Comprehensive Essay on the Principles of Jainism

As the influx and destruction of karmas entirely depend on man’s activities, Jainism lays special stress on the ethical code. This takes two forms, one in­tended for the householder and the other for the monk. Both are comple­mentary; and if they differ, it is only in the degree of the rigour of practice.

The basic vows are five: (1) abstention from injury to living beings (ahimsa); (2) speaking the truth (satya); (3) not stealing (asteya); (4) chastity (brahma- chary a)] and (5) limiting one’s possessions (aparigraha). The principle of ahimsa is the logical outcome of the Jaina metaphysical theory that all souls are potentially equal. No one likes pain. Naturally, therefore, one should not do to others what one does not want others to do to oneself. The social im­plications of this principle of reciprocity are profoundly beneficial.

Jainism is perhaps the only Indian religion which has explained the doctrine of ahimsa in a systematic manner, because all other values were elaborated on this basis. Violence or injury is of three kinds: physical violence, which covers killing, wounding, and causing any physical pain; violence in words, which consists of using harsh language; and mental violence, which implies bearing ill feeling towards others.

Further, may be committed, commissioned, or consented to. A householder is unable to avoid all these forms of violence in an absolute manner, so he is expected to cause minimal injury to others. In view of the sort of society in which we have to live, injury is classified under four heads: first, there is accidental injury in the course of digging, pounding, cooking, and other such activities essential to daily living; second, there is occupational injury, as when a soldier fights, an agriculturist tills the land, etc.; third, there is protective injury, as when one protects one’s own or other people’s lives and honour against wild beasts and enemies; and last, there is intentional injury when one kills beings with the full intention of killing them, as in hunting or butchery.

A householder is expected to abstain completely from intentional injury and as far as possible from the rest. It is the intention or the mental attitude that matters more than the act so one has to take the utmost care to keep one’s intentions pure and pious and to abstain from inten­tional injury. The practice of these various vows puts some restriction on the choice of a profession and makes for a humane outlook in society.

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There are seven additional vows which help one to develop qualities such as self-restraint, self-denial, and renunciation. In fact, a layman gradually pre­pares himself for the life of an ascetic. Practices such as these have maintained a close tie between the layman and the monk; both are actuated by the same motive and moved by the same religious ideals, with the result that this close association between them has contributed remarkably to the religious solid­arity of the Jaina community.

The course of right conduct prescribed for laymen is conveniently divided into eleven steps (pratima) which are included in the fifth stage of spiritual evolution (guna-sthana). A layman, after shedding all superstition, adopts a right attitude and starts observing the vows given above; he practises self- contemplation thrice a day, with a view to attaining mental equipoise; he observes weekly fasts, and stops taking green vegetables etc. and meals after sunset; he observes strict celibacy, claims no property as his own, does not take interest in worldly matters, and stops taking food specially cooked for him. He can proceed stage by stage according to his ability and environment; but once he reaches the eleventh stage, he is fully prepared for practising the severe course of ascetic life.

According to Jainism, dying is as much an art as living. A layman is ex­pected not only to live a disciplined life but also to die bravely a detached death. There are elaborate rules about voluntary death (sallekhana), which has been practised not only by Jaina monks but also by pious laymen; and we have innumerable inscriptions commemorating the detached deaths of pious Jainas.


This voluntary death is to be distinguished from suicide, which Jainism looks upon as a cowardly sin. When faced by calamity, famine, old age, and disease, against which there is no remedy, a pious Jaina peacefully relin­quishes his body, being inspired by a higher religious ideal.

What apparently distinguishes a Jaina monk from a layman is his itinerant way of life, with no abode of his own and no possessions or paraphernalia beyond those required for his religious observances. In outward form and equipment there are different school moog the Jaina monks.

The Digambara monk, who goes about naked if of the highest grade, has a water-pot made from a gourd (kamandalu) for the calls of nature and a bunch of peacock feathers to clean the place where he sits, etc. But if lie belongs to the lower stage, he has a minimum of clothing to cover his private parts.

