jain religion and teachings of bhagwan mahavir



(continued from Chapter 10a)

The next seven GUNASTHANAS (6,7, 8,9,10,11 and 12) apply to ascetics, and reflect escalated degree of Sadhana for soul purification and achieving true knowledge and right and rational perception. They are :

(1) PRAMATTA SAMYAT or SARVA VIRATI – Stage of taking Mahavrat (five major vows of an ascetic) with wholehearted mind-set, but may not yet be totally free from tempting desires and impulses;

(2) APRAMATTA VIRATI – Critical stage with intense and dedicated practice of Mahavrat and strengthening vigilance;

(3) APURVA KARANA – At this stage the soul achieves SHUKLA DHYAN indicative of almost total self-control. The soul acquires a unique psychic force for targeting total annihilation of karmas;

(4) ANIVRITTI KARANA – Intense spiritual activity, heightened self-control, and beginning of thought and conduct eluding karmas;

(5) SUKSHMA SAMPARAYA – The stage is now set for total rooting out of karmic impulses and not merely suppressing them. There may still remain subtle degree of attachment to life;

(6) UPASANTA MOHA – Stage for intense effort to eliminate lingering passions that could still tilt the scale of spiritual equanimity achieved so far;

(7) KSHINA MOHA – This is the point of no return having attained total equanimity after destroying both gross as well as subtle psychic impulses. This is just one step before achieving enlightenment.

The last two GUNASTHANAS (13 and 14) take the soul to its supreme realization. They are :

(1) SAYOGA KEVALI – This is the stage of spiritual perfection, having attained KEVAL GYAN (omniscient knowledge). The soul becomes ARHAT or TIRTHANKAR while still being in a human form. Tirthankar is venerated by the people for his supreme achievement and He begins to preach to them the path for seeking true perception (SAMYAK DARSANA), true knowledge (SAMYAK GYAN), and true conduct (SAMYAK CHARITRA). Tirthankar becomes a ROLE MODEL to follow and emulate;

(2) AYOGA KEVALI – This is the ultimate and highest stage with the soul achieves Moksha and becomes SIDDHA i.e., totally perfected and liberated eternal being beyond pleasure and pain, birth and death. The yoga of mind, speech and body disappears and the soul becomes Ayoga kevali with total bliss


Jain religion prescribes a much less rigorous religious dispensation for lay persons (householders) than for the monks and nuns. Within a family or a society, a person has multifarious duties to perform and responsibilities to discharge. The main emphasis, therefore, is on adherence to the Jain ethical way of life emanating from the fundamental Jain principles of non-violence, self-restraint and equanimity in the face of differing viewpoints. This is a starting point undertaken voluntarily imbued with both reason and faith in the journey towards spiritual awakening, and there have been instances where lay persons have persisted on getting on to more and more advanced levels of Jain spiritual path and eventually renounced the worldly environment to become monks or nuns.

The vows prescribed for lay persons, called in religious terminology as shravaks and shravikas, are minor and limited and are basically introductory, voluntarily assumed and motivational. Anuvrat in its five dimensions is a milder version of the Mahavrat meant for the monks and nuns. The five vows are :

Ahimsa vrat (non-violence in thought, deed and expression),

Satya vrat (adherence to and pursuit, of Truth),

Asteya or Achaurya vrat (non-stealing and not getting anything through illegitimate or unfair means,

Bramhacharya or Sheel vrata (practicing due restraint in personal conduct in the matter of sex), and

Parigraha parimana vrata (limiting one’s needs and possessions and curbing desires and possessive instinct.

The next logical step is taking three Guna vratas (merit vows), which take religiosity alittle further by enhancing and deepening the implementation of anuvrat. The three vows are : (1) Dik Vrata (limiting one’s area of activity; (2) Bhoga-upabhoga vrata (limiting use in variety and quantity of consumables and non-consumable items, and the time spent on such habits; (3) Anartha danda vrata (avoiding purposeless sins, which may be harmful, inconsiderate and ethically wrong to other living beings or natural environment.

The four Shiksha Vratas (disciplinary vows) provide disciplined mode for strengthening one’s spiritual orientation. They are (1) Samayika (meditation for limited duration; (2) Desavakasika (voluntary limits on range and distance of travel; (3) Paushadha (following ascetic level of vows and life style for a limited duration; and (4) Atithi Samvibhog (charity and compassion vow).

Initiation in the faith in and practice of non-violence in day-today life envisages extending it to all living beings. Premeditated violence is prohibited for all. Defensive violence as well as vocational violence is permitted for lay persons, as long as they are unavoidable, unintentional and not revengeful. Common violence towards one-sense living beings like plants may be unavoidable for survival, but need to be minimized in daily activities such as preparing food, cleaning the house etc. This explains Jain practice of drinking duly filtered water, sticking to vegetarian diet, not eating after sun set and abstinence from alcohol and addiction.

Mahavir instructed: “ One should not injure, subjugate, enslave, torture or kill any living being including animals, insects, plants and vegetation.”

