Article: Story Aṅgas

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Second part

Pairs of gods enjoying lives of pleasure in the heavens are shown in this manuscript painting. The ornate furnishings and flowers, and the deities' jewels and rich clothing emphasise the luxury of living in the highest of the three worlds of Jain cosmolog

Pairs of gods in their heavenly palaces
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The second part of the Jñāta-dharma-kathānga features ten female characters in separate tales. A detailed story is provided for the first character. The other stories repeat the pattern, making only minimal changes in names, locations and so on.

All these ladies are goddesses, the wives of gods belonging to the Bhavanavāsin, Vyantara and Jyotiṣka groups. Having learnt through their divine knowledge that Mahāvīra has come to teach, they arrive to display their grandeur on this great occasion. The Jina's disciple, Indrabhūti Gautama, is curious about their past destinies, which Mahāvīra narrates.

All of the goddesses were beautiful daughters of wealthy householders, who decided to renounce worldly life after they had listened to the teachings of Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva. They became nuns and led lives of good conduct. Later on, however, they showed much concern for stylishness and care of the body. When they were advised not to do so, they cursed this mode of life where they were unable to do what they wanted. They left the monastic order and lived independently without any restraint. They fasted to death, but did not repent for past transgressions. Hence they have been reborn as goddesses, who cannot reach emancipation.

Aṅga 7 – lay man’s conduct

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)

The seventh Aṅga is called Uvāsaga-dasāo in Prakit, Upāsaka-daśāḥ in Sanskrit. It provides a model for urban Jain lay couples representing the social and financial elite. This holds true not only of the past but today as well, and demonstrates how high is the lay ideal.

The stories narrated here in ten chapters focus on ten wealthy and powerful householders who do not become mendicants, contrary to the characters of Aṅgas 8, 9 and 11. All these characters are prominent members of the lay community surrounding Mahāvīra.

Once they have heard Mahāvīra’s teaching, these lay people decide to live the life of an upāsaka – a follower of Jain lay conduct. They adopt the 12 lay vows, described by Mahāvīra:

  • five minor vowsaṇu-vratas
  • three guṇa-vratas
  • four śikṣā-vratas.

Mahāvīra also discusses the possible transgressions – aticāras – of each of the lay vows. These are described at length.

Taking these vows has a definite impact on the way these lay people practise their professions. The vows imply limitations in luxury and possessions, with a much more modest lifestyle.

The focus in this work is clearly on the Jain lay doctrine, and the purpose is to show that living the life of a perfect lay man is not inferior to that of a perfect ascetic. In the final stage of their itinerary, these lay men put their sons in charge of household responsibilities. They are thus able to reach a level similar to that of a monk in their mental purity and life of withdrawal. They follow the path of the 11 pratimās, which define the stages of spiritual progress.

The men's practice of austerities finally results in their reaching the third type of knowledgeclairvoyance. Human beings can gain this knowledge only after performing special meditation or ascetic practices. A householder's possession of this knowledge arouses doubts in Mahāvīra’s disciple, Indrabhūti Gautama. However, Mahāvīra explains that these doubts are wrong, asking Gautama to seek forgiveness from the lay men. Their austerities culminate in the ritual of fasting unto deathsallekhanā. The householders are reborn as gods, then as human beings in Mahā-videha, and from there they reach salvation.

The wives of these lay men follow their examples, adopting the same way of life.

Details of the stories

The ten stories in this Aṅga are basically identical to the first one, whose main character is the householder Ānanda. Nandinīpitā in chapter 9 and Sālihīpitā in chapter 10 are pious like him and their life stories are brief.

In the other chapters there are elements that add to the literary flavour of the text and to its demonstrative power by producing a crescendo movement. This is displayed in the fact that each successive householder is wealthier than the one before and in the escalating mischief of the demon that appears in most of the chapters.

In chapter 2 a threatening, malevolent demon tests Kāmadeva’s steadiness in his vows, but in vain.

In chapter 3 Culaṇipitā resists the test of a malevolent demon. He is able to accept seeing the demon kill his three sons. When, however, his mother is threatened, he cannot keep his equanimity. He then learns everything he saw was a test and nothing happened, but has to repent for his anger.

In chapter 4 Surādeva remains firm even though the demon apparently kills his three sons. But when the demon threatens to afflict him with all sorts of diseases he cannot stay calm. He has to repent for this failure.

In chapter 5 a similar scenario unfolds. Cullaśataka fails when the demon threatens to destroy all his wealth.

In chapter 6 Kuṇḍakaulika successfully resists the demon's enticements to follow the heretical teaching of Makkhali Gosāla, the direct challenger of Mahāvīra. The householder remains firm in his faith.

In chapter 7, Saḍḍālaputra the potter is a follower of Makkhali Gosāla. He is convinced to become a Jain when he hears Mahāvīra’s teachings. Gosāla tries in vain to bring him again to his fold. However, when the testing demon taunts the potter that he will misbehave with his wife, Saḍḍālaputra cannot remain steady in his vows. Later he has to repent for his lapse.

In chapter 8 Mahāśataka is a good lay man. But Revatī, one of his 13 wives, challenges him. She has murdered her rivals and indulges in meat, wine and sex. She comes to Mahāśataka drunk and like a mad woman while he is fasting. He has to repent because he expresses concern for the future destiny of his wicked wife, which is a form of attachment.

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