Article: Aṅgas

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

The primary set of Śvetāmbara canonical scriptures is called the Aṅgas, from the Sanskrit for ‘limbs’. These main texts are complemented by the Aṅgabāhyas – ‘not limbs’. According to tradition there are 12 Aṅgas, all written in forms of Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit, although one has been believed lost since the earliest times.

Śvetāmbara Jains maintain that the Aṅgas contain the teachings of the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra. These were initially passed on orally, with their final written form established nearly a thousand years later in the Aṅgas and other texts in the Śvetāmbara canon. The other chief Jain sect, the Digamabaras, counts different texts in its canon, which they call the Siddhānta.

The Aṅgas are written in Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit, with variations depending on the work. Although the 11 works form a single unit, they contain materials composed at different times. All the Aṅgas use various methods to pass on the teachings, mainly sermons, dialogues, parables and stories. Chiefly in prose, the Aṅgas also contain ‘ascetic poetry’, which is verse on subjects connected with Jain mendicants. The texts can be categorised into two groups.

Aṅgas numbered 6, 7, 8, 9 and 11 can be considered to make up the ‘story Aṅgas’ because they chiefly use tales and parables to pass on Jain teachings. The stories usually describe the course of various characters’ lives, demonstrating how fundamental Jain beliefs work. A single soul is followed as it is born in various bodies in different parts of the Jain universe and goes through a course of adventures. The tales show how karma works in the cycle of rebirth and provides inspiration to make spiritual progress towards liberation.

The other six Aṅgas – numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 10 – also contain story elements but do not fall into such a neat category. They can be termed ‘reference Aṅgas’ because they are mostly compilations of detailed information important to the practice and philosophy of Jainism. Their chief concerns are:

  • the rules governing the lives of mendicants
  • the principles of Jain doctrine
  • key subjects in the Jain faith, such as cosmology and ethics.

This is also the only place to find certain information about the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra.

As with many Jain scriptures, the Aṅgas have long been a focus of scholarly attention. Learned monks have produced commentaries on many of the Aṅgas almost since they were first written down early in the Common Era. Composed in many languages and forms, commentaries appear in several identifiable styles. This body of work has been vital in aiding the transmission of the Aṅgas down the years, creating a vibrant tradition of examining and interpreting the texts for different generations. With mendicants and scholars in the present day continuing this activity, the commentaries comprise a valuable source of information on the history and development of philosophical and religious concepts, language and practices.

Number and titles

According to the Jain tradition, the Aṅgas are 12 in number. The oldest sources refer to them as ‘the basket of the gaṇadharas which has 12 components’. This is also the case in Aṅga Number 4, which describes the contents of each of the texts. However, Number 12, the title of which is supposed to have been Dṛṣṭi-vāda, was lost rather early. Thus the Aṅgas have numbered 11 since before they were first written down in the fifth century. This is therefore the standard number referred to, for instance, when a canonical scripture says that a given character was a model Jain mendicant because he studied the 11 Aṅgas. This number also appears in Digambara sources. In fact, even though the Digambara sect recognises other writings as canonical, it does not totally reject the Aṅgas.

The titles of the Aṅgas can be understood in various ways. This table gives rough equivalents.

Eleven Aṅgas of the Śvetāmbara canon

Number

Prakrit title

Sanskrit title

Translated meanings

1

Āyāraṃga

Ācārāṅga

‘On monastic conduct’

2

Sūyagaḍa

Sūtrakṛtāṅga

‘On heretical systems and views’
Prakrit sūya is an equivalent of the Sanskrit sūci – ‘[wrong] views’

3

Ṭhāṇaṃga

Sthānāṅga

‘On different points [of the teaching]’

4

Samavāyaṃga

Samavāyāṅga

‘On “rising numerical groups”’ (Kapadia 1941: 126)

5

Viyāha-pannatti or Bhagavaī

Vyākhyā-prajñapti or Bhagavatī

‘Exposition of explanations’ or ‘the holy one’

