Article: The ‘Three Gems’

The ‘three gems’ or ‘three jewels’ – ratna-traya – is the metaphorical expression often used for the triplet of correct faith, correct knowledge and correct conduct. Together, these form the Jain doctrine and are necessary to reach liberation from the cycle of rebirths, which is the basic purpose of the Jain faith. This is the path taught by the Jinas.

Since the three gems are fundamental to the Jain faith, they are discussed in many Jain writings. Early references, such as the Tattvārtha-sūtra and Uttarādhyayana-sūtra, describe the group of three concepts in detail but do not refer to them as the ‘three gems’. Only in later texts does the term appear. Similar groups of three or four concepts are found in other religions, including Buddhism and Christianity, but there is no influence on the Jain triplet. Perhaps a group of related key concepts is easier to remember than separate principles.

The three jewels of right faith, right knowledge and right conduct can be defined as summaries of the Jain faith. Other principles and beliefs develop logically from the triplet, from which the various practices of Jainism arise. For example, samyag-darśana – right faith – is the first necessary condition of being a Jain because it entails fully accepting the Jain concept of the universe and reality. Only once an individual embraces right faith can he or she begin to make spiritual progress by accepting the other two gems and the principles and practices they imply.

This is why the three gems are always stated in this order and grouped together. The triplet helps Jains progress up the guṇa-sthāna – 14 stages of spiritual progression – towards salvation. Only when all three are perfectly realised does the soul reach the final stage and become liberated from the cycle of rebirth.

The ‘conventional’ and ‘absolute’ points of view in Jain thought distinguish between external ritual and inner self-realisation as ways of attaining liberation. Considered in this way, the three gems are conventional, since they form a means to an end.

The triplet is so fundamental to Jainism that it can be detected in all areas of religious practice. It can be seen in important symbols of the faith, such as the Jain flag and the svastika pattern frequently created as part of worship. The focus of a particular ritual among the sect of the Digambaras, it is accompanied by special mantras and hymns.

A ‘fourth gem’ makes its appearance early in Jain literature. Austeritytapas – destroys karma and is thus vital in achieving spiritual emancipation. A very significant principle in Jainism, austerity is often practised as fasting and is believed to be vital to spiritual progress. Even though it is not classed formally as the ‘fourth jewel’, it is therefore commonly included in the concept of the ratna-traya.

Fundamental triplet

Jains strive to reach liberation from the cycle of rebirth and the triplet of the ‘three gems’ guides them on the journey. As the basis of Jain doctrine, the idea of the three gems is found in many written sources. Several religions have the notion of a summary or key principles of a religious faith distilled into three or four items that are considered together.

The three gems of Jainism are:

The epithet samyak or samyag applied to each of the terms is usually translated as ‘correct’ or ‘right’. Both are acceptable. ‘Right’ probably looks a stronger term but it is not out of place, as mithyā, the opposite Indian term, means ‘wrong’.

These three concepts are vital for spiritual progression and are deeply intertwined with the principles and practices of the Jain faith.


A Jain emblem found on the gate of a temple in India. It is made of several key Jain symbols, such as the cosmic man, the siddha-śilā, the three gems, svastika and open hand.

Jain emblem on a temple
Image by Shreyans Bhansali © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The triplet of right faith, right knowledge and right conduct is at the basis of Jainism, paving the road to liberation from the cycle of rebirths. It is defined as such in the earliest Jain sources.

Well-known early examples of references to the three gems are:

Indeed, the whole of chapter 28 of the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra discusses ‘the road to final deliverance’ (Jacobi’s translation 1895: 152) and is one of the central sources on the topic. Interestingly, it includes ‘austerities’ – tapas – as a fourth element. This relates to the third gem, which is concerned with behaviour.

Undoubtedly the best-known reference to the three gems is the first sūtra in the Tattvārtha-sūtra. It states that:

Right faith, right knowledge and right conduct are the way to liberation

samyag-darśana-j̄ñāna-cāritrāṇi mokṣa-mārgaḥ

Tattvārtha-sūtra 1.1

This text is generally agreed among all sects to be the fundamental statement of Jain belief. The entire Tattvārtha-sūtra elaborates these three notions as the path to liberation.

