The Concept of Divinity in Jainism

Posted: 10.10.2010
Updated on: 30.07.2015

International Conference


Jainism Through the Ages

A Historical Perspective

8th, 9th & 10th October 2010

Mysore, India

The Concept of Divinity in Jainism

‘Religion is expression of divinity in man’

Jainism represents sraman current of thought in Indian tradition. It is an independent philosophy, a rational religion and an ethical system par excellence. It does not believe in creator God and yet this religion has well developed cult, a rich ritual system and marvelous temples. The Jain devotee worships the Jaina image paying homage to Tirthankaras. Here it can be queried whether it is an atheistic system or not. At the very outset it must be mentioned that “the atheism of the Jain means denial of a divine creative spirit”[1] Jainas do not attribute actorship to God. They however worship Tirthankaras- the ford makers, the enlightened souls besides other minor deities. God of Jainism is a spiritual Being. Godhood means the attainment of purity and perfection inherent in every soul. Thus Jainism may be termed as ‘transtheistic. ’

It has been a rightly observed that divinity is the principle common to all souls though not fully developed “The divine character inherent in all beings is called God[.2] Jainism is polytheistic and denies a creative function of God. There is no difference between Ataman and Paramatman essentially. The divinity that dwells in liberation is essentially the same in both. Jainism believes in godhead, though not in one single God. There is no provision for creator God. The universe with all its substances, conscious and unconscious is governed by the laws of Nature Jainism has its own unique concept of divinity which needs to be appreciated God according to Jaina philosophy is the supreme soul The soul who is omniscient, free from all defilements and preaches reality as it is, is called God.. Faith in the purity of soul is the heart of Jainism”.[3]It is the foundation of religiousness in Jainism The pure and perfect soul is worshipped as God. I intend to reinterpret Jain atheism. The paper highlights the Jain concepts of divinity and its different aspects. The focus is on the concept of consciousness, which is implicit in the Jain view of divinity.

Aspects of divinity can be explained under the following heads.

  1. Arihantas-Tirthankaras
  2. Demi Gods, Yaksa and Yaksis and other goddesses.
  3. Paramatman-The pure and perfect soul as God Siddha

Jainas worship Tirthankars -the ford makers besides, other minor deities. Jaina hymns are popularly known as stotras written in praise of Tirthankars or deities, whose images are usually found in the Jain iconographic art, Jain devotionalism is directed towards invocations to deities. The stotra literature gives glimpses into the Jain pantheon, which had developed at the end of 5th century A. D.

The Yaksa and Yaksinis the attendants of 24 Tirthankars constituting a class of divine beings called Sasan Devatas - the guardian deities were given a venerated position next to Tirthankars in the Jain Pantheon. Gradually, their position was elevated and most of them even attained the status of independent deities called demi-gods. Various temples are also erected to worship them.

The word ‘god’ requires some clarification here. Jains believe that the Arihantas and the Tirthankaras-Siddhas are the highest forms of divine gods. However there are other gods and goddesses which are sometimes called devas and devis respectively. Devas and devis are beings who live in on different astral planes. These are regarded as much lower forms than the Tirthankaras and the Arihantas. Some times a common word ‘god’ is used to describe Tirthankaras and those devas. Jains worship idols of Jinas who are adored as supreme souls. They have also started worshipping other deities, Such as yaksa yaksinis who are the devotees of Jin.

Jain scriptures contain details of the universe and various types of living beings. There are four main categories of living beings: Hellish beings, animals, humans, and Demi-gods or Devas. One is born in to all sorts of existence. After following the three fold right path of liberation one achieves moksa.

There are, it is said, four types of Devas. Bhavanpati, Vyantar, Jyotiska and Vaimanika. The four classes of gods are: mansion-dwelling, forest, luminous and empyrean.[4] References to these gods are found in Jain devotional literature.[5] The images of deities are found in Jaina iconographic art. Besides this there are large number of Kuldevis, Vidyadevis like Sarasvati etc, Yaksa and Yaksinis attendants of 24 Thirthankaras. There are numerous Jaina temples in which images of gods and goddesses could be found along with yaksa and yaksinis. Sasan devas and devtas always serve 24 Tirthankaras and they are Samyak drushti i.E. they are pure soul. They help spiritual aspirant and devotees of Jinas.

The twenty-four Yaksas are associated with twenty-four Tirthankaras. Each yaksa is the attendant deity of Tirthankara and there is female yakisni on the left side of the Jina idol. For example: For twenty- third Tirthankara Parsva yaksa and Padmavati yaksini.

