Bandha (Karmic Bondage)

by Marie-Hélène Gorisse

Conceptual definition

Jains consider that each of us – as well as each living being, up to the many microscopic forms of life that also exist around us even though we are not able to perceive them – is an embodied Self (ātman/appā/ādā, jīva). While the Self is permanent; its current embodied configuration is not. To explain, what we call ‘life’, is a given entanglement of the Self with matter; and that what we call ‘death’ is not an end, but the cessation of this precise entanglement with matter and the transit to another one. In such a way that we are always faced with embodied Selves. Now, the Self is radically different from this matter, may it be physical, karmic or fiery, and Jain religious practices focus on getting us free from these entanglements of the Self, especially that with karmic matter, as this is because from this entanglement, called ‘bondage’, that suffering stems.

Philosophical significance for philosophers of religion

The bondage of a Self with karma displaces several traditional questions of the field of philosophy of religion. For example, in order to cop with the loss of a dear one in death, the hope for the Jains is not for this person to leave as she was in a better realm, but it is that she avoided enough accumulation of karmic matter to leave in a better form within this realm. And this process of avoiding karmic bondage is repeated until one’s Self, who is already immortal in essence, also accesses to a state of acquired immortality. Thinking of our immortal essence, and of our mortality only illusorily brought forwards by karmic bondage, authors like Kundakunda claim “He who thinks ‘I kill’ and ‘I am killed by other beings’, he is an ignorant fool. But the one who knows thinks otherwise” (Essence of the Self, Samayasāra, SSā 247).

The bondage of a Self with karma also shakes the methodology of philosophy of religion. First, karmic bondage is a medium between the physical state of an embodied Self, its moral state, as well as its epistemic state, therefore building bridges as they little exist in other traditions. Second, the vast Jain literature on karmic bondage contains a proliferation of physical metaphors that guide the philosopher’s comprehension. It would be interesting, as we compare space-problems between different philosophical paradigms, to compare traditions of metaphors between them.

Historical context

In South Asian traditions, it is a shared conception that things which have parts are impermanent. For Jains, matter (pudgala) is the only type of substance that can associate or dissociate and, therefore, that has parts. Therefore, impermanence only comes from one’s association with matter. Contrarily to matter, (i) a Self is a single atom devoid of parts and totally independent from both other Selves and other substances; (ii) space, medium of motion and medium of rest are each a single indivisible whole that occupies all cosmic space; and (iii) time has no extension. Therefore, it is the bondage with matter, especially karmic matter, that accounts for any non-permanent feature of the Self, while any permanent feature is accounted by the isolated and essential nature of this Self.

The seminal Treatise on What there is, Tattvārthasūtra (TS 8.5, written in Sanskrit in 350-400, allegedly by someone called Umāsvāmin) lists eight types of karmic matter, divided into four harming (ghātiyā) ones:

  1. The delusory karma (mohanīya), which reduces one’s innate bliss and brings about one’s attachment to incorrect views;
  2. The knowledge-obstructing karma (jñāna-avaraṇīya), which blocks the faculties of the Self, of the mind, and of the senses;
  3. The perception-obstruction karma (darśanāvaraṇīya), which operates likewise;
  4. And the obstacle karma (antarāya), which reduces one’s innate energy.

Next to these, there are four non-harming (a-ghātiyā) types of karmic matter:

  1. The feeling karma (vedanīya), which determines whether an experience of the Self is pleasant or not;
  2. The name karma (nāman), which determines what sort of rebirth is attained;
  3. The life karma (āyus), which decides the duration of one’s life;
  4. The clan karma (gotra), which determines one’s status within a species.

In what follows, let us base our reflections on like karma. The fact that a type of karmic matter decides the duration of one’s life means nothing less than when one dies, say, because of a car accident, these external forces are only the material cause of the death of the embodied Self, while the fruition of her life karma is the efficient cause of her death. In such a conception, death happens as the fruit of the actions that one has herself performed in a previous life. This is how bound by karma we are. The metaphor of the process of sedimentation will help to understand how this karmic bondage works: take a muddy water and leave it without any movement for a sufficient amount of time. The different types of substances involved in this mixture will slowly start to separate, the more gross particles being at the bottom. In this process, the separation time differs for each mixture, since it depends upon the nature of the substances involved, as well as of the intensity of the mixing. The same happens with the Self and its bodies: their type of entanglement in the previous life mechanically has an effect on the lapse of time that the next entanglement will last. In such a way that this has nothing to do with a deserved punishment after some fault, nor with some deserved reward after some good deed. Instead, this has everything to do with the laws of physics. Jain thinkers develop a complex system, with calculations, to explain the practical effects of karmic matter on us. Notably, which mass of material particles is assimilated after a given reprehensible act, as well as the duration and intensity of this assimilation. These calculations resemble a physics, and are found as early as the Elucidation of the Teaching [of Mahāvīra] (ViyāhapannattiSutta, also known as Verses of the Venerable, Bhagavaī Sutta, old parts 5th c. BCE; new parts 1st c. CE). Later on, in the Treatise on What There Is, it is for example stated that: “Bondage to life karma lasts up to thirty-three ocean-measured periods.” (Tattvarthasutra 8.15)

The commentaries develop this, by explaining that this equates to 1/3 x 8,400,00 x 8,400,00 x 107 years. Of course, this maximal possible duration does not concern human embodied lives like yours or mine. Next to one’s life duration, the rest of the states of our embodied Self are similarly regulated by the fruition of a type of karma and can be inferred through calculation.

In his Essence of the self, Samayasāra (SSā, 3rd – 8th c.), Kundakunda is the one to redefine the Self as active only in its own domain, not in the material world of karma (kamma). Concretely, the Self is the material cause only of the modifications of consciousness, while karmic matter is the (indirect) instrumental cause of modifications of consciousness. In turn, the self is the (indirect) instrumental cause of karmic modifications, but only as a king indirectly causes the virtue in his subjects when he acts in a virtuous way and is taken as a model. Another metaphor that Kundakunda uses to think the association between the Self and karmic matter is that of the mirror-like crystal. If a red flower is reflected in a crystal, we see the crystal as red, while it is not (with the pun that the Prakrit term ‘rāga, rāya’, means both ‘red object’ and ‘attachment’). Likewise, the Self sees attachment/wrong notions superposed with it, not being it. The Self and karmic matter always keep their essential distinct natures, even in the midst of karmic bondage, which might lead one to think that they are genuinely mixed.

