Jain World
Sub-Categories of Antiquity of Jainism
Meaning of Jainism
Tradition of Tirthankara
Historicity of the Jaina tradition
Jaina tradition and Buddhism
  Jaina tradition and Hinduism
  Jaina tradition & archaeological evidence
  Fundamental principles of Jainism
  Philosophy of Jainism
  Tattvas of Jainism
  Doctrines of Jainism
  Three-fold path of Salvation
  Prescription of Ethical Code
  Private distinctiveness of Jaina Ethics
  Importance assigned to five vratas
  Prominence given to Ahimsa
  Easy practicability of ethical code
  Commoness of ethical code
  Rise of sections in Jainism
  The Great Schism of Jainism
  The Digambara and Svetambara sects
  The Digambara sub-sects
  The Svetambara Sub-sects
  Jainism in East India
  Jainism in Northern India
  Jainism in Western India
  Jainism In South India
  Contribution of Jainism to Indian Culture
  Jainism and other religions
  Significance of Jainism
  Glossary of Jaina terms



Ethics of Jainism: Prescription of Ethical Code


Enunciation of Rigorous Rules

When a layman consistently observes the rules of conduct prescribed for the householders and especially attains all pratimas, i.e., stages, he is qualified to become an ascetic. The admission into the order of monks is accompanied by the impressive ceremony known as diksa or initiation ceremony. This ceremony makes the layman a member of the order of ascetics (including nuns) is one of the two orders in which Jaina community has been divided from the very beginning, and other order is that of layman (including lay-women)

It is worth nothing that there is a close connection between these two orders and the stages of Sravakas, i.e., laymen, has been preliminary, and, in many cases, preparatory to the stage of sadhus, i.e., ascetics. Because of this intimate relationship we find that the rules prescribed for laymen and ascetics do not differ in kind but in degree. The same rules of conduct observed by laymen practice them partially or less vigorously, the ascetics have to observe them fully and more rigorously. That is why we have seen that the main five vows of householders are known as anuvratas or small vows, and the same become mahavratas or great vows when practiced by ascetics.

This is obvious that the ascetic stage signifies absolute renunciation of the world and the only objective in this stage is to concentrate energy on the attainment of moksa, i.e., final salvation. Asceticism is a higher course in spiritual training and it is in this stage that real efforts are made to achieve samvara ( the stoppage of influx of karmas ) and to have nirjara ( the shedding of existing karmas) with a view to attain nirvana (salvation of the soul). It is laid down that to attain nirvana a man must abandon all trammels, including his clothes. Only by a long course of fasting, self-mortification, study and meditation., he can rid himself of karmas, and only by the most rigorous discipline he can prevent fresh karmas and from entering his soul. Hence a monastic life is quite essential for salvation.

Therefore very minute rules of conduct are prescribed for the ascetics who have to observe them without any fault or transgression. Obviously in these rules, prominence has been assigned to the rules meant for achieving samvara (stoppage of influx of karmas) and nirjara (shedding of existing karmas).

Rules for Samvara

Samvara is the stoppage of influx of karmic matter into soul and this stoppage is effected by the observance of three kinds of gupti (control), five kinds of samiti (carefulness), ten kinds of dharma (virtues), twelve kinds of anupreksa (meditations or reflections), twenty-two kinds of parisaha-jaya, (subdual of sufferings) and five kinds of charitra (conduct).

The Guptis

The flow of karmas into the atman or soul is caused by the activities of body, speech and mind : so it is quite necessary for the ascetics to keep these channels of influx under strict control, i.e., to observer the guptis. The three guptis are regulations with reference to controlling one's inner nature, that is, they are dictated by the principles of self-control.

  1. Mao-gupti is regulation of mind in such a way as to give room only to pure thoughts.

  2. Vag-gupti is regulation of speech; it consists in observing silence for a particular period or in speaking only as much as is absolutely necessary.

  3. Kaya-gupti is regulation of one's bodily activity.

The Samitis

It is just possible that even in performing the duties of an ascetic, the vows might be transgressed out of inadvertence. Hence as a precautionary measure the samitis (acts of carefulness) are prescribed. The samitis are designed with a view to cultivate the habit of carefulness in accordance with the principle of ahimsa (non-injury). The samitis are prescriptions for the regulation of the movements of the body and are of five kinds as follows:

  1. Irya-samitis : It aims at regulation of walking, so as not to injure any living being.

  2. Bhasa Samiti : It regulates the mode of speech with a view to avoid the hurting of other's feelings by the use of offensive words.

  3. Esana-samiti : It regulates eating food in a prescribed manner and especially with a view to avoid faults.

  4. Adana-niksepa samiti : It regulates the actions of taking or using, and of putting away, of his accessories like kamandalu, pichchhi, sastra, etc.

