Knowledge - Jñāna (1/2)

Published: 12.10.2008
Updated: 02.07.2015

Plato defines knowledge as ‘justified belief’. We all have different understanding about knowledge but mostly think of acquired knowledge, i.e. things we learn by reading, going to schools or listening to sermons or even observing the world around us. Jains think of knowledge as a system consisting of knower, the organs of knowledge called pramāṇa, and their processor and finally the results of knowing. Further we find that even different philosophers view components of knowledge differently. The unique aspect of Jain view is that knowledge, which as a manifestation of consciousness is considered as concomitant with soul / self itself and pure soul is all knowledge or just knowledge itself. We shall briefly discuss various aspects of knowledge as discussed in Jain philosophy in this paper.

1.0 Knowledge (jñāna) in Jainism
    • Jñāna is an attribute of soul, which is capable of knowing both self and others.[1]
    • ‘ṇāṇaṅ ṇarassa sāro[2] says that the sole purpose of human mode is to acquire knowledge, as jñāna and soul are concomitant.
    • Niryuktikāra Bhadra Bāhu II says ‘ṇāṇassa sārmāyāro or the sole purpose of knowledge is to develop and practice right conduct to achieve the ultimate objective’.
    • Śutra-kṛtāṅga, the second canonical text starts with Bujjhejja meaning to know or try to know and then practise to destroy the bondage.

Knowledge is the most discussed subject in Jaina canonical literature. Its importance is established by the fact that attaining omniscience is an essential pre-requisite to achieve emancipation (Mokṣa). Dhavalā by Vīra Sena Svāmi, Pravacanasāra by Kunda Kunda, Tattvārathasutra by Umā Svāti and commentaries on it by Umā Svāti, Pūjya Pāda, Akalaṅka and others plus a separate appendix prepared at Vallabhi vācanā called Nandi Sutra containing just knowledge are the important sources for understanding the Jain theory of knowledge.

Knowledge is an attribute of the soul. In fact knowledge is said to be the nature of the soul as it is found only associated with the soul. In empirical soul, it decreases or increases as per the thickness of kārmika veil on it. Pure soul is perfect knowledge. There is never a moment when even the empirical soul, be it in any destiny or state is without a trace of knowledge otherwise it will become by definition a non-soul. The states of imperfection and perfection, expressed by such terms as mati jñāna and kevala jñāna are in turn the modes of the attribute knowledge. The empirical soul being defiled by knowledge obscuring karmas therefore needs certain media or external devices to acquire knowledge of others. Also there are limitations to its knowledge capabilities in terms of place, area, time or the substance type.

Knowledge as a system in Jain philosophy:

Object of knowledge
Black box
  Result of knowledge / output
    • Object of knowledge or what we want to know. This is called prameya or jñeya
    • The black box consisting of two main components namely the processor / pramātā / ātmā or consciousness and its manifestation to think / analyse plus the valid knowledge or pramāṇa or the standard / measure of validity of knowledge; 
    • The output or results known as pramiti or result of analysis or just knowledge.

2.0 Jñana definition

Jñāna is defined by different ācāryas from time to time. Pūjya Pāda [3] defines it as, ‘The means by which cognition takes place’, ‘one who knows’ and ‘the knowledge’. Dhavalā[4] defines jñāna as ‘The specific entity which provides the true knowledge of the object’, ‘entity which enables to decide the true nature of a substance’ and ‘means of cognizing substance, modes and attributes’. Nandī Cūrṇi on the other hand defines jñāna as ‘Just cognizing’, ‘means of cognizing’ and ‘the cognizer’. Other scriptures also define jñāna similarly. So we can define jñāna all inclusive as the:

  • Process of knowing or cognition. It can thus be viewed as measurement system, the measure or standard also,
  • Knower (owner or the processor of knowledge)?
  • Result of knowing (knowledge); i.e. elimination of ignorance about the characteristics of the object.

Jñāna here implies acquiring the knowledge about what is good for adoption and what is bad to be given up for achieving the ultimate objective. Further it is a capacity to know as state (gross or subtle), distance, spatial and temporal constraints are not hindrances for soul or jñāna. Status of knowledge as right (samyak) or wrong (mithyā) depends on the attitude of the owner of knowledge. An individual with right attitude (samyak dṛṣṭi) will have right knowledge and vice versa.