6

Nāyā-dhamma-kahāo

Jñāta-dharmakathānga

‘Parables and religious stories’

7

Uvāsaga-dasāo

Upāsaka-daśāḥ

‘Ten chapters on the Jain lay follower’

8

Antagaḍa-dasāo

Antakṛd-daśāḥ

‘Ten chapters on those who put an end to rebirth in this very life’

9

Aṇuttarovavāiya-dasāo

Anuttaropapātika-daśāḥ

‘Ten chapters on those who were reborn in the uppermost heavens’

10

Paṇha-vāgaraṇa

Praśna-vyākaraṇa

‘Questions and explanations’

11

Vivāga-suya

Vipākaśruta

‘Bad or good results of deeds performed’

The name of each work is generally followed by the generic Sanskrit term sūtra or Prakrit term sutta, thus it is the Āyāraṅga-sutta or Ācārānga-sūtra, for example. In this context, it lacks the technical meaning of sūtra and is an equivalent of the term ‘sacred scripture’, designating long texts. In the case of the holy text of the Tattvārtha-sūtra, however, the word has its usual technical meaning in Sanskrit literature, meaning it is written in concise aphorisms.

Language

The statue of Māhavīra is decorated for Māhavīr Jayantī at the Śvetāmbara temple in Potters Bar, England. Celebrated in March to April, the festival of Māhavīr Jayantī commemorates the birth of the 24th Jina, Māhavīra. The festival is celebrated by all Ja

Māhavīra decorated
Image by Ravin Mehta © Ravin Mehta

The 11 Aṅgas are written in Prakrit. Although they form a set, they are not all written in the same dialect of Prakrit, nor in the same style. Scholars have recognised that some parts are older than others. Among the oldest parts are the first book of Aṅga Number 1 and some parts of Aṅga Number 2. In Aṅga Number 5 researchers have distinguished the nucleus from various additions.

The Prakrit dialect used in the oldest parts is Ardhamāgadhī, which is associated with the region of eastern India where Mahāvīra preached originally. In more recent parts, the language shows salient features of the Jaina Māhārāṣṭrī dialect. This is associated with western India, where followers of the Jinas migrated and the Śvetāmbara Jain canon was finally put into writing in the fifth century CE.

Literary styles

This painting from an Uttarādhyayana-sūtra manuscript shows Śvetāmbara monks listening to a senior mendicant. The teacher is the largest figure, indicating his importance, and he sits on a low dais with a bookstand – sthāpanācārya – in front

Senior monk teaching
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The 11 texts that make up the class of scriptures known as the Aṅgas displays a variety of literary forms and styles.

Aṅgas Numbers 3 to 11 are written in prose. The style of prose used in the Aṅgas has several characteristics. Often referred to as ‘canonical prose’, the style relies heavily on repetition and stock descriptions. These allow full descriptions of situations and characters to be referred to directly in the texts of other writings in the Śvetāmbara canon. These other writings are mainly the Aṅgas but also their complementary works, the Upāṅgas. The two sets of teachings thus form a larger group of texts that draws on a close knowledge of all the works to make sense of each one. They must be thought of as closely connected texts that cannot be considered separate items.

Poetry is also found in the Aṅgas. Verse is used in the final section of Aṅga Number 4 and also in several parts of Aṅgas Number 1 and 2. The contrast between archaic metrical forms and other metres has helped scholars distinguish between very old and newer passages or sections of these works.

The Aṅgas use a variety of formats to transmit the teachings. The traditional dialogue and question-and-answer formats are the dominant ones. The texts most commonly follow Indian literary traditions that feature a teacher and pupil talking about a philosophical topic. These techniques expose various sides of the subject and allow for argument and counter-argument. They also foreground the oral aspect of the teachings.

Other favourite methods of passing on key points in Jain belief are the parable and story. Particularly useful to illustrate a concept and its workings, these techniques are effective at all levels of understanding.

Canonical prose

This detail of a manuscript painting shows the universal gathering – samavasaraṇa. When a Jina reaches omniscience, he sits in a samavasaraṇa the gods have built for him. The term is also used for the gathering of animals, humans and gods that listen.

