Aparigraha - Ancient and Contemporary Conception

Published: 30.10.2008
Updated: 02.07.2015



A farsighted view presents a bleak future with no easy solution. Perhaps, there is no solution in the context of what is euphemistically called 'development,' 'progress' and 'material advancement.' This path and the speed of man's journey on it are unable to give him peace and happiness. On the other hand, journeying inward, at a controlled pace, with self-discipline have a lasting solution. The problems of consumerism and environmental degradation can be tackled only by an attitude of mind, not just at the individual level but at the social level. More important people, for instance, the policy makers who have a greater role to play, have to change the prevailing atmosphere which is detrimental to the human race and its future. The solution lies in the limiting of desires pertaining to personal material achievement and focusing on social betterment. It is in this light and spirit that paragraph has to be understood and studied, where mankind in general is primary and the individual in particular is secondary. This further implies that the individual and his moral growth cannot be ignored, since the individual is the chief organ of the society. Limiting or controlling one's desired (Icchā-parimāna), provides an answer to the crisis that mankind is facing. In the present day world peace and drastically deterioration humaneness. This makes aparigraha very pertinent today. Aparigraha does not man renunciation from the world for the achievement of a purely spiritual goal; it is a social goal with a social mission and is instrumental in establishing spiritual socialism. The principle of aparigraha, (Icchā-parimāna parimana, parimita-parigraha) is not a rigorous principle of self control or an ascetic way of life that may entail self-torture of some kind. Such an approach is associated with religious rigorous practices and its fundamentalism. Aparigraha is a realistic, practical and rational principle with a solid foundation in the social system. It has individual moral growth as its basis, with direct relevance for the society of which the individual is a part. Its main thrust is on a balanced society consisting of balanced individuals. In fact, all ethical principles have evolved for individuals in and through the society to which they belong. The importance of aparigraha and its universal acceptance lies in its social basis.


The meaning of aparigraha and other similar terms mentioned earlier would be understood clearly only after the term. 'Parigraha’ is understood and analysed in all its aspects and their completeness. The term 'parigraha-non-possession, non-grasping - has its root in the term 'parigraha' which means to amass, to grasp, to accumulate, to compile, to seize, to hold, to fence in and to receive or accept possessions or property. Etymologically, it consists of two terms: 'pari' and ‘graha’: 'Graha' is rooted in 'grahana' meaning to take hold of, to accept or to receive or to possess something; 'pari' means round, round about, abundant, rich or fullness. Thus, parigraha means acceptance or taking or receiving gifts or other possessions. It has both outer implication of possessions, and inner implications of non-attachment, detachment, anāsakti or amūrchā, - the finer nuances of aparigraha. These gross and subtle implications together imply an attitude a way of life material world of objects both for the individual and the society.

Parigraha, thus means the worldly objects around us and our attachment to them. Thus to understand parigraha only in the sense of accepting worldly objects would be incomplete; likewise to understand it only in the sense of attachment or āsakti would also be incomplete. However, in the finer analysis of this term, thinkers have emphasised the 'mūrchā or 'āsakti' aspect, rather than the possession of objects as such. But a comprehensive view of the two implications of 'parigraha' would show that the two are intertwined and have a kind of circular relation. As the abundance of material objects arouses attachments or 'āsakti (mūrchā) which in turn disturbs the mental peace, likewise inner craving, attachment or mūrchā, makes one long for and acquire more and more material possessions.
The opposite of 'parigraha,' understood in its wider implications is aparigraha, which is not just a negative concept or an idea of denial as it may appear because of the prefix of 'a' meaning 'not'. It is a positive virtue for the man in society thus meaning icchā-parimāna, parigraha-parimāna and parimaita-parigraha. Its obvious and subtle, outer and inner implications make it a comprehensive precept or an ethical principle for a good social system.

Brāhmanical Tradition

'Aparigraha' as a precept of vow in the Brāhmanical literature finds occurrence in Baudhāyana Dharma sūtras. There too it means abstention from taking possession of refusal to master or overpower. The sūtras speak of the five vows of the sarnnyāsin; aparigraha is one of them. It is existent in Manusmrti also. Manu says that a samnyāsin should establish himself in non-possession, live in a secluded place and should observe the vow of silence. In the Mahābhārata also non-possession is considered to be a quality of a recluse (sarntiyasin). Vaikhānasa Dharma Prasna includes aparigraha as one of the essential duties of a recluse. In some of the later Upanisads too, such as Paramaharnsa Upanisd and nāradaparivrajaka Upanisad the rerm is available, signifying a necessary quality of any sarnnyāsin. In Nārada-parivrājaka Upanisad it is said that no sarnnyāsin is supposed to show any attachment to gold, he should not even see it because that may arouse in him greed for gold. However, the recognition was given to it only when the life of a recluse became important and considered a significant part of spiritual life. Taking the historical sequence of Rgveda, Brāhmanas and Upanisads, one notices the absence of the precept or vow of aparigraha because the main emphasis there lies on the house-hold life and not on renunciation and therefore all worldly possessions are understood as valuable and renunciation of the world is not regarded as highly desirable; (leaving aside the Upanisads which depict a synthesis of Vedic and Sramanical Thought). However, it is maintained here that the idea of 'aparigraha' does have something in common with the Brāhmanical idea of dāna, and it is also tried here to show how closely dāna is related to aparigraha.

