The Vratas


The Vratas


householders vows or rules of conduct which are twelve divided in three groups such as:

  1. Five Anuvratas – small vows.

  2. Three guna-vratras – strengthening vows

  3. Four siksa-vrata – disciplinary vows and also the supplementary and non-obligatory sallekhana- vrata -vow of voluntary termination of life by fasting.


The anuvrtas are five:

(1) ahimsa – non-hurting, non-injuring

(2) satya – truth

(3) asteya (acaurya) – non-stealing

(4) brahmacarya – celibacy

(5) parigraha-parimana – limited attachment to worldly possessions

There is no difference of opinion among the Jainacaryas in the classification or enumeration of the anu-vratas; but there are some differences in the nomenclature of some of them without disturbing the purport in each case. For instance, Kundakunda calls the fifth anu-vrata, parigraharambha Parimana-vrata and the forth one parapimma-parihara-vrata, whereas Samantabhadra calls them paradara-nivrtti and svadara-santosa-vrata respectively.76 It is interesting to note that the Dharma-rasaayana of Padmanandi (a medieaval treatise, C. 1200 A. D. of minor importance) substitutes for the first anu-vrata, devata nimitta ajiva- marana- abstension from killing living beings for sacrifice to gods, and gives ahimsa- as the second guna- vrata. Moreover Camundaraya and Sakalakirti give aratribhojana – not taking food at night as the sixth anu-vrata.77 possibly to maintain parallelism with the monk’s maha-vratas- great vows, from which, of course, the householder’s vows are derived.

Moreover we must note an important point regarding the mutual relationship of these five anu-vratas as stated by Pujyapada in his Sarvartha- siddhi (V11-1 Of these five vows ahimsanu-vrata is the fundamental one. All the rest should be regarded as rather the means for its sustenance, just as a field of corn requires adequate fencing for its protection .


Unlike in the case of the anu-vratas, the Jainacaryas particularly the Digambaras, give various enumerations of the guna-vratas and the siksa-vratas, though all are unanimous regarding their number.78 For our purpose here, we will note only two of such enumerations: (1) The one followed by broadly a large number of the Digambara teachers like Umasvami, Amrtacandra etc., and (II) the other commonly followed by the svetambara teachers:

Following are the guna-vratas:




(1) dig-vrata

(1) dig-vrata

(2) desavakasika-vrata

(2) bhogopabhoga vrata

(3) anartha-danda-vrata

(3) anartha-danda-vrata

Following are the siksa-vratas .




(I) samayika-vrata

(1) samayika-vrata

(2) prosadhopavasa-vrata

(2) desavakasika-vrata

(3) bhogopabhoga-vrata

(3) prosadhopavasa-vrata

(4) dana-vrata

(4) dana-vrata

A glance at these two sets, Digambara and Svetambara (I and II) of the two groups (A and B) of the vratas viz., the guna-vratas (A) and the siksa-vratas (B), would show that A-I-1 and A-1-3 are the same as A-II- 1 and A-II- 3; similarly B I-1 and B-I-4 are the same as B-II-1 and B-11-4. But A-1-2 is found as B-II-2; A- 11-2 is found as B-I-3; and B-I-2 is found as B-II-3. Thus we can note that it is a matter of variations in respect of classification and sequence of the vratas under these two sets taken for our consideration here. There could be a few more additional sets for such purpose, which would naturally indicate some more variations. Pt. K. C. Shastri presents a nine-point analytical study of the variants in the enumerations of the guna-vratas and the siksa-vratas, as based on the Digambara works, and, further, brings them all under two patterns of four-fold traditions, which can be said to have been mainly hinged on different conceptions of the desa-vratas bhogopabhoga-vrata and the sallekhana. He also, at this context, observes that the enumeration of Kunda-kunda and Ravisena probably represents the ancient tradition.” Dr. K. C. Sogani, however, notes such five Digambara traditions and two Svetambara traditions.79 Moreover R. Williams presents in two separate and distinct tables the various enumerations of these two sets of vratas as based on the svetambara list as well as those of a number of Digambara writers arranged in systematized groups and, further, critically brings out the following points: “It has been remarked that the guna-vratas are additional vows, special cases in fact of the anu-vratas, while the siksa-vratas refer to spiritual exercises. The Svetambaras, even those among them who follow the Tattvartha-sutra in some interpretations, insist on the designations guna-vrata and siksa-vrata and have also, as is logical, retained the sequence which leaves these two types of vows distinct. The Digambaras who follow the Tattvartha-sutra have blurred this distinction by making the Desavakagika-vrata follow the dig-vrata to which it is related in content, the bhogopabhoga-vrata being inserted immediately before the dana-vrata probably because of the resemblances in the aticaras. Another Digambara current stemming from Samanta-bhadra agrees with the svetambara tradition except in one minor detail that it transposes the samayika-and the desavakasika-vrata (Kartikeya puts the desava-kasika–after the dana-vrata). Kundakunda, Deva-sena and one or two others suppress the degavakasika-vrata altogether and give sallekhana twelfth place in the list. Vasunandin, who follows the Tattvarthasutra for the order of the guna-vratas, eliminates the samayika and prosadhopavasa-vratas altogether probably because the same subjects are treated as pratimas and creates in their place a bhoga-vrata and an upabhogavrata.”81

