Step-4: The Three Hallmarks (The Lakshan)

First Steps To Jainism

The Three Hallmarks (The Lakshan)


(Step Four)

Dhammo Mangal Mukkitham

Ahimsa Sanjamo Tavo,

Deva Vi Tan Namasanti

Jass Dhamme Saya Mano.

Religion Beneficient Best (Is)

Non-Violence, Self-Control, Penance;

Even Gods Worship Him,

Whose Mind Always (Engages in) Religion.

This is the first couplet (gatha) of the famous Dashvaikalik Sutra compiled by Shyambhavacharya, the fourth head of Jain Sect after Lord Mahaveera, hardly after 100 years of the later’s salvation. One cannot fail to notice the catholicity of the definition of the best religion in this couplet. It only gives the three criteria viz., non-violence, self-control and penance and any religion which prescribes this threefold way of life is considered as the best religion though it may bear any name. The couplet does not even mention Jainism or Nigrantha (Knotless) the name by which it was known at that time.

However, it does declare the three hall-marks or distinctive features of Jainism and Jain way of life in simple language and these have been so understood and accepted by all and sundry. These hall-marks only summarize the principles of right conduct under the three heads of non-violence, self control and penance and place them in bold relief. Just as a tree is recognized by its trunk, branches and leaves though the ground it stands on and the invisible roots are equally important; similarly, the tree of Jainism is recognized by the trunk and branches consisting of Right Conduct(in the form of non-violence, self control and penance)while Right Vision forms the solid ground in which it is imbedded and Right Knowledge forms its roots.

It needs to be clarified that in its broader scope non-violence includes self-control as well as penance and, therefore, all the vows, controls constituting Right Conduct as shall be discussed presently. A question can legitimately arise as to when Right Conduct has already been stated and dealt with as means of salvation, why and what for the need for the three hallmarks? The answer is that a layman may not be interested in the philosophical discussion of the seven fundamentals or the three jewels, he may find it difficult to absorb such fine details. If such a one wants to know what is Jainism, what distinguished it from other faiths or religions, the three hallmarks provide a ready answer that Jainism is the religion teaching non-violence, self-control and penance or these three constitute Jain religion. The statement may not be wrong from practical point of view since these three constitute right conduct (Charitra)and it has been rightly said that Charito Khalu Dhamo conduct is the supreme religion.

Further, if one were to look for one single hallmark of Jainism, one outstanding feature, it is non-violence and non-violence alone. It has been said rightly that Ahimsa Parmo Dharma-non violence is the highest religion. From this point of view all other aspects of religion including self-control and penance are but parts of the broader spectrum of non-violence. Indeed, one cannot practice non-violence properly if one did not control one’s thought, speech and action. Thus even any unrestricted movement while walking may cause violence to living beings. This necessitates control over one’s limbs implying self-control.

Similarly, if in-spite of all efforts one is not able to exercise self-control specially control over one’s mind and senses, penance is the means to achieve the same. By practicing penance not only the body, but the speech and the mind can be effectively controlled leading to a non-violent way of life. Thus self-control and penance are but steps to non-violence.

However, the functions and application of these hallmarks are distinct and marked. In non-violence the main aim is to avoid injury to all living beings. In self-control the operative part is control over body, mind and speech. penance devotes itself to control the senses and the desires by practicing austerities. The first two concern themselves mainly with stoppage of influx(Sanwar) of Karma into the soul and the last i.e. penance with separation (Nirjara)of Karmas from the soul primarily. As such though they are closely related to one another each has got a distinct function and identity to deserve mention as a separate hallmark. Now we can deal with each of these separately.

Non-violence Ahimsa-The first hallmark-No doubt brief mention of non-violence has been made in earlier chapters on Seven Fundamentals and Three Jewels which only underlines its importance and inescapability from every discussion of (any aspect of)Jainism. And why Jainism alone? Every religion or creed or spiritual leader has preached non-violence in some form or other, or under some other nomenclature. First commandment that Moses got on Sinai was “Thou shall not kill”. Christ preached Love and Mohammed taught Equality. The Buddha spread the message of kindness (Karuna). The same current of thought can be traced to the present day when all thoughtful people(e.g. Mahatma Gandhi) have been thinking in terms of non-violence, as the only real solution of world conflicts.

