Sravaka and Sravakacara


Sravaka and Sravakacara


In the course of our having a brief acquaintance with the salient aspects of Jainism through a few introductory words, we have noted that this dharma14 (religion) preached by the Jina, consists of Right Belief (samyag-drsti or samyaktva), Right Knowledge samyag-jnana), and Right Conduct (samyakcaritra), which together,15 in proper combination, lead to liberation or emancipation. Right Belief means perfect faith in the six substances (dravyas), seven principles (tattvas), etc., that mainly go to formulate the dogmas of this religion. Right Knowledge means accurate knowledge of all these substances, principles, etc; and Right Conduct, which is based on, or which is to be practiced after the accomplishment of the first two. The ethical discipline or Code of Conduct is prescribed in two separate forms: The first, for the monk, known as yatyacara, and the other for the layman or householder, known as sravakacara.

The term sravaka is commonly used to designate a layman. Several etymologies, some quite elaborate,16 are given for this term. The quintessence of all such etymologies could be as follows: One, who sincerely and regularly listens to the teachings and preachings of the Jina through the monk for the good of one’s own self, is a sravaka. Other alternate terms found in usage are: sramanopasaka, its abbreviation upasaka (one who adores the monk and his teachings), sagara, grhin, grhastha (one who practices the prescribed code of conduct by staying at home), desasamyamin (one who is partially self- restrained and indifferent to worldly attachments), sraddhal7(one having faith in the words of the Jina as taught by the monk) etc.l8 In good old days, the Jain layman was known as Sravaka. A corrupt form of this word viz., saravaga or saravagi was in wide currency in later days. Today he is called a Jaina only.l9

Similarly, sravakacara is the commonly used term for the code of conduct prescribed for the layman. The other alternate terms found in usage are: up-asakacara, sravaka-dharma (savaya-dhamma in Prakrit), sagara-dharma, grhastha-dharma, etc. 20


Jainism, originating from the sramanic way of thought and life, must have had its followers in due course of time. What was the exact nature of the religio-spiritual and social life of the laity in the earliest period of its history? We have no means to ascertain. But this much is certain, that the Jina admitted the laity along with their natural inability to adopt a discipline of complete self-control and harder modes of spiritual pursuit; and, hence, the lay life was designed as a stage preparatory to the ascetic life for the realization of the highest goal, and at the same time, making it complementary to the monastic life. This is evident in the nature of the social organization, i. e., the Jaina-Sangha2l with its prescribed two-fold code of conduct; one for the monastic life, and the other for the lay life, the out lines of the second of which came down in the Upasakadhyayana. the lost 7th anga according to the Digambara tradition22and the extant Urasaga-dasao of the Ardhamagadhi Canon of the Svetambaras, and further, given some place in the early works like the Caritra-prabhrta of Kundakunda and the Tattvarthasutra of Umasvamin. Thereafter, with the passage of a period, of about a thousand years after Mahavira, the code of conduct for the laity i. e., the Sravakacara, assumed a shape of separate entity in independent treatises on the subject such as the Ratna Karandaka Sravakacara and the Savaya-pannatti. 23 Then, meeting with the expedients of marching time and expanding regions, influenced by some contents of the Puranic works, by authoritative sayings of great Acharyas, and by customs and manners prevalent among the neighboring people with other religious traditions, etc. It had several innovations, adaptations and injunctions, as reflected in the apparent flexibility of the astamula-gunas, and of the enumeration, interpretation and scope of some of the secondary vows, etc., about which we shall have some discussion later at relevant contexts. With all this, it attained its full growth during the medieval period of Jaina history,24 which is known as the period of the growth of the Sravakacara, and which also happens to be the golden period of Jainism, particularly in southern and western India. The plausible line of the origin and growth of the Sravakacara as a lay doctrine is well chalked out and presented by R. Williams in his book,25 which I must reproduce here for some of its details and significant observations:

