An Interpretation of Jaina Ethics (Part II)

Posted: 20.09.2011
Updated on: 02.07.2015

The lecture by the German scholar Dr. (Mrs.) Charlotte Krause was printed in a small booklet in 1929 by Phulchandji Ved (Publisher), Secretary, Shri Yashovijaya Jain Granthamala, Bhavnegar (Kathiawar) and reissued by Prof. Sagarmal Jain and Dr. Shriprakash Pandey in the book German Jaina Śrāvikā Dr. Charlotte Krause. Her Life and Literature (Vol. I, Parsvanatha Vidyapitha Series 119, Varanasi 1999, pp. 31-69). To make this online reissue citeable, the page numbers are added to the text (see squared brackets).

An Interpretation of Jaina Ethics (Part II)

A Lecture by Dr. Charlotte Krause

Continuation from ►An Interpretation of Jaina Ethics (Part I)


G. The Twelve Vratas of Laymen

The twelve Vratas of laymen are sub-divided into three parts, viz., the five Aṇuvratas, the three Guṇavratas and the four Śikṣāvratas.

  1. The Five Aṇuvratas

The five Aṇuvratas, i.e., small vows represent only a milder form of the great vows of ascetics.


    1. By the First Aṇuvrata, the Śrāvaka promises to give up destroying, intentionally and without purpose, the lives of harmless living beings, which are gifted with free locomotion. With reference to this formulation, it has often been said that, whereas the Sādhu practises complete non-injury, or expressed in the old way, twenty-twentieths of non-injury, the Śrāvaka only practises one-twentieth and a quarter; ten-twentieths being substracted by excepting beings without spontaneous locomotion, as plants, water, fire, air and minerals, five further twentieths by excepting harmless creatures, two and a half-twentieths by excepting unintentional, and one and a quarter-twentieths by excepting purposeless injury. That means, of course, practically, that he is allowed self-defence, as well as such actions including injury of lower life, as are necessary for his subsistence, such as the construction of houses or wells, the [22|23] gathering of fruit and vegetables and their preparation, the use of vehicles, etc., etc.
    2. By the Second Aṇuvrata, he promises to give up all untrue and other utterances of grossly injurious character, with reference to marriageable women, cows, land, deposits and false witness.
    3. By the Third Aṇuvrata, he promises never to appropriate things ungiven, neither living nor lifeless ones, in the intention of stealing.
    4. By the Fourth Aṇuvrata, he promises either matrimonial faithfulness to his wife, or merely renounces intercourse with the wives of others. The same does, mutatis mutandis, the laywoman.
    5. By the Fifth Aṇuvrata, he promises not to keep property, lifeless or living, exceeding a certain limit, which he fixes himself at the time of taking the vow.

  1. The Three Guṇavratas

    The Guṇavratas comprise certain general restrictions, canonical for the whole life-time
    1. The First Guṇavrata or Digvrata, limits the sphere within which the Śrāvaka is left liberty to move, in all, or in one or other of the points of the compass, as well as in the height and depth.
    2. The Second Guṇavrata or Upabhoga-paribhoga-vrata, limits the classes and qualities of things to be used by the Śrāvaka. They are divided into two classes, viz., things which can be used only once, such as food, flowers, ointments, and things which can be used repeatedly, such as houses, clothes etc. Thus, onions, potatoes, and all kinds of bulbs and roots, are to be renounced by every orthodox [23|24] Śrāvaka, because they are believed to contain a greater number of lives than other parts of plants. Meat, butter, honey and many other articles, the attainment or preparation of which is connected with gross and unnecessary injury of life, are likewise prohibited as being “abhakṣya”, i.e., uneatable. For the same reason, eating and drinking after sunset and before sunrise are interdicted. Intoxicating articles are to be avoided for reasons shown before. Besides these things which are, under all circumstances, forbidden for the Śrāvaka who takes this vow, there is, of course, no limit of things the use of which can be restricted or renounced. Thus, many a pious Śrāvaka will renounce, for life-time, tea, or some other delicacy, in which he is inclined to over-indulge, or any food that contains life, such as unboiled water, or uncut fruit, or even green vegetables in any form whatsoever, because their gathering and preparation includes more injury than that of ripe fruit or grain, etc. On other hand, the Vrata under consideration, also puts a limit to the number of trades and professions which come into consideration for a pious Jaina layman. There are fifteen so-called “Karmadānas”, i.e., professions, which a Śrāvaka who wants to keep the rules of Deśa-virati, should never embrace, such as charcoal-burning, letting out animals or vehicles, gardening, agriculture, trade with ivory, alcohol, poison, slaves, etc., oil-pressing, etc. This restriction is of great importance for social life, because it shows, e.g., why there are so few Jaina agriculturists, and why, on the other hand, the Jainas of today are, nearly all, bankers, jewellers dealers in cloth, corn and similar harmless goods, and why they use to look with a kind of contempt down on the tanners, shoe-makers, dyers, [24|25] gardeners and representatives of various other trades more or less connected with injury.
    3. The Third Guṇavrata or Anarthadaṇḍa-vrata, forbids certain harmful actions not included in the First Anuvrata, viz.,
      • Cherishing evil thoughts,
      • Indulging in alcoholic, sexual and emotional inebriation, as well as in bad talk, or in defamation,
      • practising injury and
      • giving suggestions concerning sinful actions to be done by other

