Bhagwaan Mahaveer Evam Jain Darshan: 14 Stages Of Spiritual Development (The Order of Guṇasthāna, Mārgaṇās)

Published: 13.05.2014
Updated: 21.07.2015

14 Stages Of Spiritual Development (The Order of Guṇasthāna/Mārgaṇās = गुणस्थान अथवा मार्गणाएँ)

In Jain scriptures, the path of emancipation has been described in different ways. The difference is in the style of presentation.  We have discussed the path of stoppage and annihilation of karmas from the soul to attain liberation. The next presentation will be in accordance with the 14 stages of spiritual development.

All philosophies which believe in existence of soul and also Buddhist philosophy believe in gradual up gradation in stages of the soul in order to reveal its purest form or to attain the emancipation.  In Jain scriptures these stages are named as stages/categories of spiritual development. The stepwise riding on the ladder of the spiritual development is guṇasthāna. But in fact these are the stages of the soul or categorization of the soul (a category of different stages of spiritual progress (gradual betterment) or spiritual regression (reversion to an earlier mental or behavioral level) of the soul). Though the stages of progress or regression of spiritual development relate to the soul, they are caused by karma (पुद्गल) contaminating the soul. The stage of the soul in this categorization depends and is related to the karma-load on the soul. If worse and intense karma-load on the soul than the lower stage of the soul and if less and light karma-load on the soul then the higher stage of the soul. Since karmas arise or subside (to come by way of increase or to tend downward by way of decrease) by passions etc. and Yoga, as discussed earlier, fundamentally these are responsible for the progress or regression of the soul. It is the soul itself which determines its progress or regression.

In Jain texts, 14 stages are mentioned:

मिच्छो सासण मिस्सो, अविरदसम्मो य देसविरदो य।
विरदो पमत्त इयरो, अपुव्व अणियट्टि सुहुमो य।।
उवसंत खीणमोहो, सजोगिकेवलिजिणो अजोगी य।
जोद्दस गुणट्ठाणाणि य, कमेण सिद्धा य णायव्वा।।

Miccho sāsaṇa misso, aviradasammo ya desavirado ya.
Virado pamatta iyaro, apuvva aṇiyatti suhumo ya...
Uvasanta khīṇamoho, sajogikevalijiṇo ajogi ya.
Joddasa guṇaţţhāṇāṇi ya, kameṇa siddhā ya ṇāyavvā...

मिथ्यात्वं सास्वादनः मिश्रः, अविरतसम्यक्त्वः च देशविरतश्च।
विरतः प्रमत्तः इतरः, अपूर्वः अनिवृत्तिः सूक्ष्मश्च।।
उपशान्तः क्षीणमोहः, संयोगिकेवलिजिनः अयोगी च।
चतुर्दश गुणस्थानानि च, कमेण सिद्धाः च ज्ञातव्याः।।

 (Samaṇa Suttam, 547-548)

    1. Miṭhyātva dṛṣṭi Guṇasthāna मिथ्यात्व दृष्टि गुणस्थान
    2. Sāsvādana-samyagdṛṣṭi Guṇasthāna सासादन सम्यग्दृष्टि गुणस्थान
    3. Samyag-mithyātva or miśra dṛṣṭi Guṇasthāna सम्यग्-मिथ्यात्व अथवा मिश्र-दृष्टि गुणस्थान
    4. Avirata-samyagdṛṣṭi Guṇasthāna अविरत सम्यग्दृष्टि गुणस्थान
    5. Deshvirata Shravak Guṇasthāna देशविरत श्रावक गुणस्थान
    6. Pramatta Guṇasthāna प्रमत्त गुणस्थान
    7. Apramatta Guṇasthāna अप्रमत्त गुणस्थान
    8. Apūrva Karaṇa Guṇasthāna अपूर्वकरण गुणस्थान
    9. Anivritti Karaṇa Guṇasthāna अनिवृत्तिकरण गुणस्थान
    10. Sukhshama Sāmprāya Guṇasthāna सूक्ष्मसांपराय गुणस्थान
    11. Upshānt Kaṣāya Guṇasthāna उपशांत कषाय गुणस्थान
    12. Kṣīṇa or Kṣaya kaṣāya Guṇasthāna क्षीण अथवा क्षय कषाय गुणस्थान
    13. Sayogī kevalī Guṇasthāna सयोगी केवली गुणस्थान
    14. Ayogī Kevalī Guṇasthāna अयोगी केवली गुणस्थान
There are two main categories of spiritual riding. They have been stated viz.
  1. Subsidence (upaśama-śreṇī =उपशम श्रेणी): Jīva who suppresses karma.
  2. Annihilation (Kṣaya-śreṇī = क्षय श्रेणी): who annihilates Mohanīya (deluding) karma completely.
We will discuss this later.