Caitanya or consciousness is the essence of jiva. The two manifestations of consciousness are intuition / darśana and knowledge/jñāna, the former is simple apprehension and the latter conceptual knowledge. The consciousness itself takes two forms namely attainment (labdhi) and utilization (upyoga). Attainment is the capacity to know whereas utilization involves its application for the purpose of knowing. The utilization of consciousness itself takes two terms namely intuition or darśana (which is indeterminate i.e. not definitive cognition) and knowledge (which is determinate, is definitive). Darśana is simple intuition of generalities of things while knowledge is with particulars or specific attributes of the thing. These two utilizations of consciousness occur either simultaneously or in continuous sequence of intuition followed by knowledge.

Empirical soul cannot have pure knowledge or complete knowledge of a thing. Hence the object has to be viewed from many angles / view points to have near complete knowledge of the same. Bhagavāna Mahāvīra always replied from at least four angles namely substance, mode, time and space/place view points, e.g. when asked about loka, he said, ”From substance view point it is one and with limits; from space /place view point, it occupies countless space but is limited and bound on all sides by aloka, from time perspective it is eternal i.e. was always there and will always be there, from mode view point it is infinite i.e. changing continuously and things existing in it are changing also.[5]”. Later on from Bhagawati and other āgamas, we find an object is always viewed from two view points at least i.e. from transcendental or absolute or substance view point with gives the substance or permanence perspective and from practical or mode view point which gives the changing state of the object at a particular point of time. These viewpoints were further classified into seven nayas (partial knowledge) being discussed in different āgamas, which provide us the means to know an object from a specific viewpoint of the cognizer. The knowledge thus acquired through the doctrine of viewpoints, was expressed using syāt (in some respect or a little bit ‘kiñcita’).

2.1 Characteristics of Jñana

Jīva is described as sentient (cetana) having sentiency (cetanā) and its manifestation (upyoga) as the two essential characteristics. These characteristics set jīva aside from all other substances, which are all insentient[6]. Thus soul / jīva and jñāna are concomitant and the soul is the knowledge and the knower itself. Nature of pure soul has been defined as infinite intuition / vision / darśana, infinite knowledge, infinite bliss and infinite energy. Thus pure soul has the capacity to know all objects irrespective of temporal or spatial distances and as vividly as either present or in the near vicinity. Soul and jñāna are of the same size and co-existent. If it were not so, then either the parts of soul will be without jñāna or jñāna itself will exist at a place other than soul.

Jñāna does not have spatial nor temporal limitations, but is a capacity. Distance, spatial or temporal constraints are not hindrances for the soul to know. Knowledge, being co-existent with soul is as independent as existence and does not depend on any other knowledge. Further no physical contact, direct or indirect with objects is necessary for the emergence of knowledge.

Senses etc are only the media of acquiring jñāna. They can cognize only the concrete (rūpi) objects and that too their present modes only. Thus empirical soul or pure soul defiled / bonded with matter karmas, whose jñāna capability is masked with matter karmas (especially jñānāvarṇiya) acquires knowledge through external media like senses and mind. Pure soul does not need any media to cognize as it can cognize all substances (concrete and non-concrete) and their modes of past, present and future. Thus the knower and jñāna is only the soul / Jīva.

2.2 Knowledge types

Jain literature is perhaps the only one of its type to have extensive discussions on jñāna. In fact kevala-jñāna (omniscience) is an essential requirement to achieve emancipation / nirvāṇa. From absolute or transcendental viewpoint, jñāna is of one type only i.e. omniscience which is a quality of pure self. However due to the masking of pure soul by kārmika cover; it is classified into different categories, depending on the extent of the kārmika cover it has, which are in fact the modes of pure knowledge.

Knowledge is of one type only. However, for the sake of explaining and its systematic investigation ranging from the most imperfect knowledge of one sensed jīva to the perfect knowledge of five sensed omniscient, right knowledge or samyak-jñāna had been classified as of five types of knowledge in the canonical literature:

  • Mati or mind based,
  • Śruta or verbal testimony,
  • Avadhi or clairvoyance,
  • Manaħparyaya or telepathy
  • Kevala or omnisciience.

