aid of the mind, it may not be possible to have knowledge of the external world. Cognition is the innate property of the soul. There is no cognition without a cognisant self. Thus, we can say that sensory knowledge is a four-stage process:


Sensory knowledge covers all stages of the acquisition (sensation, perception), conservation (memory, imagination) and the elaboration (judgement, reasoning) of knowledge. The sensory organs receive stimulation, which the mind organises as the physiological and psychic conditions of knowledge.

The Psychology of Sensory Knowledge

The soul is by nature conscious and can know everything without external assistance. But karmic matter may obscure its power. The only requirement for cognition is, therefore, the removal of this obscuring matter. The senses and the mind perform this function. The senses are instruments in a negative aspect only: they partially remove karmic matter just as windows in a room partially remove the obstruction of walls, allowing one to see outside. The mind then organises the information received through the senses, completing cognition. The information may be correct information or spurious information depending upon the status of the mind and the knowledge-obscuring karma attached to the soul.

The Senses: Nature and Function.

The senses are instruments of cognition. Living beings are classified into five groups on the basis of the number of senses they possess. The function of the senses is to establish contact between objects and the mind through their physical and psychic structures so that sensation and cognition may be produced. Senses apprehend objects and their qualities.

Worldly beings are classified as:

  • 'immobile' (sthaavara) beings, which possess only the sense of touch, such as the beings of earth, water, fire, air and plant.
  • 'mobile' (trasa) beings which possess between two and five senses.

Five-sensed organisms such as human beings and some animals have a mind and are called samjni jivas; others do not have mind.

Every living being has at least one sense, the sense of touch, and has the potential to have five senses. The attainment of additional senses depends upon the merit of bodyproducing karma. The scriptures mention the size, shape and spatial functional capacity of the senses. Their functioning depends upon direct or indirect contact with external objects and their natural capacity is subject to body-producing karma.

Senses are of two types: physical and psychic. The physical senses have a material structure. The psychic senses represent the power or function of the self. Thus, the sensory organs (indriya) have two forms: a physical portion (dravyendriya), created by body-producing karma, and a psychic portion (bhaavendriya), created by the shedding of knowledge-obscuring karma. The physical part is further divided into the organ itself (nirvrutti) and its protective covering (upkarana), such as the eye-lid. The psychic part is also divided into two: labdhi and upayoga. Labdhi is the manifestation of the specific sensory experience obtained through the removal of knowledge-obscuring karma (psychic impediment). Upayoga is the psychic force determining the specific sensory experience arising from the contact of the particular sense organ with an object of stimulation. It also depends upon the degree of shedding of knowledge-obscuring karma.

The newly embodied transmigrated soul carries the karmic body, in the form of particles, from its previous existences. The karmic particles, which are collected and attached through the actions of previous existences, have an 'unconscious' presence in the newly formed body. They are dormant but have the potentiality to manifest themselves and can be realised under certain circumstances in the conscious mind, when they exhibit sinfulness or virtue. Jain texts term the possession of karmic particles from previous existences as bhava mala ('dirt of existences'), and the potentiality of the soul to act through the psychic mind as labdhi. It is the bhava mala that inhibits the individual from knowing one's true identity and characteristics as a soul, but enhances one's identity as a material body and the activities concerning it.

Jains divide the mind into the psychic and the physical: the psychic is the equivalent to software and physical equivalent to hardware; the psychic mind transfers the potentiality of the soul through the karmic body to the physical mind. The consequence of this transference may result in action taken by the physical mind, and Jain seers emphasise the paramount importance of restricting this transfer of karmic influence into the physical mind, thus, attenuating any potential action. Jain ethics and their essential duties are intended to reduce karmic influence. The practice of treating other souls as equal to our own, virtuous thinking and meditation, all help to nullify the potentiality of the karmic body in harming others as well as ourselves. By virtue of transmigration, and deep insight into its understanding and knowledge of the soul, Jain seers can perceive the status of the mind in all its ramifications. Thus, this 'long view' explains the psychology of unexpected behaviour, and Jain psychology allows us to understand, in a logical way, the pattern of life through karmic influences from the past.

T.G. Kalghatgi (Some Problems in Jaina Psychology) describes the Jain view of the structure of the differing sensory organs, noting that they are not uniform. The internal area of the ear is like the kadamba flower or like a ball of flesh. The internal eye is the size of a grain of corn. The sense organ of smell is like a flower. The organ of taste is like the edge of a knife. The sense of touch is more varied. The protective covers of organs have also been described. For instance, the external part of the organ of taste consists of a collection of transparent particles of matter. The eye is the smallest sensory organ, the ear is slightly larger. The organ of smell is larger still, the organ of taste covers the greater area of the tongue, while the sensory organ of touch is the greatest, covering the whole body (Kalghatgi 1961:56).