The concept of Arihant and Siddha, taksa, yaksini, demi gods etc. need to be understood.

Jains are clear about the concept of divinity and the words like Tirthankaras and Arihantas are used for the highest form of souls. The other gods are also worshipped because they are believed to help ordinary humans with their extra ordinary power. In Jain stotra literature we find praise of Tirthankars and also the names of certain Demi-gods and demi-godesses called Sasan Devatas, yaksa and yaksini.

Now, Jainism does not acknowledge existence of God as a Creator and administrator. God is not the first cause or the architect of the universe as things of the world are eternal Therefore; there is no necessity of any cause for bringing them in to existence. Jainas are antitheists in this sense. The assumption of God as a creator, according to Jainism, is ontologically irrelevant and logically inconsistent. The universe is beginning less and it is eternal. Hence, any conception of God as creator is unnecessary. It might, however, be added here that the kind of religiousness of Jainas is essentially different from the conception of divinity found in theistic religious systems of world. Jainism does not deny the existence of Paramatman, the highest state of soul which is the state of divinity, the supreme soul.

The outstanding characteristic of the concept of God is omniscience it represents. Jainism subscribes to the view that omniscience is possible when soul’s perfection is achieved. It must be noted that the concept of divinity is manifested in the state of perfect soul, the state of pure consciousness.

The concept of Arihant and Siddh as divine beings need to be emphasized.

The very first line of Jain prayer is Namo Arihantanam - obeisance to Arihantas - embodied perfect beings-who are devoid of destructive karmas. Then the Siddhas are saluted who are devoid of eight karmas. Arihanta and Siddha are the supreme object of devotion. They represent Deva or Divine Being. Arihantas are liberated while alive while the Siddhas enjoy disembodied liberation. Both of them have actualized divinity potential in themselves. They are hence, supreme objects of devotion. It is clear that devotion to jina implies that Jainas believe in adoration of virtues, not person. There are two kinds of Arihantas.

  1. Tirthankara
  2. Non-Tirathakara         

Tirthankara preach and propagate religious doctrines in order to guide the mundane soul and his sermons are worded by gandharas - while those Arihantas who are not Tirthankaras are not the Propounder of religion however, they are omniscient.

In Jaina Texts, Arihanta and Siddha are called ‘God’. Yet as neither Arihanta nor Siddha are creators or destroyers of the world. The spiritual aspirant receives no favours from them. They are however worshipped as they possess certain qualities. The aspirant pray to them worship them and meditate on them. They are rather ideals and provide inspiration to common souls. Jinbimpratistha-idol installation is one of the Jain rituals.

Here God means any soul, which is, free from attachments and aversions and is omniscient.

Arihanta is absolutely dispassionate - beyond attachment and aversion. Arihanta is Jina-spiritually victorious soul. Siddhas are the beings free from all karmas the highest form of souls.

The main images in temples are those of the Tirthankaras. There are other Gods and Goddesses. The other Gods are worshipped because they are believed to help ordinary humans with their magical powers. These Gods are

  1. Gods living in different parts of the universe.
  2. Gods and Goddesses who are called attendant deities.

Although Jainism does not admit God as the world creator, it does admit a perfect human being who is omniscient, Paramatman is revealed, giving supreme bliss to saints who are established in equanimity. It is called God Every soul through self-exertion and spiritual development can attain godhood. Thus there are many gods in Jainism is characterized as polytheism.

Metaphysically, Jainism is realistic pluralism. Its first principle is that the universe is a system by itself, governed by laws inherent in its very constitution. In this connection, it has been rightly observed that “Jainism is not a theistic system in the sense of belief in the existence of God as the creator and Ruler of the universe and still the highest being in the Jaina view is a person and not impersonal quality less being”[6]

In the worldly cycle of birth’ and death based on the force of Karmas, there can be no place for the creatorship of God. Further, Jainism contends that a man can achieve freedom from karmas by his own efforts and attain perfection. Jainism believes in Rebirth and liberation. If by atheism is meant an unbelief in life beyond, then a Jaina is not an atheist. The term ‘God’ has highest spiritual significance in Jain philosophy. Thus, “Jainism has no quarter for a creative God, accommodating at the same time the concept of Godhead”.[7]


Soul and God and consciousness:

The concept of god is essentially related to the concept of soul in Jainism. Soul has been described in Jain scripture in grand terms. It is the repository of excellent characteristics, It is the supreme substance among the substances and the superb spiritual principle among principles. Soul is that which knows thinks and feels. Jainism believes in independent existence of soul. According to Jainism, ontologically, there are six eternal substances. A substance is that which has origin destruction and permanence. “That is, substance is permanent, though it undergoes changes. The continuity of the substance in all its modifications is a fact, which is emphasized here by the Jaina philosophers. Soul is an eternal spiritual substance. Consciousness is its essential quality “[8] Jainism is very explicit on this point.