However, the importance given to non-violence by Jain prophets is incomparable anywhere else. While other systems made exceptions and permitted violence in the garb of religious pursuits or considering man as a favored creature for whom other animals have to be treated as food, Jainism made no such concessions. Actually, one of the earlier Prophets-22nd Prophet Nemi renounced his wife and the world on knowing that animals were going to be slaughtered for his wedding.

The principle of non-violence in Jainism embraces not only humanity or the animal kingdom but also trees and vegetables, earth, air and water, as all these are considered as living beings with souls. As such they also feel pain when injured or destroyed and one commits violence when indulging in such acts e.g. cutting of trees, excavating the earth recklessly. Incidentally, all ecologists, environmentalists and preservationists are coming to the same conclusion as a result of the latest advance of science. There is a movement for preservation of animals, realizing that every creature-tiniest or wildest-has its place in the scheme of nature. Tree cutting, pollution of water of rivers and oceans and needless unplanned excavation of earth is raising protests. The world is coming to the same path as preached by Jainism millenniums ago.

The rationale behind the principle of non-violence, according to Jain thought, is equality of all living beings-all souls with one sense or five senses being essentially alike. As such none has the right or justification to treat another one in a manner different from how it would like to be treated, which is the golden rule. Again no one likes pain or bondage or death-every body wants to live and live without pain or fear. If so, what right has one being to cause pain or death to another when it does not want it for itself?

According to the theory of causation(Karma) violence leads to bondage and defilement of the soul thus delaying its liberation. The injurer soul suffers from the passions accompanying the act of causing injury and the injured one forms a sense of enmity and hatred towards the injurer. This perpetuates the cycle of birth and death by defilement of both the souls.

In more simple and direct terms one cannot visualize a world full of violence or without non-violence. Indeed inspite of age long emphasis on non-violence, love and kindness by all spiritual leaders the world is a difficult and miserable place to live. One shudders at the prospects of a world where only violence prevails. There are some who hold the view that life survives by destroying life. But what is forgotten is that life survives more with the help of life. It is the mutual help, love, kindness, charity shown by one living being for another that makes the world a fit place to live. Non-violence is, therefore, a practical necessity and an obvious essential needing no penumbra of justification.

The general observations show the wide sweep of non-violence in Jain thought about which we shall know more when we come to the in-depth study of the subject from various angles where also Jainism excels all other systems.

Non-violence is negation of violence(though there is a positive and equally important aspect of it as we shall see presently). To understand non-violence one must first grasp the meaning of violence. Jain thinkers have delved deep into the subject and the universally accepted definition of violence is injuring vitalities(Prana)by reckless or passionate activity(Pramatt Yoga). This simple yet profound definition of violence is full of meaning and it contains the result of insight of the perfect beings and their successors-Acharyas and will need some elucidation.

There are two constituents of violence according to the above definition viz.

  1. injuring vitalities

  2. reckless or passionate activity leading to it.

First let us elucidate the vitalities and injury to them. There are in all ten vitalities (prana) with which living beings are blessed, the number varying with the development from class to class of living bodies depending upon the evolution of the souls due to their karmas. These are (1 to 5) five senses (of touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing) (6)respiration (7)life duration (8)energy or body (9)organ of speech and (10)Mind. The number of the vitalities vary from class to class e.g. one sensed beings have four vitalities while the five sensed beings with mind have all the ten vitalities. This will be more clear from the statement below:


One Sensed beings like trees

Two sensed beings like bacteria

Three sensed beings like lice

Four sensed beings like flies

Five sensed beings without mind like mindless animals

Five sensed being with mind like man

1. Sense of touch







2. Sense of taste






3. Sense of smell





4. Sense of sight




5. Sense of hearing



6. Respiration







7. Life duration







8. Body power







9. Power of speech






10. Mind power


Total No.of vitalities







It shall follow from the above classification of living beings that with the increase in the number of vitalities from class of living beings the consciousness also increases, with increase in the capacity to feel pain and pleasure. In the same manner the quantum of violence involved in causing pain or injury to different classes of creatures varies with the so called more advanced forms of creation with more vitalities. This becomes manifest in two ways. Firstly, the amount of passion generated in the killer(or injurer)of say animals like goats or cows is more than what is in the case when cutting a tree-because more effort, more determination and preparation is required. Secondly,(which is the cause of the first) an animal feels more pain or makes more efforts to escape death or injury than a tree. Thus the infringement of non-violence and defilement of the soul is much more in killing an animal like goat than cutting a tree. (This however, does not give a license for injuring beings with lesser vitalities).

