Jainism : The World of Conquerors ► 3 ► Literature ► 3.1 ► The Jain Canon

Posted: 25.11.2015

Jain scriptures contain the teachings of Mahavira and the other tirthankaras. Originally the scriptures were transmitted orally and were not written down until many centuries after their composition. In the early days the scriptures were not written because it was felt that writing them down would detract from their sanctity. Additionally, the script was still developing during Mahavira's time. Ascetics would not write, because writing, i.e. having writing materials would transgress their vow of non-possession. The earliest script found in India is that of Indus valley civilisation, which remains largely undeciphered.

There is always a danger of losing information committed to memory, such as orally transmitted scriptures. Aacaarya Arya Rakshit in the 1st century CE, composer of the Anuyogdvaar Sutra, permitted ascetics to write in order to preserve the scriptures. Even so, no scriptures were written between the 1st century and the 5th century CE, probably due to the reluctance of ascetics to break with tradition.

Jain Scriptures

Ascetics tried to preserve the scriptures by organising councils and collecting the memorised scriptures. There were five councils between the 4th century BCE and the 5th century CE; the final one, where more than 500 ascetics participated, took place in 460 CE at Valabhi in Gujarat under the leadership of Devardhigani Ksamaasramana. The scriptures, we have today, are those finally redacted at the Valabhi council (whom Digambars identify as the Svetambar canon) and the Digambar canon, which were finally compiled in the 6th century CE.

The language of Jain scriptures is a mixture of the languages of Magadha and Koshal, known as Ardha Magadhi or Prakrit. The redaction of the canon in the fifth century CE marked the end of the use of Ardha Magadhi as the sole language of literary composition. Jain writers thereafter also wrote in Sanskrit or in the vernacular languages of the time.

Jain scriptures are neither divine nor revealed: they are the teachings of human beings, who have attained omniscience. The scriptures contain the basic Jain tenets, commentaries, analysis of false view-points, codes of practice, and the narrative literature to inspire the laity.

The scriptures, called aagamas by Jains, are classified into three groups: the precanon (purvas), the primary canon (angas) and the secondary canon (upaangas). The fourteen texts of the pre-canon traditionally originated with the first tirthankara, Risabhdeva, though the basic tenets are said to be eternal. These texts have been lost. Their contents were said to be summarised in the twelfth text (Drastivaad) of the primary canon, which is extinct except for a few references here and there. Scholars have pointed out that during the redaction scriptures might have been corrupted due to human error, i.e. not accurately copied or transmitted, but it can confidently be said that the major portion of the Jain scriptures remain intact with respect to content and language.

The Pre-canon: The 'old texts' (purvas) seem to have included a description and explanation of subjects such as the cosmos, philosophy, bondage of the soul and matter, conduct to be followed, polemics against other philosophical systems, astrology, astronomy and methods of attaining yogic and occult powers.

The Primary Canon

The sacred texts of the primary canon are called 'limbs' (angas). The number of scriptural texts accepted by different Svetambar groups of Jains varies from 32 to 84. The Sthanakvasis accept 32 scriptures, which consist: 11 Primary Canon, 12 Secondary Canon, 4 texts of discipline, 4 texts of basic law and 1 appendice However, there is a wide consensus on the authenticity of 45 of the scriptural texts, classified into six categories:

Primary Canon

11 (+1 lost)

Secondary Canon


Texts of Discipline


Basic Law









The eleven texts of the primary canon can be placed into five categories: rules for ascetics, doctrine, examination of false views, narratives and miscellaneous

The first canon, the 'text of conduct' (Aacaaranga), is the oldest and most authoritative Jain canon. The language and the spirit of this sacred text prove that the major part of it was composed within 50 years of the liberation of Mahavira (Chaterjee 1978: p.228). Some sections such as those dealing with the birth of Mahavira were most probably added a couple of centuries later. This work, described as the Srutaskandha, is divided into two parts: The first part, which was composed long before the second, is the work of a scriptural omniscient (srutakevali), as is evidenced by its commentary (niryukti), as compared to the second part whose style is different, suggesting the work of later period, has nine chapters:

