Article: Cheda-sūtras

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

The Sanskrit word Cheda-sūtra, or its Prakrit form Cheya-sutta, is the name of a group of texts in the Śvetāmbara canon. All the texts deal with the rules mendicants should follow in monastic life and with their technicalities. The ideal to which mendicants aspire is the perfect ascetic, but in practice there are many areas where monks and nuns may make errors. The Cheda-sūtras establish:

  • an exhaustive map of lapses in behaviour
  • details of the effects of these breaches
  • ways to compensate for errors through atonements.

The Prakrit word cheya – Sanskrit cheda – means ‘cutting’. This refers to the ‘reduction [of seniority]’ which is one of the consequences of transgressing the monastic rules.

The Cheda-sūtras reflect a stage in mendicant lifestyle where most monks and nuns live within a monastic unit – gaṇa – with fellow-mendicants. The monastic rules thus define:

  • an individual’s behaviour in relation with other mendicants
  • the group’s behaviour considered against other mendicant groups and wider society, represented by Jain lay men, kings and so on.

Atonements or penances assume their full meaning in such a context. Situations where a monk may wander alone, according to the oldest religious ideal, are also considered occasionally. However, the overall impression from the texts is that this mode of living is becoming an exception.

Rules and the penalties for breaking them are the main concern of these works. Many of the texts refer to or share material with other Cheda-sūtras. This suggests that they can be thought of as forming a single body, like the two main groups of Śvetāmbara scriptures, the Aṅgas and Upāngas.

Detailed stories are found only in the Mahā-niśītha, which is regarded as being of later date. In the other Cheda-sūtras examples are occasionally mentioned as single words or abbreviated phrases, which are expanded orally or in commentaries. The assumption of familiarity with the other Cheda-sūtras and scriptures, focus on mendicant lifestyle and the technical nature of the writings indicate that these works are intended for a knowledgeable audience of ascetics.

Mostly, the Cheda-sūtras are specialised works for mendicants to read. Among them, however, there is one chapter of a work that has gained independent status, attaining crucial importance in the religious life of the Śvetāmbaras – the Kalpa-sūtra. One of the Cheda-sūtras also contains a chapter where the 11 stages of spiritual progress for lay people – upāsaka-pratimās – are listed and described. This crucial concept is developed in later literature as well.

In contrast with the Aṅgas and Upāṅgas, which contain a fixed number of texts, this group of works is quite fluid. The Cheda-sūtras range in number from four to six.

This class of writings is written in Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit, the language of the core Śvetāmbara scriptures. For the most part in prose, it is often formed of concise aphorisms – sūtras. Extensive verse commentaries written in Jaina Māhārāṣṭrī Prakrit on some Cheda-sūtras are indispensable. These help the reader understand the implications of the aphorisms and contain a lot of additional material as well, especially examples, anecdotes and stories.

Authority and number

A group of Jain nuns walks barefoot up a hill. Dressed in white robes with their heads covered, they all wear cloths fixed over their mouths, attached by strings over the ears. This identifies them as either Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsin or Terā-panthin nuns.

Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsin or Terā-panthin nuns
Image by arjunstc – Arjun © CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

The three main sects of Śvetāmbara Jainism have slightly different canons of holy texts. All of them recognise the Cheda-sūtras as an integral part of their canon.

But the Sthānaka-vāsins and the Terāpanthins, who accept canonical 32 scriptures, have fewer Cheda-sūtras than the Mūrti-pūjaks. The Mūrti-pūjaks count 45 scriptures as canonical and include two additional texts among their Cheda-sūtras. The number of the Cheda-sūtras therefore fluctuates between four and six.

Lists and titles

Four Cheda-sūtras are accepted by all Śvetāmbaras.

Cheda-sūtras accepted by all Śvetāmbaras

Name in Prakrit

Name in Sanskrit



Āyāra-dasāo or Dasāo

Ācāra-daśāḥ or Daśā-śruta-skandha

‘Ten [chapters] about monastic conduct’

10 chapters, of which chapter 8 is the Kalpa-sūtra.



‘[Great] Religious code’

6 chapters




10 chapters



‘Interdictions’ (title unclear)

20 chapters

In the recent Sthānaka-vāsin edition of the Cheda-sūtras, published under the authority of Pravartak Amar Muni, the Niśītha is not included. This is because Pravartak Amar Muni considers that there are ‘differences of opinions’ regarding this text (Illustrated Chhed Sūtra, Hindi introduction, page 8). Even so, according to personal communication from people connected with this project, this text will be published at a later stage.

To reach the number of 45 Āgamas, which has become a sectarian marker for the Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjaks, two Cheda-sūtras are added to the four core texts.

Additional Cheda-sūtras among Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjaks

Name in Prakrit

Name in Sanskrit





Customary rules

103 verses written by Jinabhadra-gaṇi in the 6th century



Large Niśītha

8 chapters in prose and verse

Ācārya Ānandasāgara-sūri was a monastic leader of the 20th century who edited the Āgamas for publication and made them known to a large audience. He recognised these works in his edition of the Śvetāmbara holy scriptures. This list was also adopted in the 2000 edition of the 45 Śvetāmbara Āgamas by Muni Dīparatnasāgara.

In this context the colophon of a Mahā-niśītha-sūtra manuscript copied in 1777 is significant. It shows how a Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjak monk suggested that a copy of the text be made to complete the fast called ‘45 Āgamas’. A group of lay women in Surat, Gujarat, thus commissioned the manuscript. From the 17th century onwards there is evidence that special fasts and ceremonies developed around the worship of the Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjaks’ 45 canonical scriptures. The canon and the associated ceremonies are thus public statements of sectarian identity. This copy is a strong gesture in support of the Mahāniśītha-sūtra, the authority of which is not admitted or is disputed by other Śvetāmbara sects.

