Jain Philosophy (2) 23 – Fourteen Gunasthäna (Stages of Spiritual Development)

Jain Philosophy (2) 23 – Fourteen Gunasthäna (Stages of Spiritual Development)

Chapter 23 – Fourteen Gunasthäna (Stages of Spiritual Development)


In the book “Outlines of Jainism” Shri J. L.  Jaini defines that: “In Jainism fourteen stages are indicated through which the soul progresses from an impure state to the final pure state of liberation (Siddha). The psychical condition of the soul due to the fruition (Uday), partly settling down (suppression) and partly perishing of Karma matter (Kshayopasham) is called “Gunasthäna”.

In Jainism, the Gunasthänas describe the path, modalities and prerequisites for the bonded soul (Bahirätmä) to become a liberated soul (Paramätmä) through the path of internal progress (by becoming Antarätmä). The process begins with the soul, which is at the lowest stage from times immemorial, circulating in the cycles of births and deaths due to lack of true belief, true knowledge and true conduct.  Since there is a divine spark in every soul (without which it will not be a living being), it is struggling to find its true identity and potential of becoming liberated. Thus, a constant struggle is going on between forces of darkness of wrong belief (Mithyätva), which try to keep the soul tied down to the Samsär (worldly existence) on the one hand; and forces of light of true belief (Samyaktva), which try for its liberation on the other. In the long run there comes a chance when by reducing its Karma load the forces of light (Samyaktva) prevail and the soul is able to break the shackles of Mithyätva (wrong belief) just like a piece of straw or paper is able to escape out of a whirlpool. This is like cutting the Gordian knot and is also called Granthi Bhed in Jain terminology. Once this happens, the soul is set on the road of rising Gunasthänas. In other words, the pilgrim has found his path and the Pilgrim’s Progress has begun which may ultimately lead to the liberation of the soul though it may take millenniums and millenniums. During this progress through different Gunasthänas, the soul has to encounter ups and downs and also very unusual and unprecedented experiences during the ascent. 

Gunasthänas denote purely spiritual exercise – the fourteen levels relate to the spirit or the soul though it is embodied. The progression or regression is of the soul and is on a spiritual scale and according to spiritual yardsticks. It cannot be seen, observed or measured in the physical world. Though the stages of spiritual development relate to the soul or are of the soul, they directly result from Karma (matter) contaminating the soul.  The worse and more intense association of Karma with the soul, a lower stage of spiritual development of the soul. Conversely the lesser and lighter the Karma load is on the soul, the higher and better stage it attains.

Karma may appear as the immediate cause determining Gunasthänas, but since Karma in turn accrue, arise or subside by Yoga (activities/vibration), Kashäya (passion), Pramäda (negligence), Avirati (indiscipline) and Mithyätva (false faith) as seen earlier, these ultimately are responsible for soul’s progress or downfall.  As the Yoga and Kashäya etc. are committed by the soul itself with or without other conditions participating in the final and ultimate analysis, it is the soul itself that determines its Gunasthäna or its progression or downfall.

Though only fourteen stages are identified, there are innumerable points on the path of liberation on which the soul transits up and down or at which it stays – just like numerous points or stations on a railways route though the path is identified by a few important or junction stations. The soul has been on this path since times immemorial and will be so till its final liberation, with its final destination being the completion of spiritual development.

The Gunasthäna, on which the soul may be, varies from moment to moment depending on its Karma Uday (operation of karma) or Kshayopasham (destruction and suppression of karma) or Räga and Dvesha (attachment and aversion) or Yoga and Kashäya (activity and passion) just as the blood pressure of a person varies from moment to moment. To identify the Gunasthäna of a being exactly at any moment is only possible for the Keval_jnäni (the Perfect Being) since it is a purely spiritual barometer. It is not possible for ordinary beings to assess since they can only form some idea by the external conditions, circumstances and behavior of the beings, but the real diagnosis is possible only by assessing the level of their thought process that no one other than Keval_jnäni can know.