“The traditional distinction between the code of behavior for the householder, the sravakacara, and that for the monk, the yatyacara, is a fundamental one. Initially the lay estate was admitted by the Jina only in deference to human frailty, and was regarded in theory as a stage of preparation for the ascetic life. In the early period of Jainism, the sravakacara, was therefore of minimal importance, and as it has grown progressively in significance, various expedients have had to be adopted to make up for the silence of the canonical texts. The corpus of the lay doctrine is, in fact, a creation of the medieval period. The Upasaka-dasah supplied the frame work of the vratas, each with its five typical aticaras or infractions, and the Pratimas. Though the notion that these aticaras were intended only as examples is familiar to the older svetambara Acaryas, they soon became, in practice, the basis of a complete moral code. The Avasyaka literature gave the details of the necessary duties which are obligatory on the layman, as well as, on the monk, and doubtless because some practices belong at the same time to several categories- the samayika, which is both vrata, pratima and avasyaka, is a case in point, and because in some of them the ascetic is assimilated temporarily to the position of a monk, the transference to the lay life of rules originally intended for the community of monks was facilitated. This process of adaptation developed on a wide scale and contributed notably to the building up of the vast edifice of the temple ritual. An expanding tradition of sacred legends, such as those which, under the appellation of the Puranas have been fashioned by the Digambaras into the shape of a scripture helped to lend authority to innovations in practice as when the name of Krisna Vasudeva is invoked as the originator of the dvadasavartavandanaka. A similar purpose was achieved by the conferment of a quasi-canonical authority on famous Purvacaryas; an example is the use of the phrase iti Harihhadra-suri-matam. The Digambaras, who by not admitting the authenticity of the extant canon have to some extent rejected the servitudes of the tradition. They have not hesitated before a conscious rationalization of the texts: this is true notably of the Tattvartha-sutra and the Ratna Kanandaka. Local usage or customary law, the desaacara, though accorded no mandatory force, has always been admitted as a guide wherever there is no conflict with Jaina doctrine, and more particularly in the modern period has been increasingly incorporated in the sravakacara. An extreme instance of this process would be the sanctification of the arka-vivaha in the seventeenth century Traivarnacara. At all times the building up of the sravakacara has been assisted by the polyvalence of certain terms and by the habit, widespread among the commentators, of arbitrarily treating words or phrases as upalaksanas–symbols or examples of wider categories: and again and again, the word adi is inserted by the commentators in places where the text offers no justification for it. The methods used in constructing the sravakacara have their analogies else where. It is with rather similar exiguous resources that the Christian and Moslem exegets raised their elaborate edifices of morality. ” R. Williams also points out,26 a distinct aspect of the role of the Digambara Acaryas and scholars, played in the systematization of the lay doctrine: “Perhaps because they disclaim. the continuity of tradition, the Diga-mbaras seem to have felt more keenly than the svetambaras the need to concretize and systematize the lay doctrine, and, in attempting a more logical presentation of the creed, they have effaced more than one discrepancy Ordinarily in any conflict of usage between the two sects, except in the practice of ascetic nudity. The Digambaras appear in the position of innovators, and it is precisely because they have largely jettisoned the dead-wood of an earlier age that their testimony is of greater value for the conditions of the mediaeval period.”


As we just passed our cursory eye over, the line of origin and growth of the sravakacara, our attention is drawn by a fact, that the canonical sector — and also some of the early works like the Caritra-prabhrta of Kundakunda and the Tattvarthasutra of Umasvamin –has given it rather a frugal treatment, in the sense that only one text is earmarked for it viz., the lost Upasakad/hyayana or the extant Uvasagadasao, though references to its outlines and it is being practiced by the laity are found in other canonical works, like the Naya-dhamma-kahao and others.27 It could be so, because in early days the yatyacara was of great importance for the preservation, interpretation and continuation of the Sacred Law; and the sravakacara, on the other hand, was in the primary stage28 of development, and as it grew in importance through a few centuries a vast amount of literature grew around it. Canonical works on monastic life are, no doubt, found in big number and several of them in bulky volumes. Works on the sravakacara, too appeared later not in a small number. The greatest number of treatises on this subject have been produced during the medieval period. They continued to be composed, and compiled until the late modern period. Thus, these treatises, on the sravakacara, happen to be the main sources of information on the nature of life of the laity. R. Williams has, perhaps for the first time, listed the names of these treatises and their authors, belonging both to the Digambara and the svetambara traditions, along with some comments on their contents as well as their authors.29 The following ones are worthy of note for us:

