ETHICS OF JAINISM
1. PRESCRIPTION OF ETHICAL CODE
Ancient thinkers considered ethics as part of metaphysical and theological
speculations and therefore made moral principles as part of their
religion. In doing so, they tried to indicate the relationship between man
and the universe, and his goal in life. Though man�s conduct in society is
the normal field of ethics, the Jaina thinkers have linked ethics with
metaphysical ideas and ideals.
Jaina ethics is considered as the most glorious part of Jainism and it is
simplicity itself. That is why some authors have described Jainism as
Ethical Realism. In this ethics there is no conflict between man�s duty to
himself and to society. Here the highest good of society is the highest
good of the individual. According to Jainism the soul has to be evolved to
the best of its present capacity, and one means to this evolution is the
duty of helping others by example, advice, encouragement and help.
It is maintained that the first precept to a follower of Jainism is that
he should possess and cultivate an intelligent and reasoned faith in that
religion. This faith must be of right type and should be free from false
notions about God, scriptures and preceptors. Such right faith or belief
works as an inspiration for acquisition of right know-�ledge which ought
to be reflected in conduct of right type in daily life. Hence along with
laying down the path of salvation consisting of right belief, right
knowledge and right conduct, Jainism has also prescribed the definite
rules of conduct to be observed by its followers. All these rules of
conduct are directed towards the main aim of achieving freedom of the soul
from the karmic matter, i.e., attaining salvation. In view of this aim it
is emphasised that Jaina ethics has for its end the realisation of nirvana
or moksa, i.e., salvation. To effect this end, the rules of conduct have
to be observed and corresponding virtues have to be acquired.
It is pertinent to note that the scheme of Jaina ethics, that is, the
rules of conduct have been so designed that all persons would be in a
position to follow them. Accordingly, the rules of conduct prescribed by
Jainism have been divided into two categories, viz.,
(i) those prescribed for sravakas, i.e. householders or laymen, and
(ii) those prescribed for munis, i.e., ascetics.
The rules of the first category are termed as sravaka-dharma or sagara-dharma
and those of the second category are known as muni�dharma or anagdra-dharma.
It is obvious that the rules laid down for the laity or householders are
less rigid than those prescribed for ascetics because the house�holders
have not renounced worldly activities for eking out their livelihood. The
obvious reason for this differentiation is that a householder has to look
after his family and adjust himself to the social and political conditions
in which he lives. An ascetic, however, has no such limitations as he
abandons all of them with the sole aim of pursuing a spiritual path. He
can observe the vows fully as he is in full control of his senses and is
in a position to curb his passions quite easily due to his religious
learning and spiritual discipline.
Further, the followers of Jaina religion have been traditionally divided
into four groups: sadhus or munis or yatis, i.e., male ascetics; sadhvis
or aryikas i.e., female ascetics; sravakas, i.e., male laity or male
householders, and sravikas, i.e., female laity or female householders:
Obviously, this division of followers of Jaina religion has been done
according to sex and the strictness with which the members practise the
injunctions laid down by Jaina religion. The rules of conduct prescribed
for the first two categories of ascetics were almost identical and were to
be observed with more strictness. Similar rules were enjoined upon the
last two categories of laity but these are allowed to be practised with
less degree of strictness and according to one�s own capacity. In each
group the conduct was regulated by vows which every member was required to
observe in his or her daily life.
Since the aim of the rules of conduct and vows prescribed for the sravakas
and sravikas, is self-purification, it is but natural that they should be
classified on the basis of their capacity. The sravaka is a term used to
designate a layman: The sravaka is defined as srnoti id sravakah, (gvft.
!Z~ WwW) that is, the sravaka is a layman who srnoti, i.e., listens to and
accordingly follows religious precepts. Obviously, the term srnoti; i.e.,
listens to and accordingly follows religious precepts: Obviously; the term
sravaka is used for a Jaina householder who has faith in his religion and
is accustomed to put into practice the precepts of religion according to
It is common experience that men and women differ in their capacity for
intellectual grasp and firmness of will. Some Jaina thinkers have
accordingly adopted a three-fold division of the sravakas as follows :
(i) Paksika sravaka is a layman who has a Paksa, i.e., inclination,
towards ahirrisa, i.e., the basic principle of non-injury to living
beings. He possesses samyaktva, i.e., firm faith in Jaina reli�gion, and
practises the mula-gunas, i.e., the basic or primary virtues of a Jaina
householder, and also the anu-vratas, i.e., the small vows, prescribed for
observance by a Jaina house�holder, and is assiduous in performing the
puju, i.e., worship.
