Spirituality & Jainism
Spirituality & Jainism by Alok Jain, Board of Director, JVB Houston
Everyone in this world seeks happiness but very few people are actually able to attain it. The
reasons for such a massive gap between people’s expectations and reality can be many,
perhaps the most important being – a lack of understanding of What happiness truly is – and
then how does one go about obtaining it. Many people think that the source of happiness is
money, good health, good education, good fortune, status in the society, birth in a rich family,
good looks, connections in the right places etc. These are all external factors and while they
may yield a sense of happiness, it is short lived because these things don’t last forever.
Therefore, we can call it momentary happiness. Also, only a very small percentage of the
population can claim to have all these things at one time. This begs the following questions: 1)
Is it possible for anyone to become happy, if they so wish? and 2) Can this happiness be
The answer to both of these questions is a definite Yes. In short, true happiness is a quality
within us and is not dependent on the external factors mentioned earlier. True happiness can
both be achieved and maintained if one has a better understanding about who they are, their
purpose in life and some universal truths. Jainism provides an excellent foundation to develop
such an understanding. The paper provides a glimpse of the Jain philosophy and a few of the
Jain doctrines and principles that can be used to radically transform one’s personality and bring
about the necessary internal changes to achieve lasting happiness.
A quick survey of the available literature brings to light the fact that a lot has been written on the
subject of happiness, and yet it remains elusive. There is no doubt that it has been, is, and will
remain one of the most sought after and desirable objectives of humanity. So, why is it such an
elusive goal? As mentioned earlier, one of the problems happens to be how people define
happiness. There is no standard definition of happiness. By and large people relate happiness
to external things such as food, friends, possessions, money, etc. i.e., materialistic things
because they are the most visible for one thing and they match people’s desires, for another.
Often conversations in the office, at home, and in the society revolve around these subjects.
Those who have such things never stop talking about them and those who don’t never stop
dreaming about them. The net result is that we devote much of our time and energy acquiring
such materialistic things in the hope that it will make us happy. And they do make us happy for a
short while. So, one could describe it as relative and momentary happiness. It is short lived and
transient. The disappointment that people feel is that they were expecting it to be long term,
which it is not. It is a vicious cycle and the only way to break out of it is to challenge our
definition of happiness.
Here are a few quotes about happiness from Google search:
1. “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in
harmony” …. Mahatma Gandhi
2. “Real happiness comes not when you choose to be happy, but when you
discover the things that will make you happy” …. Unknown
3. “Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your actions” ...Dalai
4. The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be
compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived
5. “Happiness is the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being,
combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile” ...
These quotes illustrate the diversity of views about happiness even amongst some well-
There is momentary and transient happiness, as mentioned earlier and then there is eternal
happiness, as the title of this paper suggests. One could be for a finite period of time and the
other is forever. The paper deals with the latter.
Additionally, there are some people who equate happiness to a state of mind and go on
to say that we are happy when our mind is at peace and unhappy when it is not. This
begs the question: how does one get peace of mind? A partial answer to that question
could be that when our basic needs are met. It is easy to test that statement by
observing whether people who have enough to satisfy their needs, are they happy? One
soon discovers that; it is not necessarily so. In fact, there are people who don’t have
enough to meet their needs and yet they are happy, and there are those who have more
than enough and yet they are unhappy. Clearly, those who are happy, have found a
way to go beyond material possessions to discover happiness. What is their secret?
This question has been asked and answered by many people over the years and each
has an explanation. If one were to search for a common theme in all the work that has
been done previously on this subject, perhaps it would be that: happiness lies within us.
Let us explore that statement a bit deeper, to understand what it means and specifically,
what is Jainism’s role in it.
Jainism divides the world in two parts; Living and Non-living beings, and what separates them is
consciousness (most commonly referred to as soul or spirit). Living beings have consciousness
while non-living beings don’t. Living beings have a soul (1) and a body and can have four
different life forms or Gatis: Human beings, Heavenly beings, Animal beings and Hellish beings.
At the end of a life, the soul migrates to another life form, based on the Karmas attached to the
soul, and the body is left behind.
The soul is a non-material entity while the body is material. All material entities have five
properties; they can be seen, heard, touched, tasted, and have a smell. They are therefore easy
to comprehend through the five senses. Soul on the other hand, being non-material cannot be
comprehended by the five senses. It can only be experienced through its qualities. It is therefore
very difficult to convince people about the existence of the soul.