The movement of the beings from one Gunasthäna to another is not in strictly numerical order i.e. first to second and so on. But the soul moves up and down on spiritual path according to logical rules e.g.  from first Gunasthäna the soul transits straight to the fourth, but it may regress to third or second on its path to the first for reasons given herein later.

We will know more about them as we briefly describe each of the fourteen Gunasthänas, in the subsequent paragraphs.

The 14 stages of spiritual development are as follows:

01 Mithya_drashti Gunasthana Wrong faith
02 Sasvadana Samyag_drashti Gunasthana Having tasted true faith
03 Samyag Mithya_drashti Gunasthana Mixed faith stage
04 Avirata Samyag_drashti Gunasthana Vowless right faith
05 Desha_virat Shravak Gunasthana Partial renunciation
06 Pramatta_samyat Gunasthana Full renunciation with less awareness 
07 Apramatta_samyat Gunasthana Renunciation with awareness
08 Apurva_karan of Nivritti_badara Gunasthana Meditative state
09 Anivritti_badara Gunasthana Advance meditative state
10 Sukshma_samparaya Gunasthana Stage of subtle greed
11 Upashant_moha (Kashaya) Gunasthana Suppressed passions state
12 Kshina_moha (Kashaya) Gunasthana Passionless stage 
13 Sayogi Kevali Gunasthana Active omniscience state
14 Ayogi Kevali Gunasthana Inactive omniscience state
  1. Mithyä_drashti Gunasthäna

This is the lowest or first stage wherein the soul, due to manifestation of Mohaniya (Deluding) Karma, does not believe in the Right Path to salvation. The characteristic mark of this Gunasthäna is perversity of attitude towards truth; or unbelief in the truth taught by the Jina in its entirety.  The soul at this stage has a minimum degree of right vision and very indistinct enlightenment – just enough that is required for a living conscious soul. A soul may find itself in this stage abinitio or may come to it from higher stages but the reason is the same i.e. the manifestation of Deluding (Mohaniya) Karma.  From this stage, a soul rises only to the fourth stage for the very first time and not to the second or the third as will be described later. In this Gunasthäna, all 28 types of Deluding (Mohaniya) Karma are in manifestation.

  1. Säsvädana Samyag_drashti Gunasthäna

This is the second higher stage where the soul finds itself for a very short time on its downward journey to the first stage but with some taste or memory of the higher stage. A soul has attained the higher stage due to the arising of true belief or enlightenment for a short duration due to suppression of Deluding (Mohaniya) Karma.  However, due to the re_manifestation of the same Karma of an acute type, it goes back to the first stage staying for a short period in the second stage with taste of true belief lingering which has given it the name of a Gunasthäna with a taste. From this stage, it only goes down to the first Gunasthäna viz., Mithyätva.

  1. Samyag Mithyä_drashti Gunasthäna

This third stage is marked by indifference towards true belief, the soul being in a mixed state of belief and non_belief in the true doctrines.  This condition arises on account of manifestation of mixed Deluding Karma in the soul at a higher stage (Fourth) from which the soul comes down to this stage.  The stay in this third stage is also of very short duration and is transitional, the soul going down to the first stage of complete unbelief – Mithyätva, or making a recovery and rising up to higher stages with right faith.

  1. Avirata Samyag_drashti Gunasthäna

In this stage the soul, though having been blessed with Right Belief and Right Knowledge, is not able to proceed on the path of right Conduct in as much as it is not capable of adopting the vows for the lack of will, power and energy.  The path of salvation consists of all the three elements viz., right belief, right knowledge and right conduct, the last one consisting of vows. Due to operation of Karma, the being may have Right faith and right knowledge and even know and accept the vows of Right conduct, but due to weakness it is not able to properly practice the vows. The right faith may be due to suppression (Upasham) or annihilation (Kshaya) of Faith Deluding Karma as a result of which the being attains this stage from stage (i) Mithyätva. The barrier on conduct is due to the rise of Conduct Deluding Karma on the other hand. As such from this stage, the way is open for the soul to rise or fall.  In the case of rise, it may proceed forth to higher stages by suppressing the Karma or annihilating them. In case of a fall, it goes to stage (ii) and thence to stage (i); or to stage (iii) and further on as stated earlier.