This term 'dāna' occurs quite often in old Brāhmanical literature and is regarded as immensely valuable; every householder is expected to undergo the ritual of dāna. In the Brāhmanas dāna is regarded as one among the three kinds of important duties, i.e. yajńa, dāna and svādhy āya. The conception of dāna mainly emphasizes the material act of donation, which is a social value. But the liberality in performing it (dāna) also implies giving up attachment for the possessions by the donors. In this sense it has some resemblance to aparigraha.

The Upanisads speak not only of the value of dāna but also of the aparigraha. The distinction occupied by the worldly possessions in the Vedas and the Brāhmanas seems to lose strength in the Upanisads. Non-attachment for such possessions gained appreciation.

In the Pātañjala Yoga sūtras aparigraha is the fifth among the five yamas. Aparigraha is usually translated as non-possession or non-attachment for possessions, especially in Jaina and Buddhist systems. But James Haughton Woods interprets 'apariraha' of the Pātanjala sytem as 'abstention from acceptance of gifts.'

Taking the concept of 'aparigraha' in Pātañjala sūtras, Vyāsa in his comment says, "Abstinence from acceptance of gifts is abstinence from appropriating objects, because one sees the disadvantages in acquiring them or keeping them or losing them or in being attached to them, or in harming them."

In snoyhrt sūtra Pātañjali shows the clear and distinct picture of the condition one may acquire after establishing oneself in aparigraha. He says, "As soon as the yogin is established in abstinence from acceptance of gifts he gets a thorough illumination upon the conditions of birth." Vyāsa points out that the yogin who has established himself in aparigraha would get a clear picture of 'who he was' and 'what he would become' etc. And his desire to know all this would be fulfilled only after establishing himself in this abstention.


In the ten sikkhāpadas for the monks in Buddhism occurs a precept called 'jāta rūpa rajata patiggahaöa virati.' This means that the monk is to abstain from accepting gold and silver and money. If he does not abstain, i.e. if he collects money and gold and silver, or asks others to do so, or uses that which has already been accumulated, he is accused of nissaggiya-pācittiya offence. The monks are not supposed to have any attachment for any worldly possessions, which are only symbolized in gold and silver and coins that means detachment from all mundane objects that is everything such as wife, children or servants etc.

It is said that one who has attachment to land and other objects, money, gold and silver, cattle and horses, servants, wife and other relatives and is obstructed by such desires is to face the dangerous calamities just as a boat with a small hole in it is ultimately to face disaster. Dhammapada also pronounces that one who establishes himself in aparigraha and tyāga would be called Bhāhmana. Sutta Nipāta stresses aparigraha by pointing out that parigraha is an obstacle to dhamma'. But by repeating the term parigraha again and again Buddha only meant an attachment and cleaving towards the objects and not the objects themselves. In his exhortation to Anāthapiöika, Buddha said, "It is not life and wealth and power that enslave men but the cleaving towards them. He who possesses wealth and uses it rightly will be a blessing for his fellow beings." In the Vinaya it is declared clearly that a Bhikkhu is allowed to gain profits on behalf of the Sarngha. Though for the Sarngha too it is not proper to have great wealth, granaries full of corn, many servants, money and treasury, while people around are suffering from poverty.