Every living being whether a man, an animal, a worm, or a tree wants to have free experience of all its vitalities and any possible prevention from such enjoyment causes pain to that living being. Such a prevention or deprivation by another can be in the form of (i)physical injury in respect of a particular vitality e.g. cutting of the nose (ii)by binding or confining the body (iii)by over-loading or over-straining (iv)by deprivation of food (v)by causing pain in any other manner. Such activity is one part of violence. However, this alone will not constitute violence specially so when the motives behind causing injury are good e.g. when a doctor gives an injection he may seemingly cause pain but it will not be termed violence. This bring us to the second constituent of violence i.e. recklessness or passionate activity. Recklessness or Pramad results from the influence of fifteen causes:

1. Intoxication.

2. Sleepiness.

3-6. Four passions(anger, pride, deceit and greed).

7-11. Five senses(of touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing)-misuse of.

12-15. Gossip about food, sex, politics and administration.

The activities (yoga) are also of three types-(1) activity of mind i.e. thinking (ii) activity of speech i.e., words, and (iii) activity of the body i.e. physical action. Thus the second constituent of violence is the activity of any of these types i.e., mind, speech and body, accompanied by recklessness and if such activity results in injuring any of the ten vitalities of living beings it will be violence.

Thus we return to the practical meaning of violence which is causing injury to any vitality of any living being by reckless activity-at some place it is called only passionate activity. Abjuring such activity is observation of non-violence. This discussion leads to the following four combinations of the two constituents:

  1. Neither there is recklessness nor injury to vitalities of a living being.

  2. There is no recklessness but there is injury to vitalities of a living being.

  3. There is recklessness but no injury to vitalities.

  4. There is recklessness as well as injury to vitalities.

The first combination is a perfect example of non-violence as there is neither negligence nor passion nor injury. In the second case though there is injury caused, but there is no recklessness. It is, therefore, a case of apparent violence known as Dravya Hinsa but it does not cause defilement of the person causing the injury. In the third case there is no injury or damage to any vitality of the victim the person engaged is full of recklessness. It will be a case of violence called Bhav Hinsa and nonviolence will be infringed causing defilement of the person engaged. The last or fourth category is the worst example of violence.

As an offshoot of this discussion it may be argued that strictly speaking reckless (Pramatt) conduct should tantamount to violence and careful (Apramatt) conduct should constitute non violence. From the intrinsic point of view this the correct position as injury to vitalities can not be avoided by a living being because there is no place in the world which is free from life and any movement of body, mind or speech is bound to injure some life or other. Also suffering injury or death by any living being is dependent upon a number of factors. The essence, therefore, lies in avoiding reckless behaviour in day to day conduct. This is, however, very subtle and invisible path and, therefore, more difficult to practice. The gross or the visible part is avoidance of injury to other beings or their vitalities. It is relevant to reproduce here the reconciliation established between the two by pt. Sukhlaji in his commentary on Tatvarth Sutra:

Certainly it is an act of negligence that is cause of violence, but its renunciation on the part of people at large is not possible suddenly and for the most part. On the contrary, a mere deprivation of life even if it is a gross act its renunciation is desirable for the sake of balanced maintenance of popular life. Besides, such a renunciation is possible for the most part. Thus even if there has been no renunciation of all acts of negligence but if the tendency towards gross deprivation of life has been reduced then too there often arises happiness and peace in popular life. Certainly, in virtue of the stage-wise evolution of the tendency to non violence it becomes possible that among the people at large there takes place first the renunciation of gross deprivation of life and gradually the renunciation of all acts of negligence. Hence even though the renunciation of violence of the form of act of negligence is recommended to be adopted as an instrument of high spiritual evolution, yet from the point of view of popular life the gross deprivation of life too is treated as a case of violence and its renunciation as a case of non-violence.”