In both these texts, however, there is no generic term to refer to the triplet and the term ‘three gems’ is not used. The historical development that led to this term needs further investigation.

One of the most famous references to and definitions of the ‘three gems’ – Sanskrit ratna-traya – is found at the outset of an important Śvetāmbara treatise written much later. The Yoga-śāstra, written by the 12th-century Jain monk and teacher Hemacandra, states that:

Liberation is the foremost among the four goals [of human objectives], the means of which is yoga. This [yoga, which also is designated] the three jewels, consists of [correct] knowledge, faith and conduct. Here [in this Jaina system], the wise define correct knowledge as the understanding, either in detail or in brief, of the [seven] principles as they really are. [To have] a liking for [these] principles, explained by the Jina, is the definition of true faith. That [faith] arises either spontaneously, or [indirectly] through the knowledge of [one’s] teacher. [Proper] conduct is defined as the abandonment of all blameworthy activities. That [proper conduct] has been described as fivefold because of the division into the vow of non-harm and so forth.

Yoga-śāstra 1.15-18
Qvarnström’s translation 2012: 26-27

This passage first refers to the general Hindu conception, which traditionally counts four ‘human objectives’ – puruṣārtha. They are:

  • religious conduct – dharma
  • material goals, such as earning money – artha
  • satisfaction of worldly desires and pleasures – kāma
  • liberation from the cycle of rebirthsmokṣa.

In the Jain context, liberation is the most important. The means to reach it is yoga, which here literally means ‘conjunction, combination’. The combination of the three Jain terms is known as the ‘three gems’ or ‘three jewels’ in common Jain parlance today.

Other religions

Similar ideas to the ‘three jewels’ can be found in other religious faiths as summaries of key principles or elements. For example, Buddhism uses ‘the three gems’ metaphorically to refer collectively to the:

But there is no connection with or influence from one tradition on the other in this usage.

Similarly, right belief, right knowledge and right conduct are sometimes equated with ‘the holy Trinity’ (Jaini 1923: 23) in Christianity when the author wants to underline that Jainism is not peculiar.


Becoming popular in the late 20th century, the Jain flag contains several holy symbols. While the colours represent the Jinas and the Five Supreme Beings, there are also the svastika, three jewels and the crescent holding a liberated soul.

Jain flag
Image by Jaume Ollé © CC BY-SA 3.0

The three jewels cover the central Jain principles.

Encompassing faith, knowledge and action, the concept embraces the different stages of progress towards liberation.

Each gem naturally leads to the next one, although the three elements are important at all spiritual levels.

Right faith

This crucial condition is the bedrock of being a member of the Jain faith. It requires that an individual accepts basic Jain beliefs, from which other principles flow. Samyag-darśana – ‘right faith’ – is defined as the:

firm conviction concerning the true nature of things

tattvārtha-śraddhānaṃ samyag-darśanam

Tattvārtha-sūtra, 1.2
translated by Folkert 1993: 115

This means recognising the existence of ‘that which is’ or ‘the fundamental verities’ (Sukhlalji 1974: 7 of the translation). These are the seven truths of Jainism – the tattvas – which are listed in the table.

Seven fundamental tattvas – truths – of Jainism






sentient souls



non-sentient or matter



influx of karma in the soul



bondage of karma with the soul



stopping the influx of karma



falling away of karma from the soul or cleansing off



liberation from the cycle of rebirth

To this list are sometimes added these two notions, which Wiley translated in 2004 (212) as:

Recognition of these realities is an act of faith and is a prerequisite for further spiritual progress. Until someone recognises these notions as truths, he or she is the prey of ‘wrong’ or ‘incorrect’ faith – mithyā-dr̥ṣṭi – or does not have right faith in its perfect form.

