Article: Monastic equipment

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

The items that Jain ascetics carry around are known as upadhi in earlier texts, or, more commonly, as upakaraṇa. It is important to understand that these are not possessions of the monks and nuns, because the principle of non-attachment or non-possession – aparigraha – is a crucial one for Jain mendicants. They do not own these items, which are given to them, and they aim to avoid feelings of attachment or possession towards them. These items are considered necessary for living and, in particular, for living according to religious principles.

This monastic equipment has tended to become an identity marker of asceticism. These items also mark out Digambara mendicants from Śvetāmbara ones. Even among Śvetāmbara mendicants, there are some differences in the practices of various monastic orders – gacchas. The equipment has been the starting point of numerous discussions that parallel the emergence of monastic orders in the medieval period. A vast body of literature is devoted to such topics, which are not as superficial as they may look. These sources are still being explored by scholars today.

These daily utensils are simple. But these days it is not forbidden to embellish them in various ways. Śvetāmbara nuns, in particular, may spend a lot of time in such manual activities and transform some of the implements into true artistic objects. The Terāpanthins are especially proud of this and have collected a number of such objects in the museum of the Jain Vishva Bharati, Ladnun in Rajasthan.

In all sects, the implements are normally not private or individual property. Mendicants get them from the laity. They are parts of the religious gifts – dāna – lay people can offer. Other monks or nuns can also pass on implements to their colleagues. There is a tendency, however, to consider the implements that belonged to a famous monastic figure as kinds of relics.

Inspecting the implements – Sanskrit pratilekhanā, Prakrit paḍilehaṇā – is part of the mendicant’s daily activities. There is a specific rule of behaviour which concerns carefulness in taking and putting down monastic equipment – ādāna-nikṣepa-samiti. The reason is the constant concern of non-violence. It is part of the general attitude of vigilance which a mendicant must have.

The use of the broom and of the mouth-cloth often figure in the accounts of European travellers in the 16th and 17th centuries who happened to cross the path of Jain mendicants and were amazed by them. Even now, these two implements are striking for outsider observers, who see them, often with a slightly mocking condescension, as an extreme application of non-violence.

Literary sources

This detail of an Uttarādhyayana-sūtra manuscript painting shows a Śvetāmbara monk teaching. As the highest-ranking monk, the teacher is the largest figure and sits on a dais. The junior mendicants gesture in homage while a bookstand is between them

Monastic teacher and pupils
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Monastic equipment can be seen today but it has also been described and debated in the texts down the centuries. These sources are of three kinds, namely:

  • Śvetāmbara canonical scriptures and their commentaries, such as the Ogha-niryukti, or the Cheda-sūtras, which are books specifically devoted to the rules for monastic life
  • early Digambara scriptures dealing with Jain monks’ way of life
  • medieval and later Śvetāmbara texts in which each monastic order details the rules of monastic behaviour – sāmācārī – in force among its members, reviews points that have become problematic over time – vicāra – and discusses some of the monastic equipment, such as whether the early scriptures encourage their use and whether mendicants should carry them or not.

These texts contain technical terms and technical details of material culture. They are not always easy to understand and still need to be investigated by scholars. Concerned with the shape and characteristics of the implements, the texts distinguish between proper and improper items. These descriptions and prescriptions combine ethical considerations with more general magical concerns or superstitions. Some basic information, however, is sometimes missing. For example, these texts do not say which type of wood is used for the monastic staff.

Monastic equipment and the concept of possession

This manuscript painting shows monks in a forest. Fully-fledged monks from the Digambara sect are easily identified from their nudity, which signals complete detachment from worldly concerns. They carry only water pots and peacock-feather brooms

Digambara monks walking
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

Non-possession is the theoretical ideal of Jain mendicants and thus monastic equipment should not be thought of as items that the monks and nuns own. These monastic tools are thought to be the minimum necessary to achieving proper religious life.