The psychic senses are not material but represent the psychic power or function of the self. The application of psychic power to a particular object results in the cognition of that object. The psychic power is the capacity, which is attained at the very moment when the worldly soul enters into a new life.

Sensory knowledge is attained through the sensory organs. Each sensory organ has different functions. The organ of touch is capable of apprehending the eight qualities of touch, (hot, cold, soft, hard, smooth, rough, heavy and light). The gustatory sense reveals five types of taste, (astringent, bitter, pungent, sour and sweet). The olfactory sense apprehends two varieties of smells, (fragrant and foul). The sense organs of vision reveal five varieties of colours, (black, blue, red, yellow, white and also mixed). The sense of hearing apprehends three varieties of sounds (produced by living beings, material things and mixed).

The Mind

The mind (mana) is an internal or quasi-sensory organ, subtler than the senses and capable of apprehending the present, recollecting the past and imagining the future. The mind is not only an instrument of knowledge and thought, but also an instrument capable of many psychic activities, such as feeling and desires (which are not cognitive). It is an instrument of sensory cognition, and intelligence of doubt, judgement, reversal, etc., which are independent of the senses. It may or may not be dependent on other senses for apprehending objects, which may be purely sensory or purely psychic.

The mind has two forms: physical and psychic. The physical mind is material, constituted of mind-variforms (manovarganas) composed of fine subatomic particles. There is no unanimity as to its location. The psychic mind is the power or the activity of the self, resulting in the various functions and states of the physical mind.

The Functions of the Mind: The mind develops the instincts (sanjnaas). The word 'instinct' may be defined as the capacity to think of the desirable and avoid the undesirable. Instincts can be classified in many ways, but the most accepted classification consists of their three varieties: knowing, thinking, and feeling. Knowing and thinking are cognitive functions while feeling is a non-cognitive phenomenon.

Knowing relates to indirect and direct knowledge. Though it is known that the mind is not an essential condition for knowledge, it is said to function actively in sensory and mental cognition. Of course, sensory cognition is empirically direct cognition while mental cognition is indirect. In the case of extra-sensory or paranormal cognition 'clairvoyance' or 'telepathy', the function of the mind is limited only to the desire to know a particular object. In the case of omniscience, it is absolved even from this function.

The thinking functions of the mind are manifest in the following ways:

  • Analysis of the meaning of speculations
  • Determination or inferential judgement
  • Arrangement, analysis, discrimination and classification of sense data
  • Distinctive search for data
  • Logical thinking about the 'how and why' of the data
  • Deeper analysis, appreciation and evaluation of results
  • Mental determination of the manifestations such as recollection recognition, validation, implication, inference, retention, mental recording, and scriptural learning

Cognition of subjective qualities such as doubt, dreams and connotative activities These functions represent largely mental and subjective functions. Functioning of the mind begins with the second stage of speculation by acquiring sensory knowledge. Feeling and volition are generally taken as non-cognitive functions. They are instinctive. These include the major four below:

  • Food instinct effected by feeling-producing karma
  • Fear instinct effected by deluding karma
  • Sex instinct effected by deluding karma
  • Possessive instinct effected by deluding karma

Jain texts describe a further twelve instincts.

  • Four passions due to deluding-karma
  • Pleasure, pain, due to feeling-producing-karma
  • Delusion, disgust and mourning due to deluding-karma
  • Religiosity effected by different types of karma
  • Habitual and tradition-based feelings effected by deluding-karma.

The above instincts are found in manifest or non-manifest forms in all mundane beings, including one-sensed beings and higher-sensed creatures such as animals. Jain texts describe humans and some five-sensed animals, which have a physical mind, as fully instinctive; all other animals are partially instinctive (asanjni).

This division is based on the criteria of the physical mind, which is not developed in the lower grade animals. Their activity is merely habitually instinctive and irrational, but, as far as psychic mind is concerned, it is not completely absent. Some, for e.g. plants, also possess the power of feeling and thinking to a certain degree as one-sensed creatures clearly exhibit feelings, reacting to adverse or favourable conditions. Jain scriptures claim that animals are also capable of receiving spiritual instruction.

