Step-2: The Seven Fundamentals (The Tattva)

First Steps To Jainism

Step-2: The Seven Fundamentals (The Tattva)


The causes leading to manifestation of life in variety of forms have taxed the imagination of all thinking men, just as the universe. If all souls or the animate living-beings are in essence alike, being formless and conscious entities, why this extreme divergence from living beings with one sense (like the stationary trees and plants) to the five-sensed human beings. Again the heterogeneousness of humanity manifesting itself in differing capacities, behaviour, material adjuncts and feelings of pain and pleasure has defied logical or convincing explanation.

Then why is the world full of suffering? “Birth is suffering, death is suffering, separation from what is pleasing is suffering and association with what is displeasing is suffering.” Thus concluded Buddha and renounced the throne. Similarly men’s helplessness vis–à–vis his lot, destiny or nature sent many a prophet and leaders to the caves or mountains to find solutions to these problems.

Buddha preached the middle path, Moses propagated the Ten Commandments and other prophets and leaders of men suggested their own panacea for the ills of the world. Broadly speaking, some schools of thought have accepted a personal God, as not only creator of the universe, but also that of life in all its varieties and as arbiter of its destiny. At the other extreme are those who suggest that the entire process of life, death and creation in all its manifestation is nothing but modification of matter and the part of a natural process.

Jainism does not accept a personal God as the creator of the variety of life and dispenser of pleasure and pain. Similarly matter alone is considered as dead and inert and cannot be held responsible for the creation and its variation. These are at best escapist approaches that are alien to Jainism. It holds the individual soul responsible for its actions, its destiny, its pleasure and its pain.

Jain metaphysics prescribes a seven fold approach that not only provides a satisfactory solution to the riddle of the creation, birth, death, pleasure and pain but also lays down the path of liberation of the soul from sufferings and for realization of its full powers. These seven are, therefore, rightly known as tattvas or the fundamentals or truths which are the subject matter of this chapter These form the core of the Jain religion and have been universally preached and practiced in all ages by successive prophets, last of them being Lord Mahaveera.

Before dealing with the seven fundamentals it may be recapitulated that Jainism believes that the universe consists of two distinct major constituents i.e. (1) living-conscious substance i.e. soul and (2) non-living element (group of five substances called matter, space, time, medium of motion and medium of rest). These two divisions (1) living and (2) non-living are the most important fundamentals out of the seven. These may be called the core of the core. The belief and knowledge of these two is the basis on which the structure of the seven fundamentals is built. Actually, the seven fundamentals are nothing but permutations and combinations of these two.

Out of the non-living substances we have seen that the four formless substances play a secondary role in the drama of life. To recapitulate, the space provides accommodation, time ensures modification and medium of rest and motion help in stopping and movement respectively to the living soul and the non-living matter. It may be clarified that out of the last two only the soul is the active and conscious agent, matter being inert and non-conscious.

The attachment of matter with soul is beginningless, just as the universe is beginningless, and it is under the influence of matter that the soul undergoes the cycle of life and death with concomitant pain and pleasure, changing the bodies through transmigration of soul in which Jainism, like the most oriental schools, firmly believes.

This interplay of soul (living) and matter (non-living) is in the form of (1) influx of matter into soul (known as asrava) (2) attachment or bondage of matter with soul (known as bundh) (3) prevention of influx (known as sanwar) (4) separation of this bondage (nirajara) and (5) complete liberation of soul from the matter (moksha). These are five fundamentals in addition to the living and non-living mentioned earlier which make the total of seven fundamentals.

It may be reiterated that out of the five nonliving substances, it is matter alone that has form, which limits and obscures the power of soul. But in so acting to overpower the soul which is formless, pudgals of matter-indivisible minutest particles-take invisible form of bodies known as karma. This brings us to the karma theory of Jainism-the theory of inevitable consequences of one’s action-to which passing reference is necessary at this stage. No doubt we shall deal with this at greater length in a separate chapter.

It has been admitted by the medical science that every intense mood of a man of joy or sorrow or anger or tension-causes chemical secretions from glands in human bodies which result in sickness (like blood pressure) or physical well being. Jainism goes a step further and holds that every activity of every being-through thought word and deed (mental, verbal or physical), result in vibrations in the soul which attract waves of matter from the surrounding area that enter the soul by becoming the karmic body. These obstruct the soul’s progress towards realization of its four-fold greatness (perfect perception, perfect knowledge, perfect prowess and perfect bliss). These karmic bodies may appear in person’s present life or life after death as they determine the destination of human soul after death. Thus the word karma not only implies actions or deeds as loosely interpreted but also material bodies consisting of force or energy or waves too fine to be discernible to senses but all the same real and powerful.