An omniscient Jina preaches
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The prose of the Aṅgas is sometimes called canonical prose, and uses a specific style and phraseology. Repetition and stereotypical descriptions are features of this style.

There are many sentences that use patterns such as ‘he approached X, after having approached X he said, after having said, he…’. Another feature is the use of series of quasi-synonyms instead of a single word as a way to emphasise something.

This canonical prose has numerous set descriptions, called varṇakas, which describe a city, a beautiful lady, a park, an ascetic, a universal gathering and so on. A specific stylistic form associated with these descriptions is the veḍha. These are long descriptive compounds arranged to form metrical units.

Such descriptions are stereotyped and can be used in different texts. This explains why there is a lot of cross-referencing between the different Aṅgas, as well as between the Aṅgas and the complementary texts called the Upāṅgas – the ‘auxiliary limbs’ of the Śvetāmbara canon. Each of these works should not be viewed as a closed and independent unit. All the Aṅgas and Upāṅgas form an intertextual network.

For instance, the first chapter of Aṅga Number 6 devotes a lot of space to the episode where Prince Megha asks permission to renounce worldly life and become a monk. He and his parents have a lengthy dialogue on the subject. In other similar situations the text will say ‘like Megha’ and the reader will know where the detailed passage is found. There are many techniques for shortening descriptions of stock situations or individuals in this way. Another case is that of Skandhaka, whose story is told in Aṅga Number 5. His life as a ‘perfect ascetic’ serves as a reference for depicting the behaviour of any exemplary ascetic.

Ascetic poetry

Though the majority of the Aṅgas is prose, verse is also used. It is often known as ‘ascetic poetry’ mainly because it is on matters to do with mendicants.

Verses can be found in the last section of the fourth Aṅga and in several parts of the first two works.

Aṅga Numbers 1 and 2 in particular are specimens of ascetic poetry. Among the most famous passages are:

Dialogues and question-and-answer formats

Indrabhūti Gautama in a painting from a 15th-century Śvetāmbara manuscript. The chief disciple of the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra, Gautama is an important Jain figure and features in many scriptures and tales.

Indrabhūti Gautama
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Traditional Indian formats for philosophical works are dominant in the Aṅgas. Philosophical texts in Indian culture historically use two main methods to present information. Firstly, a master and his follower have a dialogue discussing the subject thoroughly. Secondly, the guru and his pupil follow a question-and-answer format. The pupil may effectively be a surrogate for the reader or audience of the text.

The Aṅgas primarily follow the traditional dialogue and question-and-answer formats. Though the dialogues may be formalised, the consistent use of these modes of presentation plunges the reader directly into intellectual debates. It also underlines the importance of orality in passing on Jain beliefs.

Mahāvīra is the chief teacher in the Aṅgas. His major direct interlocutor is Indrabhūti Gautama, his chief disciple. Gautama features in several works and is prominent, for instance, in Aṅga Number 5.

The setting frame of many of the Aṅgas begins with the elders Jambū and Sudharman in conversation. Usually, Jambū asks Sudharman what Mahāvīra teaches in the given work. After Indrabhūti’s omniscience, Sudharman was the sole leader of the monastic community Mahāvīra founded. He taught his disciple Jambū what he had learnt from Mahāvīra himself. According to tradition Sudharman taught for 12 years after Mahāvīra’s death and in the 13th year reached omniscience.

Jambū’s questioning takes the following standard forms:

  • what is the name of this Aṅga?
  • how many chapters does it have?
  • what are the names of these chapters?

Then Sudharman answers. What he then tells his disciple forms the text itself. Examples of this framing device can be found in Aṅgas Numbers 2, 8, 9, 11.

In the narrative Aṅgas, which are made up of Numbers 6, 7, 8, 9 and 11, the characters are in permanent dialogue with monastic teachers. Hearing mendicants’ teachings is the reason they wish to become monks themselves. When they want to undertake special penances, they request permission from mendicants as well.

