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Kevala Jnana

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Kevala Jnana

Kevala Jñāna of Mahavira

Kevala jnana (Sanskrit: केवलज्ञान, IAST: kevala jñāna) means omniscience in Jainism and is roughly translated as absolute knowledge[1] or supreme knowledge.[2]

Kevala jnana is believed to be an intrinsic quality of all souls. This quality is masked by karmic particles that surround the soul. Every soul has the potential to obtain omniscience by shedding off these karmic particles. Jain scriptures speak of twelve stages through which the soul achieves this goal. A soul who has attained kevala jnana is called a kevalin (केवलिन्)[3] According to the Jains, only kevalins can comprehend objects in all aspects and manifestations; others are only capable of partial knowledge.[4]

The views of two sects of Jainism, Digambara and Śvētāmbara Jains slightly differ on the subject of kevalins. According to Digambaras, a kevalin does not experience hunger or thirst, whereas according to Svetambaras, a kevalin has normal human needs.[5] According to both traditions, the last kevalin was a disciple of one of the eleven chief disciples of the last tirthankara, Mahāvīra; his name is recorded as Jambu.[6] It is also believed that no one after Jambu will have the ability to obtain kevala jnana.

Literary sources

The claim of existence of omniscience by Jains, who deny the existence of a creator god, is a unique phenomenon.[7] The oldest text of the Svetambara school, the Acaranga Sutra, describes Mahavira as all-seeing but not all-knowing. The Sutrakritanga, however, elaborates the concept as all-knowing and provides details of his other qualities.[8] Another text, the Kalpa Sūtra, gives details of Mahavira's omniscience

When the Venerable Ascetic Mahavira had become a Jina and Arhat (Arihant), he was a Kevali, omniscient and comprehending all objects; he knew and saw all conditions of the world, of gods, men, and demons: whence they come, whither they go, whether they are born as men or animals or become gods or hell-beings (upapada), the ideas, the thoughts of their minds, the food, doings, desires, the open and secret deeds of all the living beings in the whole world; he the Arhat (Arihant), for whom there is no secret, knew and saw all conditions of all living beings in the world.:[9]

Immediately after the death of Mahavira, his disciple Gautama became a kevalin.[10] As per the tradition, the teachings of the tirthankara were memorized and preserved over many centuries.[11]

In the second Upanga Agama, the Rājapraśnīya, there is a dialogue between Kesi, a disciple of Pārśva, and Payasi, a materialist king. In this dialogue, Kesi proves the existence of jiva and its ability to obtain kevala jñana to the king.[12]

The Jains have a long debate with Hindus and Buddhists regarding omniscience. Bhikkhu Dhamakriti criticized the Jain notion of omniscience in his Pramanavartika. The Hindu philosopher Kumarila argued that only Veda had the authority to define human moral values since they were "beginningless, authorless and of self-sufficient validity". In response, the Jain monk Haribhadra (c. 8th century CE) wrote that humans already had knowledge of everything knowable. It only had to be illuminated or uncovered.[13] Omniscience was, according to Haribhadra, inherent to living beings.[14]

Samantabhadra was the first philosopher-monk in the history of Indian philosophy who tried to use inference as a method to establish the existence of omniscience.[15] Akalanka (c. 720 760 CE) put forward the concept of suniscita-asambhavad-badhaka-pramana as a reason for the existence of omniscience. This concept is a well-known fact which is "we have no valid methods of knowing to deny the existence of omniscience".[16] Hemacandra (c. 1088 1173) combined Samantabhadra and Akalanka's ideas of sarvajña in his Pramanamimasa to establish the existence of omniscience.[17]

Jain epistemology

In Jain epistemology, there are two kinds of valid methods of knowledge: pratyakṣa or "direct knowledge" and parokṣa or "indirect knowledge". Kevala-jñana is considered pratyaksa.[18] Five ways of obtaining knowledge are defined: matijñana acquired through sensory perception; srutajñana acquired through understanding of verbal and written sentences; avadhijñana, manhaparyaya jñana and kevala jñana.[19]

