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Salvation - Path of Jainism: three-fold path of Salvation

Three-fold path of Salvation

From the basic principles of Jaina philosophy, it is evident that the inherent powers of the soul are crippled by its association with karmic matter and that is why every person is found in an imperfect state. The Jaina philosophy, therefore, asserts that real and everlasting happiness will be obtained by a person only when the karmas are completely removed from the soul. Further, Jainism firmly believes that even though man is imperfect at present, it is quite possible for him to rid himself of the karmas associated with his soul by his own personal efforts without any help from an outside agency. Moreover, it is quite clear that according to Jaina philosophy the highest happiness consists in securing final emancipation from the cycle of births and deaths and in attaining the state of liberated soul, that is, obtaining Moksa or salvation. Furthermore, the Jaina philosophy reiterates that as this world is full of sorrow and trouble, it is quite necessary to achieve the aim of transcendental bliss by a sure method.

When the goal has been ascertained the next question arises regarding the way how to achieve that objective. To this question the Jaina religion has a definite answer. In this connection, the Tattvarth-adhigama-sutra, the most sacred text of Jainism, emphatically states in its first aphoristic rule, Samyag-darsana-jnana-charitrani moksa margah, that is, samyag darsana (right belief), samyag-jnana (right knowledge) and samyak charitra (right conduct) together constitute the path to salvation. Further, these three basic ingredients, namely, right belief, right knowledge and right conduct, are called ratna-traya or the three jewels in Jaina works.

It is pertinent to note that these three are not severally considered as different paths but are thought to form together a single path. That is why it is firmly maintained that these three must be present together to constitute the path to salvation. Since all the three are emphasized equally, since moksamarga, i.e., way to salvation, is impossible without the unity of all the three, it is obvious that Jainism is not prepared to admit any one of these three in isolation as means of salvation.

In view of this firm conviction in Jainism, the Jaina works always strongly emphasize that the three must be simultaneously pursued. This conviction is brought home by some effective illustrations. For example, it is contented that to effect a cure of a malady, faith in the efficacy of a medicine, knowledge of its use, and actual taking of it; these three together are essential; so also, to get emancipation, faith in the efficacy of Jainism, its knowledge and actual practicing of it, these three are quite indispensable. Similarly, the Moksamarga, i.e., the path to salvation, is compared in Jaina works to a ladder with its two side poles and the central rungs forming the steps. The side poles of the ladder are right belief and right knowledge and the rungs or steps of the ladder are the gradual stages of right conduct. It is obvious that it is possible to ascend the ladder only when all the three i.e., the side poles and the rungs, are sound. The absence of one makes the ascent impossible.

Thus a simultaneous pursuit of right belief, right knowledge and right conduct is enjoined upon the people as the only proper path to salvation in the Jaina scriptures. Further, the ethical code prescribed by Jainism for both the house-holders and the ascetics is based on this three-fold path of liberation. Hence it is quite necessary to see the main characteristics of these Three Jewels" which constitute that path.


Meaning of Right Belief

It is clear that out of the three jewels, mentioned above, right belief comes first and that it forms the basis upon which the other two jewels, viz., right knowledge and right conduct, rest. Hence it has been laid down that one must, by all possible means, first attain right belief, i.e., the basic conviction in the fundamentals of Jainism, because it has been asserted that only on the acquisition of right belief, the knowledge and conduct become right.

The term Right Belief has been defined by Acharya Umasvami in his authoritative Jina sacred text entitled Tattvarthadhigama-sutra as follows :

"Tattvarthasraddhanam samyag-darsanam"

that is, right belief is the faith in the true nature of the substances as they are. In other words, right belief means true and firm conviction in the seven principles or tattvas of Jainism as they are, without any perverse notions.

Further, it is maintained that right belief consists in believing that

  1. the Jaina Arhats including the Tirthankaras are the true Gods,
  2. the Jaina sastras are the true scriptures, and
  3. the Jaina Gurus are the true Preceptors.

Moreover, it is also asserted that such right belief

  1. should have eight angas, i.e., essential requisites,
  2. should be free from three kinds of mudhatas, i.e., superstitious beliefs, and
  3. should be free from eight kinds of mada, i.e., pride or arrogance.

Requisites of Right Belief

The Jaina scriptures states that the right belief should be characterized by eight angas, i.e., essential requisites or components or limbs, and that these angas determine the excellence of right belief. These eight angas which support the right belief are :

  1. Nihsankita-anga, that is, one should be free from doubt about the truth or validity of the tenets of Jainism.
  2. Nihkanksita-anga, that is, one should have no love or liking or desire for worldly enjoyment as everything is evanescent.
  3. Nirvichikitsita-anga, that is, one should decline to have an attitude of scorn towards the body even though it is full of impurities and should have regard for the body as it can be purified by the three jewels of right faith, right knowledge and right conduct.
  4. Amudhadrsti-anga, that is, one should have no inclination for the wrong path or one should be free from perversity and superstition.
  5. Upaguhana-anga, that is, one should maintain spiritual excellence and protect the prestige of that faith when it is faced with the risk of being belittled on account of the follies and shortcomings of others. In other words, one should praise the pious but should not deride those who may be faltering in their pursuit of religion.
  6. Sthitikarana-anga, that is, one should sustain souls in right convictions. One should have the quality of rehabilitating others in the path of right faith or conduct by preaching them or reminding them of the religious truths whenever they are found to be going astray.
  7. Vatsalya-anga, that is, one should have loving regard for pious persons. One should show affection towards co-religionists and respect and devotion towards the spiritually advanced by receiving them with courtesy and looking after their comforts.
  8. Prabhavana-anga, that is, one should endeavor to demonstrate and propagate the greatness of the Jaina tenets and scriptures. One should try to wean people from wrong practices and beliefs by establishing to them the importance of the true religion by arranging religious functions and charities.