The karmas attached to the soul are the cause of the body, and the cycle of birth and death.
Soul, according to Jainism, has no beginning and no end. It is permanent (Shashwat). It can
however liberate itself from the cycle of birth and death by destroying the Karmas and achieve a
state, known by different names such as Nirvan, Moksh, Siddha or liberated soul. So how do we
know there is a soul. We know about the soul through its qualities.
Jains believe that the soul has infinite qualities which include true bliss i.e., the ultimate state of
happiness, as one of them. Some of the other qualities are: Gyan (Knowledge), Darshan
(Perception), Veer (Strength), Charitra (Conduct) etc. Of these, the two qualities that are given
the most prominence in the Jain literature are: Darshan and Gyan. The qualities of the soul are
permanent and do not diminish in any way even as the soul goes from one life form to another,
although their development may be more or less in a given life form depending on the intensity
of the Karmas bound to the soul.
Jainism is unique in that it has put a lot of emphasis on Gyan (Cognition) as a very important
quality of the soul (2). The least developed form of the living being is called Nigodh and the fully
developed form is known as Siddha or the liberated soul. It is important to note that there are
many reasons for giving such a high importance to Gyan, the cognitive ability of the soul, in the
1) It is never fully obscured by the Karmas, even in the least developed form of a
living being, i.e.Nigodh
2) It is the seed that flowers into Omniscience in the Tirthankars and Shrut
3) It has a property called Sva-par-prakashi. Sva means “self” or the soul, Par
means “Other or everything else in this universe that is worth knowing”, and
Prakashi means to illuminate. That is to say that Soul’s property of Gyan has
the ability to illuminate the soul itself as well all the other things in this
universe that are worth knowing, including other properties of the soul, the
body, the relationships attached to the body such as wife, children,
household, community, society, city, etc.
4) It remains pure and auspicious even when it is illuminating all the good and
bad things in this universe
5) People pray to God because they hold God in their highest esteem. But how
do they know about God, if it is not through the quality of the soul called
Gyan. Without Gyan we will neither know God nor anything else for that
matter. This means that when we are praying to God we are first praying to
our quality of the soul, called Gyan
In this very brief introduction to Jainism, three things stand out: 1) That eternal happiness is in
our nature, meaning it is a property of the soul and therefore within us, and is not a part of our
body, or in our material possessions, or in the external world, 2) That as a property of the soul,
eternal happiness is permanent because soul is permanent, and 3) That we are the soul, and
not the body. Although our body is attached to the soul and the soul is the reason for its
existence, this body is a temporary mode of the soul.
These observations can raise following questions in the reader’s mind:
1) How do we know that we have a soul and it has all these properties?
2) If eternal happiness is in our nature, why are we not experiencing it?
3) If all these properties of the soul are permanent, why are we going through
the cycles of birth and death
All the knowledge that we have about two types of beings i.e., living and non-living, about the
four life forms, and about the soul and its infinite qualities, comes from the Canonical Scriptures
(3) or the Agams that were written by the chief disciples of Lord Mahavira (Gandhars), some
980 years after Lord Mahavira’s Nirvan. Lord Mahavira imparted this knowledge after achieving
Omniscience and before achieving Liberation. Initially, the knowledge was passed verbally from
Gandhars to Munis (Ascetics) and Acharyas (Spiritual Leaders). Over a period of time the
subsequent generations of Munis and Acharyas were finding it difficult to retain this knowledge
in their memory. At this point it was decided to transcribe it in Agams. By this time some of the
original knowledge passed on by the Tirthankars was permanently lost. From these scriptures,
we learn that all living beings have a soul and all souls have infinite qualities.