In any case, the souls that have once touched this Gunasthäna, must reach their destination of Nirvana though it may take time; the maximum limit of which is Ardha (half) Pudgal Parävartan or a very long time.

In this Gunasthäna, three types of Faith Deluding (Darshan Mohaniya) Karma and four Anantänu_bandhi Kashäya (these seven Karma are called Darshan_saptak) are either suppressed, eradicated or a combination of both.

  1. Desha_virat Shrävak Gunasthäna

When a being gathers sufficient will and power to persevere on the path of spiritual and moral progress, it adopts the Vows (Minor vows) meant for laymen (Shrävak) thus partially refraining from sins ensuring partial self_control.  Thus it achieves this stage, number five, though due to the partial manifestation of Deluding Karma it is still not able to completely renounce the world which is required for the next stage.  This is the highest stage possible for a layman; hereafter all higher stages require adoption of asceticism by renouncing the world for achieving complete self_control.  This stage is important because it is a starting point for the being to adopt Right Conduct and to begin discarding an undisciplined life (Avirata) though only partly. In this Gunasthäna, Darshan_saptak and four types of Apratyäkhyäni Kashäya are suppressed, eradicated or a combination of both.

  1. Pramatta_samyat Gunasthäna

In this stage of spiritual development, the soul renounces the world completely, ensuring complete self_control by adopting all the major vows prescribed for a Sädhu for purity of conduct. However, occasionally it tends towards negligence (Pramäda), hence, the name is Pramatta or negligent Samyat Gunasthäna.  These manifestations are essentially the product of the Karma bondage of deluding Karma (Mohaniya). Depending upon the dispensation of Karma the being may land down in stage (v) Desha_virat or even in stage (iv) of Avirata Gunasthäna from this stage.  However, if it is able to adjure negligence (Pramäda) it may progress to the next higher stage No.  (vii) Apramatta Samyat Gunasthäna.  The salient feature of this stage is completely disciplined life by adoption of all the five Major Vows (Mahä_vrata). This means complete dedication to the practice of the Three Jewels, – Right faith, Right Knowledge and Right conduct which is prescribed as the royal road leading towards liberation. Thus, in this stage the second cause of Bondage of Karma i.e.  Avirati is also discarded by the soul. In this Gunasthäna, Darshan_saptak, four types of Apratyäkhyäni Kashäya and four types Pratyäkhyäni Kashäya are suppressed, eradicated or a combination of both.  However, negligence (Pramäda) exists.

  1. Apramatta_samyat Gunasthäna

Herein are Sädhus who have not only adopted all vows and self – control but also adjure negligence (Pramäda) completely.  These are the two spiritual ladders, one of suppression/subsidence of Karma and other of complete annihilation. Obviously only the latter can lead to liberation; the former may lead back to lower stages, though it may temporarily mean progress.  They are named Upasham Sreni (suppression ladder) and Kshapak Sreni (annihilation ladder) according to their nature.

From this stage of spiritual development, the soul may go down to stage (vi) of Negligence or may progress on the pathways called Srenis (ladder), which may be due to the Suppression of the Karma known as Upasham Sreni or the Annihilation of the Karma known as Kshapak Sreni.

If the soul goes to stage, (vi) it can come back to this stage (vii) and this process of going back and forth can continue for a long time, until death or until one of the Srenis is attained. Souls cannot go any higher than this stage (vii) during this 5th Ärä from this Bharat Kshetra. In respect of Srenis also, only Kshapak Sreni (annihilation of Karma) can ensure complete liberation (and not the Upasham Sreni). The inclination and preparation for these Srenis takes the being to the next stage, number eight, called Apurva Karan Gunasthäna.

From this stage (vii) to stage (x), the soul purifies itself by progressively reducing passions (Kashäyas).  Of course, Mithyätva, Avirati, and Pramäda have already been discarded. This stage is therefore the beginning of the four stages of progressive purity, which prepare the soul for the higher stages, xi, xii and xiii.  At the same time, this stage being on the border is full of chances of downfall of the soul to lower stages due to Karma manifestation and due to Pramäda (negligence), etc.