A Svetambara monk is clad in white robes, and he is equipped with a staff, a bunch of wool, and wooden pots. These sects differ somewhat in their rules of outward be­haviour, which affect their mode of travelling, eating, etc. The inner religious life, however, is fundamentally the same for the various schools.


The five anuvratas (lesser vows) of a layman, not to kill, not to lie, not to steal, to abstain from sex, and to renounce property, are called maharatnas (great vows) in the case of a monk, who has to observe them with maximum rigout and thoroughness.

These sins lead to the influx of karmas; therefore the monk must abstain from them in thought, word, and deed, and neither com­mit, commission, nor consent to them the rigidity with which he is expected to observe the rules and the elaborate details of conduct only show how minutely the whole system of ascetic morality is worked out.

The entire spiritual career of the soul is divided into fourteen stages called gunasthanas. The soul marches from bondage and gross ignorance to final liberation and omniscience, gradually overpowering at different stages wrong belief, unrighteousness, negligence, passions, and channels of activities.

In the first four stages the soul is struggling against wrong belief, which is overcome in the fifth stage, where righteous conduct begins and is practised by a layman through the eleven pratimas cited above. In the sixth, he is already a monk, but still liable to negligence and lapses.

Then all stages up to the eleventh, regress may take place, and the soul may even fall back to the first stage. When he reaches the twelfth, however, the passions etc. are destroyed, and he begins meditation. In the thirteenth stage he is still in the world, retaining some activities of body, speech, and mind. When all his activities stop, he enters the last stage, where all karma is destroyed and the soul attains its fullest spiritual status.

Here we may broadly outline the disciplinary code of a monk, which he has to practise for the perfection of his maharatnas. His one aim is to stop the influx of fresh karma and to destroy all that has already bound him. The flow of karmas into the atma or soul is caused by the activities of body, speech, and mind; so it is necessary for him to keep these channels under strict control (gupti). It is just possible that even in performing the duties of a monk the vows might be transgressed out of inadvertence. As a precautionary measure, the monk must be very cautious in walking, speaking, begging food, taking up and putting down things, and in voiding the body (samiti).

It is mainly due to the passions that the soul assimilates karma; so anger, pride, deception, and greed must be counteracted by cultivating ‘the ten best virtues’ (dasadharma), forgiveness, humility, straightforwardness, content­ment, truthfulness, restraint, austerity, purity, chastity, and renunciation.

To cultivate the necessary religious attitude he should constantly reflect on twelve religious topics (anupreksha): (i) everything is transitory, (ii) men are helpless against death, (iii) the circuit of existence is full of misery, (iv) the soul has to struggle all alone, (v) relatives and others are quite separate from oneself, (vi) the body is impure, (vii) karma is constantly inflowing, (viii) karma should be stopped by cultivating necessary virtues, (ix) karma should be destroyed by penances, (x) the nature of the universe, (xi) the rarity of religious knowledge, and, lastly, (xii) the true nature of religion.

To keep himself steady on path of liberation and to destroy karma, a monk has to bear cheerfully all the troubles (parisaha) that might cause him distraction or pain. There are twenty-two troubles which a monk is expected to face unflinchingly, including hunger and thirst, cold and heat, trying cir­cumstances, unpleasant feelings, illness, etc. His spiritual discipline or con­duct is fivefold, and its pitch ranges from equanimity to ideal and passionless conduct (charitra).

The monk has also to practise austerities, external and internal. External penances are extremely rigorous. He barely sustains the body with a minimum of food and exacts maximum work from it in attaining his spiritual ideal. In­ternal penances are intended for self-purification. The most important of them is dhyana or meditation.

It is pure (fukla) meditation which ultimately leads the soul to liberation; there is a complete cessation of physical, verbal, and mental activities and the atma or self is absorbed in it. With the entire stock of karmas exhausted the soul rises to the top of the universe, where it remains forever.

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