(ii) Naisthika sravaka is a layman who pursues the path upwards through
the pratimas, i.e., the stages of householder�s life. till he reaches the
last, that is the eleventh stage. At this nistha, i.e., culminating point,
he quits the household life and practices ten kinds of dharma, i.e.,
virtues., of the ascetic. It would seem that if he backslides he is
downgraded to the stage of a paksika sravaka.
(iii) Sadhaka sravaka is a layman who sadhayati, i.e., concludes his human
incarnation in a final purification of the self by carrying out sallekhana.,
peaceful ritual death by fasting.
In view of this twofold categorisation of sravaka-dharma and muni-dharma,
let us see the ethical code or rules of conduct pres�cribed both for the
householders and the ascetics.
2. ETHICAL CODE FOR HOUSEHOLDERS
The ethical code prescribed for laymen or householders is divided into the
observance of twelve vratas or vows; eleven pratimas or stages in
householder�s life, six avasyakas or daily duties; and general principles
of appropriate conduct.
As these rules of conduct for layman form the core of sravaka�dharma, it
is necessary to have a proper understanding of these observances.
(1) Twelve Vratas or Vows
Vrata or a vow is a solemn resolve made after deliberation to observe a
particular rule of conduct; it is made before a saint on his advice or
voluntarily to protect oneself against possible lapses of conduct. The
object is to control the mind and mould one�s conduct along the spiritual
path. The rules are such as are intended to protect the society from harm
by projecting oneself on the righteous path. A vow affords stability to
the will and guards its votary from the evils of temptations or of
unguarded life; it gives purpose to life and healthy direction to our
thoughts and actions. It helps the growth of self� control and protects
against the pitfalls of free life.
It is laid down that a layman should try to avoid the following five
aticharas, i.e., short-comings, of faith before he begins to observe the
vows which mark the first stage of right conduct : sarika, doubt or
scepsis; UAW, desire of sense pleasures; vichikitsa, disgust of anything,
for example, with a sick or deformed person; anyadrsti�prasarrisa,
thinking admiringly of wrong believers; and anyadrsti�savnstava, praising
The householders are expected to observe in their daily lives the
following twelve vratas or vows consisting of : (A) five anu-vratas, i.e.,
small vows; (B) three guna-vratas, i.e., multiplicative vows, and (C) four
siksa-vratasy i.e., disciplinary vows.
These vows form the central part of the ethical code and by their
observance laymen can maintain constant progress in their spiritual career
aimed at the attainment of final liberation.
The main five vows of the Jains are as follows : (i) ahimsa, abstention
from violence or injury to living beings, (ii) satya, abs�tention from
false speech, (iii) asteya, abstention from theft, (iv) brahmacharya,
abstention from sexuality or unchastity, and (v) apari�graha, abstention
from greed for worldly possesions.
As regards the extent and intensity in the observance of these vratas it
is stated that if these vows are very strictly observed they are known as
mahavratas, i.e., great vows and naturally these are meant for the
ascetics. Laymen, however, cannot observe vows so strictly and therefore
they are allowed to practise them so far as their conditions permit.
Therefore, the same vratas, i.e., vows when partially observed are termed
as anuvratas, i.e., small vows.
Again, for fixing of these five vows in the mind, there are five kinds of
bhavanas, i.e., _ attendant meditations, for each of the vows, and every
person is expected to think over them again and again.
Further, every person must meditate that the five faults meant to be
avoided in these five vows are in fact pain personified and are of
dangerous and censurable character in this as well as in the next world.
Moreover. every person must meditate upon the following four virtues which
are based upon the observance of these five vows : maitri, friendship with
all living beings; pramoda, delight at the sight of beings better
qualified or more advanced than ourselves on the path of liberation;
karunya, compassion for the afflicted; and madhyasthya, tolerance or.
indifference to those who are uncivil or ill-behaved.