Parables and stories

In Indian culture, the lotus flower symbolises spiritual purity and detachment from the material world. It features in many stories, including a famous parable Mahāvīra tells about following the right path to truth.

White lotus
Image by Haha169 © public domain

Parables and stories are also favourite means of passing on the teachings. They contain familiar examples or exciting narratives to make or explain a possibly complex point or sophisticated concept. Stories form the bulk of Aṅgas Numbers 6, 7, 8, 9 and 11, which are discussed in more depth in the article dedicated to story Aṅgas.

In the Ācārānga and Sūtrakṛtānga, the methods of Mahāvīra’s teachings are emphasised. They include the use of parables, comparisons and examples of all kinds.

A well-known example of one of Mahāvīra’s parables is that of the lotus, found in Sūtrakṛtānga II. 1. Four men come from the cardinal directions and try in turn to enter the pool to fetch the beautiful flower, but all get stuck in the mud. A monk comes along. Realising that the men’s method is not the right one, he stays on the shore and shouts: ‘O white lotus, fly up!’ The flower flies up so he can grasp it. This parable is then explained systematically. The four men represent heretics of various creeds.

The 11 Aṅgas

With numerous common elements, such as language and purpose, the 11 Aṅgas form an interwoven set of holy writings. To best understand each text, familiarity with the others is necessary and thus the Aṅgas should ideally be considered as a whole. Even so, these scriptures can be divided into two categories.

The first category can be thought of as the ‘story Aṅgas’, because the literary forms of narratives and parables are characteristic of these works. The second category is looser, linked less by form and style than by intention and scope. These texts can be labelled the ‘reference Aṅgas’.

Story Aṅgas

The types of human lives are shown in this painting from a manuscript. The length of life and many of the experiences of a lifetime are determined by karma, which comes mainly from behaviour in previous lives.

Kinds of human lives
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Aṅgas number 6, 7, 8, 9 and 11 are the story Aṅgas. These five scriptures underline the importance of narratives as a crucial medium to teach the doctrine in practice. They chiefly comprise life sketches featuring men and women from various backgrounds, though short parables are also a favourite form.

The purpose is to show how an individual’s behaviour determines future births, which are also the result of past lives. Apart from exceptional cases, when someone can remember his or her previous lives, the mediator who knows both about past and future is a Jina, especially Mahāvīra. These five scriptures are examined in detail in a dedicated article called Story Aṅgas.

Other Aṅgas

This detail of a manuscript painting shows a monk offering forgiveness to a junior. Repentance – pratikramaṇa – is the most important of the six 'obligatory actions' – āvaśyaka – mendicants perform each day

Scenes of forgiveness
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

The remaining Aṅgas – numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 10 – can be considered together. They also feature narrative techniques but can be thought of as primarily reference sources. They contain detailed discussion of the rules by which mendicants are expected to live and exhaustive listings of Jain doctrine, thought and practice. This is also the only place to find certain information about the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra.  The ‘reference Aṅgas’ are explored in depth in the article of the same name.

Commentaries

Like several other Jain scriptures, the Aṅgas have been the starting point of a long and continuous process of explanation and critical interpretation. This takes the form of commentaries written in different forms and various languages.

The commentaries developed in four phases.

Phases of commentaries on the Aṅgas

Commentary name

Form and language

Period

Information

  • niryukti
  • bhāṣya

verse in Jaina Māhārāṣṭrī Prakrit

first centuries of the Common Era

methodological character listing synonyms of the main terms, analyses of terms according to fixed parameters and so on.
They are not available for all Aṅgas.

  • cūrṇi

prose in Jaina Māhārāṣṭrī Prakrit

6th century

These are not available for all Aṅgas

  • ṭīkā
  • vṛtti
  • dīpikā

prose in Sanskrit

8th to 9th century onwards

Each Aṅga has at least one, with some Aṅgas having more. There are some authors who have specialised in such commentaries. The most famous is Abhayadeva-sūri, in the 11th century, who wrote commentaries on nine Aṅgas.