This may happen if the individual is subject to one of the possible transgressions – aticāras – of right faith. These are:

  • doubt – śaṅkā – about one of the truths or the whole system
  • desire or inclination towards other doctrineskāṅkṣā
  • hesitation ‘about the value of the results of various human activities’ (Williams 1963: 46) or feeling repelled by Jain asceticsvicikitsā
  • admiring other sectarian groups – para-pāṣaṇḍi-praśaṃsā
  • overtly praising other sectarian groupspara-pāṣaṇḍi-saṃstava.

Whatever beliefs or practices are addressed to false divinities, ascetics or scriptures amount to wrong faith.

Right knowledge

Plate 20 from the 1998 'Illustrated Śrī Nandī Sūtra' illustrates the four stages in 'perception knowledge' – abhinibodhika-jñāna or mati-jñāna. These lead gradually from a faint notion to a definite idea through reasoning.

Stages of knowledge
Image by Diwakar Prakashan / Padma Prakashan © Diwakar Prakashan / Padma Prakashan

Samyag-jñāna comes second in the triplet because it relates to the intellectual understanding of an object viewed in its details. Literally ‘correct knowledge’, it means grasping properly the fundamental truths. For instance, the individual first recognises that there are living beings and non-living beings. Appreciating that they are very different, the individual then knows what is what. In short, correct knowledge means properly understanding the Jain view of the world, in all its elements, including the Jain universecosmology – and Jain history as viewed by the tradition, which is known as Universal History.

‘Correct faith’ may or may not exist, but knowledge or cognition of one form or the other always exists in a soul (Sukhlalji 1974: 18). Knowledge is an innate quality of the soul, but it is obscured by karmas until an advanced stage of spirituality.

Jains believe there are five types of knowledge. This table, based on page 112 of Wiley 2004, summarises the types of knowledge – jñāna.

Types of knowledge – jñāna




Types of beings that have it



sensory knowledge, coming from the five senses and the mind

All living beings, even those that have only one sense, that of touch



verbal cognition, implying language in gestures or words, especially knowledge of ‘what has been heard’. This means the tradition as handed down by the Jinas or scriptural knowledge

Five-sensed beings with the ability to reason



extrasensory knowledge or clairvoyance

Beings that live in the heavens and hells are born with this but humans can gain it through specific practices



knowledge of other’s minds or telepathy

Human beings who are highly advanced spiritually



omniscience or knowledge of everything everywhere, whether it relates to the past, present or future


Right conduct

When Jains become mendicants, they swear to follow the 'Five Great Vows' – mahā-vratas: 1. non-violence – ahiṃsā 2. truth – satya 3. non-stealing – acaurya or asteya 4. celibacy – brahmacarya 5. non-attachment or non-possession – aparigraha.

‘Five Great Vows
Image by Shree Diwakar Prakashan © public domain

The final gem is samyak-cāritra. Once the essential truths are recognised and have been intellectually grasped, the time for action comes.

The notion of ‘right conduct’ relates to ethics and practice. It encompasses a large number of categories that define proper behaviour for Jain mendicants and lay people. Given the difference in their ways of life, it is to be expected that the prescriptions vary for these two groups.

Rules for mendicants

The table outlines the types of rules regulating the behaviour of mendicants.

Rules for right conduct for Jain mendicants

Vows – vratas

Precautions – samitis


five ‘great vows’ – mahā-vratas

Relating to precautions when:

  • walking – īryā-samiti
  • speaking – bhāṣā-samiti
  • accepting almseṣaṇā-samiti
  • taking and putting down the monastic equipment – ādāna-nikṣepa-samiti
  • excreting – utsarga-samiti

Relating to activity of:

  • mind – mano-gupti
  • speech – vāg-gupti
  • body – kāya-gupti

As well as taking five ‘absolute vows’, Jain mendicants should follow the precautions and protections. These two sets of rules are meant to reinforce self-control and, therefore, the mendicantlowers the risks of harming living beings. The rules thus contribute to non-violenceahiṃsā – which is the first, most important mahā-vrata. Primarily, respecting these prescriptions helps to prevent the influx of new karmasāsrava-nirodha or saṃvara – in the soul, which greatly aids spiritual progress. Related categories for mendicants are the:

Rules for lay people

The behaviour of lay Jains can also be regulated. Even though a ‘perfect lay Jain’ follows far fewer rules than a ‘perfect ascetic‘, the lay vows are challenging. The lay vows amount to 12 and comprise the:

Each of the vows is supplemented by the description of possible transgressions – aticāras.