Whether we use the mirror-like or the sediments-like metaphors, it seems that we haveto understand the world as a whole in which things are mechanically combined together. Even though the types of substance which are the Self and non-self stuff, like karmic matter, are radically separated, they co-exist within the same conditions and so they experience paralleled modifications.

Overview of significant references/uses by contemporary scholars

Phenomena – may they be physical, subtle, or moral – can be explained in terms of karmic bondage. In the Jain system, this means that they can be expressed through calculus. This, in turn, means that equivalences between different planes of reality – physical, moral, epistemic – can always be handled thanks to these calculations based on karmic bondage. Karmic bondage therefore can serve as a translation medium. The tradition of calculation by means of karmic bondage has culminated in Jainism in a textual tradition stemming from the Essence of [the teachings of] Mahāvīra, Gommaṭasāra, written in the 10th c. by Nemicandra as a commentary to the Digambara Sacred Scriptures in Six Parts, Ṣaṭkhaṇḍāgama.

Finally, there is a remaining philosophical question, namely, how come that it is not only an internal death, out of the exhaustion of one’s life force, how come that it can also happen due to external factors, like the being hit by a truck? We are not here dealing with a type of occasionalism, since originated aggregates are efficient causes only in their own realm. But this remaining question makes us think that at least, such a conception is only possible if one conceives the world as a rational whole in which things make sense together, even though only the omniscient ones can experience that. In this dynamic, it is interesting to notice that a lot of South Asian traditions share this holistic approach.

Related emic terms

Pudgala (matter), harming/non-harming karma, permanence/impermanence, life karma, calculation.

Related etic terms

Embodied self, permanence/impermanence, material/efficient cause, holism, metaphors.

List of references

ĀS = Āyāraṃgasutta. In Kumar, Muni Mahendra (tr.): Āyāro (Ācārāṅga Sūtra). Jain Canonical Text Series 1. New Delhi: Today and tomorrow’s Printers & Publishers, 1981.

Bajželj, Ana. “The Jain Ontological Model according to Kundakunda and Umāsvāti.” Asian Studies 1.17, 2013: 3–16.

GS = Nemicandra, Gommaṭasāra, in Gommatsara Jiva-Kanda (the soul), Rai Bahadur J. L. Jainia (trans.), The Sacred books of the Jainas 5, Lucknow: The Central Jaina Publishin House, 1927.

Jaini, Padmanabh, 1979, The Jaina Path to Purification, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Johnson, William. Harmless souls: Karmic bondage and change in early Jainism with special reference to Umāsvāti and Kundakunda. In: Lala Sundar Lal Jain Research Series 9. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1995.

Pragya, Unnata, 2021, The Concept of Samudghāta in Jaina Philosophy, PhD defended in London.

Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli. 1923, “The pluralistic Realism of the Jainas”, Indian Philosophy 1, London: Georges Allen & Unwin Ltd, pp. 236–285 (reed. 2008, Delhi: Oxford University Press).

SSā = Samayasāra of Kundakunda. (1) Chakravarti, A (ed., tr. and comm.): Ācārya Kundakunda’s Samayasāra. Benares 1950 (5th ed. Bharatiya Jnanpith, New Delhi 2008). (2) Jaini, J. L. (ed., tr. and comm.): Samayasara by Shri Kunda Kunda Acharya. Sacred Books of the Jainas 8, The Central Jaina Publishing House, Lucknow 1930. (3) Zaveri, Jethalal, (ed., tr. and comm.): Samayasāra by Ācārya Kundakunda. Jain Vishva Bharati University, Ladnun 2009.

TS = Tattvārthasūtra of Umāsvāmin. In Tatia, Nathmal (tr.): That which is. Tattvārthasūtra. A Classic Jain Manual for Understanding the True Nature of Reality. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1994.

TSBh = Tattvārthasūtrabhāṣya of Umāsvāti, ibid.

Wiley, Kristi, 2011, “The significance of adhyavasāya in Jaina karma theory”, International Journal of Jaina Studies 7/3 (Online), pp. 1–26.

YS = Yogaśāstra, Hemacandra, in The Yogaśāstra of Hemacandra. A twelfth century Handbook on Śvetāmbara Jainims, Olle Qvarnstrōm (trans.), 2002, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Conceptual definition

Jain renunciants follow a rigorous method towards salvation, in which renunciation from worldly life, a non-violent way of life, the dissociation of Self and non-Self stuff and a purification from karmic matter towards omniscience become in time different facets of the same effort to access to a superior order of being in which the Self resumes its essential nature. At this stage, each Self is absolutely isolated. To reach this, everything that is not the Self – passions, wrong notions, matter, etc. – has to be patiently removed from the Self through continuous practices of renunciation. Renunciatory practices that enable this Self restauration are meant to block further inflows of karmic matter and to burn already adhering karmic matter. They include restraint in speech, mental and bodily activity (gupti), following given rules of behavior (samiti), reflecting on the miseries in life (anuprekṣā), practicing austerities (tapas) and behaving in a moral way (dharma), which itself includes cultivating self-control (saṃyama), abandon the world (tyāga), being detached from things (akiñcanya) and practicing chastity (brahmācarya).

Philosophical significance

In traditions such as Jainism, philosophical and religious teaching firstly aims to promote a type of behavior, a method to concretely modify an unsatisfying situation by modifying oneself. Traditions like this are foremost about transformative practices of the self. One does not only need to be aware of the core categorial distinctions – in Jainism, the distinction between Self and non-Self – one also has to realize her true nature through a set of practices, prominently renunciatory ones.

First, renunciatory practices are more precisely a type of internal sacrifice, where one has to give up current self conceptions before embracing new ones.

Second, renunciatory practices either remove one after one the many layers of self construction which are actually alien to what the self essentially is. For example, repentance and atonement are mechanisms aiming at modifying the self from a reappraisal of its past acts, removing labels deemed unfit. Or renunciatory practices displace the networks of association that exists between oneself and the surroundings. In this dynamic meditation, by modifying habits, relocates associations that prevent what is considered a proper self identification.