  1. Sastraparijna (sutras 1 to 62), which describes the existence of living beings, the conduct for a seeker to liberation with a distinct emphasis on ahimsaa towards all the living beings. From sutras 52 to 62 it says: "Some kill living beings (animals) for the sake of sacrifice to gods; some kill for beautifying products; some kill for their skin, flesh, blood, heart, liver, bile, fat, wings, feathers, hair, horns, teeth, tusks, muscles, bones and joints; the violence could be for a purpose or without any purpose or may be as a revenge or may be as a prevention to stop violence to one's family (Chatterjee 1978: p.229). Those who injure others do not comprehend the results of their violence (to others as well as to themselves); those who refrain from violence to others remain free from its results. Knowing these wise persons should not injure others, nor cause others to act on their behalf, nor motivate others for the violence. He who knows the purpose, the actions and the results of harm to others, can only be the renouncer of the violence and is a muni (monk) The knowledge of the results of violence, psychic or physical, comes from the scriptures, by contemplation and by treating others like ourselves. It further says for the sake of spiritual progress, for the sake of peace, for the sake of compassion and for the sake of self-control, one should avoid harm to the living beings whether they are mobile or immobile such as earth-bodied, air-bodied, fire-bodied, water-bodied or vegetable-bodied (Madhukar Muni 1989: pp.36-37)."
  2. Lokavijay (sutras 63-to 105) states that psychic attachement to sensual pleasures and displeasures, is the cause of the worldy cycle and describes the passions such as anger, deceit, infatuation and egoism, that lead to violence. It further discusses the method of controlling the passions.
  3. Sitosniya (sutras 106 to 131) preaches the results of alertness and carelessness; defines the person who renunciates the sensory pleasures, a spiritualist, a spiritual teacher, a scriptural scholar; the renunciation of sensory pleasures; and the essence of selfcontrol, and the importance of the mastery over oneself to progress on the spiritual path.
  4. Samyaktva (sutras 132 to 146) describes attainment of the true path for spiritual progress, which consists of Right Faith, Right Knowledge, Right Conduct and Right Austerity. It discusses them in detail, the views of other faiths, and the conduct, which attracts the inflow of new karma.
  5. Lokasaara (sutras 147 to 176) describes the results of sensory pleasures, and the Right Conduct of a spiritualist.
  6. Dhuta (sutras 177 to 198) means a pure soul without karmic attachment or a spiritualist who renounces worldly pleasures (anagar). This chapter discusses the renunciation of materialism as well as psychic substances.
  7. Mahaparijna means special knowledge. This chapter is extinct at the moment, but the commentaries on some portions of it suggest that it contained afflictions due to substances of spiritual pleasures, and the tantric knowledge and mantras for selfcontrol.
  8. Vimoksa (sutras 199 to 253) means renunciation or detachment from the material possessions and the body. This chapter discusses various types and methods of detachment, and says that complete detachment leads to liberation.
  9. Upadhaana (sutras 254 to 323) describes the spiritual life of Mahavira, his selfcontrol, austerities and life of detachment in adverse as well as pleasing circumstances.

The second part of Aacaaranga contains five sections. The fifth section, Nisitha Sutra, which deals with the penance for the infractions in conduct, has been separated as an independent canonical text. The second part contains sutras 324 to 804 and describes the protocol and the conduct of an ascetic for spiritual progress and emphasises the needs of the body and its maintenance by all-possible non-violent means. The first two sections deal with the conduct of an ascetic such as when obtaining food, clothing, lodging, remedies and other materials necessary for spiritual advancement. They further discuss the conduct while going to bed, moving, journey, speaking, use of sensory organs, and the observance of the physiological processes such as passing water and defecation, and emphasises the avoidance of psychic and physical violence to living beings and attachment to sensory acts. The last chapter in the second section places emphasis on being self-sufficient (help from others such as for spiritual progress and for study is allowed), discusses the results of accepting respect from others and accepting help from others for one's physical needs. These sections emphasise that ascetics should be vigilant over their actions; should avoid all-possible psychic and physical violence to all living beings; and should lead a life of detachment and self-sufficiency. Observance of vigilance over psychic actions has been discussed in all the chapters proving the fact that the Jainism gives great importance to psychic actions. The third section is a biographical account of Mahavira and his sermon after attaining omniscience, where he preaches the five great vows of ahimsaa, truth, non-stealing, celibacy and non-attachment, and emphasises, both their psychic and physical, observance. The fourth section discusses the spiritual conduct necessary for liberation.