    This Vrata is of great practical import, because he who keeps it, cannot possess domestic animals, nor do agricultural nor gardening work, nor see a performance in a circus, elephant fighting, etc.


  1. The Four Śikṣā-vratas

    The Śikṣā-vratas are vows with reference to certain religious performances or actions to be done, throughout one's life, in regular intervals, the duration of which one fixes at the time of taking the Vratas.
    1. The First Śikṣā-vrata is the Sāmāyika-vrata, by which the Śrāvaka promises to perform, in certain intervals, the “Sāmāyika-kriyā”. The latter consists in sitting down, under the performance of certain formalities, for about forty-eight minutes, on a clean carpet, having put on clean clothes, and keeping one's mind concentrated on some religious activity, such as reading a religious book, discussing religious subjects, meditating etc. For the duration of this time, the Śrāvaka vows to give up doing, and causing to be done, evil thoughts, words and actions, nearly coming up to the moral standard of an ascetic for the time being.
    2. By the Second Śikṣā-vrata or the Deśāvakāśika-vrata, he promises daily to fix a new limit within the [25|26] limits fixed by the First, or those fixed by the second Guṇavrata, regulating the narrower limits in accordance with his daily requirements. The daily limitation of the things appertaining to the second Guṇavrata is, generally, done with reference to fourteen stereotype points, viz., food containing life, kinds of food, the “Vikṛtis” (viz. milk, curds, ghee, oil, molasses and certain fried things), then the quantity of food, betel, clothes, shoes, bedding, bathing, ointments, flowers, vehicles, sexual intercourse, and the sphere of moving.
    3. By the Third Śikṣā-vrata or the Pauṣadha-vrata, the Śrāvaka promises to live, for a certain period, one day or longer, the life of an ascetic. The Pauṣadha-kriyā affects four things, viz., food, bodily care, sexual intercourse and professional activity, which should be limited or given up respectively, for the period fixed. It is being performed generally in special Pauṣadha-śālās, or in the Upāśrayas, under the surveyance and assistance of ascetics of the sex of the performer, and under special formalities.
    4. The Fourth Śikṣā-vrata is the Atithi-saṁvibhāga-vrata. The Śrāvaka who takes it, promises to serve and feast, at certain intervals, Jaina ascetics who approached him in the prescribed way. Today, it is, in the Śvetāmbara sect, very often replaced by the obligation to spend a certain amount of money every year, for the best of the Seven Fields, viz., the male and the female ascetic, the layman and the laywoman, the statue of a Jina, the temple of a Jina and religious education, including literature, etc.