Having analyzed the nature of violence (and its opposite non-violence) we take-up the various divisions and sub divisions of violence. There are three stages of any activity i.e. (a) planning (b) preparation, and (c) execution. Similarly, in respect of a violent act there are three stages of any activity viz.,(a) planning known as Sarambh, (b) preparation known as Samarambh and (c) execution known as Arambh. Each of these three types may be performed due to any one of the four passions viz., anger pride, deceit and greed, which gives us twelve types of violence. Each of these twelve types may be done by any of the three types of media i.e., mind, speech or body e.g. a man motivated by greed may plan mentally to kill and so no. This gives 12 X 3 =36 categories of violence. Again, we know that an act can be committed by oneself or it can be got done by another or one may approve of some one else doing the same which are the three methods. Applying these three methods to the 36 categories mentioned we get 108 varieties of violence.

Perfect practice of non -violence is to shun each one of the 108 types of violence mentioned in the previous paragraph which is the bounden duty of Jain saints or Shramanas. Thus a Jain monk shall not or plan or prepare or execute with anger or pride or deceit or greed by mind or body or word either himself or through another or approve committing any act which injure any of the ten vitalities of any living being. This is complete non-violence.

However, for the laity the injunction of non-violence is not so rigid. He can undertake to abjure the commitment of violence to the extent possible and may progress from stage to stage according to his capacity, the ideal being complete renunciation of violence as mentioned above.

From another angle violence has been classified in following four categories:

  1. Sankalpi – involving deliberately and purposelessly injuring the living being like organizing cock fights etc.

  2. Arambhi-involving unintentional but indirect injury to living beings from acts necessary for normal life e.g. cooking or cleaning.

  3. Udyogi – resulting from industrial or agricultural activity of the individuals for earning livelihood.

  4. Virodhi-resulting from opposing attack on one’s life, property or country.

The saints or monks abjure all the four types but the layman can renounce only the first type, while, he has to indulge in the other three categories, but after observing vigilance and carefulness.

There are other divisions and sub divisions of violence and non-violence from different angles -discussion of which can be seen in the scriptures which are full of condemnation of violence and praise of non-violence. Among sixty names by which non-violence is described in Prashna Vyakarna Sutra there are names like pity (daya), peace (shanti), joy (rati), contentment (tripti) etc. This brings us to the positive side of non-violence.

The positive side of non-violence is as important as the negative side. This side sometimes is not fully appreciated and people are misguided by the negative mentioned in the name non-violence, that it implies only not doing violence. However, Jainism always emphasizes a positive course of conduct. While it prohibits sinful thoughts, words or deeds it praises pious thoughts, words or deeds, for the obvious reasons that it is death that is completely stand-still life must mean some activity.

The positive aspect of non-violence implies forgiveness, kindness, pity, charity, service etc. This requires providing food to the hungry, clothing to the naked, and shelter to the roofless-in short providing service to the needy. It also implies saving animals from torture or death.

Jainism provides complete guidance for observation of non-violence in day to day life. The practicing of the major and minor vows mentioned in previous chapter like truthfulness, non-theft ,continence, non-accumulation etc.-make it easy to observe non-violence. Again there are five observations which strengthens the conduct of non-violence viz., (control of speech, (ii) control of thoughts, (iii) regulation of movement, (iv) care in talking and planning things and (v) examining food and drink.

The non-violence person should be full of benevolence towards all living beings, show joy at the sight of the virtuous, be comforting to the afflicted and show tolerance towards the ill-behaved. For sustenance it is necessary to avoid food and clothing and other requirements which involve the slaughter of living being like animals, fish, birds etc. All kinds of intoxicating intake are to be avoided. Similarly, for earning a living it is necessary to avoid trades like brewing, fishing or butchering.