Finally, the Pañca-kalpa is another text that belongs to this category, although it is not strictly included in it. This is because it is a commentary rather than the scripture about which a commentary is written.


The Cheda-sūtras deal with technicalities of monastic life. Their technical character explains why, in practice, mendicants read and use these texts. But restrictions in readership have also developed in the course of time.

In modern times, some lay people or scholars who are not mendicants have reported being forbidden access to these works. Among some Śvetāmbara monastic orders, such as the Kharatara-gaccha, nuns are not encouraged to read them, though monks can do so.

On the other hand, it is noteworthy that a nun has produced a remarkable scholarly achievement, which includes a translation into Hindi. Samaṇi Kusumaprajñā of the Terāpanthin monastic order has provided one of the most recent editions and studies of one Cheda-sūtra, the Jīta-kalpa (2010). The Terāpanthins are among the Jain monastic orders where nuns are given every encouragement to pursue academic work. The samaṇis, in particular, focus on higher educational attainments.

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.


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).


Unlike the other Cheda-sūtras, the Jīta-kalpa is not anonymous. It was written by Jinabhadra-gaṇi, a famous religious teacher who lived in the 6th century CE and is the author of various sophisticated Prakrit commentaries. This prestigious authorship could be one of the reasons why the Jīta-kalpa is included in this category, though it is much later than the other Cheda-sūtras.

Another feature which makes this work different from others in the same category is that the sūtra is not in prose, but in verse.

The Sanskrit word jītajīya in Prakrit – in the title is a technical term. It refers to a theoretical list of procedures towards a transgressor. Five of them are recorded and jīta is the fifth.

Procedures against transgressors of the monastic rules

Prakrit term

Sanskrit term

English translation
















It is not easy to determine exactly what these terms mean. But it is thought that the other Cheda-sūtras described above define atonements on the basis of traditional teaching, whereas the Jīta-kalpa is based on custom and practice.

This work starts with a list of the ten atonements, and then describes each of them in turn in its 103 verses. Special emphasis is laid on the sixth one, ‘fast’ – tava – which occupies about half of the text. Fasts are categorised based on the type of food consumed or given up and on their durations. They are described in highly technical language. The Jīta-kalpa is the basis for later texts dealing with monastic atonements, such as the Yati-Jīta-kalpa, written in 1399 CE.

It has to be read along with the:

Jīta-kalpa on JAINpedia

A palm-leaf manuscript from Tamil Nadu. The manuscript is kept together by a string threaded through holes in each long thin folio. When the teachings of the Jinas were first written down, they were etched onto palm leaves, which are very fragile

Palm-leaf manuscript
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

Except for the verse commentary – bhāṣya – all the texts connected with the Jīta-kalpa have been digitised on JAINpedia. They are in the form of two palm-leaf manuscripts dating back to the 12th century, held in the British Library. This is worth noting because:

  • manuscripts of the Jīta-kalpa and its commentaries are not very common, even in India
  • palm-leaf manuscripts produced in western India are extremely rare in libraries outside India.

The digitised manuscripts contain:


This manuscript painting from a copy of the Kalpa-sūtra shows a Śvetāmbara teacher instructing a monk. As he is more important, he is bigger in the picture and sits on a dais above the junior mendicant, who raises his hands in respect.

Teacher instructs a monk
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Mahā-niśītha-sūtra’s eight chapters mainly deal with:

  • confession
  • contrition
  • atonement
  • monastic hierarchy
  • definitions of accomplished and imperfect monks.

These topics are found in other Cheda-sūtras. The title echoes the Niśītha-sūtra, which belongs to the same category, and, because its title means ‘great niśītha-sūtra’, it suggests that this is a full version of the work. But its style is quite different. Instead of the expected concise aphoristic style, it alternates discursive parts in prose and long verse portions. Many of these verses can be found in other Jain works of various dates. On the other hand, several chapters are narrative in character. Thus this work contains disparate styles.

All these characteristics may explain why the Mahā-niśītha-sūtra has aroused suspicions of its credibility, both among Sthānaka-vāsin Jains and modern scholars.

Additional reasons for suspicion are the:

  • ‘references to goddesses and magic spells not found elsewhere in the canon’ (Dundas 2002: 76)
  • mention of image-worship, which is rejected by non-Mūrti-pūjak Śvetāmbaras.

The general frame of the text, however, is close to that found in the Aṅgas and Upāngas. The whole work is introduced against the background of a question-and-answer format between two individuals. The thrust of the work then appears within a dialogue between Mahāvīra and his chief disciple Indrabhūti Gautama.

The Mahā-niśītha-sūtra also contains a ‘story of the rescue and restoration of a dilapidated manuscript of the work from a temple in Mathurā’ (Dundas 2002: 76), which is hard to trust.

Thus, in some respects, the Mahā-niśītha-sūtra can be described as pseudo-canonical. It is not old, but displays an archaic bent.

Chapters of the Mahā-niśītha-sūtra







‘Extraction of Thorns’

prose introduction and 222 verses, mainly ślokas



description of the maturation of karma

209 ślokas and a long prose passage


no title


divided into 31 sections, 122 verses and prose passages


no title


prose and 14 āryā verses


Duvālas’anga-suyanāṇassa Navaṇīya-sāra

‘Cream of scriptural knowledge in the form of the 12 Aṅgas’

121 verses and prose



‘Life of an Experienced Monk’

411 verses then a predominantly narrative chapter




verse and prose



story of Sujjhasirī and Susaḍha

prose and a few verses

Chapter 1

This detail of a manuscript painting shows a monk offering forgiveness to a junior. Repentance – pratikramaṇa – is the most important of the six 'obligatory actions' – āvaśyaka – mendicants perform each day

Scenes of forgiveness
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

The first chapter deals with confession and contrition. The Prakrit term sallaSanskrit śalya – means a dart or a thorn and is very commonly used in the context of monastic rules and atonements. The thorns are sins that have not been confessed and thus continue to prick the heart. This explains why confession is so important – the first of all atonements. It should be true and complete, not trying to hide anything. Its result is pure knowledge. The ritualof confession is preceded by prayers before Jina images or incantations. It is stated in this chapter that for nuns confession is not sufficient and has to be completed by other atonements.

