The Mula-Gunas


The Mula-Gunas


In the householder’s ethical discipline the mula-gunas can be said to have been allied, in a way, with samyaktva in the sense that if samyaktva is preliminarily essential to the householder on the eve of undertaking his vows, the mula- gunas– basic virtues too have to be acquired by him as his prerequisite equipment. In the svetambara tradition the term mula-Guna stands for the five anu-vratas, while the guna-vratas and siksa-vratas make up the uttara-gunas subsequently required virtues. In the Digambara tradition, however. it is used to mean a category of interdictions to be necessarily observed before one commences to trod the householder’s path; and such interdictions are generally known as asta-mula-guna– eight basic virtues.62 But there is no unanimity among the various Acaryas or writers, dealing with the householder’s code of conduct, as regards the enumeration or constituents of this so called category. Some Acaryas like Kundakunda and Umasvami do not even refer to the mula-gunas in their respective works at the concerned context. Others like Somadeva, Devasena and Padmanandi give in their treatises the following as the asta-mula-gunas:

udumbara-pancaka-virati abstention from five milky fruits like fig etc.

mamsa-virati abstention from meat

madya-virati abstention from wine

madhu-virati honey63

Amrtacandra clearly mentions all these, but does not call them asta-mula-gunas. Amitagati adds to this list a ninth element, aratri-bhojana– abstention from taking food at night, without employing the term mula-gunas. Asadhara gives three variant enumerations,64but prefers that of Amrtacandra. In the list of the asta-mula-gunas found in the earliest available treatise on the householder’s conduct Viz., the Ratna-karandaka of Samantabhadra,65 the five anu-vratas stand in place of the five milky fruits of the list of the eight elements given above. Moreover, the list given by Jinasena66 is almost the same as that of Samantabhadra, with dyuta-gambling occupying the place of madhu- honey.67

Pt. K. C. Shastri68 thinks that the tradition of the five anu-vratas could not continue owing to the weak-mindedness of the common householders from Amrtacandra onwards, when they were replaced by the five milky fruits. But a question arises as to how could such householder’s further undertake the guna-vratas and siksa-vratas, for which too considerable amount of samyama—self-restraint is needed ?

Pt. H. L. Jain69 thinks that the wide practice of consuming milky fruits during certain period of time may have obliged the contemporary Acaryas to assert the need of their interdiction by such replacement. But here too, a problem arises as to how could Jina-sena and Somadeva, who belonged more or less to the same region and age, give altogether two different lists of the asta-mula-gunas ?

R. Williams, who has given considerable thought to the mula-gunas as meant in the Digambara tradition that has no canonical authority, and to their probable original enumeration, observes70 that the lists of Samantabhadra and Jinasena, who are generally marked as innovators, could have been refurbished in respect of the five anu-vratas and dyuta respectively; and that in early Jainism, under missionary spirit, it was with a view to rejecting the rival cult of ancestors viz., pitr-tarpana, sraddha etc., with which the five milky fruits and the three makaras were associated, these eight elements were brought under the astamula-gunas making their observance as the first step before a layman could assume his vows. But, as I think, the objective behind the concept of the mulagunas in the days of early Jainism appears to have been, training one with a pious bent of mind in abstaining from minimum himsa caused by the consumption of certain element like meat, wine, honey, the milky fruits etc., that generally were then found in rampant usage in the day to day life among the common members of the society, so that he could be able to place himself smoothly on the path of the householder’s ethical discipline. The nomenclature of this category, for parallelism too, could have been suggested by the mula-gunas of the monk prescribed in the canonical works. The selected number eight also was certainly one of the favourite ones among the Jainacaryas.

It is rather enigmatic that the Kannada Vaddaradhane (C. 925 A.D.), belonging almost to the same age and region as Somadevasuri’s Upasakadhyayana 959 A. D.), defines Samyaktva and names and enumerates almost all of its categories,72 but does not anywhere refer to the term asta-mula-guna as such. However it mentions the five milky fruits and the three makaras, adding to them (household) hemp- flower (sanambina puvu), mushroom (alambe) and milk of a cow or buffalo that has lately calved (ginnu) as forbidden elements, and further warning that persons consuming them would be born in hells. We know that hemp-flower or any flower (an abhaksya) contains minute living beings and mushroom (an ananta-kaya) has innumerable living organisms.73 But why ginnu is included in this list ? Could it be a vikrti ? Or could it be that the denial of the mother’s milk to the newly born calf is treated as a sort of himsa here ? It is very interesting to note that in none of the relevant works, either by the Digambara or the Svetambara writers are hemp-flower and milk of cow or buffalo that has lately calved, found mentioned under the mula-gunas, vikrtis or abhaksyas.74

A close consideration of this part of the contents of the Vaddaradhane indicates that the Jaina Acaryas of a particular age and region used to forbid the rampant consumption of such elements that caused himsa, by adding them to the already existing list known to the contemporary members of the society and, thus, to act as the custodians of the Sacred Law.


62. The term gupa in Jainism covers several categories and, hence, its translation here as ‘virtue’ is naturally rather arbitrary.

63. (i) It may be noted that the five milky fruits come under the abhaksyas–those elements that are not fit to be eaten; and the three makarus– meat, wine and honey come under vikrtis– articles of food that have changed their nature owing to cooking or bacteriological effect; or those that ‘pervert the tongue and mind”, according to Asadhara. Thus all these eight cause himsa. (ii) Though the asta-mula-gunas are not found, in this sense, in the svetambara tradition, these eight elements, along with some others, are forbidden under the second guna-vrata, as found in some of their treatises on the householder’s conduct.

64. One of them contains the following additional ones: apta- nuti–adoration of the Jina, daya – compassion, jala – galana–filtering of water and aratri- bhojana–not taking food at night.

65. As given in V. 66.

66. Mahapurana, Ch. 39.8.

67. For detailed and comparative study of the asta-mula gunas, vide R. Williams, Op. Cit., pp. 50-55.

68. Intro. to Upasakadhyayana, p. 64.

69. Op. cit., Introduction, p. 36.

70, Op. cit., pp. 51-53.

71. The Jina has prescribed twenty-eight mula gunas for the monk. Vide Mulacara, gaha No. 5.

72. St. No. 13, p. 127-128.

73 (i) St. No. 13, p. 126 and St. No. 14, pp. 150-151. (ii) Even today in Karnatak, green leaves of hemp plant, at times together with its buds, are widely used to prepare a vegetable dish, which is very popular particularly among the farmers of North Karnataka, who eat it with great relish with jawar-roti.

74. (i) Amitagati, however, mentions drona flower and kalinga flower among the obhaksyas, but strangely enough, under the anartha-danda–vrata, Vide R. Williams op.cit. p.112 ii) Nemicandra’s Pravacana-saroddhara, a Svetambar treatise (c. 1100), however, mentions bhumi-rasa mushrooms or other edible fungi, as one of the thirty-two ananta-kavas–plants which are inhabited by an infinite number of living organisms. Vide R. Williams, Op. cit., pp. 114 115. (iii) The Ratna Karandaka Sra. (v. 86) enlists nimba-kusuma (neem flower) as one of the abhaksyas, (iv) The Kannada Commentator (Candrakirti ?) on Acarya Maghanandis Sastrasara Samuccaya, under bhoga-pabhega parimana-vrata, however, mentions ginnu–milk of lately calved cow, milky fruits, honey etc., should be given up till the end of life. Vide Sastrasara Smuccaya. Hindi edition, by Acarya Deshabhushanaji, Delhi 1957, p. 198. This I could note later.