Above all the origin of non-violence is in the attitude of the mind, as explained earlier. The mind should be constantly vigilant, careful and considerate. This would help in eschewing the four passions – anger, greed, deceit and pride. All acts performed by such a man will be free from violence. This has been authoritatively stated in the Dashvaikalik Sutra (with which we started this chapter). Realizing that no space is free from life and any movement in the form of thought, speech or physical action involves some injury to some form of life (and living means some movement) the question was asked :

Kahan Chare? Kahan Chitte? Kahan Ase? Kahan Saye?

Kahan Bhujanto Bhasanto, Pavv Kamman na Bandhai.

How should one walk, stand, sit, sleep, eat and speak so the sinful karma bondage may not accrue (to the soul).

The answer given is :

Jayan Chare, Jayan Chithe, Jayan Ase, Jayan Saye,

Jayan Bhujanto Bhasanto, Pavv Kamma na Bandhai.

With vigilance should one walk, stand, sit, sleep, eat and talk (thus) sinful karma bondage shall not accrue (to the soul).

Such a vigilant conduct avoids defilement of the soul by karmas or sins leading ultimately to freedom from bondage and salvation. Apart from the future life or the hereafter practice of non-violence makes for a better existence in this life itself. It can ensure peace between nature and man, between man and society or state and between state and state. All the conflicts are solved in non-violent conduct once its principles are put into practice at different levels.

Need for non-violence in the conduct of man and society or state is the greatest in the present times. Faced with the danger of ecological disaster and nuclear holocaust on the one hand, and unrestrained materialistic pursuit on the other, humanity is groping in the dark for a ray of light which can save its very existence. Such light is provided by shunning violence at all levels by practicing non-violence. No wonder Lord Mahaveera called non-violence as Goddess – Ahimsa Bhagwati.

Self control (Sanyam)second hallmark- The Prakrit term in the shloka, with which this chapter opens, the equivalent of which in English has been adopted as self control, is SANJAM the Sanskrit equivalent being SANYAM. This term has very wide and varied connotations. On the one hand, in day to day language, when any person becomes a Jain monk he is declared to have taken sanyam. Sanyam would then mean renouncement of the world and adoption of a life of monkshood with austerities, vows and other restraints accompanying sainthood-described in the previous chapters as right conduct for monks. It may be recalled that Right conduct for monk is the highest type of discipline involving obedience to the five major vows (non-violence, truthfulness, non-theft, celibacy and non-accumulation), three controls (guptis), five vigilances (Samities) Ten Commandments (Dharmas) etc. Accordingly from Sanyam or self-control in this context is understood the highest type of Right Conduct which is also the Jain scheme of an ideal ethical life.

In a narrower context sanyam is one of ten commandments(dharmas) along with forgiveness (Kshama), humility (mardav) purity (sauch) etc. which are means to prevention (sanvar) of bondage of Karmas. Here sanyam has been defined as “suppression of passions (Kashyas) and regulation of the yogas (three medias i. e. mind, speech and body)”. It should follow that any steps towards suppression of anger, greed, pride or deceit as well as any action to regulate one’s thought, speech or action in the right direction is a step towards sanyam. Thus even a beginner described in the previous chapter, or one who follows one of the forty-nine combinations towards abjuring any sinful activity is on the path of self-control and henceforth towards prevention of bondage and influx.

At the other end of scale is the form of Sanyam involving complete suppression of passions and medias (or Yoga) which is characterized by supreme purity and supreme steadiness which is followed by attainment of salvation(nirvana).

Between these two ends of the scale there are numberless types known as different disciplinary stages (sanyamsthan). In the earlier or lower stages passions are the greater vitiating agents. In the latter or higher stages passions tend to disappear but the yoga or medias vitiate the soul. When yoga or medias are also suppressed, passions having been controlled already, supreme, pure and steady stage is attained followed by Nirvan. It needs emphasis that in these numberless disciplinary stages the purity of an immediately later (following) disciplinary stage is infinite times greater than that of an immediately earlier (preceding) one.

Greater light on the Jain concept of self-control is thrown by its numerous divisions and sub-divisions, which is the standard Jain method of scrutiny. Before this it needs mention that the analysis of word sanyam is SAM i.e. samyak which means judicious or right-YAM which means regulation or control. Thus sanyam means right regulation or judicious control (over one-self).

