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

Title of the 'Daśavaikālika-sūtra'

The legendary account of the scripture’s creation gives the title of the work as meaning the ‘Ten Evening Chapters’ and explains it with reference to the time it was written. Another understanding of the title refers to the time when it should be read, because it may mean ‘Ten [lectures] beyond [the prescribed study hours]’. This interpretation underlines that this work can be read any time. Mention of the ‘time’ prescribed for reading refers to a method of grouping scriptures, but is not easy to interpret.


A gallery of the Agam Mandir in Pune, Maharashtra, displays plates inscribed with the 45 holy writings or Āgamas of the Śvetāmbara Mūrtipūjak sect. Temples devoted to scriptures, Agam Mandirs were invented in the 1940s

Gallery of an Agam Mandir
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

The legendary account of its composition emphasises the fact that the Daśa-vaikālika-sūtra is an abridgment of the 14 Pūrvas. Some commentators have developed this idea by making specific connections between certain chapters and given Pūrvas.

Others, however, consider that this work is an epitome of the 12 Aṅgas. Similarly, they establish a systematic connection between given chapters of the Daśa-vaikālika-sūtra and particular Aṅgas. The fact is that most of the topics the Daśa-vaikālika-sūtra covers are also dealt with in other parts of the canon, especially in the first Aṅga, the Ācārānga-sūtra, the oldest book on monastic conduct. In a number of cases these connections go beyond the contents and relate to points of detail, such as metaphors or phrases (see further Illustrated Daśavaikālika Sūtra, introduction pages 20–21).

A number of traditionally famous striking formulas or aphorisms believed to capture the essence of Jainism comes from this work.

Examples of Daśa-vaikālika-sūtra aphorisms

Prakrit phrase (chapter and verse)

English translation

dhammo mangalam ukkiṭṭhaṃ (1. 1)

‘Dharma is the best among auspicious things’ or ‘The best word to begin with is Dharma’ (Schubring)

paḍhamaṃ nāṇaṃ tao dayā (4. 10)

‘First knowledge, then compassion’

dhammassa viṇao mūlaṃ (9. 2. 2)

‘Humble behaviour is the root of Dharma’

savve jīvā vi icchanti jīviuṃ na marijjiuṃ (6. 11)

‘All living beings wish to live, not to die’

mucchā pariggaho vutto (6. 21)

‘Attachment is possession’

Number of chapters

Ten is the number of chapters to be expected from the title, and is indeed the actual number. But it is increased by two appendices – cūlikās – following the tenth chapter. These are considered integral parts of the whole work.

The 12 chapters of the Daśa-vaikālika-sūtra

Chapter number


Number of stanzas












prose + 29 stanzas

5 – two sections


100 + 50










9 – four sections


17 + 23 + 15 + prose and 12 stanzas




Appendix 1


prose + 17 stanzas

Appendix 2


16 stanzas

As noted by some scholars, such as Schubring, the even-numbered and odd-numbered chapters deal systematically with different topics. The even-numbered chapters tend to cover mendicant lifestyle in general whereas the others deal with particular topics of monastic life.


The subject matter of the Daśa-vaikālika-sūtra is mendicant conduct, with several key aspects reiterated and expanded on throughout the chapters and appendices. These key elements of mendicant life are related to food, behaviour towards others, especially superiors and lay people, and knowledge crucial for a monk's proper conduct and spiritual progress. Several passages are identical or very similar to other Śvetāmbara scriptures that deal with these topics.

Chapter 1

The first chapter of the first Mūla-sūtra is brief. It underlines the idea prevailing in the whole book that a monk should live in a way that does not harm those on whom he depends, especially during his search for alms. This is expressed through a famous comparison, also found in similar terms in Buddhist scriptures. It states that the monk should be like the bee which sucks pollen from flowers without hurting them.

Chapter 2

This painting from a 15th-century manuscript of the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra shows the Śvetāmbara nun Rājīmatī and monk Rathanemi in a cave sheltering from a storm. Rājīmatī's beauty makes Rathanemi forget his monastic vows but her sermon inspires him

Rājīmatī and Rathanemi in the cave
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Daśa-vaikālika-sūtra does not contain any narrative chapter. But the famous story featuring Rājimāti’s lesson to Rathanemi is recalled in chapter 2.