Different Forms of Sensory Knowledge

Sensory knowledge is macrocosmic in nature and is dependent upon specific karmic removal. It incorporates:

  • Knowledge that covers the present only
  • Recollection that concerns memories of past impressions
  • Recognition connects the past with contemporary knowledge
  • Inductive reasoning that is a mental process of rational observation
  • Deductive reasoning or inference that is a mental process of rational concomitance

The quality and the degree of sensory knowledge vary from person to person. For example, Srimad Rajchandra (Raychandbhai Mehta), the spiritual mentor of Mahatma Gandhi, had a 'supermind'. Such capacities reflect the infinite range of sensory knowledge. Of course, the development of these capacities is due to the shedding of specific knowledge-obscuring karma, meditation, and the efficient functioning of the right part of the brain.

The memory of an individual's past lives is a form of sensory knowledge, a manifestation of exceptional mental capacity. It can be explained on the basis of the extraordinary shedding of sensory knowledge-obscuring karma at an early age and some discursive factors to catalyse the awakening of memory. This does not happen to everyone because everyone does not shed the specific sensory knowledge-obscuring karma (Arunvijay 1991: p.219). Hypnotism also involves past memories under special circumstances and is a form of sensory knowledge. The process in the acquisition of sensory knowledge has four stages:

Cognition ->Apprehension ->Speculation ->Inference ->Retention.

Apprehension (avagraha): This is the immediate sensory experience arising out of initial sense-object contact. It is the stage of 'something' as an object; it is indeterminate perception, mere awareness and mere cognition without any knowledge of the specific nature of the object. It may be indistinct or distinct: indistinct apprehension is a physiological stimulus of sensation that results in the second phase of distinct apprehension, an awareness of an experience.

Speculation (ihaa): This stage is the formation of perceptual knowledge and specific cognition and introduces an integrative process involving mental activity, which creates coherence and integration of the sense data. It occurs not only before the inferential stage but also subsequently, if the cogniser continues thinking and is desirous to explore the subject further. It is mental contemplation, analyses data supplied by the senses and it is not universal. Certain apprehensions disappear completely after the first sensation, without leaving any impression, while others impress upon the mind - either favourably or unfavourably for inference.

Inference (avaya): From the associative integration, we arrive at the stage of interpretation where the sensations are explained and meaning is assigned to them, the result is perception. It is a stage of determinate knowledge specifying the object in full details after due verification. Despite arriving at a decision, this stage is non-verbal.

Retention (dharana): This stage consists of the record of perceptual judgement already arrived at or acquired over a longer period. It makes a subconscious impression that can be recovered by the memory and may be: Non-deviation (avicyavana) is concentration on the same point over a long period of time without any diversion; Impression (vaasanaa) is the concentration on a subject over a long period, which becomes memorised, it is the psychic condition of post-retention; Recollection (smriti) is the mental recovery of past impressions and arises generally through sensation of the recurring object.

The cognitive process can be realised through all the senses, depending upon the nature of the object being perceived. In dreaming, where the external senses are inactive, the process is identical. The sensory knowledge of a person with spurious faith is distorted sensory experience and is known as false sensory knowledge. All living beings do not have identical quality of sensory knowledge, as it depends upon the way of experience and the shedding of sensory-knowledge-obscuring karma.

Classification of Sensory Knowledge: The five senses and the mind acquire sensory knowledge through apprehension, speculation, inference and retention. Each of the four types of sensory knowledge is obtained through the five senses and the mind (4x6=24). The four sense organs other than the eye and the mind have also an indistinct awareness of touch, taste, smell and hearing (vyanjanaavagraha), making 24+4=28 forms of cognitions. Each cognition may be single or multiple (2); may have one or more qualities (2); may be fast or slow (2); may be inferential or non-inferential (2); may be decisive or non-decisive (2) and may be certain or uncertain (2); thus a total of 12 further varieties. If the above twelve varieties are multiplied by the 28 earlier categories, the result is 336 possible cognition or varieties of sensory knowledge (Devendra Muni 1983: pp. 359-60).