Mati includes sense perception, memory (smṛti), recognition (sañjñā), hypothetical reasoning (cintā), inference (anumāna); śruta is verbal knowledge and is the knowledge generated by words; avadhi cognizes distant (temporally and spatially) physical objects, manaħaparyaya is that knowledge which perceives directly the modes of other person’s mind and hence the thoughts and their objects. Kevalajñāna is omniscience. The last three are supra empirical and are generated by special type of meditation and spiritual purification while the first two are empirical knowledge only and generated by sense organs and mind. Further they maintained that the first three jñānas may be true (samyak) or wrong (mithyā) depending on the state of knower as having samyak darśana or not. Samyak darśana was defined as the tendency or attitude that was conducive to spiritual progress. Thus knowledge being valid or not was dependent on spiritual progress and not on logic. This is the first phase of knowledge development in Jain canonical literature. Further discussions and classifications of knowledge shall be discussed in the later section.

2.2.1 Matijñāna - Sensuous Perception or Mind Based Knowledge[7]

Sensuous perception is defined as the knowledge acquired through the aid of the five senses and mind. This originates with intuition followed by the four steps namely:

  1. Out linear-grasp; avagraha or awareness of some existence
  2. Discrimination; īhā, a desire to know whether it is THIS or THAT.
  3. Perceptual judgment; avāya is ascertainment of the right and exclusion of the wrong
  4. Retention of judgment; dhāraṇā.

There is a rule concerning complete cycle of the four steps indicated. Sometimes 1, 2 or even first three steps can occur and then forgotten. These four steps result with the aid of the sense organs. After retention of judgment; memory, comparison, logic or inference can occur serially and are the functions of mind. All these four steps after retention of judgment are also included in matijñāna .

Jain thinkers have defined touch or skin (sparśana), taste (rasnā), smell (ghrāṇa), form / colour or eye (cakṣu) and hearing (śravaṇa) as the five types of sense organs. Further they also consider mana/ manas (mind) as no-indri (quasi sense) and the integrator of all the remaining five senses. Of these six senses, eyes and mind are not competent for contact-awareness while the remaining four senses perceive the objects only on contact with them. Therefore contact awareness is possible through later four senses only while the object-awareness is possible through all the six senses. Matijñāna is preceded by visual intuition /cakṣu and / or non-visual intuition / acakṣu darśana.

Since all the senses and body are indicated as consisting of matter, matijñāna is limited to knowing concrete objects only, i.e. objects which can be cognized by the senses as they have attributes which are the subjects of the five senses. Non-concrete objects, like soul/self, ākāśa, dharma, adharma and kāla are not the subjects of matijñāna.

Hence we see that the sphere of its cognition even though is very limited, yet it is of prime importance as it is the knowledge, which affects our daily life.

2.2.2 Śrutajñāna - Verbal or Scriptural Knowledge / Verbal Testimony[8]

Originally it means knowledge embodied in the scriptures and falls in two categories namely aṅga praviṣṭa and aṅgabāhia. Śruta literally means ‘what is heard’, so śrutajñāna is also called as knowledge developed due to hearing. Later on whatever is heard is also defined as śruta. Śrutajñāna thus got redefined as knowledge by testimony and not by acquaintance. This implies that expression of sensual perception in syllables / signs, is śrutajñāna. The objects of this knowledge may be both concrete and non concrete (i.e. physical and non physical or mūrta and amūrta) in the entire loka and of all times.

Thus verbal testimony (śrutajñāna) can be defined as ‘Knowledge or cognition of other related entities with the aid of mind using the knowledge cognized through the medium of sense organs’. It also follows from this discussions that śrutajñāna is matter as it is based on sensual perception which itself is matter as per Jain theory of knowledge. It is normally of two types namely verbal (through words heard or read) and inference (e.g.. seeing smoke to know the existence of fire).

Śruta is classified in two categories namely material scripture (Dravyaśruta) and psychic scripture (Bhāvaśruta). Sermons of omniscient composed as Dvādaśāṅga by gaṇdharas is Dravyaśruta while the knowledge acquired by their listener or reader is called Bhāvaśruta. As verbal testimony is preceded by sensual perception, it is identified as of two types namely verbal (through words heard or read) and inference. Since the subjects of the five sense organs are touch, taste, smell, sound and form; śrutajñāna can accordingly be classified as Akṣara (i.e. which can be represented by words /syllables, signs etc) and Anakṣara (which cannot be so represented by words, syllables, forms etc, e.g. smell, taste, touch etc.).

