Early Statements Relating to the Lay Community in the Śvetāmbara Jain Canon

Author:  Image of Andrew MoreAndrew More
Published: 02.05.2016
Updated: 02.10.2016

Centre of Jaina Studies Newsletter: SOAS - University of London

What do the early Śvetāmbara texts say about the lay community? To answer this question in my PhD thesis I read many of the early Śvetāmbara texts and I made note of all the passages relating to people who are not monks or nuns. My interest in the lay community developed having read the work of Folkert (1993: 177ff.) who proposed to study lay-mendicant relationships in the Jain tradition through field observations and to compare his results with the texts.

In presenting a framework for understanding the historical development of the textual passages relating to the lay community, I offer hypotheses about the history of the actions and motivations of the mendicant authors and compilers of the texts. Generally I am not concerned with the related question of what the texts tell us about the history of the Jain lay community. This is because the texts present ideals and in most cases we can only speculate about how such ideals relate to actual historical lay Jain practice. My view of the texts developed partly under the influence of ideas presented by Cort (1990), though I find it problematic to juxtapose the study of "practices and beliefs" to the study of "tenets, dogmas, and ideologies." I think that in some cases, by analyzing the motivations of the authors and through comparison with other evidence (such as non-Jain literature) we can present relatively strong arguments about actual historical lay Jain practice based on the texts. For example, in my introduction and my second chapter I suggest there is good evidence to believe that some historical lay Jains regularly engaged in a ritual in which they temporarily abandoned all possessions and social relationships in imitation of the Jain mendicant mode of living. However, I identified few such examples and they are not the focus of my work.

Likewise, I do not attempt to answer the question of the specific time from which we can say that a Jain lay community existed. The archaeological remains from Mathurā attest to the popularity of image and stūpa worship among lay Jains at that site from at least the first century BCE.[1] However, there is little other relevant epigraphical or archaeological material. The first books (suyakkhaṃdha) of the Āyāraṃga and Sūyagaḍaṃga, perhaps dating from the fourth or third century BCE and widely accepted as the earliest extant Śvetāmbara literature, emphasize the importance of the fact that a monk is homeless and present an almost entirely negative view of those who reside in houses given the associated attachments and necessary acts of violence.[2]  Nonetheless, we can assume that there has always been at least semi-regular contact between Jain mendicants and householders.[3] Since we do not have any evidence it is not possible to know anything about the earliest householders to interact with the Jain mendicants or to say at which point they formed a distinct community.

Unspecified representation of a Tīrthaṅkara, Pārśvanātha Jaina
Derāsara, Śaṅkeśvara 2015

Though we are generally left to speculate about how the texts relate to the history of the Jain lay community, the passages are interesting because they tell us what issues were important to the mendicants and what strategies they employed in their effort to form and maintain relations with a community of householders who respected and regularly supported them. In my dissertation I present arguments about the chronology of the passages and thus I suggest that it is possible to observe development in the orthodox positions relating to the laity as the mendicant compilers employed new strategies and attempted to resolve various tensions. I make these arguments by drawing attention to recurring sections, subtle variations, shifts in terminology, changes in context, and other clues. These arguments are significant because the dates of the composition of the various passages in the early Śvetāmbara texts are uncertain and very little is known about the process and dates of the compilation of the texts. It is only possible to say that the passages I examine were likely composed and compiled at various points in the final few centuries Before the Common Era and/or in the first five centuries of the Common Era. My work supports Dixit's (1972: 2, 13)idea that a focus on passages relating to a particular theme (in this case the lay community) can help us to improve our understanding of the chronology and process of compilation of the early Śvetāmbara texts.

Before proceeding to summarize the main points of my three chapters I should note that there are passages relating to the lay community in the early Śvetāmbara texts that I have not discussed in my dissertation. There are additional passages relating to the donation of alms. There are also descriptions of various forms of worship and other ritual practices. I have only been able to touch on the numerous references to the posaha rituals and the fast to death. I should also note that my study includes only seven of the eleven extant Aṅgas and eight of the twelve Uvāṅgas in addition to three other early Jain texts. There is thus a significant amount of early Śvetāmbara material that I have not examined. Further, I should note that I rely entirely on particular published editions of the texts. Through study of all the numerous published editions of the texts and the extant manuscripts I think it will be possible to improve on my discussion of the chronology of the passages as well as my understanding of the motivations of the mendicant authors and compilers of the texts.