  • ṭabo
  • bālāvabodha

vernacular languages, in particular Old Gujarati

15th century onwards

Among the specialist commentary authors is the 16th-century monastic teacher Pārśvacandra-sūri

The commentaries of the first two phases are mostly scholarly texts. Those of the latter phases focus more on the literal understanding of the texts. The commentaries are instrumental in the handing down of the Aṅgas through the centuries.

Commentaries on the 11 Aṅgas

Aṅga number

Prakrit title

Sanskrit title

Niryukti

Cūrṇi

Sanskrit commentary

1

Āyāraṃga

Ācārāṅga

Yes

Gandhahastin

Śīlānka, 9th century

2

Sūyagaḍa

Sūtrakṛtāṅga

Yes

Yes

Śīlānka, 9th century

3

Ṭhāṇaṃga

Sthānāṅga

No

No

Abhayadeva

4

Samavāyaṃga

Samavāyāṅga

No

No

Abhayadeva

5

Viyāha-pannatti or Bhagavaī

Vyākhyā-prajñapti or Bhagavatī

No

Yes

Abhayadeva

6

Nāyā-dhamma-kahāo

Jñāta-dharmakathānga

No

No

Abhayadeva

7

Uvāsaga-dasāo

Upāsaka-daśāḥ

No

No

Abhayadeva

8

Antagaḍa-dasāo

Antakṛd-daśāḥ

No

No

Abhayadeva

9

Aṇuttarovavāiya-dasāo

Anuttaropapātika-daśāḥ

No

No

Abhayadeva

10

Paṇha-vāgaraṇa

Praśna-vyākaraṇa

No

No

Abhayadeva

11

Vivāga-suya

Vipākaśruta

No

No

Abhayadeva

Images

  • Māhavīra decorated The statue of Māhavīra is decorated for Māhavīr Jayantī at the Śvetāmbara temple in Potters Bar, England. Celebrated in March to April, the festival of Māhavīr Jayantī commemorates the birth of the 24th Jina, Māhavīra. The festival is celebrated by all Jain sects, though not all of them have idols. . Image by Ravin Mehta © Ravin Mehta
  • Senior monk teaching This painting from an Uttarādhyayana-sūtra manuscript shows Śvetāmbara monks listening to a senior mendicant. The teacher is the largest figure, indicating his importance, and he sits on a low dais with a bookstand – sthāpanācārya – in front. Monks and nuns are expected to show respect to their superiors – vinaya.. Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • An omniscient Jina preaches This detail of a manuscript painting shows the universal gathering – samavasaraṇa. When a Jina reaches omniscience, he sits in the centre of a samavasaraṇa the gods have built for him. The term is also used for the gathering of animals, humans and gods that listen to his teachings in peace and friendship.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Indrabhūti Gautama Indrabhūti Gautama in a painting from a 15th-century Śvetāmbara manuscript. The chief disciple of the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra, Gautama is an important Jain figure and features in many scriptures and tales.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • White lotus In Indian culture, the lotus flower symbolises spiritual purity and detachment from the material world. It features in many stories, including a famous parable Mahāvīra tells about following the right path to truth.. Image by Haha169 © public domain
  • Kinds of human lives The types of human lives are shown in this painting from a manuscript. The length of life and many of the experiences of a lifetime are determined by karma, which comes mainly from behaviour in previous lives. Examples of experiences that are shown include suicide, mendicancy and soldiery.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Scenes of forgiveness This detail of a manuscript painting shows a monk offering forgiveness to a junior monk. The bookstand – sthāpanācārya – above the junior monk emphasises that the larger monk is his teacher. Repentance – pratikramaṇa – is the most important of the six 'obligatory actions' – āvaśyaka – mendicants perform each day.. Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

Further Reading

Jaina Studies: Their Present State and Future Tasks
Ludwig Alsdorf
translated by Bal Patil
edited by Willem Bollée
Hindi Granth Karyalay; Mumbai, Maharashtra, India; 2006

