Jain monasticism

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Jain nuns.

Jain monasticism refers to the order of monks and nuns in the Jain community. The term nirgrantha "bondless" was used for Jain monks in the past. Another ancient term, samaṇa "striver", is used mainly by the Sthānakavāsī.

Currently, the Śvētāmbara\Digambara call male monastics muṇis and female monastics sadhvis; Digambara female ascetics are called aryika.[1][2]


To become an ascetic, a rite is performed which is called diksha (initiation). Diksha provides a formal change in a person from the status of householder to an ascetic. The svetambara terapanthi sect asks for a written permission from the parents of the person before formally initiating them to the ascetic order. [3] The Swetambara initiation involves the initiate aking out a procession where the initiate symbolically lets go of his material wealth and makes donations. This is followed or preceded by a ritual wherein the initiate receives the 'Ogho' (a woollen broom) from his/her mentor which is a symbol of welcoming them into the monastic order. Then the initiate dons the monastic attire and pulls out his/her hair by the hands. Further rituals formally initiate them into the monastic order.

Rules of conduct[edit]

The rules of conduct of Jain ascetics are based on modifications and adaptations from older text, since they are not able to provide exact guidance. The earliest available texts often ask for ascetics to be in complete solitude, identifying the isolation of soul and non-soul. This, however, did not prove to be practical. Soon after the death of Mahavira, the ascetics organized themselves into groups.[4] Few examples of ascetics living in complete solitude are found in the digambara sect of Jainism.[5]

Jain ascetics are detached from social and worldly activities. Instead, they spend their time spiritually uplifting their souls and guiding householders on how to uplift their souls, with all their activities aimed at self-purification for self-realization. For the attainment of this objective, they following established guidelines, perform the daily worship, and undertake austerities.[6]

Ascetics do not have a home or any possessions.[4] Their quality of life is difficult because of the many constraints placed on them; they also avoid using basic services like telephones and electricity.[7]

They do not take food or water after sunset or before sunrise. They wait forty-eight minutes after sunrise before drinking boiled water.[citation needed] They bestow their blessings on all irrespective of their caste, creed, sex, age, wealth, or social status, uttering the words Dharm Labh ("May you attain spiritual prosperity"). Some put Vakshep (scented sandal dust) on the heads of people. Monks and nuns show the path of wholesome life and of a righteous and disciplined life to everyone through discussions, discourses, seminars and camps to attain spiritual prosperity.[citation needed]


Jain ascetics do not cook their food, do not get it prepared for them, and do not accept any food which was prepared for them. They go to different householders that are Jains or vegetarians and receive a little food from each house. Just as cows graze the top part of grass, moving from place to place, taking a little at one place and a little at another, in the same way Jain ascetics do not take all the food from one house. They collect it from various houses.

The reason Jain ascetics accept a little food and not all the food from one house is so that householders would not have to cook again. The cooking process involves much violence in the form of fire, vegetable chopping, water consumption, etc., and ascetics do not want to be the part of any violence due to their needs. They do not receive food standing outside the house; but they go inside the house where food is cooked or kept. This way they can know that accepting food would not make the householders have to cook again. They accept food which is within the limit of their vows.[citation needed]


When they travel from one place to another, whatever the distance, they always walk barefoot. They do not use any vehicle, such as a bullock cart, car, boat, ship or plane, for traveling. Whether the weather is cold or hot; whether the road is stony or thorny; whether it is the burning sand of a desert or a burning road, they do not wear any footwear at any time, moving about on bare feet all their life. The reason for not wearing shoes is so that they can avoid crushing the bugs or insects on the ground. While going places, they preach the religion (Dharma), and provide proper spiritual guidance to people.

