Article: Cheda-sūtras

Contributed by Nalini Balbir


Some of the places that mendicants are forbidden to stay in as listed in chapter 2 of the Br̥hat-kalpa-sūtra. Staying there is forbidden because the chance of accidentally causing harm to other forms of life is high in these places.

Lodgings forbidden to mendicants
Image by Diwakar Prakashan / Padma Prakashan © Diwakar Prakashan / Padma Prakashan

The term br̥hat means ‘great, large’. This adjective distinguishes this work from the other Kalpa-sūtra, the work connected with the festival of Paryuṣaṇ. This text belongs to the oldest books of the Śvetāmbara canon. The Bṛhat-kalpa deals with rules to be followed by monks and nuns in their daily life or with things forbidden to them.

The rules are expressed in the form of sentences that are ‘often linked by rather loose associations of ideas’ (Caillat 1975: 14). The most common phrasing starts with what is not permitted, then states what is permitted, like this:

  • no kappai nigganthāṇa vā nigganthīṇa vā – ‘Monks or nuns are not allowed to...’
  • kappai nigganthāṇa vā nigganthīṇa vā  – ‘Monks or nuns are allowed to....’

An instance is provided at the very beginning of the text:

Monks or nuns may not accept as alms the unripe shoots of the Palmyra palm unless they have been cut open. Monks and nuns may accept as alms the unripe shoots of the Palmyra palm only if cut open

1.1–2, Bollée’s translation 1998, volume 1: xii and xiii

The Bṛhat-kalpa is organised in six chapters. They are not easy to characterise individually as each one deals with a variety of matters, in a sequence that is not always clear. For translations of the sūtra see Schubring 1905, Bollée 1998 and Illustrated Chhed Sūtra 2005. For a detailed summary of the contents of the bhāṣya, which is extensive, see Bollée 1998. Commentarial techniques in the verse commentary and their purpose are surveyed in Jyäväsjarvi 2010.

The terms the Bṛhat-kalpa uses for monks and nuns are typical of the earliest Śvetāmbara canonical scriptures. There are specific rules and heavier restrictions for nuns, such as not being allowed to move around alone.

These rules cover all areas of monastic life, such as:

  • wandering
  • staying in one place, including suitable places and how long to stay
  • procedures regarding acceptance or non-acceptance of food
  • monastic equipment
  • atonements for various lapses, dealt with in chapters 4 and 5.

One of the major concerns is that objects given to mendicants should not have been prepared specially for them. The idea is that there should not be any pressure on the lay community. This is connected to an important motivation behind the rules, which is concern for the reputation of the monastic community in society (Granoff 2012). This text puts more emphasis on this issue than any other Cheda-sūtra (Dixit 1978: 45).


The central concept in monastic life, confession – ālocanā – should be as straightforward as a child who tells his mother everything, or like the snake going to its hole. It should not be like a turban's twists or the snake's usual sinuous movements.

Nature of confession
Image by Diwakar Prakashan / Padma Prakashan © Diwakar Prakashan / Padma Prakashan

Like the Br̥hat-kalpa, this work belongs to the oldest books of the Śvetāmbara canon. Its similarities to the Br̥hat-kalpa have been acknowledged by the Jain tradition itself. But, as its name – Procedure – suggests, the Vyavahāra emphasises how to apply the system of atonementsprāyaśicttas. This system regulates the ways in which mendicants make amends for lapses in their conduct. Application of the correct penalty is its major concern.

Beyond the general rules, the text insists on the fact that the atonements must take into account details of the:

  • circumstances in which when the faults took place
  • culprits, especially their monastic rank.

The idea is that an atonement will not help if it is not adjusted or suitable to the person.

The Vyavahāra has ten chapters, which are hard to describe because they cover diverse subjects in ways that are not obviously logical. The main topic is atonement, which is detailed in the verse commentarybhāṣya. The traditional list has ten atonements in ascending order of severity.

Ten traditional atonements












‘mixed’ – which means a combination of confession and repentance, the latter following immediately



restitution – which means giving back alms received in good faith after learning that they are impure



abandonment of the body, which is the same as kāyotsarga, and basically refers to the ascetic posture where one has no regard for the body



isolation from other mendicants



partial suppression of religious seniority



radical suppression of religious seniority






exclusion or expulsion from the monastic group

Confession is stressed as being both the first atonement and the preliminary for proper atonement. Because stating one’s fault in clear terms is a prerequisite for getting a proper cure, atonements are often said to be like a medicine.

Numerous related situations in the life of monastic groups, including those of nuns, are discussed in the Vyavahāra, such as:

  • relations between junior and senior mendicants
  • expulsion of a member from the group
  • reintegration of expelled members within the group
  • reasons for leaving one group and joining another
  • religious hierarchy, namely appointments to religious posts
  • procedure regarding the collection of food.

Despite this emphasis on how to apply penalties for breaking rules, the Vyavahāra-sūtra also consists of aphorisms of rules relating to monastic behaviour, without reference to atonements. One of the major concerns is how a mendicant should behave with other mendicants.


The title ‘appears to be a mixture of Prakrit niseha – ‘interdiction’ – and nisīhiyā – ‘place of study’ (Schubring 1962: 112). In relative chronology, this work is much later than those already described. It is organised in 20 chapters, which form ‘a huge compilation’ (Dixit 1978: 44). The main subject is the atonement called parihāra – ‘isolation’ or ‘exclusion’. Isolation may be total or partial – reduced – or with additional punishment.

The whole work is structured around the topic, with the degrees of penance organised in chapters.

Degrees of the penance of isolation in the Niśītha


Detail of isolation penance


one month without reduction – aṇ-ugghāiya in Prakrit

2 to 5

one month with reduction – ugghāiya in Prakrit

6 to 11

four months without reduction

12 to 19

four months with reduction


‘additional punishment – ārovaṇā in Prakrit – when previous transgressions have been concealed or new ones were committed’ (based on Schubring 1962: 112).

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