Jainism – a way of life




TIRTHANKARAS found the order of Jain Chaturvidh-sangh. This four-fold order consists of laymen, laywomen, monks and nuns. All four follow the guidelines given by Tirthankaras and great āchāryas. Householders have naturally different sets of rules then monks and nuns. Lay people are advised to observe vows at least on a minor scale. They go out and earn their living, marry, raise children and do their normal duties. They are advised to follow Shrāvakachār (codes of conduct for laypeople). The idea behind this code of ethics is that they too should make gradual progress towards more renunciation and an austere life.

Ascetic-stage means total renunciation and this is strictly observed in the Jain religion. Jain monks take Panch mahā vrata or the five great vows. These are:- Ahimsā, satya, asteya, Brahmcharya and aparigraha. (See Chapter no. 12, Five Vows). Tirthankaras have laid down the rules for their conduct and have formulated total guidelines as regards their alms and daily routine. Jain monks have to follow somewhat extreme practices. Jain monks and nuns lead very strict lives. They do not possess any money. They do not wear shoes, do not use motorcars or trains for travelling purposes, they do not eat or drink after sunset but only eat what is offered to them by other Jains. They frequently fast and encourage others to do so.

Many Hindu monks on the other hand follow quite a liberal tradition within the framework of sanyast-ashram. Hindu monks although practice celibacy (Brahmcharya) and take other vows, they do not follow other codes as regards alms as strictly as Jain monks do. Buddhist monks also have adopted somewhat lenient practices befitting their Middle-path philosophy. Jain monks also go through various stages of titles. They go up the ladder of higher titles from sādhu to panyāsa (upadhyāya) and then to āchāryas. Navkār Mantra or Namaskār Mantra mentions these three titles and teaches us to bow down to them after Arihanta and Siddha.

According to a scripture called the ‘Vyavhāra Sutra’, Monks are either leaders of the group of monks (āchāryas), Middle ranked monks (upādhyāyas) or ordinary monks (sādhus). Āchāryas are responsible for guiding their disciples. They have to acquire a through knowledge of scriptures and act as beacons for the younger and junior monks. Upādhyāyas are expected to deliver speeches and discourses. They are also capable of destroying their karmas by meditation. Sādhus are the ones who practice right conduct. They may not be capable enough to deliver discourse but they should walk the path with determination.

Coming back to the topic of codes of ethics for laypeople, there are many good Shvetāmbar and Digambara books, which explain the subject matter in detail. Hemchandra in his book the Yoga-Shāstra describes three jewels as three yogas viz- Yoga of knowledge, Yoga of enlightened view or faith and Yoga of conduct.

Hemchandra also explains twelve vows in great detail. These are:

(1) Ahimsā =non-violence.
(2) Truth
(3) Non-stealing
(4) Brahmcharya = celibacy
(5) Non-possessiveness and non-attachment.
(6) Restriction in activities
(7) Limiting objects of enjoyment
(8) Refraining from activities like gambling
(9) Obtaining equanimity (contemplation)
(10) Keeping limits on consumable and non-consumable goods.
(11) Fasting, praying and temporarily living like a monk (or nun) in a solitary place for at least 24 hours.
(12) Offering food and shelter to monks and nuns.

Hemchandra and other Jain āchāryas put great stress on avoiding taking food at night. Āchārya Samantbhadra also advocates abandonment of the four types of consumables after sunset. When darkness spreads, after sunset, the number of insects in the air increases. Most of these are invisible to naked eye. These are consumed accidentally when we eat at night.

The four categories or types of consumables are:

Anasan – solid food

Pān- liquid food

Khādim- Dry fruits as snacks

Swādim- Digestive things people eat after meal.

22 Forbidden Items of Food

It is appropriate to list items, which are not suitable and therefore not advised to consume. They are called abhakshyas (not fit to be eaten). There are twenty-two such items:

(1) Everything becomes unconsumable after sunset. This is related to time rather then a consumable item.
(2) to (6) certain named seeds have been named in these categories:- like the seeds of a bunyan tree etc.
(7) Honey.
(8) Alcoholic drinks.
(9) Meat.
(10) Butter ( unpurified ).
(11) Ice.
(12) Items that are poisonous.
(13) Hail or icicles.
(14) Clay.
(15) Vegetables with multiple seeds
(16) Root vegetables and items having multiple lives.
(17) Old pickles.
(18) Certain savouries.
(19) Aubergines.
(20) Very small size fruits ie certain berries.
(21) Unknown/ unidentified fruits or flowers.
(22) Food, which has its composition, changed due to weather or a long time-span or any spoiled food.

The most important reason behind the abandonment is that any food or drink, which is likely to cause more damage to living beings, is to be avoided.

Lay people in Jain terminology are referred to as shrāvaks and shrāvikās (laymen and laywomen). Various meanings of this term are given in holy books. The shrāvak (and shrāvikā) means one who listens (Shrunoti) or one who has faith in religion or whose sins flow away from him (Shravanti pāpāni yasya).

There are four categories of laypeople. Some are just nāma-shrāvaks meaning shrāvaks in name only, without any of the qualities mentioned above. Some are sthāpana-shrāvaks having existence without real urge for spiritual upliftment. Some are dravya-shrāvaks who observe all rituals without understanding or proper faith in them. The last category is that of bhāv-shrāvaks. These shrāvaks are true believers and practitioners.

Shrāvaks and shrāvikās are expected to carry out six essentials in their daily routine. These are:

(a) Sāmayik- Explained in a separate chapter.
(b) Chauvissantho- Praying 24 Tirthankaras.
(c) Vandan- respecting guru and/or monks.
(d) Pratikraman- Explained in a separate chapter.
(e) Kāusagga- Meditation
(f)  Pachchakhān- Minor vows for a limited period

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