In this tale Rathanemi is so beguiled by Rājimāti’s beauty that he is about to give up life as a monk until she reminds him of his vows. The purpose of the second chapter is to strongly encourage monks to remain firm on the path of celibacy and not to indulge in desire.

The story and verses here are identical to the same episode told in chapter 22 of another Mūla-sūtra, the Uttarādhyayana.

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’.

Chapter 6

This manuscript painting depicts the 24th Jina Mahāvīra and the 'universal gathering' – samavasaraṇa. This Sanskrit term means the event during which the omniscient Jina preaches to all sentient beings – human beings, animals and deities. It also describe

Mahāvīra and the universal gathering
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

An elaborate exposition of dharma and conduct, the sixth chapter can be viewed as a longer version of what is summarised in chapter 3. It is presented in the form of a sermon given by a teacher in answer to questions about the nature of his conduct.

Some of the topics are common to other chapters, such as references to the six life forms, the great vows and searching for alms. The expounding teacher often refers to Mahāvīra as the source of his exposition and provides a strong argument in favour of saintly behaviour, which leads to perfect calmness and final liberation.

Chapter 7

The Daśa-vaikālika-sūtra’s seventh chapter is on right speech and is derived from a section on the same topic in the Ācārānga-sūtra (II. 4). Purity in speech does not just mean not lying. There is much more to it, which is detailed here.

Rough speech is also included as a type of improper speech. Examples are provided of phrases that should not be uttered because they could hurt or be misleading. Insults are one form of wrong speech, but also sentences that imply violence or could encourage it. For instance

a monk should not say of a man, a quadruped, a bird, or a snake: “He / it is big and fat and fit to be killed and cooked”. He should say: “He / it is of increased bulk, his / its body is well grown, he / it has attained a sizeable shape”

7.22–23, Schubring’s translation, page 102

The main idea is that the mendicant should:

  • think before speaking
  • avoid speaking if it is better not to talk
  • phrase his statements extremely carefully.

Chapter 8

In this detail from a manuscript painting Śvetāmbara monks receive alms from lay people. This manuscript of the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra, a major text outlining the rules of monastic life, dates back to the 16th century

Giving alms to Śvetāmbara monks
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The topic of the eighth chapter is again the rules of conduct for all circumstances of monastic life. This chapter phrases these rules as either ‘the monk should…’ or ‘he should not…’.

Some rules relate to topics already dealt with in the preceding chapters, such as food or speech. The emphasis is on restraint, detachment and protection from inclinations or passions that prevent the mendicant from reaching the goal of spiritual progression to salvation. The conclusion is:

Such a monk who bears all pains, has subdued his senses, possesses knowledge of tradition, is without egotism and property, shines forth, when the cloud of Karman has disappeared, like the moon at the definitive removal of the cloudy veil

8. 63, Schubring’s translation, page 109

Chapter 9

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

There are four sections in Chapter 9, all discussing the relationship between the mendicant and his superiors, between the student and his teacher. In order to be able to learn and progress, a mendicant must behave with modesty, humility and respect. All these notions are conveyed in one term – vinaya – which is also the topic of the first chapter of another Mūla-sūtra, the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra.

Thus a disciple should not offend or mock his teacher – guru – as the first section explains. This may have unwished for and dangerous consequences: ‘after an offence against the Guru there is no Salvation’ (9. 1. 9; Schubring’s translation, page 110).

The second section starts with the vigorous statement that ‘humble behaviour is the root of dharma’. The attitudes of respectful and arrogant monks are described and their respective results contrasted. The third section has a positive approach, concentrating on the one who is humble and well behaved. All the stanzas of this section end with the same motto, which gives the section a formal unity. The motto is: ‘he is worthy of respect’ – sa pujjo.

In the final section, four points regarding the general concept of vinaya are examined in turn, which are:

  • devotion to discipline
  • devotion to the sacred texts
  • devotion in fasting
  • devotion to good conduct.

Chapter 10

Each stanza of chapter 10 of the Daśa-vaikālika-sūtra is also characterised by a concluding refrain. This time it is: ‘he is a true monk’ – sa bhikkhū.

Here is a description of the ideal conduct of the wandering mendicant. It is written in a number of different metres. This poetical piece is similar to the 15th chapter of the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra, which has the same refrain and also uses various metres.

