The Minor Vows of Jainism are ahimsa, truth, non-stealing, celibacy, and non-possession. They are called "Minor" (anuvrata) because the householder observes them in a modified way. They are completely observed by the monks, hence in their case it is known as Mahavratas.
Ahimsa or Non- Violence
It is the foundation of Jain ethics. Lord Mahavira called it pure, universal, and everlasting. It signifies total lack of any kind of violence and the prevalence of complete peace whatever the situation might be. It says: 'one should not injure, subjugate, enslave, torture or kill any animal, life form, organism or sentient being. This is the essence of religion. It is concerned about the welfare of all animals, visible and invisible. It is the basis of all stages of knowledge and the source of all rules of conduct. Non-violence is based on love and kindness for all living beings.
Intentional violence is prohibited for all. Violence of every type should be completely forbidden. A householder is permitted to incur violence defensively and vocationally provided he maintains total detachment. Common violence is accepted for all in the business of remaining alive, but even here, one needs to be careful while preparing food, cleaning house, etc. This explains the Jain's practices of filtering drinking water, vegetarianism, not eating meals at night, and abstinence from alcohol.
There are different forms of life, such as human beings, animals, insects, plants, bacteria, and even smaller lives which cannot be seen even through the most powerful microscopes. Jainism has classified all the living beings according to their senses as follows:
* Five senses - human, animals, birds, heavenly, hellish beings
* Four senses - flies, bees, etc.
* Three senses - ants, lice, etc.
* Two senses - worms, leaches, etc.
* One sense - vegetables, water, air, earth, fire etc
The five sense are, touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing. It is more painful if a life of the higher forms that has more than one sense is killed. All non-vegetarian food is made by killing a living being with two or more senses. Therefore, Jainism preaches to practise strict vegetarianism, and prohibits non-vegetarian foods.
Truth or Satya
This is the second vow. Anger, greed, fear, jokes, etc. are the breeding grounds of untruth. One needs to have moral courage to speak the truth. Only those who have conquered greed, fear, anger, jealousy, ego, frivolity etc. can speak the truth.
It is more than abstaining from falsehood. One needs to speak the truth which should be wholesome and pleasant. One should remain silent if the truth causes pain, hurt, anger, or death of any living being. It consists of adapting to the reality. By speaking the truth an individual can remain in touch with his inner strength and inner capacities. He becomes secure and fearless.
Non-stealing or Achaurya or Asteya
This is the third vow in Jainism. Stealing means to take away someone's property without his consent, or by unjust or immoral methods. One should not take anything that does not belong to him. One should observe this vow very strictly. While
accepting alms, help, or some aid one should not take more than what is required as to accept more than one's need is also considered theft in Jainism. One needs to be completely honest in his action, thought, and speech.
Celibacy or Brahmacharya
This is the fourth vow in Jainism. It is relevant to monks and householders in differing degrees. Its main aim of this vow is to overcome passion and to prevent the waste of energy. Total abstinence from sensual pleasure is called celibacy. The vow of celibacy imparts a sense of serenity to the soul. The householder fulfills this vow when he is happy with his own wife and is completely faithful to her.
Monks are required to observe this vow very strictly and completely. They should not enjoy sensual pleasures, ask others to do the same, nor approve of it.
Non-possession or Aparigraha
It is the fifth minor vow. According to this vow the more worldly wealth a person possesses, the more he is likely to commit sin. The worldly wealth creates attachments which will continuously result in greed, jealousy, selfishness, ego, hatred, violence, etc.
As long as an individual is not aware of the richness of joy and peace that comes from a consciousness of the soul, he keeps indulging in materialistic acquisitions. Thus to remove this delusion, one takes the vow of non-possession and realizes the perfection of the soul, Non-possession insists upon the oneness of all life and is beneficial both in the divine and social spheres.
In addition to the Five Minor Vows, the householder observes three Social Vows that govern his external conduct in the world. There are also four Divine vows that reflect the purity of his heart. They govern his internal life.
The Jain householder who observes twelve vows progresses upon the divine path. While progressing he needs to decide whether he would take up the discipline of a monk's life. To attain this he must pass through eleven successive stages called Pratimas, Where the eleventh stage is reached, he can start the conduct of a monk.
In order to protect the integrity of the principal vows Jain thinkers have prescribed few sub-vows. First, there is reference to the Salyas or disturbing factors such as ignorance, deceit, and self-interest, from which an individual needs to free himself. The salyas represent the negative requirements for the ideal practice of the vratas. Also, there are the four Bhavanas (virtues) that are a means of supporting the Vratas. These qualities are maitri (love, friendship), pramoda (joy and respect), karunya (compassion), and madhyastha (tolerance toward life forms). Third, there are the twelve sub-vows known as anupreksas (reflections). These are twelve topics of meditation that cover a wide field of teaching. They help in divine progress, produce detachment, and lead to Nirvana.
In this way Jain ethics prescribes thirty-five rules of conduct for the householder. They are meant for the good of his entire personality. By observing these rules, he comes to possess all of the twenty-one qualities that a fully developed person must manifest.
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