Although the soul has infinite qualities, and eternal happiness is one of them, as mentioned
earlier, their manifestation varies from one life form to another as a result of the Karmas bound
to the soul. These Karmas cover the qualities of the soul in the same way as dark clouds cover
the light of the Sun. There is extensive literature available about the Jain Doctrine of Karma (4),
which is an important subject in its own rights but explaining its details here is beyond the scope
of this paper. However, some relevant aspects are worth mentioning to progress the dialogue
The word Karma means: very fine particles of matter that are attracted by the soul to carry out
the activities of the Mind, Speech, and the Body. The presence of passions (Anger, Greed, Ego,
and Deceit) in a person act as a glue that binds the Karmas to the soul. There are two types of
Karmas; Ghatiya Karma, meaning those that defile the properties of the soul, and Aghatiya
Karma, meaning those that are responsible for the reborn soul’s physical and mental
circumstances, longevity, spiritual potential and experience of pleasant and unpleasant
sensations. Each has four sub-types, bringing the total to 8 Karmas. The Ghatiya Karmas are
Gaynavarnia (Obscures knowledge), Darshanavarnia (Obscures Perception), Mohaniya
(Deluding Karma which destroys right belief and right conduct) and Antaray (Creates obstacles
in the completion of tasks). Agahatiya Karmas are: Nam (Determines the type of body), Gotra
(Determines the status), Vedaniya (Causes pain and sufferings), and Ayush (Determines how
long a person will live). These 8 Karmas are further subdivided into sub-types bringing the total
Of these 8, Mohaniya Karma is the most damaging. The word “Mohaniya” is derived from the
word Moha which means attachment. Attachment is the root cause of all passions (Kashays)
such as Anger, Ego, Deceit and Greed. Two main categories of Mohaniya Karma are: Darshan
Mohaniya which causes disturbance of the religious truth inherent in the soul by natural
disposition and Charitra Mohaniya which hinders the soul from acting according to religious
prescriptions. As mentioned earlier the four passions (Kashays) act as a glue to bind the
Karmas to the soul. The bondage of Karma can have 4 levels of intensities: Anantanubandhi –
completely hinders right belief and conduct, Apratyakhan – non renunciation, Pratyakhan -
hinders renunciation, Sanjavalan – allows self- discipline but works against attainment of
complete right conduct.
With this brief background about the Doctrine of Karma, one can see that the reason why we
cannot experience eternal happiness in our current mundane state is primarily due to the
Mohaniya Karma, which obstructs our perception about ourself (meaning soul) and prevents us
from seeing our true nature and right conduct. As a result, we believe that our true identity is our
body and not the soul, and our purpose in life is to make the most of this life, because we
discount any suggestions or ideas about the past life, future life, and liberation of the soul etc.
and start equating happiness to the bodily comforts in this life and to our material possessions.
These are perverted beliefs and are a major contributor to:
a) The bondage of Karmas
b) Our unhappiness, and
c) The pain and sufferings in our day-to-day life
The third question about repetitively going through the cycles of birth and death and not being
able to perceive or experience the infinite qualities of the soul has been answered above, in that
unless we believe in the soul and in its infinite qualities and make a deliberate effort to destroy
the delusional Karma (Mohaniya Karma), the cycle of birth and death will continue, as it has
been since the beginning of time.
Based on the foregoing discussion, the short answer to the question of how to realize the spring
of eternal happiness is: by taking steps to destroy the Mohaniya Karma and in so doing allow
the properties of the soul to fully manifest. There is an apparent conflict here in that on one hand
we are saying that one cannot perceive one’s true nature because of the Mohaniya Karma and
on the other, that one cannot get rid of the Mohaniya Karma without understanding one’s true
nature. This impasse is best resolved by another important doctrine of Jainism, called the
Doctrine of Anekantvad (5).
This doctrine is singlehandedly the most significant contribution of Jainism to humanity.
Understanding it properly is critical to achieving right perspective, meaning Samyak Darshan,
which is the first step in eternal happiness and as it turns out, also to embark on a spiritual
journey towards liberation. The doctrine of Anekantvad is best explained by the following
1. Principle of Co-existence
2. Principle of Relativity, and
3. Principle of Reconciliation
This principle says that seemingly conflicting statements can in fact co-exist. For example, when
we say sugar is sweet, we are also saying that sugar is not bitter, it is not salty, it is not sour etc.
That is, we are making a positive statement about what it is and therefore asserting what it is
not. Applying it to the soul, we would say that Gyan is a property of the soul. In stating that
positive attribute of the soul, what is not being said but is expressly implied is that attachment,
aversion, and our passions are not the properties of the soul. Another example could be that
Adam is this lady’s husband, which also means that no one else is her husband. This principle
removes ambiguity about relationships and about properties of object.
This principle simply states that when people provide diverse views about a subject, it does not
mean that one is right and others are wrong. It simply means that the views are expressed in a
relative context and to fully understand what is being said one has to know the context before
making a judgement about it. For instance, a glass that is half full of water, can be called half full
or half empty, which are both true statements depending on the person’s intent. Similarly, a
person could be someone’s brother, someone’s son, someone’s uncle and so on. It is the same
person and yet he is being addressed by different names based on his relationship with people.
