From the basic principles of Jainism it is evident that the inherent powers of the soul are crippled by its association with Karmic matter and that is why we find every person in an imperfect state. The real and everlasting happiness will be obtained by a person only when the Karmas are completely removed from the soul and Jainism firmly believes that even though man is imperfect at present, it is quite possible for him to rid himself of the Karmas by his own personal efforts without any help from an outside agency. The highest happiness is to escape from the Cycle of Births and Deaths and be a liberated soul, that is, to obtain Moksha. This world is full of sorrow and trouble and it is quite necessary to achieve the aim of transcendental bliss by a sure method.
When the goal has been fixed the next question arises regarding the way how to achieve that objective. To this question Jainism has a definite answer. It emphatically states that Samyag-darsana, i.e., right belief, Samyag-jnana, i.e., right knowledge, and Samyak-charitra, i.e., right conduct together constitute the path to salvation. Right belief, right knowledge and right conduct are called Ratnatraya or the three jewels in Jaina works.
According to Jainism these three things must be present together to constitute the path to salvation. Since all the three are emphasized equally and since the Mokshamarga is impossible without the comprehension of all the three, it is obvious that Jainism is not prepared to admit anyone of these three in isolation as means of salvation. This position in Jainism is quite distinct from many religious faiths in India. For example, there are religious schools in Hinduism which lay all the emphasis on Bhakti, i.e., devotion, or on jnana, i.e., knowledge, or on Karma, i.e., moral conduct. The sect of Bhagavatas mostly emphasizes the Bhakti aspect, the sect of Advita Vedantins the Jnana aspect and the sect of Purva Mimamasaksa the Karma aspect. But according to Jainism no such one-sided emphasis can be accepted as the correct path.
In this respect Jainism has clearly laid down that with a view to attaining liberation all the three must be simultaneously pursued. It is strongly contended that to effect a cure of a malady, faith in the efficacy of a medicine, knowledge of its use, and actual taking of it; these three together are essential, so also to get emancipation, faith in the efficacy of Jainism, its knowledge and actual practicing of it: these three are quite indispensable. This Jaina path to liberation is compared to a ladder with its two side poles and the central rungs forming the steps. The side poles are right belief and right knowledge and the rungs or steps are the gradual stages of right conduct. It is possible to ascend the ladder only when all the three are sound. The absence of one makes the ascent impossible.
Thus, a simultaneous pursuit of right belief, right knowledge and right conduct is emphatically enjoined by Jainism upon the people. Obviously on this path, Jainism has based its distinctive ethical code for its followers – both householders and monks.
Of the three jewels, right belief comes first and forms
the basis upon which the other two rest. One must, by all possible means, first attain right belief or the basic conviction on the fundamentals, because only on its acquisition, knowledge and conduct become right.
Right belief means true and firm conviction in the seven principles or tattvas of Jainism as they are and without any perverse notions. The belief that the Jaina Tirthankaras are the true Gods, the Jaina Sastras the true scriptures, and the Jaina saints the true Preceptors, is called right belief. It is laid down that such right faith should have eight Angas, i.e., requirements or pillars to strengthen or to support the belief, that it must be free from three types of Mudhas i.e., superstitious ignorance and eight kinds of Madas, i.e., pride or arrogance.
The Jaina works describe at length the glory of right faith and enumerate the benefits which can be accrued by a person possessing right faith. They go to the extent of describing that asceticism without faith is definitely inferior to faith without asceticism and that even a lowcaste man possessing right faith can be considered as a divine being. In short, right faith is given precedence over right knowledge and conduct, because it acts as a pilot in guiding the soul towards Moksha.
Right Knowledge :
On attaining right belief it is considered desirable to strive after right knowledge. Although right belief and right knowledge are contemporaneous there is yet a clear relation of cause and effect between them, just as there is between a lamp and its light. Right knowledge is that which reveals the nature of things neither insufficiently, nor with exaggeration nor falsely, but exactly as it is and that too with certainty. Such knowledge must be free from doubt, perversity and vagueness. Jainism also insists that right knowledge cannot be attained, unless belief of any kind in its opposite, that is, in wrong knowledge is banished. Further, like right belief, right knowledge also has got eight Angas, i.e. pillars or requirements which support the right knowledge.
Right Conduct :
Right conduct includes the rules of discipline which restrain all censurable movements of speech, body and mind, weaken and destroy all passionate activity and lead to non-attachment and purity. Right conduct presupposes the presence of right knowledge which presupposes the existence of right belief. Therefore, it is enjoined upon the persons who have secured right belief and right knowledge to observe the rules of right conduct as the destruction of Karmic matter can be accomplished only through the right conduct.
Further, Samyak Charitra, i.e., right conduct is divided into two kinds, viz., Sakala Charitra, i.e., perfect or unqualified conduct, and Vikala Charitra, i.e., imperfect or qualified conduct, and of these two kinds the unqualified is observed by ascetics who have renounced worldly ties and the qualified by laymen still entangled in the world.
Obviously Jainism attaches great importance to actual observance of the ethical code or the rules of conduct prescribed both for the ascetics and the householders with a view to attaining their ultimate objective in life, i.e., Moksha.