Three initial stages of ladder of spiritual development belong to a lay man or to a common practitioner viz., Mithyā-dṛṣṭi, sāsvādana-samyagdṛṣṭi, samyak-mithyā or miśra-dṛṣṭi, avirata-samyagdṛṣṭi. Let us see the meaning of these stages of spiritual development.

(1) Miṭhyātva dṛṣṭi Guṇasthāna (मिथ्यात्व दृष्टि गुणस्थान):
wrong believer who does not have faith in the things existing in a right, true or veritable fashion.
(2) Sāsvādana-samyagdṛṣṭi Guṇasthāna (सासादन सम्यग्दृष्टि गुणस्थान):
one who has had taste of right belief but which right-faith has been destroyed?
(3) Samyag-mithyātva or miśra dṛṣṭi Guṇasthāna (सम्यग्-मिथ्यात्व अथवा मिश्र-दृष्टि गुणस्थान):
one who has a mixed belief that is the mixed stage of Samyaktva (right faith) and miṭhyātva (wrong faith). Let us start from forth stage of spiritual development because from this onward belongs to specific aspirants or monks.
(4)  Avirata-samyagdṛṣṭi Guṇasthāna (अविरत सम्यग्दृष्टि गुणस्थान):
one who has true belief but is not firmed or disciplined. He has only a true insight.
(5) Deshvirata Shravaka  Guṇasthāna (देशविरत श्रावक गुणस्थान):

In this stage a house-holder practices a part of right philosophy, right knowledge and right conduct.

Now further discussion belongs to aspiration of a shramaṇa (श्रमण) or monk. A house holder most often reaches up to this stage. The scriptures describe that from 6th stage of spiritual development up to 14th are for monks.

(6) Pramatta Guṇasthāna (प्रमत्त गुणस्थान):

 In 'Ṣaṭkhandāgama' this stage has been named as pramatta-virata.

In this stage the shramaṇa (श्रमण) or monk practices the great vows. In this stage the attachment towards the materialistic desires stops and deep faith in self-restrains starts. Small carelessness remains rest. In this way in sixth guṇasthāna, though one has adopted the great vows but still whose conduct is bit defective.
(7)    Apramatta Guṇasthāna (अप्रमत्त गुणस्थान):

In 'Ṣaṭkhandāgama' this stage has been named as apramatta-virata. In this stage the right conduct becomes gradually multiplied and purified. And ground of carefulness becomes solidified. Though the soul remains in meditation still has started neither subsiding his delusive karmas nor annihilating his delusive karmas is called this stage.

From this stage onwards, there are two kinds of aspirant who aspire for emancipation such as:

  1. Upaśama-śreṇī-Jīva (उपशम-श्रेणी-जीव) (One who only suppresses karmas)
  2. Kṣapaka-Jiva (क्षपक-जीव) (destroyer of karmas)

Among both types of aspirants, the Upaśama-śreṇī-Jīva (उपशम-श्रेणी-जीव) can never reach on the twelfth stage of progress of spiritual development and therefore can never be liberated. By suppressing completely all the Kaṣāya including subtle greed (Tenth Guṇasthāna) the soul attains eleventh stage for a short while. However, it is only suppression or subsidence (and not annihilation) of the Karma, like dirt settling down in water. Therefore, as soon as this suppression or upshaman stops, Karma manifests and the soul sinks back to the lower stage. Further in this stage the soul is hampered by Gyanavarṇīya Karma. For obvious reasons this Guṇasthāna lasts for a very short duration and as there is no scope for rise the soul descends to lower stages even landing in the first, the lowest Guṇasthāna. The depth to which the soul may sink depends upon the Karma of particular type and the Kaṣāya or Passions afflicting the soul. However, such a soul can stage a recovery even in the same lifetime and attain liberation passing through different stages of Kṣapaka - sreṇī. (That is of Jīva who annihilates karma. = Kṣapaka-Jiva (क्षपक-जीव).

