Article: Cheda-sūtras

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Chapter 4

This chapter narrates the story of Sumai and Nāila, which takes place in the time of the 22nd Jina, Neminātha or Lord Nemi, who is also known as Ariṣṭanemi. They were two rich brothers, Jain lay men. Because they lose their property they have to emigrate. On their travels they meet a group of five monks and a lay man.

Recognising that the group’s conduct is punishable, Nāila advises his brother to separate from them, which he does not accept. The group dies in a drought. Sumai undergoes numerous rebirths, one of them recounted at length.

Nāila, on the other hand, undertakes fasting unto death, which only devout Jains can perform properly. After having heard the teaching of Ariṣṭanemi, who happens to pass by, he becomes an omnisicient being and reaches final liberation.

Chapter 5

This manuscript painting shows perfect beings that have been liberated from the cycle of birth and some of the ways of reaching liberation. The exalted status of the liberated souls in the crescent-shaped siddha-śilā is stressed by their ornate parasols.

Perfect beings and paths to liberation
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The ‘Duvālas’anga-suyanāṇassa Navaṇīya-sāra’ is concerned with the monastic groupgaccha – and the teacher. Differences between bad and good ones are highlighted. The chapter includes two main stories.

The first one concerns five hundred disobedient monks following the teacher Vaira. Without his permission they undertake a pilgrimage in honour of Candraprabha, the eighth Jina, during which they commit many offences. Vaira feels responsible for what they have done and goes after them to remind them of the consequences of bad behaviour. Only one of the monks returns with him. Although they meet a terrifying lion, they continue to walk very slowly in conformity with monastic rule. The lion kills them. They are reborn as omniscient beings and will reach final liberation, whereas the 499 other monks remain in the world of rebirths for ever.

The second story features the teacher Kuvalayappaha, whose conduct was very strict. Once some monks and laity invite him to stay with them. However, Kuvalayappaha knows that these Jains are so active in the upkeep of a shrine that they have forgotten the teaching. He declines the offer, describing it as ‘blameable’ – sāvajja – and thus gets the nickname sāvajj’-āyariya.

Later on, Kuvalayappaha is called back by the monks, who are now more inclined to the teaching and have doubts about their conduct. He clears up these doubts and explains the scriptures. It so happens that a lady who has come to pay her respects to the monks bows so low that she touches his feet with her head. Just at that moment Kuvalayappaha is explaining a verse of the Mahā-niśītha saying that an Arhat should not tolerate the touch of a woman. Unable to find a suitable argument to get out of this tricky situation, Kuvalayappaha finally says that the teaching has both rules and exceptions. This amounts to excusing the lady’s behaviour.

Therefore the teacher is condemned to atone for this by long wandering in the world of rebirths, which are then detailed as being:

  • the son of a priest’s daughter, who is reared by the king after his mother abandons him, appointed as the superintendent of the slaughter-house and thus reborn in the worst of hells
  • a young Brahmin widow’s son, who endures severe diseases and atrocious treatments over a long life of 700 years
  • a bullock working in an oil-press, suffering for 19 years from worms in its wounded shoulders.

Kuvalayappaha finally reaches emancipation in the time of Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva, the 23rd Jina (Schubring Das Mahānisīhasutta 1918 and Tripathi 1994).

Chapter 6

The four types of existences for beings trapped in the world of rebirths, with the white crescent representing final liberation. From the 2004 'Illustrated Sthanang Sutra', in the Illustrated Agam series, overseen by Pravartak Shri Amar Muni.

Four types of existence
Image by Diwakar Prakashan / Padma Prakashan © Diwakar Prakashan / Padma Prakashan

This chapter deals with the behaviour of the trained mendicant – gīy’attha – through detailed examples. The ‘Gīyattha-vihāra’ features tales of monks or nuns who behave wrongly or question Jain prescriptions and prohibitions in their minds.

The monk Nandisena’s life consists of successions of forbidden behaviours, such as attempting suicide, not observing rules on alms. Finally his sufferings make him go back to his superior. He eventually understands the true doctrine and practises difficult atonements, at the end of which he is liberated.

Āsaḍa the monk demonstrates improper understanding of what asceticism is. He thinks that committing suicide is a proper practice. Then, on the contrary, he indulges in a pleasant life. Later he realises that all these thoughts are wrong and decides of his own accord to undertake harsh atonements. However, because he begins these without referring to his superior, he wanders for a long time in the world of rebirths.

The nun Meghamālā is a contemporary of the 12th Jina, Vāsupūjya. Guilty of breaking the rules during search for alms, she does not confess it properly. As a result she is reborn in the first hell.

The monk Īsara questions the Jain prohibition on hurting minute living beings. When he realises that his thought is wrong he practises harsh atonements but without confessing. This results in his having to wander in several rebirths and then being reborn as Gosāla. Makkhali Gosāla is the sworn enemy of the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra.

Rajjā the nun lives in a monastic group where the rule is to take nothing other than pure water every four meals. She becomes ill because of previous bad karmas but believes her illness is caused by this special diet. Thus she encourages the other nuns to give it up. All do so except one, who decides that she will have only water until her death. She becomes an omniscient being, praised by gods. Rajjā goes to this omniscient being asking the reason for her own illness. When it is explained to her, she requests an atonement but is told that there is none, for she has encouraged her fellow nuns to break a vow.

Lakkhaṇadevī is a king’s daughter. She chooses her husband herself during the ceremony known as svayaṃvara but soon after the wedding he dies. Together with her family, she enters the monastic life when the last Jina comes to preach. When she sees a pair of birds mating, she questions the Jina’s prohibition on mendicants looking at such enjoyments. Then Lakkhaṇadevī realises these thoughts are wrong and decides to undertake harsh atonements. Since she begins these of her own accord, she is reborn as a prostitute, now named Khaṇḍoṭṭhā. During that rebirth and many others she undergoes sufferings until she is finally liberated in the time of the first future Jina, Padma.

There are also non-narrative passages in this chapter. They discuss the topic of atonements, which should not be self-inflicted, making use of the question-and-answer format.

The chapter ends with the parable of the tortoise. This holds the message that it is as difficult for the tortoise to find again the nice lotus-pond she once saw as it is for men to be born as men again. This is a well-known example used to teach that human existence is a rare thing that should not be wasted.

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