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
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
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
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.