The Concept Of Embodied Soul And Liberated Soul In Jain Philosophy

Published: 10.03.2009
Updated: 03.01.2011

The Jain philosophy accepts the independent existence of living beings as also of non-living beings.  It is the consciousness, which draws an eternal dividing line between them. The living being has consciousness whereas the non-living being does not have it. The independent existence of living beings is definitely due to their consciousness. All living beings have consciousness that is known as the soul.  Soul and body are two different entities. For example, Atman is declared to be one, eternal, conscious, of the nature of bliss. In some passages of the Upanishads, Atman is identified with Brahman.
The soul/self is that through which one knows. (We will use the words ‘ soul’ and/or ‘ self ’as synonyms of the Sanskrit word ‘Atman’ and the Hindi word ‘Atma‘.) In the absence of the self there cannot be (any) knowledge; therefore, knowledge is the self. According to the physical perspective, body and soul are the same. According to the spiritual perspective, soul and body are never identical.
Bhagavan Mahavira says, ‘Atman  (i.e., the soul) is that which knows.’ The definition that the soul is the knower is based on the substantial standpoint, which integrates Chaitanya (consciousness) and Upayoga (conscious activity). Another definition of the soul is, ‘The soul is that through which one knows.’ It is a differentiated definition, for it accepts both aspects of the soul:

  • Soul is subject of the quest itself,
  • Soul is also the means to know it.

Existence of Soul

The soul has existence,  ‘I am happy.  I am sad.’  In these sentences, feelings involving ‘I’ automatically prove the existence of the soul. In Jain philosophy it is stated, ‘The soul does exist.’ In this sentence, the word soul is used as a subjective. Expressions such as, ‘The soul does exist’ are all subjective.  In Acharanga (1/5/5), it is said:
Je aayaa se vinnaayaa, je vinnaayaa se aayaa
(The self is the knower, and the knower is the self).
In this sentence, the word soul/self is used as a subjective as well as an objective. In reality, the soul is non-verbal.  A word cannot be synonymous with the soul. The soul is unknowable, invisible, undetectable, imperceptible and of non-corporeal existence. He who knows is knowledge; the self does not become a knower with knowledge as an unrelated instrument. The very self develops knowledge, and all the objects stand (reflected) in the knowledge. In the absence of the self there cannot be (any) knowledge; therefore, knowledge is the self. 
The knower has knowledge for this nature and all the objects are within the range of the knowledge, just as the objects of sight are within the ken of the eye, if there is no mutual inherence.  
The knower, who is beyond sense-perception, necessarily knows and sees the whole world neither entering into nor entered into by the objects of knowledge, just as the eye sees the objects of sight.
The existence of the soul is justifiable also on the ground that the soul is endowed with other qualities. They are remembrance, desire for knowledge, desire for activity, desire for movements and doubt etc. These are self-evident, for they are realized by one self. Hence, the self is also self-evident.
According to Acharya Kundakunda, the self is subject to transformation with regard to knowledge, action and fruit; therefore the self should be understood as consisting of knowledge, action and fruit. (Pravachanasara, 2/35) It can assume different forms and names in different states of existence but its substantial nature remains unchanged just as gold remains gold in different ornaments made of gold.

Living Being and Soul/Self

So long as living beings have an embodied existence in the known universe, qualities of sound, color, smell, taste and touch etc., are present in them. The moment they liberate themselves from the bondage, sound, color, smell, taste and touch etc., have absolutely no relation to them. None of them is a denomination of the nature of the soul. Completely developed, incompletely developed, minute and gross, all these modifications pertaining only to the body are given the appellation of living being in the scripture from the empirical perspective of the mundane state. 
From the transcendental perspective, living being and soul are one and the same. From empirical point of view, we can try to indicate both the terms, i.e. living being & soul.  Linguistically, we can state that one is subject and the other is object. Philosophically, we can state that one is Dravya (substance) and the other is Guna (attribute). Spiritually, we can affirm that one is an embodied soul (a soul limited or affected by karmic veil) and the other is a liberated soul who attains self-realization. Logically, we can state that one (living being) is pervading and the other (soul) is pervaded. Soul is also said to be the self of all living beings.

Consciousness is Comparable to Sun

The sun, even when overcasted by clouds, retains the power to reveal its appearance. In the same way, consciousness is the form of knowledge, which exists in the soul and cannot be overshadowed by the veils (of karma). Some rays of a developed consciousness continuously remain manifest. If they do not manifest themselves, it would not be possible to draw a dividing line between living beings and non-living beings.
On the basis of this fact, two states of the soul do emerge:

    • Covered-cum-uncovered consciousness in non-active condition: Knowledge of the object to be known does not occur.
    • Covered-cum-uncovered consciousness in active condition: Knowledge of the object to be known occurs.

