Bhagavan Mahavira Life and Philosophy : [06.04] The Social Value Of Religion

Published: 01.09.2005
Updated: 06.08.2008

Chapter 6


Extension Of The Code Of Conduct For The Householder

he age of Bhagavan Mahavira was chiefly an age of religion. There was a widespread adherence to religion. Thus ruler as well as the people had a deep faith in religion. But religion was practised mostly in the form of rites and rituals, and that too merely for attaining the heaven. Such form of religious practice did no service to the society.

Bhagavan Mahavira preached a religion based on spiritual and moral conduct.

A prominent citizen named Anand came to Bhagavan Mahavira with a view to understand the essence of religion. Bhagavan Mahavira propounded to him the minor vows and the code of conduct based on them. In this code of conduct has come into prominence the social nexus of religion.

Bhagavan Mahavira said,

"Ananda, you want to adopt the vow of ahimsa, but you have a large family, thousands of cows and hundreds of servants. You come into contact with thousands of people. You cannot be cruel to them, if you want to practise ahimsa. You shall not kill any innocent living being intentionally. This will be your vow of non-violence. In practising it you will have to accept the code of conduct based on it. You know it very well how cruelly the servants and cattle are treated these days. They are chained for the slightest fault on their part. It is a common practice for people to chain beasts and men and to mutilate them in fits of anger. Animals are forced to carry unbearable burdens. They are deprived of their nourishment. Servants are refused sustenance. These are cruel practices. You will not be able to practise ahimsa if you also behaved in the like manner. You shall not indulge in acts like

(1) Killing
(2) Chaining men and animals
(3) Mutilating men and animals
(4) Overloading animals, and
(5) Depriving men and animals of sustenance.

Ananda! It is true that you propose to take the vow of truth, but you have a huge agricultural estate, a big family and innumerable social contacts. If you behave in delinquent or remiss manner, you will not be able to practise truth. For practising truth, you shall not deny anybody his property deposited with you, not give a false testimony, and not tell lie in your dealings.

If you took the vow of truth, you will have to observe the code of conduct based on it. There are people who thoughtlessly defame others, accuse others on mere suspicion, disclose confidentially imparted secrets deliberately, misguide others, and indulge in forgery. All such malpractices are opposed to the practice of truth. For the observance of the vow of truth, you will not indulge in them. You are interdicted to indulge in these five acts:

(1) Thoughtless calumny
(2) Character-assassination
(3) Disclosure of secrets
(4) Deliberate misguidance, and
(5) Forgery.

Ananda, it is true you propose to take the vow of non-stealing. But have you controlled your desires?"

Ananda said,

"My lord! I have done so. Hence I am adopting this vow, otherwise I would not have proposed it."

Bhagavan Mahavira said,

"Ananda, you will have to adopt the code of conduct based on it. There are people who do not themselves commit the theft, but receive the stolen property, encourage others to commit theft, illegally transgress the boundaries of hostile countries and use false weights and measures, sell spurious articles after exhibiting genuine ones, and practise adulteration. These malpractices are caused by uncontrolled desires. You shall not indulge in them for the observance of the vow of non-stealing. You are interdicted to indulge in these five acts:

1. Receiving stolen properties
2. Encouraging the thief
3. Transgressing the boundaries of hostile countries
4. Using false weights and measures, and
5. Dishonest dealings.

Ananda, it is true you want to take the vow of celibacy, but you know there are people who have no control over lust, and consider sexual pleasures as the be-all and end-all of life. But I have realized the truth to be contrary to this. According to me, the summum bonum of life is the ever-throbbing innate bliss in the depths of consciousness. The sex instinct makes it obscure. Do you intend to remove this obstacle?"

Ananda replied,

"Yes, my lord!"

Bhagavan Mahavira said,

"Ananda, do you know how the curer of snake-bite cures the effects of poisoning? In the case of a snake-bite the poison would spread in the whole of the body. The physician would first collect it at one particular point, and then he would extract it from there.

Now, on the basis of this analogy, try to understand the significance of the institution of marriage. Its aim is to centralize the all-pervading sex-desires in one person. Thus, marriage means the limitation of sex relation. I have laid down a further discipline in this respect. Ananda, you have been married. Now, according to my discipline, you will be able to attain perfect celibacy by gradually withdrawing your sexual desire «ven from that point, (i.e., your wife).

Ananda, if you want to practise the vow of faithfulness to your own wife, you will have to pay attention to its code of conduct. One is not able to practise this vow if he is surrounded by an erotic atmosphere, leads a sensual mode of life, possesses a craving for rich food and is extremely libidinous. You will have to refrain from all these activities, conducive to excitement of the sex instinct, if you want to observe the above vow.

Ananda, you want to take the vow of non-possessiveness. But you will not be able to practise it until you impose a strict control on your desires. There are people who needlessly accumulate land, buildings, precious metals like gold and silver, servants, cattle, grains and other household articles. You shall refrain from doing so. You shall have to circumscribe your desires to your bare necessities."

Ananda took all these vows from Bhagavan Mahavira and began to lead a religious life. This had a great effect not only on the life of Ananda, but it permeated the entire social gamut in which he moved. Bhagavan Mahavira moulded thousands of people like Ananda. People caught in the snare of ritualistic religion obtained a new direction in their religious life. Bhagavan Mahavira enhanced the importance of asceticism and also provided a larger scope for the practice of religion in householder's life.

He said on one occasion,

"The spiritual discipline of the householders may be higher than that of some ascetics (who are lax), but spiritual discipline of the ascetics devoted to sadhana is undoubtedly the highest."

The light of religion lit by Bhagavan Mahavira continues to be a living force even today in the life of persons treading the path of self-discipline.

Title: Bhagavan Mahavira Life and Philosophy
Translated & Edited: Muni Mahendra Kumar


Edition 1995
Publisher: Jain Vishva Bharati, Ladnun, India

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Ahimsa
  2. Anand
  3. Anger
  4. Body
  5. Celibacy
  6. Consciousness
  7. Discipline
  8. Mahavira
  9. Non-violence
  10. Sadhana
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