Article: Mendicant lifestyle

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Six daily obligatory rituals

Śvetāmbara nuns meditate in front of a cloth-wrapped bookstand, used to hold scriptures. To Jains, meditation helps purify the soul of karma and is thus vital for spiritual progress. It is a daily obligatory duty – āvaśyaka – for mendicants.

Śvetāmbara nuns meditate
Image by Claude Renault © CC BY 2.0

The six rituals each mendicant is obliged to complete every day are known as āvaśyaka – ‘necessary, required’:

  1. serenity – sāmāyika
  2. praise of the 24 Jinas
  3. offering worship and respect towards mendicants
  4. repentance – pratikramaṇa
  5. rejection of the body – kāyotsarga
  6. vowing special austerities for the future.

The most important is the ritual of repentance – pratikramaṇa – which takes place at regular periods, at least twice a day.

Other activities

Mendicants usually do other things during the day. What they do depends on the monastic order, the place of an ascetic within this order, the sex of the mendicant, age and other factors.

Studying

This painting from an Uttarādhyayana-sūtra manuscript illustrates a Śvetāmbara monastic teacher and pupils. As the senior monk, the teacher is the largest figure and sits on a dais under an ornate canopy. The lower-ranking mendicants pay homage to him

Monastic teacher
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Ascetics may read and study the scriptures or other subjects, such as grammar, poetry and philosophy. Whether they do this very much depends on the monastic order to which they belong.

Some monastic orders support it for all ascetics while others do not encourage it for nuns. Yet others make a point of promoting female mendicants’ education.

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