Because of this there are two different ladders.

  1. Suppression /subsidence of Karma
  2. Complete annihilation of Karma.

Obviously only the latter can lead to liberation; the former leads back to lower stages. They are named Upsham-sreṇī (suppression ladder) and Kṣapaka - sreṇī (annihilation ladder) according to their nature

  1. Suppression ladder (ladder for an upaśama-śreṇī-Jīva (उपशम-श्रेणी-जीव):  The aspirant may think of being to a path of progress. In fact, it's only temporary phase of progress. This can never lead to liberation as will be discussed later.
  2. Complete annihilation ladder (ladder for a kaṣaya-śreṇī-Jīva) i.e., for Kṣapaka-Jiva (क्षपक-जीव = destroyer of karmas): The Jīva in tenth Guṇasthāna, bypass the eleventh stage which is meant for only the Upshaman sreṇī, and reaches in the twelfth stage directly. This is a stage of almost the highest purity of meditation, whereby the soul also destroys the other three destructive karmas as discussed earlier.

Let us discuss the difference between an Upaśama-śreṇī-Jīva (उपशम-श्रेणी-जीव) and that of Kṣapaka-Jiva (क्षपक-जीव) elaborately.

After renouncing the house hold life an aspirant takes the first step of accomplishment (sādhanā). And through this he upgrades the purity of soul and conquers the passions. He conquers pride through softness, conceit through humility and greed through purity and restraining and becomes passionless. Lord Mahāvīra not only says aspirants to do  this much but also says them that only subsidence or suppression of delusion is not sufficient but complete destruction or annihilation of deluding karma is  must. His statement is:

एवं कम्माणि खीयंति, मोहणिज्जे खयं गए।

         'Evaṁ kammāṇī khīyanti, mohṇijje khayaṁ gaye'

(After annihilation of the deluding karma remaining karma also get destroyed).

(Daśrāśruta Skandha, 5)

The delusion gets subsided within a part of moment in the case of a Jīva who suppresses Mohanīya (deluding) karma. The aspirant may believe during subsidence that he has overcome the delusion. But delusion appears again. If the aspirant gets unable to annihilate the appeared delusion then he is again caught in the world-cycle of death and birth. It can be explained in the language of psychology. The subsidence happens on the ground of conscious mind. Peace seems to be appeared everywhere from outside. Upaśamana appears for a moment, it is not a permanent remedy. Being separated from conscious mind the upaśama shifts to unconscious mind. The aspirant finds unable to recognize the subsided delusion on the ground of unconscious mind.

(8)  Apūrva Karaṇa  Guṇasthāna  (अपूर्वकरण गुणस्थान):

Unprecedented purity of soul emerges in this guṇasthāna. In this guṇasthāna the Jīva having quality of dropping, diminishes or decreases karmas through restrains, aspiration, emotions and noble efforts.

In this stage, the souls, experiencing such mental state of bliss, get ready either to subside or to annihilate their delusive karmas. Upaśama-śreṇī-Jīva (उपशम-श्रेणी-जीव) gets ready to subside and that of Kṣapaka-Jiva (क्षपक-जीव) gets ready to annihilate his delusive karmas.

Upaśama-śreṇī-Jīva (उपशम-श्रेणी-जीव) only suppresses his delusive karmas in the ninth and tenth stages while that of Kṣapaka-Jiva (क्षपक-जीव) annihilates his delusive karmas in the ninth and tenth stages.