They also do not stay more than a few days in any one place except during Chaturmas and the rainy season, which is about four months in duration. The ascetics generally do not go out at night. The place where they stay is called Upashray or Paushadh Shala, but may also stay in places that are suitable to the practice of their disciplined life and if they do not disturb or impede the code of conduct. The reason they do not stay anywhere permanently or for a longer period in one place is to avoid developing attachment for material things and the people around them.[citation needed]

The Yati of the Svetambara sect and theBhatakkara of the Digambara are not wandering ascetics. They usually dwell in temples and perform daily rituals.[4]


The Jain ascetics after receiving the Diksha (initiation) do not cut their hair or shave their heads; nor do they get these things done by a barber. But twice a year or at least once a year at the time of Paryushan, they pluck off their hairs or they get the hairs plucked by others. This is called Keshlochan or Loch. This way they are not dependent on others to carry out their needs. It is also considered a form of austerity where one calmly bears the pain of plucking.[citation needed]


The practice of dress may vary among different sects of Jains, but the essential principle of limiting needs remains the same.[citation needed] Female ascetics in general as well as Svetambara male monks always wear white clothes with little to no stitches, while Digambara Jain monks are completely nude. A loincloth which reaches up to the shins is called a Cholapattak. Another cloth to cover the upper part of the body is called Pangarani (Uttariya Vastra). A cloth that passes over the left shoulder and covers the body up to a little above the ankle is called a Kïmli, which is a woollen shawl.

They also carry a woollen bed sheet and a woollen mat to sit on. Those who wear clothes have a muhapati, which is a square or rectangular piece of cloth of a prescribed measurement, either in their hand or tied on their face covering the mouth.

Svetambara ascetics have an Ogho or Rajoharan (a broom of woollen threads) to clean insects around their sitting place or while they are walking. Digambara ascetics have a Morpichhi and a Kamandal in their hands.

Monastic ranks[edit]

White-clothed Acharya Kalaka

Monks of both the Svetambara and Digambara traditions are assigned to different ranks:[8]

  • Acharya: leader of the order
  • Upadhyaya: a learned monk, who both teaches others and studies himself
  • Muni: an ordinary ascetic

Over a period of time, many designations were designed as mentioned in shastras like gani, pannyas and pravartak. In the Digambara tradition, a junior monk can have several ranks:[citation needed]

  • Ailak: uses one piece of cloth
  • Kshullak: uses two pieces of cloth
  • Aryika: female ascetics

The Terapanthi sect of the Svetambara has a new rank of junior monks, samana.[citation needed]

Jain monks become immersed in activities such as meditation, seeking knowledge and acquiring self-discipline. Proceeding on the path of spiritual endeavor, when they reach a higher level of attainment, their spiritual elders, for the preservation of the four-fold Jain Sangh, confer upon them some special titles.[citation needed]

Idol of digambara acharya

The title of Acharya is considered to be very high and involves a great responsibility. The entire responsibility of the Jain Sangh rests on the shoulders of the acharya. Before attaining this title, one has to make an in-depth study and a thorough exploration of the Jain Agams and attain mastery of them. One must also study the various languages of the surrounding territory and have acquired a thorough knowledge of all the philosophies of the world related to different ideologies and religions.[citation needed]

The title of Upadhyaya is given to a monk who teaches all the ascetics, and has acquired a specialized knowledge of the Agams (Scriptures).

The titles of Panyas and Gani are given to those who have acquired an in-depth knowledge of all the Jain agama. To attain the status of Ganipad one should have a knowledge of the Bhagawati Sutra and to attain the Panyas-pad one should have attained a comprehensive knowledge of all the aspects of the agams.[citation needed]

The main concept of renunciation is same in both Svetambar and Digambar sects. But there are some differences in what they keep and how they take Gochari/Ahar. All of the Digambar monastics keep Morpichhi and Kamandal. They eat once a day from "Choka". These chokas are arranged by householders and they invite Monks and nuns to accept the food from there. Digambar monks and elaks eat standing up and in their hands. Khulaks eat in one utensil. Nuns eat in their hand or in utensil.[6]


Five Mahavratas of Jain Ascetics

As prescribed by ancient texts such as the Acaranga Sutra, the requirements on full ascetics are strict and emerge from the teachings of Mahavira. The five mahavratas are the five great vows that full ascetics observe:[citation needed]

  1. Nonviolence (Ahimsa)
  2. Truth (Satya)
  3. Non-stealing (Asteya)
  4. Chastity (Brahmacharya)
  5. Non-possession/Detachment (Aparigraha)

Gupti and Samiti[edit]

Apart from the Mahavratas, ascetics also observe the Three Restraints and Five Carefulnesses.