Order of the three gems

When they define the triplet, Jain authors insist on a certain sequence of the terms, which obeys logic and rationality. The standard order of the ‘three gems’ follows a process of understanding and action.

This is clearly stated in the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra:

There is no (right) conduct without right belief, and it must be cultivated (for obtaining) right faith; righteousness and conduct originate together, or righteousness precedes (conduct). Without (right) faith there is no (right) knowledge, without (right) knowledge there is no virtuous conduct, without virtues there is no deliverance, and without deliverance there is no perfection

chapter 28, verse 29 to 30
translation by Hermann Jacobi, 1895: 156

Thus the first element of samyag-darśana – ‘right faith’ or ‘right perception’ – refers to the initial act of accepting the doctrine in general.

Right knowledge’ – samyag-jñāna – is the second stage, where the follower understands the details of the principles.

Right conduct’ – samyak-cāritra – comes last as it refers to whatever relates to practice and ethics. It presupposes knowledge of the principles. For instance, the knowledge of what life is and how many organisms it includes is necessary to observe the vow of non-violence in all its aspects.

Variations in the sequence may arise for metrical reasons if the list takes place in a verse, like the passage from the Yoga-śāstra quoted above. In this verse, Hemacandra uses the variant śraddhāna – ‘belief’ – instead of the standard term darśana.

Unity of the three gems

The 14 stages of the 'scale of perfection' – guṇa-sthāna – map the soul's progress towards final liberation. Lay people can reach the fifth stage of partial self-control – deśa-virata – but to advance further they must become mendicants.

Fourteen guṇa-sthānas
Image by Shree Diwakar Prakashan © public domain

The three gems can be thought of as summarising the steps towards liberation from the cycle of rebirths. The first gem is the vital first stage of the difficult spiritual path from total delusion towards self-realisation. The other two jewels constitute fundamental notions in later spiritual development. All stages of spirituality are defined in the guṇa-sthāna – 14 stages of spiritual progression.

Jains have always believed that spiritual development is completed in stages. Emancipation of the soul, which is the ultimate aim of Jainism, means destroying all the types of karmas that defile it. The karmas are hindrances to the attainment of omnisciencekevala-jñāna – and to the fulfilment of bliss. Karma is controlled and destroyed at successive levels of spirituality. There are no shortcuts to liberation, which lies at the end of an extremely long and challenging path. Even the Jinas travel this route, though they do it considerably quicker than other people. Because the three jewels together summarise the path, Jain teachers insist on the necessary association of the three gems.

Liberation is reached through the 14 stages of spiritual progression – the guṇa-sthāna. For instance, at the first and lowest stage, the soul is in a state of wrong perception or belief – mithyā-dr̥ṣṭi. The third stage – samyag-mithyātva – charts the journey between wrong belief and right belief. Right belief definitely comes in the fourth stage, called samyag-dr̥ṣṭi. The path to right knowledge and right conduct is traced in the rest of the 14 steps of the ‘scale of perfection’.

At the 13th stage, both belief – samyag-darśana – and knowledge – samyag-jñāna – are in their perfect form, yet this is not the stage of liberation because perfect conduct is not reached in the penultimate level. Perfect conduct is reached in the 14th stage, whereupon liberation – mokṣa – can take place. In this context, samyak-cāritra means both dispassion and total absence of activity (Sukhlalji 1974: 3).

The famous 20th-century Jain saint and philosopher Rājacandra expresses in the Gujarati-language Ātma-siddhiSelf-Realisation – the itinerary of someone aspiring to the realisation of the soul:

If such aspirants to soul-realisation get wise (guidance) of a True teacher, they acquire Right Belief [samakita, the Gujarati form of samyaktva = samyag-darśana], and lead a life of internal purification. He[,] who giving up bias for (one’s particular) school of thought and religion, follows the precept of the True Teacher, gets pure Right Belief. In it there is neither distinction nor party (or partisanship). (He) lives in the nature of one’s own self, believes in the experience (of one’s own realisation), is continuously attentive to one’s own inner nature – (such are the marks of one who has the) highest Right Belief. This Right Belief increasing, removes false belief. Then rises right conduct (cāritra), and the soul abides in or attains the dignity or status of non-attachment. Living in the perfect knowledge of the full nature of one’s self, this is called Perfect Knowledge (kevala-jñāna). (This is attained in human body and though) the body is retained, there is Liberation.

