Article: The 'Perfect Ascetic'

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

'Ten conditions of perfect chastity'

A set of prescriptions has been devised to help monks renounce women completely and become better ascetics. The rules aim to force male ascetics to avoid everything to do with women, whether directly or indirectly, so that no doubt or temptation may arise in their minds.

Chapter 16 of the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra lists 'the ten conditions of perfect chastity'. Note that the last four conditions do not relate to women directly, but are concerned with causes of excitement or passions that are contrary to the right path.

Ten 'conditions of perfect chastity'

Number

Condition

1

Monks should not sleep or rest in places where women go

2

Male mendicants should not speak to women

3

Ascetics should not sit on the same seat as a woman

4

Monks should not look at or think about female charms and beauty

5

Male mendicants should not listen to women screaming, singing, laughing, giggling or crying

6

Ascetics should not recall the pleasure and amusements they enjoyed with women in the past

7

Mendicants should not eat well-dressed or tasty food

8

Ascetics should not eat or drink too much

9

Mendicants should not wear ornaments, lest they become objects of desire

10

Ascetics should not care for sounds, colours, tastes, smells and feelings

Penance

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

One efficient way to destroy the karmas that have entered an ascetic’s soul is for him or her to practise penances or austerities – tapas. There are 12 types, detailed in Chapter 30 of the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra.

Six varieties are external, and relate to control of food or mortification of the body.

Six external austerities for mendicants

1

fasting – anaśana

2

limiting the quantity of food before being full – avamodarikā

3

restrictions in gathering almsbhikṣā-caryā

4

avoiding tasty food, sauces and so on – rasa-parityāga

5

mortification of the flesh – kāya

6

living in isolated places – saṃlīnatā

The other six varieties of austerities are internal. Some are concerned with areas covered in categories mentioned above.

Six internal austerities for mendicants

1

expiation of sins and lapses – prāyaścitta

2

politeness or humility – vinaya

3

serving the teacher and other senior monksvaiyāvṛtya

4

study – svādhyāya

5

meditation – dhyāna

6

rejection of the body – kāyotsarga – which means remaining motionless in whatever position one is.

Fasting unto death

How Jains die is important because their mental state at this time determines their destiny in the next birth. They are also advised to avoid living in circumstances that would stop them from keeping vows or performing required duties. For these reasons, control over one’s death is recommended to all Jains, especially mendicants. What Jains call sallekhanā – 'thinning out' – or anaśana – fasting to death – implies gradually giving up food and liquids. This is believed to purify the mind and destroy all negative karma and passions. It is a difficult thing to do and must be an individual’s choice. Fasting to death is not common among lay Jains and is known as 'a sage’s death':

Death against one’s will is that of ignorant men, and it happens to the same individual many times. Death with one’s will is that of wise men, and at best it happens but once.

Uttarādhyayana-sūtra, chapter 5, verse 3
translation by Hermann Jacobi

The mendicant who decides to die in this way generally goes to a secluded place on a hilltop, because high places are considered holy. Inscriptions and memorials found in places such as Shravana Belgola are evidence of this practice. It is still a part of mendicant life today, especially among Digambaras, and is considered to be something remarkable.

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