Chapter 2

The ‘Kamma-vivāga-vivaraṇa’ describes the basics of karma doctrine and the necessity of blocking the influx of karmaāsrava. It is devoted to the consequences of evil deeds, such as violence. Emphasis is put on the breaking of chastity and the danger to monks which women represent. Again the reader’s attention is drawn to confession and repentance.

Chapter 3

The highlights of chapter 3 are:

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.

Chapters 7 and 8

Śvetāmbara nuns meditate in front of a cloth-wrapped bookstand, used to hold scriptures. To Jains, meditation helps purify the soul of karma and is thus vital for spiritual progress. It is a daily obligatory duty – āvaśyaka – for mendicants.

Śvetāmbara nuns meditate
Image by Claude Renault © CC BY 2.0

These two chapters are regarded as appendices.

Befitting its name – 'Pacchitta-sutta' – chapter 7 is devoted to atonements. It explains which type of atonement is proper for which type of mistake. Atonements are regarded as the best way of spiritual purification. The specific context here is that of the obligatory dutiesāvaśyaka. Lapses relating to homage, temples and repentance, in particular, are dealt with. The rules may be broken by the improper use of monastic equipment, especially the mouth-cloth or the broom.

Discussing atonements means considering:

  • the relations between mendicants within a given monastic order, because atonements have to be prescribed by a superior or religious teacher
  • the qualities or defects of this teacher.

Atonements are an interactive process involving both the culprit and the teacher. The remedy can be almost worse than the evil if this process does not function properly. Entailing a lot of subtle reasoning, it amounts to a ‘penal code’ for mendicants (Schubring in Deleu & Schubring 1951: 69), which is detailed in this chapter.

Fasts stand first on the map of atonements. They are defined according to:

  • length
  • the kind of food eaten or not eaten.

When fasting is considered based on its duration, the traditional method is to state how many meals are not eaten. The ratio used is two meals per day.

Details of fasting

Prakrit term




the fourth

3 meals not eaten, the 4th eaten = fast of 1 day and a half


the sixth

5 meals not eaten, the 6th eaten = fast of 2 and a half days


the eighth

7 meals not eaten, the 8th eaten = fast of 3 and a half days


the tenth

9 meals not eaten, the 10th eaten = fast of 4 and a half days

When fasting is considered according to the type of food, there are two well-known forms of food restrictions:

  • eating no milk products – nivvigaiya
  • eating food without spices – āyambila.

Other atonements imply reductions in seniority, temporary exclusions and so on in the same way as what is found in other Cheda-sūtras.

The final chapter is mainly in a prose that imitates the canonical style. It tells the story of Sujjhasirī and Susaḍha over consecutive rebirths, which contain many incidents. Like the preceding chapters, the religious theme is that confession should be performed fully and truly and that atonements should be given by a competent teacher.


This work is known only through a verse commentary, a bhāṣya. No corresponding sūtra is available. The Jain tradition considers that it originally formed part of the Br̥hat-kalpa-bhāṣya. But it is in fact ‘an independent and systematic compilation by one author (Sanghadāsa-gaṇi?), who certainly utilized earlier materials, sometimes as available to him, sometimes changing them to suit his purposes’ (Tripāthī 1983: 121).

It has been published in India but hardly any scholarly work has been done on it so far.

The title ‘refers to the system of monkhood by five methods, according to whether kappa is understood to be 6-, 7-, 10-, 20- and 42-fold’ (Schubring 1962: 114). Although it is more concerned with a general discussion of monastic ethics, this is dealt with in a highly technical presentation and definitely needs sound exploration.


This painting from an Uttarādhyayana-sūtra manuscript shows Śvetāmbara monks listening to a senior mendicant. The teacher is the largest figure, indicating his importance, and he sits on a low dais with a bookstand – sthāpanācārya – in front

Senior monk teaching
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Other classes of Śvetāmbara canonical scriptures have been the starting point of commentaries. Among them, the first stratum is that of Prakrit verse commentaries – the bhāṣyas written in Jaina Māhārāṣṭrī Prakrit. Those connected to the Cheda-sūtras are different from those relating to other categories of scriptures.

Firstly, the bhāṣyas for the Pañca-kalpa have no corresponding sūtras, so the text consists only of a commentary. Secondly, in four other cases the bhāṣyas have become as important as the sūtras in the traditional view. These lengthy bhāṣyas were written on the:

  • Br̥hat-kalpa
  • Vyavahāra
  • Niśītha
  • Jīta-kalpa.

Some of these bhāṣyas are supplemented by Prakrit or Sanskrit prose commentaries.

Bhāṣyas and Sanskrit commentaries on the Cheda-sūtras


Size and author

Prakrit prose commentary – cūrṇi

Sanskrit commentary


6,490 verses – Sanghadāsa, probably in the 6th century

unpublished – Pralamba-sūri

begun by Malayagiri in the 12th century and continued by Kṣemakīrti


4,768 verses


Malayagiri in the 12th century


6,704 verses

Cūrṇi and Viśeṣa-Niśītha-cūrṇi – Jinadāsa



2,606 verses –Jinabhadra-gaṇi


Viṣama-pada-vyākhyā –  Commentary on Difficult Words – Śrīcandra


2,666 verses



The prose of the sūtras provides the rules. These bhāṣyas provide explanations and additional material. They include examples, anecdotes or stories, which are either developed fully or given as tag words or brief outlines. Tag words are words or phrases that refer to a story. Along with outlines, they may have been starting points for mendicants to deliver oral lessons. They are not connected with the formulation of the rules, but are meant to illustrate the consequences of the rules or of their violations.