Historical context

In South Asia in the 6th c. BCE, considerations on the nature of the world and of human beings’ position in it were developed against a backdrop of Vedic practices of devotion revolving around a sacred fire. Two pan-Indian conceptions notably emerged from the idea that, besides entailing fruits in this life, the correct devotional practice could also secure beneficial consequences in one’s after-life. First, a conception of human life as a long circle of rebirths; second, the belief in the efficacy not only of the devotional act, but of all acts. These beliefs laid the basis of the renowned theory of karma, according to which our current situation in life is determined by our acts in previous lives. Acknowledging this conception, most South Asian traditions aimed at liberation (mokṣa) from the bounding karmic network and, each in its own way, put an emphasis on ceasing the acts that lead to further karmic footprints. This usually takes the form of ascetic practices such as meditation or abstinence, in order to renounce the clinging to transitory passions by reaching equanimity, and to perform as few acts as possible or only dispassionate egoless ones. This, in turn, implies renouncing the social and ritual life of the householder and becoming a wandering mendicant. As such, most of the South Asian traditions are, in different proportions, part of a ‘renunciatory paradigm’. In this renunciatory paradigm, Jainism is the tradition that goes the further. Jains were one of the ascetic groups called ‘śramaṇa’, ‘strivers’, to refer to the hardships of this path to liberation. Jain śramaṇas were more precisely called the ‘nirgrantha’, ‘the ones who are free from possessions’, since Jain male mendicants were singled out as the ones practicing nudity.

A peculiarity of Jainism is to essentially associate these renunciatory liberating practices with the imperative of non-violence. Besides, to cultivate this non-violence involves having an awareness of the existence of the life-forms, of other Selves, that surround us. Finally, since Selves are in essence unobstructed knowledge, perception and bliss, the last main facet of the Jain renunciatory stance consists in epistemic progress up to omniscience. Concretely, to get closer to the realization of our real nature is to follow practices that could be classified into a four-fold way:

  1. Practices of abstinence, in the line of no sexual intercourse, no food for given periods of time, non-possession up to the nudity of the Digambar monks;
  2. Practices towards self-control, like meditation or mortification of the flesh;
  3. Penances, today mainly consisting in fasts and recitation of prayers;
  4. Practices of non-violence, such as not eating meat, nor any product derived from animals, not drinking non-filtered water containing microscopic forms of life, walking with extreme caution so as to avoid killing life forms on the ground, and not using any other modes of transportation for the monastic community.

This is sufficient to see that Jainism is an arduous renunciatory path, in which the disciple needs methods to assist her. One such method is an incitement to cultivate a pessimistic attitude towards the world by means of twelve contemplations (Prakrit: aṇuvekkha; Sanskrit: anuprekṣā) on the miseries of life. These can be found in canonical and post canonical texts, like in the Tattvārtha-sūtra. These are incitements towards contemplation of human beings and their relation to the surrounding world, which prompt the awareness that:

(i) everything in the world is not enduring;

(ii) all beings are helpless;

(iii) when an individual is spiritually free, only she has been able to achieve it, and only she can enjoy it, no other individual can assist and share, each individual is isolated;

(iv) all relationships of an embodied Self are temporary, not real;

(v) empirical reality from life to death to life is endless and full of calamities;

(vi) the empirical universe is an abode for Selves that do not know their real nature;

(vii) embodied Selves are bound in impure, rotten and stinking bodies;

(viii) the influx of karmic matter is the main cause of miseries;

(ix) the stoppage of the influx of karmic matter is possible by means of penances;

(x) the purification of karmic matter that is already bound is possible by means of penances;

(xi) the doctrine (Prakrit: dhamma; Sanskrit: dharma) preached by the Jinas leads to spiritual freedom;

(xii) human enlightenment is rare and difficult to obtain, it is an essential duty of all humans to get it prior to their death.

Significant references/uses

First, in global philosophy of religion, traditions like Jainism focused on self centered transformative practices are important as they help to reshape the prevalent conception of divinities and the definition of religion.

Second, renunciation here mainly consists in acting in a controlled and restrained manner. This type of attention is also crucial for contemporary environmentalists, because this injunction goes in particular against the practices of mass consumption. In Jainism, even the laity must be careful and not desire beyond their needs. In this dynamic, a care for not wasting resource, as well as vegetarianism or veganism become important values. Besides, Gandhi’s style of action centered on self-control, as enjoined by the Gītā, was a source of inspiration for Indian environmentalists. It is worth pointing out that Gandhi’s stance was deeply influenced by Jainism.

Related emic terms

Saṃvara (blockage of the inflow of karmic matter), nirjarā (destruction of karmic matter), gupti (restraint speech, mental and bodily activity), samiti (rule of behavior), dharma (moral behavior), saṃyama (self-control) tapas (austerity), akiñcanya (detachment), brahmācarya (continence), anuprekṣā (reflexions on the miseries in life).

Related etic terms

Transformative practices, techniques of the self, controlled act, self-control, meditation.


ĀS = Āyāraṃgasutta. In Kumar, Muni Mahendra (tr.): Āyāro (Ācārāṅga Sūtra). Jain Canonical Text Series 1. New Delhi: Today and tomorrow’s Printers & Publishers, 1981.

Bhatt, Bhansidar. “Twelve aṇuvekkhās in early Jainism.” In: Nalini Balbir and Joachim Bautze (eds.): Festschrift Klaus Bruhn zur Vollendung des 65. Lebensjhares dargebracht vin Schülern, Freunden und Kollegen. Reinbek: Dr. Inge Wezler Verlag, 1994, pp. 171–94.

Dundas, Paul. The Jains. Routledge, 1992.

Johnson, W. J. Harmless souls: Karmic bondage and change in early Jainism with special reference to Umāsvāti and Kundakunda. In: Lala Sundar Lal Jain Research Series 9. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1995.