Thus when we talk of influx or bondage (asrava or bundh) of matter into or with the soul we refer to the matter in a restricted sense i.e. to its karmic form. These karmas can be harmful or beneficial to the degree they result in physical or mental pain or pleasure which depends upon the nature of one’s own actions. If the actions are good e.g. charity, or bad e.g. violence, they result in pleasure and pain respectively. Some even recognize these two also in the list of fundamentals calling them merit (punya) and sin (pap) to take the total number of fundamentals to nine. However, generally these are considered as part and parcel of influx and bondage. It may be clarified, however, that sin and merit are both fetters of the soul, may be fetters of gold or fetters of iron, and for complete liberation of the soul it is essential to get rid of both these types.

With the above background we now take up the description of the seven fundamentals which may be repeated as (i) Living soul (ii) Non-living matter (iii) Influx (iv) Bondage (v) Prevention (vi)Separation and (vii) Liberation.

1. The Living soul-the first fundamental :

While volumes have been and can be written on the subject of the living soul, it has been briefly dealt with already in the chapter of The Universe. Living soul being the center of the entire Jain philosophy, we may recapitulate in brief that it is non-material, eternal, conscious substance with perfect perception, knowledge, bliss and power. It is responsible for its actions and reaps the fruits thereof. It is numberless, the whole entity filling the entire body it occupies and tends to arise upward. The broad translation of a poem by Dr. Bharill of Jaipur, summarizes the attributes of the living soul which is given below. In this the soul describes itself in the following terms:

I am self sufficient,

without trace of anything else,

Tasteless, formless,

I have no truck with anything else.

Without colour, without attachment,

without hatred, I am unique,

I am indivisible body of consciousness, happy in my own physique,

I am responsible for my success or failure and none else,

I reside in me, needing no rest in anything else.

I am pure, omniscience, one, unaffected by other’s act.

I realise myself through me, I am knowledge and bliss perfect.

2. Non-living matter-the second fundamental:

This subject has also been dealt with earlier. Though the entire group of matter, time, space etc. forms nonliving fundamental, they are widely divergent from each other as mentioned earlier. The role played by matter is predominant and it is with the matter that we are primarily concerned in the present discussion. It may be added that karma matter has beginningless association with soul. Though with form, it is so subtle and fine that nothing can check it. It passes through all and it does not stand in way of anything else. Thus it travels with the soul from one body to another with its transmigration after death.

3. Influx-Third fundamental:

All worldly creatures are constantly engaged in some form of activity-mental, verbal or physical. All such activities create turbulence in the soul and attract corresponding amount of matter in the form of karma bodies into the soul. This flow of matter-Karma bodies into the soul is called influx-asrava the third fundamental. The activity of creatures that attracts is subjective influx (bhav asrava). While the actual flow of matter into the soul is material influx (dravya asrava). True to its arithmetical approach, in Jain scriptures the activities, causing influx, have been divided and sub-divided into numerous minute sub-divisions, a broad description of which is as under:

  1. False vision-like wrong belief, skepticism, ignorance of true path and is of five types.

  2. Undisciplined life- This implies indulgence in violence, untruth, theft, unchastity and undue accumulation (of wealth).

  3. Negligence-This includes non-vigilance, gossip, undue sleep and is of fifteen types.

  4. Indiscretion-in-use-of mind, body and speech by attachment, aversion and infatuation and lastly.

  5. Passions-anger, pride, greed and deceit.

The above list is not exhaustive specially when only darker side of human nature has been taken into consideration. For obvious reasons these types of activities have to shunned. Similarly, the good and brighter side of human nature such as kindness, also result in activities which are of nine types i.e. charity, service etc. However, these also result in influx of favorable type of karma pudgals as elaborated later.

4. Bondage-the fourth fundamental:

Along with influx and depending upon the intensity of the activity of mind, speech and body, matter (karma) gets attached or mixed up with soul like water with milk. This is called bondage, subjective bondage being condition of soul and objective being the actual attachment of the matter.

In the advanced stage of spiritual development bondage occurs for a very minute duration time. Otherwise the soul is bound by karma matter depending upon the extent of involvement of mind, body or word in the activity. Thus stronger the passion like anger, or greed the stronger the bondage. This intensity determines the nature, duration, character and magnitude of karma bondage which in turn determines the future course of the soul in this world, and hereafter. The nature of karma, has been dealt with exhaustively in Jain scriptures and a separate chapter will be devoted to the same in the present series.

For the present it will be sufficient to explain briefly as under the nature, duration, character and magnitude of bondage:

1) Nature of Bondage (of karma) implies good or evil results that will be reaped by the soul from the said bondage.