A number of these examples are identical or nearly identical in various Cheda-sūtras. Some belong to the common pool of Jain narratives taken from two of the main sources – the Uttarādhyayana tradition and the Āvaśyaka tradition.  They are unevenly distributed in the texts. One of the topics that attracts a concentration of stories is becoming a monk or a nunpravrajyā – and initiationdīkṣā. People may have all sorts of motivations for leaving the householder life, some of which may not be acceptable.


  • Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsin or Terā-panthin nuns A group of Jain nuns walks barefoot up a hill. Dressed in white robes with their heads covered, they all wear cloths fixed over their mouths, attached by strings over the ears. This identifies them as members of either of the Śvetāmbara sects of Sthānaka-vāsin or Terā-panthin.. Image by arjunstc – Arjun © CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
  • The 'true monk' This illustration from an Uttarādhyayana-sūtra manuscript depicts some of the qualities of a 'true monk', a perfect ascetic. The largest figure of a Śvetāmbara monk is the teacher, sitting on a dais. He discusses doctrine with his pupils, who show him due deference. Below stand two monks in the kāyotsarga meditation pose, one of the six obligatory actions each monk and nun must complete each day. Performing meditation is one of the internal austerities that helps burn karma and encourages spiritual progress.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Monk and pupils A Śvetāmbara monk sits before a bookstand – sthāpanācārya – which is a symbol of his role and authority as teacher. It holds a scripture wrapped in protective cloth. He sits on a low plaform while his pupils sit on the floor and listen. Religious beliefs were originally passed on orally, with junior monks memorising what their teachers said. Today, monks and nuns still learn in large part from senior monks.. Image by Chandu Shah © Chandu Shah
  • Lodgings forbidden to mendicants Some of the places that mendicants are forbidden to stay in as listed in chapter 2 of the Br̥hat-kalpa-sūtra. The pictures show lodging-halls with grain scattered on the ground, holding pots of alcoholic drinks or non-boiled water, with a fire or lights burning through the night and housing containers of milk and foods stored after cooking. Staying there is forbidden because the chance of accidentally causing harm to other forms of life is high in these places. This page is from the 2005 Illustrated Shri Chhed Sutra, characteristic of the Illustrated Agam Series, overseen by the Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsin leader Pravartak Shri Amar Muni.. Image by Diwakar Prakashan / Padma Prakashan © Diwakar Prakashan / Padma Prakashan
  • Nature of confession 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 oblique or twisted like the knots in a turban or the ordinary, sinuous movement of the snake. This page from the 2005 Illustrated Shri Chhed Sutra is one 20th-century effort to translate abstract words into figurative art, characteristic of the Illustrated Agam Series, overseen by the Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsin leader Pravartak Shri Amar Muni.. Image by Diwakar Prakashan / Padma Prakashan © Diwakar Prakashan / Padma Prakashan
  • Palm-leaf manuscript A palm-leaf manuscript from Tamil Nadu. The manuscript is kept together by a string threaded through holes in each long thin folio. When the teachings of the Jinas were first written down, they were etched onto palm leaves. Surviving palm-leaf manuscripts are very rare, because the material is highly fragile.. Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir
  • Teacher instructs a monk This manuscript painting from a copy of the Kalpa-sūtra shows a Śvetāmbara teacher instructing a monk. As he is more important, he is bigger in the picture and sits on a dais above the junior mendicant, who raises his hands in respect. Both monks hold their mouth-cloths in their hands and their brooms – rajoharaṇa – under their arms. A bookstand – sthāpanācārya – which symbolises teaching is above the smaller figure. . Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • Scenes of forgiveness This detail of a manuscript painting shows a monk offering forgiveness to a junior monk. The bookstand – sthāpanācārya – above the junior monk emphasises that the larger monk is his teacher. Repentance – pratikramaṇa – is the most important of the six 'obligatory actions' – āvaśyaka – mendicants perform each day.. Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London
  • Perfect beings and paths to liberation 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 – siddha – in the crescent-shaped siddha-śilā is stressed by their ornate parasols, which symbolise royalty. Below, on earth, Śvetāmbara monks demonstrate some methods of progressing spiritually to enlightenment and then liberation, such as meditation and learning the scriptures.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Four types of existence Rebirth as gods, human beings, animals or hell-beings are the four types of existences for beings trapped in the world of rebirths. At the top the white crescent represents final liberation. From the 2004 'Illustrated Sthanang Sutra', in the Illustrated Agam series, a 20th-century attempt to translate abstract concepts into figurative art, overseen by the Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsin leader Pravartak Shri Amar Muni.. Image by Diwakar Prakashan / Padma Prakashan © Diwakar Prakashan / Padma Prakashan
  • Śvetāmbara nuns meditate Śvetāmbara nuns meditate in front of a bookstand or sthāpanācārya, which is used to hold scriptures, here wrapped in cloth. To Jains, meditation helps purify the soul of karma and is thus vital for spiritual progress. It is a daily obligatory duty – āvaśyaka – for mendicants.. Image by Claude Renault © CC BY 2.0
  • Senior monk teaching This painting from an Uttarādhyayana-sūtra manuscript shows Śvetāmbara monks listening to a senior mendicant. The teacher is the largest figure, indicating his importance, and he sits on a low dais with a bookstand – sthāpanācārya – in front. Monks and nuns are expected to show respect to their superiors – vinaya.. Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Further Reading

‘Lay Atonements: Investigation into the Śvetāmbara Textual Tradition’
Nalini Balbir
Prof. W. B. Bollée Felicitation Volume
edited by Peter Flügel
Routledge; London, UK; forthcoming