Each of the twelve Vows contains five Aticāras, i.e., it enumerates five actions, the forbidden character of which partly is clear from the wording of the chief rule itself, and [26|27] partly can be inferred from its wider sense, such as e.g., the actions of binding, beating, mutilating, overburdening, and starving living beings, in e case of the First Aṇuvrata; or the actions of buying stolen goods, inducing thieves to steal, transgressing the boundaries of inimical kings, using false weight and measure, and dealing with adulterated or imitated things, in the case of the Third Aṇuvrata.



3. Nirjarā

After having had a glance on the rules of Saṁvara, as they are handed down by Jaina tradition, it is time to proceed to a short inspection of those of Nirjarā, or better: those of Sakāma Nirjarā, or Intentional Consumption of Karma, because Akāma Nirjarā, or Unintentional Consumption, has only little to do with ethics proper. Akāma Nirjarā, on the contrary, is, per se, rather fit to contribute to fresh Karma being bound, because, by making the individual suffer the hardships predestined by its former Karmas, it indirectly procreates certain reactions, by which new Karma must be attracted. Only in so far as the individual determines not to give way to such reactions, but quietly and willingly undergoes what is imposed on him, i.e., in so far as Akāma Nirjarā would, thus, involve the attitude of Saṁvara, it may be said to overlap on the field of Ethics.

Sakāma Nirjarā, on the other hand, is an ethical idea per se. It designates the undergoing of self-imposed hardships, by free determination, motivated purely by the desire [27|28] to proceed, thereby, on the path leading to the last metaphysical aim. Sakāma Nirjarā not only leads to, but also presupposes, Saṁvara, because the determination to undergo self-imposed hardships, is not possible without a high amount of self-control.

While fixing the kind, intensity, duration etc. of the hardships to be undergone, the individual must take care lest, by undue violence done to the frail body as well as mind, an opposite result be produced, consisting in a worried and confounded mental activity, or a kind of impure, grievous meditation, which would rather help to attract fresh Karmas. He who keeps all such precautions in mind, while endeavouring for Sakāma Nirjarā, can be said to practise genuine austerity, in the true sense of the Jina.

The Jaina scriptures distinguish twelve kinds of austerities, as the expedients of Nirjarā, grouped together under the two headings of “Exterior Austerities” and “Interior Austerities”.

a. Exterior Austerities

Exterior Austerities are the following:

  • Anaśana, i.e., complete abstinence from all kinds of food, for a period fixed by the individual beforehand. There are various forms of this austerity, from abstention for several hours up to fasts of more than a month's duration, during which latter, the fasting person generally reserves to himself the right of drinking boiled water during day time.
    People who are hopelessly sick, or on the verge of the grave for any other reason, sometimes take the vow of lifelong abstinence from food. This form of dying is called [28|29] “Saṁlekhanā” or (Sallekhanā). This used to be more frequently resorted to in the heroic olden times, when, according to Jaina tradition, Sādhus, taking the great determination, placed themselves upright, motionless, assuming some special posture, in some lonely place in the jungles, vowing not to stir voluntarily, but to hold out, till exhaustion would throw them to the ground, and death put an end. This mode of dying is known under the name of Pādapopagamana, i.e., ”assuming the state of a tree”.
  • Ūṇodarikā Tapa, i.e., reduction of one's food below the quantity required, for an optional number of meals.
  • Vṛttisaṅkṣepa, i.e., renunciation of certain kinds of food, or of food available in certain localities, or at certain times, or under certain circumstances, for an optional period. This form of renunciation is only of small practical value for the layman, who can arrange for his own meals, their time, place etc., whereas it plays a considerable part in the life of the ascetic, who is completely dependent on circumstances in getting his food.
  • Rasatyāga, i.e., renunciation of the Vikṛtis”, of which four, as we saw before, viz., meat, butter, honey and alcohol (the so-called Great Vikrtis”) are prohibited completely, whereas the remaining six, viz., milk, curds, ghee, oil, molasses and certain fried things, can be renounced in an optional measure, as far as there are no fixed prescriptions for certain special forms of austerities.
  • Kāyakleśa, or mortification of one's body, consists in sitting or standing, for a certain time to be fixed, in one or other of the various Āsanas, or ascetical postures, which play such a great part in the rites of certain Hindu [29|30] sects. With the Jainas, the most frequent postures are the Kāyotsarga posture, i.e., the standing with one's arms hanging loosely down, without coming into contact with the body, and the Padmāsana posture, i.e., sitting with crossed legs in a particular way. Certain particular forms of austerities require the ascetic to stand in the Kāyotsarga posture for a whole night or longer. Also in the rites of the Śrāvakas, the two āsanas are frequent.
  • Saṁlīnatā, i.e., withdrawing one's senses from all impure objects, particularly by avoiding to stay longer in closer connection with persons and even animals of the other sex, or by trying to suppress one's passions and to reduce one's activities, except such of a ritualistic nature.