The Earliest Extensive Positive Statement about Householders and its Logic

The passage that I focus on in my first chapter, which I believe may be the earliest extensive positive statement about householders, occurs in Sūyagaḍaṃga 2.2 (SūT: 397f.).[4] This passage states that "some people" (saṃtegaiyā maṇussā) will receive a good form of rebirth because they behave to some extent like Jain monks. I note the fact that this passage as it occurs in Sūyagaḍaṃga 2.2 does not differentiate the possible forms of rebirth of these people from those of Jain mendicants as some other passages do. Essentially the same passage is also found near the end of the Uvavāiya (Uv-Le §123: 81f.).[5] I argue that the compiler of the Uvavāiya copied the passage from Sūyagaḍaṃga 2.2 and that he compiled the second part of the Uvavāiya in response to Sūyagaḍaṃga 2.2. The positive statement about householders in Sūyagaḍaṃga 2.2 occurs directly after a passage condemning non-Jain mendicants and it seems logically inconsistent to praise one group of people who behave like Jain monks (i.e. particular householders) while condemning another group who also behave to some extent like Jain monks (i.e. non-Jain mendicants). The compiler of the Uvavāiya places the positive statement about householders in a new context near the top of a list of sixteen types of beings (including some non-Jain mendicants) who will achieve some form of divine rebirth or release from the cycle of rebirth apparently depending on the extent to which they behave like Jain monks. I also discuss Viyāhapannatti 7.2.1-2.[6] These passages deal in a different way with the tension resulting from the attempt to praise householders who behave to some extent like Jain monks while also condemning non-Jain ascetics. In this case non-Jain ascetics are condemned because they do not properly understand which things are living (jīvā) and which are lifeless (ajīvā).

The Standard Description of the Samaṇovāsaga

In my second chapter I discuss a passage that I refer to as the "standard description of the samaṇovāsaga."[7]  Examples of the full version of this passage occur in Sūyagaḍaṃga 2.2 (Sū-T: 398), Sūyagaḍaṃga 2.7 (SūT: 468f.), the Viyāhapannatti (Vi-T: 103), the Uvavāiya (Uv-Le §124: 82), the Rāyapaseṇaīya (Rā: 63f.), and the Uvāsagadasāo (Uvā-T: 410). In Sūyagaḍaṃga 2.2 and the Uvavāiya the passage occurs directly following the passage discussed in my first chapter. In the other texts the passage occurs as part of a description of a particular character sometimes along with other standard descriptions such as a description of wealth. In addition to the examples containing the full version of the passage, there are numerous shorthand references to the passage in descriptions of characters in the same and other early Śvetāmbara texts including the Aṃtagaḍadasāo and the Nāyādhammakahāo. I review the various forms of terminology used in the early Śvetāmbara texts to refer to householders and/or the Jain lay community and I argue that the term samaṇovāsaga (literally meaning "follower of the samaṇas") is used to refer to members of the Jain lay community in general, rather than to members of a sub-group within the Jain lay community. I suggest that the passage describes the ideal Jain householder as envisioned by the mendicant community over the period of time when many of the early texts were compiled. In my analysis of the passage I divide it into six sections:

  1. doctrine (an early list of the tattvas)
  2. strength of faith
  3. an obscure phrase usually taken as referring to generosity or trustworthiness
  4. observance of the posaha days;
  5. list of alms to be given to Jain mendicants
  6. a phrase referring to lay ascetic practice

I discuss each of these sections in detail as well as the minor variations in the versions of the passage occurring in the various texts. In some examples the final section of the passage does not occur. I suggest that these examples show the influence of the Uvāsagadasāo and I associate the absence of the sixth section of the standard description of the samaṇovāsaga in the Uvāsagadasāo with a passage occurring in the first story of the text in which a samaṇovāsaga named Āṇaṃda makes a formal promise to donate alms only to Jain ascetics and not to other ascetics.[8] This promise ends in the same manner as the fifth part of the standard description of the samaṇovāsaga, i.e. with the same list of alms that the samaṇovāsaga donates to Jain mendicants. The concern with the issue of donating alms to non-Jain ascetics is also seen at times in the commentaries on the standard description of the samaṇovāsaga.