TS = Tattvārthasūtra of Umāsvāti. In Tatia, Nathmal (tr.): That which is. Tattvārthasūtra. A Classic Jain Manual for Understanding the True Nature of Reality. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1994.


by Marie-Helene Gorisse

Conceptual definition

At the heart of Jainism is the belief that every living being is the transitory embodiment of a permanent Self (jīva) and individuals are meant to progress until they reach a state at which their Self is no longer embodied again. Embodied, the Self is co-extensive with the body it occupies, like light in a room, and this is what explains why we have sensations from the top of our head to the tips of our toes. However, the innate cognitive powers of the Self are obstructed by this entanglement, especially when it comes to karmic matter. While liberated, the Self is essentially unobstructed consciousness whose experience (upayoga, uvaoga) consists of cognition (āna) and intuition (darśana).

Furthermore, not only Jainism is the teaching of those worshiped beings who are unobstructed cognition and unobstructed intuition, but we too are, in principle, similar omniscient Selves. Consequently, we can know what is beyond the mundane, human epistemic range, either thanks to an openness to this higher order of being within ourselves through meditative practices; or by relying on the Scriptures—the teaching of the liberated beings—which, in turn, can be fully understood only by beings with a similar mind.

Philosophical significance

An important theme in mainstream Western philosophy of religion is the tension that exists between faith, belief, and reason. In fact, a prevalent number of discussions are articulated around this tension and on what counts as good evidence to support a given worldview. For instance, should one entrust the regulated use of the epistemic abilities of human beings within their inherent limitations, or should one rather entrust the transformative experience ensured by religious practices, the testimony of miracle, or the shared observation that good, morality, and harmony exist in the world, etc.? In this dynamic, does science discredit religion? And what about the epistemic status of intuitions? In these discussions, theistic arguments usually tend to show that faith is only seemingly, but not in truth, contrary to reason.

An interesting feature of Jainism is that its religious practices aim at the practitioner’s liberation from wrong beliefs (mithyātva), which is the final step before her liberation from the infinite circle of rebirths. In such a perspective, the exercise of consciousness as cognition has a central position, while intuition—which includes the closest equivalent to faith (śraddhā)—is a preliminary requisite meant to ensure that one has the correct mindset thanks to which the transformative practices of Self-realization can happen, hence shifting the complementarity and tension between faith, belief, and knowledge.

Historical context

In South Asian philosophico-religious traditions, the divine, the absolute, is usually, primarily consciousness (cit), cognition/knowledge (jñāna), insight (prajñā), the subject of experience (puruṣa), or the Seer (draṣṭṛ). Jain conceptions of the Self (ātman, jīva) as unobstructed cognition, unobstructed intuition, unobstructed bliss, and unobstructed energy, which focus on the cognitive part of these items, are no exception to this state of affairs. Nor is the fact that our spiritual progress consists of a path that is both virtuous and epistemic up to omniscience. In fact, even though the oldest Jain texts say very little on the Self, they already agree on characterizing it in terms of consciousness. For example, in the canonical On Behaviour, Āyāraṃga Sutta (ĀS, written in early Ardhamāgadhī in 3-2 BCE), even though an apophatism according to which the Self is not long, nor small, nor round, etc. is developed, even there, it is said “that which is the Self is that which knows, that which is the knower is the Self, that by which one knows is the Self” (ĀS 171) and “while having knowledge and intuition, there is no condition of (this) unconditioned (Self)” (ĀS 176).

Umāsvāmin and Kundakunda are the two authors who systematize a classical Jain epistemology and ontology out of these canonical texts. To begin with, the first chapter of the seminal Treatise on What there is, Tattvārthasūtra (TS, written in Sanskrit in 350–400, allegedly by someone called Umāsvāmin, probably by an unknown author), is devoted to the seven categories of reality and describes the many ways of knowing them. The following chapters are then dedicated to a detailed analysis of each category, starting with the Self (jīva). There, the defining characteristic (lakṣaṇa) of the Self is experience [of consciousness] (upayoga) (TS 2.8). Further on, the Commentary on the treatise on what there is, Tattvārthasūtrabhāṣya (TSBh, written in Sanskrit by Umāsvāti in 400–450) divides this cognitive operation into cognition (jñāna) and intuition (darśana) (TSBh 2.9.1). This gives rise to two lengthy classifications. First, a taxonomy within which all living beings are classified depending on the number of sense faculties they possess and can use when experiencing the world around them, and on whether or not they have a mind, from one-sensed beings like an earth-being to five-sensed beings like humans. Second, a full-fledged epistemology which will be the basis of a tradition of systematic inquiry on our knowledge faculties, from the functioning of inferential reasoning, to that of perception or of verbal testimony. Most of what is called “Jain philosophy” actually consists in these treatises of epistemology.

The second major author is Kundakunda. Kundakunda is actually not a single author, but the name that stands for the collective authorship of a Jain textual tradition (composed in Prakrit, more precisely in Jain Śaurasenī, between the third and ninth centuries around Karnataka). This tradition includes the Essence of the self, Samayasāra (SSā), which presents the Self in similar lines: “The essential characteristic of the Self as seen by the omniscient is permanently exercise [of consciousness] (uvaoga)” (SSā 1.24). However, this tradition differs from canonical and classical Jainism, and will be the basis for a mystical branch in Jainism. There, it is considered that the Self is never genuinely bound with karmic matter. Therefore, the practices which aim at a gradual dissociation between the Self and karmic matter and which are traditionally associated with Jainism, like endurance of hardships, restrained and careful acts towards all living beings, penances, or the study of the Scriptures, are dismissed as “worldly practices.” Indeed, since the Self is bound with karmic matter only from a conventional perspective, then the one who knows from the ultimate perspective realizes that in fact, the Self has never been genuinely bound. Henceforth, the direct inward experience that is Self-knowledge is the only practice that matters. Kundakunda wants us to realise that this is actually the core message of Mahāvīra, since Mahāvīra advocated meditative practices on the Self as the culmination of rigorous asceticism.

Significant references/uses

First, Jain views on what the exercise of consciousness consists of and how this defines the Self and distinguishes it from every unconscious thing are likely to give new perspectives of the hard problem of consciousness. Especially since there is the belief that a concrete change within the substance of the Self has to happen for it to be disassociated from the body and karmic matter. There is not much done on these subjects currently, but one should investigate the precise karmic associations, types of bodies and many metaphors (alloy between gold and silver) with this in mind. This will also help scholars to understand the intricate relationship between the ontological and the epistemological in Jainism.