The Three Restraints (Gupti)

  • Mind (Managupti)
  • Speech (Vacanagupti)
  • Body (Kayagupti)

The Five Carefulnesses (Samiti)

  • While walking (Irya Samiti)
  • While communicating (Bhasha Samiti)
  • While eating (Eshana Samiti)
  • While handling their fly-whisks, water gourds, etc. (Adana Nikshepana Samiti)
  • While disposing of bodily waste matter (Pratishthapana Samiti)

Mahavira's asceticism[edit]

The Jain text of Kalpasutra describes Mahavira's asceticism in detail, from whom most of the ascetic practices (including the gupti's and samitis) are derived:[9]

The Venerable Ascetic Mahavira for a year and a month wore clothes; after that time he walked about naked, and accepted the alms in the hollow of his hand. For more than twelve years the Venerable Ascetic Mahivira neglected his body and abandoned the care of it; he with equanimity bore, underwent, and suffered all pleasant or unpleasant occurrences arising from divine powers, men, or animals.

—Kalpa Sutra 117

Henceforth the Venerable Ascetic Mahavira was houseless, circumspect in his walking, circumspect in his speaking, circumspect in his begging, circumspect in his accepting (anything), in the carrying of his outfit and drinking vessel; circumspect in evacuating excrements, urine, saliva, mucus, and uncleanliness of the body; circumspect in his thoughts, circumspect in his words, circumspect in his acts; guarding his thoughts, guarding his words, guarding his acts, guarding his senses, guarding his chastity; without wrath, without pride, without deceit, without greed; calm, tranquil, composed, liberated, free from temptations, without egoism, without property; he had cut off all earthly ties, and was not stained by any worldliness: as water does not adhere to a copper vessel, or collyrium to mother of pearl (so sins found no place in him); his course was unobstructed like that of Life; like the firmament he wanted no support; like the wind he knew no obstacles; his heart was pure like the water (of rivers or tanks) in autumn; nothing could soil him like the leaf of a lotus; his senses were well protected like those of a tortoise; he was single and alone like the horn of a rhinoceros; he was free like a bird; he was always waking like the fabulous bird Bharundal, valorous like an elephant, strong like a bull, difficult to attack like a lion, steady and firm like Mount Mandara, deep like the ocean, mild like the moon, refulgent like the sun, pure like excellent gold'; like the earth he patiently bore everything; like a well-kindled fire he shone in his splendour.

—Kalpa Sutra 118


Main article: Chaturmas

Chaturmas means the four months of the monsoon, during which ascetics stay in one place. Staying in one place during the monsoon reduces the risk of causing accidental death to numerous insects and smaller forms of life that thrive during the rains. During this period, it is a suitable time for lay Jains to have an annual renewal of the faith by listening to teachings of the Dharma and through meditation and vartas (self-control).[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cort, John E. (2001). Jains in the World: Religious Values and Ideology in India. Oxford University Press. 
  2. ^ Paul Dundas (2002). The Jains. Routledge. p. 152. ISBN 978-0-415-26606-2. Retrieved 24 June 2013. 
  3. ^ Dundas 2002, p. 155.
  4. ^ a b c Dundas 2002, p. 152.
  5. ^ Dundas 2002, p. 153.
  6. ^ a b "Welcome to Jainworld - Jain Monks nuns, Sadhu, Shraman, Muni, Sadhvi, Shramani, Ary�, Pranatip�taviraman Mahavrat, Mrishavadaviraman Mah�vrat, Adattad�naviraman Mahavrat , Maithunaviraman Mahavrat, Parigrahaviraman Mahavrat". Jainworld.com. Retrieved 2012-02-25. 
  7. ^ Singhvi, Sushila. "Jainism at a glance". 
  8. ^ Valley, Anne (2002). Guardians of the Transcedent: An Ethnography of a Jain Ascetic Community. University of Toronto Press. 
  9. ^ Jacobi, Hermann (1884). (ed.) F. Max Müller, ed. The Kalpa Sūtra. Sacred Books of the East vol.22, Part 1 (in English: translated from Prakrit). Oxford: The Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-7007-1538-X.  Note: ISBN refers to the UK:Routledge (2001) reprint. URL is the scan version of the original 1884 reprint

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