Every worldly being has a degree of sensory knowledge (mati jnaana) and scriptural knowledge (sruta jnaana). Scriptural knowledge is knowledge accompanied by expressions in words (through language), which have significant meaning. Sensory knowledge usually precedes scriptural knowledge, but may not accompany it. The scriptural knowledge could be due to two factors: external due to comprehension of sensory knowledge and internal due to the shedding of karmic particles obscuring sruta jnaana

In early aagamic literature scriptural knowledge has been defined as the knowledge obtained through primary canon (angapravista). Later on it has been accepted as knowledge acquired through the words, oral or written, of the omniscients, preceptors, or scholars and experts in such knowledge (angabaahya). The technical term sruta used for this form of knowledge means etymologically an object of audibility (i.e. oral sound, words and sentences), however, mere physical sound cannot be taken as a source of knowledge; it must have meaning and be capable of expression through words. The presence of a psychic sense, representing the potentiality of the above functions, also qualifies as a source for scriptural knowledge even in the absence of any physical sensation. That is why the Jains postulate the existence of some scriptural knowledge even in sensory deficient and one-sensed beings (such as plants), as they do possess psychic senses which serve as instruments and media for acquiring knowledge. How, otherwise, could they possess the instincts of food, fear, sleep and other desires such as attachment and aversion. The noted botanists Haldane and Wilkins (The Times, 10 September 1994) have experimentally observed faster and better plant growth in the presence of melodious sounds. They also detected reactions to hostility in plants, for example when a person approached a plant with the intention of cutting it; the plant's trembling was detected by sensitive monitoring instruments.

It is a fundamental Jain belief that knowledge exists for the sake of liberation. Our empirical knowledge might be quantitatively large, but it cannot be true knowledge, as it does not lead to liberation. Scriptural knowledge is the only true knowledge. The Jains have preserved their scriptures, which are highly valued as sources of acquiring Right Knowledge. They believe that in the absence of the omniscients, the scriptures are the only sources of reliable knowledge.

A person having the total mastery over the scriptural knowledge can know all the objects of the world, past, present and future. An earlier definition of scriptural knowledge reflected only to spiritual or superworldly knowledge; however, later it incorporated worldly knowledge. People who have attained scriptural knowledge are known as enlightened, scriptural omniscient (srutakevali) or 'attained' (aaptapurusa).

Characteristics of Scriptural Knowledge

Scriptural knowledge is always expressible and communicable through words and symbols. Scriptural knowledge generally aims at expounding physical, psychic or metaphysical 'realities' such as the soul, transmigration, karmic bondage and its shedding. The knowledge can be divided into worldly and spiritual. Every worldly being has or acquires the necessary knowledge to manage worldly affairs and earn a livelihood. This knowledge has not been accorded the same status as scriptural knowledge and has been termed 'perverse', as it preserves the cycle of birth and death. Modern scholarship cannot be equated with scriptural knowledge, as it is worldlier. One may be a noted academician but will not regarded as having Right Knowledge, as such learning does not lead to liberation.

Acquisition of Scriptural Knowledge

Scriptural knowledge is acquired through reading or listening to the teachings of the scriptures, texts and scholars. Sermons from spiritual individuals, and the ascetics are also a popular source of spiritual knowledge. Practical experience from the home and from society; and studying in schools, colleges or religious schools for children (paathasaalaas) are the sources of spiritual education. The modern media and the information technology can also be a means to acquiring scriptural knowledge. Jain seers emphasise the need for regular self-study as the important means for acquiring scriptural knowledge. However, all the above methods of acquiring scriptural knowledge are dependent on effective removal of specific knowledge-obscuring karma. The attained scriptural knowledge can have three consequences: motivation to acquire further spiritual knowledge, leading to omniscience; transmission of the knowledge in a future rebirth; or the loss of knowledge.


Cognition which arises from the soul without any external help from the senses or the mind is direct and supernormal. It is of three types, 'clairvoyance' (avadhi), 'telepathy' (manahparyaaya) and omniscience (kevala), classified on the basis of their gradation. Direct cognition is a natural quality of the soul, lying dormant due to karmic obscurity. It is manifested, partially or totally, according to the degree of shedding of karma. The supernormal knowledge of an omniscient is eternal and constant, while that of 'clairvoyance' and 'telepathy' which are variable, may disappear or may progress to omniscience, are not constant and function only when attention is applied.


Clairvoyance (avadhi jnaana) is the direct supernormal knowledge of material objects beyond the reach of the sense organs and the mind. It is designated as 'limiting' (avadhi) as its sphere of apprehension covers only those objects that have form and shape. It cannot apprehend non-material objects or Realities such as the media of motion and rest, or space and time. It has been designated as deficient direct knowledge (vikala pratyaksa). It apprehends objects beyond the capacities of the senses with reference to substance, location, time and mode. The concept of aural-clairvoyance (hearing, rather than seeing) is one of its forms. This is not a constant knowledge and depends upon karmic removal or suppression.