Another example could be that the Soul is permanent when seen from an absolute truth point of
view and Soul is impermanent when we look at it from the vantage point of its current mode
(Paryay) of being in someone’s body. So, the soul is both permanent and impermanent
depending on how we are looking at it.
Principle of reconciliation
The nature of every object in this universe is so complex, that making an assertive statement
about it may either be incomplete or untrue. Jains therefore emphasize utmost care in the
exposition of the nature of an object and advise adherents of truth to avoid making exclusive
statements. In order to determine the character of a thing the Jains recommend seven-fold
predication (Saptbhangi), i.e., there are seven different ways of describing it. This statement is
philosophical in nature but the truth is that all our statements in relation to our dealings in this
world are made from one standpoint or another. According to Jains, all religious or philosophical
statements contain a grain of truth. Jains therefore propose the principle of tolerance for
different religious philosophies.
Just as we accept opposite attributes of father and son, uncle and nephew etc. in one and the
same individual, based on his relations with them, in the same way why should we not accept
different attributes in the one and the same thing, if on reflection we find them reconcilable from
The Doctrine of Anekant forbids quarrelling on account of divergently opposed views and lays
emphasis on discovering common values in all systems of thought. Diversity is inbuilt and
innate. It cannot be abolished. This reality has to be accepted. Nothing can be said to be
absolutely true and nothing is wholly untrue. Anekant synthesizes the opposite modes of
The key takeaways from the Jain doctrine of Anekant, for purposes of seeking eternal
a) It challenges our belief system which has been biased to think that what we
know is either the whole truth or more correct than the other person’s point of
view. The principle of relativity not only explains diversity of views but
encourages us to integrate them in our thinking for a more complete
understanding of the truth thereby converting day to day conflicts into
b) It encourages tolerance, promotes equality and an outlook of equanimity
c) It forewarns us about not judging people and discriminating against them
based on their background, skin color, status, level of education, language
skills, country of origin, sex etc. for these things are not in their control. They
are being determined by the doctrine of Karma.
d) It broadens our perspective to look at people, not based on their background,
skin color, material possessions etc., but as humans endowed with a soul
with infinite qualities, just like ours.
Combining the discussion on the Jain Philosophy with the discussion of the Doctrine of Karma
and the Doctrine of Anekantvad, we learn the following:
1. Although all living beings have a soul and a body, it is only the humans in whom
there is a highest manifestation of the cognitive abilities of Gyan (Knowledge)
and Darshan (Perception). This makes it possible for humans to not only embark
on the discovery of the soul but in fact make significant progress towards
2. As a human being we have a choice to identify ourselves with this physical body
alone, ignoring the soul altogether, (This is called the perverted state) or
identifying with the soul knowing that in its current mundane state it has a
physical body, a subtle tejas body (called the electric body) and even a subtler
karmic body surrounding the soul. This latter choice acknowledges the existence
of the soul thereby opening the door to inquire about its qualities, it’s
interactions with the Physical Body, and a whole plethora of knowledge about our
past, present, and future.
3. That externally, whatever happens to us in this life is not because of someone’s
doing, but because of our own past karmas coming into fruition, and the best way
to deal with it is to see it as such, accept it, tolerate it by knowing its transient
nature and knowing that tolerance expends it, while intolerance multiplies it and
repeats it. This is the foundation for the principle of Equanimity, which goes a
long way in reducing the bondage of Karmas.
4. That all human beings are created equal in so far as they all have a soul with the
same potentiality, infinite properties etc. and each of us is on an independent
journey, the cause and effect of which is in our own hands and no one else’s.
Therefore, who are we to judge others by the color of their skin, sex, status,
knowledge, wealth, health etc.? This is the foundation for the principle of
Equality, which breeds the feelings of compassion, care and companionship
towards fellow human beings.
From the earlier discussion on the property of Gyan, which has a quality of
simultaneously illuminating the “self” i.e., soul and “other”, whatever happens to be
in its field of view (technical term for this is Gaye i.e., all that is worth knowing). The
best way to illustrate this concept is with a torch. When the torch is turned on, an
observer can see the torch as well as whatever it is shining on. Gyan is like a torch.
