During the period of his spiritual pursuit, Bhagwan Mahavir developed sympathy for suffering, the idea of sanctity of all life, liberality and compassion towards all, and toleration of all religious views. He organized his spiritual order based on his own inner experiences. His philosophical ideas have a refreshingly attractive message appealing to the common sense of man. Some tenets of his philosophy are outlined below.





The spring point of the doctrine of multiplicity of viewpoints is that human knowledge cannot be painted in terms of religious colors. Knowledge knows no limitations and boundaries.

Religion and philosophy are not limited to a particular country, period, or group. Different points of view are mere additions to the human knowledge. When viewed together, they present the picture of universal reality. Moreover, the knowledge of

reality cannot be obtained through the senses. Whatever we perceive through the senses is merely the appearance, it is not the world of reality. If we want to reach reality, we must withdraw from the world of senses into that of inner experience. It is through the combination of proper perception (samyak darshan), proper knowledge (samyak jnana) and proper conduct (samyak charitra) that we can attain self-realization and

understand the nature of reality.


The fundamental philosophical base of Jainism is therefore the comprehensive view of reality. Jain philosophy points out that the ultimate reality is complex in character and in order to comprehend its nature, we must examine it from various points of view. Attending to a particular aspect of reality to the

exclusion of other aspects may serve some specific purpose under certain circumstances, but it is only a partial vision of

reality. Over emphasis on a particular aspect of reality not only distorts reality, but it also leads to dogmatic slavery, mutual misunderstanding and conflict of interests. To recognize the nature of reality in all its completeness, one has to review a variety of aspects before arriving at any conclusion.


The logical crux of the aforesaid process is that there is always the possibility of many standpoints in relation to the same object, The same object can have primarily two

contradictory propositions, and, therefore, can be described from one standpoint that it exists (asti) and from another standpoint that it does not (nasti).


Every proposition is both "is" and "is not" at the same time, and it is certainly impossible to speak of the same from a single point of view. Two propositions, one affirmative (asti) and the other negative are always asserted with reference to four aspects of a thing:


Substance (dravya)


place (kshetra)


time (kaal)


form (bhava)


A thing is or exists in respect of its own substance, but it does not exist in respect of other substances. Take the case of a piece of furniture. It may be made of ordinary jungle wood and it may be so painted as to appear as rosewood. Now, the furniture is (exists as) jungle wood, but is not (does not exist as) rosewood.


Similarly, a thing exists in its own place and it does not, at the same time, exist in any other place. While the cow is in her shed, she is not in the field.


Again, a thing is in its own time and is not in another time. Raja Rammohan Roy existed before Gandhiji, but did not exist after Gandhiji.


Likewise, a thing, while existing in its own form does not exist in another form. Water below freezing point exists as a solid, but does not exist then as a liquid.


These four aspects form the asti-nasti-vada. This represents a pragmatic view in which an object may be affirmatively described from one point of view of its own substance, place, time and form, and negatively described from the standpoint of the

substance, place, time and form of another thing. It is,

therefore, clear that both the propositions, the affirmative and the negative, are true with reference to the same object of reality.


In short, asti-nasti-vada implies the prediction of

contradictory attributes of asti ("is") and nasti ("is not") to the same reality. It is interesting to compare this with

Hegel's dialectic principle which says that an idea or event (thesis) generates its opposite (antithesis) which leads to a reconciliation of opposites (synthesis).


Jain thinkers have further developed the logic into the theory of seven aspects (saptabhangi) which postulates that as many as seven modes of prediction are possible in any given case.

Therefore, no definite or absolute statements can be made about any question. To the question "Is there soul?" the Jain logic would admit of seven answers. These are:


(1) is


(2) is not


(3) is and is not


(4) is inexpressible


(5) is and is inexpressible


(6) is not and is inexpressible


(7) is, is not and is inexpressible


There is an aspect in which there is soul, there is also an aspect in which it is not possible to describe soul, and so on. This is equivalent to saying that knowledge is only

probabilistic. The theory is also called relativism (syadavada, the doctrine of "may be").