If we closely look into the variations in the enumerations of these two groups of the vratas, we find that the apparent difference in the case of some of the vratas do not point out any divergences of the concerned ethical or ethico-spiritual principles, but they are rather the outcome of various attempts at approaching and interpreting particular facets of those vratas from different standpoints, by different Acaryas, at different periods. Dr. A. N. Upadhaye and Dr. Hiralal Jain, in their General Editorial to Somadeva’s Upasakadhyayana, observe on this aspect of the vratas, in general, as follows: 82 The basic nature of rules of conduct for the laity has remained the same; but the classification of the vratas, technical words used for them, the modes of their observance etc., show progressive trends all along, depending on the various regions and periods.

Some of the Acaryas have also tried to explain the general nature and functional importance of these two groups of vratas. Umasvami in his Tattvartha-sutra83 gives them a collective name Slla; and Pujyapada, the commentator, states that they function as protective vows. Amrtacandra further elucidates this figuratively as follows: Just as the ramparts guard towns, so do the sllas protect the anu-vratas.84 The author of the Savaya Pannatti clarifies that the guna-vratas are observed for the whole life and the siksa-vratas for a limited time.85 Asadhara points out that the guna-vratas strengthen the anu-vratas and the siksa-vratas provide exercises in the preparation for the life of renunciation.86 At this context indeed Prof. Schubring’s remarks are worth noting: The guna-vratas prove to be special forms of the anu-vrata in which the dig-vrata equally follows the iccha-parimana-vrata As compared to those mentioned up to now, the siksa-vratas are of positive nature. By them the layman temporarily comes near to the monk and his conduct of life.87 All this part of discussion also indicates that there is due complementarity and perfect fusion among the three groups of the twelve vows i.e, five anu-vratas, three guna-vratas and four siksa-vratas that go to constitute the ethical discipline of the householder.


In the scheme of the householder’s code of conduct provision is also made for the knowledge of possible aticaras– offences, infractions or transgressions, attached to each of these vows. An aticara means transgressing a vow while it is actually being observed; and according to Amrtacandra, that which hampers the purity of the vow is aticara.88 These transgressions, carefully gleaned from the numerous possible ones and set in different groups of five each,89 are meant to show the details of the code laid down for its proper observance by the householder. They guide the aspiring householder as to how each vow could be transgressed in the main five possible ways and help him with cautionary details in the course of regulating his conduct systematically. For instance, while observing the ahimsanu-vrata, the householder is cautioned against causing injury to living beings in respect of the following:

(1) bandha–keeping in capacity

(2) vadha–beating

(3) chavi-ccheda–mutilating

(4) ati-bhararopana–overloading

(5) bhakta-pana-vyavaccheda–depriving of food and drink

We do not find so much of variants in the enumerations of these aticaras by different Acaryas, as we do in the case of some of the groups of the vratas viz., the guna-vratas and the siksa-vratas, though their nomenclatures or designations are found to vary from Acarya to Acarya. One can have a complete picture of all these aticaras, with their variant enumerations (wherever existing), set in vrata-wise tables, from the pages of R. William’s Jaina Yoga.90

It may be noted that the gvetambara teachers make distinction between bhanga and aticara, whereas the Digambara teachers do not do so.91 A bhanga is a complete negation of a vrata; and an aticara is an offence or transgression in which a vow is partly observed and partly infringed. For example, straight way refusing to give alms is a bhanga of the dana-vrata: and giving alms with lack of respect is its aticara.92

We shall note each pentad of the aticaras under each respective vrata to be dwelt upon shortly.


75. A vrata is a rule of conduct, voluntarily and resolutely undertaken for observance. Prof. Schubring remarks that these vows of the householder paradoxically enough, exceed in number those to be accepted by the monk. This is due to the larger diversity of the civic life in which the layman still stands. The Doctrine of The Jainas, p. 297.

76. For further details, vide Pt. K. C. Shastri, Intro to Upasakadhyayana, p. 67.

77. Vide R. Williams, Op. cit, pp. 55-56.

78. Among the Digambara writers, these seven vratas are known as gila-vratas or sapta-gila.

79. Intro. to Upasakadhyayana, pp. 87-88.

80. Op, cit., p. 92.

81. Op. cit., pp. 56-57.

82. p. 2.

83. S. VI-2.

84. Purusartha-siddhyupaya, v. 136.

85. v. 328.

86. Sagara Dharmamr ta, VI-24.

87. 70. Op. cit, p. 299.

88. Op. cit., p. 181.

89. The number ‘five’, in respect of the aticaras of each of the twelve vratas. appears to have been owing to its importance drawn from that of the main vows viz., anu-vratas which are five.

90. pp 58-62

91. Except Asadhara who has borrowed here from Hemacandra.

92. For further details vide R. Williams, Op. cit., pp 63-64