Full details

Bhadrabāhu Bṛhatk-kalpa-niryukti and Sanghadāsa Bṛhat-kalpa-bhāṣya
Willem B. Bollée
Beiträge zur Südasienforschung, Südasien-Institut, Universität Heidelberg series; volume 181
Franz Steiner Verlag; Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg, Germany; 1998

Full details

‘Tales and Similes from Malayagiri’s Commentary on the Vyavahāra-bhāṣya’
Willem B. Bollée
Indologica Taurinensia
volume 31
International Association of Sanskrit Studies; 2005

Full details

Bṛhatkalpasūtra and bhāṣya
edited by Muni Caturvijaya and Muni Puṇyavijaya
Atmanand Jain Sabha; Bhavnagar, Gujarat, India

Full details

Atonements in the Ancient Ritual of Jaina Monks
Colette Caillat
L. D. series; volume 45
L. D. Institute of Indology; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1975

Full details

Studien zum Mahānisiḥa, Kapitel 1–5
Jozef Deleu
and Walther Schubring
Alt- und Neu-Indische Studien series; volume 10
De Gruyter & Co; Hamburg, Germany; 1963

Full details

Early Jainism
K. K. Dixit
L. D. series; volume 64
L. D. Institute of Indology; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1978

Full details

The Jains
Paul Dundas
Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices series; series editor John Hinnels and Ninian Smart; volume 14
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2002

Full details

‘Protecting the Faith: Exploring the concerns of Jain monastic rules’
Phyllis Granoff
Studies in Jaina History and Culture: Jaina Law
edited by Peter Flügel
Routledge Advances in Jaina Studies series; volume 4
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2013 – forthcoming

Full details

Studien zum Mahānisīha, Kapitel 6–8
Frank-Richard Hamm
and Walther Schubring
Alt- und Neu-Indische Studien series; volume 6
De Gruyter & Co; Hamburg, Germany; 1951

Full details

Illustrated Shri Chhed Sutra: Dashashrut Skandh, Brihat Kalp, Vyavahar
Pravarttak Shri Mamar Muniji Maharaj, Amar Muni and Srichand Surana 'Saras'
Illustrated Agam series; volume 17
Padma Prakashan and Shree Diwakar Prakashan; New Delhi, India; 2005

Full details

‘Retrieving the Hidden Meaning: Jain Commentarial Techniques and the Art of Memory’
Mari Jyäväsjarvi
Journal of Indian Philosophy
volume 38

Full details

Jītakalpa sabhāṣya
Samaṇi Kusumaprajñā
Jain Vishva Bharati; Ladnun, Rajasthan, India; 2010

Full details

Mahānisīha-suya Khaṃdhaṃ
edited by Agamaprabhakara Muni Sri Punyavijayaji and Rupendrakumar Pagariya
Prakrit Text Society series; volume 29
Prakrit Text Society; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1994

Full details

Pañcakappabhāsaṃ (Pañcakalpabhāṣyam)
edited by Muni Lābhasāgara-gaṇi
Kapadvanj, Gujarat, India; 1971

Full details

'The Kalpa-sūtra: An Old Collection of Disciplinary Rules for Jaina Monks'
Walther Schubring
translated by May S. Burgess
Indian Antiquary
volume 39

Full details

Drei Chedasūtras des Jaina-Kanons: Āyāradasāo, Vavahāra, Nisīha
Walther Schubring
Alt- und Neu-Indische Studien series; volume 11
De Gruyter & Co; Hamburg, Germany; 1966

Full details

Das Mahānisīha-sutta
edited by Walther Schubring
Abhandlungen der Preußischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-Historische Klasse series; volume 5
Verlag der Königl. akademie der wissenschaften, in kommission bei G. Reimer; Berlin, Germany; 1918

Full details

‘Narratives in the Pañcakalpabhāṣya and cognate texts’
Chandrabhāl Tripāṭhī
Indologica Taurinensia
edited by Nalini Balbir and Colette Caillat
volume 11
International Association of Sanskrit Studies; 1983

Full details

Jaina Yoga: A Survey of the Mediaeval Śrāvakācāras
Robert Williams
London Oriental series; volume XIV
Oxford University Press; London, UK; 1963

Full details



Preceptor, teacher. A title given to a Jain religious teacher, usually one who is a head monk.


Authoritative scriptures. The holy texts that are considered authoritative depend on the group and the period.


Food, money, medicine, clothing or anything else given to another person as a religious or charitable act. Asking for and giving alms is a significant part of Jainism, as it forms a daily point of contact between lay people and mendicants. Seeking, donating and receiving alms are highly ritualised ceremonies in the Jain tradition, and spiritual purity is essential for both giver and recipient. Giving alms is a way for lay Jains to gain merit – puṇya.

Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit

A dialect of the Prākrit language used for many Śvetāmbara Jain scriptures.


Sanskrit term meaning 'destroyer of enemies'. The enemies are the inner desires and passions. It is also a synonym for Jina. An Arhat is a liberated soul who has not yet left his fleshly body, but, as an omniscient being, is 'worthy of worship'.


Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land.

Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.


The practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition. Asceticism involves self-denial – for example refusing tasty food or warm clothes – and sometimes self-mortification, such as wearing hair-shirts or whipping oneself.


A type of commentary on Jain scriptures. It may be either:

  • Prākrit verse commentary on Śvetāmbara texts
  • Sanskrit prose commentary on a Sanskrit work, such as the Tattvārtha-sūtra.


A member of the highest caste in Hinduism, the priests or brahmins. 'Brahminical' means 'of or like brahmins'.


Set of sacred texts that believers accept as authoritative within a religion. Another word for 'scripture'.


Either avoiding sexual activity outside marriage or being totally celibate. Chaste can also mean a pure state of mind or innocent, modest action. 


