Acharya Tulsi - Fifty Years Of Selfless Dedication: The Anuvrat Movement

Published: 16.09.2012
Updated: 02.07.2015

Centre of Advanced Study in Philosophy University of Madras

The Anuvrat Movement, started by the great Jain Saint Acharya Tulsi in Rajasthan in 1949, is a positive evidence of the vitality of the Jain religion as also of the presence of the life- and world- affirming elements in it. It contains, therefore, the vows and beliefs traditional to Jainism but against the background of the corruption of man and society that had come about at the time the movement was thought of and launched and of the immediate necessity of rebuilding of character felt at the time. Acharya Tulsi believes that the aim of Jainism (from an empirical standpoint) is the development of the individual character.

He emphasizes the fact that the ills of society automatically get cured by means of the process of self-purification and self-control. From this point of view he maintains that the view sometimes expressed that the function of religion is the control of society is incorrect. By developing the character of the individual, the level of social morality is made to go up but the latter is not the main aim of religion. Explaining his point of view regarding religion in general and Jainism in particular he writes: 'A devotee at the time of initiation takes a holy vow that for the good of self he accepts five mahavrats as his discipline throughout life. The end of a vrat is freedom from bondage. Its incidental result is also the control of society, but this is not the main consequence of it.'[1] Accordingly, he thinks that to adopt religion for glorification here on earth or to practise it as a preparing ground for a 'better future' in the next are both wrong. The significance of religion for the individual soul is such that when practised for the sake of self-purification beneficial results in this world (in society) and in the next accrue automatically. Thus the insistence on the importance of the individual in religion is not born out of disregard for society or concern for a world to come but out of the conviction that when the individual is purified society gets purified as a result. Such a view of religion explains also the nonsectarian nature of the Anuvrat Movement.

At the time the movement was initiated, Acharya Tulsi himself was considered to be an orthodox thinker and was regarded as the leader of a Jain sect. Since the name of the movement also was derived from the Jain tradition, it looked as if the Acharya was only trying to propagate a sectarian religion, though in a new key. The question of a different nomenclature which would not smack of a narrow derivation from a particular tradition - however rich the tradition itself may be - was considered but it was found that no other name would reflect the spirit of the movement. The Acharya was more keen on an action-oriented movement than on giving to the world an imposing nomenclature of a philosophy of individual regeneration. The term anuvrat was considered to represent the conviction that small vows can effect big changes. The movement was however named Anuvrat Sangh, to start with, with the modification of it as Anuvrat Movement coming later on. The base of the movement is ultimately to be traced to a nine-point programme and a thirteen-point scheme which were experimentally tried and accepted by twenty-five thousand people.[2] The nine-point programme was:

  1. not to think of committing suicide;
  2. not to use wine and other intoxicating drugs;
  3. not to take meat and eggs;
  4. not to indulge in a big theft;
  5. not to gamble;
  6. not to indulge in illicit and unnatural intercourse;
  7. not to give any evidence to favour a false case and untruth;
  8. not to adulterate things nor to sell imitation products as genuine and
  9. not to be dishonestly inaccurate in weighing and measuring.

The thirteen-point scheme was:

  1. not to intentionally kill moving, innocent creatures;
  2. not to commit suicide;
  3. not to take wine;
  4. not to eat meat;
  5. not to steal;
  6. not to gamble;
  7. not to depose falsely;
  8. not to set fire to buildings or materials out of malice or under temptation;
  9. not to indulge in illicit and unnatural intercourse;
  10. not to visit prostitutes;
  11. not to smoke and not to make use of intoxicating drugs;
  12. not to take food at night and
  13. not to prepare food separately for sadhus.