The Digambaras take the idea of non-possession literally, believing that monastic equipment should never be more than the minimum. Rejecting clothes and therefore practising total nudity, achieved by their most advanced ascetics, is the most conspicuous sign of this view. The only two objects they admit are necessary are the monastic broom and the water pot.

Śvetāmbaras promote a different interpretation of possession and non-possession – for them parigraha is attachment or feeling of ownership. Thus it is not related to the number of items of monastic equipment. They are all needed for the protection of living beings and they are not ornaments. There is, however, a line between objects required permanently and those that are occasional or secondary. This line is drawn at different points by the various monastic orders, and partly accounts for the fact that the equipment varies among the main Śvetāmbara groups of Mūrti-pūjaka, Sthānaka-vāsin and Terāpanthin.

Whatever the items are, this equipment is not property as such. The newly initiated mendicant receives equipment from the laity or other monks. Even if the items carry an identifying mark, they should not become objects of psychological attachment.

Monastic equipment as identity markers

Barefoot and dressed in three simple white garments, Śvetāmbara monks are surrounded by their monastic equipment – upakaraṇa – which consists of brooms, staffs and begging bowls. Every day the monks beg alms from the lay community.

Śvetāmbara monks and equipment
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

Jains see monastic equipment as outside signs – liṅga – of sectarian identity. Such attitudes are common in many religions. Lengthy debates on the validity of this or that implement are a common topic in the literature from the 14th century onwards.

While being naked or clothed is the quickest way to distinguish between monks< of the two main sects of Śvetāmbara and Digambara, there are other identifying signs. The use of a begging bowl and water pot, and differences in the mouth-cloths and monastic brooms reveal monks’ sectarian identity. Within these two main groupings, the smaller sects also use equipment that marks out their monastic order from others. Items such as bookstands, staffs and seats are used by Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjaka ascetics.

Clothing

Digambara monks live naked and without possessions as part of their renunciation of the 'householder' life. After they take religious vows to become wandering ascetics, Digambara monks use only a water gourd and a peacock-feather broom to sweep insects

Digambara monk sitting cross-legged
Image by Jainworld © Jainworld.com

This has become the most obvious way to differentiate Śvetāmbara and Digambara mendicants, who form the two main Jain sectarian traditions. Śvetāmbara means ‘white-clad’ while the latter means ‘sky-clad’ – that is, naked.

However, nudity applies only to certain Digambara monks – the munis. It applies neither to their nuns – āryikās – nor to those who are not considered full monks or nuns – kṣullakas and kṣullikās. Practising total nudity is considered part of being able to renounce all possessions and live without attachment to anything. In 19th-century British India, nudity was seen as disturbing and this attitude is said to partly explain the reduction in the number of Digambara monks in that period. In today’s India this feeling is also occasionally found so that Digambara monks sometimes avoid public places in daytime. Among the Jains, however, nudity produces great respect because only those who are capable of full detachment from worldly matters can practise it in total freedom.

In Śvetāmbara early scriptures, there is some flexibility regarding the connection of clothes to the idea of non-possession. As suggested by the name, Śvetāmbara monastic robes are white. In Western Indian manuscript paintings of the medieval period, the robe of the Śvetāmbara mendicants is depicted as white or transparent with white dots. In later times, the robe is simply shown as white, as it is today.

Śvetāmbara ascetics are allowed to wear three garments – two of cotton, worn inside, and one of wool, worn on top. But the rules on clothing vary according to the status of the mendicant, the age of the texts discussing it and the practice of various monastic orders. The simple clothes are plainly stitched, then folded and wrapped around the body. The mendicants wear the complete outfit whenever they go out of their lodgings.

From time immemorial Jain mendicants have walked barefoot. In recent years, however, a minority has started wearing cotton sandals or socks. This development is usually witnessed only among aged or suffering monks or nuns, but some younger ones wear them, especially in winter in North India.

Alms bowl or begging bowl

Made of gourds, wood or clay, Śvetāmbara begging bowls – pātra – are usually red or dark orange and are often stacked up inside each other when not being used. String is wound around jars for liquids to create carrying handles.

