Ethics of Jainism

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Jain ethical code prescribes five main vows (anuvratas), seven supplementary vows (śeelas) and last sallekhanā vow.[1][2]


In Jainism, two dharmas or rules of conduct are prescribed. One for those who wish to become an ascetic and another for the śrāvaka (householders).

The five fundamental vows are:

  • Ahiṃsā (non-injury)
  • Truth
  • Non-theiving
  • Celibacy for monks and chastity for householders
  • Non-possession

Seven supplementary vows of a śrāvaka include three guņa vratas (Merit vows) and four śikşā vratas (Disciplinary vows).[3] The vow of sallekhanâ is observed by the votary at the end of his life. It is prescribed both for the ascetics and householders. According to the Jain text, Puruşārthasiddhyupāya:

The man who incessantly observes all the supplementary vows and sallekhanâ (together, these are called śeelas) for the sake of safeguarding his vows (vratas), gets fervently garlanded (a gesture to indicate her choice for a husband) by the maiden called 'liberation'.

— Puruşārthasiddhyupāya[4]

Maha vratas

File:Five Vows.jpg
Jain emblem and the "Five Vows"

Mahavrata (lit. major vows) are the five fundamental observed by the Jain ascetics. These vows are observed by śrāvakas (householders) partially and are termed as anuvratas (small vows). Ascetics observe these fives vows more strictly and therefore observe complete abstinence.

According to Acharya Samantabhadra’s Ratnakaraņdaka śrāvakācāra:

Abstaining from the commitment of five kinds of sins (injury, falsehood, stealing, unchastity, and attachment) by way of doing these by oneself, causing these to be done, and approval when done by others, through the three kinds of activity (of body, speech, and thought), constitutes the great vows (mahāvrata) of celebrated ascetics.

— Ratnakaraņdaka śrāvakācāra (72)[5]


Sculpture depicting the Jain concept of ahimsa (non-injury)

Ahimsa (non-injury) is formalised into Jain doctrine as the first and foremost vow. According to the Jain text, Tattvarthsutra: "The severance of vitalities out of passion is injury."

According to Jain text, Puruşārthasiddhyupāya:[6]

All these subdivisions (injury, falsehood, stealing, unchastity, and attachment) are hiṃsā as indulgence in these sullies the pure nature of the soul. Falsehood etc. have been mentioned separately only to make the disciple understand through illustrations.

— Puruşārthasiddhyupāya (42)


Not to lie or speak what is not commendable.[7] The underlying cause of falsehood is passion and therefore, it is said to cause hiṃsā (injury).[8] According to the Jain text, Sarvārthasiddhi: "that which causes pain and suffering to the living is not commendable, whether it refers to actual facts or not."[9]


According to the Jain text, Puruṣārthasiddhyupāya:

Driven by passions, taking anything that has not been given be termed as theft and since theft causes injury, it is hiṃsā

— Puruṣārthasiddhyupāya (42)[10]

According to Tattvarthasutra, five observances that strengthen this vow are:[11]

  • Residence in a solitary place
  • Residence in a deserted habitation
  • Causing no hindrance to others,
  • Acceptance of clean food, and
  • Not quarreling with brother monks.


The fourth great vow of asceticism is concerned with abrahma (which is indulgence in sexual intercourse). Brahmacharya refers to the self-control in respect of sex-function. It means avoiding all the kinds of natural and unnatural sex-gratification.[12]


According to Tattvarthsutra, "Infatuation is attachment to possessions".[13] Jain texts mentions that "attachment to possessions (parigraha) is of two kinds: attachment to internal possessions (ābhyantara parigraha), and attachment to external possessions (bāhya parigraha).[14] The fourteen internal possessions are:[15]

  • Wrong belief
  • The three sex-passions
    • Male sex-passion
    • Female sex-passion
    • Neuter sex-passion
  • Six defects
    • Laughter
    • Liking
    • Disliking
    • Sorrow
    • Fear
    • Disgust
  • Four passions
    • Anger
    • Pride
    • Deceitfulness
    • Greed

External possessions are divided into two subclasses, the non-living, and the living. According to Jain texts, both internal and external possessions are proved to be hiṃsā (injury).[15]

Guņa vratas

  1. Digvrata- restriction on movement with regard to directions.
  2. Bhogopabhogaparimana- vow of limiting consumable and non-consumable things
  3. Anartha-dandaviramana- refraining from harmful occupations and activities (purposeless sins).

