The Anuvrat Movement: Theory and Practice ► Origin, Vision And Evolution Of The Anuvrat Movement ► The Ethics of Tulsi’s Anuvrat Vows

Posted: 01.06.2013

Here I will briefly digress from my description of the history of the movement to list Tulsi's vows and to reflect on how a subject as broad as ethics can be expressed through an action-oriented program of 11 vows. Ethics is the science of conduct. It considers the actions of human beings with reference to their righteousness or wrongness, their tendency to good or evil.[37] Tulsi's 11 modified Anuvrat vows are as follows:

  1. not to intentionally kill moving, innocent creatures; not to commit suicide and not to commit feticide;
  2. not to attack anybody; not to support aggression; to endeavor to bring about world peace and disarmament.
  3. not to take part in violent agitations or in any destructive activities;
  4. not to discriminate on the basis of caste, color etc., not to treat anyone as an untouchable; and to believe in human unity
  5. to practice religious toleration and not to rouse sectarian frenzy;
  6. to observe rectitude in business and general behavior; not harm others in order to serve any ends and not to practice deceit;
  7. to set limits to acquisition;
  8. not to resort to unethical practices in elections;
  9. not to encourage socially evil customs;
  10. to lead a life free from addictions; not to use intoxicants like alcohol, hemp, heroin, tobacco etc.;
  11. to be alert to the problems of keeping the environment pollution-free; not to cut down trees and not to waste water.[38]

As discussed earlier in the chapter, the basis of Tulsi's 11 Anuvrat vows is the five precepts commonly found in eastern traditions: nonviolence, truth, non-stealing, celibacy and non-possession. However, as explained by Acharya Mahapragya, the successor of Acharya Tulsi, the vows of the Anuvrat Movement were also meant to reflect the ethical concepts of compassion, equality, human unity, integrity, living in present and the moderate consumption of resources.

Tulsi consciously designed the language of the vows to demonstrate the tradition of the Jain theory of negation (to restrain negative actions is more effective than to proscribe positive action). Yet, the wording also reflects an effort to modernize by mentioning  specific,  contemporary  ethical  problems.  Further expanding  on the  implication of the Tulsian vows another senior nun responded:

Anuvrat states, whether you are capable of being a celestial being or not but at least do not be a hellish being. Whether you are capable of observing complete nonviolence like an ascetic or not, at least do not be a cruel human. Whether you are able to practice complete celibacy or not, at least do not engage in illicit sexual activity. Even the first President of India extended his support to the movement and commented that it is like religion stepping out of its traditional boundaries to the behavioral aspect of everyday living.[39]

On the basis of the above quotation, it is hard to claim that Jainism exclusively inspires the movement's philosophy. Tulsi's movement was developed on a syncretic ideology whose goal was the universal welfare of all. Many philosophical Indic traditions have commensurated the concepts of celestial and hellish beings. However, during the gloomy transition period of post-independence India, the Anuvrat Movement was one of the first initiatives to address the socio-economic crisis by utilizing pan-Indic, age-old wisdom.

Tulsi Introduces the Anuvrat Movement

To revert to the background of the movement, I will now address: how the movement began and spread; what were the ascetic contributions; who the initial Anuvratis were and what was their role in strengthening of the movement. In the morning discourse, on a bright day in October 1948, Tulsi, along with his 600 monks and nuns, addressed the lay Terapanth community:

Religion has to reflect in our lives. To overcome the widespread violence, unrest and corruption in the society, there is a strong need for an ethical movement. Today I launch a social revolution for the development of character on humanitarian grounds and I need 25 supporters from the lay community who gives prime importance to character building. These 25 initial Anuvratis are like 25 lamps that would spread the light of the movement along with my ascetic force.[40]

Hearing the rousing speech of their Guru revered as Acharya, 25 people voluntarily came forward. Many respondents said that Acharya Tulsi himself, waiting with a blank sheet and pen in hand, noted down those initial names. The initial 25 Anuvratis were all Terapanthis; they were 23 laymen and 2 laywomen. Furthermore, they came from highly modern cites of India, while some others belonged to major Terapanth-centered small towns like Ladnun, Sardarshahar, Gangashahar and Rajsamand and some among them were Gandhians, doctors, industrialists, and traders. However, as the movement gained momentum, it expanded and crossed the sectarian boundaries to influence all spectrums of culture and profession, applying to men and women, rich and poor alike.

In the next phase of the movement, Tulsi, followed by his caravan of monks, nuns, and laypeople, walked through the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent. As quoted in his biography, he walked over 35,000 miles in 35 years. He set out to reach all people from the remotest village to the most developed cities without any barrier of religion, caste, sex or culture.[41] From the humble beginnings of 25 Anuvratis, the movement grew to an estimated figure of millions of Anuvratis in few decades. Anticipating this rise in numbers, Tulsi stated, "I am not impressed by the fast increasing numbers. Quantity has its significance but I am interested in the quality of Anuvratis."[42] Such an account is found in Tulsi's biography and later compilations of the movement.

On the surface, Tulsi's movement had appeared to win wide acceptance, but it lacked the organizational skills necessary to fully integrate it into the multi-cultural Indian society. In addition to the above setbacks, Tulsi's own adherents and thinkers criticized him and challenged his movement. Some of the fundamental issues raised were - whether it was a Jain movement or a secular one; was Acharya trying to convert the masses into Jains by making them Anuvratis? His radical stances on women's development and on the raising of the Dalits (untouchables) community were criticized as well. Some of the clarifications as given by Tulsi were:

The social movement is not to convert anyone into Jainism or to the Terapanth tradition. From the very beginning, the approach had been nonsectarian. The only purpose of the movement is purification of character through individual self-effort. The movement clings to the term Anuvrat, which is irrefutably drawn from the Jain tradition because it best represents the spirit of self-control and small vows.[43]

Apparently, the movement faced more challenges because followers of Tulsi's own tradition as well as the majority of Indians viewed it through a religious lens. According to Weber's theory of social action: Religious action would appear to be included in at least three categories of social action (rational, traditional, and effectual), but nonreligious action is also encompassed within these categories, and the framework does not provide us with a clear notion of religious action.[44] Despite this overlap, if the means and the ends are virtuous, and contribute to combating the inner evils, then such debates can be avoided. According to some respondents, Tulsi greeted his critics with equanimity and his primary concern was to see an ethical, spiritual New India, which transcended politics and religion.

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