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Essence Of Jainism: 14 Ladder Of Elevation

Published: 09.05.2011
Updated: 10.05.2011

We have by now discussed how a worldly soul can gain liberation. This is necessarily a process of evolution. Prior to the commencement of that process, the thinking and behavior of a person stays deluded on account of his ignorance about his true Self. He happens to identify himself with the body and its pleasure. He therefore uses all his energy to gain material happiness and physical comforts. That way, he wanders birth after birth oblivious of his true Self. As and when he gets curious about the spiritual aspects, his condition undergoes a major change. He can then be termed as an aspirant. For advancing to liberation from that state he has to traverse a long distance... Question may arise whether there are any milestones or other signs on the way to guide the aspirant that he is on the right track. Jainism has divided the path of the spiritual uplift in 14 stages. They are known as Gunasthanak or stages of elevation. If the entire track can be compared to a ladder or an elevator, these stages are 14 rungs of the ladder or 14 floors where elevator stops, but with the difference that the space between the two adjacent rungs or the adjacent floors is not uniform. The ascent here is in the form of steadily shaking off the bondage of Karma.

Of the eight main types of Karma described in chapter 4, deluding Karma happens to be the strongest. The path of liberation can therefore be presented in terms of ever accelerating destruction of the deluding Karma. As such, it would be useful here to consider some significant aspects of that Karma. Deluded perception and deluded behavior are the two main divisions of deluding Karma. The former arises from ignorance and the latter from indulgence in defilements which in Jain terminology are known as Kashaya. Anger, arrogance, deception and covetousness are the four main types of Kashayas. Depending upon their duration and intensity each of them is subdivided into four subcategories. The most enduring Kashaya is termed as Anantanubandhi meaning the one that results in the bondage of endless duration. This is comparable to the letters engraved in stone. Somewhat less durable and less intense Kashaya is known as Apratyakhyanavaraniya, meaning the one that cannot be overcome even by adopting vow to control it. This is comparable to letters on wood or paper. Still less durable and less intense Kashaya is known as Pratykhyanavaraniya meaning the one that can be overcome by taking vow for the purpose. This is comparable to letters in sand. The least short-lived is known as Sanjwalan Kashaya which is very subtle. This is comparable to letters drawn in water. This can be overcome after attaining higher state. Thus there are 16 subdivisions of Kashayas that are responsible for deluded behavior. In addition, there are nine types of Nokashayas or semi-defilements that also can be overcome at a higher stage. With this background we can now turn to the description of the 14 stages of elevation.


This stage is known as Mithyatva or the stage of wrong faith. As the name suggests, it does not signify even the real beginning of the elevation. It is like the bottom floor where the person comes looking for the elevator. Most of the aspirants are supposed to be at this stage. The life at this stage is still more instinctive and reactions to the arising situations are more impulsive than discriminative. The aspirant still attaches more importance to the body and its pleasure. He has however gained curiosity for spiritual development. For that purpose he gets access to religious teachers. But he does not have insight to recognize true preceptors. As such, he gets under the influence of wrong teachers and also undertakes unbecoming rituals etc. at their behests. For the sake of his professed religion, he does not mind even resorting to evil activities. He has dislike and disregard for the true faith.


This stage is known as Saswadan. This too is not the stage of elevation. It is the stage where an aspirant comes down, if he somehow falls from the higher stages. Since he has experienced the taste of right perception in the 4th stage, he cannot forget it altogether. Sooner or later he is therefore bound to regain that perception and proceed again on the path of elevation.


This stage is known as Mishra. It is the combination of right and wrong or Samyaktva and Mithyatva. Here, the aspirant does not have discernment to differentiate right from the wrong and truth from the falsity. He still gropes in the darkness of doubt and wavers between right and wrong. He may have overcome dislike for true faith but does not stay tuned to it. He may happen to practice right rituals etc. but is not discriminate enough to recognize their truth. As such, he is likely to accept even falsity as truth.


This stage is known as Avirat Samyak or the right perception not associated with restraint. This is the real stage of elevation where few worldly souls have ever arrived. As the name suggests, the aspirant attains this stage when he gets freed from perception deluding Karma and has gained the right perception. He exactly knows what is right and what is wrong. He stands convinced that soul is his enduring self, while body and all incidental situations are ephemeral and have been gained as con sequence of his operative Karmas. He knows the true nature of soul and might have even glimpsed it some time. He also has right understanding of Karma and its bondage and is keen to shake it off. He has, accordingly, controlled all the four Anantanubandhi types of Kashaya, but has not still gained enough vigor to control other types of Kashayas. As such, he cannot resort to restrained life, even though he desires to adopt it. He gets involved in different activities as destined by his operative Karmas, but does not develop attachment for the same. He feels sad for the recurring embodiment and his sole aspiration is to go ahead on the path of liberation. In case, he happens to forsake this right perception on any account, he falls from this stage and goes back to the second stage.


As the aspirant advances on the path of liberation, he arrives at the fifth stage. From this stage, he starts loosening bondage of deluded behavior. He has now developed more vigor and gained capability to overcome Apratyakhyanavaraniya Kashaya. He therefore resorts to partial restraints. This stage is called Deshvirati Samyag or the stage of right perception and partial restraints. At this stage, he adopts 12 main Vratas of laymen which have been described in chapter 12. His behavior now remains more or less restrained and he continues to strive for the fully restrained life.


