Article: Cheda-sūtras

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Language and form

The four Cheda-sūtras recognised by all Śvetāmbaras are written in the variety of Prakrit known as Ardhamāgadhī, like the main categories of the Śvetāmbara canon, such as the Aṅgas and Upāṅgas. This suggests that they may date from the same period, the fifth century.

The first one, the Āyāra-dasāo, is somewhat different from the three other Cheda-sūtras in its form, as it contains verse chapters with lists of terms. The three others are written in prose in the form of aphorisms. They are thus interrelated and, to some extent, have common material. It is likely that they are the result of ‘a process of growth’ (Dixit 1978: 46), perhaps collecting rules that were elaborated in various religious centres at slightly different periods.

The additional Cheda-sūtras demonstrate mixed form and language.

Details of additional Cheda-sūtras

Name in Sanskrit



A single sūtra of 103 verses, written by Jinabhadra-gaṇi, a 6th-century author


In prose and verse, it combines archaic features found in the Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit and Jaina Māhārāṣṭrī languages


A verse commentary – bhāṣya – written in Jaina Māhārāṣṭrī Prakrit, using the metre known as āryā

These features may indicate that these works do not belong to the core of the canonical scriptures. They explain, at least partly, why their status is a matter of controversy and difference among Mūrti-pūjaks on the one hand and the non-image-worshipping Śvetāmbara sects on the other hand.

Generally speaking, all the Cheda-sūtras make use of considerable technical terminology. They often take these terms for granted and do not provide basic definitions, giving the idea that they are meant for specialists. These specialists would be mendicants, who know the special language. The texts assume knowledge of the other Cheda-sūtra works.

The Cheda-sūtras also use set modes of reasoning, which are used throughout the literary network that these texts build. For example, the text often contrasts situations in which general rules are applied with exceptional situations that need the rules to be adjusted. These exceptional conditions fall into two main types:

  • those relating to the mendicant’s individual situation, such as illness, old age or being too young
  • external circumstances, such as famine, political disturbance, climatic disaster.

Another common framework in the Cheda-sūtras is the establishment of rules and penalties based on the motivations behind a transgression. If a mendicant breaks the rules, the breach is considered to be of varying degrees of seriousness. depending on whether it is committed:

  • out of carelessness
  • involuntarily
  • knowingly.

Contents of individual texts

This illustration from an Uttarādhyayana-sūtra manuscript depicts some of the qualities of a 'true monk', a perfect ascetic

The 'true monk'
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

In the main the Cheda-sūtra texts appear to rely on the reader's familiarity with other writings in the Śvetāmbara canon. Much of the canon is concerned with rules for mendicant lifestyle and the concept of the perfect ascetic. These technical topics are also the focus of most of the Cheda-sūtras.

The texts go into great detail about the rules monks and nuns must follow and the potential lapses in ideal behaviour and thought. Making up for any transgressions is explored thoroughly and the importance of atoning correctly is stressed. This requires the culprits to:

  • recognise their mistakes
  • accept penalties from their superiors
  • complete the atonements or penances they are given.

The atonements always begin with confession. An atonement itself, confession of a wrong or fault is believed to be the first step in proper atonement. Common atonements are fasting and isolation or exclusion. The results of not atoning properly are also dealt with, which is primarily a spiritual punishment in the form of karma producing unfavourable births in the future.

The Cheda-sūtras' emphasis on a transgressor's confession to and accepting punishment from a teacher or superior strengthens mendicant hierarchy. Atonement can only be proper if it involves confessing to one's teacher and accepting the punishment.

Weight is also laid on the appropriateness of an atonement. A program of atonements is set out for various lapses but adapting the punishments to a particular situation is stressed. In particular, senior mendicants should consider the motives and knowledge of the culprit when deciding on the correct atonements.

Two elements of the Cheda-sūtra texts are unusual. The sixth chapter of the Ācāra-daśāḥ discusses lay people instead of monks and nuns. The eighth chapter of the same work has become important in its own right and occupies a central role in the principal Śvetāmbara festival. Though the Kalpa-sūtra deals with mendicant life during the rainy season, it gains some of its significance from the fact that it covers things that have become characteristic of Śvetāmbara Jain identity and tradition.

The texts that the Sthānaka-vāsins and the Terāpanthins do not accept as Cheda-sūtras also demonstrate some unusual features, which are the reasons they are disputed. Unlike most canonical scriptures, the Jīta-kalpa has a named author. It is also written in verse. Finally, the Pañca-kalpa is a commentary, not a scripture in the strict sense.