Jain scriptures prescribe five essential duties for lay persons. They are (1) Deva puja- both mentally (bhava puja) and physically (dravya puja);(2) Gurupasana (veneration of the holy teachers;(3) Svadhyaya (self-study of scriptures and religious texts); Samyam (self-discipline) (4) Tapa (austerities such as fasting, restricted consumption, giving up use of some consumables for ever etc.); (5) Dan (charity and philanthrophy with compassionate feelings)

Eleven steps taken one after another take the desirous laymen, who has by now prepared himself for moving with steadily advancing spiritual orientation towards the stage of final renunciation and detachment and entering monkhood. The eleven PRATIMAS are Darsana (awakening), Vrata (taking vows, Samayika (Practising meditation, Pasadha (practicing ascetic life for temporary periods, Sachchita-tyag (food restraints), Ratribhakta (sexual restraint), Bramhacharya (Celibacy), Arambha-tyag (leaving profession), Parigraha-tyag (leaving. possessions), Anumati-tyag (family detachment) and Uddhista-tyaga (leaving family) and entering ascetic life.


When a person renounces all worldly ties and is initiated into monkhood, the monk is called sadhu, shraman or muni, and the nun is called sadhvi, shramani or arya. Their renunciation is total in terms of observance of Gunasthanas (stages) particularly 6 to 12 out of the 14 enumerated earlier. They spend their time, energy, intellect and dedication not only for further perfecting their own spiritual awakening, but also inspiring and guiding lay persons through discourses, discussions, seminars and religious camps in the righteous direction. Among the Jain monks and nuns, there have been all through its history profound scholars, researchers, writers, and poets whose works and commentaries have enriched the interpretation and elucidation of Jain philosophy both in its logical as well as ritual aspects.

Ascetics have to undertake, strictly comply with and remain totally committed to the observance of five Mahavratas (major vows) in thought, conduct and expression. The five vows are :

(1) Ahimsa – vow of absolute non-violence;

(2) Satya – vow of absolute truthfulness;

(3) Asteya or Achaurya – vow of absolute non-stealing;

(4) Bramhacharya - vow of absolute celibacy;

(5) Aparigraha – vow of absolute non-attachment

They are the same as provided in the ANUVRAT for lay persons with the important difference that these vows have to be practiced in absolute terms without any compromises. The range, extent and depth of perception and implementation of these vows for monks underline the spiritual intensity of Jain religion. This spiritual intensity has come to be vividly mirrored in the glorious shraman culture and tradition strenuously maintained throughout the long history of Jain religion.

Indeed, shramanic traditions of self-restraint, penance, deep introspection, meditation and contemplation have cast their beneficial impact on practices of Hindu religion, at a time when ritualistic orthodoxy was beginning to dim the compassionate thrust of Hindu philosophy by glorifying violent practices like animal sacrifices. It is also important to note here that the practice of the five major vows is not restricted to their observance by the monks for their own soul purification.

They are expected not to approve or endorse anyone committing sins involving violence, falsehood, stealing and robbing, indulgent and unrestrained or illegitimate sexual passions and possessiveness exceeding one’s legitimate and reasonable needs. Monks and nuns are destined through their prescribed code of conduct to guide and inspire the community. Jain monks do not keep any money ever with them, nor do they control or own any wealth or property, movable or immovable. They limit their necessities to the barest minimum for survival, and go on reducing their range and variety as they go up the ladder towards enlightenment. Jain monks and nuns also follow other special rules of conduct flowing from the practice of major vows. They never consume food or water after sunset or before sunrise. They have to devote daily time for meditation, seeking knowledge and acquiring steadily perfecting self-control and spiritual discipline. There are also specific modalities laid down for them in regard to Ahara (food), Vihar (travel), Vastra (clothing), Kesh-Loch (plucking of hair) and keeping of auxiliaries. These modalities are illustrative of the range and scope of self-denial and soul-centric devotion.

AHARA : In the digambar tradition, digambar monks do not keep any utensils for food, not do they go from house to house for collecting food. When they proceed for Ahara, they choose one household from many offerings depending on their intuition, and accept food offered in that household by family members and friends. What is remarkable is that Jain munis accept and eat their food taking it in the palms of their hands folded together. They eat and drink only once a day standing in one position except on the days they observe fast.

In the shwetambar tradition, sadhus and sadhvis go to different households to collect food in small quantities from each household within the limits of self-imposed restrictions and vows. This is called Gochari.

VIHARA : Jain monks and nuns always walk bare-footed and do not continuously stay at one place except in the four months of rainy season when they spend their Chaturmas at one place usually timed with the observance of the annual Paryushan festival. This provides sustained opportunity of delivering religious discourses to community followers and interpreting to the wider public the spiritual dimensions of the compassionate Jain philosophy. In recent years with Jain business persons, professionals, doctors and engineers settling abroad in Americas, Europe, Africa and elsewhere in large groups, some Jain monks like Acharya Sushil Kumarji broke the tradition and traveled abroad to guide their followers as well as to spread the Jain message of comprehensive non-violence in foreign countries. Now on a regular basis many shwetambar monks and nuns are going abroad on religious missions.

VASTRA : Digambar Jain monks are sky-clad. Shwetambar monks wear unstitched or minimally stitched white cotton clothes viz., Cholapattak, Uttariya vastra and Kamli. They also carry a bed sheet and a mat to sit and sleep. Invariably they keep a muhapatti on their mouth to prevent insects getting in. They carry a Rajaharan – a broom of woolen threads to clear insects from where they sit or walk. Digambar monks carry a Morpichchi (broom of peacock feathers). They also carry a kamandal with water for their ablutions.

KESH-LOCH : After receiving diksha (initiation into monkhood), hair cannot be cut, but only plucked with fingers twice a year or at least once a year during Puryushan festival. Kesh-lochan is a painful exercise and is an integral part of the severe austerities practiced by Jain monks.

(end of chapter 10)