God in Jainism

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Jainism rejects the idea of a creator deity responsible for the manifestation, creation, or maintenance of this universe. According to Jain doctrine, the universe and its constituents (soul, matter, space, time, and principles of motion) have always existed. All the constituents and actions are governed by universal natural laws and an immaterial entity like God cannot create or affect a material entity like the universe.


In Jainism, Godliness is said to be the inherent quality of every soul (or every living organism) characterizing infinite bliss, infinite power, Kevala Jnana (pure infinite knowledge),[1] infinite peace, and perfect manifestations of (countably) infinite other attributes. There are two possible views after this point. One is to look at the soul from the perspective of the soul itself. This entails explanations of the properties of the soul, its exact structure, composition and nature, the nature of various states that arise from it and their source attributes, and the difference in states between the mithyadrashti, samyakdrashti, kevali, and siddh, as is done in the deep and arcane texts of Samaysara, Niyamasara and Pravachanasara. Another view is to consider things apart from the soul and its relationships with the soul. According to this view, the qualities of a soul are subdued due to karmas of the soul. Karmas are the fundamental particles of nature in Jainism. One who achieves this state of soul through right belief, right knowledge and right conduct can be termed a god. This perfection of soul is called Kevalin. A god thus becomes a liberated soul – liberated of miseries, cycles of rebirth, world, karmas and finally liberated of body as well. This is called nirvana or moksha.

Jainism does not teach the dependency on any supreme being for enlightenment. The Tirthankara is a guide and teacher who points the way to enlightenment, but the struggle for enlightenment is one's own. Moral rewards and sufferings are not the work of a divine being, but a result of an innate moral order in the cosmos; a self-regulating mechanism whereby the individual reaps the fruits of his own actions through the workings of the karmas.

Jains believe that to attain enlightenment and ultimately liberation from all karmic bonding, one must practice the ethical principles not only in thought, but also in words (speech) and action. Such a practice through lifelong work towards oneself is regarded as observing the Mahavrata ("Great Vows").

Gods can be thus categorized into embodied gods also known as arihantas and non-embodied formless gods who are called Siddhas. Jainism considers the devīs and devas to be souls who dwell in heavens owing to meritorious deeds in their past lives. These souls are in heavens for a fixed lifespan and even they have to undergo reincarnation as humans to achieve moksha.

Thus, there are infinite gods in Jainism, all equivalent, liberated, and infinite in the manifestation of all attributes. The Self and karmas are separate substances in Jainism, the former living and the latter non-living. The attainment of enlightenment and the one who exists in such a state, then those who have achieved such a state can be termed gods. Therefore, beings (Arihant) who've attained omniscience (kevala jnana) are worshipped as gods. The quality of godliness is one and the same in all of them. Jainism is sometimes regarded as a transtheistic religion,[2] though it can be atheistic or polytheistic based on the way one defines "God".

Definition of God

From the essential perspective, the soul of every living organism is perfect in every way, is independent of any actions of the organism, and is considered God or to have godliness. But the epithet of God is given to the soul in whom its properties manifest in accordance with its inherent nature.

From the more lay perspective, the following two verses of Ratnakaranda śrāvakācāra, gives the definition of true god:[3]

आप्तेनो च्छिनदोषेण सर्वज्ञेनागमेशिना।
भवितव्यं नियोगेन नान्यथा ह्याप्तता भवेत्।।५।

In the nature of things the true God should be free from the faults and weaknesses of the lower nature; [he should be] the knower of all things and the revealer of dharma; in no other way can divinity be constituted.

क्षुत्पिपासाजराजरातक्ड जन्मान्तकभयस्मयाः।
न रागद्वेषमोहाश्च यस्याप्तः स प्रकीर्त्यते ।।६।।

He alone is free from hunger, thirst, senility, disease, birth, death, fear, pride, attachment, aversion, infatuation, worry, conceit, hatred, uneasiness, sweat sleep and surprise is called a God.

The Arihant are free from the eighteen kinds of blemishes described in the above verse.

Five supreme beings

In Jainism, the Pañca-Parameṣṭhi (Sanskrit for "five supreme beings") are a fivefold hierarchy of religious authorities worthy of veneration.