Śvetāmbara monastic bowls
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

This implement is used by Śvetāmbara mendicants to receive and eat the food donated by lay Jains. The Digambara mendicants eat directly from their hands. Hence they are known as pāṇi-pātra – ‘having hands as recipient’.

The common word used for the alms bowl is the Sanskrit pātra, which simply means ‘recipient’.

The bowls used by the Śvetāmbara monks are made of gourds, wood or clay. They are coated using sesame oil, at least in olden times (Deo 1956: 267). Today, begging bowls are generally red or dark orange. But among the Ancala-gaccha, one of the prominent Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjaka orders, they are black.

Bowls of different sizes can be piled up one inside the other like Russian dolls. A specific vessel for liquids can also be used. There are various articles connected with the begging bowl, such as a piece of string to use as a carrying handle. Details of these are provided in the Ogha-niryukti or Cheda-sūtras and in the scriptures.

An ornamental motif such as an auspicious symbol or a small design is sometimes painted on the bowls, for decoration. It may be used to distinguish the bowls used by different mendicants. However, according to the vow of non-possession, a bowl is not the private property of a particular individual.

Water pot

Śvetāmbara mendicants carry water or any liquid that they have received as alms in their begging bowls.

Mendicants in the Digambara tradition drink water in their interlaced fingers when receiving alms. But they also carry a special water pot containing boiled water for toilet purposes. This is usually referred to as a kamaṇḍalu.

Monastic broom

Detail of a Śvetāmbara monastic broom – rajoharaṇa or oghā. Each Jain monk and nun carries a broom with which to sweep the ground before sitting or lying down. This avoids harming living beings, which is against the key principle of ahiṃsā or non-violence

Detail of a Śvetāmbara broom
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

All Jain mendicants use a broom, regardless of their monastic order. They use it in all their daily activities and it never leaves their side. This is why it is so striking for observers in the past or present. Mendicants use the broom to 'sweep the area before sitting or lying down in order to avoid harming insects and minute forms of life' (Wiley 2004: 177).

Śvetāmbara mendicants use a broom 'made of long strands of soft white wool that are attached to a short wooden handle' (Wiley 2004: 177). This is called by either the Sanskrit term rajoharaṇa or the Prakrit word oghā. The size of the broom differs among the monastic orders. Among the Sthānaka-vāsins, who do not use the monastic staff, the broom has a much longer handle than among the Mūrti-pūjakas. The latter sometimes wrap the handle in a cloth decorated with the eight auspicious symbols.

Digambara mendicants use a broom made of peacock-tail feathers, shed naturally by the birds. It is known by the Sanskrit word picchikā or its modern equivalent – piñchī. The feathers are arranged in a circle and attached to a short handle.

Mouth-cloth

A group of Jain nuns walks barefoot up a hill. Dressed in white robes with their heads covered, they all wear cloths fixed over their mouths, attached by strings over the ears. This identifies them as either Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsin or Terā-panthin nuns.

Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsin or Terā-panthin nuns
Image by arjunstc – Arjun © CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

The Sanskrit word for this piece of mendicant equipment is mukhavastrikā – ‘mouth-cloth’ – but the modern form – muṃhpatti – is more commonly used. Traditionally, this is a small rectangular piece of cotton which the mendicant keeps in front of his mouth when he or she speaks.

The mouth-cloth is intended to:

  • prevent minute living beings from entering the mouth and being killed or hurt
  • protect wind-bodied beings, which are one-sensed living beings according to the Jain classifications of life, when breathing out.

In many paintings of ascetics the mouth-cloth is depicted as a small white rectangle, which is easily recognisable.

The way to use the mouth-covering has been the subject of several debates over time. The result is that today it has become a marker of sectarian identity.

Mouth-cloth use among Śvetāmbara ascetics

Mendicant group

Mouth-cloth usage

Mūrti-pūjaka

When conditions indicate a need – temporary use

Sthānaka-vāsin

Permanently covers the mouth and is fixed to the ears with strings

Terāpanthin

Permanently covers the mouth and is fixed to the ears with strings

Among the Sthānaka-vāsin and Terāpanthin orders the mouth-cloth can be made of a kind of whitish plastic nowadays.

