Interview With Mumukṣu Dr. Shanta Jain About The Meaning Of Dīkṣā

Posted: 24.11.2008
Updated on: 30.07.2015

Dīkṣā means “a life without sin”. To live in this material world, but to be no part of it.

He word is derived from dīk = teaching, right knowledge, right faith, right character and living according to it; and ṣā = reducing one’s own karma by the right practice.

In Jain philosophy, taking dīkṣā is not just a matter of changing clothes, but there is a full code of dress, symbolically speaking. It means to overcome the grin and drives of kāma, desire: to utilize and canalize energy in the right direction. We try, through self-control, to restrain the attachment to the five senses (īndriyas).

There are two different types of vows: anuvratas and mahāvratas. The first, the small vows, anyone can take. The mahāvratas or great vows are taken by monks and nuns. We take them on the day of dīkṣā and keep them our whole life.

There is no age bar for taking dīkṣā, neither on the higher, nor on the lower end of the scale. When the feeling of mumukṣu (the irrevocable wish to reach mokṣa or nirvāṇa) develops in us and is genuine, we can take dīkṣā. Another condition is that for the non-adult one’s the parents have to give their permission.

There are for stages in the life of a Jain spiritual person:

1st year: 


disciple, devoted servant

2nd year: 


one who is determined to eventually reach mokṣa

3rd year: 



4th year: 


monk, nun

To be a mumukṣu means that one is accepted to become a monk or nun at the right time, to be determined by the guru.

Dīkṣā can not be taking out of emotion or imitation. First there is a period of training. Then there are tests to find out whether he or she will be able to follow the hardships of monkhood. These are not tests in the sense of intellectual exams taken at particular moments, but they are character tests, which can be placed before the pupil at any time without his or her knowing it. His behavior is constantly watched. Real character exists at any moment, always, not just at prepared moments. The person thus tested can fail of course. He or she can then return home without consequences. If later he or she wants to try again, it is possible. The only difference is that then he has to fast though the period of testing.

Dīkṣā is not the ultimate goal of life. It is instrumental in achieving the ultimate goal by following the five mahāvratas. The ultimate goal is complete liberation from karmic obstructions and impediments, so that the soul can shine forth in its ultimate nature, which is omniscience and freedom from any illusion and bondage - and, in Jainism - complete detachment from one’s own sufferings as well as complete indifference concerning the sufferings of others.

What is special of therapanth dīkṣā as compared to dīkṣā in other Śvetambara sects is the absolute self-control: to live one’s whole life obeying orders of one guru (in this case Āchārya Mahāpragya) and later his successor. The monks and nuns do not cherish their own desires. This is regarded as a very good way to learn to control desires and wishes.

Before the actual dīkṣā ceremony the male or female applicants are dressed like a grooms and brides. During the ceremony, which takes place in presents of hundreds or even thousands of monks, nuns and lay people, the mumukṣus remove their mundane clothes, below which the white garments of the sadhu remain. From now on they always wear the white cover before the mouth, a symbol of non-violence, preventing even death to the minutest creatures by their breathing and speaking. They take their five Great Vows while reciting the guru mantra.In the book Indian Philosophical Terms; Glossary and Sources (Chief editor Dr Kala Acharya; Somaiya Publications Pvt Ltd, Mumbai, Delhi, 2004), Dr. S.L. Gandhi (later to become President of Anuvibha) writes: śramaṇa dīkṣa [means] initiating someone into ascetic life (Jaina religious tradition). He writes further: “In the Jainendra Siddhānta Koṣa śrāmaṇa dīkṣā is described as follows: when one whose ultimate aim or mokṣa, achieves the higher state of a feeling of detachment from worldly life and asks for the forgiveness of one’s kith and kin, renounces all forms of possessiveness, seeks the shelter of his gurus and takes a vow to live the life embedded in equanimity, this act of his is called śramaṇa-dīkṣā or initiation into ascetic life.

Explaining the characteristics of ascetism the Jainendra Siddhānta he [the author] says that a person’s emancipation from detachment, household life and all forms of possessions, and his conquest over twenty-two types of hardships and passions and complete abstinence from sinful activities and calmness and equanimity in moments of gain and loss, happiness and sorrow constitute true dīkṣā. Only such person whose family is free from blemish and has enlightened conduct, is beautiful, is considered worthy of being initiated. He whose family is stigmatized and he himself is physically crippled or suffers from diseases is not worthy of initiation.

A śramaṇa, according to Jaina Lakṣaṇāvali, is a self-restraint ascetic who having renounced the worldly life does not distinguish between a friend and a foe, and remains equanimous in moments of joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, censure and praise. The ultimate object of a śrāmaṇa is to achieve mokṣa.

The main means that the Srāmaṇa adopts to accomplish his goal are enlightened world-view (samyak-darśana), enlightened knowledge (samyagjñāna) and enlightened conduct (samyakchārita). The other means include the five great vows: satya (truth), ahiṁsā (nonviolence), asteya (non-stealing), brahmāchārya (non-carnality) and aparigraha (non-possesiveness), the five careful and correct movements (samiti) i.e. īryā, bhāṣā, eṣanā, ādānanikṣepa and utsarga (to walk, speak, seek alms, handle objects of daily use and dispose of excreta in the correct manner, respectively), restraint of five senses, ascetic nudity [in case of Digambara monks], abstinences from anger, pride, deceit and greed, mediation, penance, austerities, controlled threefold actions of body, speech and mind, and equanimity. These are the śrāmaṇa-sādhana [śrāmaṇa’s means] to achieve mokṣa.

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