Appendix 1

The first appendix considers a mendicant who is disheartened and has doubts about his way of life. He is then invited to bear in mind a set of 18 statements, such as, in Schubring’s rendering:

  • ‘worthless and transient are the pleasures of people who dwell in houses’
  • ‘This my trouble will not last long’
  • ‘If I returned to the life of a house-holder, this would be as if I swallowed my own vomit’.

Such thoughts will help him to stay on the right path. In the following verse-section they are expressed again in another form. This section also holds warnings of the negative perspectives that await him if he succumbs to the temptation to renounce monkhood.

Appendix 2

In the Daśa-vaikālika-sūtra’s second appendix, many rules set out in the previous chapters are stated again in different words. A powerful comparison is meant to stimulate one on the right path:

While most people are swimming with the current, a man who wishes to cleanse himself must oppose his body to the current and thus receive the oncoming waves. The worldly-minded people delight in swimming with the current and the reduced influence of the virtuous consists in the turning back of the flood. The current is the Saṃsāra, to pass through it is to make headaway against it

12. 2–3, Schubring’s translation, page 120

The emphasis here is on secluded life and the proper way to practise it. As in the rest of the work, one of the main points underlined is how to behave in the monk’s daily interactions with householders.

The final stanza, which is also the last of the whole text, is often quoted as summarising its general tone.

The soul must always be protected by all senses under control. An unprotected [mendicant] treads on the path of rebirth, a well-protected [one] is freed from all pain

12. 16, Schubring’s translation, page 121, slightly modified

Mūla-sūtra 2 – basic concepts and legends

This illustration from an Uttarādhyayana-sūtra manuscript shows some of the obstacles to chastity. Generally considered to be the hardest vow a mendicant must take, the vow of celibacy is at risk if a monk is in the company of women

Dangers to the vow of celibacy
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The second Mūla-sūtra is called Uttarajjhayaṇa-sutta in Prakrit, Uttarādhyayana-sūtra in Sanskrit. The term uttara can be understood as meaning ‘last’, ‘additional’ or ‘excellent’. This scripture deals with all aspects of Jain doctrine and monastic practice, such as:

These fundamental concepts are considered in 36 lessons, all characterised by forceful statements.

The 36 chapters of the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra

Chapter number


English meaning or topic

Number of stanzas



Discipline and modesty




The disturbances

prose and 48 stanzas



The ‘four mains’




On carelessness and vigilance




Death of the wise and death of the fool




The new ascetic




The parable of the ram




Kapila’s verses




King Nami’s renunciation




The tree leaf




The very learned




On Harikeśa




The story of Citta and Sambhūta




On Iṣukāri




The true monk




The conditions of chastity

prose and 19 stanzas



The bad ascetic




On Sañjaya




On Mṛgāputra




On the great ascetic




On Samudrapāla




On Rathanemi




Keśi and Gautama




The main articles of the doctrine




On sacrifice




Right monastic behaviour




The parable of the bad bullocks




The road to emancipation




The effort towards righteousness

in prose, fairly long



The road to austerity




Mode of conduct




The causes of carelessness




The varieties of karma




The colours of the soul




The path to the life of a mendicant




On living and non-living


The Uttarādhyayana-sūtra offers a combination of didactic and narrative chapters, containing numerous conversion stories. In the latter in particular, Jain values are not universally accepted and have to be demonstrated. Thus dialogues and opposing views are common in this text.

With one of the richest pictorial histories of any Śvetāmbara scripture, the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra has countless illustrations for both instruction and story approaches.

Although it has prose passages, the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra is chiefly in verse. The poetry demonstrates a range of metres, which suggest different parts of it date from various periods.

This scripture is examined in more depth in the dedicated Uttarādhyayana-sūtra article.

Mūla-sūtra 3 – six obligatory duties

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

Called Āvassaya-sutta in Prakrit and Āvaśyaka-sūtra in Sanskrit, the third Mūla-sūtra is also the shortest.

In its full form the Āvaśyaka-sūtra is not considered to be extremely old, but it is very important because of its subject. It deals successively with the six obligatory duties of a mendicant, centring around the idea of confession and repentancepratikramaṇa. It is a liturgical text, containing the formulas a monk must recite in the presence of a teacher to express his wish to adopt proper conduct or to repent for transgressions. In five sections out of six, the formulas are in the first-person singular, with the ‘I’ a mendicant. Examples include:

  • ‘Venerable teacher, I perform the rite of equanimity’
  • ‘O teacher, I wish to pay homage / repent and so on’.