Bookstand

The cloth of this bookstand is embroidered with colourful examples of the auspicious symbol of the svastika.

Monastic bookstand with embroidered svastikas
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

The term 'bookstand' is a convenient though partly inadequate equivalent of the Sanskrit word sthāpanācārya. It means literally ‘substitute teacher’ and is used among Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjaka mendicants.

The bookstand consists of four sticks of wood bound together about halfway down, which open out either side of the binding. This enables the bookstand to support its own weight and creates an empty space between the upper sticks. This space is occupied by a piece of cloth tied to each of the wooden sticks. Today five cowrie shells wrapped in cloth are tied to the stand. They represent the Five Supreme Entitiespañca-parameṣṭhin. This detail is not found in earlier times, as shown in depictions of bookstands in Jain manuscripts.

The bookstand is placed in front of the mendicant when he or she performs various religious acts, such as confession or repentance – pratikramaṇa – and is alone. It represents the absent teacher and, more generally, the whole mendicant community. During preaching, a manuscript or book is placed on it, even when the ascetic’s teacher or other mendicants are present.

Monastic staff

The monastic staff and broom of a Śvetāmbara mendicant lean against shelves in a corner. Monks and nuns in the Śvetāmbara sect use alms bowls, staffs and brooms as their monastic equipment – upakaraṇa

Śvetāmbara monastic equipment
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

Ascetics from Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjaka orders carry a long wooden staff, known by the Sanskrit word daṇḍa. Mendicants in other Śvetāmbara orders, such as the Sthānaka-vāsins and the Terāpanthins, do not use a staff. Over the centuries Śvetāmbara Jains have had some debates about this implement.

In today’s practice, the staff is made of a variety of woods, particularly sīsam (Dalbergia sisoo), which is hard and long lasting. It has various shades, ranging from beige and light brown to dark brown. The top part can be decorated with a svastika, one of the most important auspicious symbols. The length depends on the mendicant’s height because when held upright the staff should reach the forehead. The staff is about 5 centimetres in diameter.

The staff was originally meant for protection. Mendicants travel only on foot and often have to cross wilderness. A passage of an old canonical Śvetāmbara scripture from the Ācārānga-sūtra describes Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina, walking among hostile people and carrying a staff as protection against dogs. He obviously did not harm anyone, but having a stick was enough to deter potential attackers.

Nowadays mendicants use the staff as a tool when walking, for instance to help estimate water depth. Since it is human height, a staff could also have been used like a gnomon, a time-measuring instrument that uses the length of shadows.

Mendicants carry the staff when they go outside, especially when begging alms. On these occasions they have to wear their full equipment. They hold the bowls in their right hand and the staff in their left. They do the same when they are wanderingvihāra.

When ascetics are in their lodgings – upāśraya – the staff is either kept outside resting on the wall or inside in a corner. It is primarily an implement for outdoors.

The top of the staff is an elaborately sculpted knob in four parts. This can be seen in manuscript illustrations. In recent times the decoration on the staff has taken on religious symbolism that makes it more than a mere practical object. Each part is understood in cosmic and doctrinal terms.

Symbols on the mendicant staff

Part of staff

Symbol

small cone

Mount Meru

triple circle

the three worlds or the three jewels

water jug – kalaśa

also found on Jain temples

five rings

five supreme entities or the five great vows

This symbolism does not seem to be found in literature earlier than the 20th century but it is familiar to present-day mendicants, who pass it on orally.

Thus the staff is also a physical emblem of the Jain universe and Jain teachings.

Seats

Mendicants usually sit on the ground itself, after having checked with the monastic broom that they will not hurt any living creature by doing so.

Religious teachers of some rank use a higher seat when preaching. This is a kind of large stool or raised platform. Junior mendicants should always sit lower.