As the aspirant continues to shake off the bondage, he reaches the sixth stage known as Sarva Virati meaning the stage of full restraint. His vigor is now in high gear. He therefore overcomes Pratyakhyanavaraniya Kashaya as well. He is now in control of all Kashayas excepting the subtle Kashayas. He has also developed capability to give up the worldly life and stays free from all sorts of mundane attachment. He has however not gained full alertness and is therefore subject to minor pitfalls. This is due to Pramaad or indolence in which he is still likely to get indulged. On such occasions he gets overcome by Sanjwalan Kashaya. Not being in full control of Pramaad, this stage is also known as Pramatta Virati Gunasthan. Aspirants at this stage are considered fit to preach.


Trying to control indolence, the aspirant reaches this stage known as Apramatta or no indolence stage. Subtle anger of the Sanjwalan category comes under control at this stage. But other Sanjwalan Kashayas also known as Samparay Kashayas still continue to have hold over him. This is not a steady stage. At times the aspirant gets overcome with indolence and reverts to the 6th stage. As he becomes conscious of it, he tries to overcome his indolence and gets back to the 7th stage. This movement from 6th to 7th and 7th to 6th is likely to continue long. If the aspirant does not happen to fall further below, he eventually achieves irreversible control over indolence and reaches the next stage.


Path of liberation consists of the unity of right perception, right knowledge and right behavior. Right perception is gained at the 4th stage and right knowledge comes along with the right perception. From 5th onwards, the aspirant tries to control defilements so as to gain right behavior. By the end of the 7th stage, he has started controlling very subtle defilement that he has never done before. This stage is therefore called Apurvakaran or the unprecedented stage. It is very hard to reach this stage and very few aspirants have ever attained it. The ascent from this stage is quick. All sorts of ego which is very subtle form of Maan come under control at this stage. The aspirant is now capable to undertake the highest form of meditation known as Shukladhyan. With the aid of that meditation the aspirant can rapidly rise to the next two stages.


This is known as Anivritti Badar. Badar means gross. Since we are now dealing with very subtle defilements, question may arise how the subtle Samparay Kashaya can be gross. But the word Badar is used here in relative terms indicating that defilement at this stage is gross as compared to the one in the next stage. At this stage the aspirant gains control over very subtle form of Maya and also he reaches above the sense of being male or female. Remaining Nokashayas and wholesome attachment which can be termed as subtle Lobha still continue at this stage.


This stage is known as Sukshma Samparay. Sukshma means subtle. The aspirant has now reached a still subtle stage. All the Nokashayas and visible defilements come to an end at this stage. Even the subtle attachment now remain under control. The aspirants reaching this stage are of two categories and they proceed to two different levels. Those who have come along progressively pacifying the defilements go to the next stage, while others skip that stage.


This is known as Upashanta Moha meaning the stage where delusion has been fully pacified. This ascent is called Upasham Shreni or the line of pacification. The defilements of such aspirants happen to be pacified but have not been destroyed. With the loss of alertness they get subjected to defilements and fall back. If they do not get vigilant enough of rearising defilements, they can fall up to the second stage. They can of course rise again by reasserting the alertness and progressively destroying the defilements.


This stage is known as Kshina Moha meaning the stage where the delusion has been totally destroyed. Aspirants reaching this stage have not therefore to revert to the lower stage. Now they have to get rid of the rest of the Ghatiya Karmas which happen to be subtle Darshanavaraniya (Perception obscuring), Jnanavaraniya (Enlightenment obscuring) and Antaray (Obstructing) Karmas. This is usually done in a short time. The aspirant then reaches the next stage.


This is the stage of omniscience or Kevaljnan. Since no Ghatiya Karma survives at this stage, the entity attains full enlightenment and is known as Kevali. Such entities are endowed with infinite perception, infinite knowledge, infinite bliss and infinite vigor. These four aspects are known as Anant Chatushthaya. These entities are called Arihantas whom we offer obeisance in the first line of Navakar Mantra. They continue to remain embodied as long as Aghatiya Karmas stay with them. But being fully enlightened and devoid of any attachment, they do not incur new bondage of Karma.


If Aghatiya Karmas also terminate simultaneously with the Ghatiya ones, the Arihantas instantly leave the embodiment and attain the 14th stage of Siddha. Such entities are known as Antahkrit Kevalis. The rest of Kevalis spend the remaining part of their lives teaching religion and in the end they attain the Siddha stage. This is known as liberation that has been described in the last chapter. By its inherent property, the liberated soul rises and in no time reaches the top of Lokakash which is also known as Sidhashila. There being no Dharmastikaya beyond this point, the soul stops there. This stage is irreversible. The liberated soul therefore has not to revert and stays in eternal bliss forever.



Indira Mansukhlal Doshi Memorial Trust Edition: 1992 HereNow4U online edition: 2011

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  1. 14 Stages
  2. Aghatiya
  3. Anant
  4. Anant Chatushthaya
  5. Anantanubandhi
  6. Anger
  7. Anivritti Badar
  8. Apramatta
  9. Apratyakhyanavaraniya
  10. Arihantas
  11. Avirat Samyak
  12. Body
  13. Deshvirati Samyag
  14. Dharmastikaya
  15. Ghatiya
  16. Gunasthan
  17. Gunasthanak
  18. Jainism
  19. Jnanavaraniya
  20. Karma
  21. Karmas
  22. Kashaya
  23. Kashayas
  24. Kevali
  25. Kevalis
  26. Kshina Moha
  27. Lobha
  28. Lokakash
  29. Maan
  30. Mantra
  31. Maya
  32. Meditation
  33. Mishra
  34. Mithyatva
  35. Moha
  36. Pramatta Virati
  37. Pratykhyanavaraniya
  38. Samyaktva
  39. Sanjwalan
  40. Sarva
  41. Sarva Virati
  42. Saswadan
  43. Siddha
  44. Soul
  45. Space
  46. Sukshma
  47. Sukshma Samparay
  48. Upasham
  49. Upasham Shreni
  50. kevaljnan
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