Article: Mūla-sūtras

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Chapter 3

A condensed description of proper monastic conduct is the subject of chapter 3. Like several other chapters, the emphasis is on the proper way for monks to behave when in contact with lay people. Self-control and endurance are also the themes.

Chapter 4

Some types of living beings are illustrated in this manuscript painting. Over the course of the cycle of birth, a soul is born into various types of body according to the karma that has become attached to it. This painting shows examples of these beings.

Examples of types of living beings
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The fourth chapter of the Daśa-vaikālika-sūtra is extremely important. It starts with an extensive description of the six kinds of life forms:

  • earth-bodies – puḍhavi
  • water-bodies – āu
  • fire-bodies – teu
  • wind-bodies – vāu
  • plant-bodies - vaṇassai
  • mobile bodies – tasa

Exact knowledge of this topic is a prerequisite for proper monastic conduct. Such behaviour is characterised by self-control and its consequence, which is non-aggression towards living beings and non-violence. These notions are expressed by the Sanskrit terms ahiṃsā and saṃyama, which occur right at the beginning of the work.

Thus the monk is told not to:

  • harm living beings
  • cause others to harm them
  • allow others to harm them in mind, speech or action.

Then comes the exposition of the five major vows – mahā-vratas – which define the fundamentals of monastic conduct. They are not formulated as general rules, but phrased in the first person singular as a resolution expressed in the presence of one’s teacher. This is a way to involve the reader or vow-taker directly in the process:

  • I take the first great vow – abstinence from harming any living being in any way
  • I take the second great vow – abstinence from wrong speech
  • I take the third great vow – abstinence from taking what has not been given
  • I take the fourth great vow – abstinence from sexual intercourse
  • I take the fifth great vow – abstinence from keeping any possession.

To the set of the five vows is added a sixth. This vow relates to the prohibition on eating at night – that is, after sunset. This vow is not recorded in the great vows as expressed in the first Aṅga of the Śvetāmbara canon, the Ācārānga-sūtra.

Then comes another set of prose paragraphs where various prohibitions relating to monastic behaviour are expressed in general terms as ‘A monk or a nun should not…’.

This chapter ends with a set of stanzas emphasising the need for knowledge and the ability to discriminate between good and bad. The verses stress how necessary these two elements are before the monk can begin proper behaviour.

Chapter 5

White-clad nuns from the Aṅcala-gaccha sect receive alms from lay women. Śvetāmbara Mūrtipūjak monks and nuns beg alms twice a day. Finding suitable alms that are correctly offered may take hours.

Lay women give alms to nuns
Image by Khetshi N. Shah © Khetshi N. Shah

In two sections, chapter 5 deals extensively with ‘the begging-tour’ or search for alms which Śvetāmbara mendicants undertake twice a day. The text stresses how precautions have to be taken regarding the:

  • origin and nature of the food offered as alms
  • procedure when accepting the food
  • procedure when consuming it.

As the rituals surrounding the seeking, accepting and eating of food as alms are highly complex, numerous faults can be committed easily. Whereas other specialised texts on alms give technical designations and definitions, here the emphasis is on practical aspects, such as:

  • what should the mendicant avoid?
  • what should he do in a given circumstance?

The text refers to the circumstances where a mendicant interacts with the lay donor – the lady who cooks and provides the food.

The interpretation of particular terms used here (5. 1. 73) has been highly controversial. It is said that the monk should avoid bahu-aṭṭhiyaṃ puggalaṃ aṇimisaṃ vā bahu-kaṇṭayaṃ. In the standard Jain understanding, this means to avoid ‘fruits with many seeds, scales, thorns’. But the parallel of the phrase found in the first Aṅga, the Ācārānga-sūtra, raises difficulties with the usual interpretation. The phrase bahu-y-aṭṭhiyaṃ vā maṃsaṃ macchaṃ vā bahu-kaṇṭagaṃ (II. 1. 10. 5) is used, where the words for ‘meat’ – maṃsaṃ – and ‘fish’ – macchaṃ – are straightforward. This suggests that the meaning is ‘lump of flesh with many bone pieces’ and ‘fish with many scales and spikes’. This is one of the traces found in scriptures that indicate that non-vegetarianism was not excluded in earlier times and that ancient Jain ascetics could have eaten meat (Alsdorf-Bollée 2010: 6ff., Dundas 2002: 177). These traces can be found even though they are extremely disturbing to Jain orthodoxy and thus tend to be suppressed. Schubring’s 1932 translation of the Daśavaikālika-sūtra verse was censored by the Jain publisher (Managers of the Sheth Anandji Kalianj in Ahmedabad, Gujarat), with the controversial words appearing as ‘x x x x x’.

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