Akṣara literally means indestructible. Even though all knowledge is akṣara, still the conventional meaning of akṣara is a syllable or alphabet. Saṅjñā-akṣara is the indicated meaning assigned to a syllable as per its form, size etc. as the same is always conveyed by that syllable. Vyaṅjana-akṣara is the pronunciation or spoken form of syllables. Dhavalā []talks of 64 syllables (33-consonants, 27- vowels, 4-auyogavaha for a total of 64). Their different permutations and combinations give words (padas), which are countless. Anakṣara, like inhaling, exhaling, thunder etc. is actual material scripture, are not written or spoken like syllable and is the cause of śrutajñāna. Living beings without mind i.e. with 1 to 4 senses and without mind have this type of śrutajñāna that originates without the use or effort of speech faculty.

2.2.3 Avadhi Jñāna / Sīmā Jñāna - Clairvoyance or Knowledge with Limitations

Avadhi-Jñāna implies knowledge with some limitations (Avadhi) with respect to substance, space, time and modes. It is cognized directly by the self/soul (without the assistance of senses and mind). Only concrete objects are its subjects (objects of knowledge). The power or potency of Avadhi-Jñāna depends on the level of subsidence cum dissociation of avadhi-jñānāvarṇiya karmas resulting in its having different levels of limitations of cognizing concrete objects with respect to spatial, temporal, substance and modes considerations. It can disappear also after its acquisition if it is of lower level or it can grow till the self attains omniscience. It is of immense use in worldly pursuits (like crystal ball gazing to tell future or advising others on worldly problems) but in attaining emancipation, it is of no use. Concerning the limitations of avadhi-jñāna, these are as follows: As usual, there can be countless subdivisions or types of Avadhi-jñāna. Nandī and TattvārathaSutra talk of two types primarily, namely bhava-pratyaya (congenital or due to destiny in which born and associated throughout he lifespan in that destiny) and guṇa- pratyaya (due to merit or level of spiritual purification of karmas bonded with the soul).

Bhava-pratyaya is due to the birth (due to the activation of nāma and āyu karmas of specific types) of living beings (e.g. denizens of hell and heaven). Guṇa- pratyaya, on the other hand is due to dissociation cum subsidence of avadhi-jñānāvarṇiya karmas of the individual resulting from its spiritual purification effort (right faith and right conduct).






Stays with the owner wherever he goes i.e. in different place/ mode/birth. Example: sunlight.



Stays with the owner in his present birth / place / mode only. Example: Question raised by a fool.



Increases in potency after its origination till the owner becomes omniscient. Example: Fire ignited in dry leaves heap.



Decreases in potency after its origination. Example: Light of the lamp without oil.



Destroyed after its origination. Example: Lightening



Potent to know beyond cosmos. Stays till omniscience attained.

2.3 Manaħparyāya /Manaħparyaya /Manaħparyava jñāna - Telepathy or Cognition of Mental Mode

Manaħparyāya jñāna is the cognition of the objects thought of or contemplated by others. As thoughts are the functions of mind, it uses the mind of others to know the objects being thought; so the knowledge derived is called the manaħparyaya jñāna[9]. Objects thought earlier, or are being thought, or shall be thought in future can be the subject of manaħparyaya jñāna. Since its subject is the modes of minds, its area of knowledge is limited to manuṣyaloka (abode of human beings) only.

When a person is engaged in mental activity i.e. thinking / contemplation or analysis; then the self attracts a specific type of matter particles called manovargaṇās. These manovargaṇās are said to result in an eight-winged lotus shaped lump called mana situated near the heart (anywhere in the body as per śwetāmbāra philosophers). These manovargaṇās take the shape / form of the object being thought and thought process (mode of dravya-mana or physical mind) of the person at that time. As per Jain philosophy, ascetics with high and special spiritual achievements, i.e. those born in karambhumi or the place where tirthankars are born, possess longevity, right faith and self control and have fully developed sense organs (paryāpta), free from passions (apramatta) and possess extra ordinary powers (ṛddhis)) develop this ability to know the thoughts (present, past and future) of the minds (their own as well as of the other person) by contemplating on respective manovargaṇās directly. The following example will clarify this point.