Clairvoyance is of two types according its nature of origin: congenital and meritacquired; the first one is birth based and second one depends upon shedding or subsidence of the specific karma.

Congenital (bhava-pratyaya): Clairvoyance based on birth is possessed by celestial and infernal beings (Jain S. 1960: 1.21), because of their existence. It is possessed by all in these existences, but the degree differs. It is presumed that in these beings destruction or subsidence of relevant karma might have taken place before their birth, otherwise possession of this extra-sensory knowledge is not possible (Devendra Muni 1983: p.367). The capacity for congenital clairvoyance is fixed according to the region of birth in celestial and infernal regions. Infernals, for example, cannot perceive beyond 6-13 kilometres. The potential for apprehension by celestials varies from a minimum of 332 kilometres to the whole of the universe. Scriptures differentiate the clairvoyance in case of the beings with Right Faith and wrong faith; in wrong believers it is erroneous, as it is vitiated with their mischief (Jain, S. 1960: p.32)

Merit-acquired clairvoyance (guna-pratyaya): This form of clairvoyance is due to the differing degrees of shedding cum subsidence of clairvoyance-obscuring karma and is attained by both human beings and animals. Such individuals have usually advanced to the fourth stage of spiritual development and aspire to reach the higher stages. The Jains postulate that the five sensed animals with mind have the potential to rise to the fifth spiritual stage and acquire clairvoyance. There is no other system that gives so much spiritual importance to animal life. Jain narrative literature has many legendary stories relating spirituality in animals, some of which involve the biographies of previous lives of the tirthankaras.

Clairvoyance varies according to the spiritual capacity of an aspirant. Jain texts describe six types of clairvoyance: Clairvoyance may accompany the living being wherever that individual goes (anugaami), or it may cease to function when the being travels to another place; that is, it functions only where the individual has acquired knowledge (ananugaami). In both these instances, the clairvoyance may be of a unidirectional or a multidirectional nature. The clairvoyance of heavenly and infernals, and of the tirthankaras, is multidirectional; it is unidirectional in the case of animals. In the case of human beings the directional limit of clairvoyance may vary and is dependent upon the degree of karmic removal. Clairvoyance may increase in intensity to cover a larger area of operation rather than the place of origin (vardhamaana) or its area of operation may decrease (hiyamaana), which is dependent upon decrease of Right Faith. The clairvoyance may last for the lifetime or until one attains omniscience (apratipaati) or alternatively, it may be transitory and short-lived (pratipaati). The clairvoyance of celestial and infernal beings lasts for lifetime, and that of the tirthankaras until the attainment of omniscience.

Spatial Extension of Clairvoyance: Jain texts have classified clairvoyance further into three based on its area of spatial extension: partial (desaavadhi), supreme (paramavadhi) and complete (sarvavadhi) clairvoyance. Partial clairvoyance may have differing degrees of spatial extension (minimum, maximum and intermediate) of clairvoyant knowledge, varying from the smallest part of a finger (angula) to the whole universe. It may last from a fraction of a second to countless years. It may apprehend the minimum psychic mode or an entire cluster of modes. Any living being in any of the four destines can possess partial clairvoyance. It may be congenital and merit-acquired. Supreme clairvoyance may have three varieties similar to partial clairvoyance and may be an extension of it. Complete clairvoyance has no sub-classifications, and it covers the entire universe. Both supreme and complete clairvoyance are merit-acquired, possibly only by human beings.

Telepathic knowledge

Telepathic knowledge (manahparyaaya jnaana) is the lucid and definite knowledge of the minds, and the mental states or thoughts of others spread over the past, present and future. It depends on the degree of specific karmic removal. It is a supernormal knowledge where interaction takes place with the fine particles of matter (manovargana) in the minds of others.

The subject matter of telepathic knowledge may be both the mental states and the objects conceived by the mind (Jain S: 1.23 and Dixit K. 1974: 1.24-25) though some believe that it apprehends only mental thoughts or states only. The objects of thought, being secondary and either have form or are formless, are cognisant made by inference (Jinabhadra, Visesaavasyakabhaasya date n.a.: p. 814) However, telepathic knowledge cognises the substantive, location, time and modal aspects of the mental states of others.