Each covering one of the obligatory duties, the six sections are in prose but contain hymns of praise in verse. These devotional songs are also part of the formalised ritual that the Āvaśyaka-sūtra unfolds.

This scripture is examined in more depth in the article on the Āvaśyaka-sūtra and its commentary, the Āvaśyaka-niryukti.

Mūla-sūtra 4 – gathering alms

The monastic staff and broom of a Śvetāmbara mendicant lean against shelves in a corner. Monks and nuns in the Śvetāmbara sect use alms bowls, staffs and brooms as their monastic equipment – upakaraṇa

Śvetāmbara monastic equipment
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

This Mūla-sūtra is different from the other three works in this class of scripture in several ways.

Firstly, the Śvetāmbarasects of the Sthānaka-vāsins and Terāpanthins do not recognise this text as a Mūla-sūtra. However, Śvetāmbara Mūrtipūjak Jains class it as the fourth Mūla-sūtra. This is a way to give it more prominence, partly due to the fact that it deals at length with all issues regarding the search for alms.

Secondly, it is made up of two texts. These are known as the Piṇḍa-nijjutti and Ogha-nijjutti in Prakrit, Piṇḍa-niryukti and the Ogha-niryukti in Sanskrit.

Next, technically its constituent texts belong to another category of Jain writings – that of the niryukti. This generic name is given to a group of ten Prakrit verse-commentaries where scholastic methods of analysis are applied to understand words and concepts. The other existing texts in this category are based on a specific work – a sūtra. This is not the case with these two works, which have arisen independently of any sūtra. They are ascribed to ‘Bhadrabāhu’ or ‘Bhadrabāhu II’, who could have lived in the 1st century CE or, according to some, in the 5th century CE (Wiley 2004: 52).

More generally, the two works are related in their contents, dealing in highly technical and sophisticated ways with daily mendicant life. The Ogha-niryukti deals with various aspects, taking its title from ogha, meaning ‘general, global’. This includes the practice of gathering alms, which Śvetāmbara monks and nuns collect twice a day. The second text concentrates on the issue of alms-gathering, with piṇḍa meaning ‘rice-ball’. These complementary works also cover matters relating to the alms bowl, with the Ogha-niryukti also treating other monastic implements. They provide a lot of information about material culture, however difficult it may be to grasp (Deo 1960, Mette 1974, Bollée 1994).

Hence the Ogha-niryukti and the Piṇḍa-niryukti function as specialised supplements to matters that are especially detailed in another of the ‘Fundamental Texts’. This is the Daśa-vaikālika-sūtra, the fifth chapter of which deals with seeking, receiving and consuming alms.

The Ogha-niryukti has 812 stanzas distributed over seven sections.

Contents and structure of the Ogha-niryukti


Prakrit term

Sanskrit equivalent






inspection of:

  • implements
  • food
  • place for excretion and so on





rituals relating to:

  • looking for alms
  • the proper way to dispose of leftovers

331–595 596–665




monastic equipment:

  • number and size of the items allowed, especially the alms bowl and its accessories
  • monastic staff





how to avoid making mistakes





breaking the vows





confession and reporting any mistakes to the teacher





literally ‘extraction of the thorns’, purification through atonement for any mistake


The sister text that also comprises the fourth text – the Piṇḍa-niryukti – has 671 verses in three large sections, corresponding to eight headings. The two writings also share numerous verses.

Contents and structure of the Piṇḍa-niryukti


Prakrit term

Sanskrit equivalent




  • gavesaṇā
  • uggama-dosa
  • uppāyaṇa-dosa

  • gaveṣaṇā
  • udgama-doṣa
  • utpādana-doṣa

alms-search mistakes:

  • relating to the provenance and preparation of food
  • of the alms-giver, and those relating to the acceptance of food
  • of the recipient

Each category uses 16 stanzas




improper ways of seeking alms



ghās’esaṇā or paribhoga

grāsaiṣaṇā or paribhoga

mistakes relating to the consumption of food or the mode of eating



Like other categories of the Śvetāmbara canon, the Mūla-sūtras have been the starting point of many commentaries over the centuries. All forms of Jain commentary have been applied to them, namely:

Main commentaries on the Mūla-sūtras




Sanskrit commentaries



by Agastyasiṃha

well-known examples by:

  • Haribhadra – 8th century
  • Samayasundara – 17th century




well-known examples by:

  • Śānti-sūri – 9th century
  • Devendra alias Nemicandra – 11th century
  • Lakṣmīvallabha – 15th century
  • Bhāvavijaya – 17th century


  • Āvaśyaka-niryukti
  • bhāṣya by Jinabhadra-gaṇi

by Jinadāsa

well-known examples by:

  • Haribhadra – 8th century
  • Malayagiri – 12th century
  • Tiliakācārya – 12th century
  • Gujarati commentaries, for example by Taruṇaprabha – 14th century
  • Piṇḍa-niryukti
  • Ogha-niryukti


well-known examples by:

  • Droṇācārya – 11th century
  • Malayagiri – 12th century

The verse commentary on the third Mūla-sūtra, the Āvaśyaka-niryukti, has ‘assumed a quasi-canonical status’ (Dundas 2002: 75) owing to its large size and the way it discusses important mythological and philosophical matters.

The fourth work of the category is formed by verse texts that are not based on any sutra. This probably explains why the Sthānaka-vāsins and the Terāpanthins do not regard the Piṇḍa-niryukti and Ogha-niryukti as canonical scriptures.


  • Monastic teacherThis 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. The bookstand – sthāpanācārya – between the junior monks symbolises teaching. . Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Gallery of an Agam MandirA gallery of the Agam Mandir in Pune, Maharashtra, displays plates inscribed with the 45 holy writings or Āgamas of the Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjak sect. An Agam Mandir is a type of temple invented in the 1940s containing engravings of the Āgamas, which are intended for worship, or at least darśana – being seen.. Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir
  • Rājīmatī and Rathanemi in the caveThis painting from a 15th-century manuscript of the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra shows the Śvetāmbara nun Rājīmatī and monk Rathanemi in a cave sheltering from a storm. Rājīmatī's beauty makes Rathanemi forget his monastic vows but her sermon inspires him to become an ideal monk.. Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • Examples of types of living beingsSome 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 depicts examples of these beings, such as a god, various animals, plants and insects. . Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Lay women give alms to nunsWhite-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 in a complex ritual may take hours. The staff – daṇḍa – of one of the nuns can be seen on the right.. Image by Khetshi N. Shah © Khetshi N. Shah
  • Mahāvīra and the universal gatheringThis manuscript painting depicts the 24th Jina Mahāvīra and the 'universal gathering' – samavasaraṇa. This Sanskrit term means the event during which the omniscient Jina preaches to all sentient beings – human beings, animals and deities. It also describes the special building from which the Jina delivers his sermon, built by the gods. This has doors in the four directions so his message spreads to all corners of the earth. During the universal gathering natural enemies are at peace, demonstrated by the pairs of animals.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Giving alms to Śvetāmbara monksIn this detail from a manuscript painting Śvetāmbara monks receive alms from lay people. This manuscript of the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra, a major text outlining the rules of monastic life, dates back to the 16th century.. Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • Senior monk teachingThis 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
  • Dangers to the vow of celibacyThis illustration from an Uttarādhyayana-sūtra manuscript shows some of the obstacles to chastity. Generally considered to be the hardest vow a mendicant must take, the vow of celibacy is at risk if a monk is in the company of women. He must avoid contact with and even thoughts of women to become a 'perfect ascetic'.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Scenes of forgivenessThis 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
  • Śvetāmbara monastic equipmentThe monastic staff and broom of a Śvetāmbara mendicant lean against shelves in a corner. Monks and nuns in the Śvetāmbara sect use alms bowls, staffs and brooms as their monastic equipment – upakaraṇa. They must take care not to develop feelings of attachment or possession towards them, because the principle of non-possession – aparigraha – is vital for Jain mendicants. . Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

Further Reading

Jaina Studies: Their Present State and Future Tasks
Ludwig Alsdorf
translated by Bal Patil
edited by Willem Bollée
Hindi Granth Karyalay; Mumbai, Maharashtra, India; 2006

