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Jainism : The World of Conquerors: 4.9 ► Spiritual Development

Published: 08.12.2015

Very few persons are on the path of spiritual progress. The general population lacks both Right Knowledge and Right Conduct and is busy satisfying temporary pleasures of the senses. Their life is governed by drives and passions such as anger, pride, deceit and greed. They have fears, such as the fear of losing possessions, status, family, society and health. This phenomenon is due to the karmic bondage of the soul, which obscures its true characteristics. Liberation from karmic bondage, to uncover the true nature of the self, is the goal of spiritual development. The journey from the embodied soul to the liberated soul is traversed through the medium of moral and intellectual preparation. Jain scriptures have described the graduated stages on this virtuous path.

Stages of spiritual development

There are fourteen stages of spiritual development, known as gunasthanas.

1 The Dark Period of Self: The first is called the 'stage of false faith or delusion' (mithyaatva). At this stage the worldly soul remains in a perpetual state of spiritual ignorance due to deluding karma, which engenders a complex state of perverted beliefs and conduct. The dominance of a spurious faith precludes the self from any inclination towards the path of liberation.

Delusion vitiates Right Knowledge and Right Conduct. People may possess both extensive knowledge and moral conduct, but a spurious faith does not allow them to destroy the hostile elements of the soul and to proceed towards spiritual development. Thus the darkest period for the self is when it is overwhelmed by a spurious faith that obstructs all spiritual endeavour. It is a state of spiritual slumber, when one does not recognise one's delusion. The soul tied to this stage identifies itself with bodily colour, physical frame, race, sex, caste, creed, family, friends and wealth. It is constantly obsessed with the fears of losing possessions, family, friends and health, and is tormented by the thought of death.

A bogus faith makes one accept a miss-construed religion as the right religion, a false path as the right path, the materialistic body as the soul, the non-saintly person as the saint, the unemancipated as the emancipated, and so on. Jain seers have described this deluded spiritual stage as the 'state of external self'. In this stage there will be some souls who never triumph over this darkness, never achieve liberation, and are known as 'ones who are incapable of liberation' (abhavya). They have a bogus faith and misconstrue the nature of things (Tattvartha Sutra 1974: 2.7). Others who also occupy this stage have inclinations towards spiritual development, as they are learning towards the path of Right Faith and do not commit intentional sinful acts. They do not attach undue value to the worldly life and maintain vigilance over whatever they do. The spiritual darkness of those with an inclination towards spiritual development is not as intense as that of the welcomers of transmigratory existence. From the first stage, if individuals are successful in removing the effects of faith-deluding karma and develop Right Faith, they can rise to the fourth stage. They can fall from the fourth to the third, second or first stage if the effects of faith-deluding karma reappear, as is described below.

Figure 4.10 The fourteen stages of spiritual development.

2 (sasvaadan samyagdristi). If spiritual conversion is due to the total annihilation of faith-deluding karma, the self-progresses to higher stages. But if spiritual conversion is consequent upon the subsidence of faith-deluding karma, within forty-eight minutes the self falls to the lower stages or remains at the same stage, emerging with certain defects ordinarily not recognisable.

In 'subsidential right faith', the four passions and faith-deluding karma (false faith, righteous, and righteous-cum-false-faith) subside. When the bogus faith reemerges, the self again descends to the first spiritual stage and darkness overwhelms it.

3 The Stage of Mixed Faith: The third stage is called the 'stage of mixed faith' (misra). This is a mixed stage of awakening and residual faith. If the righteous-cumspurious faith re-emerges, the self falls to the third spiritual stage wherein total scepticism as regards spirituality prevails, and there is a mixture of right and wrong attitudes without firm belief. If there is a rise of the passions, the soul sinks to the second stage. When awakening arises again, in either the second and third stages, the soul may advance to the fourth stage.

4 Awakening of the Self: The fourth stage is called 'stage of non-restrained Right Faith' (avirata samyagdristi). Spiritual awakening is consequent upon the teaching of those who have realised the Right Faith or are on the path of self-realisation. The aspirant acquires the right attitudes and attains firm conviction in the true self and 'real entity'. At an opportune time, delusion is destroyed and one feels spiritual joy and bliss. The spiritual conversion is to be distinguished from a moral and intellectual conversion. Even if individuals in the first spiritual stage are endowed with the capacity for intellectual and moral achievements, they cannot be said to have dispelled the spiritual darkness. Some of those incapable of liberation, which have attained substantial intellectual knowledge and moral uplift, exemplify this sort of life without spiritual conversion. Thus the flower of spiritual development does not blossom by mere morality and intellect, but requires spiritual sustenance as well. They practise universal compassion, do not hanker after worldly wealth and pleasures, show no feeling of disgust at bodily conditions caused by disease and are free from all fears. They have deep affection for spiritual matters, strengthen the conviction of those who are faltering, and disseminate spiritual teachings through the means best suited to the time and place.

5 Spiritual Cleaning: The fifth stage is called the 'stage of partial restraint' (desavirati). In this stage the aspirant takes the twelve vows of a householder. After dispelling the dense and intense darkness caused by faith-deluding karma, the awakened self purges the conduct-deluding karma. In the fifth spiritual stage, householder aspirants are unable to avoid hurting one-sensed beings.

They adopt the five minor vows along with the seven supplementary vows of ethical behaviour, in order to sustain the central virtue of ahimsaa as far as possible. This stage of the journey of the self has been called the spiritual stage of 'partial restraint' since here aspirants avoid intentional violence to two to five-sensed beings. They cannot avoid violence in their worldly duties and as part of the duty of self-defence, but this violence is unintentional and they feel sorry for it. Thus a householder's life is a mixture of virtue and vice. It does not have the same purificatory quality as pursued by ascetics.