At first we find two divisions of Sanyam or control viz.. control of senses (indriya sanyam) and control towards living beings (pran sanyam).This means one should control the five senses and also abjure violence towards all kinds of living beings.

Elsewhere we find four-fold divisions of sanyam (I) control of mind, (ii) control of speech, (iii) control of body and (iv) control of equipment.

There are two sets of seventeen divisions of self-control which are commonly accepted and which throw light on the vast scope of self-control or sanyam in Jain thought. These are tabulated below:

First set of seventeen divisions of self-control

Restraint in relation to five types of static being

  1. Not to hurt-earth beings.

  2. Not to hurt-water beings.

  3. Not to hurt-fire beings.

  4. Not to hurt-air beings.

  5. Not to hurt-vegetable beings.

Restraint in relation to four types of mobile beings

  1. Not to hurt-two sensed beings.

  2. Not to hurt-three sensed beings.

  3. Not to hurt- four sensed beings.

  4. Not to hurt-five sensed beings.

  5. Avoiding nonliving things which are valuable avoid attraction towards them.

  6. Be careful in sitting, walking, sleeping etc.

  7. Indifference towards worldly activity.

  8. Careful disposal of excreta.

  9. Careful maintenance of clothes & equipment.

  10. Control over mind.

  11. Control over speech.

  12. Control over body.

Second set of Seventeen divisions of self-control

Control over five senses (indriyas)

  1. Control over sense of touch

  2. Control over sense of taste

  3. Control over sense of smell

  4. Control over sense of sight

  5. Control of sense of hearing

Renunciation of five sins or means of influx (ashrava)

  1. Renunciation of violence

  2. Renunciation of non-truth

  3. Renunciation of theft

  4. Renunciation of non-chastity

  5. Renunciation of accumulation

Victory over four passions (kashaya)

  1. Victory over anger

  2. Victory over pride

  3. Victory over deceit

  4. Victory over greed

Control over three medias (yoga)

  1. Control over mind

  2. Control over speech

  3. Control over body

The above analytical classification of self-control only highlights the wide coverage accorded to it in Jain ethics. Virtually no aspect of spiritual or material life is left out of its scope. e.g. earlier it was stated that self-control is necessary for abjuring violence, but in the above analysis it is seen that non-violence is essential for proper exercise of self-control. Thus all aspects of spiritual conduct are inter-related-one supporting the other and in turn being supported by the other. The main emphasis all through for practice of the self-control is upon regulation and disciplining of the senses, the speech, the body and the mind and to control desires. However, it is an arduous task and the seers realizing the difficulty of the practitioners of sanyam-the senses and the mind defying restraint in-spite of all efforts-have provided recourse to penance which is the third and the last hallmark of Jainism.

Penance (Tap)-the third hallmark (Lakshan of Jainism)- As a means of self control penance is recommended by all religious systems-oriental or occidental. As an example in Islam we find the observation of roza during the month of Ramzan when no food, water or any other intake is permitted during daylight hours. In Indian religious system a monk is known as Tapasvi meaning one who practices penance being an essential ingredient of the life discipline of very monk. However. in Jainism penance-like non-violence and self-control-has been taken to the highest pinnacle of glory. All Jain prophets practiced penance of the severe type- going without food or water for weeks and months. Lord Mahaveera’s fast for six months is described in details in the scriptures.

The reasons for glorification of Penance are that, according to Jainism, penance, apart from ensuring self-control and exterminating attachments and desires, ensures not only stoppage (sanwar) but also separation of karmas from the soul(nirjara) thus freeing the soul from the bondage and hastening liberation(moksha). Thus penance is an essential ingredient of Right Conduct as mentioned earlier.

Penance can either be for reward or result e.g. fasting for obtaining wealth or progeny or other favors. This is well known that penance can also bestow super-natural power on the practitioners like flying in air etc. These are called glories (labdhies) and have been listed in details in the scriptures. However, such penance is called immature penance (Bal tap) and has been condemned universally. The reason is that penance is practiced for control of desires and not for perpetuating them. An attempt to use penance for fulfillment of mundane desires is, therefore, a waste and counter-productive.