In this Gunasthäna, Darshan_saptak, four types of Apratyäkhyäni Kashäya and four types Pratyäkhyäni Kashäya of are suppressed, eradicated or a combination of both. However, no negligence (Pramäda) exists.

  1. Apurva_karan or Nivritti_bädara Gunasthäna

As implied by its name, this stage involves unprecedented (Apurva) attainments by the soul facilitating it for the path of liberation.  These are the destruction of intensity (Rasaghäta) and duration (Sthitighät) of bound Karma.  Through such processes of purification, the soul begins to ascend on one of the two Srenis i.e.  either the Upasham Sreni (Suppression ladder) or Kshapak Sreni (annihilation ladder). Some of the other processes the soul undergoes for the sake of the rise on the Srenis are called Gunashreni i.e., reduction in the duration of Karma and Gunsankram i.e. conversion of harsh Karma into the mild ones.  All these important events in the evolution of the soul are unusual and unprecedented; therefore, the name given to this stage is Apurva (Unprecedented) Karan Gunasthäna.  Lest it be ignored, the fact is reiterated that all these events in the sphere of activities of the soul are due to the Karma – old and new and their manifestation, suppression or annihilation.

  1. Anivritti_bädara Gunasthäna

A stage of even greater purity of thought than the earlier one, this stage takes the soul to the verge of enlightenment. In this stage, the soul continues further purification based on one of the two Srenis (ladders) started in the eighth Gunasthäna; – Upasham (suppressing of Karma) or Kshapak (Annihilation of Karma), which determines its future destiny. However, in this stage there is the possibility irking of Deluding (Mohaniya) Karma manifesting in their crude (Bädara) form. The striking feature of this stage is a high degree of suppression or destruction of Karma with resultant purity of the soul and progress to the next stage. However, if the soul allows itself to be afflicted by Karma, it may go back to lower stages too.

  1. Sukshma_samparäya Gunasthäna

In this stage of a high degree of purity of the soul, there do remain some traces of Deluding Karma (Mohaniya) in the form of the minutest degree of subtle greed. If this is also overcome, the soul progresses to stage 11 or 12.  If the soul suppresses (Upasham) the subtle greed, then stage 11 is reached. If the soul annihilates (Kshaya) it, then stage 12 is reached.

Henceforth, the distinction between the two Srenis is marked as there is no liberation from Upasham Sreni while the Kshapak Sreni leads to Moksha – as will be explained later.

This is the stage up to which both Yoga (activities) and Kashäya (passions) are present, though the later is of a very minute (Sukshma) degree.  It does not allow the soul to go to the higher stages, 11 and 12, which respectively require suppression or destruction of remaining passions.  If this does not happen, the soul may sink back to lower stages afflicted not only by Kashäyas but also negligence, vowlessness and unbelief.  In this Gunasthäna, all types of Deluding Karma except Sanjvalan Lobha (Subtle Greed) are suppressed or eradicated.

  1. Upashänt_moha Gunasthäna

By suppressing completely all Kashäyas including subtle greed (in the Tenth Gunasthäna), the soul attains this stage (also known as Upashänt Kashäya) for a short while. However, it is only suppression or subsidence (and not annihilation) of the Karma, like dirt settling down in water. Therefore, as soon as this suppression (Upashaman) stops, Karma manifest themselves and the soul sinks back to the lower stages.  Further, in this stage Jnänävaraniya Karma hampers the soul and, therefore, it is still Chhadmastha (a person in the state of bondage). For obvious reasons, this Gunasthäna lasts for a very short duration and as there is no scope for rise the soul descends to lower stages even landing in the first, the lowest Gunasthäna. The depth to which the soul may sink depends upon the particular type of Karma and Kashäya (Passions) afflicting the soul.  However, such a soul can stage a recovery even in the same lifetime and attain liberation passing through different stages rising via Khsapak Sreni.  In this Gunasthäna, all types of Deluding Karma are suppressed.