  5. Utsarga-samiti : It regulates the movements connected with the answering of call of nature, etc.

It is pertinent to note that although these five samitis can be strictly observed only by ascetics, these are also desirable to some extent in the daily life of sravakas or laymen. For example, it is expected that a devoted laymen should avoid treading on growing plants, should never leave a vessel filled with a liquid substance uncovered, and should not ever use an open light, lest insects might rush into it and be killed.

Both the three guptis and the five samitis are sometimes grouped together under the name of ast-pravachana-matrka, i.e, 'The Eight Mothers of the Creed', on account of their fundamental character.

The Dharmas

It is always asserted that mainly due to the kasyas (passions) the soul assimilates karmas. Hence it is laid down that the four kasyas, of krodha (anger), mana (pride), maya (deceptions) and lobha (greed), must be counteracted by cultivating ten uttama dharmas, i.e., supreme virtues : uttama-ksama (supreme forgiveness), uttama-mardava (supreme humility or tenderness), uttama-arjava (supreme honesty or straightforwardness), uttama-saucha (supreme purity or contentment), uttama-satya (supreme truthfulness), uttama-samyama (supreme self-restraint), uttama-tapa (supreme austerities), uttama-tyaga (supreme renunciation), uttama-akinchanya (supreme non-attachment) and uttama- brahmacharya supreme chastity).

The Anupreksas

With a view to cultivate the necessary religious attitude, it is enjoined on the ascetics to constantly reflect on twelve religious topics known as anupreksas (meditations or reflections). It is laid down that these anupreksas should be meditated upon again and again. These twelve anupreksas are as follows :

  1. Anitya : everything is subject to change or is transitory.

  2. Asarana : unprotectiveness or helplessness. The feeling that soul is unprotected from fruition of karmas, for example, death etc.

  3. Samsara : mundaneness. Soul moves in the cycle of births and deaths and cannot attain true happiness till it is cut off.

  4. Ekatva : loneliness. I am alone, the doer of my actions and the enjoyer of the fruits of them.

  5. Anyatva : separateness. The world, my relatives and friends, my body and mind, they are all different and separate from my real self.

  6. Asuchi : impurity. The body is impure and dirty.

  7. Asrava : inflow. The inflow of karmas is the cause of my mundane existence and it is the product of passions.

  8. Samvara : stoppage. The inflow of karmas must be stopped by cultivating necessary virtues.

  9. Nirjara : shedding. Karmic matter should be destroyed or shaken off the soul by the practice of penances.

  10. Loka : universe. The nature of the universe and its constituent elements in all their vast variety proving the insignificance and miserable nothingness of man in time and space.

  11. Bodhi-durlabha : rarity of religious knowledge. It is difficult to attain Right belief, Right knowledge and Right conduct.

  12. Dharma : reflection on the true nature of religion and especially on the three-fold path of liberation as preached by the Tirthankaras or conquerors.

These anupreksas are also termed as bhavanas, i.e., contemplations.

The Parisaha-jaya

With the view to remain steady on the path of salvation and to destroy the karmic matter, it has been laid down that ascetics should bear cheerfully all the troubles that might cause them distraction or pain. These troubles or hardships or afflictions through which the ascetics have to pass are called the parisaha, i.e., suffering. These are twenty-two parisaha which monks are expected to face unflinchingly. They are : ksudha (hunger), pipasa (thirst), sita (cold), usna (heat), damsamasaka (insect-bite), nagnya (nakedness), arati (absence of pleasures of disagreeable surroundings), stri (sex-passion), charya feeling (tired from walking too much), nisadya (discomfort of continuous sitting in one posture),sayya (discomfort in sleeping or resting on hard earth), akrosa (censure or scold), vadha (injury), yachana (begging), alabha (failure to get food), roga (disease), trna-sparsa (thorn-pricks or pricks of blades of grass), mala (body dirt and impurities), satkara-puraskara (disrespect shown by men), prajna (non-appreciation of learning), ajnana (persistence of ignorance), and adarsana (lack of faith or slack belief), for example, on failure to obtain super-natural powers even after great piety and austerities, to begin to doubt the truth of Jainism and its teachings.

These parisahas should be ever endured, without any feeling of vexation, by the ascetics who desire to conquer all causes of pain.

The Charitra

The ascetics are also expected to strive to observe five kinds of conduct : samayika (equanimity), chhedopasthapana (recovery of equanimity after a fall from it), parihara- visuddhi (pure and absolute non-injury), suksama-samparaya (all but entire freedom from passion) and yathakhyata (ideal and passionless conduct)

These five kinds of conduct help to maintain the spiritual discipline of ascetics.

