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Five Vows and Six Avashyakas - The Fundamentals of Jaina Ethics [4]

Published: 30.06.2005
Updated: 30.07.2015

Avashyaka IV, Pratikramana

The fourth Avashyaka is called "repentance" and consists mainly of lists of offences, each list bracketed together by the expression of repentance. Repentance, pratikramana, is not the only subject of the Avashyaka-Sutra, but, as mentioned already, it occupies in it an important position. First of all we quote a passage which still reflects the idiom of the oldest known Jaina work:

  • I want to make repentance: By violating the religious duty concerning correct walking -- in coming and going, in treading on living beings, in treading on seeds and green (unwithered) plants, in treading on dew, in treading on uttingas (worms or insects), on panaga (fine mud?), on daga-matti (water and earth), and on cobwebs
  • -- whatever beings I have wronged: beings with one sense (the four elements - earth, water, fire, air - and plants), with two, three, or four senses (lower animals), with five senses (higher animals and men), knocked them over, turned them about, [... seven similar expressions...], definitely killed them [tentative translation:] whatever offence I have committed, that was due to spiritual blindness.

The section reflects the mentality of the early Jainas, who were haunted by the idea that, each step along the way, one is confronted with visible and invisible forms of life. The two paragraphs indicate a certain difference between the more primitive view that living beings existed everywhere (first paragraph) and the methodical classification according to the number of senses (second paragraph). In any case these beings were deserving of protection. With time this rather excessive attitude diminished somewhat, but the fundamental theories and practices remained unaltered. So much for the beginnings. It is a far cry from the himsa-phobia of the early and later Jaina monks to an awareness of human extremities such as force, cruelty, and murder.

Instead of MONTAIGNE's "cruel hatred of cruelty" [1] and R. FIELDING's denunciation of hunting ("that cunning, cruel, carnivorous animal man") we find in the case of the Jainas archaic views regarding man's ambience, views which are magical rather than ethical. Consideration of living beings becomes a question of the daily routine (e.g. rigorous precautions in the use of water), not of emotional or mental responses. The beings are known or unknown, seen or unseen: what matters is the monastic code.

The gradual introduction of a hierarchy of living beings (found in the text quoted by us, but not found in the very earliest tradition) mitigated to some extent the problem of the magico-ethical attitude and allowed in principle the possibility of distinguishing among more or less serious forms of killing. However, it did not bring about a fundamental change, either in theory or in practice (see also Salvation).

Two further sections of Pratikramana have the special form of chains of terms ordered according to their increasing number (see below). The longer of the two sections runs to a length of 33, that is up to a chain of 33 "links" or items. From positions 3-6 we encounter in the longer section several chains while the other positions contain only one. Below we cite 10 chains, belonging to positions 1-10, out of this longer section. After position 6, the individual items are no longer mentioned but can be supplied from the commentary and from other texts. The chains are ethically negative (mostly) or positive or neutral. The structure of the text necessitates a few hints for the reader which have been added in square brackets. "Repentance" refers to the past just as "vow" refers to the future, but in dogmatics (we are not concerned with narrative texts) one form of expression is in principle as good as the other: What matters is the praise of virtues and the denunciation of vices. This is, however, not to say that repentance (pratikramami) is a phraseological element and nothing more.

In the course of time, Avashyaka IV has been extended so as to form a multiple repentance ritual linked with five different periods of time (day, night, fortnight, period of four months, year). In the case of the two chains it is expressly stated that repentance is made for wrongs done during the current day.

Below follows our extract from the longer chain:

  • I repent: In the state of the asamyama (lack of restraint, samyama, i.e. lack of the fundamental virtue)
    [ignore the nine following initial "I repent" phrases and proceed with the "through" phrases]
  • I repent: through the fundamental forms of bondage to the world:
    • love (or greed) and hatred,
  • I repent: through [neglect of] the forms of circumspection:
    • vigilance in thought
    • vigilance in word
    • vigilance in deed,
  • I repent: through the passions:
    • anger
    • pride
    • deceit
    • greed,
  • I repent: through [neglect of] the Great Vows:
    • to renounce all killing of living beings
    • to renounce all lying speech,
    • to renounce all forms of taking what is not given
    • to renounce all sexual pleasures,
    • to renounce all pleasure in external objects,
  • I repent: through [non-protection of] the classes of beings:
    • earth beings
    • water beings
    • fire beings
    • wind beings
    • plants
    • animals (including men),
  • I repent: through the forms of fear
    • fear of things of this world
    • fear of the after life
    • fear of theft
    • fear of the unexpected
    • fear of famine
    • fear of death
    • fear of dishonour,
  • I repent: through the forms of false, sinful pride
    • pride regarding one's caste
    • family
    • physical strength
    • handsomeness
    • austerities
    • authority
    • knowledge
    • gain,
  • I repent: through the forms of behaviour which imperil celibacy (contact with women, talking about women etc.)
  • I repent: through [neglect of] the rules for the monk
    • forbearance
    • humility
    • straightforwardness
    • contentment
    • austerities
    • restraint or samyama
    • truthfulness
    • purity (imperturbable restraint)
    • poverty
    • celibacy,

[tentative translation:] whatever offence I have committed in the course of the day that was due to spiritual blindness.

Position 5 contains the Great Vows, i.e. the monastic version of the Five Vows (Introduction). In its complete form, the chain is almost encyclopaedic. It addresses the layman as well as the monk and contains practically all the important chains of the day. The majority of the terms are of course directed to the monk. Refer also to the Introduction for the relation between monks and laymen.

The four elements are included into the six classes of beings (classes I-IV). It is thus evident that the element-beings do not inhabit the elements but form them. These beings, a product of archaic speculation, consist in each case of a soul with a minimum of matter attached to it. The Jainas have also paid attention to the real animalcules (visible or invisible to the human eye), found in the earth or in the water or in the air or in fire (i.e. in the state of being burnt by fire). This explains Jaina conventions concerning the filtering of water. However, the protection of the true element-beings was mainly expected from the monk, and how this worked in daily practice cannot be explained in a few words.

At the end of the Pratikramana we find the following often-quoted verse:

khamemi savva-jive, savve jiva khamantu me /
metti me savva-bhuesu, veram majjha na kenai //

I ask pardon of all living creatures, may all of them pardon me;
I approach all beings with affection and enmity toward none.


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