The second canon, the 'text concerning heretical views' (Sutra Krutaanga) is a very old Jain aagamic text, believed to be compiled by Sudharma. It has two Srutaskandhas, the first has 16 chapters (sutras 1 to 637) and second has 7 chapters (sutras 638 to 873). In the first part, the first chapter examines the non-Jain philosophical systems prevalent and compares them with Jainism. It criticises one-sided views and materialism, and contains the core of the theory of 'polyviewism' or 'multifold aspects' (the realisation that things can be seen differently when looked at from multiple viewpoints). The second chapter discusses the teachings for ascetics; the third describes various types of afflictions; the fourth discusses the characteristics of women and preaches the monks to be vigilant to prevent being lured or trapped. The fifth chapter narrates the hells and their tortures; the sixth praises the character of Mahavira and his attainments; the seventh discusses the results of losing one's moral character and the eighth preaches the activities for the spiritualist desiring to attain liberation. The ninth and the tenth chapters preach various aspects of the religion for the ascetics; the eleventh discusses the protocols for the path of liberation, and the twelfth compares the Jain path with other non-Jain philosophies. The thirteenth discusses the fallabilities of the human mind; the fourteenth describes the path for attaining spiritual knowledge; the fifteenth discusses the essence of the teachings of Mahavira, and the sixteenth describes the characteristic of an ascetic.

In the second part, the first chapter motivates an ascetic on the path of liberation by telling a story of paundarika (a lotus of 1000 petals in the middle of a lake) and how different spiritualists tried to attain it, but failed, and an how a nirgrantha ascetic, having the Right Conduct succeeds. The second chapter discusses the virtues of an ascetic and their application to all contexts, sinful actions and their results; the third mentions the eating habits of living beings, describes the germination and birth of a life, some aspects of botany and zoology, and discusses non-violently obtained food for an ascetic; and the fourth describes the prevention of the inflow of karma by renunciation of sinful activities and notes the practical aspects for an ascetic in avoiding sinful actions. The fifth chapter discusses wrong conduct and its results, and discusses the beliefs of various other philosophies; the sixth narrates the ascetic life of Ardraka Muni and his discussions with Goshalak, a Buddha monk, a Vedic scholar, a Sankhya and Hasti Tapasa; and the seventh describes the preaching of Indrabhuti Gautam at Nalanda, and the conversion of Udaka to Mahavira's religion of the five great vows (mahaavratas).

The Sutrakrutaanga contains a variety of thought-provoking and beautiful materials, which can be well compared with Buddhist texts. It is an important text as it compares various philosophies, and describes an ideal Nirgrantha way of life in detail.

The third canon, the Sthaananga is an encyclopaedic compilation of information on various doctrinal subjects, which can be grouped up to ten categories (for the ease of memorising), such as the soul, matter, history, arithmetic, biology, food science, sociology, geography, astrology, mythology cosmology, faith, knowledge, conduct, philosophy, practices and psychology. It has ten chapters and 783 sutras and most of it is believed to have been compiled by Sudharma, though it contains some material of a later period. It provides information on Jain views on a variety of subjects such as in category of one - the soul; category of two - saamayika (equanimity): material and spiritual; category of three - bodies: vaikriya (transformable) or audaarika (gross body), tejasa (luminous) and karmic; category of four - harmful food: honey, meat, alcohol and butter, category of five - five minor vows, and so on up to category of ten types of sound. The Buddhist text Anguttara Nikaaya has a slight resemblance with the Sthananga Sutra, on which Abhayadevasuri has written a commentary. The fourth canon, Samavaayanga, is a compendium of the contents of all the primary texts. Its arrangement differs from the ten-part categories of the third canon, in that it does not limit the number of parts of each category. This compendium represents probably the earliest extant record of the twelve angas. It is therefore a key text in determining questions of authenticity of the Jain canon. This text can be compared with the Buddhist texts Mahaavastu or Lalitavistara and Abhayadevasuri has written a commentary on it

The fifth canon, the Vyaakhyaaprajnaapti or Bhagavati Sutra is the most voluminous. It gives a survey of the teaching of Mahavira's wide-range of subjects, largely in the form of answers given by Mahavira to 36,000 questions (approximately) put largely by his chief disciple, Indrabhuti Gautam (who must, of course, not be confused with the Buddha, whose name was also Gautam), and others such as Makandiputra, Roha, Agnibhuti, Vayubhuti, Skandha, Jayanti and some non-Jain scholars. The chapters of this text are in the form of a hundred sutras (sataka), and though there were 101 such sataka in the original text, only 41 are extant. The subjects are largely categorised into conduct (aacaar), the six reals (sad dravya), philosophy (siddhaanta), other world (paraloka), geography, astrology, mathematics, obstetrics (garbha sastra), character (caritra), and miscellaneous. There is a great deal of incidental information on society and the political history of the time. This canon further carries the principle of 'polyviewism', as can be seen in the technique of Mahavira's answers. Each question was given an answer 'subject to qualification' (syaadvaada). This forms the base for the further development of this principle. The canon contains many references to Mahavira's predictions for rebirths, even those of his staunchest opponents like Gosalaka, leader of the sect known as the Ajivikas, whose life is described. Mahavira predicted that Gosalaka would be reborn as a celestial being, as he would repent at the end of his life.

