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Ethics In Jainism – Moral Principles Governing Life Of Jains

As per Jainism, ethics is essential to root out karma and to gain liberation of the soul. Here is a short essay on the ethical path and moral principles governing life of Jains.

Jainism places great emphasis on the Tri Ratna Shradha as common to all the three principles of samyak drishti (right vision), samyaka jnana (right knowledge) and samyak charitra (right conduct).

Shradha ensures that one has a firm conviction with regard to the doctrine of Jainism. Perfect faith can result only from perfect knowledge. Starting with partial faith, the disciple learns further about the Jaina teachings and his faith is strengthened.

Samyaka Jnana has reference to the epistemological aspects and the kinds of knowledge – mediate and immediate – that can be gained. The soul in its intrinsic nature possesses infinite faith, knowledge and power. However, these characteristics are obscured in bound souls due to the presence of karma, which is the effect of the deeds of the soul. Right conduct sets out the ethical teachings which are conducive to spiritual growth, eradication of karma and the attainment of perfect knowledge.

The metaphysics of Jainism is closely inter-linked with the system of ethics. The nine categories of Jainism include jiva (conscious principle), ajiva (non-conscious principle), punya (virtue), papa (vice), asrava (influx of karma), bandha (bondage), samvara (stoppage of karma influx), nirjara (partial annihilation of karma) and moksha (liberation).

The entire universe is brought under the two categories of jiva and ajiva. Jiva is identified with life, of which consciousness is the essence. Among the non-conscious principles is included pudgala (matter). Bondage of the soul with matter is due to the effect of karma, the result of deeds due to which one is in the clutches of samsara (life cycle of birth and death). Among the different forms of karma referred to by Jainism are jnanavaraniya karma (those that cloud knowledge), darsana varaniya karma (those which cloud faith), mohaniya karma (those that produce delusion) and vedaniya karma (those which produce pleasure and pain).

Due to the union of the Self with matter, the purity of Self is lost and has to be regained by overcoming the effect of karma. The categories of papa and punya assume significance in the ethical context. Papa is the result of evil deeds generated by vice, and punya is the result of good deeds generated by virtuous conduct. The effects of deeds rebound on the individual and keep the cycle of samsara in motion. One should take up the path of a virtuous life to lead the way to spiritual growth. Ultimately, one transcends both virtue and vice. As an important prerequisite to the goal, an attitude of detachment is necessary in the performance of action. Samyak charitra is necessary for spiritual upliftment and for developing equanimity of mind. Jainism place importance on the five great vows, termed mahavratas, which are to be followed rigidly by ascetics of the Order; lay disciples follow the same in a modified manner, and these same vows are termed anuvratas.

The triratna principles of right faith, right knowledge and right conduct are the requisites to attain the final goal of liberation. These three principles are interlinked, so that progress or degeneration in one is reflected in the other two principles. It is by harmonious development of all these aspect that the soul can be freed from bondage to matter. By the attainment of the goal of moksha, the soul attains four-fold perfection (ananta catustaya), namely infinite knowledge, infinite faith, infinite power, and infinite bliss.