Formally recognised leaders within a religion. The clergy often perform rituals, lead worship and instruct believers in religious principles. Lay men and women usually complete formal study before being initiated into the clergy. Clerics are active among lay believers, often living in society. They may have specific roles or ranks and may progress through a hierarchy to become top leaders of the religious organisation.


Found at the end of a Jain manuscript, a colophon is similar to the publication information at the beginning of modern books. It usually contains the title and sometimes details of the author, scribe and sponsor. The colophons of Jain manuscripts may also include the names of owners, readers and libraries where they have been stored. They frequently have decorative elements and very commonly contain a wish for good fortune for any readers. Written mainly by the scribes who copy texts, Jain colophons are often written in Sanskrit.


An essay explaining a text. Commentaries on the scriptures are common in the Jain tradition and there are various types, including the:

  • bālāvabodha
  • bhāṣya
  • cūrṇi
  • niryukti
  • ṭīkā.

Common Era

The period of time starting with the year when Jesus Christ was traditionally believed to have been born. Using CE is a more secular way of dating events in a multinational, multi-religious world.


Acknowledgement or declaration of the truth of a statement. In religious terms, it usually refers to admitting sin or wrongdoing to at least one other person in a ritual. It is normally a necessary step before absolution, which is formal release from guilt or consequences of wrongdoing.


A class of Prākrit commentary. Written in prose, the cūrṇis were composed between the 6th and 8th centuries CE.


A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.


Sanskrit for 'meditation', one of the six internal austerities or tapas that help purify the soul of karma. Meditation is deep thought about religious doctrine or mental focus on spiritual matters over a period of time. An important part of many religions, meditation is especially important in Jain belief because it forms key elements of religious practice and spiritual development.


Religious initiation through which a man or woman leaves the householder or lay status to become a mendicant. Parts of this ritual renunciation are public ceremonies, depending on the sect.


An active follower of a religion, especially one who passes on teachings to others.


A principle or system of teachings, especially religious philosophy.


Giving up or limiting food or specified foods for a period of time, usually as part of a religious practice. Fasting is a key part of Jainism, chiefly because it is believed to:

  • help destroy karmas that bind to the soul
  • gain merit – puṇya.


A public commemoration of a religious ritual. Often a celebration that involves holding a religious ceremony to mark an important event in a religion's history. 


Literally a Sanskrit word for 'tree', gaccha is used by Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjak Jains to describe the largest groups of their mendicant lineages. It is often translated as 'monastic group', 'monastic order' or 'monastic tradition'. These groups are formed when some mendicants split from their gaccha because of disagreements over ascetic practices.


A religious title for a monk in charge of a small group of mendicants, who live and travel together. A gaṇinī is a nun who leads a group of female mendicants. 


The westernmost state in India, which is a stronghold of Śvetāmbara Jainism.


The most widely spoken group of languages in India, originating in the northern part of the subcontinent. Local dialects and Hindi languages are spoken all over northern India and in surrounding countries. Standard Hindi is used in administration by the central government of India, along with English.


The terms stavan, stavana, stava, stotra and stuti are all used for a prayer, song, chant or hymn to a Jina, a god or any other holy figure. Religious songs are always hymns of praise in Jainism. These devotional songs may be performed during daily rites or on special occasions, such as completion of a fast or a wedding. The hymns may be performed:

  • solo or in groups
  • as a form of meditation
  • as a rite offered as part of worship.


An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.

Indrabhūti Gautama

Chief disciple of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina. From a brahmin family, he was the first of Mahāvīra's 11 chief disciples. He became enlightened on the day Mahāvīra was liberated. He achieved liberation himself 12 years later.


Formal or ceremonial admission into an organisation or group.


Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.


A 'victor' in Sanskrit, a Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over karma and teaches the way to achieve liberation. A synonym for Tīrthaṃkara, which means 'ford-maker' or one who has founded a community after reaching omniscience through asceticism. The most famous 24 – Ṛṣabha to Mahāvīra – were born in the Bharata-kṣetra of the middle world, but more are found in other continents. There have been Jinas in the past and there will be some in the future.


'Knowledge', of which there are five main types:

  • mind-based and sensory knowledge – mati-jñāna
  • scriptural knowledge – śruta-jñāna
  • extra-sensory knowledge or clairvoyance – avadhi-jñāna
  • knowledge of others’ minds or telepathy – manaḥparyaya-jñāna
  • omniscience or absolute knowledge – kevala-jñāna.

With spiritual progress, one can gain the different types of knowledge.

Also one of the 14 'gateways' or categories of investigation of mārgaṇā or 'soul-quest'.


The Book of Ritual attributed to Bhadrabāhu. It has three sections:

  1. 'Jina-caritra' – 'Lives of the Jinas'
  2. 'Sthavirāvalī' – 'String of Elders'
  3. 'Sāmācārī' – 'Right Monastic Conduct'.

A significant sacred text for Śvetāmbara Jains, the Kalpa-sūtra has a central role in the annual Paryuṣaṇ festival.


Action or act, thought of as physical in Jainism. Created by mental or physical action, karma enters the soul, which then needs religious restraints and practices to make it flow out. Karma can be both:

  • negative – deriving from harmful acts
  • positive – arising from beneficial actions.

Both types of karma trap a soul in continual rebirth. A pan-Indian concept, karma has extremely complex, detailed and technical divisions and subdivisions in Jainism.


Omniscience, enlightenment or perfect knowledge – the highest of the five types of knowledge, where one knows everything wherever and whenever it is. It is extremely difficult to attain, equivalent to the 13th stage of spiritual purity in the guṇa-sthāna. Digambaras believe only men can achieve it whereas Śvetāmbaras believe that both men and women can become enlightened.