Passages Relating to the Lay Vows

In my final chapter I discuss passages relating to the lay vows. The list of twelve lay vows that became the standard way of portraying Jain lay life includes five aṇuvratas, three guṇavratas, and four śikṣāvratas. I argue that the list of twelve lay vows developed at a relatively late point in the process of the compilation of the Śvetāmbara canon given that some of the passages mentioning the vows seem clearly to predate the development of the list of twelve vows. In the passage from Sūyagaḍaṃga 2.2 discussed in my first chapter, as well as in Sūyagaḍaṃga 2.7 (Sū-T: 476), Nāyādhammakahāo 1.13 (Nā: 245), and in the list of Āṇaṃda's promises in the Uvāsagadasāo (Uvā-T: 400ff.) we find passages referring to or listing the five aṇuvratas alone (without mention of the three guṇavratas and four śikṣāvratas) or else listing the five aṇuvratas along with only a few of the other lay vows. There are complete listings of the twelve lay vows in four of the texts  that  I included in my study: the Tattvārthasūtra (Ta: 176f.), Viyāhapannatti 7.2.2 (Vi-T: 278f.), the list of typical offences in the Uvāsagadasāo (Uvā-T: 403ff.), and Mahāvīra's sermon in the Uvavāiya (Uv-Le § 57: 63f.). In these lists we find variation in the naming of the individual vows, the order in which the vows are listed, the manner in which the vows are categorized, and the naming of the categories. The only list employing the categorization of "five aṇuvratas, three guṇavratas, and four śikṣāvratas" is that occurring at the end of Mahāvīra's sermon in the Uvavāiya. In attributing the teaching of the twelve lay vows to Mahāvīra we can observe the efforts of the compilers to obscure the fact that the list developed at a relatively late point. I also discuss the recurring description of characters adopting the lay vows. The most significant variation in these passages is in the number of vows mentioned. In Nāyādhammakahāo 1.5 (Nā: 119f.) and the Rāyapaseṇaīya (Rā: 59ff.), in stories set in the time of Nemi and Pārśva, it seems that the characters adopt four vows, while in the Uvāsagadasāo (Uvā-T: 399f.) set in the time of Mahāvīra, the characters adopt twelve vows. In this chapter I also offer some discussion about the meaning of the individual vows as well as discussion of passages in Sūyagaḍaṃga 2.7 describing various categories of householders and various specific lay ascetic practices. It appears that even after the list of twelve vows became relatively standard the precise meaning of the individual lay vows remained open to interpretation. Yet, it is clear that the lay vows were generally conceived as forms of temporary and/or partial Jain mendicant practice.

Concluding Remarks

My dissertation draws attention to important passages relating to the lay community in the early Śvetāmbara texts. I suggest that it is possible, even in the absence of comprehensive critical editions of the texts, to construct arguments about the chronology of the passages and also about the motivations of the monastic authors and compilers of the texts. I hope that my work will be of interest to scholars as well as members of the Jain community and that it will inspire further study of the early Jain texts.

Andrew More,  PhD  Yale  University, wrote his dissertation on: Early Statements Relating to the Lay Community in the Svetambara Jain Canon (http://search. proquest.com/docview/1658543394).


Primary sources

Nā = Nāyādhammakahāo. Edited by Tulsī, Ācārya (general editor) and Nathmal, Muni. 1974. Aṅga Suttāṇi 3: Nāyādhammakahāo, Uvāsagadasāo, Antagadadasāo, Anuttarovavāiyadasāo, Panhāvāgaranāim, Vivāgasuyam. Ladnun (Rajasthan): Jain Viśva Bhāratī.

Rā = Rāyapaseṇaīya. Edited and Translated by Bollée, Willem B. 2002. The Story of Paesi (text, translation, notes and glossary for the Paesi-kahāṇayaṃ in the Rāyapaseṇaīya). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. Sū-J = Sūyagaḍaṃga. Translated by Jacobi, Hermann. 1895. Sūtrakritāṅga Sūtra and Uttarādhyayana. Sacred Books of the East (v.45). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Sū-T = Sūyagaḍaṃga. Edited by Tulsī, Ācārya (general editor) and Nathmal, Muni. 1974. Aṅga Suttāṇi 1: Āyāro, Sūyagaḍo, Ṭhānam, Samavāo. Ladnun (Rajasthan): Jain Viśva Bhāratī.

Ta = Tattvārthasūtra. Translated by Tatia, N. 1994. Tattvārtha Sūtra (of Umāsvāti). San Francisco: Harper Collins.