Second, this splitting of the exercise of consciousness into cognition and intuition is also most likely to shed new light on the epistemological status of diverse faculties.

Related emic terms

Self (ātman, jīva), cognition (jñāna), intuition (darśana), obstructed and unobstructed by karmic matter, sense faculties of living beings, faculties of knowledge, wrong beliefs (mithyātva), faith (śraddhā), Self-knowledge, meditation

Related etic terms

Faith, belief, reason, intuitions, hard problem of consciousness

List of references

ĀS = Āyāraṃgasutta. In Kumar, Muni Mahendra (tr.): Āyāro (Ācārāṅga Sūtra). Jain Canonical Text Series 1. New Delhi: Today and tomorrow’s Printers & Publishers, 1981.

Bajželj, Ana. “Kundakunda on Modal Modifications of Omniscient Jīvas.” In N.Balbir and P.Flügel (eds.): Jaina Studies. Selected Papers presented in the ‘Jaina Studies’ Section at the 16th World Sanskrit Conference, Bangkok Thailand and the 14th World Sanskrit Conference, Kyoto Japan. DK Publishers, New Delhi 2018: 97–111.

Bajželj, Ana. “The Jain Ontological Model according to Kundakunda and Umāsvāti.” Asian Studies 1.17, 2013: 3–16.

Balcerowicz, Piotr. “The philosophy of mind of Kundakunda and Umāsvāti,” in: Jonardon Ganeri (ed.): The Oxford Handbook of Indian Philosophy. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2017: 190–208.

Bronkhorst, Johannes. “Kundakunda and Sāṃkhya on the soul.” In N. Balbir (ed.): Svasti. Essays in honour of Prof. Hampa Nagarajaiah for his 75th Birthday. Muddushree Granthamala Series 75. K. S. Muddappa Smaraka Trust, Bangalore 2010: 215–226.

Den Boer, Lucas. Early Jaina Epistemology. A Study of the Philosophical Chapters of the Tattvārthādhigama with an English Translation of the Tattvārthādhigamabhāṣya I, II.8-25, and V, PhD dissertation, not yet published, defended in April 2020.

Gorisse, Marie-Hélène. “Characterising the Self: Knowledge and liberation in the Samayasāra“. In Cāruśrī. Essays in honour of Svastiśrī Carukīrti Bhaṭṭāraka Paṭṭācārya, Hampasandra Naganarajaiah and Jayandra Soni (eds.), Sapna Book House, Bangalore, 2019: pp. 95-107

Jaini, Padmanabh S. The Jaina Path of Purification. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1979.

Johnson, William J. “Kundakunda. Two standpoints and the socio-religious function of Anekāntavāda.” In N.K.Wagle and O.Qvarnström (eds.): Approaches to Jain Studies, Center for South Asian Studies, University of Toronto, 1999: 101–112.

. Harmless souls: Karmic bondage and change in early Jainism with special reference to Umāsvāti and Kundakunda. In: Lala Sundar Lal Jain Research Series 9. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1995.

SSā = Samayasāra of Kundakunda. (1) Chakravarti, A (ed., tr. and comm.): Ācārya Kundakunda’s Samayasāra. Benares 1950 (5th ed. Bharatiya Jnanpith, New Delhi 2008). (2) Jaini, J. L. (ed., tr. and comm.): Samayasara by Shri Kunda Kunda Acharya. Sacred Books of the Jainas 8, The Central Jaina Publishing House, Lucknow 1930. (3) Zaveri, Jethalal, (ed., tr. and comm.): Samayasāra by Ācārya Kundakunda. Jain Vishva Bharati University, Ladnun 2009.

Soni, Jayandra. “Upayoga according to Kundakunda and Umāsvāti.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 35.4, 2007: 299–311.

Tatia, Nathmal. Studies in Jaina Philosophy. In Sanmati Publication 6. Calcutta: The Modern Art Press, 1951.

TS = Tattvārthasūtra of Umāsvāmin. In Tatia, Nathmal (tr.): That which is. Tattvārthasūtra. A Classic Jain Manual for Understanding the True Nature of Reality. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1994.

TSBh = Tattvārthasūtrabhāṣya of Umāsvāti, ibid.


Conceptual definition

Liberation (designated by Sanskrit terms including mokṣa, mukti, nirvāṇa, kaivalya, apavarga, and others) is release from the cycle of life and death fueled by karma, i.e., actions and their results. A variety of South Asian philosophies that disagree on many other fundamental issues agree on this much: that since life intrinsically involves suffering—since birth necessarily brings in its train old age, sickness, and death—liberation from the same is the summum bonum. Karma not only fuels the cycle (saṃsāra) but is fueled by it too. It is thus usually considered to require immense time and effort, not to mention great good fortune, to break the cycle and be released from the bondage (bandha) of suffering, ignorance, and finitude generally.

Philosophical significance

Freedom has been a central concern of philosophers in far-flung places and times, but takes very different shapes depending on the conditions from which one seeks to be free and the goods that one hopes to be free to attain. Although set in culturally-specific cosmological frameworks, the basic South Asian concept of liberation captures certain elements that should be acceptable to any theorist of freedom, namely: the conditions from which liberation is sought are characterized by limitation and suffering; the limitations in question are imposed upon our actions and their results; but our actions, with the help of knowledge, may transcend these conditions to attain ultimate satisfaction. Such a view of liberation can be placed in fruitful dialogue with accounts of the metaphysics and ethics of free will, the philosophy of intentional action, and political discourses of emancipation.

Historical context

As far as we can tell from the Rig Veda—the oldest South Asian liturgies known—liberation did not much figure into the early Vedic religion, which focused instead on the rewards of ritual in this world and in the next. In the middle of the 1st millennium B.C.E., however, the cyclic view of life appeared and a great shift occurred in which endless births and deaths came to appear rather tiresome and painful. In the Upaniṣads are found some of the earliest mentions of karma as an ethically-charged determinant of one’s worldly fate and the importance of transcending its bondage. In the canonical Buddhist diagnosis from around the same time, the source of this bondage and suffering is ultimately desire and its solution is detachment.