Subsect of the Śvetāmbaras, chiefly found in Rajasthan and Mumbai and established in the 11th century. 


Believers in a religion who are ordinary worshippers, not clergy or members of religious orders. In Jainism, lay people are often called 'householders', indicating that they live in houses and have domestic responsibilities, unlike ascetics.


A plant noted for its beautiful flowers, which has symbolic significance in many cultures. In Indian culture, the lotus is a water lily signifying spiritual purity and detachment from the material world. Lotuses frequently feature in artwork of Jinas, deities, Buddha and other holy figures.

Māhārāṣṭrī Prākrit

A dialect of the Prākrit language used in some Jain writings.


The 24th Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is yellow and his emblem the lion. Mahāvīra or 'the great hero' is his title. His birth name was Vardhamāna, meaning 'ever increasing'. His existence is historically documented but the two main sects of Digambara and Śvetāmbara Jains have slight differences in their accounts of his life.


One of the four types of ‘destructive’ karman that prevents the true perception of reality and of the purity of the soul.Mohaniya-āvarṇiya deludes the soul into believing false ideas.


The 'liberation' of the soul from its body and thus from the cycle of rebirth because it has no karma and becomes omniscient. The ultimate aim of Jainism is to achieve mokṣa and become a liberated soul in siddha-śilā.

Monastic order

A single-sex group of ascetics that vows to follow rules set out by a founding religious teacher. They formally renounce the world to become monks and nuns. They usually have a hierarchy of leaders at different levels to govern them.


A man who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to formally enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, monks perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.


Modern Indo-aryan language term from the Sanskrit ‘mukhavastrikā'. The small rectangular piece of cloth permanently fixed over the mouth by some mendicant orders. This is to avoid being violent accidentally, either by inhaling tiny creatures or killing them by breathing over them unexpectedly.

This is not the same as the mouth-cover used on some occasions by other mendicants and by laypeople when they perform certain rites.


Sage. A common term for a Jain monk.


Jains who venerate and worship images of Jinas in temples.


Sanskrit for 'homage formula', the Namaskāra-mantra is the fundamental religious formula of the Jains. A daily prayer always recited in the original Prākrit, it pays homage to the supreme beings or five types of holy being:

  1. arhat - enlightened teacher
  2. siddha - liberated soul
  3. ācārya - mendicant leader
  4. upādhyāya - preceptor or teacher
  5. sādhu - mendicant

Note that chanting the mantra is not praying for something, material or otherwise. Also known as the Pañca-namaskāra-mantra or 'Fivefold Homage mantra', it is also called the Navakāra-mantra or Navkār-mantra in modern Indian languages.


Hell. There are seven levels of hells in the lower world of Jain cosmology.


The 22nd Jina of the present age, also called Ariṣṭanemi. His symbolic colour is blue or black and his emblem the conch. There is no historical evidence of his existence.

The Jains hold that Nemi is the cousin of the Hindu god Kṛṣna. The tale of his renunciation and jilting of his fiancée Princess Rājīmati are famous among the Jains.


The aspiration at the time of death to get worldly gains, such as a better rebirth, in a spirit of revenge. Hence a negative concept.


A woman who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, nuns perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.


The ‘supreme beings’ in Sanskrit, also known as the pañca-parameṣṭhin or 'Five Supreme Beings'. A term for the categories of teachers who are paid homage in the Namaskāra-mantra:

  • enlightened teachers – Arhats
  • liberated souls – siddhas
  • mendicant leaders – ācāryas
  • mendicant tutors – upādhyāyas
  • mendicants – sādhus.


A voluntary action undertaken to make up for a sin or breach of a religious principle, frequently an act of self-punishment or physical hardship.


A journey to a place of religious significance. Some religions encourage pilgrimage as ways to advance spiritual progress and deepen the faith of those who make the trip – pilgrims.


A term for any of the dead vernacular languages of ancient and medieval India. It may be contrasted with classical Sanskrit, the language used by priests and the aristocracy. The Jains used a large variety of Prakrits, with the Jain canon written chiefly in Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit.


'Introspection’ in Sanskrit. The elaborate ritual of confession and repentance that involves reciting liturgical texts and performing set gestures at dawn and dusk. It is one of an ascetic's six daily duties – āvaśyaka. For many lay people, pratikramaṇa is the essence of Jainism.


To deliver a speech on a religious topic, usually given by a prophet or member of the clergy. It may be a formal task of a religious office or open to all believers in a religious faith. Often covering social and moral subjects, preaching may be intended to:

  • remind hearers of religious principles and rules
  • encourage piety
  • persuade non-believers of the correctness of the preacher's religious beliefs.


Sanskrit for 'worship' or 'homage'. All Jains perform rites of honour to the 24 Jinas. Rites of worship take place daily, with more elaborate ceremonies performed on holy days. Mendicant and lay Jains perform different rituals. Some sects worship images – mūrti-pūjaka – and others do not, and different sects have various practices. Focused on images or not, worship can be:

  • external or material – dravya-pūjā – involving offerings of food, drink and precious substances
  • internal or mental – bhava-pūjā – including singing hymns of praise, reciting mantras and meditating.

Rainy season

The annual four-month rainy period in India, lasting roughly from June / July to October / November. Heavy rain, strong storms and gale-force winds are very common during this period. Mendicants cannot travel around and must stay in one place to avoid breaking their vow of non-violence and because the monsoon makes travelling on foot difficult and dangerous. It is known as cāturmāsa in Sanskrit, comāsa in Hindi and comāsu in Gujarati.


Giving up something. A lay person who becomes an ascetic renounces the life of a householder within society, instead choosing the physical hardships of being a monk or nun. The formal renunciation ceremony in Jainism is dīkṣā.