Telepathic knowledge is acquired only by human beings born in 'the land of action' (karmabhumi): usually ascetics at the higher stages of spiritual development. Such ascetics have Right Faith, Right Knowledge and Right Conduct. They practise deep meditation and are well advanced on their spiritual journey of purification of the soul. The quality of telepathic knowledge varies. It depends upon the spiritual capacity developed in the aspirants in their present life, and also on their merits from past lives.

Types of Telepathic Knowledge

There are two forms of telepathic knowledge: simple (rujumati) and complex (vipulmati). The difference between them is of degree and infallibility (Jain S. 1960: 1.24). Complex telepathic knowledge apprehends mental states and objects in greater detail than does its simpler counterpart. The complex is purer, superior and infallible (apratipaata), as its possessor belongs to the ascending stage of spirituality. The simple type may be imperfect, can disappear (pratipaata) and its possessor may descend the spiritual stage because of the rise of passions. The complex form is attained by an aspirant who progresses along the spiritual path by shedding karma; the simple form is attained by aspirants who may only have suppressed, or partially shed, karma.

Differences between Clairvoyance and Telepathy: Both clairvoyance and telepathic knowledge are supernormal, direct cognition; telepathy is purer and its range is subtle matter much finer than that of clairvoyance. They can be distinguished from each other in five ways: object, ownership, purity, location, and nature.

Clairvoyant knowledge cognises all material entities which have forms and their certain modes, while telepathic knowledge is cognition of the mind and its activities. Any living being, including celestials and infernal beings, regardless of their spiritual virtues, can possess clairvoyant knowledge. It is possible for human beings to attain clairvoyance when they have progressed between the fourth and seventh stages of their spiritual journey. Only human ascetics or saintly persons, who have attained spiritual perfection from the seventh to the twelfth stage, can attain telepathic knowledge; but it is impossible for other living beings. Telepathic knowledge perceives different modes of mind clearly, deeply and precisely and is limited to the area of human habitation: the two and a half continents of Jain geography.

Whereas clairvoyance may be congenital or acquired, telepathy is always acquired through spiritual advance.


Omniscience (kevala jnaana) is perfect knowledge. It is attained when the fourfold destructive or obscuring (ghaati) karma is totally shed. The omniscient knows all entities in their entirety with all their qualities and modes: past, present and future. Omniscience is direct and completely supernormal cognition without the aid of the senses or the mind. It represents the fullest realisation of the capacity of the self.

Meaning of the term Omniscience: The concept of omniscience is the central feature of Jainism and its philosophy; and liberation cannot be attained without its acquisition. The ultimate goal of worldly life is to acquire omniscience. Jains designate an omniscient person kevali or sarvajna (sarva = all, jna = knowing). The following terms all denote forms of omniscient: kevali ('perfect adept'); sruta kevali ('scriptural adept'); arhat ('enlightened'); siddha ('liberated'). It is necessary to understand not only the true meaning of the concept of omniscience but also the logical underpinning given to it during the periods of 'creative logic' and 'real logic' (c.500-1200 CE.).

There are a number of meanings for the term omniscience: knowledge of self, knowledge of religion, knowledge of the path of liberation, total knowledge, knowledge about the Realities and religion, perfect knowledge of the Realities and religion in all times and places.

Different Indian scholars have described omniscience in a variety of ways, present day Jain seers take 'omniscience' to be true, valid, immediate and direct knowledge of Reality and religion in the universe holding good for all times and places.

Human omniscience is absent in Western thought, only God is Omniscient. However, from the very beginning Indian philosophies have associated omniscience with enlightened yogis and saints who have progressed along the spiritual path through the practices of deep meditation. Omniscience is a value-based concept, realizable only by those who have capacity to undertake it. It has been included in the sources or 'organs' of knowledge by the Jains.

Attainment of Omniscience: Omniscience is directly related to the Jain theory of karma. The relationship between omniscience and karma is inverse with respect to karmic density, and direct with respect to karmic shedding or dissolution. The lesser the karmic density or the greater the shedding of karmic particles, the greater the tendency for attaining the omniscience. The Jain scriptures indicate that omniscience appears with the total shedding of all fourfold obscuring karma: delusion-obscuring, knowledgeobscuring, faith-obscuring and will-obscuring, on the completion of the twelfth spiritual stage. Omniscience appears in the thirteenth spiritual stage, where the omniscients are embodied (sayogi kevali), as they have shed only ghaati karma but still possess aghāti karma which allows them to be embodied and active in the world. Some of these omniscients could be tirthankaras who establish the fourfold order and preach the message of happiness and bliss for all worldly beings. They become disembodied (ayogi kevali) at the fourteenth stage, and totally shed the remaining aghaati karma. Shortly afterwards, these souls become 'liberated ones' (siddhas). Thus, omniscience is present in enlightened worldly souls who may be sayogi or ayogi, and liberated siddhas.

