What is Jain Philosophy?

Jain philosophy is the oldest Indian philosophy that separates body (matter) from the soul (consciousness) completely. Jain philosophy deals with reality, cosmology, epistemology (study of knowledge) and Vitalism. It attempts to explain the rationale of being and existence, the nature of the Universe and its constituents, the nature of soul’s bondage with body and the means to achieve liberation.

Jain texts expound that in every half-cycle of time, twenty-four tirthankaras grace this part of the Universe to teach the unchanging doctrine of right faith, right knowledge and right conduct. Jain philosophy means the teachings of a Tirthankara which are recorded in Sacred Jain texts. The distinguishing features of Jain philosophy are:

  • Belief on independent existence of soul and matter.
  • Refutation of the idea that a supreme divine creator, owner, preserver or destroyer of the universe exists.
  • Potency of karma, eternal universe.
  • Accent on relativity and multiple facets of truth and
  • Morality and ethics based on liberation of soul.

Jainism strongly upholds the individualistic nature of soul and personal responsibility for one’s decisions; and that self-reliance and individual efforts alone are responsible for one’s liberation.

Ranakpur Jain temple, Ranakpur, Rajasthan

Ranakpur Jain temple, Ranakpur, Rajasthan


Main articles: Ahimsa in Jainism, Vitalism (Jainism)

According to the Jain texts, the vitalities or life-principles are ten, namely the five senses, energy, respiration, life-duration, the organ of speech, and the mind. The table below summaries the vitalities, living beings possess in accordance to their senses.

Senses Number of vitalities Vitalities
One Four Sense organ of touch, strength of body or energy, respiration, and life-duration
Two Six The sense of taste and the organ of speech in addition to the former four
Three Seven The sense of smell in addition to the former six
Four Eight The sense of sight in addition to the former seven
sensed beings
Nine The sense of hearing in addition to the former eight
Ten Mind in addition to the above-mentioned nine vitalities

In the animal world, the five-sensed beings without mind have nine life-principles with the addition of the sense of hearing. Those endowed with mind have ten with the addition of the mind. According to Tattvarthasutra, a major Jain text, “the severance of vitalities out of passion is injury”. According to the Purushartha Siddhyupaya, “non-manifestation of passions like attachment is non-injury (ahiṃsā), and manifestation of such passions is injury (hiṃsā).” This is termed as the essence of the Jaina Scriptures. Vegetarianism and other nonviolent practices and rituals of Jains flow from the principle of ahiṃsā. See Jain Vegetarianism


Main article: Tattva (Jainism)

Jain philosophy postulates that seven “tattva” (truths or fundamental principles) constitute reality. These are:

  1. Jīva-The soul substance which is said to have a separate existence from the body that houses it. Jīva is characterised by cetana (consciousness) and upayoga (knowledge and perception). Though the soul experiences both birth and death, it is neither really destroyed nor created. Decay and origin refer respectively to the disappearing of one state of soul and appearance of another state, these being merely the modes of the soul substance.
  2. ajīva– the non-soul
  3. āsrava (influx)– inflow of auspicious and evil karmic matter into the soul.
  4. bandha (bondage)– mutual intermingling of the soul and karmas.
  5. Samvara (stoppage)– obstruction of the inflow of karmic matter into the soul.
  6. Nirjara (gradual dissociation)– separation or falling off of part of karmic matter from the soul.
  7. mokṣha (liberation)– complete annihilation of all karmic matter (bound with any particular soul).

The knowledge of these reals is said to be essential for the liberation of the soul.

The Path to Liberation

Main article: Ratnatraya

According to the Jain philosophy, the world (Saṃsāra) is full of hiṃsā (violence). Therefore, one should direct all his efforts in attainment of moksha. According to the Jain text, Tattvartha sutra:

Right faith, right knowledge, and right conduct (together) constitute the path to liberation.

— Tattvārthasūtra (1–1)
  • Right Faith (Samyak Darśana) means belief in substances like soul and non-soul without delusion and misapprehension.
  • Right Knowledge (Samyak Jnāna)– When the nature of reality (substances) is ascertained with the help of the doctrine of manifold points of view (anekāntavāda), the knowledge thus obtained (free from doubts, misapprehension, and delusion) is said to be the Right Knowledge.
  • Right Conduct (Samyak chāritra)-The very nature of the soul; devoid of all passions, untainted, unattached to any alien substance is Right conduct. It is achieved by abjuring all sinful activities of the body, the speech, and the mind.


