Six Universal Substances (Dravyas)

The Jain Tattvas

The Eight Tattvas according to Jainism

Complied by Pravin K. Shah

Structural View Of The Universe

Jain Philosophy does not give credence to the theory that the God is a creator, survivor, or destroyer of the universe. On the contrary, it asserts that the universe has always existed and will always exist in exact adherence to the laws of the cosmos. There is nothing but infinity both in the past and in the future.

The world of reality or universe consists of two classes of objects:

  • Living beings (conscious, chetan, jiva) and Non-living objects (unconscious, achetan, ajiva)
  • Non-living objects are further classified into five categories matter (Pudgal) space (Akas) medium of motion (Dharmastikay) medium of rest (Adharmastikay) time (Kaal or Samay)

The five nonliving entities together with the living beings, totaling six are aspects of reality in Jainism. They are also known as six universal entities, substances or dravyas. These six entities of the universe however do undergo countless changes, but nothing is lost or destroyed. Everything is recycled in another form.

The Concept of Reality or Entity or Substance (Dravya)

A reality is defined to have an existence (Sat). Each reality or entity continuously undergoes countless changes known as origination and destruction. This is known as Paryaya of a substance. In the midst of changes its qualities remain unchanged which is called permanence. This is also known as Gunas of the substance. Hence every entity (substance or object) in the universe has three aspects:

  • Origination - Utpada (continuous changes)
  • Destruction - Vyaya (continuous changes)
  • Permanence - Dhrauvya (permanent)

Both attributes (Gunas) and modes (Paryayas) are inseparable from an entity. The same principle can be explained differently as follows:

  • An entity is permanent (nitya) from the stand point of its attributes or qualities (Guna). This is known as substancial stand point (dravyarthik naya).
  • An entity is transient (anitya) from the stand point of its forms or modifications (Paryaya). This is known as modal stand point (Paryayarthik Naya).

A natural description of reality takes into consideration these three aspects:

  • permanence in the midst of change -
  • identity in the midst of diversity -
  • unity in the midst of multiplicity

The modifications that an entity undergoes refer to the various shapes and forms into which a substance is transformed, either naturally or artificially.


  • A living being through the process of growth, undergoes various changes, such as childhood, youth, and old age. These changes are the natural modifications of the living being.
  • Childhood, youth, and old age are transient forms (Paryaya) of a living being. The soul of a living being is permanent (Dravya).
  • Clay is molded by a potter into various shapes. Gold is crafted by a goldsmith into various ornaments. These changes are artificial modifications of the nonliving being.
  • ornaments and clay shapes are transient (paryaya) - gold and clay are permanent (dravya)

While undergoing various modifications, either natural or artificial, the basic substance remains unchanged and is permanent, while the forms change and are transient.

The six universal substances

As explained above Jainism believes that the universe is made from the combination of the six universal substances. All of the six substances are indestructible, imperishable, immortal, eternal and continuously go through countless changes.

  • Soul/Consciousness: Jiva (Living being) Matter - Pudgala (Nonliving being) Medium of motion - Dharma (Nonliving being) Medium of rest - Adharma (Nonliving being) Space - Akasa (Nonliving being) Time - Kaal (Nonliving being)
  • Soul (Jiva): Its essential characteristic is consciousness. This is the only knowing substance. It possesses perfect knowledge, perfect vision, perfect power, and perfect bliss. It also possesses the property of contraction and expansion like that of light. They are of innumerable numbers. Living being can not be created or can not be destroyed. The total number of living beings remain same in the entire universe at all the time.

Two types of Souls (Living beings)

Free (Mukta) Soul - Free soul is defined as a pure consciousness, a soul that has completely exhausted all of its karma. It is a liberated soul. It is also known as Siddha. All siddhas are defined as Gods in Jainism. Liberated souls or Gods do not possess a body. They possess perfect knowledge, vision, power, and bliss.They live in Moksha, which is located on the top of Lokakas.They never return again into the cycle of life, death, pain, and pleasure.There are an innumerable number of liberated souls.All Tirthankaras and other Keval-jnanis become siddhas at the end of their life (death).

Worldly (Samsari) Soul - It possesses a body (plants, naraki, tiryanch, human, or angel) and wanders into the cycle of life and death. It is covered with karma particles. It possesses limited knowledge, vision, power, and bliss. It suffers from birth, death, pain, and pleasure. There are a innumerable number of worldly souls. It is the doer of all kinds of karmas (actions), and enjoyer of the fruit of the karmas. It is capable of becoming free from worldly life. Worldly souls are divided according to the number of senses they possess.

