The Jain Way of Life

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The Jain way of life prescribes thirty-five virtues for a marganusari - one who follows the path shown by Jinas. One is to cultivate these virtues to develop the right attitude of living and not to stray from the spiritual path. These virtues are listed as obligatory duties, derogations that are to be discarded, virtues to be cultivated and endeavors to be carried out with diligence.

The obligatory duties include a householder pursuing some kind of business, trade or profession, not of an ignoble or degrading nature. He is to act in a jest and honest way, and in proportion to his capital. If he is to serve under another, he is to act in proportion to his strength. The business he does shall not harm other men, animals, fish, birds or insects. The business, therefore, excludes that of a butcher, brewer, wine merchant, arms dealer or anything that involves destruction of life. When he earns money honestly, he remains peaceful and can enjoy his wealth without any disturbance.

The layman is not to marry from his lineage. One is to marry from a different gotra, but with similar character, taste, culture, language, etc. This is to result in harmonious relationship without any discord and misunderstanding. He is to respect parents and elders. He is to serve the ascetics who come to him for bhiksha as well as guests with due respect. He is to help the needy and destitute. He is to maintain his dependents and make them work for the wellbeing of the whole family. He is to live in a house not accessible to thieves, and cannot be entered by undesirable people. He is to dress according to his means in a decent way. He is to incur expenses in proportion to his income. He is to drink and eat at the proper time suitable to his constitution. He is to eat food only at home and fast when he suffers from indigestion.

The derogations include giving up calumny, betraying trust, deceiving and cheating; giving up anger, pride, deceit, greed, attachment and aversion; avoiding places of danger to life such as battlefields, places of epidemics and famine; and giving up meat eating, intoxicants and crimes that might lead to imprisonment. He is to perform his household duties properly, and shall not neglect his religious duties.

The virtues to be cultivated include acquiring the habit of discretion between the right and the wrong act, and to keep away from sinful acts. He is to be farsighted and is to plan for the future needs of his family. While taking up any responsibility, he is to consider his strengths and weaknesses. He is always to keep his temperament, voice and appearance gentle and serene.

The endeavors to be carried out include keeping the company of noble people and admiring their virtues. One is to have compassionate attitude towards all, and help everyone without selfishness.

One is to express gratitude to all who help one, and be humble.

A layman should do svadhyaya, study of holy texts, everyday. He is to listen to the discourses of monks. He is to try to understand tattvas, essential truths, the meaning of dharmasastras, etc to know the path of right faith, right knowledge and right conduct.

The Jain way of life prescribes the above code of conduct for its adherents so that they gain material prosperity while they advance spiritually. This shows that the Jain Acharyas have given very deep thought to practical day-to-day life of the laity. All these qualities make a layman spiritually conscious, while making his life peaceful and harmonious.

According to the Jain tradition, those who desire to rise in spiritual line must follow five anuvratas (primary vows) prescribed for a householder. They consist of observance of non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, chastity and non-possession. A householder shall also practice dana (charity), sheela (virtuous conduct), tapas (austerity) and bhavana (pure thoughts).

Non-violence is the attitude of equality towards all living creatures, leading to compassion and kindness to all living beings. Non-violence in Jainism embraces not only human beings, but also animals, birds, plants, creatures on earth, in air and in water, vegetables, etc. It is the holy law of compassion extended to body, mind and word of a living being. Lord Mahavira says, ‘All living beings desire to live. They detest sorrow and death, and desire a long and happy life. Hence, one should not inflict pain on any creature, nor have any feeling of antipathy or enmity. One should be friendly towards all creatures.'

All the other vows of Jainism flow from the vow of non-violence. Truthfulness is essential to keep order and harmony in society. One is to practice it constantly and consistently to maintain integrity in the society. One is to observe the vow of non-stealing to earn one's living by honest means. One violates the vow of aparigraha by accepting and holding what one does not need. One needs to practice the vow of chastity to maintain social morality.

As for spiritual advancement, the Jain way of life stresses on six essential practices. They are samayika, chaturvinshati stava, vandana, pratikramana, kayotsarga and pratyakhyana.

Samaiyka means to be devoid of attachment and aversion, to be indifferent to life or death, gain or loss, fortune or misfortune, friend or foe, joy or sorrow, etc. It means samatva or equanimity. The Jain way of life requires a householder to practice this principle for at least 48 minutes everyday. It means that, during this spell, he is to remain aloof from his domestic and business activity and spend it in contemplation, meditation or spiritual study.



Chaturvinshati stava means worship of the twenty-four Tirthankaras by reciting their stotras and bhajans. Tirthankaras are beings free from attachment and aversion. By their worship, people may cultivate virtues to some extent in their lives.

Vandana is to offer one's reverential salutations to the sadhus (sages) and sadhvis (nuns). Association with such holy people results in development of virtues.

Pratikramana is a process of contemplation and introspection to be done in the morning and in the evening. A Jain is supposed to introspect in the morning and in the evening whether he is developing good qualities. If he has committed any mistake, he is to repent for it and ensure its avoidance thereafter.

Kayotsarga means literally abandonment of body in one steady posture. It is to be done in a posture suitable to the seeker, sitting or standing, for meditation. This helps in keeping the mind under control.

Pratyakhyana enjoins on a seeker to take vows everyday to purify his life. He is ever to keep the distinction in view between the body and the soul. As the body perishes, the soul has no death and lasts forever. The seeker is ever to seek self-fulfillment and self-realization.

The Jain way of life focuses on a combination of right faith, right knowledge and right conduct to tread the path of salvation. These constitute the three jewels of Jainism. Lord Mahavira says. ‘By knowledge one understands the nature of substances; by faith one believes in them; by conduct one puts an end to the flow of karma; and by austerity one attains purity.' The Jain way of life stresses on simplicity and nobility in human conduct.

The principles of Jainism are universal in character and applicable to all societies in all times.

K. R. Paramahamsa is an author of book Living in Spirit.

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