Jains contrast all attempts to proclaim absolute truth with adhgajanyāyah, which can be illustrated through the parable of the "blind men and an elephant". In this story, each blind man felt a different part of an elephant (trunk, leg, ear, etc.). All the men claimed to understand and explain the true appearance of the elephant, but could only partly succeed, due to their limited perspectives.[20] This principle is more formally stated by observing that objects are infinite in their qualities and modes of existence, so they cannot be completely grasped in all aspects and manifestations by finite human perception. According to the Jains, only the Kevalis—omniscient beings—can comprehend objects in all aspects and manifestations; others are only capable of partial knowledge.[21] Consequently, no single, specific, human view can claim to represent absolute truth.

Fourteen stages of development

According to Jain tradition, through these stages of development the soul gradually frees itself, firstly from the worst, then from the less bad and finally from all kinds of karma, and manifests the innate qualities of knowledge, belief and conduct in a more and more perfect form. The first four gunasthana are related to belief or rationality in perception. As and when the soul acquires rationality in perception it moves on to 4th gunasthana. Stages 5 to 14 relate to conduct. The purity in conduct determines the gunasthana from 5th stage onwards. Those who have taken the anuvratas {minor vows} may reach up to the 5th Gunasthana. The 6th to 14th Gunasthanas can only be attained by those who have taken the Mahavratas (major vows) of Jain ascetic.[22] Following are the stages of spiritual development:[23][24]

  1. The stage of wrong believer (mithyadristi)
  2. The stage of one who has a slight taste of right belief (sasvadanasamyagdrsti).
  3. The stage of mixed belief (misradrsti)
  4. The stage of one who has true belief but has not yet self-discipline (avirata samyagdrsti).
  5. The stage of partial self-control (desavirata)
  6. The stage of complete self-discipline, although sometimes brought into wavering through negligence (pramattasamyata).
  7. The stage of self-control without negligence (apramatta samyata)
  8. The stage of one in whom the passions are still occurring in a gross form (nivrtti badra samparaya)
  9. The stage of one who practices the process called anivratti karana and in whom however the passions are still occurring (annivrtti badara samparaya)
  10. The stage of one in whom the passions occur in a subtle form (suksama samparaya)
  11. The stage of one who has suppressed every passion but still does not possess omniscience (upasana kasaya vitaraga chadmasta)
  12. The stage of who has annihilated every passion but does not yet possess omniscience (ksina kasay vitaraga chadmasta).
  13. The stage of omniscience with activity (sayogi kevalin)
  14. The stage of omniscience without any activity (ayogi kevalin)


  1. ^ Sharma 1991, p. 49
  2. ^ Kumar 2001, p. 3
  3. ^ Jaini 2000, p. 51
  4. ^ Jaini 1998, p. 91
  5. ^ Dundas 2002, p. 45 45
  6. ^ Shah 2004, p. 39
  7. ^ Jaini 2001, p. 98 99
  8. ^ Dundas 2002, p. 25
  9. ^ Jaini 2001, p. 99–100
  10. ^ Shah 2004, p. 39
  11. ^ Shah 2004, p. 13
  12. ^ Flügel 2006, p. 113
  13. ^ Flügel 2006, p. 91
  14. ^ Flügel 2006, p. 91
  15. ^ Flügel 2006, p. 110
  16. ^ Flügel 2006, p. 110
  17. ^ Flügel 2006, p. 110
  18. ^ Flügel 2006, p. 108
  19. ^ Glasenapp 1999, pp. 204–205
  20. ^ Hughes, Marilynn (2005). The voice of Prophets. Volume 2 of 12. Morrisville, North Carolina: pp. 590–591.  
  21. ^ Jaini, Padmanabh (1998). The Jaina Path of Purification. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. p. 91.  
  22. ^ Kuhn 2001, pp. 186–219
  23. ^ Jaini1998, pp. 272–273
  24. ^ Tatia 1994, pp. 274–285


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