Beginning in the same period, the Jains—followers of the Jinas, literally “conquerers” of the afflictions of life—draw the contours of liberation into particularly sharp relief. From the earliest Jain scriptures, karma is a material substance that binds the spirit to the world, obstructing and distorting one’s vision and knowledge in the process. Through moral and yogic practices that quell the passions and minimize the negative impact of one’s actions upon other sentient beings, the Jain path of purification seeks to expurgate karma and stop any further influx into the soul.

Thus one develops right vision, knowledge, and conduct, which consummate in omniscience (kevala/kaivalya), as described by the authoritative Sanskrit catechism That Which Is (Tattvārthasūtra) of Umāsvāti/Umāsvāmi around the middle of the first millennium C.E. Some benign karma may remain after the most deleterious kind is removed, allowing a omniscient master to remain embodied in the world and teach for a period. Ultimately, though, a soul that has attained such a level will be perfected (siddha), having transcended all karmic action and now experiencing its eternally pure nature of consciousness and bliss at the roof of the universe where it has arisen after jettisoning its karmic burden. Purged of adventitious baggage, the soul is now pure and thus essentially identical to every other perfected soul. It does not, however, lose its individuality as imagined in Vedantic monism or Buddhist idealism: it maintains its particular identity and differentiation according place, time, state, and even shape, as well as various more arcane parameters.

Such temporary persistence of karma and ultimate retention of elements of individuality may seem to compromise the degree of transcendence offered by the Jain notion of liberation. But it serves the important function of maintaining the coherence and salience of the very notion of karma and the yogic practices meant to eliminate it. These practices seem fruitless in the most gnoseological forms of Vedānta and Buddhism: if liberation solely requires dissociation from the gratuitious aspects of one’s personality and the insight that one truly is not who one usually takes oneself to be, karma turns out to be an illusion and one can apparently dispense with the physical ascetic practices that target it.

This tension between asceticism and a purely gnoseological approach to liberation is felt acutely in the eminent Jain philosopher Kundakunda during the period of Umāsvāmi. Many philosophers in the ensuing millennium wrestle with this tension and resolve it in their own ways; but it is not until the rather heterodox Adhyātma movement at the dawn of modernity that Jain thinkers inspired by Kundakunda boldly disclaim the importance of all external practices, favoring the liberating power of inner faith.

Overview of significant references/uses

Jaini’s is the classic work on the purificatory path of asceticism seeking liberation, although it is surprisingly silent on the nature and achievement of liberation itself. Potter’s rather idiosyncratic reading of the basic concerns of Indian philosophy centers liberation and provides an unusual treatment of the Jain theory of relations. Tatia reviews Jain criticisms of other philosophical attempts to reconcile gnoseological liberation with the metaphysics of the soul and karma. Johnson reads Kundakunda’s ambivalence between asceticism and gnoseology sociologically as a capitulation to the laity’s need for opportunities to pursue liberation without having to go in for the full renunciation required of mendicant specialists.

Related terms


mokṣa, mukti, nirvāṇa, kevala, kaivalya, apavarga, saṃsāra, karma, bandha, tapas, siddha


Liberation, freedom, bondage, renunciation, ascesis, asceticism, identity


Jaini, Padmanabh S. The Jaina Path of Purification. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979.

Johnson, W. J. Harmless Souls: Karmic Bondage and Religious Change in Early Jainism with Special Reference to Umāsvāti and Kundakunda. 1st ed. Lala Sunder Lal Jain Research Series, vol. 9. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1995.

Potter, Karl H. Presuppositions of India’s Philosophies. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1991.

Tatia, Nathmal. Studies in Jaina Philosophy. Sanmati Publication 6. Banaras: Jain Cultural Research Society, 1951.


by Anil Mundra

Conceptual definition

Most generally, identity is what any thing is. In South Asian philosophy of religion, a most pressing question has always been the question of personal identity: what a person really is. This is usually phrased as the problem of the nature of the self (ātman) in Sanskritic contexts; but these discussions very often involve the more general issues of ontological identification, especially in Jain and Buddhist discussions. What makes something the thing that it is, in contradistinction to other things? Does it possess a stable nature (svabhāva) that defines it? If it does, what is the connection between tokens of a type (sāmānya) of things with the same nature? How to understand a thing’s persistence through time, particularly if it is observed to change—is it the self-same thing after the change, or has the original thing passed out of existence to be replaced by something else?

Philosophical significance

These are questions that have vexed philosophers of various stripes. Many have doubted whether there can be any rigorous concept of identity generalizable across the various contexts in which it is customarily called upon, and whether it is even possible to stipulate the concept without either circularity or incoherence. Part of the problem is that there are at least two basic acceptations of the term: most contemporary metaphysicians prioritize what they call “numerical identity” or “self-sameness”—a thing’s simply being itself—over what is currently the more colloquial sense that classifies an individual in a class with others of its own kind on the basis of some quality, such that an individual can be said to “have” an identity, or even have various identities. This disjunction between what we can call “numerical identity” and “qualitative identity” coheres with an Aristotelian metaphysic that tends to cleave self-subsisting substance from the attributes that it possesses. Some South Asian philosophers, however, resist this presumption of the priority of substance to quality.

Historical context

The earliest Vedic Upanishads are famous for their inquiries into the self and their various grand pronouncements about who and what we really are. They often tend to identify oneself with one’s consciousness, not unlike some early modern Western philosophers, although they do not always equate consciousness with intellection and emotion. The Sāṃkhya philosophy is a radical instance of identifying the person (puruṣa) with consciousness as distinguished from all mental functions and even ego, which are placed along with material objects on the side of heterogeneous nature. The Jain philosophical tradition agrees that consciousness is an essential characteristic of the soul; but this may not exhaust the Jain view of the self.

One of the standard criteria of personal identity is the presupposition, shared amongst all Indian philosophers, that anything deserving to be called one’s true identity must be in some way permanent. Something flitting in and out of existence can hardly be said to count as oneself. But according to scholastic Buddhist metaphysics, everything is in constant flux from moment to moment  and there is nothing at all having a stable nature.