This voluminous work, on which many commentaries have been written, opens with an adoration of the Jina, gives reference to several groups of ascetics (including taapasas), the conversion of Parsvanatha's followers and Brahmin scholars, and shrines dedicated to the Jina (Jinagraha) confirming that temples existed in the 6th century BCE. Celestials such as the four Lokapala, Shulpani, Indra, etc., arts such as drama, musical instruments, spirits, stupas, brahmanical shrines (devakulas), political history, aajivika religion, various professions, and false weights and measures are also noted. There are references to Devananda, Candana, Jamali, festivals connected with Indra, Skanda, Mukunda, Naaga etc., peecchaghara (preksaagraha) and rangasthaana (auditorium), Udayan, Celana, Jayanti, Mahavira's travel from Campa to Sindu-Sauvihara, Gosala, the Brahmaputta shrine of Vaisali (also mentioned in the Buddhist text Digha Nikaaya), and gold and silver coins. The above analysis makes Bhagavati an important source book of contemporary history, culture and the philosophy of India in the 6th Century BCE.

The sixth canon, 'stories of knowledge and righteousness' the Jnaatadharmakathaa (Naayaadhammakahaao), contains a series of stories and narratives which make it the most readable text, and they teach moral values. The work is divided into two Srutaskandhas of which the first is divided into nineteen chapters and second one into ten. The first contains 19 stories as examples; the second contains 206 moral stories. The story of Meghakumara is given in the first chapter, the story of Devadatta, the famous female courtesan of Campa in third chapter, the story of the nineteenth tirthankara, Mallinatha, a woman, in the eighth, and the story of Draupadi is given in the 16th chapter. The ascetics quote these stories in their sermons to make them more interesting to their audience.

The seventh canon, 'accounts of lay devotees', the Upaasakadasaa, relates the stories of the pious deeds of ten lay devotees and their courage in resisting attacks from evil forces. The ten chapters tell us the stories of Anand, Kamdeva, Chulanipita, Suradeva, Chullasataka, Kundakaulika, Sakadalaputra, Mahasataka, Nandinipita and Salihipita.

The eighth canon, 'stories of liberated ones', the Antakritddasaa (Antagadadasao), gives accounts of the lives of those who achieved moksa. It contains ten chapters comprising of stories from the time of Neminatha, the twenty-second tirthankara, and a number on his cousin, Krisna, and his exploits. The canon contains the accounts of Gajsukumar (younger brother of Krisna), Arjunmali, Atimukta, Kali, Sukali, Mahakali, Krusna, Sukrusna, Mahakrusna, Virkrusna, Ramkrusna, Pitrusenkrusna and Mahasenkrusna. The text also gives short biographical accounts of Indrabhuti Gautam, Krisna, Kunika, Celana, Jambu, Jamali, Jitsatru, Dharini, Mahabalakumar, Meghakumar, Skandaka, Sudharma and Srenika. It describes the geography of Kakandi, Gunasil, Campa, Jambudvipa, Dwarka, Dutipalas Caitya, Purnabhadra Caitya, Bhaddilpur, Bharat Ksetra and Rajgriha.

The ninth canon, the Anuttaraupapaatikadasaa (stories of those who rise to the uppermost heavens), contains the legends of those who were reborn in the uppermost heavens.

The tenth canon, 'questions and explanations', the Prasnavyaakarana has two srutaskandhas: aasrava and samvara, each has five chapters. The first describes the five great sins of violence, untruth, stealing, unchaste and hoarding, and their consequences by giving examples. The second srutaskandha deals with the five major vows and their results, and has stories with examples.The text contains information on the social life of crime and punishment of those times. It is a very useful text that motivates a person on the spiritual path.

The eleventh canon, the Vipaakasutra has two srutaskandhas: Dukhavipaaka and Sukhavipaaka, each has ten chapters. The text discusses karma and describes, in narrative form, the results of good and evil deeds. Each chapter contains one moral story. The twelfth canon, Drastivaada, is lost.

The Secondary Canon

The twelve texts of the secondary canon, called upaangas, are the teachings of tirthankaras compiled by senior ascetics and their disciples from a later period. The subject matter of this secondary, supplementary, canon contains similar topics to the primary canon: cosmology, astrology, geography, biology and history, plus seven important texts, which discuss postulates of Jainism.

