Jainism – a way of life




FIRST let us see five vows as prescribed by the code of conduct.

The vows include abstinence from violence, lying, stealing, lustful sexual conduct and possessiveness

In short the five vows are:


|            |               |                |                |
              Non violence   Truth    Non-stealing Celibacy   Non-possessiveness.

The first vow is that of Ahimsā or non-violence. Mahāvir has given a simple message to mankind:

“Ahimsā paramo dharma”

meaning non violence is the supreme religion.

When Mahāvir talked of non-violence, he did not just mean non-destruction. He included taking care in one’s speech and actions. Thinking badly about someone, or speaking badly about them are forms of violence.

Non-violence is the intrinsic nature of the pure soul, the state of perfect equilibrium, unruffled peace, and complete equanimity.

Mahāvir said that the act of killing out of carelessness or passion is an act of violence. Our environment can be damaged in the ruthless pursuit of greedy motives. Ahimsā can be broken by carelessly acquiring wealth and by creating an unbalanced and unjust society. Even proclaiming that your faith alone is right and just faith, is considered an act of ‘violence’. Thus the definition of Ahimsā is all-encompassing. Mahātma Gāndhi absorbed and accepted the idea of Ahimsā into his own life-style. He recognised that Ahimsā is a way of life which when applied collectively can solve global problems. While talking about Ahimsā, Gāndhiji said that injustice, inequality and the careless use of natural resources are all forms of violence. Individuals should act with due regard for and towards their surroundings.

We are interdependent. Each of us depends on the well being of the whole, and so we have respect for the community of living beings, for people, animals, and plants, and for the preservation of earth, the air, water and soil.

We must treat others as we wish others to treat us. We must be able to forgive, learning from the past but never allowing ourselves to be enslaved by memories of hate.

From:  A Global Ethic-
Declaration of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Chicago 1993

To illustrate just how all-encompassing Ahimsā is, it even includes microbes. Jains say there are microbes in the air, water and even in fire. One should ensure that these are not harmed by carelessly discarding waste or gases into the air.

Jainism states that he who follows the path of non-violence is on the way to moral and spiritual advancement. Non-violence is the natural path to truth, built on self-realisation.

(2) To say asad i.e. anything untrue or without foundation is a falsehood.

(3) Taking anything which is not given (adatta) is stealing.

(4) The act of copulation is sinful.

(5) Attachment is possessiveness. (Attachment in possession is worst then the possession itself.). When one refrains from evil activity, he automatically turns towards positive and virtuous deeds. When this process is complete one is called vrati (the taker of vows).

Vows could be partial i.e. on a small scale or total.

It is difficult for laymen to observe any of these vows to a great degree, because of his household duties. His field for the observance of vows is limited and therefore he practices vows on a smaller scale. A monk, however, is free of household limitations as he has no possessions and has no family bondages. He can therefore, carry out the vows more strictly.

The vows are either called anuvrata (minor vows) or mahāvrata (major vows) depending on who is practicing and to what extent he is practicing. Major vows are mainly for monks and nuns.

S L Gāndhi about Anuvrata Movement:-

This movement is one that aims at revolutionising life from within by remaking character. The world today needs this more than anything else.


Let us now see some practical ‘tools’ to help steady one’s mind. These tools are called bhāvanā or practical contemplation.

These practical contemplation involve developing certain feelings towards other humans. Below is a list of these feelings:

(1) The friendship of those who are pious and virtuous.
(2) Rejoicing at the sight of (or appreciating the qualities of) the virtuous persons.
(3) Pity for those people or beings who are unhappy or miserable.
(4) Equanimity towards those who are impolite.

The first bhāvanā or feeling is the friendly attitude towards all who are virtuous. It helps one to develop a positive attitude and eliminates feelings of jealousy.

The second bhāvanā teaches one to be happy on seeing someone who is more knowledgeable and virtuous than oneself. This also helps to remove feelings of jealousy and hatred.

The third bhāvanā is compassion on seeing someone in pain. This pain could be the pain of poverty, or could be due to disease and other problems. Having an understanding mind and feeling compassion helps one to achieve the steadiness of mind needed in the observance of the five basic vows.

The fourth bhāvanā is one of neutrality and non-judgement. There are instances when you may not meet pious people or those in pain, but you could meet someone who is instead arrogant or impolite. When this happens, one should not judge them but have a feeling of neutrality. Having a neutral attitude is not a weakness or a negative aspect, as this bhāvanā helps to conquer ego and anger.

The observer of vows must be free of shalya, which means he must be free of three things:

(1) hypocrisy (2) a desire to consume excessively and (3) a lack of faith in the eternal truth.

The observer of vows wishes for a final end whilst practising ‘voluntary invitation to death.’ Anyone who strictly observes vows becomes humble and is not afraid of death. In fact, this person often wishes death during meditation or whilst undergoing voluntary and ritual fasting, leading to death. Such a death is called samlekhnā.


Every action, every word, every thought produces, besides its visible, an invisible, transcendental effect-the karma: every action produces, if one may so express it, certain potential energies which under given condition, are changing themselves into actual energies, forces which, either as reward or punishment, enter sooner or later into appearance..

- Dr H V Glasenapp ‘Doctrine of Karman in Jain Philosophy

Karma particles or karmic matter is attracted to the soul when one or all of these things are present.

1, wrong faith (and understanding),
2, wrongful conduct,
3, carelessness,
4, passions,
5, and the activities of body, speech and mind (yoga).

Just to explain more:-

(1) Wrong faith (mithyātva) is the opposite of enlightened faith or samyag-darshan.
(2) Non-abstinence is the failure to abstain from wrong deeds in spite of knowing what is right and what is wrong.
(3) Carelessness or action without regard for others.
(4) Four passions- anger, deceit, pride and greed.
(5) Yoga- this is not the same word as is commonly understood. Yoga in this sense is the act provoking karma bondage. These acts are done by mind, speech or the body .


|                                |
GHĀTI (Destructive)                   AGHĀTI (non-destructive)
1, Gyānavarniya                          5, Vedaniya
2, Darshanāvarniya                        6, Āyu
3, Mohaniya                                 7, Nāma
4, Antarāya                                 8, Gotra

Ghāti karmas obscure (or kill) the basic attributes of the soul. A pure soul has perfect knowledge, faith and the capacity to attain nirvāna. However, the first four karmas, above, obscure these qualities.

1, Gyānavarniya karma obscures knowledge.
2, Darshanāvarniya karma obscures vision and cognition.
3, Mohaniya karma obstructs conduct and faith.
4, Antarāya karma prevents all sorts of good happenings.

Aghāti karmas are body-related and a person gets his physical comfort or dis-comfort, his life-span, name and family-line due to the effect of these karmas.

5, Vedaniya karma produces feelings and emotions.
6, Āyu karma determines the life-span of the individual.
7, Nāma karma gives factors of individuality and personality.
8, Gotra karma determines family surroundings.

One must practice right conduct and try to stop the influx of karman varganā.

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