Article: Reference Aṅgas

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Second section of the Sūtraktānga

The second section of the Sūtraktānga is entirely in prose. The first chapter of seven holds one of the best-known examples of Mahāvīra’s parables.

Details of the second section of the Sūtraktānga

Chapter number




The Lotus

The most beautiful white lotus grows in the middle of a pool full of white lotuses. Four men try to reach it but they all get stuck in the mud. The meaning of the parable is that one should lead a life of asceticism and restraint to reach the goal.



Thirteen kinds of activity are detailed in this section, the longest of the work. The first 12 are sinful, and lead to misery. Practising the 13th type, which refers to religious life, leads to perfection. References or allusion to heretical doctrines are found in this chapter.


Knowledge about Food

Detailed exposition on all classes of bodies, which are all living beings. It concludes that ‘This you should know, and knowing it you will be careful and circumspect with regard to your food, and always exert yourself’ (Jacobi’s translation p. 398).


Renunciation of Activity

Dialogue between a Jain teacher and an opponent on the status and impact of activity as leading or not to sin.  Discussion about act and intention, concluding: ‘The Venerable One has declared that the cause of sins are the six classes of living beings. As I feel pain, so they do. Therefore they should not be injured or killed’ (Jacobi’s translation p. 404).


Freedom from Error

List of successive heretical statements that a Jain mendicant should reject and not adopt.



This is a dialogue between the monk Ārdraka, a follower of Mahāvīra, and followers of other creeds in succession, including:

  • Makkhali Gosāla, leader of the Ājīvikas
  • a Buddhist
  • a Vedic priest. 



This chapter is named after a town near Rājagṛha. This story cum dialogue features Lepa, a lay follower of Mahāvīra, and Udaka, a follower of the 23rd Jina, Pārśva. This is one of the most important texts contrasting Pārśva’s dharma and its four vows with that of Mahāvīra and its fifth vow and with the performance of repentance – pratikramaṇa. Here pratikramana is presented as being characteristic of Mahāvīra’s teaching.

Aṅgas 3 and 4 – encyclopaedic works

Aṅgas Number 3 and Number 4 go together in terms of structure and content. They supplement each other but also overlap to some degree. They can be described as reference works of Jain terms and concepts. Comprehensive, detailed and lengthy, they are often highly technical and thus are unsuitable for readers who do not already have a thorough understanding of Jain philosophy.

Structure of the Sthānānga and the Samavāyānga

The text of the Sthānānga-sūtra, the third Aṅga of the Śvetāmbara canon, on the wall of the Āgam Mandir in Palitana, Gujarat. Along with the fourth Aṅga, the Sthānānga-sūtra can be thought of as a kind of reference work

Engravings of the Sthānānga-sūtra
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

The third and fourth Aṅgas – the Sthānānga and the Samavāyānga – stand apart from the others in their structure. The organising principle is a numerical arrangement of items and concepts in increasing order. This principle is also known in the Buddhist tradition. This technique may be baffling to Westerners, but it has to be related to the:

  • importance of lists in the Jain doctrinal system, where a broad concept is usually subdivided into many categories or subcategories
  • emphasis on knowledge of the correct number of items in the categories and subcategories
  • extremely frequent and common use of phrases associating numbers and terms, such as ‘four passions’, ‘five vows’, ‘six kinds of living beings’, to take just a few examples.

Phrases that put group concepts in numbers are not merely scholastic in Jainism. They apply to liturgy and ritual as well. For example, in the performance of repentancepratikramaṇa – which is central to Jain practice, the penitent utters phrases such as ‘I repent from offences relating to… the four passions, the five vows, the six kinds of living beings’ and so on up to 31. Called caraṇa-vidhi, this is the topic of chapter 31 of the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra. This fundamental book dealing with monastic behaviour is one of the Mūla-sūtras.

The Sthānānga and the Samavāyānga are kinds of encyclopaedic works applying this method on a large scale in a sophisticated manner.

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