The five supreme beings are:

  1. Arihant
  2. Siddha
  3. Acharya
  4. Upadhyaya ("Preceptors")
  5. Muni or Jain monks

Arihant (Jina)

A human being who conquers all inner passions and possess infinite right knowledge (Kevala jñāna) is revered as arihant in Jainism.[4] They are also called Jinas (conquerors) or Kevalin (omniscient beings). An Arihant is a soul who has destroyed all passions, is totally unattached and without any desire and hence is able to destroy the four ghātiyā karmas and attain kevala jñāna, or omniscience. Such a soul still has a body and four aghātiyā karmas. Arihantas, at the end of their human life-span, destroys all remaining aghātiyā karmas and attain Siddhahood. There are two kinds of kevalin or arihant:[5]

  1. Sāmānya Kevalin- Ordinary victors, who are concerned with their own salvation.
  2. Tirthankara Kevalin- Twenty and four human spiritual guides (teaching gods), who show the true path to salvation.[6]


Image of Vardhamana Mahavira, the 24th and last Tirthankara (Photo:Samanar Hills)

Tirthankara are certain special Arihants who establish (-kara) dharma-tirtha (tirtham-) i.e. they illuminate the path for the salvation of the soul. Rishabha was the first Tirthankara and Mahavira was the last Tirthankara of avasarpani (present half of the Jain cosmic time cycle).[7]

Tirthankara literally means a 'ford-maker' who show the way to cross the ocean of rebirth and transmigration. Tirthankara revive the fourfold order of Shraman, Shramani, Shravak, and Shravika called sangha. As per Jain literature, exactly 24 Tirthankara grace each half of the cosmic time cycle.[7] Tirthankara can be called teaching gods who teach the Jain philosophy. However it would be a mistake to regard the tirthankara as gods analogous to the gods of Hindu pantheon despite the superficial resemblances in Jain and Hindu way of worship.[8] Tirthankara, being liberated, are beyond any kind of transactions with the rest of the universe. They are not the beings who exercise any sort of creative activity or who have the capacity or ability to intervene in answers to prayers.

Tirthamkara-nama-karma, is a special type of karma, bondage of which raises a soul to the supreme status of a tirthankara.[9]


Although the Siddhas (the liberated beings) are formless and without a body, this is how the Jain temples often depict the Siddhas

Ultimately all Arihantas become Siddhas, or liberated souls, at the time of their nirvana. A Siddha is a soul who is permanently liberated from the transmigratory cycle of birth and death. Such a soul, having realized its true self, is free from all the Karmas and embodiment. They are formless and dwell in Siddhashila (the realm of the liberated beings) at the apex of the universe in infinite bliss, infinite perception, infinite knowledge and infinite energy.

The Acāranga sūtra 1.197 describes Siddhas in this way:

File:Siddha Shila.svg
Siddhashila as per the Jain cosmology

Siddhahood is the ultimate goal of all souls. There are infinite souls who have become Siddhas and infinite more who will attain this state of liberation. [d] According to Jainism, the Godhood is not a monopoly of some omnipotent and powerful being(s). All souls, with right perception, knowledge and conduct can achieve self-realisation and attain this state. Once achieving this state of infinite bliss and having destroyed all desires, the soul is not concerned with worldly matters and does not interfere in the working of the universe, as any activity or desire to interfere will once again result in influx of karmas and thus loss of liberation.

Jains pray to these passionless Gods not for any favors or rewards but rather pray to the qualities of the God with the objective of destroying the karmas and achieving the Godhood. This is best understood by the term vandetadgunalabhdhaye – i.e. "we pray to the attributes of such Gods to acquire such attributes" [f][11]

According to Anne Vallely:

Jainism is not a religion of coming down. In Jainism it is we who must go up. We only have to help ourselves. In Jainism we have to become God. That is the only thing.[12]

Heavenly Beings

Idol of Padmāvatī devī, śāsanadevī of Lord Parshva at Walkeshwar Temple. She is one of the most popular demi-goddess amongst the Jains. Worship of such persons is considered as mithyātva or wrong belief and many jains unknowingly get involved in such worship.

Jain cosmology offers an elaborate description of heavenly beings (devas), but these beings are neither viewed as creators nor as Gods; they are subject to suffering and change like all other living beings, and must eventually die.