Śikşā vratas

  1. Samayika- vow to meditate and concentrate periodically.
  2. Desavrata- limiting movement to certain places for a fixed period of time.[16]
  3. Prosadhopavâsa- Fasting at regular intervals.
  4. Atihti samvibhag- Vow of offering food to the ascetic and needy people.


An ascetic or householder who has observed all the prescribed vows to shed the karmas, takes the vow of sallekhanā at the end of his life.[3] According to the Jain text, Purushartha Siddhyupaya, "sallekhana enable a householder to carry with him his wealth of piety".[17]


There are five, five transgressions respectively for the vows and the supplementary vows.[18]

Head Vow Transgressions
Five vows
1. Ahiṃsā Binding, beating, mutilating limbs, overloading, withholding food and drink [19]
2. Satya Perverted teaching, divulging what is done in secret, forgery, misappropriation, and proclaiming other's thoughts.[20]
3. Asteya Prompting others to steal, receiving stolen goods, under- buying in a disordered state, using false weights and measures, and deceiving others with artificial or imitation goods.
4. Brahmacharya Bringing about marriage, intercourse with an unchaste married woman, cohabitation with a harlot, perverted sexual practices, and excessive sexual passion.[21]
5. Aparigraha Exceeding the limits set by oneself with regard to cultivable lands and houses, riches such as gold and silver, cattle and corn, men and women servants, and clothes.
Guņa vratas
6.digvrata Exceeding the limits set in the directions, namely upwards, downwards and horizontally, enlarging the boundaries in the accepted directions, and forgetting the boundaries set, are the five transgressions of the minor vow of direction.
7.bhogopabhogaparimana Victuals containing (one-sensed) organisms, placed near organisms, mixed with organisms, stimulants, and ill-cooked food.
8.anartha-dandaviramana Vulgar jokes, vulgar jokes accompanied by gesticulation, garrulity, unthinkingly indulging in too much action, keeping too many consumable and non-consumable objects.[22]
Śikşā vratas
9.Samayika Misdirected three-fold activity, lack of earnestness, and fluctuation of thought.[23]
10.Desavrata Sending for something outside the country of one’s resolve, commanding someone there to do thus, indicating one’s intentions by sounds, by showing oneself, and by throwing clod etc.
11.Prosadhopavâsa Excreting, handling sandalwood paste, flowers etc., and spreading mats and garments without inspecting and cleaning the place and the materials, lack of earnestness, and lack of concentration.
12.Atihti samvibhag Placing the food on things with organisms such as green leaves, covering it with such things, food of another host, envy, and untimely food
Sallekhanā vrata 13. Sallekhanā Desire for life, desire for death, recollection of affection for friends, recollection of pleasures, and constant longing for enjoyment.[24]

See also


  1. Sangave 2001, p. 63.
  2. Sangave 2001, p. 118.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Tukol 1976, p. 5.
  4. Vijay K. Jain 2012, p. 117-118.
  5. Jain, Champat Rai (1917). The Ratna Karanda Sravakachara. The Central Jaina Publishing House. p. 36.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Vijay K. Jain 2012, p. 33.
  7. Vijay K. Jain 2012, p. 61.
  8. Vijay K. Jain 2012, p. 66.
  9. Pujyapada (Shri.) (1960). S. A. Jain (ed.). Reality. Vira Sasana Sangha. p. 197. Retrieved 30 October 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Vijay K. Jain 2012, p. 68.
  11. Vijay K. Jain 2011, p. 95.
  12. Jain, Champat Rai (1926). Sannyasa Dharma. p. 29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Vijay K. Jain 2011, p. 100.
  14. Vijay K. Jain 2012, p. 76.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Vijay K. Jain 2012, p. 77.
  16. Vijay K. Jain 2012, p. 90.
  17. Vijay K. Jain 2012, p. 114.
  18. Vijay K. Jain 2011, p. 118-137.
  19. Vijay K. Jain 2011, p. 103.
  20. Vijay K. Jain 2011, p. 104.
  21. Vijay K. Jain 2011, p. 105.
  22. Vijay K. Jain 2011, p. 108.
  23. Vijay K. Jain 2012, p. 132.
  24. Vijay K. Jain 2011, p. 111.