It is impossible for a new born baby to have the knowledge, skills and capability of a brain surgeon. However, the child can go through a series of educational steps starting from the kindergarten and applying himself / herself to become an expert in its chosen field. Similarly, Jainism acknowledges that the soul advances to its liberated stage in various steps, called Gunasthan or “The Stages of Spiritual Development”. Jain literature describes these states in detail. Through these fourteen stages of development, the soul gradually frees itself, firstly from the worst, then from the less bad and finally from all kinds of karma, and manifests the innate qualities of knowledge, belief and conduct in a more and more perfect form. Following are the stages of spiritual development which provides a brief summary on the various status of soul in its journey to spiritual advancement.
AWAKENING - DEVELOPING RIGHT VIEW
1. MITHYADRISTI: The stage of wrong believer, the lowest stage with ignorance, delusion, and with intense attachments and aversions. This is the normal condition of all souls involved in the mundane world and is the starting point of spiritual evolution.
2. SASVADANA SAMYAGDRSTI: The stage of one who has a slight taste of right belief, Indifference to reality with occasional vague memory of spiritual insight.
3. MISRADRSTI: The stage of mixed belief. Fleeting moments of curiosity towards understanding reality.
4. AVIRATA SAMYAGDRSTI: The stage of one who has true belief but has not yet self discipline. Awareness of reality with trust developed in the right view, combined with willingness to practice self-discipline. The soul may be able to subdue the four passions namely anger, pride, deceit and greed.
DEVELOPING RIGHT VIEW AND DISCIPLINE
5. DESAVIRATA: The stage of partial self control. The soul now begins to observe some of the rules of right conduct with a view to perfect itself. With the discipline of introductory or minor vows, the soul starts on the process of climbing spiritual ladder.
6. PRAMATTA SAMYATA: The stage of complete self discipline, although sometimes brought into wavering through negligence. Major vows taken up with firm resolve to control passions. There may be failures due to lack of full control over passions and carelessness.
DEVELOPING SELF DISCIPLINE AND KNOWLEDGE
7. APRAMATTA SAMYATA: The stage of self control without negligence. Intense practice of vows assisted in better self-control and virtually replaced carelessness with spiritual vigilance and vigor.
8. NIVRTTI BADRA SAMPARAYA: The stage of one in whom the passions are still occurring in a gross form. Closer to perfect self-control over actions, higher control over mind, thought and passions with the soul ready for reduction of the effects of conduct-deluding karma.
9. ANNIVRTTI BADARA SAMPARAYA: The stage of one who practices the process called anivratti karana and in whom however the passions are still occurring. Higher control over removal of passions and elimination of conduct-deluding karma begins.
10. SUKSAMA SAMPARAYA: The stage of one in whom the passions occur in a subtle form. Complete elimination of all passions except for subtle degree of attachment.
GAINING ABSOLUTE KNOWLEDGE AND BLISS
11. UPASANA KASAYA VITARAGA CHADMASTA: The stage of one who has suppressed every passion but still does not possess omniscience. Suppressed passions and lingering conduct-deluding karma may rise to drag the soul to lower stages; fleeting experiences of equanimity.
12. KSINA KASAY VITARAGA CHADMASTA: The stage of who has annihilated every passion but does not yet possesses omniscience. This is the point of no return. All passions as well as conduct-deluding karma are eliminated. Permanent internal peace achieved. No new bondage from this point onwards.
13. SAYOGI KEVALI: The stage of omniscience with activity. All Destructive karma eliminated. Omniscience achieved and Arihant stage reached. However the perfected soul is still trapped in the physical body (with right knowledge attained).
14. AYOGI KEVALI: The stage of omniscience without any activity. Siddha stage reached. Purest soul associated with no physical body. Now the soul is called SIDDHA and it is free from the cycle of rebirths.
The first four Gunasthan are related to belief or rationality in perception. As and when the soul acquires rationality in perception it moves on to 4th Gunasthan. Stages 5 to 14 relate to conduct. The purity in conduct determines the Gunasthan from 5th stage onwards. Those who have taken the Anuvratas (minor vows) may reach up to the 5th Gunasthan. The 6th to 14th Gunasthan can only be attained by those who have taken the Mahavratas (Major Vows) of Jain ascetic.