b. Interior Austerities

  1. The first of the interior austerities is the Prāyaścitta, i.e., atonement for transgressions. It is composed of ten different elements, viz.,
    • Ālocanā, i.e., confession before the Guru;
    • Pratikramaṇa, i.e., repentance, which includes the promise strictly to avoid the respective transgressions in future;
    • Miśra Prāyaścitta, i.e., a combination of the two elements;
    • Viveka, i.e., renunciation;
    • Kāyotsarga, i.e., stopping, as far as possible, the activity of one's body;
    • Austerities;
    • Cheda, i.e., the partial cutting of one's seniority;
    • Mūla Prāyaścitta, i.e., the complete cutting of the latter;
    • Anavasthāpya Prāyaścitta, i.e., the complete cutting of the seniority, and delaying, for a long period, a repetition of the great initiation;
    • Pārāñcita Prāyaścitta, i.e., exclusion from the order for twelve years.
  2. The second interior austerity is Vinaya, i.e., appropriate behaviour with reference to study, to one's [30|31] fellow ascetics, to the ritualistic and ethical rules, to one, Guru, etc.
  3. Vaiyāvṛttya, i.e., unselfish service, corresponds, to some extent, to the idea of Bhakti in Hindu Religion. Vaiyāvṛttya or Veyāvacca, as it is generally called, with its old Prākṛta name, is to be rendered to one's superiors by rank and seniority, to sick fellow ascetics, or such engaged in austerities, to young ascetics, to one's closer or wider ascetical community, and to the Saṅgha, the general community.
  4. Svādhyāya, i.e., Study, viz., teaching and learning, discussing, repeating, meditating upon, and preaching on religious matters.
  5. Śubha Dhyāna, i.e., Pure Meditation, which is either Dharma Dhyāna, i.e., Religious Meditation and Śukla Dhyāna, i.e., Bright Meditation, which latter is distinguished by its faultless purity and its profoundness. Both the kinds of pure meditation have various sub-divisions. A description of them would, however, form a whole chapter in itself.
  6. Kāyotsarga, which occurred already as one of the kinds of Prāyaścitta. The ascetic practising the Kāyotsarga austerity either gives up the society of his fellow ascetics and roams about, alone and naked, as a Jinakalpī Sādhu, or he takes the vow of Saṁlekhanā, or tries to give up all passions, and thereby opens the way for a complete annihilation of all his Karma.
    It is not necessary to add that many of the austerities described can well be practised by laymen too, who, indeed, enthusiastically undergo austerities of incredible rigour, [31|32]vying with the saintliest of their ascetics. The most popular of all austerities are, with reference to laymen: Anaśana, Vṛttisaṅkṣepa, Rasatyāga and Vaiyāvṛttya, in the practice of which much tranquil heroism is displayed.



III. Something on the Ritualistic Side

It is evident that the shape in which the ethical prescriptions of Jainism have come down to us, is not a pure one, but many of them contain a distinctly formal element, such as the Sāmāyika Vrata of Śrāvakas, the Parihāra Viśuddhi Cāritra of Sādhus, or the sub-divisions of Prāyaścitta do, so that one might doubt whether they should not be counted as ritualistic rather than ethical rules. But the arrangement in which they are handed down, leaves no doubt that Jaina tradition wants then to be counted as ethical rules.