The Jains, as is their wont, countenance both the permanence and impermanence of identity without acquiescing in either one-sided view scouted above. The most authoritative Jain doctrinal handbook—the Sanskrit That Which Is (Tattvārthasūtra) of Umāsvāti/Umāsvāmi—defines an entity as that which is subject to origination, perdurance, and dissolution, thus giving equal place to the stability emphasized by Brahminical philosophers and the momentariness of Buddhists. As Jain philosophers of non-one-sidedness say, indeed, it is just this conjunction of contraries like permanence and impermanence that singles out any thing as the particular thing it is, persisting in its identity through its various states of empirical change.

One of the ways Jain philosophy accomplishes this ostensibly oxymoronic ontology is through a particular view of substance as precisely that which persists amidst change, as well as that in which change is seen to occur—that is, it is both the substrate of change as well as the substratum of attributes, both the basis of numerical identity and of qualitative identity. Moreover, according to Siddhasena’s classic Essay on the Dialectic of Proper Thinking (Sanmatitarkaprakaraṇa), substance and the qualities that it possesses are equally real and inseparable. Haribhadra’s Victory-Flag of Non-One-Sidedness (Anekāntajayapatākā) furthermore suggests that both are equally necessary for the constitution of a thing’s identity. The basic, intuitive thesis of this work is that any real thing is what it is, and is not what it is not—a statement of the meaning of identity if ever there were one. What is at stake in this ostensibly trivial proposition is a certain view of the determinacy of identity: that to be is to exist as something—articulated in terms of attributes determined along various dimensions of predication—and not to exist as something else. To be self-identical, on this analysis, is to possess a certain configuration of qualitative identities.

The distinction between self and other is fundamental for Jain ontology; and it bears also on the more sociological issues involved in the qualitative identities that are most commonly at stake in the discourses of religious studies, namely, religious identities. A non-one-sided view of individuals is partially definitive of what it is to be Jain and not other than Jain. One-sided approaches tend to overemphasize certain kinds of praxis, such as purely gnoseological epiphanies, at the expense of more gradualistic negotiations between body and mind. Part of the way that Jains assert and maintain their religious identity is by philosophizing about identity itself.

Significant references/uses

Cort takes the kernel of Jain ontology to be the relationship of self and other—that is, soul and what is adventitious to it—but also means for this opposition to extend to the social identities of Jains in relation to non-Jains. Johnson has explicated how contestation over Jain views of the soul challenge and maintain the asceticism that is part of Jain social identity, and has suggested that the metaphysics of non-one-sidedness can serve as a bulwark against radical views threatening to obviate the physical rituals that make Jains who they are.

Related terms


ātman, jīva, puruṣa, svabhāva, śūnyatā, anekāntavāda, kṣaṇikavāda


Personal identity, qualitative identity, self, soul, momentariness, substance, attribute


Barbato, Melanie. Jain Approaches to Plurality: Identity As Dialogue. Leiden ; Boston: Rodopi Bv Editions, 2017.

Cort, John E. “Introduction.” In Open Boundaries: Jain Communities and Cultures in Indian History, edited by John E. Cort, 1–14. Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 1998.

Ganeri, Jonardon. Identity as Reasoned Choice: A South Asian Perspective on the Reach and Resources of Public and Practical Reason in Shaping Individual Identities. New York: Continuum, 2012.

Johnson, W. J. Harmless Souls: Karmic Bondage and Religious Change in Early Jainism with Special Reference to Umāsvāti and Kundakunda. 1st ed. Lala Sunder Lal Jain Research Series, vol. 9. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1995.

Kapstein, Matthew T. Reason’s Traces: Identity and Interpretation in Indian & Tibetan Buddhist Thought. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2001.

Matilal, B. K. “A Note on the Jaina Concept of Substance.” Sambodhi 5, no. 2–3 (1976): 3–12.


(un-ake-AHN-tuh-VAH-duh) / non-one-sidedness

by Anil Mundra

Conceptual definition

Anekāntavāda, literally the “theory of non-one-sidedness” in Sanskrit, is a characteristically Jain metaphysical and semantic doctrine according to which any real and determinate thing admits of contrary predications. For example, a thing is classically said to be both existent and nonexistent; permanent and impermanent; universal and particular; and denotable and undenotable. The contradiction that would prima facie result from the application of such contrary pairs is averted by parameterizing each term so that it and its negation are not applied in the same way; for example, a thing is existent at one time and place, and nonexistent at another. The resultant propositions issue neither in contradiction nor in equivocation on the terms under discussion: “existent” and “nonexistent” remain genuine contraries, but the scope of their truthful application to a thing is now appropriately specified.

Philosophical significance

Anekāntavāda is thus a way to disambiguate language and fully determine the objects of discourse. Philosophers of non-one-sidedness take exception to the sweeping claims of universal scope that religious doctrines tend to promote about the fundamental nature of reality. They point out the ways in which such absolutist propositions fly in the face of common sense and undermine themselves. Take one of the most pressing examples of such claims in the context of South Asian religions: if one’s true self is said to be absolutely eternal, there would seem to be no way to account for its apparent change and (most importantly) progress toward the summum bonum; while if it is said to be absolutely transient and always in flux, there is no way to account for its continuation along such a progressive path. The self must thus be conceived as both permanent (qua substratum of change) and impermanent (in the progressive development of its states).

Historical context

The first intimations of the doctrine are found in the oldest Jain scriptures written in Prakrit. The founding figure of all current Jain traditions, the Jina Mahāvīra, tells questioners that the soul is permanent insofar as it continues, but impermanent insofar as it takes different forms in successive incarnations. Mahāvīra sometimes prefaces each of such contrary pronouncements with the qualification “in some way” (siyā in the original Prakrit). This hedge makes it clear why contrary predications can apply to the same thing consistently: they apply in different ways, and so do not contradict each other. These ways of applying predicates are often systematized in terms of a canonical group of parameters (called nikṣepas), such as place, time, substance, and state. While a predicate may be truly applied to an object at some values of these parameters, its contrary may be applied with equal truth at other values. In the scholastic period, this approach will come to be called syādvāda, the “in-some-way theory” (syāt being the Sanskrit equivalent of the hedge siyā).