Main article: Gunasthana

Jain text mention about the following stages of spiritual development:

Head Gunasthāna Meaning
in perception)
1. Mithyātva The stage of wrong believer (Gross ignorance)
2. Sasādana Downfall from right faith
3. Misradrsti Mixed right and wrong belief
4. Avirata samyagdrsti Vowless right belief
Minor Vows
of Right conduct)
5. Deśavirata The stage of partial self-control
Right conduct:
Mahavratas (Major Vows)
6. Pramattasamyata Slightly imperfect vows
7. Apramatta samyata Perfect vows
8. Apūrvakaraņa New thought-activity
9. Anivāttibādara-sāmparāya Advanced thought-activity (Passions are still occurring)
10.Sukshma samparaya Slightest delusion
11.Upaśānta-kasāya Subsided delusion
12.Ksīna kasāya Destroyed delusion
13.Sayoga kevali Omniscience with vibration / Omniscience with Yoga [ Mind or Speech or Bodily Activity]
14.Ayoga kevali The stage of omniscience without any activity / Omniscience without Yoga [ Mind or Speech or Bodily Activity]

Those who pass the last stage are called siddha and become fully established in Right Faith, Right Knowledge and Right Conduct.


Main article: Dravya (Jainism)

According to Jainas, the world is composed of two different kinds of substances, the Jīva (conscious) and the ajīva (unconscious). These are the uncreated existing constituents of the Universe which impart the necessary dynamics to the Universe by interacting with each other. These constituents behave according to the natural laws and their nature without interference from external entities. Dharma or true religion according to Jainism is Vatthu sahāvō dhammō translated as “the intrinsic nature of a substance is its true dharma.”

Unconscious substance

Main article: Ajiva

The five unconscious (ajīva) substances are:

  • Pudgala – It is non living (no soul) Matter, which is classified as solid, liquid, gaseous, energy, fine Karmic materials and extra-fine matter or ultimate particles. Paramānu or ultimate particles are the basic building block of matter. It possesses at all times four qualities, namely, a color (varna), a taste (rasa), a smell (gandha), and a certain kind of palpability (sparsha, touch). One of the qualities of the Paramānu and Pudgala is that of permanence and indestructibility. It combines and changes its modes but its basic qualities remain the same. According to Jainism, it cannot be created nor destroyed.
  • Dharma – (Medium of Motion) and Adharma (Medium of Rest) – Also known as Dharmāstikāya and Adharmāstikāya, they are unique to Jain thought depicting the principles of motion and rest. They are said to pervade the entire universe. Dharma and Adharmaare by themselves not motion or rest but mediate motion and rest in other bodies. Without dharmāstikāya motion is not possible and without adharmāstikāya rest is not possible in the universe.
  • Ākāśa: Space – Space is a substance that accommodates souls, matter, the principle of motion, the principle of rest, and time. It is all-pervading, infinite and made of infinite space-points. According to Jains, Space is a substance, in the nature of a vacuum but not a pure vacuum. It is an extended continuous vacuum. As pure vacuum it will be non-existent, and non-extended; which will devoid it of even one positive quality. Therefore, Jains propound that Space, which is endowed with infinite extension is a substance in itself.
  • Kāla (Time)- In Jainism, time is explained in two different aspects. Firstly as the measure of duration, known in the form of hours, days, and the like. Secondly, as the cause of the continuity of function of things. According to Champat Rai Jain, “Nothing in nature can exist destitute or devoid of function. Function is discharged by the displacement of energy in the case of simple units and things. If there were no Time-substance to help in the performance of the movement of the displacement of energy, things would be doomed to remain in the same condition always.” In its first aspect, time is likened to a wheel with twelve spokes divided into descending and ascending halves with six stages, each of immense duration estimated at billions of sagaropama (ocean years).

Conscious substance

Broad classification of Karmas as per Jain philosophy

According to the Jain philosophy, there are infinite independent souls. These are categorised into two—liberated and non-liberated. Infinite knowledge, perception and bliss are the intrinsic qualities of a soul. These qualities are fully enjoyed unhindered by liberated souls, but obscured by karma in the case of non-liberated souls resulting in karmic bondage. This bondage further results in a continuous co-habitation of the soul with the body. Thus, an embodied non-liberated soul is found in four realms of existence—heavens, hells, humans and animal world – in a never-ending cycle of births and deaths also known as samsāra. The soul is in bondage since beginningless time; however, it is possible to achieve liberation through rational perception, rational knowledge and rational conduct. Harry Oldmeadow notes that Jain ontology is both realist and dualist metaphysics.


Main article: Karma in Jainism