Jaina path of Purification

  • By Munisri Nyayavijayaji
  • September 2003

12 Vows       

Vow 1 – Refraining from Violence (Sthula Pranatipataviramana)
Pranatipata literally means ‘to destroy (atipata) life forces (prana) of living being. Viramana means ‘refrainment’. Thus the full word means ‘refrainment from destroying the life forces of a living being’, in short refrainment from violence. Violence is committed in three ways – by doing the act yourself, by urging or forcing others to do it or by approving it done by others. However the mental state of the one who forces others to do the act is more acute than that of those who have to do the act helplessly under pressure.

Life forces are ten – three channels of activity i.e. mind, speech, body, five sense organs, duration of life & respiration. To destroy or injure one or more life’s forces of one’s own or others is violence. From this it follows that through negligence or ill will to hurt the feelings of others, to insult others, to speak ill of others behind their back, to cause fear or mental torture, in short to do wrong to others or to wound their feelings is violence. Even in the absence of actual overt act of injuring the life forces of others, an evil act of violence is committed through mere entertaining ill will/thought. Lying, theft, cheating, dishonesty and mental states of anger, greed, pride, jealousy – all these are of the nature of violence & hence vices.

The following aphorism presents the definition of violence, ‘the destruction of life due to an act involving negligence is violence’. To destroy life of a living being through passions of attachment & aversion is violence, and to destroy life of a living being through negligence is also violence. The mental state of attachment & aversion as also of negligence is internal violence (bhava-himsa). And the actual act of killing a person is external violence (dravya-himsa).

For a householder total & absolute abstinence from violence is impossible. So for him it is limited & partial in the Jaina works on ethics for e.g. ‘I shall not kill with determined intention the gross (i.e. mobile or two-sensed) living beings when they are innocent’. Now lets us understand this statement & thereby the limitations. The one-sensed living beings i.e. earth, water, fire, air & plants are immobile; they are the things a householder uses once or repeatedly & in his daily life. So in his vow of non-violence, he is not required to refrain from killing them. But while making a house two sensed animals like ants are killed, thus the words ‘with determined intention’ are inserted in the statement of this vow. From the above it follows that gross violence is of four types - 
1. intentional violence (sankalpa himsa), 2. violence involved in the daily acts of a householder (arambhi himsa like killing an ant referred to above). 3. violence involved in occupations * industries (udyogi himsa – violence in the acts of earning wealth). 4. return of violence in self-defence (virodhi himsa – in defence of one’s own self as well as others against the violent attacks of a wicked person if a householder has to kill him, then it belongs to this type). Of the four types one must be given up, four avoided, 2/3 are naturally associated with the life of an householder.

No activity is free from violence. This is the reason why more emphasis is laid on the renunciation of activity. But is it certain that by renouncing activity one will be free from violence? Mind is not bound to become calm simply by renouncing activity. Mind could be excessively perturbed even when the body is inactive. Though on one side control over body is very great, on the other side furiousness of mind is so great that it may bind karmas causing birth in terrible hells.

Bondage & liberation depend on mental states. Good & wholesome states direct the body to do good & wholesome acts. So the important point one should bear in mind is that one should keep one’s mind ever vigilant in order to prevent evil thoughts & feelings from stealthily entering the mind. One should conduct activities in a manner for the happiness & comforts of the society. According to Jaina works, if such activities are conducted with such care then all avoidable violence is assiduously refrained from, and then whatever violence takes place should not be regarded as defilement of nature.

What is proper care? If the activities involving violence are done with the sole objective of social welfare, then those activities turn good, wholesome & praiseworthy. It is very difficult for the householder to abstain from the violence of the one-sensed beings. So for a householder which livings are innocent or guilty one should use one’s intellect or ability to discriminate.

Vow 2 Refraining from Lying (Sthula Mrsavadaviramana)
This vow of not telling lies about human beings/animals/land etc. This vow includes refraining from misappropriating the deposits left with one, bearing false witnesses in or out of court, and forging fake documents. He should not forget that breach of confidence or trust & giving wrong advice are great sins. In short, he should understand that the secret of earning wealth is honesty & morality. And in morality lie the roots of one’s own happiness, peace, mental health & also of other’s welfare.