The most authoritative Jain doctrinal handbook—the Sanskrit That Which Is (Tattvārthasūtra) of Umāsvāti/Umāsvāmi around the middle of the first millennium C.E.—encapsulates the basic ontological insight of non-one-sidedness in its pronouncement that all existents are marked by arising, perdurance, and passing away. It also broaches a new way of parameterizing propositions: viewpoints (naya), i.e., contexts or methods through which propositions are to be interpreted. These viewpoints are said to complement the reliable means of awareness (pramāṇa) that are at the center of Indian epistemology. Siddhasena’s Introduction to Logic (Nyāyavatāra) elaborates this relationship by suggesting that reliable means of awareness serve to remove ignorance, while viewpoints provide access to partial truths that do not exclude contrary alternative views of the many-sided reality; but these various one-sided viewpoints can together fully determine an object through the use of syādvāda. The Essay on the Dialectic of Proper Thinking (Sanmatitarkaprakaraṇa, which may or may not be by the same Siddhasena) undertakes to systematize the various viewpoints, proclaiming each one is correct in its own sphere and only there: non-one-sidedness thus demands that none of them be regarded as either absolutely right or absolutely wrong.

As scholastic Jain discourse develops in conversation with other religions in the lingua franca of Sanskrit in the latter half of the first millennium, anekāntavāda is increasingly applied to a range of philosophical dilemmas. Samantabhadra’s Investigation of Authorities (Āptamīmāṃsā) formatively tackles not only existence vs. nonexistence and permanence vs. impermanence, but also unity vs. diversity, identity vs. difference (particularly between cause and effect, substance vs. property, etc.), reason vs. scripture, and even the crucial ethical and soteriological issues of violence vs. nonviolence and the status of knowledge and ignorance vis-à-vis bondage and liberation. Haribhadra’s Victory-Flag of Non-One-Sidedness (Anekāntajayapatākā) and the works of Akalaṅka set the terms for the ensuing tradition by integrating Samantabhadra’s approach into the reigning idiom of Buddhist logic and metaphysics, turning anekāntavāda back against the Buddhist idealism that challenges the realism of rigoristic Jain asceticism.

By the time of Prabhācandra and the great polymath Hemacandra in the first half of the second millennium, both the nayavāda and syādvāda are accepted components of anekāntavāda.  The syādvāda, moreover, is now standardly considered not only to involve both affirmation and negation but also a third operator of inexpressibility (avaktavyatva/avācyatā), which is sometimes explained as encoding a fusion (per impossibile) of affirmation and negation. Later thinkers elaborate the formula (mentioned briefly in Siddhasena and Samantabhadra) of conjoining these three operators in every mathematical combination, so that syādvāda is now considered to involve a seven-fold (saptabhaṅgī) predication of contraries. And the nayavāda, for its part, is increasingly depicted as mapping extant philosophical schools, such that each is seen as affording its own partial view of reality.

Significant references/uses by contemporary scholars

Modern scholars have interpreted anekāntavāda in sundry ways: from “non-absolutism” (Mookerjee) and “non-extremism” (Sanghvi) to “relativity” (Balcerowicz) and “synthesis” (Matilal) or “syncretism” (Ganeri). Matilal’s influential reading rightly rejects Padmarajiah’s “indetermination” and Thomas’s idiosyncratic “non-unequivocality”; but Matilal’s own interpretation of Jain epistemology as “non-radicalism” or especially “intellectual ahiṃsā [nonviolence]” (following Dhruva) and “toleration” (following Kapadia) are not much better (Cort). We might say, in good non-one-sided fashion, that each of these glosses is applicable to anekāntavāda in some way but fails to unambiguously capture the thing itself in its full determinacy.

Related terms


syādvāda, nayavāda, nikṣepa, nyāsa, saptabhaṅgī, pramāṇa, syāt,


compossibility of contraries; determinate negation; non-absolutism; perspectivism; relativism; viewpoints;


Balcerowicz, Piotr. “Some Remarks on the Opening Sections in Jaina Epistemological Treatises.” In Śāstrārambha: Inquiries into the Preamble in Sanskrit, edited by W. Slaje. Abhandlungen Für Die Kunde Des Morgenlandes, Bd. 62. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2008.

Cort, John E. “‘Intellectual Ahiṃsā’ Revisited: Jain Tolerance and Intolerance of Others.” Philosophy East and West 50, no. 3 (2000): 324–47.

Dhruva, A. B. “Introduction.” In Syādvādamañjarī of Malliṣeṇa with the Anyayoga-Vyavaccheda-Dvātriṃśikā of Hemacandra, xiii-cxxv. Bombay Sanskrit and Prakrit Series 83. Bombay: Department of Public Instruction, 1933.

Dixit, K. K. Jaina Ontology. Lālabhāī Dalapatabhāī Granthamālā 31. Ahmedabad: LD Institute of Indology, 1971.

Ganeri, Jonardon. “Rationality, Harmony, and Perspective.” In Philosophy in Classical India: The Proper Work of Reason. New York: Routledge, 2001.

Kapadia, H. R. “Introduction.” In Anekāntajayapatākā by Haribhadra Sūri, with His Own Commentary and Municandra Sūri’s Supercommentary, ix-cxxviii. Gaekwad’s Oriental Series 88/105. Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1940.

Matilal, Bimal Krishna. The Central Philosophy of Jainism (Anekānta-Vāda). Ahmedabad: LD Institute of Indology, 1981.

Mookerjee, Satkari. The Jaina Philosophy of Non-Absolutism: A Critical Study of Anekāntavāda. 2nd ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1978.

Padmarajiah, Y. J. A Comparative Study of the Jaina Theories of Reality and Knowledge. Bombay: Jain Sahitya Vikas Mandal, 1963.

Sanghavi, Sukhlalji. “Anekāntavāda: The Principal Jaina Contribution to Logic.” In Advanced Studies in Indian Logic & Metaphysics, 15–28. Calcutta: R. K. Maitra; distributors: Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyaya, 1961.

Thomas, F. W. The Flower-Spray of the Quodammodo Doctrine: Syād-Vāda-Mañjarī. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1968.