A Śvetāmbara monk and a bookstand – sthāpanācārya – which symbolises his role and authority as teacher. It holds a scripture in protective cloth. He sits on a low plaform while pupils sit on the floor. Religious beliefs were originally passed on orally

Monk and pupils
Image by Chandu Shah © Chandu Shah

Also known as the Daśā-śruta-skandha, the title Ācāra-daśāḥ means Ten [Chapters] about [Monastic] Conduct. Several of the chapters centre on a notion expressed by a technical term implying a specific number of components.

Chapter 1 describes 20 kinds of wrong behaviours which disturb equanimity or control in ascetic life – asamādhi-sthāna. Instances are:

  • walking very fast, which does not allow the mendicant to behave with due forethought
  • causing harm to living beings
  • speaking without purpose or knowing the reality
  • quarrelling.

The second chapter describes 21 kinds of major faults – śabala-doṣa – which are offences against the major monastic vows. Examples of these breaches relate to:

  • sexual activity, such as masturbation
  • absence of restraint when eating food
  • behaviours that imply violence.

Chapter 3 deals with 33 offences, cases of disrespect or irreverence – āśātanās. This relates to rules of seniority between mendicants and situations where junior mendicants do not behave as they should with senior monks. Examples include a junior monk’s:

  • walking ahead of a senior
  • bringing food back to the monastic lodgings and inviting the head monk to eat after first asking another monk
  • interrupting when a senior monk is speaking.

Chapter 4 is concerned with eight qualities required from a mendicant who leads a group – gaṇi-sampayā. They are:

  1. wealth of right conduct
  2. wealth of right knowledge
  3. wealth of impressive physical body
  4. wealth of eloquence
  5. wealth of teaching orally
  6. wealth of proper understanding
  7. wealth of proper application of knowledge and experience
  8. expertise in collection and distribution(Illustrated Chhed Sutra, 2005: 35).

Then it explains how this proper leader is able to train younger mendicants.

Chapter 5 deals with proper position of the mind – citta-samāhi. This is the logical consequence of proper behaviour as described in earlier chapters. There are ten stages of mind relating to transcendent cognition, a type of knowledge mendicants hope to attain. A set of 17 verses is appended to this chapter.

Curiously, the next chapter is concerned with lay people instead of mendicants. It describes the 11 successive stages of their spiritual progress – upāsaka-pratimā. This is a vital concept, which is complementary to the lay man’s vowsaṇuvrata (Williams 1963: 172–181). It takes him from being a believer to a monk, through stages where he progressively renounces all that makes up the life of a lay person engaged in worldly life. The upāsaka-pratimā steps are the:

  1. stage of right views – darśana-pratimā
  2. stage of taking the vows – vrata-pratimā
  3. stage of practising the sāmāyikasāmāyika-pratimā
  4. stage of fastingpoṣadha-pratimā
  5. stage of ascetic posture and self-restraint – kāyotsarga-pratimā
  6. stage of absolute chastitybrahmacarya-pratimā
  7. stage of giving up certain foods normally allowed to a lay man – sacitta-tyāga-pratimā
  8. stage of giving up violent activities – ārambha-tyāga-pratimā
  9. stage of giving up ties to household life – preṣya-tyāga-pratimā
  10. stage of giving up specially prepared food and commodities – uddiṣṭa-tyāga-pratimā
  11. stage of becoming a mendicant – śramaṇa-bhūta.

Chapter 7 provides the 12 stages on the path of a mendicant’s spiritual progress. They imply the increased practising of self-discipline, austerities, restrictions and meditation. Their names correspond to durations. In the last stage, the mendicant attains omniscience.

The eighth chapter is the famous Kalpa-sūtra. Its third section deals with specific aspects of proper religious conduct – sāmācārī – during the rainy season.

Chapter 9 is presented as a sermon Mahāvīra delivers to people gathered in the city of Campā. Taking the form of 39 verses, it describes 30 important factors that cause the 'deluding karma' – mohanīya-karma. The causes relate to seriously violent or malevolent actions. Examples of this deluding karma causes include someone’s:

  • using a weapon to hit the head or neck of a living being, with ill intent, piercing or cutting it
  • falsely accusing others
  • conspiring against other people.

The final chapter is set in a narrative frame. King Śreṇika and Queen Cellanā show off their magnificence when they sit in their chariot and come to Mahāvīra’s sermon. At this sight some monks and nuns wish that they may enjoy the same wealth and ease in a future birth. Such wrong wishes are called nidāna, a title sometimes given to this chapter. Another title is ‘Points Relating to the Future’ – āyāti-sthāna. On this occasion, Mahāvīra equates such wishes with inner thorns and explains their negative consequences, as they hinder monastic practice and spiritual progress.

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