The doctrines of multiplicity of viewpoints and relativism, as postulated by Jains, have a unique importance today. The

present-day world is too circumscribed and interdependent as never before in the history of mankind. In order to achieve the objectives world peace, harmonious individuality and integrated personality of the individual, the contributions of different sages, faiths, philosophers and thinkers of different nations and periods must not only be fully recognized, but should also be given their proper place. This will bring out a common outlook based on justice and equality. The great philosopher statesman, late Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, has rightly observed that:


"Increasing control over the forces of nature has brought men of different regions nearer one another. Different cultures have, thus, been brought into close proximity. Closer brought into one common pool of human knowledge. They also facilitate the task of philosophy in affecting a reconciliation between the different principles underlying the outlook of different

civilizations. The evolution of a world philosophy has become today a matter not only of theoretical interest, but of great practical urgency."(4)


Obviously, the dogmatism emphasizing only the point of view of one religion, philosophy, nation, period or class of people will not satisfy modern, intelligent men. Multiplicity of viewpoints (anekantavada) is an approach to solve the problems of life from a truly integrated point of view. It provides a synoptic view to bring together in one compass the knowledge attained by different peoples at different times. Relativism (syadavada) is the first step towards human happiness, peaceful prosperity, world civility, coexistence and cooperative universality in this war-torn, fearful and tense situation of the world today.




Viewed in terms of the comprehensive character of reality, every object in nature has three aspects:


Origination (utpada)


destruction (vyaya)


permanence (dhrauvya)


A faithful and natural description of reality takes into

consideration the three aspects:



Permanence in the midst of change


identity in the midst of diversity


unity in the midst of multiplicity


For example, a plant begins its life, grows and then dies. However, the plant maintains its identity throughout its process of growth.


The complex nature of reality as a permanence in the midst of origination and destruction, has been described by Jain thinkers by the concept of entity (dravya). An entity is defined to have existence (sat), which in turn implies origination, destruction and permanence. An entity possesses its own characteristic qualities or attributes (gunas) and it assumes a variety of modes, modifications or forms (paryayas). Attributes and modes are inseparable from an entity.


In other words, an entity apart from its attributes and

attributes apart from their entity are mere abstractions.


The modifications that an entity undergoes refer to the various shapes and forms into which a substance is transformed either naturally or artificially. A living being, through the process of growth, undergoes various changes such as childhood, youth and old age. These changes are the natural modifications of the living being. Modifications can also be affected artificially. For example, clay is molded by the potter into various shapes, and gold is made by a goldsmith into various ornaments. While undergoing various modifications, either natural or artificial, the basic substance remains the same. The intrinsic attributes remain unchanged and are permanent, while the forms change and are transient.


An entity (substance) is permanent (nitya) considering its attributes, and it is transient (anitya) from the standpoint of its forms (modifications). The point of view of the attributes is known as substantial standpoint (dravyarthik naya) and the point of view of the modes (forms) is called modal standpoint (paryayarthik naya).





The world of reality consists of two classes of objects:

Conscious (chetan) objects and non-conscious (achetan) objects. These are otherwise called the living (jivas) and nonliving (ajivas).


(a) Nonliving:


The nonliving or non-conscious is the universe minus the living or conscious. It is not exactly equivalent to matter, for, besides matter, it includes such entities as space and time. There are five nonliving entities. The most important of these is matter (including energy) which, in Jainism, is called

pudgala. Material objects are constituted of atoms (paramanus). The atoms of different elements make up physical objects which are called aggregates (skandhas in Jainism). The whole physical world is itself a super aggregate (mahaskanddha). Material objects can be perceived by the senses (indriyas) and have the sensory qualities (touch, taste, smell and color) as their attributes.


The second nonliving entity is space (akash). It accommodates other entities of the universe. The portion of space that contains other substances is called physical space (Lokakash), and beyond it there is empty space (alokakash) which is just a void.


The third and fourth nonliving entities are medium of motion (dharma) and medium of rest (adharma)(5). These two pervade the whole of lokakash. The medium of motion supports the motion of the living and nonliving objects while the medium of rest keeps them steady and in equilibrium.


Time (kaal) is the fifth entity of the universe. It is made up of atomic moments. Time is real and it cannot be dismissed as illusory. Time maintains the reality of change and motion in physical realm, and growth and development in the living world.

