Article: Mūla-sūtras

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

The ‘Fundamental texts’ – mūla-sūtra in Sanskrit – is the generic term that has come to be applied to certain writings in the Śvetāmbara canon. Meant to teach the basics of Jain doctrine and practice to mendicants, these form a set of works, all written in Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit. New monks and nuns begin to study these texts immediately after their initiations. The works are considered to contain the basic elements that must be understood to lead the mendicant life and therefore make up the first stage in the Śvetāmbara monastic curriculum.

Although the Mūla-sūtras deal with subjects that are partly treated in other writings in the Śvetāmbara canon, they can be viewed as being more suitable teaching texts. Among these topics are the mendicant’s way of life, his interactions with other mendicants in the context of religious hierarchy or his interactions with lay people while seeking alms. This is a recurring topic in several of the Mūla-sūtras.

Basic teaching means rules, but it also includes parables and legends. These literary forms have a prominent place in one of the Mūla-sūtras, the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra. All the Mūla-sūtras contain passages in both prose and verse. Besides the usual prescriptive style of ‘one should…’, some of the works also employ the first-person ‘I’ style, which directly involves the reader. Some passages are markedly similar or even the same as sections found in other Śvetāmbara holy texts. The last work is a set of two specialised verse commentaries relating to daily monastic life, especially alms-gathering.

The last writing has been integrated into the category of ‘fundamental texts’ by the Śvetāmbara Mūrtipūjaks, but not by the other Śvetāmbara sects. The Sthānaka-vāsins and Śvetāmbara Terāpanthins thus consider there are three Mūla-sūtras while the image-worshipping Śvetāmbaras hold there are four.

This article examines the first text – the Daśavaikālika-sūtra – in some detail and discusses the fourth Mūla-sūtra – the Piṇḍa-niryukti and Ogha-niryukti. The other two scriptures are summarised here and explored in depth in separate articles called Uttarādhyayana-sūtra and Āvaśyaka-niryukti.

Identity and status

Four works have come to be included in the Mūla-sūtra category of holy writings for Śvetāmbara Mūrtipūjaks. The Sthānaka-vāsin and Terāpanthins do not include the fourth one in lists of canonical scriptures.

The 4 Mūla-sūtras of the Śvetāmbara Mūrtipūjak canon

Name in Prakrit

Name in Sanskrit











Piṇḍa-nijjutti and Ogha-nijjutti

Piṇḍa-niryukti and Ogha-niryukti

The first and third scriptures have a prominent place in monastic life. These two works belong to the few canonical texts, in the strict sense, that are part of the modern monastic curriculum as defined by the Jain Mūrtipūjaka Tapāgaccha Conference of 1988 (Cort 1991: 654 and Cort 2001: 330–340).

The first Mūla-sūtra, the Daśavaikālika-sūtra, deals with proper monastic conduct. Therefore monks and nuns begin memorising it just after initiationdīkṣā. Memorisation of the whole text is achieved in stages.

The Āvaśyaka-sūtra, the third Mūla-sūtra, is concerned with the six obligatory duties of the mendicant, in particular repentancepratikramaṇa. New mendicants also start committing this scripture to memory immediately after their initiation.

Furthermore, Mūrtipūjaka mendicants study the second and fourth Mūla-sūtras later in their monastic training.

Mūla-sūtra 1 – fundamental teachings

Contemporary observation as well as various historical reports and accounts show that the Daśa-vaikālika-sūtra is the one learnt first by newly ordained Śvetāmbara mendicants (Illustrated Daśa-vaikālika-sūtra, Introduction page 23; Balbir 2008: 170–171). They learn it by heart before studying its meaning.

The composition of the first Mūla-sūtra is described in a legend that stresses a link with the 24th Jina Mahāvīra and the earliest summaries of his teachings, the Pūrvas. The reason given in the story for the Daśa-vaikālika-sūtra's creation is to pass on the teachings quickly. These two legendary elements have long bestowed authority on the scripture's status as the initial text from which to learn basic Jain beliefs and practices.

Mendicants often recite the first stanzas because they embody the core of Jain teaching, for instance when pouring sandalwood powder on the heads of lay followers as a form of blessing.

Traditional authorship

This painting from an Uttarādhyayana-sūtra manuscript illustrates a Śvetāmbara monastic teacher and pupils. As the senior monk, the teacher is the largest figure and sits on a dais under an ornate canopy. The lower-ranking mendicants pay homage to him

Monastic teacher
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The authorship of the Daśa-vaikālika-sūtra is inscribed within the traditional history of Śvetāmbara lineages of teachers. It is regarded as having been written by Śayyambhava, also known by his Prakrit name of Seyyambhava. He was the pupil of the teacher Prabhava, who was himself the pupil of Jambū the elder. In the traditional dating Śayyambhava became head of the monastic community Mahāvīra founded in the 75th year after Mahāvīra’s nirvāṇa, thus in 452 BCE.

Śayyambhava is said to have written the Daśa-vaikālika-sūtra for his son Maṇaka. The tale of how he came to compose it is told in the commentaries to the work and in narrative books recounting the ‘lives of the Jain elders’. Hemacandra’s version of the 12th century can be viewed as a convenient reference.

The Brahmin Śayyambhava was about to perform an animal sacrifice. The Jain teacher Prabhava sent two monks to convert him, who raised doubts in his mind as to the truth of the Veda. Śayyambhava finally recognised the truth of the Jain doctrine and practices, with non-violence at their centre. He was so convinced that he turned to the life of a Jain monk.

At the time of his decision to become a monk, Śayyambhava’s young wife was pregnant and duly gave birth to his son. As the boy Maṇaka grew up, he enquired about his father. Without his mother’s knowledge, Maṇaka went in search of him.

When he saw the boy for the first time Śayyambhava immediately recognised his son, but talked to him without disclosing his identity. As Maṇaka had said that he would be ordained as a Jain monk if he found his father, Śayyambhava introduced him to the teaching. But through the powers his great spiritual knowledge gave him, Śayyambhava realised that Maṇaka would die in six months’ time.

The great monk Śayyambhava thought, ‘This child’s life will be extremely short. How will he learn the teachings? The last Teacher who knows just ten of the fourteen Original Collections of Teachings is permitted to make an epitome of their doctrine, but for what reason may one who knows all fourteen? The reason has arisen: it’s to enlighten Maṇaka! I’ll prepare a compilation of the topics of the Original Collections of Teachings.’ When the spiritual leader Śayyambhava had finished his compilation of the Teachings, he named it the Ten Evening Chapters. The treatise is called the Ten Evening Chapters because he composed the ten chapters in an evening. Holy Śayyambhava, the excellent Teacher, the leader of the monastic order, most eminent of the compassionate, recited the treatise to Maṇaka.

The Lives of the Jain Elders, Fynes 1998: 122–123

As his father had foreseen, Maṇaka died after six months. In a later life he reached final liberation, which was said to have resulted from his learning this treatise.

Śayyambhava then expressed the wish to conceal this compilation, as he had first intended, but was then convinced by his own pupils not to do so.

The monastic community joyfully requested the religious Teacher, ‘Let this treatise which was prepared for Maṇaka, be of benefit to the whole world. Then beings who have the capacity for enlightenment, even those of little understanding, will perform their religious duty. Let them enjoy the benefits of your kindness, in the same way as Maṇaka. Like homeless bees, may they delight in continually resorting to the Ten Evening Chapters, the flower of the lotus plant of religious teaching’. Thus the monastic congregation prevented the noble religious teacher Śayyambhava from suppressing the Ten Evening Chapters.

The Lives of the Jain Elders, Fynes 1998: 124

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