The Gyan in Mundane soul has one limitation and that is, that even though it
illuminates both the self and the other, one can focus on either the “self” or the
“other” at one time, and not both. The omniscient on the other hand can focus on
both. As such we can choose to focus on either the “other” or on the “self”. The
“other” can be, for instance: fighting with someone, walking, eating, being mad at
someone, worrying about something, feeling sad about a close relative passing
away, or whatever happens to be occupying our mind at that moment – the
important thing to note is, that all of it is the other. It is not me (soul), nor my (soul)
quality. Therefore, when we focus on the other, we deprive ourselves of the pleasure
of experiencing the soul and its infinite qualities. Experiencing the soul through
Gyan’s property of self-illumination is the classic definition of Right Perspective or
Samyak Darshan. That realization and experience of becoming the “observer” is the
soul which is truly an amazing, glorious, incomparable and an invaluable entity with
infinite qualities, and nothing in this physical world has, or ever will come anywhere
near it. That is who we all are, in reality. Staying in that experiential moment has
been called the Spring of Happiness in this paper. The more time we spend being
an “observer”, extricating ourselves from the” other”, the more bliss, pleasure,
enjoyment, and happiness we can derive. The quality of that pleasure is exactly the
same as that enjoyed by the liberated souls. The only difference between us and
them is, that they stay permanently in that state and we, the mundane souls are
lucky if we can experience it even for a fraction of second because of our mind,
body, karmas, attachments and passions. This spring of happiness is eternal
because the soul is eternal.
What has been discussed so far is purely from a spiritual perspective. The question is what
does science have to say about it? The best way to answer that question will be to look at the
similarities and differences between Science and the Jain philosophy, as it pertains to this
subject. Strangely, one could argue that the difference between Science and Jain Philosophy is
a man-made difference because they are both part of knowledge and knowledge does not make
any differentiation between the subjects it knows. However, since humanity has different beliefs,
different philosophies about our existence and even about the origin of this universe, it is
perhaps best to leave that subject for another time.
Both Science and Jain philosophy have a common objective, which is to search for the ultimate
truth. Science has explored the physical order of existence in detail in a systematic way and
discovered the laws of nature. The domain of Jain Philosophy spans the entire range of
existence (6) whereas science is limited to only material form of existence. In the physical world,
science has been the cornerstone for all the progress humanity has made. From exploration of
the Land, the Seas, and the Space, human body, genetics, super-fast computers and artificial
intelligence, there is hardly any field that science has not touched. All of this progress has
contributed to increasing the life span and improving living standards and quality of life. With all
these positive things there have been some downsides too. Some examples of the down sides
are: Higher stress levels, an exponential rise in chronic diseases, mental illnesses,
environmental pollution, and a significant deterioration in integrity, morality and ethics. These
have led to mental, emotional, and physical imbalances at an individual level. That imbalance
has been a significant factor in eroding the feeling of happiness in the society.
The Jain philosophy looks at the problem in a very different way. It removes several elements of
curiosity out of the equation by stating the following:
1. No one has created the Universe. It has always been there and will always
2. Nature has its own mysterious ways of taking care of itself without needing
3. Every living being has a soul, and soul is eternal
4. There is a cycle of life and death which is determined by the Karmas
Other differences are:
a) Science believes that everything that happens in nature can be proved in
a laboratory. Obviously, that is not true as far as living beings are
b) Jains believe in the law of causality which states that there is a cause and
effect. It applies equally to animate and inanimate objects
c) Science believes in objective way of investigation and regards personal
experiences as subjective.
d) Science does not oppose spirituality; it simply does not deal with it.
e) Jainism defines composite aggregates of parmanus (smallest particle of
matter) as being of two types; Subtle 4-touch (Chattursparshi) and Gross
8-touch (Astasparsi). Subtle aggregates are imperceptible to senses.
Therefore, at this point Science is unable to account for these substances
This list is not all encompassing, neither was it meant to be. The idea was to simply point out
that as a result of significant differences between Science and Jain Philosophy, and the
limitations of science as illustrated through these differences, Science is unable to either confirm
or deny the concept of eternal happiness.
There were two questions raised at the start of this paper:
1) Is it possible for anyone to become happy? And
2) Can this happiness be sustained?
The answer provided there was a definite “Yes”. While an attempt has been made to
offer rationale and justification for the “Yes” answer in the foregoing paragraphs, it bears
repeating. It is possible to experience and maintain a spring of eternal happiness, by
looking at every situation, event, or a problem from the vantage point of the soul i.e., as
an “observer” since the situation, event or the problem is not a property of the soul.