The space, medium of motion, medium of rest, time and the souls (described below) do not possess sensory qualities. Thus they cannot be perceived by senses. They can only be postulated. They make the physical world what it is.


(b) Conscious or Living Beings:


A living being is a conscious entity. It is the most important aspect of reality. The conscious being (jiva) is also called soul. It knows and feels. It acts and is acted upon. It suffers by its association with matter and is born again and again, only to suffer. There is a plurality of souls in the universe. Each soul is subject to the same laws of karma and rebirth. The highest endeavor of the soul is to free itself from this bondage of karma and attain salvation.


Souls are divided into two major groups: Liberated (mukta) souls and worldly (samsari) souls. Worldly souls are in the bondage of karma and are subject to birth, growth, old age and death which are characteristic of this world.


The classification of the living beings (worldly souls) is based on the number of sense organs (indriyas) present in the living beings. The lowest of these are the one-sensed (ekendriya) living beings which are immobile (sthavar). They are endowed with only one sense, that of touch (sparsh). Plants and trees belong to this class of living beings. There are also other microscopic single-sensed organisms (sukshma ekendriya jivas) which are subtle and invisible to the naked eye. These

microscopic organisms are found in earth, water, air, etc.

The next higher living beings are mobile (trasa). These are:

two-sensed (dwindriya) having the senses of touch and taste

three-sensed (trindriya) having the senses of touch, taste and smell


four-sensed (chaturindriya) possessing the senses of touch, taste, smell and sight


five-sensed (panchendriya), having the senses of touch,

taste, smell, sight and hearing


All higher animais belong to the class of five-sensed beings. Almost all five-sensed living beings are endowed with a mind (manas), the faculty of thinking. Man is a five-sensed living being with a mind. Besides human beings, according to Jainism, there are heavenly beings (devas) and beings living in hell (narak).


The five nonliving entities together with the living beings are aspects of reality in Jainism.




Bhagwan Mahavir visualized that the world is full of misery and sorrows, and, therefore, he concluded that the fundamental object of religion should be to help the worldly souls cross the river of sorrows and obtain deliverance from the cycles of births and deaths. The root cause of the soul's worldly career is its own actions which associate it with different types of external material particles (karma). There are the following eight types of karma:


1. The perception-obscuring (darshanavarni) karma


2. The knowledge-obscuring (jnanavarni) karma


3. The feeling-producing (vedaniya) karma


4. The deluding (mohaniya) karma


5. The life-span-determining (aayu) karma


6. The physique-determining (naam) karma


7. The status-determining (gorta) karma


8. The obstructing (antaraya) karma



All living beings, whether human or sub-human, are subject to the influence of these eight types of karma.


According to another classification, karma are of two kinds:

physical (dravya) karma which are material particles and

abstract (bhava) karma which are impure mental dispositions.

The physical karmic particles constitute the karmic body

associated with the soul. Around this subtle body, the gross material body is built through nutrition from the environment.

It is the abstract karma (the feelings and emotions) which is responsible for attracting material karmic particles to the soul. The physical karma in its turn influences the

psychological disposition. Thus a psycho-physical cycle is maintained between the physical karma and abstract karma.


One causes changes in the other although there is no direct interaction between the two. Material changes must be

attributed to material antecedent, and similarly, psychological changes must be attributed to antecedent psychological

conditions. The attempt to get rid of the association with matter (karma) entails avoiding impure psychological disposition in its own consciousness. A course of regulating the combined activity of body, speech and mind (yoga) and penance (tapa) has been prescribed for the purpose.


Emancipation from this mundane existence can be effected only by the individual self. Salvation can be achieved through proper conduct and austerities rather than sacrifices, rituals and prayers to God. Although complete renunciation of the world and severe austerities which can be practiced only by a homeless monk, are necessary for elimination of the cycle of birth and death, the life of a layman (grishastha) is also regarded as an important preparatory stage in the process of deliverance. Thus varying degrees of moral and spiritual code of conduct have been prescribed for laymen (shravakas) and for monks (sadhus) as part of the disciplinary regulations. Asceticism and abstentions are essential for attaining freedom from the bondage of karma.