Avoidance of Superstitious Beliefs

It is also laid down in Jaina scriptures that right belief should be free from the following three kinds of mudhatas, i.e., superstitious beliefs:

  1. Loka-Mudhata is the false belief in holiness. It relates to taking baths in certain rivers, jumping down the peaks of mountains and entry into fires under the supposition of acquiring merit for themselves or for their kith and kin.
  2. Deva-mudhata is the belief in false Gods. It accepts the efficacy of village gods and goddesses who are endowed with ordinary human qualities and attempts to propitiate them. This superstition consists in believing in gods and goddesses who are credited with passionate and destructive powers, willing to oblige the devotees by grant of favors they pray for.
  3. Pakhandi-mudhata is the belief in and respect for dubious ascetics. It shows regard for false ascetics and considers their teaching as gospel of truth. It refers to entertainment of false ascetics and respecting them with a hope to get some favors from them through magical or mysterious powers exercised for personal gain or show of power.

Thus the mind must be freed from such superstitious beliefs and any doubts so that the ground can be made clear for the rise and development of right belief.

Freedom from Pride

Besides the avoidance of these three kinds of superstitious beliefs, the mind must be made free from the eight kinds of mada or pride : jnana (learning), puja (worship), kula (family), jati (caste, or contacts and family connections), bala (power or one's own strength), riddhi (wealth or affluence or accomplishments), tapas (penance or religious austerities and vapus (body or person or beautiful form or appearance).

It is obvious that all or any one or more of these kinds of pride are likely to disturb the equilibrium of mind, and create likes or dislikes for men and matters. In such a case understanding is likely to be erroneous, if not perverted. Naturally an inflated notion of oneself on necessary that for the blissful drawn of right belief there should be an effacement of these types of pride.

Glory of Right Belief

The Jaina works describe at length the glory of right belief and enumerate the benefits which can be accrued by a person possessing right belief. They go to the extent of declaring that asceticism and that even a low caste man possessing right belief can be considered better fit to attain moral dignity.

In short, the Right Belief is given precedence over Right Knowledge and Right Conduct, because it acts as a pilot in guiding the soul towards moksa, i.e., salvation. Further, there can be no rise, stability growth and fulfillment of knowledge and character, unless they are founded on right belief or faith.


Relation between Right Belief and Right Knowledge

It is considered desirable that on attaining right belief one should strive after right knowledge. As regards the relationship between right belief and right knowledge it has been specifically stated that although right belief and right knowledge are contemporaneous, there is yet a clear relation of cause and effect between them, just as it is between a lamp and its light. It is true that lamp and light go together, still the lamp precedes the light, and light cannot be said to precede the lamp. In the same way there is the relation of cause and effect between right belief and right knowledge, though both are almost simultaneous. Right knowledge cannot precede right belief, and from this point of view right knowledge is called the effect and right belief, the cause.

Nature of Right Knowledge

Right knowledge has been described in Jaina scriptures as "that knowledge which reveals the nature of things neither insufficiently, nor with exaggeration, nor falsely, but exactly as it is and with certainty". It has also been stated that right knowledge consists in having full comprehension of the real nature of soul and non-soul (i.e., matter) and that such knowledge should be free from samsaya, i.e. doubt, vimoha, i.e., perversity, and vibhrama, i.e., vagueness or indefiniteness.

Moreover, Jaina scriptures always assert that knowledge is perfect when it does not suffer from the mithyatva, i.e., wrong belief. Mithyatva is the enemy of right knowledge as it perverts both the understanding and the attitude. That is why all Jaina thinkers have insisted upon the elimination of wrong belief from mind. Mithyatva reminds one somewhat of the aviveka, i.e., want of discrimination of the Samkhya, and the maya, i.e., illusion of the Buddhist systems of philosophy. Hence Jainism insists that right knowledge cannot be attained, unless wrong knowledge is banished.