From the transcendental viewpoint, any veil around the soul is temporary, since it is 'pudgalika' (pertaining to physical substance). Soul is ultimately able to redeem itself from that pudgalika shell. But this happens only with human beings and does not relate to other living creatures.

Primary Characteristic of Soul

It has been described that consciousness is the fundamental characteristic or nature of soul. The soul is capable of upayoga (manifestation of consciousness into intuition and knowledge/cognitive activity of knowledge and perception). In Tattvarthasutra (2/8), it is said that upayoga is the distinctive mark of the soul/self. (Upayoga laxaNam).
Upayoga is of two kinds, with form and without form. The formless upayoga is understood as vision (Darshan) whereas upayoga with form is the cognition of the object called Jnana.

Chaitanya (consciousness) is an eternal characteristic of the soul. Its veil is a non-eternal aspect because it is pudgalika, i.e., material or physical in nature. It is opposed to the real nature of the soul. The veil comes as an influx. The process of elimination of the shell of such bondages could be seen in varying degrees among different living beings. Total unveiling is possible only in case of humans.

5 other important Points of the Nature of Soul

    • With respect to time, the soul is without any beginning or end. It is neither created nor produced and hence it has no beginning. It is eternal, uncreated, non-concrete, immaterial, disembodied/incorporeal and beyond the range of physical vision. The soul is Dravya Atma, hence is a reality.
    • The soul is completely independent. Each soul is a separate entity.
    • Infinite souls exist in the universe.
    • It is doer and agent of its acts. Nobody else is the benefactor or agent of its activities. It is responsible for all its activities and their results. From empirical point of view, it is the doer and enjoyer of its material acts. It is said: ’Appaakattaa vikattaa ya, duhaa na ya suhaa na ya appaa mittamamittam cha, dupatithao’ (My own self is the doer and non-doer of misery and happiness. My own self is a friend and foe in accordance with good or bad acts.) (Uttaradhyayana sutra, 20/37) A liberated soul attains infinite knowledge, infinite perception, infinite conduct, infinite power and infinite bliss which have no end.
    • An embodied soul expands and contracts in shape and size according to the body it lives in at different times. It co-exists in the entire body it owns.

Living Being and Body

It is already said that as long as living beings have embodied existence, characteristics of sound, color, smell, taste and touch etc., are present in them. In other words, a soul is bounded by karmic veil; delusion, attachment and aversion exist to some extent in an embodied soul. Some of those ignorant people, not knowing the true nature of the self, assert that the self is identical with such psychic states as desire, etc. In the same way some other state that the Self is identical with karmic matter. Some believe in the psychic potency, which determines the intensity or mildness of the conscious states to be the soul. Still others identify the soul with non-karma matter that forms the constituent elements of various kinds of organic bodies. Some consider the manifestation of karma (resulting in pleasure or pain) to be the Self. Some others consider the Self to be the product of the combination of various physical entities.
The various characteristics referred to above are all the result of the manifestation of karmic matter. How can they be then attributed to the pure Self? In the (pure) soul there is no color, no smell, no taste, no touch, no visible form, no body, no bodily shape, and no skeletal structure. In the (pure) soul there is neither desire nor aversion. No delusion is found therein. There is no karmic condition, nor karmic matter, nor non-karmic matter in it. (Anne khalu kaamabhogaa, anno ahammasi, Sutra kritaanga, 2/1/13)
Each embodied soul has three kinds of bodies:

Three Kinds of Bodies for each Soul

Audarika body

Gross or physical body

Taijasa body

Subtle or electromagnetic body

Karma body

Karmic or subtle body

The first one is built by the living being at the time of birth and ceases with death. It is built in correspondence with the Karmic body and therefore, all the centers of the Karmic body which are responsible for development and obstruction of Chaitanya (consciousness) have their corresponding centers in the physical or gross body. The Karmic body controls attitudes, behavior and conduct of a living being. The Taijasa and the Karmic bodies continuously accompany the livingbeing, even between the intervening period i.e., death and next birth, which is called the 'antaraal gati', transmigratory motion. The re-incarnation of the living being and the building of a new physical body is possible due to them. Sometimes, it takes the human form; at other times, it may be an animal, and so on. Sometimes, it undergoes evolution and sometimes, it undergoes devolution. The descent from a developed into an undeveloped state and vice-versa both are due to the free will of consciousness itself. Internally, the Kashaya (passions) are responsible for that. Kashaya are tainting mind and consciousness. The laws that govern the non-living physical matter are not binding on pure consciousness. The living beingin the mundane state has a form, and a body. The soulhas the extension in the body equivalent to its size. Therefore it is called ‘dehaparimaanee’. The soul acts through the nervous system reaching out to the entire body. In this state, knowledge, perception & power of the empirical living being is limited or affected by the karmic veil. 

Prana: A Bridge

Prana (vital energy) is a bridge between the living being and the body. It is the Pranic energy that directs actions, speech and emotions of the living body. The Prana can be divided into ten kinds based on the different functions that each of our limbs performs. In the first five, Prana is related to the sense organs. The other five are responsible respectively for the activities of physique, respiration, speech, mind and the duration of life span.