According to Acharya Kundakunda “self is an eternal substance which possesses pure knowledge and pure perception”.[9] Pure soul possesses infinite knowledge, infinite bliss and perception. Pujyapada has pointed out, “Divinity is the natural attribute of the soul”.[10] Human being by destruction of all karmas i. e - the soul being released from all connections with matter regains its pure state and becomes divine - parmatman. The soul is this state experience bliss which is unique and interminable.[11]

The road to ‘Godhood” Paramatman or divinity consists in making efforts. When impurities of self are removed, pure manifestation of consciousness is possible. All souls wandering in the world are in bondage due to karma-impurities. Soul in its natural state free from Karmas is Pure soul and that state of soul is godhood. Thus Godhood is the natural state of soul which is not revealed when soul is covered by Karmas. When soul realizes Its real nature, It becomes Perfect and that is God- God is none other than soul. It is interesting to note that, thus soul is not a part of God, It does not dissolve into God after liberation but it becomes God.

The journey from Internal self to the transcendental self is reached through the medium of moral and spiritual disciplines. Jainism subscribes to the view that the soul and God are essentially the same. Soul has to be evolved into Paramatman by progressive realization. The spiritual aspirant can attain enlightenment by observing spiritual disciplines. Obviously; the Jain conception is ‘The Atman is really Paramatman’ [12] to be more precise, soul is divine inherently. This innate divinity is obscured by karmic particles and hence the divinity is dimmed but not destroyed because, the essence is indestructible. [13]

From the Jaina point of view substance remains the same though changes. That is, change is compatible with identity. Jainism believes in relation of Identity in difference. The conception of supreme soul is metaphysical possibility and is spiritually significant.




  1. Thus in Jain tradition, there is rejection of theism in the sense that no creator God is there.
  2. At the same time, the Jainas believe in the theory of inherent divinity of self. Divinity consists in self perfection. Soul has to be evolved into Paramatman by progressive realization.

In brief, ‘God is the symbol of all that is morally excellent, he is not the creator or the preserver or the destroyer. He is not in any sense responsible for the destiny of the universe or the individual. Nor is he capable of bestowing grace upon the devotee’. In this connection the Jaina philosophers have made a distinction between the states of the soul, which is significant.

Bahiratman - external soul It consists in the identification of soul with body and external things.

Antaratman - internal self - when inwardization takes place - there is freedom for the sense of otherness- self has discriminative knowledge. That is, knowledge of the distinction between soul and body.

Parmatman - the pure and perfect self which is free from all the impurities of karmas It is pure consciousness which is God. Thus we have not to seek God there in the world outside, nor is God to be found in the ‘dark corner of a temple’-soul the spirit itself is God, the Perfect soul.

The Jains recognize divinity in Man and Godhood for them is the attainment of purity and perfection inherent in every soul. A couple of observations about Jain view are remarkable.

  1. Idea of God as a creator is logically illegitimate.
  2. Jain atheism makes moral life and religious experience quite meaningful. The soul alone is responsible for all that, it does.

Incidentally, it may not be out of place to mention Jain belief in other Gods and Goddesses - the attendant deities of Tirthankaras who are believed to help ordinary humans with their power. These demi-Gods provide protection to humankind. Besides there are Goddesses of wisdom, knowledge etc. and guardian deities like Cakresvari, Padmavati etc. There are Gods in heaven and Gods in hell. There is also mention of some Indras. They are kings and the gods of the different heavens. The deities are meant for fulfillment of material desires. They can be called popular Gods. Tirthankaras are the Gods completely free from attachment and aversion so they will not favour any one. They are the Pure souls residing in ultimate bliss. They are not to grant any wishes or fulfill desires. Perhaps Later on the cult of worshiping other gods and Goddesses had begun within the Jain faith.

To sum up, Jain Concept of soul and God has far reaching implications. It needs to be noted that philosophy of the Jainas is not essentially founded on any particular writing or external revelation but on the unfoldment of spiritual consciousness which is the birth right of every soul.

Jain view of divinity has certain elements of mysticism. It is spiritualism per excellence as consciousness is primary reality. It can be related to contemporary findings about consciousness. I would like to conclude by offering “Salutations to souls supreme”.

Share this page on: