Article: Mendicant lifestyle

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Life in the rainy season

White-clad nuns from the Aṅcala-gaccha sect receive alms from lay women. Śvetāmbara Mūrtipūjak monks and nuns beg alms twice a day. Finding suitable alms that are correctly offered may take hours.

Lay women give alms to nuns
Image by Khetshi N. Shah © Khetshi N. Shah

Called caturmāsa in Sanskrit and comāsa in Gujarati, the rainy season lasts from June or July up to October or November each year.

The rainy season is traditionally considered unsuitable for wandering for three main reasons. Mendicants traditionally only go on foot and for the practical reasons of floods, muddy roads and so on travelling is very difficult during this period. It is also a time when numerous minute beings are born because of the combined warmth and humidity. Hence it is believed that hurting living beings is much easier, which makes it easier to accidentally break the fundamental Jain principle of non-violence. Limiting one’s movements is a way to counteract this risk. Finally, staying in one place enables mendicants to meet the local lay communities daily, through preaching, begging alms and so on. Thus lay people are more inclined to study or to keep additional dietary restrictions and so on.

Daily activities

Jain ascetics do various things each day, ranging from seeking alms to performing the six rituals of a mendicant. They may also have other religious duties, although customs vary in the different sects and monastic orders.

Gathering alms

In this detail of a painting from an 18th-century Ādityavāra-kathā manuscript, a monk receives alms. Though dressed in white like a Śvetāmbara mendicant, the monk makes the ritual gestures of the Digambara sect

Monk receives alms
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Jain mendicants are not allowed to cook food themselves. They are also not allowed to get it cooked by anybody in the premises where they stay. Thus they have to go to lay people’s houses to get food.

The begging tour takes place twice a day for Śvetāmbara mendicants – once in the morning, and once in the afternoon. Digambara ascetics seek alms once a day. Finding correctly offered alms that are suitable may take hours. However, all food has to be eaten before sunset.

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