The first secondary canon, the Aupapaatika Sutra (text of 'those who arise spontaneously') has a description of the celebrated Purnabhdra, a yaksa temple complex in the city of Campa, which Mahavira visited and gave a sermon, where Kunika Ajatasatru, the emperor of Anga-Magadha, attended. Both Buddhists and Jains claim that Ajatasatru followed their religion, but the Jain claim appears to be well-founded (Smith 1923: P.51 and Mukharjee in Hindu Sabhyata, date n.a: pp.190-191). The text has 189 sutras and describes the city of Campa, its people and different types of austerities (tapa) such as ratnaavali, kanakaavali, ekaavali, laghusinha niskridit, mahasinha niskridit, bhadra pratima, mahabhadra pratima, sarvato bhadra pratima, laghusarvato bhadra pratima, mahasarvato bhadra pratima, vardhaman ayambil, biksu pratima, ahoraatri biksu pratima, ekaraatri biksu pratima, laghumoka pratima, yavamadhya candra pratimā and the internal austerities. Sutras 56 and 57 summarise Mahavira's sermon to the audience (samosaran), which included the emperor. The text also refers to several types of Brahman and Ksatriya Parivraajakas (mendicants). The second part of the text once more employs the device of replies by Mahavira to questions put by his disciple Gautam, dealing with subjects such as rebirth in different destinies, spontaneous existence in heavens and hells, non-Jain mendicants, schisms, and the residence for liberated souls. Sutra 107 enumerates the 72 arts.

The second secondary canon, 'questions of king Prasanjit', the Raajaprasniya, consists largely of a dialogue between a monk, Kesi, a follower of the twenty-third tirthankara Parsvanatha, and a king, Paesi. The text, which has 283 sutras, is divided into two parts: the first contains descriptions of the arts such as of drama, music and architecture; the second part includes wide-ranging discussions between Kesi and King Paesi on the nature of the soul and the body. This text is of great historical importance as the story of the king refers to the time of Parsvanatha, and its language suggests it to be an ancient text. The most important aspect of this text lies in the scientific attitude shown by the king in asking questions about the soul on the basis of physical experiments and observations. The answers given by the monk, Kesi, suggests his powers of observation, and the dialogue between them convinces King Paesi of the existence of the soul in the body. This text also contains references to 72 distinct branches of learning, and festivals for popular gods.

The third secondary canon, the Jivaabhigamasutra contains 259 sutras. It comprehends animate and inanimate things, and is very important for an understanding of Jain descriptions of botany and zoology. It classifies worldly beings in various ways such as mobile and immobile; male, female and neuter; human, tiryanca (animals and plants), celestial and hellish; one sensed, two sensed; three sensed, four sensed and five sensed; earth bodied, water bodied, fire bodied, air bodied, vegetable bodied and mobile bodied. The six forms of bodies (sadkaay) have been discussed in detail. The vegetable bodied is further classified into individual bodied and common bodied and detailed list of such plants and vegetables is given. The mobile-bodied beings are described as those having between two to five senses. The text describes the places (in addition to the earth), where human beings are found, and the life of the hellish and celestial beings. The knowledge of the living and non-living (jiva and ajiva) is very important in observing the vow of ahimsaa.

The fourth secondary canon, the Prajnaapanaasutra, is the largest upaanga, composed by Arya Shyama (Kalakacharya) in the 2nd century BCE, and contains 2176 sutras and thirty-six chapters in question and answer form. It can be well compared with the Digambar canon, Satkhandaagama (1st century CE); it has kept jiva at its centre and described karma as it affects jiva, while in the Satkhandaagama the description revolves around karma. The third and fourth secondary sacred texts are complimentary to one another, as both describe different aspects of jiva and ajiva. It describes Jain philosophy and some of the other subjects found in the Bhagavati Sutra, and by some commentators is described as the encyclopaedia of Jain philosophy.

The fifth and the seventh secondary canon, the Suryaprajnapati and the Candrapragnapti, describe the thoughts of Jain thinkers on the ancient knowledge of astronomy, and solar and lunar motion. The sixth secondary canon, the Jambudvipapragnapti, describes geography and astronomy, and contains a great deal of material on the Jain view of time cycles, and discusses the beginnings of civilisation in the days of Risabhdeva, the first tirthankara. Some work done in Patiala (Punjab) on astronomy suggests that the mathematical calculations given in these texts compare favourably with the modern science (Jain N.1996: pp.89-97).