Other objects

A common sight in India, nuns in pairs or small groups walk along the road. Jain mendicants undertake the wandering life – vihāra – which means walking miles most days to find accommodation and alms. They carry monastic equipment in bundles and bags.

Nuns carry their mendicant equipment
Image by Sam Syverson © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Śvetāmbara mendicants going along the roads and carrying bundles wrapped in cotton cloth in their hands or on their shoulders are a commonplace sight in northern, central and western India. When they practise vihāra they take all their monastic equipment and other items. Apart from the usual monastic equipment, they may carry manuscripts, printed books or personal notebooks.

When these bundles are too numerous or too heavy, or when the group of walking mendicants is large, they can be carried in a small van that follows the ascetics. All these practical arrangements are made by the local lay communities.

Images

  • Monastic teacher and pupils This detail of a painting from an Uttarādhyayana-sūtra manuscript depicts a senior Śvetāmbara monk teaching. As the highest-ranking monk, the teacher is the largest figure and sits on a dais while the junior mendicants make a gesture of homage. The teacher has a bookstand – sthāpanācārya – in front of him, symbolising his teaching. . Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • Digambara monks walking This manuscript painting depicts Digambara monks walking in a forest. Fully-fledged monks from the Digambara sect are easily identified from their nudity, which signals complete detachment from worldly concerns. They carry only their water pots and peacock-feather brooms as monastic equipment. All mendicants have a ‘wandering’ – vihāra – lifestyle.. Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London
  • Śvetāmbara monks and equipment Barefoot and dressed in three simple white garments, Śvetāmbara monks are surrounded by their monastic equipment – upakaraṇa – which consists of brooms, staffs and begging bowls. Every day the monks beg alms from the lay community.. Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir
  • Digambara monk sitting cross-legged Digambara monks live naked and without possessions as part of their renunciation of the 'householder' life. After they take religious vows to become wandering ascetics, Digambara monks use only a water gourd and a peacock-feather broom to sweep insects from their path. Nudity is respected as a sign of advanced spirituality because nude monks show detachment from the world.. Image by Jainworld © Jainworld.com
  • Śvetāmbara monastic bowls Made of gourds, wood or clay, Śvetāmbara begging bowls – pātra – are usually red or dark orange and are often stacked up inside each other when not being used. String is wound around jars for liquids to create carrying handles. Rules on the bowls and jars are set out in scriptures. Monks and nuns are not allowed to cook for themselves so beg alms from the lay community.. Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir
  • Detail of a Śvetāmbara broom Detail of a Śvetāmbara monastic broom – rajoharaṇa or oghā. Each Jain monk and nun carries a broom with which to sweep the ground before sitting or lying down. This avoids accidentally harming living beings, which is against the key principle of ahiṃsā or non-violence. Śvetāmbara brooms are made of thick strands of soft white wool attached to a wooden handle. . Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir
  • Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsin or Terā-panthin nuns A group of Jain nuns walks barefoot up a hill. Dressed in white robes with their heads covered, they all wear cloths fixed over their mouths, attached by strings over the ears. This identifies them as members of either of the Śvetāmbara sects of Sthānaka-vāsin or Terā-panthin.. Image by arjunstc – Arjun © CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
  • Monastic bookstand with embroidered svastikas The cloth of this bookstand is embroidered with colourful examples of the auspicious symbol of the svastika.. Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir
  • Śvetāmbara monastic equipment The monastic staff and broom of a Śvetāmbara mendicant lean against shelves in a corner. Monks and nuns in the Śvetāmbara sect use alms bowls, staffs and brooms as their monastic equipment – upakaraṇa. They must take care not to develop feelings of attachment or possession towards them, because the principle of non-possession – aparigraha – is vital for Jain mendicants. . Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir
  • Nuns carry their mendicant equipment A common sight in parts of India, Jain nuns walk along the side of the road in pairs or small groups. Jain mendicants undertake the wandering life – vihāra – which means walking miles most days to find accommodation and alms. They carry their monastic equipment in bundles and bags dangling from their necks or hands.. Image by Sam Syverson © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Further Reading

