Jain World
Sub-Categories of Passions


The Antiquity of Jainism
Jain Heroes
Jaina Order and Literature
Fundamental Beliefs
  The Human Predicament
  The Doctrine of Karma
  The Doctrine of Man
  The Denial of God
  Jaina Ethics and Morality
  Three Spiritual Paths
  Response to Contemporary Issue
  Social Issues
  The Economic Order
  The Idea of Ahimsa and Vegetarianism

Social Issues



The Jain Acaryas have discussed same of the social issues that confront us today such as sexual relationships, marriage and family and the role and status of women.  Modern scholars also provide us with updated interpretations of ancient principles.

On the matter of sexual relationships, Jainism sets celibacy (Bramacharya) as the norm.  For the monk, the vow is defined as total abstinence, but for the layman it means inner purity.  The householder must be content with his own wife and must consider all other women as his sisters, mothers and daughters.  The Acaryas had a realistic understanding of the power of sex and counselled against its indulgence through suggestive literature, sexual fantasies and intimacy.  Sexual deviations were to be avoided, including contact with lower animals and inanimate objects.  The scriptures provide many examples of positive sexual relationships that are applicable to the present situation.

Unlike the Hindus who look upon marriage as a sacrament, Jains treat the institution as a contract.  Its purpose is to make sex licit within a family.  The role of sex between husband and wife is strictly procreational, so that its engagement is limited to the ovulation period.  Notwithstanding many of its own unique features, the Jain concept of the family is strongly influenced by the prevailing Hindu culture.

Women have been accorded equal status to men within the Jain religion.  As a matter of fact, there were more women in the order of Lord Mahavira than men.  The scriptures record many tributes to exceptional women.  The care of women, especially in critical situations, is given a higher priority than that of men.  Mothers of the Tirthankaras are given special honor through communal worship.  Legends abound in which heroines such as Brahmi, Sundari, Mallikumari, and Rajimati have come to the aid of men.  Women have also been celebrated for their learning and have been recognized for their exceptional contributions in the field of education, culture and religion.  So far as their legal and social status within the community is concerned, Jaina women are on a par with their Hindu sisters.

Jain egalitarianism rejects the Hindu division of society into higher and lower castes.  It finds no basis for the idea that makes one caste superior to the other.  On the contrary, it finds castism an evil based on hatred, pride, and deluded vision.  Lord Mahavira gave no ground for the supremacy of any caste by reason of birth.  This explains why many slaves, untouchables, and low-caste people entered the Jaina fold, and some were able to prove their personal merit by rising to the level of saints.  Mahavira showed his feelings for the dignity of his fellows by eliminating the convention of caste distinctions in mutual address.  He says, �Worthy beings!  Take it as my command that henceforth no monk address another by the latter�s caste.�  He was very conscious that pride of caste is destructive of communal solidarity.

The eighth and ninth sermons contained in the Uttaradhasana Sutra ethicize the notion of caste so that virtue, not birth, is the hallmark of a person�s standing.  It is said, �One becomes a Sramana by equanimity, a Brahmana by chastity, a Muni by knowledge and a Tapasa by penance.  By one�s action one becomes a Brahmana or a Ksatriya or a Vaisya or a Sudra.�

In a similar vein, Acarya Amitagati said that, �Good people should not have pride in any class as it leads to degradation, but they should observe good conduct which might give them high position.�

It is clear that there is no religious support for castism in the Jaina tradition.  However, in the course of history, because of certain social factors, the Jaina did form a large number of castes and subcastes.  Even so, the Jaina community has been foremost in social services that cross all caste barriers and it has served as a cohesive force for national unity.

Social service is a prominent outcome of Jaina ethics.  It prescribes six daily duties for every householder.  These duties are, adoration of deity (Jina), veneration of the Gurus, study of literature and scriptures, practice of self discipline, observance of fasts and curbing appetites, and charity.  All of these daily duties are related to the performance of social service for mankind.

The duty of charity (dana) sets the mood and manner of the layman�s daily life.  One performs charity, not on a cloud of sentiment, but following the details of scripture so that it is all done wisely, equitably, politely, and in a spirit of gratitude and humility.

One vow of spiritual discipline (siksavrata) that the householder takes is that of hospitality to monks, (Atithi Samvibhaga Vrata).  This involves the supply of food, books, medicine, etc.  Acarya Samantabhadra calls the vow of hospitality physical service (Vaiyavrtya).  It makes the householder into the parent of the monk.  Sick, aged, and helpless monks are thus taken care of in their time of need.  The practice of such physical service developed particularly in the area of medical charities (Ausadhi-Dana).  Its effect was the creation of a communal sense of fearlessness (Abhaya-Dana).

Jaina ethics also makes the study of scriptures (Svadhyaya) an important service for monk and layman.  This endeavor is known as Sastra-Dana.  Its purpose is to advance knowledge, eliminate error, and to bring many others into its orbit of enlightenment, By following the duty of scriptural charity, Jain laymen have erected prestigious libraries containing numerous literary treasures.  These Grantha-Bhandaras are not confined to Jaina works but contain collections which are of value for Indian culture at large.

This brief listing of social services should make it plain that there is no conflict in Jaina ethics between individual piety and social outreach.  The six daily duties of the householder are personal, but not private; they extend into the community of which the individual is a part.  Spirituality and practicality go hand-in-hand.

In addition to medical care for humans, Jainism is a leader among religions in providing hospitals for animals and birds.  Its epitome of true spirituality is when a monk, wrapped in contemplation, takes time to mend the broken wing of a little sparrow.  His holy mission is to all creatures great and small.