The eighth to twelfth secondary canons are respectively: Nirayaavalikaa, Kalpaavatamsikaa, Puspikaa, Puspaculikaa, and Vrisnidasaa. They contain narratives of those engaged in good or bad actions and their consequences. Some stories are of historical importance and describe the social life prevalent in those times. In the last text, the term vrisni indicates that it contains legends of the vrisni clan, whose members included Neminatha, Krisna and Balarama.

Texts of Discipline (chedasutra)

Cheda is a Jain technical term used to refer to a reduction in the status of an ascetic, hence the chedasutras deal with the disciplinary concerns of ascetic life, including penalties and expiation for breaches of the ascetic code. This group of sutras originally had seven texts, but one, the sixth, has been lost.

The first of the extant texts is called Dasaasrutaskandha or Acaaradasaa, which contains ten chapters and 278 sutras. The first three chapters discuss in detail various forms of monastic transgressions by accident, by negligence and by will, and the penance according to the degree and quality of transgression. The fourth chapter notes the required qualities of a monastic leader, his duties and other matters concerning monastic life. The fifth chapter lists the ten occasions such as spiritual progress, devadarsan (viewing of the tirthankara), attainment of avadhijnan (clairvoyance), etc., when an ascetic acquires bliss and peace of mind. The sixth chapter describes the eleven ideal stages of spiritual progress for the layperson. The seventh chapter lists the qualifications and rules for an ascetic for solitary wandering (ekalvihaari). The eighth chapter (Paryusana-kalpa or Saamaacaari) deals with rules for monastic life during India's rainy season. This chapter has been 'hived off' as a separate text, the Kalpa Sutra, and is published as a book in its own right, laying down strictures for ascetics and containing appendices giving biographies of the tirthankaras (Jinacarita) and the line of succession (sthaviraavali) down from the chief disciples (ganadharas). The ninth chapter discusses the thirty causes for the attachment of mohaniya karma considered to be a danger to spiritual progress. The tenth chapter describes self-control and its advantages in progressing towards the goal of liberation.

The second text is Brihatkalpa, which contains six chapters and 217 sutras, is another work detailing monastic rules for the temporary and the rainy season retreat, contacts with nuns, garments, transgression of the five great vows, and the rules for intake of food, defecation and urination. It also discusses the rare exceptions to the rules.

The third text Vyavahara, has ten chapters and 267 sutras, containing the practical aspects of monastic transgressions and their penances. The first chapter deals with the confession in the presence of an aacaarya or upaadhyaya and if neither available, in the presence of an ascetic with the relevant knowledge. The second chapter discusses the treatment of an ascetic undertaking the penance. The third chapter deals with the qualifications for the appointment of an aacaarya, upaadhyaya, sthavira, gani or any other responsible position, and the penance for transgression in the rules of conduct, including wandering without due permission. The fourth to the seventh chapters discuss the respect and care of the senior ascetics, nursing of an infirm ascetic, rules for the number of ascetics required for wandering, and the rules for visiting places. The eighth and ninth chapters deal with the rules regarding carrying the possessions while wandering and the acceptance of food, including the quantity to be accepted. The tenth chapter discusses the austerity of detachment from the body: taking food in reducing and increasing quantities similar to the waxing and waning of the moon, the conduct as per the scriptures and the instructions of seniors, the penances, service to the sangha to the best of one's ability, the rules for initiation, the four types of aacaaryas, disciples and the sthaviras, the rules for the study of the scriptures, and the rules of service to the seniors aged and infirm ascetics.

The fourth text, Nisitha, is the longest text of the chedasutras and was originally the fifth section of the second srutaskandha of the Aacaaranga. It contains twenty chapters and more than 1401 sutras. It was composed ganadharas, while the rest chedasutras were composed by Bhadrabahu. It deals with all aspects of transgressions to monastic conduct, their penances and the punishment for major misdeeds, including expulsion. It contains much incidental information on the social, religious and the cultural life of early India.

The fifth text, Mahaanisitha, contains some interesting narratives dealing with daily life of the Jain ascetics and the concerns raised in Nisitha, the narrative form making it more readable.

The sixth text, Pancakalpa, is lost, but its contents may be deduced from references in other works.

The seventh text, JitaKalpa Sutra, compiled by Jinabhadra, deals with ten kinds of punishments for transgressions by ascetics.