Rules for Nirjara

Along with samvara (the stoppage of influx of the karmic matter into the soul) the ascetics have to strive to effect nirjara (the gradual removal of karmic matter from the soul), if they have to proceed further on their path of salvation.

The main step to nirjara, i.e. shedding of the karmas, is the observance of tapas (penance of austerities), which is included in the Right Conduct. Tapas is of two kinds, viz., (a) bahya tapa i.e. external austerities referring to food and physical activities, and (b) abyantara tapa i.e. internal austerities, referring to spiritual discipline. Each of these two types if tapa is of six kinds.

The Bahya Tapa

The six external austerities are as follows: anasana (fasting), avamaudarya (eating less than one's fill, or less than one has appetite for), vrtti-parisamkhyana (taking a mental vow to accept food from a householder only if certain conditions are fulfilled without letting anyone know about the vow), rasa-parityaga (daily renunciation of one or more kinds if delicacies, namely, ghee i.e. clarified butter, milk, curd, sugar, salt and oil), vivikta-sayyasana (sitting and sleeping in a secluded place, devoid of animate beings) and kayaklesa (mortification of the body so long as the mind is not disturbed).

The Abhyantara Tapa

The six kinds of internal austerities are: prayaschitta (expiation or confession and repentance of sins), vinaya (reverence or modest behaviour), vaiyavrttya (rendering service to other saints), svadyaya (study of scriptures), vyutsarga (giving up attachment to the body) and dhyana (concentration of mind).

These external and internal penances show what a rigorous life of self-denial the ascetics have to lead. The ascetic is to sustain the body with minimum feeding and to take maximum work from it in the attainment of his spiritual ideal. In Jainism an elaborate technique of fasting has been evolved and the ascetic is trained all along his career so efficiently that when the hour of death comes, he accepts voluntarily fasting and gives up the body as easily as one would throw off the old garment. The ascetic has always to take exercise in fasting by observing series of fasts variously arranged.

Among the internal penances special significance is attached to dhyana (meditation) because it is considered as the most important spiritual exercise whereby alone the soul can make progress on the path of salvation and can destroy all the karmas. Feelings like attachment for beneficial and aversion from harmful objects have to be given up to attain concentration of mind, which is the prerequisite of successful meditation. It is always emphasized that the sukla dhyana (pure meditation) ultimately leads the soul to salvation because in sukla dhyana an attempt is made for complete cessation of physical, verbal and mental activities. When the entire stock of karmas is exhausted by following the rules of conduct laid down by Jaina ethics, The soul shoots up to the top of the universe where the liberated souls stays for ever.

It is evident that the rules of conduct and the austerities which a Jaina ascetic has to observe, are of an extremely difficult character and that only a person who is mentally prepared for a life of renunciation can be initiated into the stage. Obviously, only a person who is imbued with full faith in the validity of Jaina philosophy and is possessed of right knowledge of soul and matter in all their aspects and is prepared for a life of penance and austerities can be a successful Jaina ascetic.

Attributes Of Ascetics

According to Jainism an ascetic is expected to expected to possess certain mula-gunas, i.e., primary attributes or basic qualities. The concept of the Mula-gunas has been greatly developed by the Digambara sect of Jainas. It is prescribed in the Digambara texts that a sadhu (ascetic) must possess the following twenty-eight mula-gunas or basic attributes, the rigor of which is increased stage by stage.

These twenty-eight mula-gunas are : 1-5. The five great vratas or Vows; 6-10. The five samitis, or carefulness; 11- 15. Controlling of five senses; 16-21. The six Avasyakas or essential duties; 22. Removal of hair with one's own hands periodically; 23. Nakedness; 24. Non-bathing; 25. Sleeping on hard ground; 26. Refraining from cleansing the teeth; 27. Taking food standing, and 28. Eating not more than once a day.

These virtues are termed root-virtues, because in their absence other saintly virtues cannot be acquired.

Classes of Ascetics

The ascetics are divided into different classes according to the strictness with which they observe the rules for ascetics life and their standing or position in the order of monks. The Jaina ascetics are broadly divided into two categories, viz., the ascetics who observe the rules of conduct in their strictest form, without ever having recourse to exceptions are called Jainakalpi sadhus, and those who practice the ascetic prescriptions in a milder form are known as sthavirakalpi sadhus.

Further, the heads of the groups of saints are called Acharyas, those in charge of instruction are termed as Upadhyayas and the rest of the ascetics are known as mere Sadhus.

Moreover, there are different grades among ascetics according to the approved stages through which the rigor of ascetics life is increased.