Many of the rules, which could be given here only in their original, simple form have undergone a process of extension and complication, in consequence of which the ritualistic element has been put still more in the foreground. This is the case, e.g., with the Atithi Saṁvibhāga Vrata (the 12th vow of Śrāvakas) which is, at present, generally taken in the form that the Śrāvaka performs the action of serving and feasting the “atithi”, i.e., the begging Sādhu, after finishing certain austerities, and under certain formalities. It can also be observed with reference to the Sāmāyika Cāritra of ascetics, for which a Sādhu is not counted fit, unless the process of “Luñcana”, i.e., plucking out of the hair of his head, has been performed, nor is he counted a full ascetic afterwards, unless he allows this process to be repeated at least twice every year, or, at a higher age, once a year. Another example is the Kāyotsarga [32|33] austerity, which is, at present, necessarily connected with the Kāyotsarga posture.

Still, there is an extra chapter, in which all such prescriptions are summarized from the formal, i.e., ritualistic, stand-point. It is called the chapter of the Āvaśyakas, i.e., necessary ritualistic actions, which are to be performed daily, at least by ascetics. The Āvaśyakas stand in closest correlationship with the ethical system. Therefore, and also on account of their fundamental importance for the whole life of the Jaina, they shall be enumerated here.

IV. The Six Āvaśyakas


  1. The first of the six Āvaśyakas is the Sāmāyika, which the Sādhu practises both fully and permanently by observing Sarva-virati, and by thus living up to the standard of Sāmāyika Cāritra. The layman performs it either permanently, but partially, by observing Deśa-virati; or nearly fully, but only for a limited period, by performing the Sāmāyika-kriyā described under the Sāmāyika-vrata.
  2. The second Āvaśyaka is the Caturviṁśati-Jina-stava, i.e., the praise of the twenty-four Jinas of this period, who are the ethical ideals of all Jainas. It has not the purpose of pleasing them, because nothing, neither praise nor its contrary, would be able to change their equilibrium of mind, or to induce them to reciprocate; but, by their praise, the devotee can purify his thoughts, and acquire firmness and faith in his striving after Mokṣa. With the idolater-sects, who have always been prevailing in number, the praise of the Jinas often forms part of a Pūjā ceremony, or of other functions, which, however, differ much with the different sects and sub-sects. [33|34]
  3. The third Āvaśyaka is the Vandanā, i.e., the ceremonial and humble greeting of the spiritual teacher, which has likewise various forms with the different sects. In the Śvetāmbara sect, three forms of Vandanā are known, viz., the Phitta Vandanā, i.e., greeting by placing one's folded hands on one's forehead, when meeting the Guru on the way, and at other occasions when there is no time for the usual greeting ceremony. The second is the Thobha Vandanā, which consists in a repeated bowing down to the earth, so that knees and forehead touch the ground, under recitation of old Prākṛta formulas and other formalities. The third form is the Dvādaśāvarta Vandanā, which demands the performance of a complicate ceremonial, and is, at present, restricted to certain special occasions.
  4. The fourth Āvaśyaka is the Pratikramaṇa, i.e., the formal repentance of all transgressions, connected with a full confession, in the presence of the Guru or his representative. It has various forms with the different sects. The scriptures speak of a five-fold Pratikramaṇa, the different forms of which are practised every morning, every night, every fortnight, every three months, and every year, by way of confessing the transgressions committed in the preceeding period. It is worth noting that the Śvetāmbaras have certain stereotype lists in which all the transgressions a Sādhu and a layman can possibly commit, are enumerated in full details, and which have to be recited regularly. With the Śvetāmbaras, the two daily Pratikramaṇas form the main rite of the day, with which all the other Āvaśyakas have become so intimately connected, that a separation would be impossible: “to perform Pratikramaṇa” means, with them, “to [34|35] perform the six Āvaśyakas in their stereotyped combination”.
  5. The fifth Āvaśyaka is the Kāyotsarga, i.e., the Kāyotsarga austerity, as described before, generally performed by the way of meditating, while standing motionless, in the Kāyotsarga posture. At present, it is often performed in a sitting posture, too. The duration of each Kāyotsarga must be fixed before, and the time minutely kept.
  6. The last Āvaśyaka is the Pratyākhyāna, i.e., a formal vow taken in the presence of the Guru with reference to any kind of restriction or renunciation to be performed. The Mahāvratas and Aṇuvratas are Pratyākhyānas too, it is true, and so are the other Vratas of Śrāvakas likewise. But as Pratyākhyāna Āvaśyaka in the narrower sense, only vows as are adopted for a short period are usually counted. There are various kinds of Pratyākhyānas, differing with reference to the object of renunciation, to its duration and formalities. A man can solemnly renounce the society and help of his fellow ascetics, if he happens to be a Sādhu, or he can give up all utterances of arising passions, or certain kinds of food, such as one or other of the Vikṛtis, or, for a certain time, all kinds of food whatsoever, or he can reduce the quantity of food, he can reduce his movements, or the territory within which to move, he can restrict or renounce his sexual activity, etc.