1. Caritra-prabhrta of Kundakunda, Tattvartha sutra of Umasvamin, Ratnakarandaka of Samanta bhadra, Upasakadhyayana of Somadeva, Purusartha-siddhyupaya of Amrtacandra, sravakacaras of Amitagati and Vasunandi, Sagara dharmamrta of Asadhara; and also Adipurana (Chs. 38, 39 and 40) of Jinasena. (Caritrasara of Camundaraya, Savaya-dhamma-doha of an unknown author and Traivarnikacara of Son asena.

2. Savaya-pannatti attributed to Umasvati, Dharma-bindu of Haribhadra, Uvasaga dasao with Abhayadeva’s commentary, yoga-sastra of Hemacandra, sraddha-dina-krtya of Devendra, Acara-dinakara of Vardhamana and sraddha-vidhi of Ratnasekhara.

Williams has also mentioned, that he has left out from his survey Tamil and Kannada treatises on the sravakacara, besides the Hindi and Gujarati ones, which happen to belong to the modern period. He has also pointed out that the Jaina inscriptions and story literature would yield valuable information on the lay life.30 Dr. A. N. Upadhye and Dr. Hiralal Jain, the General Editors of Somadeva’s Upasakadhyayana; however, have stressed, in their editorial note, the need of a deeper study of certain material along with that of some points of historical, comparative and critical nature that have escaped R. William’s attention.31 And I would add here, two more points at this very context: (i) The Jaina-Grantha-prasastis (colophons) also need to be taken into consideration for the study of the sravakacara. Some of them give valuable information on certain householders, and their way of life. In support of this, I would give one or two examples: Mahakavi Puspadanta in the Prasastis of his Fasahara-cariu and Nayakumara-cariu, supplies considerable information about the great Slavaka, Prime Minister Bharata under the Rastra-kuta King KrsnaIII and also about Bharata’s son, sravaka-siromani Nanna, who too patronised him. Apart from cases of patronizing ministers, Kings, feudal chiefs, etc., we get interesting information from such prasastis about those householders coming from the middle class of the society, too. Poet Raidhu (c. 1600 A. D.) records in the prasastis of his works about eminent householders like Harasi Sahu. Kheu Sahu, Kunthudasa Kamalasimha Sanghavi. Under the patronising regard of the last householder, the poet composed a treatise on the lay life, entitled Sammaltaguna-nihana-kavva, for the purpose of the svadhyaya of the devout soul.32 (ii) Secondly, there are available a number of Sravakacara works, still lying in the manuscript from in the various Manuscript Libraries in Karnataka and also in Gujarat and Rajasthan–that deserve to be published and studied for additional and, possibly, rare information of regional nature on the lay life. My cursory scrutiny of the Kannada Prantiya Tadapatrya Grantha-suci,33 drew my attention to some interesting titles of manuscripts of the sravakacara works preserved in the Kannada script in the sastra-bhandaras of the Jaina Maths at Moodbidri and Karkal. The following are some of the titles of manuscripts in Sanskrit: Upasaka-samskara of Padmanandi, Guna-prakasaka by an unknown, Danasasana by Vasupujay, Sajjana-citta-vallabha by Mallisena, Bhavyananda Sastra by Pandyabhupati etc. Some of these are endowed with commentaries in Kannada. Some are also found with the concerned stories added to them. The following are some of the titles of manuscripts in the Kannada language:

