Jainism Beliefs: The Three Jewels

Marble sculptures in Jain temple in India
Intricate marble wall-Frescoes of gods, apsaras and dancers in a Jain temple in Ranakpur,India which is home to some of the most impressive marble carving on Earth. Philippe Marion / Getty Images

As one of the world’s oldest religions, Jainism was established in India around 500 B.C. by Mahavira, though elements of the religion developed far before that. The focal Jainism belief is to reach kevala—a state of elevated or blissful existence, comparable to Buddhist nirvana or Hindi moksha—by way of practicing nonviolence.

Jainism developed as a contemporary form of Buddhism, so it comes as no surprise that the two religions are laced with strong similarities. One of the most evident of these similarities is the way or path to achieving an elevated state of existence: the Three Jewels. However, the Three Jewels or Three Treasures of Buddhism are a place to seek refuge and safety, while the Three Jewels of Jainism are more of a prescription or a path to kevala. 

Key Takeaways: The Three Jewels

  • The Three Jewels of Jainism are Right Perception, Right Knowledge, and Right Conduct.
  • Right Perception is the process of facing and dispelling doubts about the reality of existence.
  • Right Knowledge is the process of learning about the elements of existence and how they function together.
  • Right Conduct is a collection of vows and discipline one undertakes on the path to spiritual liberation. 

The Jaina Trinity

In Jainism beliefs, the Three Jewels consist of Right Perception, Right Knowledge, and Right Conduct as a path to liberation or blissful existence. These three jewels, in this particular order, make up the Ratnatraya, the trinity. Right perception is coming to an understanding of the truth of reality, right knowledge is freeing oneself from doubts, and right conduct is the manner in which one lives to achieve kevala.

All three of these jewels are dependent on one another. They cannot function as pathways to kevala alone. They must be used collectively and interdependently. 

Samyak Darshana: Right Perception 

Samyak Darshana—Right Perception or Right Faith—is the foundational element on the path to kevala. Before committing to the path, Jains should question and seek to learn the reality of the world. The Jaina Right Perception is closely related to the Buddhist’s Right View as a part of the Eightfold Path. 

Ultimately, any doubts, concerns, or questions about existence will be answered by the teachings of the Tirthankara, the teachers or prophets of the path to kevala. Right Perception is necessary to move on to Right Knowledge because Right Knowledge cannot be acquired if one still holds doubts about the reality of the world and the path to kevala. If one doubts the teaching of the Tirthankara, one will not be able to fully grasp Right Knowledge. 

Samyak Jnana: Right Knowledge

Right Knowledge is the true and complete understanding of the elements of reality. It is a deep study of the components of reality—Six Universal Entities and Nine Tattvas—and how those elements interconnect and define existence. 

The Six Universal Entities include all living beings couple with five non-living entities:

  • Pudgal: Matter
  • Akas: Space
  • Dharmastikay: Medium of Motion
  • Adharmastikay: Medium of Rest
  • Kaal or Samay: Time

The Nine Tattvas or principles include:

  • Jiva: Living Matter
  • Ajiva: Non-Living Matter
  • Punya: Merit, good deeds
  • Papa: Sin, bad deeds
  • Asrava: Flow of karma
  • Samvara: Impediment of the flow of karma
  • Bandh: Bondage or darkness of the soul
  • Nirjara: Destruction of karma
  • Moksha/Kevala: Liberation of the soul from karma

Samyak Charitra: Right Conduct

After Right Perception and Right Knowledge have been actualized, the Jain can then move on to Right Conduct. This is a collection of specific vows, ethical codes, and discipline one participates in that leads to kevala.

For yatis, Jaina monastic members, Right Conduct includes taking the Five Great Vows of nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, celibacy, an non-possession or non-attachment. For sravaka, nonmonastic Jains, Right Conduct includes taking the Twelve Vows of Laity.

Three Jewels in Jaina Symbolism

The traditional symbol of Jainism was a collection of symbols presented together to represent different aspects of the universe. This included a raised hand to represent nonviolence, a four-armed Swastika above the hand, and three dots above the Swastika to represent the Three Jewels of Jainism.

In recent years, the Swastika, which originally represented cycles of birth and death and different categories of Jaina participation, has been removed as a result of the appropriation of the Swastika by the Nazi party and the devastation they caused during the Holocaust and World War II. The symbol has been replaced by an Om.

Sources 

  • Chapple, Christopher, and Mary Evelyn Tucker. Shinto | Religion | Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology, Yale University. 
  • Pecorino, Philip A. “Jainism.” Philosophy of Religion, Queensborough Community College, 2001.
  • Chapple, Christopher Key. Jainism and Ecology: Nonviolence in the Web of Life. International Society for Science and Religion, 2007.
  • Shah, Pradip, and Darshana Shah. Jain Philosophy and Practice I: Jaina Education Series. JAINA Education Committee, 2010.