  1. Kshina_moha Gunasthäna

The soul that is able to destroy completely the subtle greed remnants of Mohaniya (Deluding) Karma in the tenth Gunasthäna attains this stage (also known as Kshina Kashäya) as it is on the Kshapak Sreni, bypassing the (11th) stage, which was for the Upasham Sreni. This is a stage of almost the highest purity of meditation, whereby the soul also destroys the other Karma viz; Jnänävaraniya, Darshanävaraniya and Antaräya.  At the end of this stage, the soul becomes omniscient – Keval_jnäni – and enters the (13th) stage of Sayogi Kevali, which is the stage of omniscience.  However, in this 12th stage the soul is still not perfect, but is only Chhadmastha, as the name of this Gunasthäna indicates.  This is due to the part Bondage of Major or Ghäti Karma, which the soul sheds in the last moments of this stage for progress to the next stage of perfect knowledge etc. This is made possible by the soul as it has given up passion or Kashäya completely and resultantly the Ghäti Karma are eliminated. As such, this stage is important as a stepping – stone to liberation or Moksha.  In this Gunasthäna, all types of Deluding Karma are eradicated.

  1. Sayogi Kevali Gunasthäna

This is the stage where all the Kashäyas (passions) are destroyed and, therefore, the Ghäti and Sämparäyika Karma (Karma with passion) are eliminated and the soul is blessed with Perfect Faith (Samyag Darshan), Perfect Knowledge (Samyag Jnän), Perfect Conduct (Samyag Chäritra) and Perfect Prowess (Virya).  It is the stage of Godhood known as Kevali, Jina or Arihanta in Jain terminology.  Only Aghäti Karma remain that keep the soul embodied and they also come and go without further binding the soul.  A lot can be written about this stage, which is not possible of complete description, by words.  Here only Yoga (simple activities of mind, speech and body) remains, but since they are passionless, they do not bind the soul. In Vedänta, this stage is known as Jivan_mukta, as such beings though embodied and in this world are not bound by Karma and are beyond the world.  Such a state may last for a short or a very long time depending upon remaining Aghäti karma.  Some such souls are called Tirthankar who lay the foundations of the true path and preach the true religion for the guidance of the Sangha (fourfold order). Therefore, they are given precedence over the liberated souls – the Siddhas – in the Navakär Mantra.  In this Gunasthäna, all types of Ghäti Karma are eradicated.

  1. Ayogi Kevali Gunasthäna

This is the last and momentary stage of duration equal to time taken in uttering five short vowels. During this stage, even Yoga stops and all the remaining Aghäti karma are simultaneously exhausted by the soul and it leaves the body and attains liberation, free from further births and deaths in the world. This is achieved by the soul engaging in the highest type of meditation, known as Shukla Dhyäna, in which all types of subtle as well as gross physical, vocal and mental activities stop. The result is a state of complete motionlessness, internal and external, known as Shaileshi_karana, for the short duration equal to the time taken in uttering five short vowels. This is followed by liberation not only from the body, but also from worldly existence and Karma Bondage for all times to come.


This brief description of Gunasthäna can be closed with some further remarks to throw light on their salient features from the point of view of spiritual development. The first three stages are marked by external activity of the soul, when it is involved with things other than itself and the soul is Bahirätmä (extrovert).  From stage fourth to twelfth, it becomes Antarätmä (introvert) concerned with its own welfare.  In the last two stages, the soul attains godhood and is called Paramätmä (the perfect soul).

From the point of view of Karma Bondage, it has to be noted that the five causes (Mithyätva, Avirati, Pramäda, Kashäya and Yoga) thereof determine (along with the Bondage) the stage (Gunasthäna), and their presence or absence result in regression or progression of the soul on these stages, respectively.