Full details

‘Sur les traces de deux bibliothèques familiales jaina au Gujerat (XVe-XVIIe siècles)’
Nalini Balbir
Anamorphoses: Hommage à Jacques Dumarçay
edited by Henri Chambert-Loir and Bruno Dagens
Etudes sur l'Asie series
Les Indes Savantes; Paris, France; 2006

Full details

‘Les lecteurs jaina śvetāmbara face à leur canon’
Nalini Balbir
Ecrire et transmettre en Inde classique
edited by Gérard Colas and Gerdi Gerschheimer
Études thématiques series; volume 23
École Française d’Extrême Orient; Paris; 2009

Full details

‘Old texts, new images: Illustrating the Śvetāmbara Jain Āgamas today’
Nalini Balbir
In the Shadow of the Golden Age
edited by Julia A. B. Hegewald
University of Bonn Press; Bonn, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany; 2012

Full details

‘On the role and meaning of the Śvetāmbara canon in the history of Jainism’
Nalini Balbir
Studies in Jaina History and Culture: Jaina Law
edited by Peter Flügel
Routledge Advances in Jaina Studies series; volume 4
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2013 – forthcoming

Full details

‘Das Kanonproblem bei den Jainas’
Klaus Bruhn
Kanon und Zensur
edited by Aleida Assman and Jan Assman
Archäologie der literarischen Kommunikation series; volume II
Wilhelm Fink Verlag; Munich, Germany; 1987

Full details

‘The Recent Critical Editions of the Jain Āgama’
Colette Caillat
Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft
volume 21: supplement 5
F. Steiner; 1980

Full details

In Search of the Original Ardhamāgadhī
N. M. Kansara
translated by K. R. Chandra
Prākrt̥a Grantha Pariṣad series; volume 35
D. M. Prakrit Text Society; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 2001

Full details

‘The Intellectual Formation of a Jain Monk: A Śvetāmbara Monastic Curriculum’
John E. Cort
Journal of Indian Philosophy
volume 29
2001

Full details

Early Jainism
K. K. Dixit
L. D. series; volume 64
L. D. Institute of Indology; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1978

Full details

‘Somnolent Sūtras: Scriptural Commentary in Śvetāmbara Jainism’
Paul Dundas
Journal of Indian Philosophy
volume 25
1996

Full details

The Jains
Paul Dundas
Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices series; series editor John Hinnels and Ninian Smart; volume 14
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2002

Full details

History, Scripture and Controversy in a Medieval Jain Sect
Paul Dundas
Routledge Advances in Jaina Studies series; series editor Peter Flügel; volume 2
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2007

Full details

Scripture and Community: Collected Essays on the Jains
Kendall W. Folkert
edited by John E. Cort
Studies in World Religions series; volume 6
Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard University & Scholars Press; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; 1993

Full details

The Jaina Path of Purification
Padmanabh S. Jaini
University of California Press; Berkeley, California USA; 1979

Full details

A History of the Canonical Literature of the Jainas
Hiralal Rasikdas Kapadia
Surat, Gujarat, India; 1941

Full details

Āgama Sampādana kī Samasyāeṃ
Yuvācārya Mahāprajña
Jain Vishva Bharati; Ladnun, Rajasthan, India; 1993

Full details

The Doctrine of the Jainas: Described after the Old Sources
Walther Schubring
translated by Wolfgang Bühlen
edited by Satya Ranjan Banerjee
Lala Sunder Lal Jain Research series; volume 15
Motilal Banarsidass; New Delhi, India; 2000

Full details

Mahāvīra’s Words
Walther Schubring
translated and edited by Willem Bollée and Jayandra Soni
L. D. series; volume 139
L. D. Institute of Indology; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 2004

Full details

Albrecht Weber’s Sacred Literature of the Jains: An Account of the Jaina Āgamas
Albrecht Weber
translated by H. W. Smyth
edited by Ganesh Chandra Lalwani and Satya Ranjan Banerjee
Jain Bhavan; Calcutta, West Bengal, India; 1999

Full details

The “Śvetāmbara Canon.” A Descriptive Listing of Text Editions, Commentaries, Studies and Indexes: Based on Editions held in the Library of the Australian National University
Royce Wiles
unpublished; Canberra, Australia; 1997

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

Glossary

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.

