The Tattvartha Sutra is among the most ancient texts of Jainism and one of the foundational texts of the entire Jainist faith. It goes by another, somewhat telling name of the Moksha-shastra, which roughly translates to “scripture describing the path of liberation”.
An early authority on the faith and practices of Jainism, the text considers of exactly 350 sutras (an extended string of related aphorisms or sometimes even a single aphorism) across 10 chapters that was intended by the author, the acharya (a revered leader among Jainist ascetics) Umaswati, a pivotal figure in Jainism. Exactly when the book was written is a matter of conjecture, with speculation ranging from the 2nd century CE to the 5th century CE.
The text is written in Sanskrit and begins with a graceful invocation of higher powers. The theological underpinnings of the text begin with the seven categories of truth inside Jainist faith. A number of these seven categories of truth involve the idea of “karmic particles” which is something of an extremely crude translation of a Jainist idea focusing of a supernatural sort of physical substance that permeates the universe and is drawn to human souls when a human soul sins.
The soul in Jainism is seen as pure (indeed, the first of the seven categories of truth is the simple statement that souls exist), while karma is seen as an impurity in the soul and “karmic particles” are seen as uncountable motes of soul taint that drag the soul back in to the material world after death against its will.
In the seventh chapter of the book, Acharya Umaswati presents the Jaina. vows that encapsulate the core of the Jainist ethical system. While like all core concepts of any religion’s ethical systems the exact particulars of these ethics are complex and heavily debated, they do form an ideal that faithful followers of Jainism are expected to adhere to. Avoiding violence, theft, carnality, possessiveness and deception are all core concepts inside Jainist ethics, though different viewpoints of the specifics have been argued for centuries.
The final chapters discuss the nature of karma and rebirth and how one affects the other, as well as how a person’s actions in life change their karma and thus the nature of their rebirths. The tenth and last chapter describes the state of liberation from the endless cycle of rebirth, with the end goal of faith and adherence to Jainism leading towards souls reaching the end of the universe.
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