‘Le bâton monastique jaina: functions, symbolisme, controverses’
Nalini Balbir
Vividharatnakaraṇḍaka. Festgabe für Adelheid Mette
edited by Christine Chojnacki, Jens-Uwe Hartmann and Volker M. Tschannerl
Indica und Tibetica series; volume 37
Swisttal-Odendorf, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany; 2000

Full details

History of Jaina Monachism from Inscriptions and Literature
Shantaram Bhalchandra Deo
Deccan College Dissertation series; volume 17
Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute; Pune, Maharashtra, India; 1956

Full details

Historical Dictionary of Jainism
Kristi L. Wiley
Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements series; series editor Jon Woronoff; volume 53
Scarecrow Press; Maryland, USA; 2004

Full details

‘Account of the Jainas taken from sixteenth and seventeenth century authors’
Robert Williams
Mahāvīra and His Teachings
edited by A. N. Upadhye, Bal Patil and Dalsukh Malvania
volume VII: 1
Bhagavān Mahāvīra 2500th Nirvāna Mahotsava Samiti; Bombay, Maharashtra, India; 1977

Full details

Glossary

Alms

Food, money, medicine, clothing or anything else given to another person as a religious or charitable act. Asking for and giving alms is a significant part of Jainism, as it forms a daily point of contact between lay people and mendicants. Seeking, donating and receiving alms are highly ritualised ceremonies in the Jain tradition, and spiritual purity is essential for both giver and recipient. Giving alms is a way for lay Jains to gain merit – puṇya.

Aparigraha

Non-possession, or not having an attachment to possessions. It is the fifth of the Five Greater Vows of mendicants and the Five Lesser Vows of lay Jains. 

Ascetic

Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land.

Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.

Commentary

An essay explaining a text. Commentaries on the scriptures are common in the Jain tradition and there are various types, including the:

  • bālāvabodha
  • bhāṣya
  • cūrṇi
  • niryukti
  • ṭīkā.

Confession

Acknowledgement or declaration of the truth of a statement. In religious terms, it usually refers to admitting sin or wrongdoing to at least one other person in a ritual. It is normally a necessary step before absolution, which is formal release from guilt or consequences of wrongdoing.

Digambara

'Sky-clad' in Sanskrit, used for one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which monks are naked. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.

Doctrine

A principle or system of teachings, especially religious philosophy.

Donor

A donor gives freely. He or she may give alms to a mendicant or money to an institution. This donation may be for specific items or purposes, such as the creation of art. A donor, sponsor or patron may be named or pictured in the artwork.

Initiation

Formal or ceremonial admission into an organisation or group.

Jina

A 'victor' in Sanskrit, a Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over karma and teaches the way to achieve liberation. A synonym for Tīrthaṃkara, which means 'ford-maker' or one who has founded a community after reaching omniscience through asceticism. The most famous 24 – Ṛṣabha to Mahāvīra – were born in the Bharata-kṣetra of the middle world, but more are found in other continents. There have been Jinas in the past and there will be some in the future.

Kṣullaka

Title given among Digambaras to a lay person who has taken the vows and observes the same strict rules as a monk but does not practise nudity.

Laity

Believers in a religion who are ordinary worshippers, not clergy or members of religious orders. In Jainism, lay people are often called 'householders', indicating that they live in houses and have domestic responsibilities, unlike ascetics.

Monastic order

A single-sex group of ascetics that vows to follow rules set out by a founding religious teacher. They formally renounce the world to become monks and nuns. They usually have a hierarchy of leaders at different levels to govern them.

Monk

A man who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to formally enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, monks perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.

Mūrti-pūjaka

Jains who venerate and worship images of Jinas in temples.