Full details

The Āryā Stanzas of the Uttarajjhāyā: Contributions to the Text History and Interpretation of a Canonical Jaina Text
Ludwig Alsdorf
Abhandlungen der Geistes- und Sozialwissenschaftlichen Klasse series; volume 2
Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur Mainz; Wiesbaden, Hesse, Germany; 1966

Full details

The History of Vegetarianism and Cow-Veneration in India
Ludwig Alsdorf
translated by Bal Patil
edited by Willem Bollée
Routledge Advances in Jaina Studies series; series editor Peter Flügel; volume 3
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2010

Full details

Kleine Schriften
Ludwig Alsdorf
edited by Albrecht Wezler
Glasenapp Stiftung series; volume 10
Franz Steiner Verlag GmbH; Wiesbaden, Hesse, Germany; 1974

Full details

Āvaśyaka-Studien: Introduction générale et traductions
Nalini Balbir
Alt- und Neu-Indische Studien series; volume 45: 1
Franz Steiner Verlag; Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg, Germany; 1993

Full details

‘Autobiographies of Jain Monks and Nuns in the 20th Century: A Preliminary Essay’
Nalini Balbir
Jaina Studies
edited by Colette Caillat and Nalini Balbir
Papers of the XIIth World Sanskrit Conference series; series editor Petteri Koskikallio and Asko Parpola; volume 9
Motilal Banarsidass; Delhi, India; 2008

Full details

‘Les lecteurs jaina śvetāmbara face à leur canon’
Nalini Balbir
Ecrire et transmettre en Inde classique
edited by Gérard Colas and Gerdi Gerschheimer
Études thématiques series; volume 23
École Française d’Extrême Orient; Paris; 2009

Full details

‘On the role and meaning of the Śvetāmbara canon in the history of Jainism’
Nalini Balbir
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

‘Old texts, new images: Illustrating the Śvetāmbara Jain Āgamas today’
Nalini Balbir
In the Shadow of the Golden Age
edited by Julia A. B. Hegewald
University of Bonn Press; Bonn, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany; 2012

Full details

Materials for an Edition and Study of the Piṇḍa- and Oha-nijjuttis of the Śvetâmbara Jain Tradition
Willem B. Bollée
Beiträge zur Südasienforschung, Südasien-Institut, Universität Heidelberg series; volume 2
Franz Steiner Verlag; Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg, Germany; 1994

Full details

‘Das Kanonproblem bei den Jainas’
Klaus Bruhn
Kanon und Zensur
edited by Aleida Assman and Jan Assman
Archäologie der literarischen Kommunikation series; volume II
Wilhelm Fink Verlag; Munich, Germany; 1987

Full details

‘The Recent Critical Editions of the Jain Āgama’
Colette Caillat
Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft
volume 21: supplement 5
F. Steiner; 1980

Full details

‘Notes sur les variantes dans la tradition du Dasaveyāliya-sutta’
Colette Caillat
Indologica Taurinensia
volume 8–9
International Association of Sanskrit Studies; 1980–81

Full details

‘Notes sur les variantes grammaticales dans la tradition du 'Dasaveyāliya-Sutta'’
Colette Caillat
Indological and Buddhist Studies – volume in Honour of Professor J. W. de Jong on his Sixtieth Birthday
edited by Luise Anna Hercus
Faculty of Asian Studies, Australian National University; Canberra, Australia; 1982

Full details

‘The beating of the brahmins (Uttarādhyayana 12)’
Colette Caillat
Festschrift Klaus Bruhn zur Vollendung des 65 Lebensjahres
edited by Nalini Balbir and Joachim K. Bautze
Dr Inge Wezler; Reinbek, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany; 1994

Full details

In Search of the Original Ardhamāgadhī
N. M. Kansara
translated by K. R. Chandra
Prākrt̥a Grantha Pariṣad series; volume 35
D. M. Prakrit Text Society; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 2001

Full details

The Uttarādhyayanasūtra: being the first Mūlasūtra of the Śvetāmbara Jains
Jarl Charpentier
Archives d'études orientales series; volume 18
Appelbergs Boktryckeri Aktiebolag; Uppsala, Sweden; 1922

Full details

‘The Śvetāmbara Mūrtipūjak Jain Mendicant’
John Cort
Man (New Series)
volume 29: 4
Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland; 1991

Full details

‘The Intellectual Formation of a Jain Monk: A Śvetāmbara Monastic Curriculum’
John E. Cort
Journal of Indian Philosophy
volume 29