1. Bhavya-jana-kanthabharana by Abhayacandra,

2. Danasara by Prabhacandra,

3. Cikka sravakacara by an unknown,

4. Anuvriti-antaraya by an unknown,

5. Prayas cilta-vidhana by an unknown etc.34

I hope the study of these works will throw considerable light on certain rare aspects of contemporary lay life. This is certainly true of such manuscripts preserved in Gujarati, Rajasthani and Hindi too. Lastly, by way of elucidation, on the point of the unexploited sources like the rich Jaina Katha Literatute and inscriptions, I suggest that we have to bring out monographs like Glimpses of Householders’ life as reflected in Jaina Stories and in Jaina Inscriptions found in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and elsewhere, too. Such monographs could be language wise at the beginning. Moreover, such work could be undertaken by individual scholars, as well as, the regional University Departments and Research Institutes with long-term plans. Then, alone the study of the sravakacara could be thorough and complete.


The householder’s code of conduct is found to have been presented in these various treatises, by different authors of different periods, mainly on three patterns:

1. With the twelve vratas (vows) and samllekhand (voluntary termination of life).

2. With the frame-work of eleven Pratimas (stages of ethical progress).

3. With the division of the whole ethical discipline into paksa, carya and sadhana.

The first pattern comprises 5 anu-vratas (small vows), 3 guna-vratas (strengthening vows) and 4 siksa-vratas (disciplinary vows) and samllekhana, which is of voluntary nature. In the second pattern, the word pratima is used to designate the stages of ethical progress in the householder’s life. The third one divides the whole ethical discipline of the householder into three parts:

1. paksa (beginner’s course with favourable inclination towards the Sacred Law),

2. carya (performance of the eleven pratimas), and

3. sadhana (the accomplishment of samllekhana).

There are, however, differences of opinion among various scholars regarding the original tradition, logical nature, antiquity, etc. of these (particularly the first two) patterns or methods of approach to the exposition of the householder’s code of conduct. Some scholars, like Pt. H. L. Jain, accept the second pattern as the ancient one, as it has been referred to in the old scriptural works like the Sat-khandagama.35 Some others, like Dr. K. C. Sogani, think that this pattern is “though chronologically prior, the credit of logical priority comes to the first one.”36 According to Prof. Schubring, “horizontally expanded as it were, the householder’s duties (the twelve vratas etc.,) are projected into the vertical by the ladder of eleven uvasaga-padima.” In the plan of the successive rungs of the ethical ladder, “The idea rather implies partly a gradation of a more theoretical kind, and partly the opportunity of making selection.”37 R. Williams holds that the first one is the original pattern followed both in the Digambara and the Svetambara traditions, while the Digambara Acaryas have often chosen the pratima frame for describing the householder’s ethical discipline.38 Pt. K.C. Shastri also holds that the pattern of the twelve vratas is the most ancient one, and it is also duly accepted in the Svetambara tradition, too.39 I fully endorse this view, for also an additional reason that the ladder of the householder ethical progress, with its eleven rungs, stages or pratimas, which appears to have been worked out rather on a more enlightening and analytical line by some early unknown Acaryas, has itself to stand on the original and natural ground of the ethical discipline of the twelve vratas themselves. Pt. H. L. Jain’s elucidation of the concept of the eleven pratimas making the four siksa-vratas the very center of his discussion and elaboration, well high implies this point. Further, the third one, which is an all inclusive and systematically conceived later pattern, was devised by Acarya Jinasena and further adopted by Pt. Asadhara in his Sagara-dharmamrta and also by some later authors in their works. Moreover from Hemacandra who in his Yoga-sastra prefaces his discussion of the twelve vratas by the enumeration of 35 sravakagunas (that were worked out on the ideal layman’s qualities described in the Dharma-bindu of Haribhadra-suri), toward the description of the Sravaka-gunas, the important virtues of the householder, got prominence in the Svetambara treatises, which tendency later led to the matching prominence of titles of such treatises like Sraddha-dina krtya of Devendra, Sraddha-guna-sreni- sangraha of Jinamandana, Sraddha-vidhi of Ratnasekhara.

