Private distinctiveness of Jaina Ethics


Gradation in ethical code

The examination of an outline of Jaina ethics does make clear its certain outstanding features. In the first place it is evident that there is a system of gradation in Jaina ethics because the whole course of Jaina ethics has been divided into stages and it is enjoined on every person to put into practice the rules of conduct step by step. The whole life of an individual, in some of the later works, has been divided into four Asramas, i.e., stages, namely, (i) Brahmacharya, the period of study, (ii) Grhastha, the period devoted to household life, civic duties, and the like, (iii) Vanaprastha, the period of retirement from worldly activities, and (iv) Samnyasa, the period of absolute renunciation.

  1. Brahmacharya Asrama

    • The first is the stage of study when the pupil must acquire knowledge, religious as well as secular, and build up a character that will rule supreme in later life. In this period he is to for the right convictions regarding the real nature of the soul and the world.
  2. Grhastha Asrama

    • After completing his studies he enters the second stage. He is expected to marry and settle down to lead a pious householder’s life. In this stage he tries to realize the first three of the four ideals or objectives in life, namely, dharma (religious merit), artha (wealth, position, worldly prosperity, etc.), kama (pleasure) and moksa (salvation). But it has been specifically stressed that while realizing dharma, artha and kama, he must subordinate artha and kama to dharma. The householder, who aspires for moksa in the long run, knows that it cannot be attained except by severe self-discipline of a type which is not attainable by him as a layman. He, therefore, only aspires to perfect himself in the first instance, in the performance of his own duties, so that he may adopt samnyasa, i.e., the stage of renunciation, in due course of time. Even though he is the main popular support in other three stages, he is to prepare himself bit by bit for entering the subsequent stages.

  3. Vanaprastha Asrama

    • In this third stage he retires from worldly activities, abandons efforts for attaining the ideals of artha and kama and concentrates his attention on the first ideal of dharma.

  4. Samnyasa Asrama

    • After successfully crossing the third stage an individual enters the fourth stage which is marked by a sense of absolute renunciation and in this stage he aspires for the last and the most important ideal of moksa.

In this way we find that in Jaina ethics different rules of conduct are prescribed for different stages in life so that an individual may gradually attain the final aim in life. Even in one stage the rules of conduct are divided into several grades, for example, the eleven Pratimas in the householder’s stage. This makes the progress on spiritual path very easy and a person readily understands what his position is on that path. This scheme is intended for the protection of the individual in the sense that he is preparing step by step to achieve the real purpose in life.