There are two main streams of philosophy - Idealism and Realism. Jainism espouses a realistic approach. The Jain understanding of reality centers on the interaction between the soul and matter, which is responsible for the cycle of birth and death (samsara). For liberation of a worldly soul, Jainism believes in nine truths which are called 'tatvas'. These are the fundamental principles of realism and have been delineated by the Jain agamas. They are:

1. jiva(soul)

2. AJiva(non-soul)

3. Punya(merit)

4. Paap(demerit)

5. Asrava(cause of influx of karma)

6. Samvara(stoppage of cause of influx of karma)

7. Nirjara(shedding of karma)

8. Bandha(bondage of karma)

9. Moksha(emancipation)

Albert Einstein was once asked, "What do you want to become in your next birth?"He replied, "I have made many efforts to know the objective world in this life but I want to be a saint in my next life so that I might know the knower". To know the knower is the characteristic of jiva or consciousness.

Jain philosophy is considered to be dualistic. It believes in the existence of both jiva and ajiva. They are accepted as real. Jiva does not derive from ajiva, nor is ajiva derived from jiva. Both are without beginning and are infinite. Consciousness is the defining characteristic of a soul or jiva. It is found even in the nigoda state, the smallest of all living species and through progressive development reaches to its maximum in the omniscient or perfect soul.

Consciousness is formless, so it cannot be perceived. Sense is cognizant only of material objects and so those who consider it as the ultimate source of knowledge reject the existence of soul. It is argued that a thing cannot exist as it cannot be sensed (Impalpable). Jain philosophy rejects this reasoning and asks, why should we accept limited tools of knowledge as the ultimate arbiter of the truth? Can we deny the existence of microscopic forms of life before we had the tools to perceive them? Knowledge of material objects is dependent on material objects. The more powerful the means of observation, the clearer becomes our knowledge relating to concrete, material objects. But what about abstract, non-material entities? Objects unobserved by the senses cannot be relegated to the realm of the 'unreal', instead they are observed by the jiva directly without any mediator.

The existence of the soul can be ascertained through inference. Just as air can be felt through tactile perception, so the soul can be realized through its functions which are knowledge and perception. Our soul is intimately connected with the events of our previous births, but we remain ignorant about it. Sensory perception obscures our knowledge of all events. Only by self-contemplation and meditation can we unfold the knowledge of the events of our previous births.

The soul is immortal and the death of the person does not mean the death of the soul. Anatomy and physiology accepts that the human body undergoes decay at every moment. The cells of the body are transformed completely in the span of seven years, but our existence remains constant. The same is true for the soul. The soul thrives independently of the state of the body.

According to Jain philosophy, the soul is eternal but its forms or modes are ever-changing. Thus while an individual is born and will cease to exist upon his death, his soul exists without beginning or end.

The great philosopher H.H. Acharya Shri Mahaprajna explains the existence of the soul in simple language: "There is a subtle body in our gross (physical)body, known as taijas sarira (bio-electrical body). Further still, there is a more subtle body call karmana sarira (karmic body made of karmic sub atomic particles), and thereafter resides the soul. It directs our conduct, through behaviour. The rays of consciousness pass through the taijas sarira and karmana sarira and manifest in the gross body. Thus we can prove the existence of the soul through its inference."

According to Jain philosophy, the soul is the doer of karma and also the enjoyer of its consequences. It is the existence of karma that is the root cause of transmigration and emancipation.

Jainism considers that the soul takes it size according to the body in which it resides. It is neither ubiquitous like space, nor very small like an atom. When the soul resides in a small abode, its space-points contract like an ant's, and in a large abode they expand. The contraction and expansion of space-points of the soul are not restricted. Just as the light of a lamp illuminates a room whether big or small, the jiva likewise pervades the entire body, big or small. This is also true about the karmana sarira (karmic body).

Classification of Jiva

Jivas have been classified into two types:

(1) Samsari (worldly soul)

(2) Siddha (liberated soul)

Samsari jivas transmigrate from one life to another while siddha jivas are free from the cycle of birth and death. Both types of jivas are infinite in number. The following table explains their differences:

SAMSARI JIVA                                               SIDDHAJIVA              

Covered by karmas                                      Uncovered by karmas          

With bondage                                              Without bondage                    

In the cycle of birth and death                 Free from cycle of birth and death                

With sense organs                                   Without sense organs               

With form                                                  Without form                

With body                                                  Without body              

Samsari jivas are further subdivided:

(1) Bhavya and abhavya

Bhavya means capable of attaining emancipation and abhavya means incapable of attaining emancipation. The virtue of consciousness is in each living being, but very few can develop their internal power completely. Those with this power are called bhavya and others abhavya. All stones cannot be transformed into statues. Only those at the hands of a skilled sculptor will be molded and chiseled appropriately. Likewise, those individuals who benefit from the proper environment can attain emancipation, others cannot.

(2) Trasa (mobile) and sthavar (immobile)

Those living beings which can move in order to avoid what is unwholesome and acquire that which is wholesome are called trasa. Those beings devoid of this capacity are called sthavar. There are five classes of sthavar jivas:

(1) Earth-bodied beings;

(2) Water-bodied beings;

(3) Fire-bodied beings;

(4) Air-bodied beings

(5) Plants.

They possess only one sense- that is the sense of touch. Beings in possession of two, three, four and five sense-organs are trasa. For example, worms, ants, black-bees and human beings possess two, three, four and five sense-organs respectively.

(3) Suksam (subtle) and badar (physical)

Among the five classes of sthavar jivas, suksam (micro-organism) jivas are spread ubiquitously whereas the badar jivas occupy only a part of cosmic space.

(4) Samanaska (endowed with mind) and amanaska (devoid of mind)

Jivas which possess the capacity of sustained mental capabilities are those which are endowed with mind. Souls devoid of the capability of generating thoughts are considered to be mindless. The denizens of hell and heaven as well as the vertebrate animals, including human beings, are Samanaska. Invertebrate animals and human beings born asexually are without a mind.

Relationship between the soul and the body


The soul and the body are two different substances. The soul is formless while the body has form, but still they have a relation. Jain philosophy tries to solve this problem of interaction through the concepts of gross and subtle bodies. At the time of death, the gross body remains but the subtle body continues to be bound with the soul and travels with it when it enters its next birth. The soul and subtle body enter another gross body. The relation between the soul and the subtle body is considered to be without any beginning, eternal and ageless. The subtle body remains with the soul as long as the soul has karma. When the karmic particles are shed, the soul achieves its pure state that is formless. At this point it has no connection with either of the bodies. The relationship between the body and soul is without a beginning but it is not without end. The soul, by its own efforts, can free itself from its association with the body. And then the soul becomes perfect and enjoys its own pure state without any interference from either an internal or external source. 

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