Full details

Dasaveyāliyasuttaṃ, Uttarajhayaṇāiṃ and Āvassayasuttaṃ
edited by Muni Puṇyavijaya and Amritlal Mohanlal Bhojak
Jaina Agamas series; volume 15
Śrī Mahāvīra Jaina Vidyālaya; Bombay, Maharashtra, India; 1977

Full details

Walther Schubring
Kleine Schriften
edited by Klaus Bruhn
Glasenapp Stiftung series; volume 13
Franz Steiner Verlag GmbH; Wiesbaden, Hesse, Germany; 1977

Full details

Daśavaikālika with Agastyasiṃha’s cūrṇi
edited by Muni Puṇyavijaya
Prakrit Text Society series; volume 17
Prakrit Text Society; Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India; 1973

Full details

History of Jaina Monachism from Inscriptions and Literature
Shantaram Bhalchandra Deo
Deccan College Dissertation series; volume 17
Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute; Pune, Maharashtra, India; 1956

Full details

‘Somnolent Sūtras: Scriptural Commentary in Śvetāmbara Jainism’
Paul Dundas
Journal of Indian Philosophy
volume 25

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

History, Scripture and Controversy in a Medieval Jain Sect
Paul Dundas
Routledge Advances in Jaina Studies series; series editor Peter Flügel; volume 2
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2007

Full details

Kleine Schriften
Ernst Leumann
edited by Nalini Balbir
Glasenapp Stiftung series; volume 37
Franz Steiner Verlag GmbH; Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg, Germany; 1998

Full details

An outline of the Āvaśyaka Literature
Ernst Leumann
translated by George Baumann
L. D. series; volume 150
L. D. Institute of Indology; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 2010

Full details

Scripture and Community: Collected Essays on the Jains
Kendall W. Folkert
edited by John E. Cort
Studies in World Religions series; volume 6
Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard University & Scholars Press; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; 1993

Full details

The Lives of the Jain Elders
translated and edited by R. C. C. Fynes
Oxford World’s Classics series
Oxford University Press; Oxford, UK and New York, USA; 1998

Full details

The Jaina Path of Purification
Padmanabh S. Jaini
University of California Press; Berkeley, California USA; 1979

Full details

‘Jain Sectarian Debates: Eighty-four Points of Contention (Cauryāṃsī bol) Between Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras (Text and Translation)’
Padmanabh S. Jaini
Journal of Indian Philosophy
volume 36

Full details

A History of the Canonical Literature of the Jainas
Hiralal Rasikdas Kapadia
Surat, Gujarat, India; 1941

Full details

Piṇḍ’esaṇā: Das Kapitel der Oha-nijjutti über den Bettelgang
Adelheid Mette
Abhandlungen der Geistes- und Sozialwissenschaftlichen Klasse series; volume 11
Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur Mainz; Wiesbaden, Hesse, Germany; 1973

Full details

The Doctrine of the Jainas: Described after the Old Sources
Walther Schubring
translated by Wolfgang Bühlen
edited by Satya Ranjan Banerjee
Lala Sunder Lal Jain Research series; volume 15
Motilal Banarsidass; New Delhi, India; 2000

Full details

The Unknown Pilgrims: The voice of the sādhvīs – the history, spirituality, and life of the Jaina women ascetics
N. Shāntā
translated by Mary Rogers
Sri Garib Dass Oriental series; volume 219
Sri Satguru Publications; New Delhi, India; 1997

Full details

'Uttarâdhyayana Sûtra'
translated and edited by Hermann Jacobi
Jaina Sutras Part II: Uttarâdhyayana Sûtra and Sûtrakritâṅga
Sacred Books of the East series; series editor F. Max Müller; volume 45
Clarendon Press; Oxford, England UK; 1895

Full details

Albrecht Weber’s Sacred Literature of the Jains: An Account of the Jaina Āgamas
Albrecht Weber
translated by H. W. Smyth
edited by Ganesh Chandra Lalwani and Satya Ranjan Banerjee
Jain Bhavan; Calcutta, West Bengal, India; 1999

Full details

The “Śvetāmbara Canon.” A Descriptive Listing of Text Editions, Commentaries, Studies and Indexes: Based on Editions held in the Library of the Australian National University
Royce Wiles
unpublished; Canberra, Australia; 1997

Full details

‘The First Collected Edition of Śvetāmbara Jain Canonical Texts’
Royce Wiles
Studia Indologica: Professor Satya Ranjan Banerjee Felicitation Volume
edited by Jagat Ram Bhattacharyya
Eastern Book Linkers; Delhi, India; 2007

Full details

Historical Dictionary of Jainism
Kristi L. Wiley
Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements series; series editor Jon Woronoff; volume 53
Scarecrow Press; Maryland, USA; 2004

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



The principle of non-violence that is one of the five chief vows of Jainism.