  • When all the five causes of Bondage persist in the soul, it remains in the first stage of Mithyätva and the third stage of Samyag Mithyä_drashti.
  • When the soul gets rid of Mithyätva (False Vision) but if the other four causes subsist, it can rise up to stages number two, four and five; Säsvädana, Avirata and Desha_virat.
  • By getting rid of Avirati (Undisciplined life), the soul can reach stage number six; Pramatta Virat because Pramäda (negligence) is persisting.
  • By getting rid of Pramäda, the soul reaches stage seven or Apramatta Virat and if capable continues to stage ten Sukshma Samparäya through further purification.
  • Thus from stage seven (7) to stage ten (10) only two causes of Bondage remain viz.; Kashäya (Passions) and Yoga.
  • By freeing itself from passions (Kashäya), the soul can reach up to stages (11), (12) and (13) called Upasham Moha, Kshina Moha and Sayogi Kevali.
  • At the end of stage, number (13) the soul also stops Yoga and enters stage (14) – Ayogi Kevali state for a very brief moment and relinquishes the body thus achieving liberation or Mukti.

The following table provides clearer relationships between Gunasthäna and the causes of Karma Bondage, Meditation (Dhyäna), Leshyä (States of Mind) and type of soul:

Relationships among Gunasthäna, Karma, Leshyä, and Dhyäna

Gunasthana Causes of Karma Bondage Present Meditation (Dhyana)
Mithya_drashti All five (Mithyatva, Avirati, Pramada, Kashaya & Yoga) Arta & Raudra
Sasvadana Avirati, Pramada, Kashaya & Yoga Arta & Raudra
Samyag_Mithya_drashti All five (Mithyatva, Avirati, Pramada, Kashaya & Yoga) Arta & Raudra
Avirata Samyag_drashti Avirati, Pramada, Kashaya & Yoga Arta Raudra & Dharma
Desha_virat Samyag_drashti Avirati, Pramada, Kashaya & Yoga Arta Raudra & Dharma
Pramatta_samyat Pramada, Kashaya & Yoga Arta & Dharma
Apramatta_samyat Kashaya & Yoga Dharma
Apurva_karan Kashaya & Yoga Dharma & Shukla
Anivritti Badara Kashaya & Yoga  Dharma & Shukla
Sukshma_samparaya Kashaya & Yoga Dharma & Shukla
Upasham_moha Yoga Dharma & Shukla
Kshina_moha Yoga Dharma & Shukla
Sayogi Kevali Yoga Shukla
Ayogi Kevali None Shukla


Gunasthana Leshya (States of mind) Types of Soul
Mithya_drashti All six (Krishna, Neel, Kapot, Tejo, Padma & Shukla) Bahiratma (Extrovert)
Sasvadana All six (Krishna, Neel, Kapot, Tejo, Padma & Shukla) Bahiratma (Extrovert)
Samyag_Mithya drashti All six (Krishna, Neel, Kapot, Tejo, Padma & Shukla) Bahiratma (Extrovert)
Avirata Samyag_drashti All six (Krishna, Neel, Kapot, Tejo, Padma & Shukla) Antaratma (Introvert)
Desha_virat Samyag_darshti All six (Krishna, Neel, Kapot, Tejo, Padma & Shukla) Antaratma (Introvert)
Pramatta_Samyat All six (Krishna, Neel, Kapot, Tejo, Padma & Shukla) Antaratma (Introvert)
Apramatta_Samyat Only Auspicious ones (Tejo, Padma & Shukla) Antaratma (Introvert)
Apurva_Karan Shukla Antaratma (Introvert)
Anivirtti Badara Shukla Antaratma (Introvert)
Sukshma_Samparaya Shukla Antaratma (Introvert)
Upasham_moha Shukla Antaratma (Introvert)
Kshina_moha Shukla Antaratma (Introvert)
Sayogi Kevali Shukla Paramatma (Perfect Soul)
Ayogi Kevali Shukla Parmatma (Perfect Soul)

Thus, it is clear from the above that the whole scheme of Gunasthäna is derived according to the principle of decreasing sinfulness and increasing purity of the soul and the lessening of Karma bondage.  To progress on this scale, the being has to eliminate each of the causes leading to Karma bondage in the successive order stated above (i.e. Mithyätva, Avirati, Pramäda, Kashäya and Yoga) one by one. Thus, one can bring refinement in its own qualities (the Guna) and therefore the name – fourteen stages of progress of the soul – the Fourteen Gunasthäna.

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