Real penance(desireless penance)-is without expecting any reward or result except realization of soul on liberation. Actually destruction of all worldly desires is the purpose of penance. This again brings us to the need for correct mental attitude behind penance which requires freedom from the four passions, anger, pride, deceit and greed. This will make for penance becoming Right Penance and a part of Right Conduct, which along with Right Vision and Right Knowledge leads towards salvation.

Penance has been divided into two categories-external (bahiya) and internal (abhyantar) each of which are further divided into six sub-divisions. The penance which primarily concerns the body is external and that which primarily concerns the mind is the internal. The former is more apparent and visible to others than the latter. However, this division is not hard and fast as each of the two types supplements the other one being incomplete without the other. Both are aimed at purification of the soul and both must be supported by absence of passions and be accompanied by Right Vision and Right Knowledge.

The six sub-divisions of external (bahiya) penance are discussed below

  1. Fasting (anshan)-Willfully giving up all types of food or drink or both and desire therefor is fasting. It is a very difficult form of penance and when done without passion it purifies the body, the mind and the soul. It can be (a)for a fixed time (etvarik) or till death (yavatkalik). The first can be for a minimum period of 48 minutes (one muhart) and for a maximum of months in these times (according to pattern laid by Lord Mahaveer who fasted for six months). There are numerous types of fasts for fixed period like fasting for one day, two days, on alternate days and various combinations thereof. Fasting till death known as santhara is giving up the body willfully, when the circumstances so require-briefly mentioned in previous chapter. This is the highest form of renunciation and penance whereby the performer facing death bravely, willingly discards the body like old clothes realizing that the soul and body are separate.

  2. Reduced consumption (of food etc.)-or Unodari-This involves taking of food less than one’s appetite. In broader scope it is applied to take minimum of equipment and clothes as also to minimize the four passions by deliberate effort. One may go without food or drink, but to give up food and drink lying available, in-spite of appetite, requires lot of self discipline-physical and mental. The main purpose is to reduce one’s necessities to the minimum at the same time maintaining the body as a medium of salvation. It also helps control over sleep as also meditation and self-study.

  3. Begging for living (Bhikshachari)-Taking food and equipment available by begging only is the third form of external penance. Such begging is not out of poverty or for shirking from labor but for further controlling the desire for food. Begging is also done subject to number of conditions, main theme being that the food should be untainted and should not hurt any body. The term used for begging in Jainism is madhukari-eating by the bumble bee. Just as a bee takes juice from different flowers without discrimination and without hurting them, similarly the Jain monk takes food from different households in small quantities and without discrimination between rich or poor household or the quality of food offered. It is not unusual to put voluntary restriction on the type of food one will accept or the person from whom it will be accepted. If such condition is not satisfied the monk is prepared to go without food.

  4. Tastelessness(Rasparityag)-According to the broader view of this type of penance the practitioner gives up food which is tasteful or attractive to the sense of touch, taste, sight, smell etc. The reason being that one should eat to live and not live to eat. Specially speaking any or all of the six types of rasas i.e., milk, curds, ghee, oil, sugar and salt are to be avoided since these give rise to attachment to food, (Meat, wine, honey and butter are in any case to be avoided completely).

  5. Tolerance of body pain(Kaya Klesh)-To discipline and train the body and to have no attachment to body and bodily comforts, the disciple adopts diverse postures, bears heat or cold, plucks the hair, sleeps without lying down and so on. All these form part of this category of penance. However, under this penance the body is not to be destroyed or harmed-as there is no enmity towards the body. The body has to be maintained as a medium for practicing religion. However, it has to be kept under control. Also the disciple does not feel any pain as a part of these practices. If at all he gets pleasure and satisfaction from these efforts, just like a mountaineer gets satisfaction from the hard labor and difficulties he encounters while conquering a peak.

  6. Withdrawal(Sallinata)-Withdrawal of the soul from external matters or worldly pursuits and devoting it towards its own upliftment is this kind of penance. In other words it involves efforts to make soul introvert, stopping it from becoming extrovert. This needs constant endeavor to watch the activity of the media(mind, speech and body) and to divert them inward, which requires continuous watch upon the senses, control of passion etc. Special mention may be made of the residence to be used by the disciples which should be free from disturbance through sound, smell, touch and sight.