Ātma-siddhi, 109–113
translation by J. L. Jaini 1923: 88–91

The 18th-century Digambara mystical poet Dyānatrāy, on the other hand, explains how the triple gem itself is reached:

The auspicious gems
are god, scripture and guru.
They create the triple gem
of faith, knowledge and conduct.

Cort 2003: 289

Conventional and absolute viewpoints

The triplet is thus the means to reach liberation. In the tradition of thought that distinguishes a ‘conventional’ viewpoint and an ‘absolute’ viewpoint for each notion, it is restricted to a means.

The conventional viewpoint – vyavahāra-naya – stresses religious practices as a central part of spiritual practice whereas the absolute viewpoint – niścaya-naya – focuses on realising the soul directly, without rituals. The Digambara philosopher Kundakunda is the first to express this point clearly:

From the conventional viewpoint, conduct, faith and knowledge are indicated [as attributes] of the knower [= the soul]. But [from the absolute viewpoint] there is neither knowledge, nor conduct nor faith; the [soul as] knower is pure.

Samayasāra 1.7
translation by Nalini Balbir

A commentator on this verse explains it through a comparison. He says that fire is always one and the same, yet burning, cooking and shining are mentioned as its properties, in relation to different purposes or external factors. In the case of a complex reality such as the soul, the teacher distinguishes between its different characteristics in order to make the student understand what it is (Chakravarti 1971: 17).

Thus the triplet, consisting of three components, is an empirical conception – a ‘conventional’ view – while in the transcendental or ‘absolute’ conception, the soul is ultimately pure consciousness (Jainendra Siddhānta Kośa volume 3: 389 under ratnatraya).


Samayasāra of Śrī Kundakunda
translated by Appaswami Chakravarti
edited by A. N. Upadhye
Bhāratīya Jñānapītha Mūrtidevī Jaina granthamālā: English series; volume 1
Bhāratīya Jñānapīṭha; Banaras, Uttar Pradesh, India; 1971

Full details

Jains in the World: Religious Values and Ideology in India
John E. Cort
Oxford University Press USA; New York, USA; 2001

Full details

The Atma-Siddhi (or Self-Realisation) of Shrimad Rajchandra
Śrīmad Rājacandra
translated by Rai Bahadur J. L. Jaini
Shrimad Rajchandra Gyan Pracharak Trust; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1987

Full details

edited by Nemichandra Shastri
Jñānapīṭha-Mūrtidevī-Jaina-Granthamālā series; volume 19
Bhāratīya Jñānpīṭha; Kashi, Uttar Pradesh, India; 1956

Full details

Commentary on Tattvārtha Sūtra of Vācaka Umāsvāti
Pandit Sukhlalji
translated by K. K. Dixit
L. D. series; volume 44
L. D. Institute of Indology; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1974

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Jaina Yoga: A Survey of the Mediaeval Śrāvakācāras
Robert Williams
London Oriental series; volume XIV
Oxford University Press; London, UK; 1963

Full details

Historical Dictionary of Jainism
Kristi L. Wiley
Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements series; series editor Jon Woronoff; volume 53
Scarecrow Press; Maryland, USA; 2004

Full details


eLibrary Links

A Study of Tattvārtha-sūtra with Bhāṣya
Volume 86 of the L. D. Series is an attempt to assess the date of the Tattvārtha-sūtra using its treatment of some doctrinal themes and references to external data. It seems reasonable to locate it in the 5th century CE. The differences between Digambara and Śvetāmbara versions of the text are also discussed, as well as the status of the Bhāṣya and the question of knowing whether it has the same author as the sūtra itself.
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