By practicing yoga and penance (tapa), every soul can climb, step by step, to different stages of perfection, becoming purer and purer at every stage until it reaches spiritual glory from which there is no return. Through the process of yoga and penance, the soul can get rid of the worldly environment and ultimately attain its pristine state. The spiritual salvation thus achieved shines forth with all its glory just like the sun when the obstructive clouds disperse and disappear.


The stage of spiritual perfection is, no doubt, isolated, but is associated with the infinite foursome (Anant Chatushtaya), namely, infinite perception, infinite knowledge, infinite power and infinite bliss, which are the intrinsic characteristics of the perfect soul. Each individual is the architect of his own spiritual destiny. Man's emancipation from suffering does not depend upon the mercy of any superhuman authority. By living an austere life of purity and virtue, one can escape the ills of worldly life and can ultimately achieve salvation.


It is clear from what has been stated above that man is placed on the highest pedestal among the souls in bondage because it is only man who is capable of attaining the ultimate spiritual goal. He is the only being in this world who is proximate to salvation. There is no Supreme being to liberate the worldly beings. Even the heavenly beings cannot directly attain

liberation. They must be reborn as humans before they can hope to achieve salvation. This is because only man can perform yoga and penance necessary for breaking up all the shackles of

bondage. Every soul possesses the potential of becoming

emancipated and there is a whole galaxy of deified men who have attained greatness by their complete spiritual purification.




Jain thinkers have described the following five kinds of



Sensory cognition (mati jnana)


Literal knowledge (shrut jnana)


Clairvoyance (avadhi jnana)


Telepathy (manahparyaya jnana)


Omniscience (keval jnana) or absolute knowledge


As distinguished from other systems which consider sense

perception as direct knowledge, Jains define direct knowledge as the perception by the soul without any intermediary.

Accordingly, the first two kinds of knowledge are considered as indirect (paroksha) by Jain thinkers since they are acquired through sense organs or books. The last three kinds of

knowledge are immediate (pratyaksha) or direct knowledge.


Clairvoyance enables a person to have visions of objects and events in distant places or in distant times. This capacity may be acquired through psychological development.


Telepathy is the ability to know the ideas and thoughts of others. It is the insight to the psychological events taking place in others' minds. It is said to be acquired through rigorous discipline and concentration.


The absolute knowledge or omniscience is attained by complete self-realization and by getting rid of perception-obscuring, knowledge-obscuring, deluding and obstructing karmas.

Omniscience is coextensive with reality. There is no difference of time such as past, present and future in the case of

omniscience since it is able to comprehend reality in its



According to Jain thinkers, the object of knowledge is not a creation of mind, rather the knowledge and the object of

knowledge are distinct from each other. Jains maintain the view that the physical object in the external world is independent of knowledge and cannot be created or changed by the knowing mind. The object of knowledge may also be psychological facts.(6)




The keynote of Jainism rings with


religious tolerance


ethical purity


spiritual contentment


harmony between self and one's environment


Its central theme is not based on a theoretical science.

Rather, it considers religion as a science of ethical practice. It conceives the human body not as a toy-machine to play with, but as a chariot on which the soul rides towards salvation. In the scheme of Jain system, life on earth is not merely

sorrowful. It is on probation to conduct itself to successively higher and higher forms of existence. The conduct of the

present life should be aimed at the attainment of a permanent state of being from which there is no return. Every soul can attain godhood, i.e., supreme spiritual individuality by

realizing its intrinsic purity and perfection.


In his conduct, an individual can be guided by the examples of five benevolent personalities (panch parameshthi). These are:

Supreme human beings (arahantas)


pure souls (siddhas)


master teachers (acharyas)


scholarly monks (upadhyayas)


ascetics (sadhus)


Aranantas are persons who have destroyed four types of karmas, mentioned above, and have attained omniscience.


Siddhas are souls that are completely free from karmic bondage and have attained salvation.


The first step in the process of self-realization is to discard superstitious beliefs and to adopt a rational and judicious attitude in life. Jainism lays down a definitive course of practical moral discipline, contemplation of the highest truth and reorientation of life in light of these for attaining

ultimate reality.