The six sub-divisions of internal(abhyantar)penance are described as under

  1. Repentance or Expiation(Prayaschit)-To admit one’s faults in observance of Right Conduct and sins under the influence of negligence or passions, to make efforts to reduce the same and to avoid repetition of sinful activity is expiation or Prayaschit. There are numerous sub-divisions of this like confession, repentance, punishment, reinstatement etc.

  2. Humility or reverence(Vinaya)-To show veneration towards the superiors in knowledge, faith and conduct and to hold them in esteem is this type of penance. It involves practice of self-control, discipline and humility. Veneration should be practiced through all the three media of body, speech as well as mind. Also humility is as important in worldly conduct of day to day life as for matters spiritual.

  3. Service(Vaiya Vratya)-Service is the help rendered to the deserving needy by bodily activity or by material things without selfish motive. Service is given priority even over acquisition of knowledge. Service can be in the form of providing food, drink, accommodation, medicines, nursing etc. Service should not only be without any selfish interest but also with equanimity e.g. without revulsion while serving a sick person.

  4. Study or Swadhyaya-To study respectfully and according to prescribed procedure the scriptures falls under this category and is considered a high type of penance because it helps to acquire right knowledge and destroys Karmas pertaining to knowledge. It has been divided into (a)taking lessons (from the teacher), (b) inquiring, (c) repeating, (d) reflecting and (e) preaching.

  5. Meditation or concentration (Dhyan)-Turning mind away from several objects and fixing it on one object is concentration. Concentration can be of four types:

I. Sorrowful (Aart) concentration is to think of getting rid of disagreeable objects and acquiring agreeable ones.

II. Cruel (Roudra)concentration is to think of violence, untruth, theft and pleasures (of the senses).

III. Virtuous (Dharma) concentration is to think of the instructions of the Jinas, the channels of sin and methods of stopping them, the Karmas and the universe. The best kind of Dharma meditation is to concentrate one’s mind upon the self, renouncing all other thoughts.

IV. Prime or Shukla concentration is the highest type of concentration when all desires have vanished and passions extinguished and the mind attains absolute purity without any trace of worldly thoughts.

The first two types leads to bondage and are to be shunned and the latter two types lead to salvation.

6. Renunciation or Vyutsarga means giving up and is of two types (a)giving up of external attachment like house, wealth etc. (b) giving up of internal attachment like the passions, even the body, This type of penance is intended to encourage fearlessness and non-attachment.

Before closing this discussion of Jain Penance, the wide scope of its practice may by reiterated, if it has not become clear already-for the reasons that generally Jain penance is condemned as very harsh and difficult to practice. Actually, even simple acts like study of scriptures or eating one morsel less than one’s appetite tantamounts to practicing very high type of penance. Thus there is scope for every one to select any practice suitable to his talent and power. Of course, what is universally necessary behind such a practice is freedom from worldly desires and passions. From small beginnings one can rise to the greatest heights as was done by many a seer. However, examples are not wanting where practice of minor and easy types of penance have lightened the burden of the soul and embarked it on the way of salvation. In the bargain such practices have resulted in a contented and peaceful existence in this world which is no small gain.


This brings us to the end of description of three hallmarks of Jainism-non-violence, self-control and penance which cover the entire range of right conduct, therefore Jain ethics. In fact these three are so inter-related that strict practice of one ensures and embraces the other two e.g. if non-violence is to be practiced, self-control and penance have to be adopted. Similarly, exercise of self-control will ensure a non-violent conduct in life and also penance. Again practice of penance will not be possible without non-violence and self-control. All the three together provide for a way of life which is full of happiness, contentment and joy in this world and hereafter. Even if one were not to believe in the hereafter a happy, contented and peaceful life itself is the greatest reward for such a conduct, which is to be cherished. Actually, happy and contented individuals make a happy and peaceful society and the world a utopia, dreamt of and prayed for by all philosophers, statesmen and prophets alike. Here is, therefore, the panacea for the ills of the world-simple in content and easy in practice. May the world arise, awake and proceed on this noble path.