Vow 3 Abstaining from Taking anything that is not given (Sthula Adattadanaviramana)
The taking with intent to steal, of objects which are not given by their owners in an act of theft. The housebreaker must refrain from housebreaking, should not sell things at inequitable prices i.e. black-marketing; stealthily introduce changes in documents in his own favor. To abduct a man, his child, wife, daughter is the heinous type of theft.

Vow 4 Refraining from all Illicit Sexual Contacts (Sthula Maithunaviramana)
This vow means to avoid sexual contacts with the wives of others; it covers even the avoidance of sexual contacts with harlots, widows and unmarried women. Sex with wife must be moderate. Moderate sexual contact generally means sexual intercourse undertaken with the object of saving & protecting the valuable semen, i.e. with the objective of not unnecessarily wasting it & using it for the sole purpose of procreation. Semen can also be used in enhancing mental & bodily energy, developing will power & in preserving health. A man who indulges in excessive sex ruins his bound & mind, makes him unfit for procreation. Semen has creative power & its use can be made in noble acts other than procreation. 

Vow 5 Limiting One’s Possessions (Parigrahaparimana)
Desire has no end. This vow is a limit to control, limit it. Possession of land, gold etc is called external possession, attachment & delusion to these things is internal possession. To weaken internal possession it is necessary to limit external possession. It must be noted that if there is anyone’s mind even a trace of attachment for worldly things or even the slightest desire to possess them, then has internal possession, even though he may live in a forest. Excessive accumulation of riches is a sin & to have such a desire is a sin of equal measure. It is generally found that a man finds peace enjoying ordinary necessities & comforts of life, which a man who is neither too rich or poor can enjoy.

A man who has sufficient means of livelihood & hence free from all the troubles of earning, should not remain inactive. He should engage himself in social welfare according to his ability. If a man does not set limits to his possessions, then greed & desire will press him greatly to involve himself into all those vicious activities necessary for accumulation of wealth. If this vow of limiting possessions is accepted as a social outlook & as a social philosophical doctrine, all turmoil due to communism & socialism will subside.

Vow 6 Limiting the Area of one’s Unvirtuous Activities (Digvrata)
There are ten directions, the 4 well known directions i.e. east, west, north, south, the four immediately intermediary directions i.e. isana, agneya, nairrtya, vayavya, the upward direction over one’s head and the downward directions under one’s feet. This vow is to limit the distance in all the ten directions, up to which & not beyond which the vower will undertake unvirtuous activities. Thus, the purpose of the vow is to limit the area of different activities. To check the unimpeded spread of desire, to save oneself from the unvirtuous activities that are likely to spread beyond the limited area in the absence of the vow and to give one scope to perform one’s duty towards one’s neighbors are the objectives of the vow.

Vow 7 Limiting the Quantity of Things One Will Use (Bhogpabhogaparimana)
There are two types of things i.e. bhoga & upabhoga. The former are those that can be eaten only once like fruits, the latter are those that can be used repeatedly like clothes. Thus, this vow means to limit their quantity, to refrain from keeping those things more in number than the necessarily required. This vow covers the prohibition of food & drink i.e. meat, wine which are not necessary for living, but are harmful to life & degrading to the soul. A householder adopts such renunciation with a view to making progress on the path of peace. So this vow requires him to abandon even such professions as involve much evil & cruelty to animals.

If all observe proper equanimity & restraint in the use of things, then all the struggles of livelihood will end, and the strifes & tensions will be removed, an all-encompassing equality will arise. The object of this vow is to make all happy & divert them to the path of humanity – of course, its leaning towards spiritual welfare is quite evident.