If we closely scrutinize these three patterns, we come to know that they do not contain any divergent aspects of rules of conduct, but they are mere methods of approach to the same subject comprising basically the same rules of conduct for the house holder prescribed by the Jina. If any treatise on the sravakacara follows any one of these patterns, it is so by way of representing the tradition as well as the age of that author. So far our deliberation was over the nature, scope, etc., of the householder’s ethical discipline. We shall take up its very core which generally comprises the samyaktva together with the mula-gunas, the twelve vratas and some miscellaneous topics of injunctionary and recommendatory type, which cannot be brought under any particular vow.


14. (i) The meaning of the term dharma here can hardly be covered by the term religion.

(ii) Here dharma is that (righteous way of life), which destroys karma, sustains living beings from misery in the cycle of transmigration and leads them to the highest bliss.

(iii) Vide the Ratna Karandaka Sravakaaara, v.2.

15. It is known as the ratna-traya (the trio of gems) and also the guna-traya (the trio of excellences).

16. (i) Like the one given in tile Abhidhana Rajendra under savaya. (ii) One who listens (srnoti), the words of the Jina (Jina- vacanam) and through the teacher (guru)–these are the fundamental factors of all the etymologies. (iii) The Sravaka-dharma-pancataka of Haribhadrasuiri, with the Curni by Yasodeva, in its v 2, has perhaps preserved a simple but comprehensive etymology of this term.

17. This term is found in usage among the svetambaras only .

18. Some of the terms used to designate the monk are: anagara (the houseless), samaymin (self-controlled), nir-grantha (the fetterless) besides others like sramana, muni, sadhu etc.

19. Vide Pt K C. Shastri, Introduction to Upasakadhya-yana, p. 58.

20. Some of the terms used for the monastic code of conduct are: anagara-dharma, yati-dharma etc, besides others like yatyacara, muni-dharma, sadhu-dharma etc.

21. Attributed to Mahavira, who elucidated and promulgated the Sacred Law in historical times.

22. As mentioned in the Satkhandagama, Part I, p. 102.

23. The term sravakacara, it may be noted, is used to denote the code of conduct for the laity and also for the title of treatises on the same subject.

24 Jaina history may broadIy and conveniently be separated in three divisions: (i) The early period- 600 B.C. to C. 400 A D., (ii) The medieval period–C. 500A.D. to C.1300 A.D. and (iii) -The modern period–C 1400 A. D. onwards. For details, vide R. Williams, Op. cit., Introduction, p. xii.

25. Op. cit., Intro, pp. xvi-xvii.

26 Op. cit., Intro., p. xviii

27. In the story of Selaka here, there is a clear reference to the 5 anuvratas, 7 siksa-vratas and 11 upasaka-pratimas; and Jina-dharma is referred to as Vinaya-mula-dhamma which is two-fold: agara-vinaya, and anogara-vinaya, vinaya meaning ethical discipline.

28. A stage preparatory to ascetic life.

29. Op. Cit., pp I-3l.

30. Op. Cit., Intro, p. xii.

31 (i) Pradhana Sampadakiya, p. 2.

(ii) They have also observed here that a thorough comparative study of all the extant sravakacara treatises is still a desideratum.

32. Vide Some Householders mentioned in ancient Jaina inscriptions and Grantha-prasustis (in Hindi), by Dr. Rajaram Jain, Vaishali Research Institute Bulletin, No. 3.

33. Bharatiya Jnanapitha, varanasi, 1944, Ed. Pt. Bhujabali Shastri.

34. These titles of manuscripts have no separate column of the Sravakacara. But these are included among works under the subject dharma and one has to sift them out.

35. Vide Introd. to Vasunandi-sravakacaro, p.22

36. Vide Ethical Doctrines in Jainism, p.110

37. The Doctrine of the Jaina, pp. 285-287

38. Op.cit., Itrod., p. xxvii

39. Intro. to Upasakadhyayana, p. 67.

40. Op. cit., Intro. pp. 54-58.