Five Types of Worldly Souls

There are total five senses a living being may possess. touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing.

One sense (Ekendria) - possesses one sense - touch only - it cannot move own its own accord - they are subdivided into five categories. Soul possesses earth as its body - Prithvikaya Soul possesses water as its body - Apakaya Soul possesses fire as its body - Agnikaya Soul possesses air as its body - Vayukaya Soul possesses vegetable as its body - Vanaspatikaya

Two senses (Be-indriya) - A living being possesses two senses - touch and taste ex. worms, leeches.

Three senses (Tre-indriya) - A living being possesses three senses - touch, taste, and smell ex. ants, lice.

Four senses (Chau-indriya) - A living being possesses four senses - touch, taste, smell, and sight ex. flies, bees.

Five senses (Panch-indriya) - A living being possesses five senses - touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing ex. animals, birds, human, heavenly, and hellish beings, etc.

A soul with one to four senses does not a possess mind. A soul with five senses may possess a mind.

Matter (Pudgala)

It is matter or body. It has senses (touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing). They are of infinite number It possesses color It does not have consciousness or knowledge. The smallest particle of matter is known as Parmanu (atom). A paramanu occupies only one pradesa (unit of space)

Four divisions of matter

  • Skandha (whole-matter): Any object which has a mass of matter can be called skandha. ex. stick, stone, knife, a particle of sand
  • Skandha-desa (portion of matter): Desa means a part, portion, or division. An undetached portion of skandha is called skandha-desa When a part of the skandha (skandha-desa) is separated from the whole, it also becomes another skandha. A hand of a statue when undetached is known as a skandha-desa but when separated from the statue is known as Skandha.
  • Skandha-pradesa (smallest particle of matter): The smallest undetached portion of skandha, which cannot be further divided is called skandha-pradesa.
  • Paramanu or Anu (atom): When the smallest portion of the matter is separated from its skandha, it is called paramanu or anu. Parmanu matter can not be further sub-divided, cut, or pierced.

Karmic Matter (Karma Pudgala)

Karma is one of the categories of matter. It is known as karmic matter (karma pudgala). Karma particles are of very fine matter not perceptible to the senses. The entire universe is filled with such karmic matter. Every living being is covered by karmic matter from the beginning of time. It is the karmic matter that keeps the soul away from realization of its true nature or liberation.

Medium of Motion (Dharma) - Medium of motion helps in the movement of soul and matter. ex. water provides medium for fish to move It does not possess senses, color, or body. It does not have a consciousness or knowledge. It exists in Lokakas.

Medium of Rest (Adharma) - Medium of rest helps to rest soul and matter. ex. People rest in the shade of a tree It does not possess senses, color, or body. It does not have consciousness or knowledge. It exists in Lokakas.

Space (Akasa) - Space provides room to soul, matter, dharma, adharma, and time. It pervades everywhere (infinite). It is the support of everything and thus it is self supported. It has no form, color, taste, smell, and touch. It does not perform any action (inactive), however it does give accommodation to soul and matter of their actions. It is one and whole. Where medium of motion and rest substances exist, it is called Lokakas. The remaining space is empty and is called Alokakas.

Time (Kaal) - There are two views exist in Jainism with regards to time.

  • One view : Time is an imaginary thing, it has no real existence.
  • Another view: Time has a real existence consisting of innumerable time atoms.

The changes in living being and non-living being substances are measured in the units of time. However time is not the cause of the changes to living being and non-living substances. The smallest indivisible portion of time is called Samaya. Combination of samayas are: moment, second, minute, hour, day, month, year, etc.

innumerable samayas = one avali (time required to blink a eye) 16,777,216 avalis = one muhurt (48 minutes) 30 muhurts = one day 15 days = one fortnight 2 fortnights = one month 12 months = one year innumerable years = one palyopama 1,000,000,000,000,000 palyopamas = one sagaropama

Bhagavadgita Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V Avaialbe in USA/UK/DE/FR/ES/IT/NL/PL/SC/JP/CA/AU

Suggestions for Further Reading

Source: Six Universal Substances (Dravyas) (D10) 01/19/93 6SUBSTNS.A01 Complied by Pravin K. Shah, Jain Study Center of North Carolina.

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