Ethics Of Jainism

This article covers Ethics Of Jainism.

Jain ethical code prescribes two dharmas or rules of conduct. One for those who wish to become ascetic and another for the śrāvaka (householders). Five fundamental vows are prescribed for both votaries. These vows are observed by śrāvakas (householders) partially and are termed as anuvratas (small vows). Ascetics observe these fives vows more strictly and therefore observe complete abstinence. These five vows are:

According to Jain text, Puruşārthasiddhyupāya:

All these subdivisions (injury, falsehood, stealing, unchastity, and attachment) are hiṃsā as indulgence in these sullies the pure nature of the soul. Falsehood etc. have been mentioned separately only to make the disciple understand through illustrations.
— Puruşārthasiddhyupāya (42)

Apart from five main vows, a householder is expected to observe seven supplementary vows (śeelas) and last sallekhanā vow.

Statue of Mahavira in meditation, Ahinsa Sthal, Mehrauli, New Delhi

Statue of Mahavira in meditation, Ahinsa Sthal, Mehrauli, New Delhi

Maha vratas (Major vows)

Jain emblem and the "Five Vows"

Jain emblem and the “Five Vows”

Mahavrata (lit. major vows) are the five fundamental observed by the Jain ascetics. According to Acharya Samantabhadra’s Ratnakaraņdaka śrāvakācāra:

Abstaining from the commitment of five kinds of sins (injury, falsehood, stealing, unchastity, and attachment) by way of doing these by oneself, causing these to be done, and approval when done by others, through the three kinds of activity (of body, speech, and thought), constitutes the great vows (mahāvrata) of celebrated ascetics.
— Ratnakaraņdaka śrāvakācāra (72)


Main article: Ahimsa in Jainism

Ahimsa (non-injury) is formalised into Jain doctrine as the first and foremost vow. According to the Jain text, Tattvarthsutra: “The severance of vitalities out of passion is injury.”


Main article: Satya

Satya is the vow to not lie, and to speak the truth. A monk or nun must not speak the false, and either be silent or speak the truth. According to Pravin Shah, the great vow of satya applies to “speech, mind, and deed”, and it also means discouraging and disapproving others who perpetuate a falsehood.

The underlying cause of falsehood is passion and therefore, it is said to cause hiṃsā (injury).


Main article: Asteya

Asteya as a great vow means not take anything which is not freely given and without permission. It applies to anything even if unattended or unclaimed, whether it is of worth or worthless thing. This vow of non-stealing applies to action, speech and thought. Further a mendicant, states Shah, must neither encourage others to do so nor approve of such activities.

According to the Jain text, Puruṣārthasiddhyupāya:

Driven by passions, taking anything that has not been given be termed as theft and since theft causes injury, it is hiṃsā
— Puruṣārthasiddhyupāya (42)

According to Tattvarthasutra, five observances that strengthen this vow are:

  • Residence in a solitary place
  • Residence in a deserted habitation
  • Causing no hindrance to others,
  • Acceptance of clean food, and
  • Not quarreling with brother monks.


Main article: Brahmacharya

Brahmacharya as a great vow of Jain mendicants means celibacy and avoiding any form of sexual activity with body, words or mind. A monk or nun should not enjoy sensual pleasures, which includes all the five senses, nor ask others to do the same, nor approve of another monk or nun engaging in sexual or sensual activity.


Main article: Aparigraha

According to Tattvarthsutra, “Infatuation is attachment to possessions”. Jain texts mentions that “attachment to possessions (parigraha) is of two kinds: attachment to internal possessions (ābhyantara parigraha), and attachment to external possessions (bāhya parigraha). The fourteen internal possessions are:

  • Wrong belief
  • The three sex-passions
    • Male sex-passion
    • Female sex-passion
    • Neuter sex-passion
  • Six defects
    • Laughter
    • Liking
    • Disliking
    • Sorrow
    • Fear
    • Disgust
  • Four passions
    • Anger
    • Pride
    • Deceitfulness
    • Greed

External possessions are divided into two subclasses, the non-living, and the living. According to Jain texts, both internal and external possessions are proved to be hiṃsā (injury).

