meaning of life (Jainism)

April 21, 2015 · updated February 15, 2022

For Jains, the purpose of life is to attain moksa, or release, from the cycle of rebirth. There are five levels on the path of human development:

  • Sadhus (monks) and sadhvis (nuns)
  • Upadhyayas (teachers of the Jain scriptures)
  • Acharyas (spiritual leaders)
  • Siddhas (liberated souls)
  • Arihantas (liberated souls who have attained salvation; both Ordinary and Tirthankar)

Ordinary laypersons are householders. When householders decide to undertake the renounced life, they first must live with monks or nuns for a time. If, after learning more about religion and observing the renounced life, they still wish to undertake it, they take the five vows and become a sadhu or a sadhvi. In addition to keeping these vows carefully, Jain monks and nuns observe other special practices that set them apart.

Sadhus who have acquired special knowledge of Jain scriptures and philosophy, and teach the scriptures to others, are known as Upadhyayas.

Acharyas are special spiritual leaders. They have mastered the Jain scriptures, as well as several languages and a knowledge of various religions. Their lives exemplify spiritual excellence and they are able to lead a monastic community.

An Arihanta ("destroyer of enemies") is a person who has conquered all of his or her inner passions. They have shed all destructive karma and have become omniscient, omnipotent and completely without desires. Arihantas become Siddhas at death. Until then, they teach and help others. There are two categories of Arihantas, Ordinary and Tirthankara. Tirthankaras

Siddhas are liberated souls. They have escaped the cycle of rebirth, rid themselves of all karma, and are experiencing ultimate bliss in the highest level of heaven. Each Siddha is unique, but they are all equal and formless. Because they are completely detached from the world, they are unable to help others.