In common with other Indian systems, it prescribes a path to salvation (moksha marg), which consists of the three jewels (ratnatraya) of Jainism:


proper perception (samyak darshan)


proper knowledge (samyak jnana)


proper conduct (samyak charitya)


The three jewels are, obviously, necessary for a successful life. This threefold discipline helps us realize our own

intrinsic purity. The three jewels must be cultivated

collectively to ensure salvation. Individually, they are

incomplete and insufficient because they are mutually dependent. In isolation, perception or knowledge or conduct causes

conflicts or tensions and vitiates the environment.

Collectively. the three jewels produce harmony, contentment and blissfulness with the progressive march of the soul to the higher planes.


Proper perception creates awareness of reality, proper knowledge impels the person to action and proper conduct leads him to the attainment of the desired objective.


Proper conducts entails the following five vows:


Nonviolence (ahimsa)


Truth (satya)


Non-stealing (achaurya)


Abstention from sensuality (brahmacharya)


Nonpossessiveness (aparigraha)


Ahimsa is based on love and kindness for all living beings. It has been repeatedly pointed out in Jain scriptures that even the thought of evil is as bad as action resulting in injury.

Nonviolence of Jainism is not a negative virtue. It is based upon the positive quality of universal love which is the result of a recognition of kinship among all living beings. One who is actuated by this ideal cannot be indifferent to the suffering of others.


Satya implies being not only truthful but also pleasant and wholesome.


Achaurya consists in not taking others' property without his consent, or by unjust or immoral methods.


Brahmacharya means abstaining from sexual indulgence.


Aparigraha means nonpossessiveness of property and giving up greed.


The five vows are observed with voluntary limitations by the householders (anuvratis) and absolutely by the homeless ascetics (mahavratis).


Jain ethical code does not prescribe duties according to caste or other social inequalities. All men and women are equal in birth and everyone is entitled to be either a householder or an ascetic according to his or her choice. The observance of the ethical code by an individual does not only develop his

spirituality, but also helps in contributing to social justice, economic equality, humanization of culture and civilization, human happiness, class harmony as against class conflict, and growth of an egalitarian society.


Jain religion lays special emphasis on nonviolence and truth. In fact, these two are the principal religious ideas. The spiritual value of Jain code of conduct has been upheld

throughout Jain literature. Victory over suffering, calm

attitude towards cruelty and persecution, patience towards opponents are some of the main characteristics of Jain ascetics, The Jain code of conduct presupposes an extraordinary courage and peace of mind which originates only from spiritual integrity and strength.


"It is this strength of the spiritual power of the self that was recognized by Gandhiji in his political struggle against odds. Both in South Africa and in India he successfully made use of this spiritual weapon against the political opponents who were equipped with ordinary weapons of destruction and suppression. Thus Gandhiji raised ahimsa and satya to universal importance. His socio-political experiments proved beyond doubt the value of this spiritual power. Equipped with this weapon of ahimsa and satyagraha (7) one can overcome any amount of opposition

depending upon brutal force. While he was alive Gandhi dreamed of offering this spiritual weapon to the world at large--a world disturbed by mutual suspicion, always ready for warfare. He thought that this spiritual ideal would be able to serve as a cure for the various ills that afflicted the world at large. Let us hope that this spirit will ultimately prevail and convert the world of warring classes and nations into a world of peace and harmony where all can live in happiness, without destruction of race, religion and nationality," (8)



4. History of Philosophy: Eastern and Western, Vol. I; pp 26-27; Edited by S. Radhakrishnan, George Allen & Unwin Ltd.,

London, 1952.


5. In this context, the Sanskrit words, dharma and adharma do not have their usual meanings.


6. The knowledge related to psychological facts is practically the relation between the thought process and physical events which are identical in nature with the process of knowing. Even here the facts in consciousness revealed by knowledge are considered independent of the process of knowing,

otherwise the knowledge so obtained will become illusory and unreal. Knowledge is self-luminous inasmuch as it reveals itself just as it illuminates the external objects.


7. Satyagraha means peaceful non-cooperation.


8. A. Chakravarti, Jain Philosophy; History of Philosophy, op. cit. p. 151.