Texts on Basic Law (mulasutras)

Of the four mulasutras, Uttaraadhyayana, Dasavaikaalika Sutra and Aavasyaka Sutra survive today; Pindaniryukti is extinct. Some consider Oghaniryukti, which contains rules for ascetics, as a mulasutra. Uttaraadhyayana is believed to be the last sermon of Mahavira and on which Bhadrabahu wrote the first commentary, Uttaraadyananiryukti. The work is divided into 36 chapters and can well be compared with the Dhammapada or Gita. The chapters contain topics of:

  • religious stories: 7, 8, 9,12, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23,25 and 27
  • preaching: 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 10
  • right conduct: 2, 11 15, 16, 17, 24, 26, 32 and 35
  • philosophy: 28, 29, 30, 31, 33, 34 and 36

The first twelve chapters are on discipline; on afflictions; on the preciousness of human birth; on the value of life; on involuntary death; on the temporary nature of sensory pleasures; on greed; on the spiritual life and initiation of the king Nami; on the momentary nature of the life; on veneration of the spiritual scholar; and on Harikesha muni who was born as an untouchable (for the point being made that Jainism is against the caste system). The next twelve chapters are on the story of Citra and Sambhuta, on Isukara (both chapters on the law of karma); on the true monk; on celibacy; on a sinful monk; the story of king Sanjaya; the son of king Mruga (both renunciate worldly pleasures); on the duties of a Nirgrantha; on the story of a merchant Samudrapala and his liberation; on the story of Rajul and Rathnemi; on the dialogue between Kesi (follower of Parsvanatha) and Gautam; and on the teachings of the scriptures (similar to a mother's guidance). The last twelve chapters are on the true sacrifice; on the Right Conduct, on undisciplined disciple, on the path of liberation, on Right Vision, on austerity; on the meaning of life; on spiritual negligence; on the nature of karma; on lesyas (auras); on ascetic dharma; and on jiva and ajiva. This sacred text throws light on social, cultural and political history of the earlier period, and condemns the caste system and the practices of brahmanical sacrifice, and teaches the true meaning of life.

The Dasavaikaalika Sutra contains 575 sutras, divided into ten lectures and two appendices (culikaas). Aacaarya Sayyambhava, who had become an ascetic after raising a family, compiled this work for his son, Manak (who himself became a monk) when the aacaarya discovered that Manak had only six months to live. It contains lectures that summarise the essence of the Jain canon.

The first chapter discusses the religion of ahimsaa, self-restraint and austerity. The second chapter deals with asceticism, which is the first step on the path to liberation. The third chapter discusses the ideal conduct of an ascetic. The fourth chapter deals with the philosophy, five great vows and avoidance of taking food at night. The fifth chapter discusses the selection of the right food, search, mode of acceptance, method of bringing it to the retreat and sharing with fellow monks. The sixth chapter is a brilliant exposition of the Nirgrantha dharma and discusses the practical aspects of the conduct of a monk. The seventh chapter is on 'Purifying Speech' and deals with the practical aspects of the subject. The eighth chapter on 'Code of Conduct' discusses further the restraints required by a monk. The ninth chapter deals with humility, which helps the monk to progress on the spiritual path and is very important in his conduct towards others. The tenth chapter discusses the goal of a monk and spiritual ecstasy: humility, the study of scriptures, austerities and Right Conduct. The two appendices discuss the sensory pleasures and the conduct of a worldly soul.

The Aavasyaka Sutra is another very important work composed for the six essential daily duties. It has a lengthy introduction, which appears to have been intended to introduce a larger work (of which the present text is an earlier part). The six essential duties described in the texts are equanimity, hymns in praise of the twenty-four tirthankaras, veneration of ascetics or elders, penitential retreat, meditation with bodily detachment and renunciation of food, drink and comfort.


There are two important appendices to the Culikasutra: the Anuyogadwaar Sutra, written by Araya Raxit in the 1st century CE and the Nandi Sutra, written by Dev Vaachak in the 5th century CE.

The Anuyogadwaar Sutra is a text of expositional literature, which contains 295 sutras. The author has made a compilation of the postulates, which are scattered throughout the canon, and then classified them into four categories to simplify the study of differing subjects:

  • Biographical and historical material (prathamaanuyoga) containing texts such as Adipuraana, Uttarapuraana and Trisastisalaakaa Purusa Caritra.
  • Scientific and cosmological material (karanaanuyoga) containing texts such as Trilokaprajnapti, Trilokasaara and Jambudvipaprajnaapti.
  • Ethics, conduct and religious practices (caranaanuyoga) including texts such as Niyamasaara, Pravacanasaara, Sraavakaacaara, Dharmabindu and Yogasastra.
  • Metaphysics, ontology and philosophy (dravyaanuyoga) including texts such as Tattvarthasutra and Sarvarthasiddhi.