The Anuvrat Sangh incorporated in its programme eighty-four vows. The institution of the Sangh, being in its infant stage and being also motivated towards incorporating the actual experiences of the public for whose benefit it was intended, was flexible and open enough to accept some changes. Five years after its initiation the outline of the entire movement was changed and in response to the suggestion that the term Anuvrat Movement was better than Anuvrat Sangh the Acharya changed the name. The preference for the new name was expressed on the ground that it indicated a broader aim and outlook than the old one. The movement was not confined to India merely and the response it evoked in a leading American weekly is worth mentioning here. Under the caption 'Atomic Bomb' it wrote:

Like some men at various other places here is an Indian, lean, thin and short-statured but with shining eyes who is very much worried at the present state of the world. He is Tulsi, aged 34, the preceptor of the Jain Terapanth which is a religious organisation having faith in nonviolence. Acharya Tulsi had founded the Anuvrati Sangh in 1949.... When he has succeeded in making all Indians undertake the vows, his plan is also to convert the rest of the world so as to adopt the life of a 'vrati'![3]

The founder of the movement himself declares that the attitude of the movement towards other religions is one of goodwill and tolerance. He points out that since the basic principles emphasized in it are universal, followers of any religion can become its members and subscribe to its ideals. An objection to the description of the Anuvrat Movement as universal in character and scope has been anticipated and answered by the Acharya. The objection is that the term anuvrat is taken from the Jain precepts which require the possession of right vision (samyag darshan) of the anuvrati. Since samyag darshan refers to the comprehension of the Jain view of life, there is no scope for religious tolerance and universal outlook in an anuvrati. The Acharya's reply is that since a nonviolent vision adequately describes the scope and philosophy of anuvrat, it is quite in keeping with the spirit of Jain thought and culture to make use of the term in a slightly different sense. In substance the Acharya's view is that the term is extended to engulf a similar ideology discernible in all religions by a deeper interpretation of a traditional concept.[4]

Here it is worthwhile to consider two leading criticisms against the Jain view of ahimsa and aparigraha since it gives the necessary perspective in which the Anuvrat Movement can be understood. The Jain view that ultimately nonviolence should pervade every sphere of life and light up all the other virtues is construed as expecting far too much from its followers. Even a moment's thought will reveal that in any system of ethics it is most essential that someone principle is posited as central to all and considered a coordinating and regulative value. We have to add, however, that the primacy given to the principle of ahimsa is not born out of a necessity to have any one value as the 'coordinator'. The reason lies much deeper and can be gathered by recapitulating the doctrine of continuity of consciousness that we find in Jainism. In brief, the doctrine signifies that if the jivas are in various stages of evolution towards perfection (getting freed from the ajivas) no one jiva - at whatever higher stage it may be - has any right to interfere with the spiritual prospects of any other jiva - at whatever lower stage of evolution it may be. In the Jain theory we find the attitude of reverence for life clearly comprehended and systematically treated.

The emphasis laid on non-possession along with nonviolence is even more severely criticised on the ground that expecting the most severe observance of the principle is too unrealistic to be of any value in having an influence over the adherents of the faith. The severe standard set by the Jain philosophers is no doubt evident from the unambiguous language they use to explain the seriousness of the state of bondage, but certainly they have not been unrealistic about the ability of the common man to put the principles to practice. Extremely strict observance of the five principles of ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacarya and aparigraha is referred to as observance of the great vows (mahavrats) and it is more often than not forgotten that there are five lesser vows (anuvrats) accepted in the Jain tradition. The anuvrats are prescribed for the householder who has not yet renounced the world, who, however, should start practising the virtues in spirit.

Accordingly, the anuvrats do not differ in kind from the mahavrats, but laxity is allowed in their observance, keeping in view the limitations of the householder. It is obvious that the prescription of anuvrats for observance by the householder is based on the psychological insight of the Jain philosophers that with the various obligations that a householder owes to others in society  - both within and outside his household - it is not possible to observe the vrats scrupulously.

The Anuvrat Movement as the prescription of the anuvrats is also based on the necessity to reorient the thought and behaviour of the common man towards the ideal of nonviolence and non-possession. Whereas a distinction is drawn between the householder and the ascetic by prescribing the anuvrats to the householder and mahavrats to the ascetic in the traditional Jain thought, in the Anuvrat Movement the distinction is drawn between the beginning, the middling and the advanced types of anuvratis, respectively referred to as pravesak anuvrati, anuvrati and visist anuvrati.