Furthermore, the observance of the five anuvratas, i.e., small vows, and
refraining from the use of three `makaras� (three M�s) namely madya (i.e.,
wine), mariusa, (i.e. flesh or meat) and madhu, (i.e., honey) are regarded
as eight mulagunas, i.e., the basic or primary virtues of a householder.
For minimizing injury to living beings, complete abstinence of wine, flesh
and honey is advocated, and every householder must necessarily possess
these eight primary or funda�mental virtues.
In addition to five main vratas or vows, a house-holder is enjoined upon
to practise three gunavratas, i.e., the multiplicative vows, which
increase the value of the main vows. These three gunavratas are : ( a)
digvrata, taking a life-long vow to limit one�s worldy activity to fixed
points in all directions. (ii) desavrata, taking a vow to limit the above
also to a limited area, and (iii) anarthadanda-vrata, taking a vow not to
commit purposeless sinful actions, or to abstain from wanton sinful
Along with the five anuvratas and three gunavratas, a householder is
required to practise four siksa-vratas, i.e., disciplinary vows which are
devised to prepare an individual to follow: the discipline pres�cribed for
the ascetics . The four siksavratas are : (i) Samayika is taking a vow to
devote particular time everyday to contemplation or meditation of the self
for spiritual advancement, (ii) Prosadhopavasa is taking a vow to fast on
four days of the month, namely, the two eighth and the two fourteenth days
of the month. (iii) Upabhoga�paribhoga parimana is taking a vow everyday
limiting one�s enjoy�ment of consumable and non-consumable things. (iv)
Atithi-saritvibhaga is taking a vow to take one�s food only after feeding
the ascetics, or, in their absence, the pious householders.
It may be noted that these three gunavratas and four siksavratas are
grouped together and are known as silavratas i.e., supplementary vows
because these vows perform the work of supplementing or protecting the
five main anuvratas just as towns are protected or guarded by the
encircling walls built around them.
Thus the five anuvratas, the three gunavratas and the four siksavratas
constitute the twelve vratas or vows of a householder. There are five
aticharas, i.e., defects or partial transgressions., for each of these
twelve vows and they are to be avoided by the observers of these vows.
In addition to the above twelve vows a householder is expected to practise
in the last moment of his life the process of sallekhana, i.e., peaceful
or voluntary death. A layman is expected not only to live a disciplined
life but also to die bravely a detached death. This voluntary death is to
be distinguished from suicide which is consi�dered by Jainism as a
cowardly sin. It is laid down that when faced by calamity, famine, old age
and disease against which there is no remedy, a pious householder should
peacefully relinquish his body, being inspired by a higher religious
ideal. It is with a quiet and deteched mood that he would face death
bravely and voluntarily. This sallekhana is added as an extra vow to the
existing twelve _ vows of a householder. Like other vows, the vow of
�sallekhana has also got five aticharas, i.e. partial transgressions,
which are to be avoided by a householder.
The - most significant feature of these twelve vows is that by practising
these vows a layman virtually participates, to a limited extent and for a
limited period of time, in the routine of an ascetic without actually
renouncing the world. It is obvious that such practices maintain a close
tie between the laymen and the ascetics as both are actuated by the same
motive and are moved by the same religious ideals.
(2) The Eleven Pratimas or Stages
A layman who is desirous of attaining to greater heights in ethical and
spiritual progress can do so by regulating his way of life. The word
pratima is used to designate the stages of ethical progress in a
householder�s life. By treading the path of progress, a layman acquires
capacity for spiritual advancement. The pratimas or stages are closely
connected with the twelve vratas or vows prescribed for laymen.
Further, the householder�s life has been divided into eleven pratimns or
stages. These pratimas form a series of duties and peformances, the
standard and duration of which rise periodically and which finally
culminate in an attitude resembling monkhood. Thus the pratintas rise by
degrees and every stage includes all the virtues practised in those
preceding it. The conception of eleven pratimas reveals in the best manner
the rules of conduct prescribed for the laymen. Hence. the pratimas are
like the rungs of a ladder : a layman desirous of spiritual progress must
mount the ladder step by step until he teaches the top, that is, the
highest stage of spirituality as a layman.