Prescription of Ethical Code

Ethics of Jainism: Prescription of Ethical Code

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 society is the highest good of the individual. According to Jainism the soul has to be evolved to 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 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 emphasized that Jaina ethics has for its end the realization 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.,

  1. those prescribed for sravakas, i.e., householders or laymen, and

  2. 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 anagara-dharma.

It is obvious that the rules laid down for the laity or householders are less rigid than those prescribed for ascetics because the householders 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 ascetics, however, has no such limitation 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., the 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 practice 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 practiced 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 sravakas is a term used to designate a layman. The sravaka is defined as srnoti iti sravakah, that is, the sravaka is a layman who srnoti, i.e., listen to and accordingly follows religious precepts. Obviously, the term sravka 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 his capacity.

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:

  1. Paksika sravaka is a layman who has a paksa, i.e., inclination, towards ahimsa, i.e., the basic principle of non-injury to living beings. He possesses samyaktva, i.e., firm faith in Jaina religion, and practices the mula-gunas, i.e., the basic or primary virtues of a Jaina householders, and also the anu-vratas, i.e., the small vows, prescribed for observance by a Jaina householder, and is assiduous in performing the puja, i.e., worship.

  2. 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 ascetics. It would seem that if he backslides he is downgraded to the stage of a paksika sravaka.

  3. 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 his two-fold categorization of sravaka-dharma and muni-dharma, let us see the ethical code or rules of conduct prescribed both for the householders and the ascetics.

Ethical code for Householders

The ethical code prescribed for layman or householders is divided into the observance of twelve vratas or vows; eleven pratimas or stages in householder’s life, six avasykas 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.

TWELVE Vratas or Vows

Vratas 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 mold 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 temptation 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 : sanka, doubt or skeptic; kanksa, desire of sense pleasures; vichikitsa, disgust of anything, for example, with a sick or deformed person; anyadrsti-prasamsa, thinking admiringly of wrong believers; and anyadrsti-samstava, praising wrong believers.

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-vratas, 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 Jaina are as follows : (i) ahimsa, abstention from violence or injury to living beings, (ii) satya, abstention from false speech, (iii) asteya, abstention from theft, (iv) brahmacharya, abstention from sexuality or unchastity, and (v) aparigraha, abstention from greed for worldly possessions.

As regards the extent and intensity in the observance of these vratas it is stated that if these vows are 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 practice 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 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; kearny, 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), mamsa, (i.e., flesh or meat) and madhu, (i.e., honey) are regarded as eight mula-gunas, i.e., the basic or primary virtues of a householder. For minimizing injury to living beings, complete abstinence of win, flesh and honey is advocated, and every householder must necessarily possess these eight primary or fundamental virtues.


In addition to five main vratas or vows, a house-holder is enjoined upon to practice three gunavratas, i.e., the multiplicative vows, which increase the value of the main vows. These three gunavratas are : (i) digvratas, taking a life-long vow to limit one’s worldly activity to fixed points in all directions, (ii) desavarta, 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 activities.


Along with the five anuvratas and three gunavratas, a householder is required to practice four siksa-vratas, i.e., disciplinary vows which are devised to prepare an individual to follow the discipline prescribed 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 two fourteenth days of the month, (iii) Upabhoga-paribhoga-parimana is taking a vow everyday limiting one’s enjoyment of consumable and non-consumable things, (iv) Atithi-samvibhaga 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 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 practice 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 considered 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 detached 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 practicing these vows a layman virtually participates, to a limited extent and for a limited period 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.

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 pratimas or stages. These pratimas form a series of duties and performances, the standard and duration of which rise periodically and which finally culminate in an attitude resembling monkshood. Thus the pratimas rise by degrees and every stage includes all the virtues practiced 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 ladder: a layman desirous of spiritual progress must mount the ladder step until he reaches the top, that is, the highest stage of spirituality as a layman.

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.