Nudity

The Digambara mendicants are 'sky-clad' because they believe that all the Jinas and their male ascetic followers went nude as part of their vow of renunciation. This vow entails renouncing all possessions, including clothing. Female Digambara ascetics wear white saris and are thus technically spiritually advanced celibate laywomen. Śvetāmbara mendicants of both sexes, however, wear white clothing. The difference of opinion over whether the vow of non-possession includes clothing was one reason for the Jain community's split into these two major sects early in the Common Era.

Nun

A woman who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, nuns perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.

Parameṣṭhin

The ‘supreme beings’ in Sanskrit, also known as the pañca-parameṣṭhin or 'Five Supreme Beings'. A term for the categories of teachers who are paid homage in the Namaskāra-mantra:

  • enlightened teachers – Arhats
  • liberated souls – siddhas
  • mendicant leaders – ācāryas
  • mendicant tutors – upādhyāyas
  • mendicants – sādhus.

Penance

A voluntary action undertaken to make up for a sin or breach of a religious principle, frequently an act of self-punishment or physical hardship.

Prākrit

A term for any of the dead vernacular languages of ancient and medieval India. It may be contrasted with classical Sanskrit, the language used by priests and the aristocracy. The Jains used a large variety of Prakrits, with the Jain canon written chiefly in Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit.

Preach

To deliver a speech on a religious topic, usually given by a prophet or member of the clergy. It may be a formal task of a religious office or open to all believers in a religious faith. Often covering social and moral subjects, preaching may be intended to:

  • remind hearers of religious principles and rules
  • encourage piety
  • persuade non-believers of the correctness of the preacher's religious beliefs.

Renunciation

Giving up something. A lay person who becomes an ascetic renounces the life of a householder within society, instead choosing the physical hardships of being a monk or nun. The formal renunciation ceremony in Jainism is dīkṣā.

Sāgāra

Sanskrit term meaning 'with a home’ – that is, a ‘householder’ or lay Jain. A synonym for a lay person, emphasising that he or she is a member of a household, with responsibilities to the family, community and society that a Jain mendicant does not have.

Sanskrit

A classical language of India, originally used by priests and nobility. Sanskrit has a rich literary and religious tradition. With only a few thousand native speakers nowadays, it is predominantly used in Hindu religious ceremonies and by scholars.

Scripture

Set of sacred texts that believers accept as authoritative within a religion. Synonymous with canon.

Sect

An organised group of believers in a religion, often distinguished from other groups within the same religious faith who have differences of doctrine or practice.

Sthānaka-vāsin

The Sanskrit phrase meaning ‘hall-dwellers’ is used for a Śvetāmbara movement that opposes the worship of images and the building of temples. The term Sthānaka-vāsī, whose origin remains unclear, came into widespread use in the early 20th century. The movement's roots can be traced to the 15th-century reform movement initiated by Loṅkā Śāh, from which the founders of the Sthānaka-vāsī traditions separated in the 17th century. Sthānaka-vāsīns practise mental worship through meditation. The lay members venerate living ascetics, who are recognisable from the mouth-cloth – muhpattī – they wear constantly.

Śvetāmbara

'White-clad’ in Sanskrit, the title of one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which both male and female mendicants wear white robes. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.

Śvetāmbara Terāpanthin

A subsect of the Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsin, which originated in Rajasthan in the 18th century. The Terāpanthin do not worship images. One of the sect's best-known leaders was Ācārya Tulsī, who created a new category of ascetics in 1980. These samaṇ and samaṇī are allowed to travel using mechanised transport and to use money.

Upāśraya

Dwelling-hall near a Jain temple where wandering ascetics stay. They may stay for a short time during their travels or for the long rainy season. There is usually a main room where lay Jains come to listen to sermons. Lay people may also perform fasts here, such as upadhāna tapas or rituals such as posadha that involve leaving household activities for a while.

Vihāra

A Sanskrit term that describes the wandering lifestyle of Jain mendicants. Jain monks and nuns are expected to travel around, not stay in one place as householders do. They wander constantly on foot, never staying more than a few days in one place. They may walk around 30 kilometres a day in small groups. However, every year, during the monsoon, monks and nuns stay in one location to avoid travelling.

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