The Nandisutra is a very important work describing the Jain theory of knowledge, contains 115 sutras and summarises the canonical writing regarding cognition, sources and organs of knowledge.

Miscellany (prakirnakas)

The name given to these ten short texts signifies 'scattered pieces' or 'miscellany'. In addition to ritual hymns, much of this collection is devoted to the preparation for holy death, and to aspects of monastic life and discipline.

The Catuhsarana means 'fourfold refuge' and is concerned with the devotee's surrender to the enlightened ones, the liberated souls, the ascetics, and the religious teachings of the omniscient.

The Aaturapratyaakhyana means 'renunciation by the frail and sick and is concerned with renunciation in preparation for holy death.

The Bhaktaparijnaa means 'food renunciation' and is concerned with rituals relating to abstinence from food.

The Samthaara means 'holy deathbed' and is concerned with the rituals and preparation for holy death.

The Tandulavaicaarika literally means 'contemplation on rice'. It is a collection of various materials in prose and verse. Much of it is what we would nowadays call human biology. It discusses the growth of the human foetus during pregnancy and the stages of life after birth, assuming (unrealistically, perhaps) a normal lifespan of 100 years divided into 10 equal stages, with physiological and anatomical discussions about each stage. A calculation of how many grains of rice a human can eat during a lifetime is included! Part of the text focuses particularly on the subject of women.

The Candravedhyaka means 'hitting the mark' and concerns monastic discipline and retaining consciousness until the last moment of life.

The Devendrastava means 'hymns of the Jinas' and concerns praise of the Jinas by the king of the celestial beings.

The Ganitavidya means 'prognostics' and deals with auspicious dates and omens in monastic life.

The Mahaapratyaakhyaana means 'great renunciation' and deals with renunciation at the time of death.

The Virastava means 'hymns to Mahavira' and deals with the virtues of Mahavira, and praises him.

Many brief and extended commentaries on the canon are available; most of them were composed between the 6th and 13th centuries in both Sanskrit and Prakrit.

Digambar Scriptures

Digambars believe that the canon was largely lost through lapses of memory. However, after their separation from the original sangha, in the in early part of the second century CE, Dharasena, who had some knowledge of the ancient texts, passed them onto Puspadanta and Bhutabali (Jain, H. 1939-58: vol.1 pp.67-72). Puspadanta composed the first 20 cardinal sutras, and Bhutabali completed the rest of the work running to 6000 sutras and organising it into six parts. This work is known as Satkhandaagama, on which in the ninth century CE Virasena wrote a commentary known as Dhavalaa. Aacaarya Gunadhara, a contemporary of Bhutabali, wrote the second canonical text known as Kasaaya-praabhruta (paahuda), on which Virasena began a detailed commentary named as Jayadhavalaa, which was completed by his disciple Jinasena. Digambars accept these two texts, Satkhandaagama and Kasaayapaahuda as their canon, which were discovered in Mudabidre in early part of the twentieth century.

The Satkhandaagama has six sections and its contents are based on what was remembered of the primary canon. It contains a theory of karma and the basic Jain principles; describes the fourteen forms of the spiritual path (marganas) and the fourteen spiritual stages; and contains several sections dealing with karma from the third book of Drastivada, called Purvagata.

The Kasaayapaahuda is a Prakrit text of 233 verses, discussing the nature, intensity and effects of passions, the root cause of worldly existence and karmic bondage.

Digambars consider Satkhandaagama and its commentary, the Dhavalaa by Virasena in 16 volumes, and Kasaayapaahuda and its commentary, the Jayadhavalaa by Jinasena in 15 volumes, and a 7-volume commentary called Mahaadhavalaa, as their sacred texts.

Commentaries: The Jain scholar monks such as Bhadrabahu, Jinabhadra, Sanghadaas, Haribhadra, Silanka, Santisuri, Abhayadeva and Malyagiri, have written extensive commentaries, in the forms of prose, poetry, descriptions and analysis, on most of their sacred texts. These commentaries, though many of them are in Prakrit or Sanskrit, guide the reader in understanding the Jain scriptures and give useful historical, social and cultural information on India from those times.

Both Svetambar and Digambar scriptures are preserved in manuscript libraries in India. The Svetambar literature is mainly found in libraries at Jesalmir (Rajasthan), Patan, Khambat and Bharuch (all in Gujarat). Digambara scriptures are mainly found at Mudabidre and Sravanbelgola (both in Karnataka).

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Title: Jainism: The World of Conquerors
Dr. Natubhai Shah
Publisher: Sussex Academic Press
Edition: 1998