Anuvratas (Minor vows)

Five Mahavratas of Jain ascetics

Five Mahavratas of Jain ascetics

The five great vows apply only to ascetics in Jainism, and in their place are five minor vows for householders. The historic texts of Jains accept that any activity by a layperson would involve some form of himsa (violence) to some living beings, and therefore the minor vow emphasizes reduction of the impact and active efforts to protect. The five “minor vows” in Jainism are modeled after the great vows, but differ in degree and they are less demanding or restrictive than the same “great vows” for ascetics. Thus, brahmacharya for householders means chastity, or being sexually faithful to one’s partner. Similarly, states John Cort, a mendicant’s great vow of ahimsa requires that he or she must avoid gross and subtle forms of violence to all six kinds of living beings (earth beings, water beings, fire beings, wind beings, vegetable beings and mobile beings). In contrast, a Jain householder’s minor vow requires no gross violence against higher life forms and an effort to protect animals from “slaughter, beating, injury and suffering”.

Apart from five fundamental vows seven supplementary vows are prescribed for a śrāvaka. These include three guņa vratas (Merit vows) and four śikşā vratas (Disciplinary vows). The vow of sallekhanâ is observed by the votary at the end of his life. It is prescribed both for the ascetics and householders. According to the Jain text, Puruşārthasiddhyupāya:

The man who incessantly observes all the supplementary vows and sallekhanâ (together, these are called śeelas) for the sake of safeguarding his vows (vratas), gets fervently garlanded (a gesture to indicate her choice for a husband) by the maiden called ‘liberation’.
— Puruşārthasiddhyupāya

The five ‘lesser vows’ of anuvrata consist of the five greater vows but with less restrictions to incorporate the duties of a householder, i.e. a layperson with a home, he or she has responsibilities to the family, community and society that a Jain monk does not have. These minor vows have the following incorporated into ethical conduct:

  1. Take account of the responsibilities of a householder.
  2. Are often limited in time.
  3. Are often limited in scope.

Guņa vratas

  1. Digvrata– restriction on movement with regard to directions.
  2. Bhogopabhogaparimana– vow of limiting consumable and non-consumable things
  3. Anartha-dandaviramana– refraining from harmful occupations and activities (purposeless sins).

Śikşā vratas

  1. Samayika– vow to meditate and concentrate periodically.
  2. Desavrata– limiting movement to certain places for a fixed period of time.
  3. Prosadhopavâsa– Fasting at regular intervals.
  4. Atihti samvibhag– Vow of offering food to the ascetic and needy people.


Main article: Sallekhana

An ascetic or householder who has observed all the prescribed vows to shed the karmas, takes the vow of sallekhanā at the end of his life. According to the Jain text, Purushartha Siddhyupaya, “sallekhana enable a householder to carry with him his wealth of piety”.


There are five, five transgressions respectively for the vows and the supplementary vows.

Head Vow Transgressions
Five vows Ahiṃsā Binding, beating, mutilating limbs, overloading, withholding food and drink
Satya Perverted teaching, divulging what is done in secret, forgery, misappropriation, and proclaiming other’s thoughts.
Asteya Prompting others to steal, receiving stolen goods, under- buying in a disordered state, using false weights and measures, and deceiving others with artificial or imitation goods.
Brahmacharya Bringing about marriage, intercourse with an unchaste married woman, cohabitation with a harlot, perverted sexual practices, and excessive sexual passion.
Aparigraha Exceeding the limits set by oneself with regard to cultivable lands and houses, riches such as gold and silver, cattle and corn, men and women servants, and clothes.
Guņa vratas digvrata Exceeding the limits set in the directions, namely upwards, downwards and horizontally, enlarging the boundaries in the accepted directions, and forgetting the boundaries set, are the five transgressions of the minor vow of direction.
7.bhogopabhogaparimana Victuals containing (one-sensed) organisms, placed near organisms, mixed with organisms, stimulants, and ill-cooked food.
anartha-dandaviramana Vulgar jokes, vulgar jokes accompanied by gesticulation, garrulity, unthinkingly indulging in too much action, keeping too many consumable and non-consumable objects.
Śikşā vratas Samayika Misdirected three-fold activity, lack of earnestness, and fluctuation of thought.
Desavrata Sending for something outside the country of one’s resolve, commanding someone there to do thus, indicating one’s intentions by sounds, by showing oneself and by throwing clod, etc.
Prosadhopavâsa Excreting, handling sandalwood paste, flowers etc., and spreading mats and garments without inspecting and cleaning the place and the materials, lack of earnestness, and lack of concentration.
Atihti samvibhag Placing the food on things with organisms such as green leaves, covering it with such things, food of another host, envy and untimely food
Sallekhanā vrata Sallekhanā Desire for life, desire for death, recollection of affection for friends, recollection of pleasures and constant longing for enjoyment.

See also

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Leave a Reply