Vow 8 To abstain from Purposeful Harmful Activities (Anarthadandaviramana)
In Sanskrit this vow is called anarthadandavirati. The term ‘anartha’ means purposeless, aimless while ‘danda’ means bad, evil activities. Thus the term means unnecessary & purposeless harmful activities. A householder cannot avoid daily acts of violence that are connected with ordinary activities or agriculture, in self-defence or save others he has to kill the violent attacker. He has also to earn money to maintain his family & accumulate some possessions. Taking into account such unvirtuous activities that a householder has to undertake the Jaina thinkers have wisely advised thru the present vow that one should not do unnecessary & purposeful harmful activities. What are these activities –

1. One should not give harmful advice: A man who drinks wine must not advise others to do, such advice is harmful. A householder has to teach certain things very useful in life, he has to teach how to cultivate land, cook food etc. If he generously teaches these subjects to those who want to learn them he is not violating his vow.
2. One should not give means of destroying life to others: If a man gives a knife to sharpen a pencil it is not a harmful activity but a knife given for kill another is a harmful activity. It is narrow-mindedness to give these things to one’s relatives only with a view to helping them & to refuse to give them to others. When somebody has violently attacked an innocent man, to give the latter a weapon to defend himself is not a harmful activity.
3. One should not yield to harmful contemplation: to think of doing harm to others, to yield to brooding over unjust means of accumulating wealth, to caress the ideas of sensual pleasures & to think vainly of one’s miseries & misfortunes are the purposeless harmful activities. Brooding about one’s business worries is a harmful activity but proper thinking about one’s business is not a purposeless activity. So also thinking about the victory of the just & righteous persons like Rama as also the defeat of the unrighteous persons like Ravana is not a purposeless harmful activity.
4. Thoughtless behavior: activities like aimlessly digging the ground & igniting fire are harmful activities. To refrain from killing the immobile is not includes in the minor scale vow of non-violence, yet their purposeless killing comes under the head of purposeless harmful activities, hence one should avoid it. Under this vow householders are warned against lying though lying of an insignificant nature is not prohibited in concerned minor scale vows. The vow prohibits backbiting, joking that hurts others. To remain clean, to maintain cleanliness, to undergo proper treatment for the cure of a disease & to do any act within proper limit & under decorum for the innocent entertainment & joy could not be regarded as harmful activity. It will be proper to point out that one can maintain one’s body well be vegetarian diet.

Vow 9 of Remaining Completely Equanimous for a Fixed Period of Time (Samayika)
This vow consists of sitting in one place & one seat for 48 consecutive minutes in a peaceful mental state, not allowing the passions of attachment & aversion to rise in the mind. For this period, the vower contemplates on the nature of the self, examines how much purity of life he has attained, reads the true religious works showing the path of self-development & spiritual evolution & concentrates on the supreme (liberated) soul.
Vow 10 of reducing for a Limited period of Time the Limits of the Area set forth in the 6th vow (Desavakasikavrata)
This vow means to reduce for a day or for a fixed period of time the limits of the area set forth by the vower himself in the 6th vow for the unvirtuous activities, and similarly to suppress or contract the concessions he himself has kept while taking other vows.

Vow 11 of Observing Fast & Living like a Monk for Certain Days (Posadhavrata)
The term ‘posadha’ is derived from the Sanskrit verbal root ‘pus’ meaning ‘to nourish, to foster, to support, to grow, to develop’. So posadha means that which nourishes, fosters, supports the soul or its natural qualities. In this vow, the vower observes a fast or takes only one meal a day & like a monk remains engaged in the religious rites for 4 or 8 praharas (one prahara=app 3 hours). The object of this vow is to make the householder relish the nectar of life of total refrainment from all evil activities, keeping him away from the anxieties of worldly life. The vower also observes total abstinence from sex activity before he undertakes religious rites & performs them according to procedure.

Vow 12 of Sharing with Deserving Guests (Atithisamvibhaga-vrata)
To offer necessities of life (food, medicines) to saintly monks who having renounced the householder’s life have adopted the life of renununciation characteristised by total refrainment from evil activities & to live on begging alms, as also to the benevolent noble persons engaged in the service of the people is the meaning of the present vow.

Of the 12 vows, the first five are called Anuvratas (atom-scale vows) because compared to the Mahavratas (great vows) they are very small. The next three care called Gunavratas because they help, support & strengthen the anuvratas. The term ‘guna’ is here used in the sense of help, support. And the last four vows are called ‘Siksavratas’ because they are spiritual exercises of a ritual sort.

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