Kinds of Knowledge

When considered with reference to its means of acquisition, knowledge is of five kinds :

  1. Mati-jnana (sense knowledge) is knowledge of the self and non-self acquired by means of the five senses and the mind. Obviously this kind of knowledge is limited to things in matter of existence.
  2. Sruta-jnana (scriptural knowledge) is derived from the reading or hearing of scriptures. Like the first kind of knowledge, the sruta-jnana is not limited to the things in existence but it can comprehend all matters of the present, past and future as expounded in the scriptures.
  3. Avadhi-jnana (clairvoyant knowledge) is knowledge of things in distant time or place. It is knowledge of the remote or past. It can be acquired by saints who have attained purity of thought and developed their mental capacity by austerities. It is otherwise possessed by the celestial and infernal souls.
  4. Manah-paryana-jnana (Mental knowledge) is direct knowledge of another's mental activity, that is, about thoughts and feelings of others. It can be acquired by those who have gained self-mastery or samyama.
  5. Kevala-jnana (perfect knowledge or omniscience) is full or perfect knowledge without the limitations of time or space, which is the soul's characteristic in its pure and undefinable condition. It draws on the Tirthankaras and perfect souls.

Pillars of Right Knowledge

Like right belief, right knowledge also has got eight pillars or requirements:

  1. Grantha, that is correct use of words. It means that reading, writing and pronouncing of every letter and word should be done correctly. It also denotes that books must be studied with care and faith.
  2. Artha, that is meaning. It indicates that reading should be directed towards understanding the meaning and full significance of words, phrases and text. It suggests that mere mechanical study without understanding the meaning serves no purpose.
  3. Grantha-artha, that is combination of grantha and artha. It stresses that both reading and understanding of the meaning are essential as they together complete the process and the purport. It is emphasized that mere reading is not enough.
  4. Kala, that is observance of regularity and propriety of time. It means that improper and unsuitable occasions should be avoided. Again, the time chosen for study must be peaceful and free from disturbance due to worries and anxieties.
  5. Vinaya, that is reverent attitude. It is laid down that humility and respect towards the scriptures should be cultivated to develop our devotion to learning.
  6. Sopadhanata, that is propriety. While studying we do come across difficult expressions and inexplicable ideas. But in such cases one should not draw hasty conclusions which might lead to improper behaviour.
  7. Bahumana, that is zeal. It is pointed out that zeal in the mastery of the subject under study is also essential to sustain interest and continuity.
  8. Anihnava, that is without concealment of knowledge or of its sources. It is suggested that one must keep an open mind and attitude so that narrow considerations do not shut one out from fullness of knowledge.

Thus, the right knowledge can be acquired by pursuit with devotion by reading sacred scriptures, understanding their full meaning and significance in proper time and with punctuality, imbued with zeal, proper behaviour and open mind.

In conclusion, it can be specifically maintained that both right belief and right knowledge are very closely associated with each other just as the association between a lamp and its light. Even though lamp and light go together, there must be a lamp which must oil and wick before it could be lighted. Similarly, before right knowledge can be gained, there must be the inexhaustible piety and urge for knowledge which is the oil; the source of knowledge like the scripture, the discourses from preceptors and saints are the wick; the pursuit and study with devotion are like the lighting of the lamp; then only there can be light in the form of knowledge.


After right belief and right knowledge, the third, but the most important path to the goal of moksha, i.e. salvation is right conduct. In Jainism utmost importance is attached to the right conduct because right belief and right knowledge equip the individual with freedom from delusion and consequently equip him with true knowledge of the fundamental principles clarifying what are worthy renunciation and realization and ultimately lead to right conduct as an integral and crowning constituent of the path of salvation. That is why conduct which is inconsistent with right knowledge is considered as wrong conduct or misconduct. Hence conduct becomes perfect only when it is in tune with right belief and right knowledge. It is, therefore, enough to point out that the importance of right conduct in the process of self-realization consists in the fact that it is only when right knowledge based on right belief is translated into practical and spiritual discipline that the path of emancipation of soul from the cycle of births and deaths becomes smooth. It is clear that in accordance with Jaina philosophy right conduct presupposes the presence of right knowledge which presupposes the existence of right belief. Therefore the Jaina scriptures have enjoined upon the persons who have secured right belief and right knowledge to observe the rules of right conduct, as the destruction of karmic matter associated with the soul can be accomplished only through the practice of right conduct.

Right Conduct includes the rules of discipline which

  1. restrain all censurable movements of mind, speech and body,
  2. weaken and destroy all passionate activity and
  3. lead to non-attachment and purity.

Further, right Conduct has been conceived of two kinds or categories according to the degree of intensity of the actual practice of rules of behavior laid down under right conduct. These two kinds are (i) Sakala-charitra, i.e., complete or perfect or unqualified conduct; and (ii) Vikala- charitra, i.e., partial or imperfect or qualified conduct.

Out of these two kinds of right conduct, the former, i.e., the sakala-charitra involves the practice of all the rules of conduct with vigor and higher degree of spiritual sensitivity while the latter, that is, the vikala-charitra, involves the practice of the same with as much increasing degree of diligence, severity and purity as might be possible.

Further, it may be noted that (i) Sakala-chritra is meant for and observed by ascetics who have renounced worldly ties, and is also known as muni-dharma; and (ii) Vikala- charitras is meant for and observed by laymen who are still entangled in the world and, is also known as sravaka-dharma, i.e., the householder's dharma.

The several rules of conduct prescribed both for laymen and ascetics constitute the ethics of Jainism. As such they are discussed in detail in the next chapter on `Ethics of Jainism".