(9)    Anivritti Karaṇa  Guṇasthāna  (अनिवृत्तिकरण गुणस्थान):

The souls enjoy the constant mental state each moment and burn down the forest of karmas through the flames of fire of a very pure meditation.

In this stage, upaśama-śreṇī-Jīva (उपशम-श्रेणी-जीव) subsides / suppresses all karmas, except some deluding karmas while Kṣapaka-Jiva (क्षपक-जीव) annihilates several other tendencies of karma along with tendencies of deluding karma.

In 'Ṣaṭkhandāgama' this stage is known as 'anivṛttikaraṇa'.  On reaching to this guṇasthāna the dissociation of karmas from soul increases numerous times than the previous stage.

(10)   Sukhshama Sāmprāya Guṇasthāna (सूक्ष्मसाम्पराय गुणस्थान):

The name of this guṇasthāna is sukṣmasaṁparāya. Just as a kusumbha flower has a slight tinge of reddish colour, similarly a monk who has reached this tenth stage of spiritual development retains a slight tinge of attachment eternally. Hence this stage is called sukṣmasaṁparāya i.e., the stage of slight attachment.

In this stage enlightenment, sanctity and purity takes place in aspirant. In earlier stage of this guṇasthāna except the greed, all other passions get subsided / annihilated.

In this stage, upaśama-śreṇī-Jīva (उपशम-श्रेणी-जीव) subsides / suppresses all karmas, except slight tinge of attachment while Kṣapaka-Jiva (क्षपक-जीव) annihilates all karmas, expect slight tinge of attachment.

And at the end of this guṇasthāna the bondage of these karmic tendencies like knowledge-obscuring karma, four faith obscuring karma, five hindrance producing karma, high status and fame, get stopped. Reaching at the later stage of this guṇasthāna, the Kṣapaka-Jiva (क्षपक-जीव) directly rides on twelfth guṇasthāna and never comes down.

(11) Upshānt Kashāya Guṇasthāna (उपशांत कषाय गुणस्थान):

Upaśama-śreṇī-Jīva (उपशम-श्रेणी-जीव) reaches from tenth stage to eleventh stage. The Jīva possesses this stage only becomes able to subside delusion. In this stage the subsided delusion arise again and Upaśama-śreṇī-Jīva (उपशम-श्रेणी-जीव) starts coming down again to the cycle of world.

(12)   Kṣīṇa or Kṣaya kaṣāya Guṇasthāna   (क्षीण अथवा क्षय कषाय गुणस्थान):

It has already said earlier that the Kṣapaka-Jiva (क्षपक-जीव) directly rides on twelfth guṇasthāna and never comes down. In this stage, the monk annihilates all delusive karmas, destroys passions by the worthy soul and is free from all attachment or delusion.

The Jīva of Lord Mahāvīra was of this category. The aspiration and penance done by him are the same like the aspirations of an aspirant who has annihilating capacity. He merges deep into meditation. He annihilates the subtlest fermentative emotions and delusions from all levels of mind. Reaching to this stage the aspirant becomes devoid of passions.

In 'Ṣaṭkhandāgama' this state is known as kṣīṇa moha guṇasthāna. Reaching to the stage of kṣīṇa moha the deluding karma never arises. At the end of this stage all destructive karmas get annihilated forever.

(13)    Sayogī kevalī  Guṇasthāna (सयोगी केवली गुणस्थान):

An aspirant after annihilating all soul attacking karmas rides to this stage. The aspirant becomes sayogīkevalī.  He reaches to the position of arhanta.

णवकेवललद्-धुग्गम-पावियपरमप्पववएसो     ।।
असहायणाणदंसण-सहिओ वि हु केवली हु जोएण।
जुत्तो त्ति सजोइजिणो,  अणाइणिहणारिसे वुत्तो।।

Asahāyaṇāṇadansaṇa-sahio vi hu kevalī̄ hu joeṇa.
Jutto tti sajoijiṇo, aṇāiṇihaṇārise vutto...