Uv-La = Uvavāiya. Translated by Lalwani, K.C. 1988. Uvavāiya Suttam. Jaipur: Prakrit Bharati Academy.

Uv-Le = Uvavāiya. Edited by Leumann, Ernst. 1883. Das Aupapātika Sūtra, Erstes Upānga Der Jaina. (I. Theil. Einleitung, Text Und Glossar). Leipzig: Deutsche morgenländische Gesellschaft. (Reprint: Liechtenstein: Kraus, 1966).

Uvā-H = Uvāsagadasāo. Translated by Hoernle, A.F. Rudolf. 1885-90. Uvāsagadasāo or the Religious Profession of an Uvāsaga Expounded in Ten Lectures Being the Seventh Anga of the Jains: Translated from the Original Prākrit with Copious Notes. Repr. Calcutta: Asiatic Society, 1989.

Uvā-T = Uvāsagadasāo. Edited by Tulsī, Ācārya (general editor) and Nathmal, Muni. 1974. Aṅga Suttāṇi 3: Nāyādhammakahāo, Uvāsagadasāo, Antagadadasāo, Anuttarovavāiyadasāo, Panhāvāgaranāim, Vivāgasuyam. Ladnun (Rajasthan): Jain Viśva Bhāratī.

Vi-B = Viyāhapannatti. Translated by Bothara, Surendra. 2006. Illustrated Shri Bhagavati Sutra (v.2). Edited by Muni Amar. Delhi: Padma Prakashan.

Vi-T = Viyāhapannatti. Edited by Tulsī, Ācārya (general editor) and Nathmal, Muni. Aṅga Suttāṇi 2: Bhagavaī (Viāhapannattī). Ladnun (Rajasthan): Jain Viśva Bhāratī.

Secondary sources

Cort, John E., 1990. "Models of and for Study of the Jains." Method and Theory in the Study of Religion v.2, no.1: 42-71.

Deleu, Jozef. 1970. Viyāhapannatti (Bhagavāi). The Fifth Anga of the Jaina Canon. Brugge: Rijksuniversiteit te Gent.

Dixit, K.K. 1972. "The Problem of a Historical Evaluation of the Ancient Jaina Texts." Sambodhi 1: 1-14.

Dixit, K.K. 1978. Early Jainism. Ahmedabad: L.D. Institute of Indology.

Dundas, Paul, 1997. "The Laicisation of the Bondless Doctrine: A New Study of the Development of Early Jainism (a Review of W.J. Johnson, Harmless Souls: Karmic Bondage and Religious Change in Early Jainism with Special Reference to Umāsvāti and Kundakunda)." Journal of Indian Philosophy 25: 495-516.

Folkert, Kendall W., 1993. Scripture and Community: Collected Essays on the Jains ed. J.E. Cort. Harvard: Center for the Study of World Religion.

Johnson, William J., 1995. Harmless Souls: Karmic Bondage and Religious Change in Early Jainism with Special Reference to Umāsvāti and Kundakunda. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Lüders, Heinrich, 1961. Mathurā Inscriptions. Unpublished Papers ed. K.L. Janert. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht.

Details of the depiction of the life-story of the Mahāvīra in the Kharataragaccha Jaina Mandira, Churu (Photos: Peter Flügel)


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CoJS Newsletter
Issue 11, March 2016
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  2. Andrew More
  3. Anga
  4. Aupapātika
  5. Aṅga
  6. Aṅgas
  7. Bhagavati Sutra
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  21. Jaipur
  22. Kundakunda
  23. L.D. Institute Of Indology
  24. Ladnun
  25. Leumann
  26. London
  27. Mahāvīra
  28. Motilal Banarsidass
  29. Muni
  30. Nemi
  31. Peter Flügel
  32. Prakrit
  33. Prakrit Bharati Academy
  34. Pārśva
  35. Pārśvanātha
  36. Rajasthan
  37. SOAS
  38. Sacred Books of the East
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  42. Sūtra
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  44. Tattvārtha Sūtra
  45. Tattvārthasūtra
  46. The Story of Paesi
  47. Tīrthaṅkara
  48. Umāsvāti
  49. Uttarādhyayana
  50. Uvāsagadasāo
  51. Violence
  52. W.J. Johnson
  53. Ācārya
  54. Āyāro
  55. Śvetāmbara
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