In the traditional Jain thought nonviolence is considered purely in the context of spiritual evolution and from the point of view of reverence for life in whichever form it is manifest in the universe. In the Anuvrat Movement emphasis on spiritual evolution is not replaced by social considerations, but the beneficial results for society are clearly envisaged. The movement was born when the situation in the world characterized by extreme violence, greed and hatred was pondered over. Though the social conditions were analysed, the solution given was not purely in terms of ordering about the reconstitution of social relations or introducing legislative changes in the institutions. The Acharya's standpoint is clear from his words. He writes:

Man has become demented as a result of the shocks of war and cold war, and the competition in weapons and missiles. He has no alternative but purify the internal self. If there is no change in it, complete dissolution of the world is not far off. This movement prescribes that man should have faith not in weapons but in nonviolence. Instead of giving primacy to worldly progress he should awaken his spiritual consciousness....[5] The economists say that its (society's) main problem is greater productivity. Superficially viewed, the problem seems to have been solved to a certain extent. But I do not think that it can be solved as long as we are over-greedy. Its unexceptionable solution is self-control. A devoted life imparts peace to us and also at the same time offers us a solution to economic problems.[6]

In regard to non-possession, the traditional emphasis on it was a result of regarding it as a means of promoting the conditions under which attachment and all the attendant evils are cast off. The modern movement does not overlook the evil influence of non-soul (ajiva) on the soul (jiva) in the absence of purity of character even in the realm of possession. Non-possession is considered to be a 'form of nonviolence which has no expectation of objects from others.'[7] Hence the vow is regarded as capable of limiting one's desires. The Acharya emphatically points out: 'Social regulations can be an effective check on possessions, but not on human desires. This vrat means the control of possessions, through the control of desires.'[8]

It is evident then that the Anuvrat Movement emphasizes the twin principles of nonviolence and non-possession as basic to reorienting the other values and to reconstructing society. Emphasizing the need for self-analysis and self-purification even in the modern world, the Acharya writes:

It is true that man's external powers have increased manifold, but it is no less true that internal strength has considerably reduced. As the inner states of mind grow vicious, situations get complicated. The root of diseases lies in the deterioration in the qualities of the inner self. Man has been dazzled by external glitter. He has not been able to find an answer to the question whether the modern age is one of development or decadence.

It should not, however, be forgotten that the aims of the movement can be realized only by following the spirit of all the five 'vows'.

We may then conclude without the fear of contradiction that the significance of the Anuvrat Movement as a cure for the evils of the present lies in its being the application of the essential Jain philosophy of the five vows to the changed time with suitable modifications, and also in its approach to the whole problem of peace and unity by suggesting that the immense potentialities that each individual has for promoting social unity can be actualized by developing inner harmony and regulated spiritual evolution.


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Acharya Tulsi - Fifty Years Of Selfless Dedication
Jain Vishva Bharati Ladnun
Shrichand Bengani


R.P. Bhatnagar


● S.L. Gandhi
● Rajul Bhargava, Department of English, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur
● Ashok K. Jha, Department of English, LBS College, Jaipur

First Edition, 1985-2000

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharya
  2. Acharya Tulsi
  3. Adarsh Sahitya Sangh
  4. Ahimsa
  5. Ajiva
  6. Anuvrat
  7. Anuvrat Movement
  8. Anuvrati
  9. Anuvrats
  10. Aparigraha
  11. Asteya
  12. Brahmacarya
  13. Churu
  14. Consciousness
  15. Darshan
  16. Discipline
  17. Fear
  18. Greed
  19. Jain Philosophy
  20. Jain View Of Life
  21. Jainism
  22. Jiva
  23. Madras
  24. Mahavrats
  25. Muni
  26. Muni Nathmal
  27. Nonviolence
  28. Rajasthan
  29. Sadhus
  30. Samyag Darshan
  31. Sangh
  32. Satya
  33. Soul
  34. Terapanth
  35. Tolerance
  36. Tulsi
  37. University of Madras
  38. Violence
  39. vrat
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