CHAPTER – 10
THE LADDER OF JAIN SPIRITUAL JOURNEY
The Jain spiritual ladder is a steadily escalating voluntary effort towards the goal of the soul realizing its true and intrinsic nature of a pure spiritual eternal being.
It is a self-disciplining process of seeking liberation from karmic bondages that keep the soul tied to the cycle of birth and death through incarnations in different forms of life. It is a process of Sadhana - an intensely devotional pursuit with required degree of austerity (tapa), self-restraint (samyam) and will-power (ichha shakti) imbued with a spirit of rational enquiry and introspection and whole-hearted involvement with zeal and enthusiasm. Jain religion lays down 14 Gunasthanas (Stages) of step-by-step going up on the ladder to the required heights of spiritual awakening.
The 14 stages constitute a conceptually well-articulated roadmap for grasping and absorbing in an integrated manner in thought, conduct and practice the fundamental tenets of Jain philosophy. They also become the fountain source for designing and shaping a soul-centric, socially responsible as well as environment-friendly way of compassionate life style and culture during one’s life on earth.
The Jain Sadhana path mirrored in the 14 stages has given the look of too much austerity being identified with the Jain religion. However, the 14 stages also amply illustrate the pragmatic approach of practicing them within one’s capacity and environmental limitations and constraints particularly as lay persons need to co-exist with others in a society and community, and may have unavoidable family and social obligations and responsibilities. Also the austere path is not forced upon anyone, but is to be willingly taken up with a feeling of internal delight, serenity and abiding commitment.
The first five Gunasthanas are applicable to lay persons and can be proceeded with while leading normal family and social life. They are:
(1) MITHYA DRSTI - stage of spiritual ignorance, and starting point for spiritual awakening;
(2) SASADNA SAMYAK DRSTI – Transition stage with confusion between ignorance and rational perception;
(3) SAMYAK MITHYA DRSTI – stage of spiritual oscillation between false and rational perception- a wavering intermixture of error and truth;
(4) ASAMYAT SAMYAK DRSTI or AVIRATI – Beginning of spiritual understanding, but without the required degree of self-discipline and control;
(5) SAMYAT ASAMYAK DRSTI or DESA VIRATI – Stage for taking introductory vows (vratas), and getting set for the 11 step climb of PRATIMA ladder. The eleven Pratimas are as follows in order of ascent : Darsana (awakening), Vratas (taking vows), Samayika (Practising meditation), Posadha (practicing ascetic life for limited duration), Suchitta- Tyaga (food restraints), Ratribhakta (sexual restraint, and Bramhacharya (celibacy), Arambha tyag (leaving profession), Parigraha Tyag (leaving possessions), Anumati (detachment from family), and Uddista tyag (leaving family and entering ascetic life). The eleven Pratimas of a lay person’s spiritual progress is between the fourth and the sixth spiritual stages (Gunasthana).
<to be continued>