6 Total Restraint with Occasional Carelessness: The sixth stage is called the 'stage of total restraint with occasional carelessness' (pramatta samyati). From the fifth stage, aspirants are motivated to gradually renounce the householders' life and to become ascetics. They observe five major vows, five types of carefulness and the three guards. They practise internal and external austerities with special attention to self-study, devotion, and meditation; and avoid violence to all living beings, as far as is humanly possible.

As ascetics, they accept food by begging, eat only a little, require little sleep, endure hardship, practise universal friendship, adhere to spiritual progress, and avoid acquisitions, associations, and activities that may harm any living being. They observe the vows of total restraint (sarvavirati), but show occasional lapses in their restraint.


7 Total Restraint with Carefulness: The seventh stage is called the 'stage of total restraint with carefulness' (apramatta samyati). Aspirants keep themselves away from obstacles in observing their vows.

8 Unprecedented Volition: The eighth stage is called the 'stage of unprecedented volition' (apurva karana nivritti). Aspirants prepare themselves for the destruction or subsidence of the remaining part of the deluding karma. They continue to be attentive and exercise total restraint on their spiritual journey.

9 Desireless Mind: The ninth stage is called 'stage of desireless mind' (anivritti karana). Aspirants destroy or subdue the karma resulting from six types of quasipassions and passions such as laughter, attachment, hatred, fear, grief and aversion. They progress towards controlling the mind but still have subtle passions.

10 Control of Subtle Passions: The tenth stage is called 'stage of control of subtle passions' (suksama samparay). Aspirants at this stage are freed from the remaining passions by subduing or annihilating them.

11 Subsided Delusion: The eleventh stage is called the 'stage of subsided delusion' (upasaant moha). Owing to the subsided passions gaining strength, the illuminated consciousness of the dangerous eleventh stage falls to the lowest stage of bogus faith or to the fourth stage of non-restrained Right Faith. As a result, the ecstatic awareness of the transcendental self is negated and a sense of darkness envelops the aspirant. In this stage aspirants subdue delusion completely, but when dormant passions become operative, aspirants may regress. If they annihilate the dormant passions, they can rise to the twelfth stage.

12 Total Annihilation of Deluding Karma: The twelfth stage is called the 'stage of total annihilation of deluding karma' (ksina moha). In this stage, aspirants ascend higher and higher by destroying all delusion.

These spiritual stages from the seventh to the twelfth are stages of meditation or the stages of illumination. It is to be noted here that the self oscillates between the sixth and the seventh spiritual stage many thousands of times, and when it attains equanimity, it strenuously prepares itself for either subsiding or annihilating the conduct-deluding karma. This oscillation is the result of the struggle between carelessness and carefulness. By the time aspirants reach the stage of careful restraint, they have developed a power for spiritual progress and meditation on the soul. It is through the aid of deep meditation, where external environments cannot affect them that the soul sheds its karma speedily. The aspirants now pursue the higher path.

In consequence, they arrive at the eighth and the ninth stages where the state of profound purity exists. In the tenth stage only a subtle greed can disturb the soul. The soul subdues even this subtle greed at the eleventh stage and thus absolves itself from the rise of all types of passions. If the self follows the process of annihilation instead of subsidence, it rises directly from the tenth to the twelfth stage. Here the conduct-deluding karma is destroyed instead of being merely subdued. It is said that meditation produces supreme ecstasy in a spiritual aspirant, who is firmly established in the self. Such an ecstatic consciousness is vigorous enough to nullify the residual karma, and the aspirant remains unaffected by the external environment.

Transcendental life

13 Dynamic Omniscience: The thirteenth stage is called the 'stage of dynamic omniscience' (sayogi kevali). This process consists of two stages: The first stage of' dynamic omniscience' is where the obscuring karma is shed, but bodily activity continues. The 'static omniscient' stage is where all bodily activities cease. The worldly soul, after passing through the stages of spiritual conversion, now arrives at the sublime destination of liberation by ascending the rungs of the spiritual ladder. In the thirteenth stage the soul possesses dispassionate activity and omniscience. This is a supernormal state of existence and an example of exemplary life upon earth.

14 Static Omniscience: The fourteenth stage is called the 'stage of static omniscience' (ayogi kevali). In the fourteenth stage the soul annuls all activities, but preserves omniscience and other characteristics of the pure soul. The soul stays in this stage for a very short time, sheds the remaining non-obscuring karma and becomes liberated. After the fourteenth spiritual stage the soul leaves the body and shoots upwards like an arrow, reaching the apex of the universe (siddha silaa) in a fraction of a second, and resides there with the other liberated souls. It possesses infinite knowledge, faith, bliss, spiritual energy, and perfect conduct. It is free from its association with any form of matter; is neither heavy nor light, and is eternal.

The fourteen spiritual stages present a definitive road with well-spaced marker, leading to the ultimate goal of spiritual perfection (Mardia 1990: pp. 54-64; Sogani 1977:pp.119-132).


Title: Jainism: The World of Conquerors
Dr. Natubhai Shah
Publisher: Sussex Academic Press
Edition: 1998
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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Abhavya
  2. Anger
  3. Apramatta
  4. Apurva Karana
  5. Ayogi Kevali
  6. Body
  7. Consciousness
  8. Deceit
  9. Environment
  10. Equanimity
  11. Fear
  12. Greed
  13. Gunasthanas
  14. Karma
  15. Kevali
  16. Mardia
  17. Meditation
  18. Misra
  19. Moha
  20. Pride
  21. Sayogi Kevali
  22. Siddha
  23. Soul
  24. Sutra
  25. Tattvartha Sutra
  26. Twelve Vows Of A Householder
  27. Violence
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