केवलज्ञानदिवाकर-किरणकलाप-प्रणाशिताज्ञानः   ।
नवकेवललब्ध्युद्गम-प्रापितपरमात्मव्यपदेशः     ।।
असहायज्ञानदर्शन-सहितोऽपि हि केवली हि योगेन ।
युक्त इति सयोगिजिनः, अनादिनिधन आर्षे उक्तः।।

(Samaṇa Suttam, 562-563)

(It is stated in holy scriptures that a monk who has destroyed the darkness of his ignorance by an assemblage of the rays of the sun of Omniscience, has obtained knowledge of the supreme soul on account of having acquired nine super ordinary and equipped with determinate and indeterminate types of cognition requiring no help of external instruments, i.e., senses, is called sayogī kevalī (सयोगी केवली). Though he is a "kevalī" (Omniscience) and all four varieties of destructive karmas have been eliminated yet undertake mental, vocal and bodily activities due to the force of lifespan karma. This is the state of the embodied soul of the Arhat (अर्हत्), Kevalī (केवली), Jina (जिन), or Tīrthaṅkara (तीर्थंकर).

(14)  Ayogī Kevalī Guṇasthāna (अयोगी केवली गुणस्थान):  

This status is of ayogīkevalī (unembodied omniscient) is a momentary state prior to the death of the body in which all activity of body, speech and mind has been stopped through a meditation called śukla-dhyāna (शुक्ल ध्यान). Death occurs when the four varieties of non-destructive karmas have been also exhausted and liberated soul attains absolute enlightened position, he being situated on the forehead of the cosmos (loka) becomes liberated or emancipated attaining enlightenment. This is the state of the liberated soul of the "Siddha" (who attains salvation in current life):

जया कम्मं खवित्ताणं, सिद्धिं गच्छइ नीरओ।
तया लोग मत्थ यत्थो, सिद्धो हवइ सासओ।।

Jayā kammaṁ̇ khavittāṇaṁ, siddhiṁ gacchai nīrao.
tayā loga mattha yattho, siddho havai sāsao..

(Daśavaikālika, 4/25)

Guṇasthāna/Mārgaṇās: Some Notes and Explanations:

  1. It has been said that the Guṇasthāna/Mārgaṇās are caused by karmas (matter) contaminating the soul & the category depends and is related to the association of nature of karma-load on the soul.
  2. Though only 14 stages are identified as Guṇasthāna, these are innumerable points on the path of liberation on which the soul stays or passing through or change the stages of Guṇasthāna/Mārgaṇās up and down.
  3. The soul has been in this path (embodied soul) since times immemorial and will be so till its final liberation as discussed earlier.
  4. The movement from one stage to another is not always in numerical order. The soul moves up and down on the path according to its association of karma-load.
Original Title:
भगवान महावीर एवं जैन दर्शन
Bhagwaan Mahaveer Evam Jain Darshan
English Translation:
Dr. Pradyumna Shah Singh
Department of Religious Studies, Punjabi University, Patiala, India
HN4U Online Edition:
in progress
showing the available English renderings.

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. 14 Stages
  2. Apramatta
  3. Apramatta-virata
  4. Arhat
  5. Body
  6. Conceit
  7. Daśavaikālika
  8. Greed
  9. Guṇasthāna
  10. Jain Philosophy
  11. Jina
  12. Jīva
  13. Karaṇa
  14. Karma
  15. Karmas
  16. Kaṣāya
  17. Kevalī
  18. Kṣaya
  19. Loka
  20. Mahavir
  21. Mahāvīra
  22. Meditation
  23. Miṭhyātva dṛṣṭi
  24. Miśra dṛṣṭi
  25. Moha
  26. Mohanīya
  27. Omniscient
  28. Pramatta-virata
  29. Pride
  30. Pudgala
  31. Samaṇa
  32. Samyag-mithyātva
  33. Samyaktva
  34. Shramaṇa
  35. Shravak
  36. Siddha
  37. Skandha
  38. Soul
  39. Sādhanā
  40. Sāsvādana-samyagdṛṣṭi
  41. Tīrthaṅkara
  42. Upaśama
  43. Upaśamana
  44. Yoga
  45. तीर्थंकर
  46. श्रमण
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