The Custodians of Monastic Discipline

I. Introduction.

II. The Custodians of Monastic Discipline: The Hierarchy. 

III. The Problems of Seniority and Succession. 

IV. The Units or Church Groups. 


We have so far surveyed the preliminary field for the study of Jaina monastic jurisprudence. We have seen the nature of the canon, the controversy about it, the texts essential for the study of the topic in hand, the spirit which underlies the formulation of rules of monastic conduct and -the nature and meaning of transgressions and exceptions.

We now get into the core of the subject and see the nature of the principle prayascittas, the custodians and judges of monastic conduct or the hierarchy, and the rules regarding their qualifications.

II. The Custodians of Monastic Discipline: The Hierarchy

While dealing with the nature and meaning of transgression and exception, it was made clear that only a person who was a giyattha(gitartha) or well-versed in monastic discipline could be taken to be the best judge in deciding whether a particular transgression was committed or otherwise.

Naturally the question arises here as to who the person or persons were, who were so authorized by virtue of their disciplined mode of life and seniority to act as custodians and judges of the rules of monastic jurisprudence. What were the essential qualifications for such persons? What were the rules about seniority? To what factors was it related? The answers to all these questions will unfold the nature of the Jaina church hierarchy, the various units and their inter-relation.

Candidates fit for monastic life:

Let us begin at the beginning and see which persons were fit for entry to the rigors and discipline of monk life. The Thanangasutta ( p. 146b) gives a list of twenty persons who were not allowed to enter the order. The list as it stands is based on commonsense as also considerations, which avoided the entanglement of the church into non-monastic affairs. For instance, rules which barred the entry of persons such as eunuchs, very old persons, children under eight, the sick, robbers, madmen, pregnant women etc., are obviously based on practical commonsense as these persons are likely to be a nuisance to the smooth working of monastic discipline. On the other hand, a person who was the declared enemy of a king (rayavagari), a slave (dasa), a person in debt (anatta), an attendant (obaddha), a kidnapped person (sehanipphediya) and a servant, were disallowed to enter monk-life for the obvious reason that their entry was bound to be embarrassing in political, social and other fields which naturally fell beyond the ambit of monarchism. It may be noted that this list of persons not fit for entry to monkshood or nun-hood is identical for the Svetambaras and the Digambaras. (Jain, C. R., Sannyasa Dharma, pp. 24-25.)

The Hierarchy:

A person having entered monkshood remained as one under probation till he was confirmed (‘uvatthaviya’ Than. p. 240a). Such a sehaantes or samanera had to prove himself worthy of monk-life and had to show implicit obedience to his senior. The period of probation depended on his behavior and his senior’s opinion regarding it. This period lasted either for six or four months or even for one week.

The Thananga refers to four categories of antevasins based on their initiation and confirmation by one and the same or other acarya.

The next to be mentioned is the Thera. He was elder Let us begin at the beginning and see what persons to others both in age as well as in standing as a monk. This seniority of standing as a monk was expressed by the term ‘paryaya‘. Another expression denoting the senior monk was ‘rainiya’. The commentator to the Thanangasutta explains the term ‘rainiya‘ as ratnanee bhavto gyanadeeni tai vyvahrati iti ratnik pryajyeshth iti’ (p. 240a). Thus seniority seems to have depended mostly on the scholarship and self-control or the proper following of discipline. From this point of view, a monk of less standing was designated as ‘omarainiya’, whereas one with a greater standing or seniority was termed ‘aharainiya’.

That there was a clear-cut evaluation of and differentiation between age and standing is further corroborated by the terms ‘jai Thera’and ‘pariyaya there’, the former denoting a monk of the age of sixty and the latter a monk of twenty years’ standing in monk-hood. Besides these two important categories, other Theras are also referred to. These include the kula-thera, Gana-Thera, samgha-theraand the saya-thera. The first three were those who were in charge of the management of either a kula or a Gana or a samgha, while the suya-thera was one who was well versed in the texts like the Samavayangasutta, etc. (Than., p. 516a).

These texts by themselves are silent about the qualifications and differentiation between these categories of a Thera. However, the commentaries explain the various categories and that too briefly. As the case stands, therefore, we are not in a position to state the inter-relation between these various types of Theras nor are we certain about the nature of duties assigned to them. Whatever they might have been, the juniors were asked to show complete regard to the Theras. (Samavayanga, p. 59ab).

The next officer was the uvajhaya. His chief duty was to give proper reading of the sutra to the junior monks. (Upetyadheeyte smadityupadhya Than., p. 140a). It is evident that such a person was expected to be well- versed in sacred texts. However, no details regarding him, his qualifications and his exact relative position in the hierarchy are to be found in older texts like theAyaranga and the Suyagadanga.