The Śvetāmbara canon contains certain Prākṛta formulas, which are recited at the time of 'taking' the Pratyākhyāna. They contain so called Ākāras, i.e., reservations of cases in which transgressions that happened without the fault of the vower, are not to be counted as [35|36] breaches of the vow. Thus, the Pratyākhyāna of complete fasting for one or more days, e.g., takes into consideration the case that food might be forcibly put into the mouth of the devotee, or that he suddenly might become non compos mentis, or that the Guru might order him to eat, in order to enable him to execute some urgent work in the service of the community etc.

Whereas a Śvetāmbara Sādhu will take at least three Pratyākhyānas every day, the Śrāvaka following his example, will scarcely allow a day to pass without taking at least the “Navakarsi Pratyākhyāna”, i.e., the promise not to take any food earlier than forty-eight minutes after sunrise, and the “Divasa-Carimam-Pratyākhyāna”, i.e., the promise not to touch any food after sunset. Śrāvakas who have taken the Second Guṇavrata, are, of course, bound to take another daily Pratyākhyāna with reference to their sphere of movement, or to the fourteen things of daily use described before.

Whereas the Āvaśyakas are daily functions, there is another group of formalities, which regulate the ethical conduct of the individual in stages comprising longer periods. They are called the Pratimās.

The Pratimās are of less practical importance, because they are, at present, relatively rarely adopted. In the Digambara community, it is true, they act still a certain part. The Śrāvaka Pratimās are eleven in number and form a series of austerities and performances, the standard and duration of which rises periodically, and which finally culminate in an attitude resembling monkhood.

The Sādhu Pratimās are twelve in number. They form, likewise, a series of restrictions and austerities increasing in intensity, though not in duration. [36|37] Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the short outline of Jaina Ethics which I wanted to place before you today. Though Jaina Ethics is a subject which cannot possibly be exhausted in one lecture, still thus much will have become clear that Jaina ethics is the result as well as the basis of a high standard of Human Culture: Self-control, Non-injury and Free-determination being its chief principles, and unselfish service, study, veneration of the really Great, purity, and sobriety being some of its categorical demands.

It is a matter of great satisfaction that this time honoured culture has not died out as yet: but is being carefully preserved by a community of enthusiastic ascetics as well as laymen, who, though small in number, still act an important part in Indian Society, especially in the north and west of India, by the esteemed position that many of its individuals occupy, and, last but not least, by the admirable way in which modern ascetics have understood to be active in the service of their faith, without transgressing the narrow limits of their monkhood.

I am, myself, deeply indebted to several of the venerable Śvetāmbara Sādhus, especially late Śāstraviśārada Jainācārya Vijaya Dharma Sūri, and his successor, Ācārya Vijayendra Sūri, for having enabled me to make a long and profound study of Jainism at the source, and I wish to thank him and his group of learned Sādhus most heartily, and to give expression to the hope that a long life may be granted to him and his Sādhus, to his spirit of benevolence, and to the noble culture of the Jainas too.

By doing actions enumerated as Aticāras, a Śrāvaka does not break the vow in the proper sense, it is true, still he makes himself guilty of acting in contradiction to Laymen Ethics, and is liable to atonement.


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