Shraman Tradition

The importance of aprigraha in Jainism can be noticed by the very fact that it not only occupies the fifth position in the fiveforld scheme of vows of Mahāvira, but is also accepted in the fourfold scheme of the vows of Pārśvanātha called cāturyāma-dharma. The technical term used for this fourth precept is 'bahiddhādānāo veramanarn'. By 'bahirdhā is meant external, ādāna is 'acceptance', and 'veramanarn' means abstinence. Literally it means, therefore, abstinence from acceptance of something external. The term 'bahirdhā or 'external' in itself is very comprehensive while discussing the types of parigraha it would be clear how wide the term 'bahirdhā' or 'exernal' is; and in Pārśvanātha's code it is even more extensive and comprehensive, since it includes the vow of celibacy too, which is separated in Mahāvira's fivefold scheme. However, 'bahirdhādāna is the synonym of parigraha. But the Jaina scriptures clearly point out that sheer non-acceptance of something external is meaningless unless it is dissociated from what is called 'mūrcchā', 'mamatva' or desire, cleacing or attachment. In Daśavaikālika parigraha is identified with ‘mūrcchā. In the Tattvārthasūtra too Umāsvāti has precisely pointed out that parigraha is nothing but 'mūrcchā'. This desire being the root of parigraha is the root of suffering; as soon as it is overcome suffering would come to an end.

The Uttarādhyayana tells that desires are as endless as the sky; hence instead of trying to satisfy them over and over again. They should be destroyed from their very roots; so mere non-acceptance of external objects is meaningless, if the desire is existent. Who is unable to root out mūrcchā or attachment to his belongings, cannot be said to have been established in the vow of non-possession, even if he gives up all his belongings, even his clothes. It is only mūrcchā which is the true essence of parigraha. Thus, anything for which one has attachment is parigraha; whether it is a living or non-living being (jada and cetana), visible or invisible (rūpi and arūpi), big or small (sthūla and anu). With these broad implications of parigraha it is mainly classified into two kinds, i.e. apparent and real (bāhya and abhyantara). These include all objects of attachment that retard liberation. By real or ābhyantara parigrah is meant the inner attitude of attachment towards worldly objects, living or non-living. This inner attitude may be constituted of various stages such as mithyātva (wrong notions), avirati (reluctance to accept the moral principles), pramāda (negligence) etc. Basically real parigraha arouses from within, it pertains more to thoughts and attitudes than to objects. On the other hand, apparent or bāhya parigraha is aroused from without. External objects culminating into ābhayantara parigraha. These external objects (or bāhya parigrahas) are grossly classified into two types, types, living and non-living cetana and jada), jada parigraha means attachment to all lifeless objects such as clothes, house, and cetana parigraha means attachment to all living being (wife, children, servants, etc.). ābhyantara parigraha is divided into fourteen types. These fourteen types are-wrong notions, attachments for sex, laughter, affliction, fear and disgust, four passions of anger, conceit, crookedness and greed and also four stages of these passions of anantānubandhi etc.

The classification is valuable since it gives an account of the nature of parigraha and its broad perspective, and it also shows that parigraha is inseparably associated with violence; specially the class of ābhyanara parigraha are also the roots of violence or they are different names of violence. This classification can be criticised; because the very term 'parigraha' has been seen as associated with the term "mūrcchā or ' mamatva', and that means that the inner involvement with certaion objects (physical or mental) is necessary in parigraha as such; therefore, bāhya or apparent parigraha is mainly a superficial term, for without some inner involvement in an object, there is no parigraha. Thus either there is ābhyantara parigraha or there is no parigraha at all. This criticism can be answered by a clarification, i.e. that the causes of mūrcchā or the essence of parigraha can be of two kinds,

    1. inner, such as a wing notion, reluctance to observe the vows (mithyātva and avirati) etc. and
    2. outer, such as house, money, clothes, etc. In this sense, therefore, this division of parigraha as 'bāhya' or ābhyantara' can be understood as fairly logical.

The Sthānānga cites another classification of parigraha where parigraha is said to be of three kinds, these are:

    1. karmanparigraha,
    2. śarira parigraha and
    3. bhandopakarana parigraha.

The first one can be compared with the ābhyantara parigraha of previous classification while the second and third to bāhya parigraha. However, all these three kinds will mean parigraha, only if they are accompanied by mūucchā, otherwise no karman, śarira, or bhandopakarana etc. can be termed parigraha.

Fundamental Postulates of Aparigraha:

For all ethical ideals there are certain fundamental presumptions without which the edifice of ethics will not exist. Similarly for aparigraha there are certain presumptional essentially psychological than metaphysical or religious in any traditional sense. These are:

    • The source of happiness and peace lies in the human individual within him and not outside him.
    • External possessions are only meant to be used and not to be owned. The ownership of everything of the world lies with nature (prakrti), which is the true caretaker of everything, ownership as 'mine' and 'yours' is meaningless and can be a source of conflict.
    • The human individual has tremendous energies and potentialities, which are not based on external possessions. Thus the role of possessions is limited in the life of the individual.
    • All human passions, such as anger, conceit, crookedness, attachment, ego, etc. have their term in external objects or possession, which create disturbance in the mind of the individual. Therefore, self-control of one's possessions and consumptions is necessary.

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