Common Era

The period of time starting with the year when Jesus Christ was traditionally believed to have been born. Using CE is a more secular way of dating events in a multinational, multi-religious world.

Disciple

An active follower of a religion, especially one who passes on teachings to others.

Doctrine

A principle or system of teachings, especially religious philosophy.

Elder

A term used for a man who is one of those listed in early sources as the direct successors of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina.

Gaṇadhara

'Supporters of the order'. This term is used for the first mendicant disciples of a Jina. They are able to understand his teachings properly and can pass them on. A gaṇadhara leads his own group of ascetics until he becomes enlightened.

Guru

Sanskrit term meaning both:

  • a spiritual teacher
  • 'heavy', in contrast to laghu or ‘light'.

Heresy

A believer in a system of beliefs, usually religious, that differs from established dogma. A heretic does not normally think his beliefs are heretical, often asserting that his heresies are correct while the orthodoxy has become corrupted from the original.

Hymn

The terms stavan, stavana, stava, stotra and stuti are all used for a prayer, song, chant or hymn to a Jina, a god or any other holy figure. Religious songs are always hymns of praise in Jainism. These devotional songs may be performed during daily rites or on special occasions, such as completion of a fast or a wedding. The hymns may be performed:

  • solo or in groups
  • as a form of meditation
  • as a rite offered as part of worship.

Indrabhūti Gautama

Chief disciple of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina. From a brahmin family, he was the first of Mahāvīra's 11 chief disciples. He became enlightened on the day Mahāvīra was liberated. He achieved liberation himself 12 years later.

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.

Kevala-jñāna

Omniscience, enlightenment or perfect knowledge – the highest of the five types of knowledge, where one knows everything wherever and whenever it is. It is extremely difficult to attain, equivalent to the 13th stage of spiritual purity in the guṇa-sthāna. Digambaras believe only men can achieve it whereas Śvetāmbaras believe that both men and women can become enlightened.

Lotus

A plant noted for its beautiful flowers, which has symbolic significance in many cultures. In Indian culture, the lotus is a water lily signifying spiritual purity and detachment from the material world. Lotuses frequently feature in artwork of Jinas, deities, Buddha and other holy figures.

Māhārāṣṭrī Prākrit

A dialect of the Prākrit language used in some Jain writings.

Mahāvīra

The 24th Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is yellow and his emblem the lion. Mahāvīra or 'the great hero' is his title. His birth name was Vardhamāna, meaning 'ever increasing'. His existence is historically documented but the two main sects of Digambara and Śvetāmbara Jains have slight differences in their accounts of his life.

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.

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.

Samavasaraṇa

Literally, Sanskrit for 'universal gathering'. A holy assembly led by a Jina where he preaches to all – human beings, animals and deities alike – after he has become omniscient. In this universal gathering, natural enemies are at peace.

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.

Sūtra

In common use it refers to any sacred text. However, strictly speaking, it means an extremely concise style of writing, as illustrated in the Tattvārtha-sūtra, or a verse.

Upāṅga

Meaning 'auxiliary limbs', the second group of 12 texts that make up the scriptures of the Śvetāmbara Jains. The Upāṅgas complement the first set of 12 texts, the Aṅgas – 'limbs' in Sanskrit.

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.

EXT:mediabrowse Processing Watermark
http://www.jainpedia.org/themes/principles/sacred-writings/svetambara-canon/angas/mediashow/print/index.html - All text is © JAINpedia / Institute of Jainology 2020 under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 licence The Jain universe online at www.jainpedia.org

Unless images are explicitly stated as either public domain or licensed under a Creative Commons licence, all images are copyrighted. See individual images for details of copyright.