2) Duration of Bondage will determine the time the said karma will take to expiate.

3) Character of Bondage will determine the intensity of the results of the particular karma.

4) Magnitude of Bondage implies the quantum of karma bodies absorbed by the soul.

It may be clarified that, as mentioned under influx, influx and bondage need not necessarily be painful or sinful. These may result in pleasure also as those arising out of meritorious activity e.g. charity, humility, service rendered through mind, speech and body etc. Such meritorious activity contrary to sinful one, results in influx or bondage which provides wealth and respect in this life or hereafter. However, this also does bind the soul and has to be got rid of for complete liberation of the soul.

Question may arise that how should one act or behave so as not to attract influx and bondage when both good deeds and bad actions result in bondage-and one cannot help activity of one sort or another as long as one lives. This question has been clearly answered in Jain scriptures that one should act with utmost vigilance without involving oneself too much in the activity or its result. Again the result of one’s action, should be accepted with equanimity and indifference. The simple formula for living in the world without attracting influx or bondage, thus hastening self realization or liberation of self is:

While acting exercise utmost vigilance;

When accepting results show indifference.

  1. Prevention-The fifth fundamental:

The fifth fundamental implies that soul being a free agent should cease from such activities which invite influx. For this two fold action is required-firstly non-indulgence in all such acts which result in influx and secondly exercising positive restraint on mind, speech and conduct through constant practice, so as to avoid or minimize the influx.

There are five major divisions of prevention which are the counter-parts of those resulting in influx and are stated below in juxtaposition:


Items responsible for Influx

Items responsible for Prevention


False faith

Right faith


Undisciplined life

Disciplined life









Control over Passions.

On the positive side the purpose of prevention is automatically achieved by following the code of daily conduct for monks and laymen prescribed in great detail which is summarized in brief as under :

  1. Five Vows-i.e. the vows of non-violence, truth, non-stealing, chastity and non-accumulation should be practiced.

  2. Control of mind, speech and body.

  3. Vigilance in movement, speaking, eating, handling things and evacuation.

  4. Observance of ten commandments of Jainism i.e. forgiveness, humility, honesty, truthfulness, purity of mind, mercy, penance, renunciation avoidance of greed and chastity.

  5. Meditation of twelve subjects e.g. contemplation of the Universe, religion, transitoriness of existence etc.

  6. Toleration of suffering of twenty two types i.e. tolerance of hunger, thirst, cold, heat, insect bite, sickness, thorns, dirt, etc.

It will be seen that all the above discussion leads to Jain ethics which has described the duties of monks and laymen in the greatest detail. It is the most glorious part of Jainism. At the same time it is simple and practicable leading to the greatest good of greatest number. To summarize it is stated that just as one, who wants to empty a tank full of water, has to stop the inflow, while throwing out the accumulated water, to achieve the purpose in hand, similarly those desirous of liberation of soul from the accumulated karmas, by practicing the methods of prevention described, stop the inflow of matter (karma bodies into soul) and pave the way for segregation or separation of accumulated karma bodies from the soul which is the subject of the next item.

6. Separation-Sixth fundamental:

Ceaseless activities of the soul can be voluntary as a free agent and these result in influx and/or bondage with matter (karma bodies) as described above. However, the soul is not always a free agent. It is rather a slave of the karmas which it has already acquired through influx and bondage due to its past activities. Such past bondage makes the soul behave in a certain fashion and suffer consequent pain and pleasure in the bargain. This is the secret of human destiny and the cause of variation between man and man, even brother and brother. Such variation because of its unclear origin is wrongly ascribed to luck, chance or God or nature.

Indeed it is very difficult to precisely allocate the activities of the animate being (the soul) to its past karma or to its fresh voluntary efforts, resulting in further influx or bondage. This can be done precisely by perfect beings with perfect knowledge only. However, as a result of some of the activities of the soul, karma bodies having given results (good or bad) are separated from the soul automatically. This is the process of separation or Nirjara and is known as separation by fruition.

However, Jainism lays emphasis on efforts of soul and suggests way to separate matter from the soul by deliberate efforts to relieve its burden and to hasten the process of liberation. This is the way of penance and called separation without fruition.

This path of penance need not frighten any body though some methods are severe. However, simple good conduct and humility are also parts of penance. There are twelve types of penance-six pertaining to body and six pertaining to mind.