A sequence of actions that must be followed to perform a religious ceremony. The set of actions is largely symbolic, for example offering food to statues symbolises sacrificing to a deity. The ritual actions are often accompanied by set phrases.


Sanskrit term meaning 'with a home’ – that is, a ‘householder’ or lay Jain. A synonym for a lay person, emphasising that he or she is a member of a household, with responsibilities to the family, community and society that a Jain mendicant does not have.


The progressive eradication of passions and other negative features in order to reach total spiritual purity. In practice, it is the ritual of fasting unto death.


A special category of nuns in the Śvetāmbara Terāpanthin sect. The nuns are officially free from certain rules restricting their movements and can visit institutions in India or go abroad to pursue academic research or minister to the Jain diaspora.


Equanimity, calm, a mental state where one is able to consider all beings as equal to oneself. The second of the four śikṣā-vratas or vows that lay Jains take. The ritual entails working towards being even-tempered by meditating or reciting mantras for 48 minutes each day. Performing this ritual three times each day is also one of the six duties – āvaśyakas – of a mendicant.


Cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth caused by karma binding to the soul as a result of activities. Only by destroying all karma can this perpetual cycle finish in mokṣa – liberation. The karma gained in life affects the next life, and even future lives, for example:

  • in which of the three worlds the life is lived out
  • which of four conditions – gati – the body takes, namely human, divine, hellish or as a plant or animal.


'Right conduct'. A person who has faith in the principles of Jainism and knows them should put them into practice. This is the third of the Three Jewels vital for spiritual progress.


'Right knowledge'. Once one believes the principles of Jainism, one has to learn them and know them properly. The second of the Three Jewels.


A classical language of India, originally used by priests and nobility. Sanskrit has a rich literary and religious tradition. With only a few thousand native speakers nowadays, it is predominantly used in Hindu religious ceremonies and by scholars.


Reality or truth. This is very important to Jains and the satya-vrata is the second of the mendicant's Five Great Vows and the lay person's Five Lesser Vows.


Set of sacred texts that believers accept as authoritative within a religion. Synonymous with canon.


An organised group of believers in a religion, often distinguished from other groups within the same religious faith who have differences of doctrine or practice.


A speech on a religious topic, usually delivered by a member of the clergy. Frequently a sermon has a moral lesson or is based on a sacred text.


A small structure holding an image or relics, which may be within a temple or building designed for worship. A shrine may be a portable object. Worshippers pray and make offerings at a shrine, which is often considered sacred because of associations with a deity or event in the life of a holy person.


Breaking a religious or moral principle, especially if this is done deliberately. Sinners commit sins or may sin by not doing something they are supposed to do.


'Hearer’ of the teaching. This commonly refers to the Jain lay man, who follows the teachings of the 24 Jinas and is not a member of the clergy or a religious order. The feminine form is śrāvikā.


'Hearer’ of the teaching. This commonly refers to the Jain lay woman, who follows the teachings of the 24 Jinas and is not a member of the clergy or a religious order. The masculine form is śrāvakā.


The Sanskrit phrase meaning ‘hall-dwellers’ is used for a Śvetāmbara movement that opposes the worship of images and the building of temples. The term Sthānaka-vāsī, whose origin remains unclear, came into widespread use in the early 20th century. The movement's roots can be traced to the 15th-century reform movement initiated by Loṅkā Śāh, from which the founders of the Sthānaka-vāsī traditions separated in the 17th century. Sthānaka-vāsīns practise mental worship through meditation. The lay members venerate living ascetics, who are recognisable from the mouth-cloth – muhpattī – they wear constantly.


A title for the leader of a religious order among the Śvetāmbaras. It is a higher position than ācārya.


In common use it refers to any sacred text. However, strictly speaking, it means an extremely concise style of writing, as illustrated in the Tattvārtha-sūtra, or a verse.


'White-clad’ in Sanskrit, the title of one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which both male and female mendicants wear white robes. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.

Śvetāmbara Terāpanthin

A subsect of the Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsin, which originated in Rajasthan in the 18th century. The Terāpanthin do not worship images. One of the sect's best-known leaders was Ācārya Tulsī, who created a new category of ascetics in 1980. These samaṇ and samaṇī are allowed to travel using mechanised transport and to use money.


Austerity or asceticism in general. A tapas is an act of austerity or self-discipline that produces bodily heat – tapas – that burns up karma. Austerities may be internal – mental – or external – physical. Both lay and mendicant Jains practise austerities. Fasting is the most common external austerity for lay people these days.


A building reserved for public worship or prayer, usually dedicated to one religion and run by members of that religion's clergy.


Meaning 'auxiliary limbs', the second group of 12 texts that make up the scriptures of the Śvetāmbara Jains. The Upāṅgas complement the first set of 12 texts, the Aṅgas – 'limbs' in Sanskrit.


An ancient Jain text outlining the rules of monastic conduct, said to be Mahāvīra's final sermon. These 36 lectures provide rules for ascetics but also discuss various topics, such as karma and the substances in the universe, and recount the tale of Nemi's renunciation.


A Sanskrit term that describes the wandering lifestyle of Jain mendicants. Jain monks and nuns are expected to travel around, not stay in one place as householders do. They wander constantly on foot, never staying more than a few days in one place. They may walk around 30 kilometres a day in small groups. However, every year, during the monsoon, monks and nuns stay in one location to avoid travelling.


Vows are extremely important in Jain religious life. Mendicants take the compulsory Five Great Vows – mahā-vratas – as part of their initiation – dīkṣā

Lay people can choose to take 12 vows, which are divided into:

  • aṇu-vratas – 'Five Lesser Vows'
  • guṇa-vratas – three supplementary vows
  • śikṣā-vratas – four vows of spiritual discipline

All of these vows are lifelong and cannot be taken back. The sallekhana-vrata is a supplementary vow to fast to death, open to both ascetics and householders. 

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