Pure Soul (liberated from the Bonds of Karma)

It is free from all such bondages and it remains eternally in its pure elemental form. In the mundane state, there is both evolution and devolution, whereas in the liberated state there is no evolution or devolution, since all the attributes of soul like knowledge, intuition, bliss and power have attained the irreversible and super most stage of infinity. The discriminative knowledge of the Self leads to discarding all alien dispositions, knowing them to be entirely foreign to the nature of the Self. When is free from all the karmic impurities, as a result of the infinite strength that is now its nature, it becomes still and unshakable like the great Mehru mountain. This state is called Shaileshee (rock like). (Dashavaikaalika, 4/24)

At the end of this state, all the pudgalika impurities are destroyed in totality. Now it is pure consciousness. In other words, when the human being settles down in the state of Chaitanya i.e., pure consciousness, its dual personality fades out and one attains a truly emancipated) personality due to total annihilation of all the Karma. Emancipated souls are devoid of the eight types of karmas, having attained peace, are devoid of all thought of blemish, are eternal, are equipped with eight auspicious qualifications, are such as have already accomplished whatever had to be accomplished and are residing at the top of the universe. There, it attains the stage by becoming totally free from Pudgala and rests in pure Chaitanya and that is the eternal bliss, ever free from physical effects.

In the (pure) soul there is neither desire nor aversion. No delusion is found therein. There is no karmiccondition, nor karmicmatter, nor non-karmic matter in it.

In the (pure) soul there is no atomic potency, no Vargana (molecules or group of atoms), and no spardhaka (aggregates of molecules). There is no ego-consciousness of different types and no (karmic) manifestations (resulting in pleasure-pain experience).

In the (pure) soul, there is no activity of Manasa (mind), vachana (speech), kaya (body)), there is no karmic bondage; there is no effective manifestation of karma.
In the (pure) soul there is no stage of the duration of bondage, or of emotional excitement or of self-purification or of the acquisition of self-control.

The classification of the organic beings (according to the principle of biological development) and the classification of man (according to the principle of ethic-spiritual development) are not applicable to the pure soul, since all the above-mentioned differences are the result of the manifestation of the material conditions.  The stages of spiritual development are (predicted) of the soul from the empirical perspective; but from the point of view of reality, not one of these can be predicted of the soul.

The liberated souls / pure souls / Siddhas are omniscient.

The omniscient lord neither accepts nor abandons, nor transforms the external objectivity; he sees all around, and knows everything completely. The knowledge operates on the objects, just as a sapphire, thrown in the milk, pervades the whole of it with its luster. If those are not within the knowledge, knowledge cannot be all-pervasive; the knowledge is all-pervasive, how then objects do not exist in it?

All modifications present and absent, of all those types of substances, stand essentially (reflected) in the knowledge, as if in the present. Those, which have never originated and those, in fact that have been and are already destroyed are the absent modifications; they are directly visualized in omniscience.

If that omniscience would not directly visualize the future and past modifications, who then would call that knowledge omniscience?

If that omniscience would not directly visualize the future and past modifications, who then would call that knowledge super-natural? 

A liberated soul has the right faith and vision; omniscience of a specific and general nature and which never diminishes nor is ever destroyed.

It is beyond the cycle of birth and death, since it attains the status of Siddha. It stays in this state forever and without end. It does not get born again in any other form. In this state, it reaches the final destination at the top-most level of the cosmos known as ‘Siddhaksetra’.

A liberated soul is also a substance and a substance is that which is eternal. Hence a liberated soul is real and not ‘non-existing’ as comprehended by Vedanta philosophy. A liberated soul does not dissolve its Self in ‘Paramatma (supreme soul) but itself becomes a supreme soul. (Siddhinivaasashcha yadaa, paramaatmaa syaattadaa vyaktah, Adhyaatmasaara,20/24).

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharanga
  2. Acharya
  3. Acharya Kundakunda
  4. Atma
  5. Atman
  6. Body
  7. Brahman
  8. Chaitanya
  9. Consciousness
  10. Darshan
  11. Dravya
  12. Guna
  13. Jain Philosophy
  14. Jnana
  15. Karma
  16. Karma Body
  17. Karmas
  18. Karmic Body
  19. Karmic matter
  20. Kashaya
  21. Kundakunda
  22. Mahavira
  23. Manasa
  24. Objectivity
  25. Omniscient
  26. Paramatma
  27. Prana
  28. Pudgala
  29. Sanskrit
  30. Siddha
  31. Soul
  32. Sutra
  33. Taijasa body
  34. Upanishads
  35. Upayoga
  36. Uttaradhyayana
  37. Uttaradhyayana Sutra
  38. Vachana
  39. Vargana
  40. Vedanta
  41. siddhas
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