Shri Tattvärtha Sutra by Vächak Umäsväti (Umäswämi)



The central theme of Shri Tattvärtha Sutra is consisted: 1) non-violence (ahimsä) which strengthens autonomy of life everywhere, 2) non-absolutism (anekäntväd) which strengthens autonomy of thoughts & speech and 3) non-possessiveness (aparigraha) which strengthens autonomy of interdependence. These three realistic principles strengthen our belief that every living being has a

right of self-existence and these translate into three practices: 1) you’ll not kill, 2) you will not trample others thoughts and 3) you will not trample nature. If everyone adopts these three ideas then there will be: 1) no acts of war, 2) no economic exploitation and 3) no environmental & ecological destruction.

Most of the sacred literature of the Jains is written in Ardha-Mägadhi language.  This was the public language in those days.  However, the times changed.  Sanskrit became the royal and elite language.  The Jain scholars too started writing their religious and other texts in Sanskrit.  Tattvärtha Sutra is the first such Jain text in terse aphoristic form.  It has two more names: Tattvärtha Adhigama sutra (manual for knowledge of true nature of things or realities) and Moksha Shästra (tenets of salvation).  However, it is popularly known as the Tattvärtha Sutra.


The name Tattvärtha Sutra consists of three Sanskrit words: Tattva (true nature), Artha (things or realities) and sutra (aphorisms of few words).  It may, therefore, be called "Aphoristic Text on the true nature of realities” This indicates the contents of the text.


There is no definite information about when this text was composed.  However, it is agreed that it must have been composed during the age of elegant aphorisms.  The early Christian centuries have almost every philosophical or religious system in the east putting their tenets in short and sweet forms.  Brahm-sutra, Yoga‑sutra, Vaisheshika sutra, Nyäya-sutra etc, represent aphoristic texts of different systems.  Tattvärtha Sutra represents aphoristic text of Jain system.  It must have been composed during 200‑400 AD.


Ächärya Shri Umäsväti’s creation of Tattvärtha Sutra is the greatest gift to Jains and is accepted by all Jain traditions.


Not much is known about the details of his life.  He was born in a Brahmin family, in the village Nayogradhika.  His father was Swati and his mother was Vasti.


He renounced the world under Ächärya Goshnandi.  According to the inscriptions found by the archeologists, he is said to be from either the early second century AD. or late first century AD.


He is said to have been very learned in various Hindu, Vedic and Buddhist philosophies along with extensive knowledge of geography, astronomy, philosophy of soul and life etc.


Historians called him the most knowledgeable in the language of Sanskrit, Jain scholars recognized him to be the first one to write in Sanskrit.

Tattvärtha sutra as described below is the most complete assembly of Jain scriptures and understandably acceptable to all sectors of Jains.


There is a story about the origin of Tattvärtha sutra:


There was a learned scholar of the scriptures named Siddhaya, he once wrote one a piece of paper "faith, knowledge and conduct is the path to Moksha" and left his house for some reason.  By chance that day Ächärya Shri Umäsväti took Ähär (alms) at his house and happened to see that written statement by the scholar Siddhaya and added the word "right" in the beginning of his statement to read "right faith, knowledge, conduct is the path to Moksha".  When Siddhaya returned home he asked his mother who wrote this word before his sentence.  After learning about Umäsväti from his mother, he went to the Ächärya and asked about Moksha and ways to attain it.  The answers to his questions, is the basis for creation of Tattvärtha Sutra.


This text has two versions containing 344‑357 aphorisms.  The text contents are related with the major theoretical and practical aspects of Jain system.  It is a small text but it describes Jainism excellently.  It represents an epitome of Jainism.


This book has ten chapters of uneven length. The subject content is not new.  However, it has brought together all the earlier scattered material for the first time in a structured system.  It consists of all the necessary fundamentals of Jainism.  It describes about the realities in the world and their true nature.  Its contents are as appropriate as its name.


The Jain principles have been described here both spiritually and scientifically.  It mentions that the object of a successful life is to attain ultimate, permanent inner happiness or salvation.  It cannot be fulfilled until we have a three‑fold-coordinated path of right faith, right knowledge and right conduct.  The path cannot be followed until we have the right knowledge about the realities of the world.  The right knowledge could be obtained either by self-intuition or it could be obtained through listening, reading and analyzing the scriptures with the help of the enlightened souls and spiritual teachers.  It is necessary that the knowledge be very right.  The criteria could be satisfied only when one critically evaluates our information through different organs of knowledge and viewpoints.  This is the same process we apply even today to get useful knowledge.


The text not only describes the methods of obtaining knowledge about the outer world, but it also describes how to attain knowledge about the inner world.  This requires purification of the body, the mind and the speech through austerities and meditation.  During the elaboration, it points out the details of seven types of verbal and non‑verbal viewpoints and the theory of manifold predications.  These are the basics for obtaining the right knowledge.  With the right knowledge comes the right faith.  With right faith and right knowledge to start with, the right conduct follows.


Umäsväti must be given credit to arrange these elements in proper order with respect to the process involved and the principles of human psychology.  The earlier literature shows the numerical and ordinal variations.  Umäsväti, thus, systematized the Jain system with a logical sequence.


There are infinite number of living beings in this universe and every living being wants to be happy. However, everyone’s approach to attain happiness is not the same. Majority depend on material things to be happy. They try to satisfy their desires by external means. Their happiness is Parädhin (dependent on external means). This type is a temporary happiness which is followed by unhappiness and more desires. This involves self-efforts (purushärtha) to earn (artha) to satisfy the desires (kämanä). Our great ächäryas have labeled these type of living beings as less developed. Then there are some who depend on spiritual approaches (internal means) to be happy. These approaches are self-dependent (Svädhin) and it i

nvolves self-efforts to practice dharma to attain everlasting happiness (Moksha). These living beings are called more developed living beings

Therefore, the subject of this canonical book is everlasting happiness (Moksha) and in first Sutra (aphorism) of the first chapter – three essential components to attain everlasting happiness (Moksha) are introduced.


The first aphorism of first chapter is "Samyag Darshan Jnän Chäriträni Moksha Märgah".  This is the nutshell of Jainism in some respect.  It means that right faith, right knowledge, and right conduct collectively only are the path to liberation (Moksha).  The next three verses mention the seven elements.  Rest of the first chapter deals with the process of cognition and details about different types of knowledge.  The details about right conduct are included in chapters eight and nine.


The Second, third and fourth chapters deal with the Soul (Jiv)


The Fifth chapter deals with the Non‑soul (Ajiv).


The Sixth, seventh and eighth chapters deal with the various types of karmas and their manifestations and the inflow and the bondage of the karmas. (Bandha and Äsrava)


Ninth chapter describes the stoppage and shedding off the karmas.  (Samvar and Nirjarä)


Tenth chapter is about the complete liberation of the soul or the Moksha.  (Moksha)