Detailed procedure of these has been prescribed in the learned treatises but we shall have to content with listing the twelve as under:

A. Pertaining to Body (Exterior-Bahiya)


Fasting (Anshan)


Eating less than one’s appetite (Anodari)


Eating what is received through begging (Bhikshachari)


Tastelessness (Ras Parityag)


Toleration of body pain (Kaya Klesha)


Withdrawal from bodily pursuits (Sallinta)

B. Pertaining to mind (Interior or Abhyantar)


Repentance (Prayaschit)


Humility (Vinaya)


Service (Vaiya vrata)


Study (Swadhyaya)


Meditation (Dhyan)


Indifference (to body and its needs) (Vyutsarga)

By these processes karma bondage of the soul gets loosened and separated slowly in addition to the natural process of fruition of karma described earlier. As an example we can consider the damp or wet apparel which if thrown in a heap may take its own time to dry. However, if it is spread in sun or waved in the breeze it dries up much more quickly.

With the separation of matter from the soul its genuine inherent powers begin to manifest themselves and the soul shines in its true glory of perfection of knowledge, belief, power and bliss which is the last and the most important of the seven fundamentals.

7. Liberation or Moksh-the Seventh fundamental:

Complete separation of the soul from the matter (Karma pudgal) is liberation or salvation. This is the aim of every living being (soul) to obtain emancipation from perpetual slavery of foreign element i.e. matter. Once this is attained there is no suffering of any type, no birth, no death and no transmigration. As soon as a soul becomes completely separated from the matter, no further Karma can pollute it any more because the soul and the matter are entirely distinct substances-original pollution being due to beginningless contamination of soul by matter which attracted further defilement.

Though liberation is a very difficult and laborious process taking millenniums yet the path of liberation is not desolate or uninhabited. Millions and millions, actually infinite number of souls have attained liberation and will continue to do so in time to come. Those, who may be harboring some concern that due to this one way traffic the Universe may become devoid of worldly souls, need not worry on that account. Because if this phenomena were to occur it would have already become devoid of worldly souls. Since this has not occurred in the past it will never happen in future, because number of souls eligible for emancipation is infinite and infinity never comes to an end.

It needs mention that even the process of separation (of bondage of Karma) is full of beatitude. While the subject will be dealt with separately it may be stated that even partial liberation of the souls leads to intellectual development, physical well-being and general material happiness, prosperity of the individual. Thus one need not wait for complete liberation of soul which is the ultimate end; the blessings start on the road to liberation itself.

Similarly attaining liberation is nothing unusual for a soul because actually it is realizing its true self and should be considered as a natural process. It is like the wolf boy being taught to behave like a human being, which he actually is. Due to past association with the foreign matter the soul has forgotten its genuine original form powers and attributes. With the liberation it is established on its original pedestal.

Since all liberated souls are alike there is no distinction between one liberated soul and another. All of them possess all the attributes of complete consciousness, bliss, knowledge and faith. There is no sex, no caste, no color and no form. They being formless, like light of a candle, occupy no space. Just as light of one candle can pervade a room or light of 100 candles pervades the same room simultaneously, a large number of souls can occupy and live in the limited area. Though there is no place earmarked where liberated souls reside but by their very nature of rising above, the souls when free from the bondage of karma rise and in one samaya reach the top of the Universe just on the border of non-universe. These cannot go beyond since there is no gravitational mediums of motion and rest beyond this point.

To conclude this part it will be appropriate to quote a Sanskrit couplet translated into English which describes the quality of a liberated soul:

Omniscience, boundless vision, illimitable righteousness, infinite strength, perfect bliss, indestructibility, existence without form, a body that is neither light nor heavy-such are the characteristics of liberated souls.


Before closing this chapter it may be recapitulated that just as the first fundamental is soul, the seventh fundamental is also soul. Though the first described the worldly as well as the liberated souls the last one deals with only liberated souls. Actually apart from the second fundamental i.e. non-living matter entire chapter and all the fundamentals describe different stages and process of evolution of soul in relation to karma pudgals. In this process the entire secret of existence, birth and death, pain and pleasure, difference between different individuals, mystery of chance and luck become resolved in the orderly pattern of behaviour of the soul. Also the pathway to solve the problem of human suffering is clearly demarcated and defined. Indeed the whole arrangement of the soul’s association with matter, attachment between the two, prevention of attachment and separation are all dependent upon the soul’s voluntary and involuntary efforts. It is elementary, simple and automatic that it does not require any intermediary like God or a Supreme Being. Jainism introduces an element of directness in the law of compensation or the rule of cause and effect and applies it to the spiritual world.

Simplicity and orderliness of Jain theory of the seven fundamentals is apparent and it is in tune with the theory of beginning-less Universe and animistic belief which are essentially simple and direct in approach. These are all in accordance with natural laws which are also simple in essence and direct in approach-as nature itself abhors complication.