Here, knowledge means the knowledge of the Self, and why’s and how’s of what stains and purifies the Self. The process of preventing and eradication of Karma can be termed as conduct. Activities leading to the purification of Self is the conduct.
It is stated in one of the Jain Ägams, “ First knowledge and then conduct.” Also stated in a Jain Ägam is, “Conduct is first”. It is also mentioned, “Knowledge is first.” If all these are literally interpreted, one may feel that they are contradictory. In reality, there is no contradiction. The statements are simply meant to stress one or other aspect. The real message is that we cannot practice without knowing what is right and what is wrong. Whatever we practice, we must know the reasons, why we are practicing and how it should be practiced. Therefore, both, knowledge and conduct, are equally important.
Three quotations from various Jain Ägams (canonical books) provide the answer:
1. “Knowledge without action (conduct) is of no consequence and action (conduct) without knowledge is of no consequence. A lame man can see the fire (has knowledge) but he cannot escape from it (Thus his knowledge is ineffective.) On the other hand, a blind man (not knowing in which direction he is running) tries to run away from the fire (takes action) but (without knowledge) he may not be able to escape the fire.””
2. “ Unity of knowledge and action (conduct) leads to the desirable result. These are like two wheels of a chariot which cannot run on one wheel. Everybody knows the story of the lame and blind who got together, escaped the fire in the jungle and reached the town.”
3. “The fire of austerity (conduct) which is associated with the air (oxygen) of knowledge and which has the blaze of chastity, burns the seeds (Karma) that are responsible for worldly life like wildfire burning a heap of hay.”
The knowledge without conduct is like the trunk of a tree without leaves, flowers and fruits. The conduct without knowledge is like leaves, flowers and fruits without the trunk.
It is an equation like K x c, where k = knowledge and c = Conduct. If one of these two is zero, the total value is zero.
Both, knowledge and conduct, enhance each other. Jainism believes that right perception (faith), right knowledge and right conduct liberate the soul. We need to resort to all the three to get liberated. Knowledge and conduct are like two sides of a coin. Faith is like the metal of the coin. In reality, the knowledge and conduct should become one so that knowledge becomes conduct and conduct becomes knowledge.