Jainism describes existence of śāsanadevatās and śāsanadevīs, the attendants of a Tirthankara, who create the samavasarana or the divine preaching assembly of a Tirthankara. Such heavenly beings are classified as:-

  • Bhavanpatis – Deva dwelling in abodes
  • Vyantaras – Intermediary devas
  • Jyotiskas – Luminaries
  • Vaimānikas – Astral devas

The souls on account of accumulation of meritorious karmas reincarnate in heavens as devas. Although their life span is quite long, after their merit karmas are exhausted, they once again have to reincarnate back into the realms of humans, animals or hells depending on their karmas. As these devas themselves are not liberated, they have attachments and passions and hence not worthy of worship. Ācārya Hemacandra decries the worship of such devas –

Worship of such devas is considered as mithyātva or wrong belief leading to bondage of karmas.

Jain opposition to Creationism

Jain scriptures reject God as the creator of the universe. Further, it asserts that no God is responsible or causal for actions in the life of any living organism. Ācārya Hemacandra in the 12th century put forth the Jain view of the universe in Yogaśāstra:[i]

This universe is not created nor sustained by anyone;

It is self-sustaining, without any base or support

Besides scriptural authority, Jains also resorted to syllogism and deductive reasoning to refute the creationist theories. Various views on divinity and the universe held by the vedics, sāmkhyas, mimimsas, buddhists and other schools of thought were analysed, debated and repudiated by various Jain Ācāryas. However, the most eloquent refutation of this view is provided by Ācārya Jinasena in Mahāpurāna (which was quoted by Carl Sagan in his book Cosmos):

Some foolish men declare that creator made the world. The doctrine that the world was created is ill advised and should be rejected.

If God created the world, where was he before the creation? If you say he was transcendent then and needed no support, where is he now?

How could God have made this world without any raw material? If you say that he made this first, and then the world, you are faced with an endless regression.

If you declare that this raw material arose naturally you fall into another fallacy, for the whole universe might thus have been its own creator, and have arisen quite naturally.

If God created the world by an act of his own will, without any raw material, then it is just his will and nothing else — and who will believe this silly nonsense?

If he is ever perfect and complete, how could the will to create have arisen in him? If, on the other hand, he is not perfect, he could no more create the universe than a potter could.

If he is form-less, action-less and all-embracing, how could he have created the world? Such a soul, devoid of all modality, would have no desire to create anything.

If he is perfect, he does not strive for the three aims of man, so what advantage would he gain by creating the universe?

If you say that he created to no purpose because it was his nature to do so, then God is pointless. If he created in some kind of sport, it was the sport of a foolish child, leading to trouble.

If he created because of the karma of embodied beings (acquired in a previous creation), then he is not the Almighty Lord, but subordinate to something else.

If out of love for living beings and need of them he made the world, why did he not make creation wholly blissful free from misfortune?

If he were transcendent he would not create, for he would be free: Nor if involved in transmigration, for then he would not be almighty. Thus the doctrine that the world was created by God makes no sense at all.

And God commits great sin in slaying the children whom he himself created. If you say that he slays only to destroy evil beings, why did he create such beings in the first place?

Good men should combat the believer in divine creation, maddened by an evil doctrine. Know that the world is uncreated, as time itself is, without beginning or end, and is based on the principles, life and rest. Uncreated and indestructible, it endures under the compulsion of its own nature.

See also


  1. Sangave 2001, p. 164.
  2. Zimmer 1953, p. 182.
  3. Jain, Champat Rai (1917), The Ratna Karanda Sravakachara, The Central Jaina Publishing House, p. 3, archived from the original on 2015<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Sangave 2001, p. 15.
  5. Sangave 2001, p. 16.
  6. Rankin 2013, p. 40.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Sangave 2001, p. 16-17.
  8. Thrower (1980), p.93
  9. Jain 1917, p. 48.
  10. Jacobi (1884) Retrieved on : 25 May 2007
  11. Nayanar (2005b), p.35 Gāthā 1.29
  12. Vallely, Anne (1980). In: Guardians of the Transcendent: An Ethnology of a Jain Ascetic Community. University of Toronto Press: Toronto .p.182
  13. Gopani (1989), emended