A person goes to two ascetics (one of them is an avadhijñāni and the other is manaħparyayajñāni) staying together. The person’s objective, being a non-believer in Jain philosophy, is to belittle their cognising capabilities. He therefore catches a small bird and holds it in his palm. He thinks that he will hold the bird in his fist and ask the ascetics what does he have in his fist, i.e. is the bird live or dead. He can let the bird fly or kill to negate the answer provided by the ascetics. His objective is to tell the ascetics that they both are wrong and their knowledge is limited. So he asks them as to what does he have in his fist? Replies by the two ascetics are as follows:

  • Avadhijñāni: He knows that the man has a living bird and was about to say so but was stopped by manaħparyaya jñāni from saying so.
  • Manaħparyayajñāni: He says to the man, “Why do you want to have ill feelings towards us and spoil your thinking and future? If I say you have a living bird, you will kill it to prove me wrong. If I say that you have a dead bird, you will let it fly. Hence there is no use of your ill thinking and you should use your energies to improve your present and future lives.”

2.2.5 Kevala jñāna - Omniscience

The total destruction of mohniya (deluding) karman is followed by short interval lasting for less than a muhūrata (forty eight minutes) after which the karmas obscuring jñāna and darśana as also antrāya (obstructing) karmas are destroyed completely (and the person is called Arhaṅta then) and then the soul shines in its full splendor and attains omniscience which intuits all substances with all their modes (gross and subtle, concrete as well as non concrete). Kevala jñāna emerges after the total destruction of the four obscuring karmas. It is the nature of pure self. Hence Jain theory of knowledge is based on the concept of Arhaṅta, a living human being becoming omniscient, as this jñāna is kṣāyika i.e. results only after destruction of all obscuring karmas. It has the following salient features:

  • The other four types or stages of jñāna namely mati, śruta etc. also disappear and only kevala jñāna exists. This is also supported by the fact this jñāna is called kevala (meaning only) jñāna. This is pure knowledge or the state of pure soul (i.e. without any flaws or bondages or impurities) as pure knowledge and pure soul are concomitant and coexistent. This jñāna is not a mode of jñāna but is the nature of pure soul. Kunda Kunda states[10] ’ The knower has knowledge of his nature and all the objects are within the range of his knowledge; just as the objects of sight are within the ken of the eye, though there is no mutual inherence’.
  • It knows all objects, concrete or non-concrete or sentient / insentient or self and others directly[11].The owner of this jñāna cognizes all objects including itself directly i.e. without the need of assistance of any external sources like sense organs, minds or light etc.[12] Kevala jñāna itself is not an attribute but is a jñāna itself. Hence it does not need two streams to know the self and others separately[13].
  • Even though it knows all substances and their modes, yet it neither enters them nor becomes like them. It just knows them and that is it. It does not develop attachment or aversion to the object of knowledge. Like a mirror, all objects are seen in this without touching or affecting the mirror. However unlike mirror, which sees only a part of the object (front part facing it), this jñāna sees and knows everything (front, rear, top, bottom and internal plus future /past) of the object.

2.3 Different Entities / Limbs of Knowledge (Object of Knowledge, Knowledge, Source)

a. Object of knowledge - Jñeya, Prameya

Jain philosophy talks of existent as reality / being / sat as the object of knowledge or simply as object. Existent is the indicator of substance (dravya), which is with origination, destruction and permanence simultaneously. Substance is a collection of qualities and modes. Thus substance is like persistence with change i.e. it is eternal but transforming continuously into different modes. It has infinite attributes and is existent. Thus the object of knowledge assumes serious complexity due to its ever-changing nature.

Substance is classified in two categories primarily namely sentient (Jīva) and insentient (Ajīva). Jīva is further classified as empirical (saṅsāri) and pure (mukta or siddha). Ajīva is further classified in five categories namely matter (Pudgala), principle of motion (dharma), principle of rest (adharma), space (ākāśa) and time (kāla). Jīva and pudgala are active while the remaining are inactive and just support the activities of these active substances. Pudgala is concrete i.e. cognizable by senses and the rest are non-concrete and hence are not subjects of senses.

b. Source of knowledge and its owner - Jñātā

Soul / self or Jīva is differentiated from other substances by its distinguishing characteristic of jñāna. Hence jñāna is found nowhere else except in jīva. Both soul and jñāna are concomitant and co-existent and the soul is the knower (Jñātā).

  • Jñāna and soul are both of the same size else parts of soul will be without jñāna or

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        1. Adharma
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