In omniscience the mind plays no part. The mind is an organ of discrimination and limitation. Limited knowledge requires the mind to focus on a particular point. In omniscience, focus on a particular point is unnecessary. The gaze of omniscience is so powerful that it receives the reflection of all objects simultaneously, just as the sun's rays simultaneously illuminate all objects. It must be noted that in the case of omniscience, the operative instrument is the soul itself. It has unlimited capacity; consequently the entire cosmos is covered simultaneously. The physical and psychic minds are nothing but partial manifestations of the soul; they are fully manifested in the process of omniscience, hence they are absolved of their functions.

An omniscient that is active in preaching (dynamic) is designated or enlightened (kevali). Such a soul is worthy of veneration (arhat), and may be a tirthankara. The dynamic omniscient clarifies the doubts of sages or celestials of the highest region, preaches to worldly beings and answers their questions. The mind is not required for intuition or perfect knowledge, but the other functions of the omniscient are not free from mental operation.

Omniscients and feelings: Omniscients at the thirteenth spiritual stage possess fourfold aghaati karma; one of them being feeling-producing karma. Hence, they feel pleasure and pain as a result of physical or external factors, but the feelings are hardly noticeable, as they are not accompanied by delusion, and do not result in karmic bondage.

Omniscients and activity: Omniscients possess certain external and internal characteristics, one being complete and perfect knowledge. The Buddhists attribute omniscience only to Buddha or a Bodhisattva, due to his exceptional merit, while Jains claim it is possible for all those who are spiritually able.

Svetambars hold that the activities of an enlightened one (arhat) or tirthankara, such as eating, walking and speaking, resemble those of spiritually advanced human beings, as they are embodied. But Digambars believe that omniscient, whether embodied or disembodied does not require eating and functioning of other activities; they are realised through their supernatural powers. Omniscients possess infinite knowledge, infinite faith, perfect conduct and infinite energy. Ayogi kevalis have no activities; they progress further on the spiritual path to their ultimate destination of liberation.

The difference between the ayogi kevali and the liberated soul (siddha) is that the liberated one is without physical existence, while the omniscient even without activity (ayogi kevali) still has a physical existence. Siddhas possess eight qualities: infinite faith, infinite knowledge, perfect conduct, infinite energy, infinite bliss, eternal existence, nonmateriality, and 'not-weighty, not-light'.

The other four types of knowledge- sensory, scriptural, clairvoyance and telepathy- also co-exist with omniscience; but they are overpowered by perfect knowledge. The knowledge of human beings, who have not reached the stage of omniscience, is partial, mixed with some falsity, even in master scholars (jnaanis).

The concept of omniscience is accepted by most Indian philosophies whether its form is divine, yogic or human. Devotees recite texts or prayers extolling the exceptional qualities of the deity such as omnipotence, omnicognisance and omniscience in physical imagery during worship.

From earliest times, omniscience has been a question of faith or dogma rather than reason. Since the development of logic or the intellectual method of analysis, many dogmas have been made credible. The Jains have examined their faith logically. Jain logicians have advocated that arguments be classified into four categories: arguments concerning the nature of omniscience; arguments concerning the teachings of the tirthankaras; arguments concerning the organs of knowledge; and others.

Omniscience is the highest perceptual potentiality of living beings. The concept of the inherent limitation of physical or mental perception is based on the imperfect understanding and observation of the Realities. This limitation is overridden, in many cases, through the triple path of Right Faith, Right Knowledge and Right Conduct.

Every soul possesses a natural state of pure knowledge or omniscience. It is not manifested in ordinary worldly beings, as it is obscured by knowledge-obscuring karma. The knowledge of individuals can increase from partial to the whole, depending upon their efforts to shed this karma.

Samantabhadra describes the qualities of the tirthankaras in terms of five attributes: they must be devoid of physical and psychic defects; they must be omniscient; they must be able to impart scriptural teachings; they must be supreme souls - supremely detached, pure and beneficent to all; and they must be able to guide living beings towards the threefold path of Right Faith, Right knowledge and Right Conduct.

The valid sources of knowledge such as inference, perception and clairvoyance do not give us knowledge of objects in all modes; omniscience does give. Omniscience can be validated through almost all the valid sources of knowledge.

Many facts that have been established by modern science are already written in Jain scriptures, which are believed to be the teachings of the omniscients. Examples include knowledge of the nature of atoms and their power, the presence of sound waves, life in plants and vegetables.

Mechanism of Omniscience: We have described earlier the function and attributes of substances such as existence, functionality, changeability, knowability, individuality, spatiality, and the common and their special stationary wave motions. Let us now discuss the mechanism of the omniscience.

The soul and matter have special stationary wave motions, which give consciousness and invisibility to the soul and sensuality and visibility to matter. These special stationary wave motions adapt to modifications such as expansion, contraction and variation in shape, in a similar way to those of light waves. The special stationary wave motion spreads out from a central point to all parts of the substance similar to expanding light waves.

The omniscient soul is free from the obscuring karma of faith, knowledge, conduct and delusion. Hence its special stationary wave motion spreads evenly throughout all its space points. As a result of freedom from obscuring karma, the soul's surface becomes a mirror-like medium perfect for the reflection of images. The normal special stationary wave motion has full support of the soul's infinite energy. Its functions are to maintain the soul's perfect reflecting medium, and to generate normal disturbancefree energy waves (super energy wave motion) to help and to energise the soul's conscious activity.

The omniscient soul's super energy wave motion, assisted by the medium of motion, spreads in all directions throughout the universe, then recoils and returns instantaneously to its source. The powerful vibration of these waves emitted by the soul is reciprocated by the medium of motion. Being an indivisible, pervasive and homogeneous substance, the medium of motion responds to these super energy vibrations in all its space points throughout the worldly universe simultaneously, and allows the waves to pass through all substances and objects. In this to and fro journey, because of the functioning knowability of the substance, the normal super energy waves are imbued with all the information on substances and objects. These super energy waves impose an exact replica or image of all subjects and their state afresh every moment on the mirrorlike surface of the omniscient soul. The soul simultaneously decodes all images and symbols into perception and knowledge concerning all the substances and objects throughout the universe.

The special stationary wave motion is supported by the infinite energy functions of the soul, which continuously generates rhythmic vibrations in its space points. Just as the rhythmic sound vibrations of the music produce pleasure, these continuous rhythmic vibrations of the soul result in infinite bliss.

In the worldly soul, the presence of obscuring karma obstructs the functioning of the special stationary wave motion of the soul. The special stationary wave motion 'wobbles' and becomes abnormal and arrhythmic. Obscuring karma render the soul unable to reflect the images, and to generate the super energy waves powerful enough to cross the karmic body. There is an almost absence of bliss, because the waves are arrhythmic. The sensory organs of the worldly soul to a very small extent, bring apparent happiness, and temporarily compensate for these shortcomings. The perception and knowledge are of a sensual type and are confined to gross material objects to the limits of sensory organs.

Abnormal stationary wave motions are occasionally disrupted by the amplified positive waves or pulsations generated by the sensory organs, making the vibrations that are established slightly rhythmic. This phenomenon allows the soul to experience pleasure, while some negative interference makes the vibrations that are established arrhythmic, producing displeasure or pain in the worldly soul.


Title: Jainism: The World of Conquerors
Dr. Natubhai Shah
Publisher: Sussex Academic Press
Edition: 1998
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  1. Aghāti
  2. Aghāti karma
  3. Arhat
  4. Avagraha
  5. Ayogi Kevali
  6. Bhava
  7. Body
  8. Brain
  9. Buddha
  10. Clairvoyance
  11. Concentration
  12. Consciousness
  13. Contemplation
  14. Devendra
  15. Dharana
  16. Dravyendriya
  17. Fear
  18. Gandhi
  19. Indriya
  20. JAINA
  21. Jaina
  22. Jainism
  23. Jinabhadra
  24. Karma
  25. Karmic Body
  26. Karmic matter
  27. Kevali
  28. Kevalis
  29. Labdhi
  30. Mahatma
  31. Mahatma Gandhi
  32. Mala
  33. Mana
  34. Meditation
  35. Muni
  36. Omniscient
  37. Omniscients
  38. Sarva
  39. Sarvajna
  40. Sayogi Kevali
  41. Science
  42. Siddha
  43. Smriti
  44. Soul
  45. Space
  46. Space points
  47. Srimad Rajchandra
  48. Sruta
  49. Srutakevali
  50. Tirthankara
  51. Tirthankaras
  52. Trasa
  53. Upayoga
  54. siddhas
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