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.


Literally 'limb' in Sanskrit, Aṅga is a term for the first category of 11 texts that form the Śvetāmbara scriptures. There were originally 12 but the last has been lost for centuries.


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.


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'.


A follower of Buddhism. There are two main schools of Buddhism, namely:

  • Theravāda – 'the Teaching of the Elders' in Pali – is older and is found chiefly in Sri Lanka and continental South East Asia
  • Māhayana – 'Great Vehicle' in Sanskrit – is the larger sect and is followed mainly in East Asia and the Himalayan nations.

Both sects are practised in India.


Avoiding or stopping sexual relations, often after taking a religious vow. A celibate practises celibacy.


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 gathering of believers that has come together to perform group acts of worship.


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


Not feeling attached to any things, people or emotions in the world, whether positive or negative. Jains believe that detachment from the world is necessary to progress spiritually towards the ultimate aim of freeing the soul from the cycle of rebirth.


Duty, religious codes or principles, the religious law. Jains think in terms of dharma or underlying order in the universe.

Related to this, the term is also used for the true nature of an object or living entity. For example, the dharma of:

  • fire is to burn
  • water is to produce a cooling effect.

The 15th Jina of the present age is called Dharmanātha or Lord Dharma. His symbolic colour is gold and his emblem the vajra – diamond thunderbolt. There is no historical evidence of his existence.


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.


A donor gives freely. He or she may give alms to a mendicant or money to an institution. This donation may be for specific items or purposes, such as the creation of art. A donor, sponsor or patron may be named or pictured in the artwork.


A term used for a man who is one of those listed in early sources as the direct successors of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina.


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.


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


Sanskrit term meaning both:

  • a spiritual teacher
  • 'heavy', in contrast to laghu or ‘light'.


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.


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'.


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.


'Passion' that causes activity, which results in new karma binding to the soul. It must be eliminated by restraints or austerities so the soul can be liberated. Passion may be attraction – rāga – or aversion – dveṣa – and has degrees of intensity. There are traditionally four passions:

  • anger – krodha
  • pride – māna
  • deceit – māyā
  • greed – lobha.

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


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.


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.


The five vows taken by ascetics. Monks and nuns must follow these ‘absolute’ vows of:

  • non-violence – ahiṃsā
  • truth – satya
  • taking only what is given – asteya
  • celibacy – brahmacarya
  • non-attachment or non-possession – aparigraha.

The 24th Jina Mahāvīra added a fifth vow to his predecessor Pārśva's four, making the vow of celibacy not just implicit but a separate vow.

Māhārāṣṭrī Prākrit

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


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.


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.


Release from the bondage of neverending rebirths, in which an enlightened human being undergoes his or her final death, followed immediately by salvation instead of rebirth. Note that this differs from the Buddhist concept of the same name.


A class of early Prākrit verse commentary in the Śvetāmbara tradition.


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 act of being appointed as a member of the clergy of a religion. It is a formal ceremony that consecrates a believer into the holder of a religious office.


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.


Supernatural event during which a human being, animal or object is controlled by a spirit or god, leading to noticeable changes in behaviour or health.


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.


Literally, the Sanskrit for 'ancient’. The term can mean either:

  • a measurement of 84,000 x 84,000 years
  • the scriptures of the 24 Jinas' preaching and long since lost.

The 14 Pūrvas held all the knowledge in the universe and the few who knew them were given the exalted status of śruta-kevalin – ‘scripturally omniscient person'. In line with the prophecy of the last Jina, Mahāvīra, knowledge of the Pūrvas died out within a thousand years of his liberation. Parts of the Pūrvas are said to form elements of later philosophy and scriptures.


Brother of the 22nd Jina, Nemi. A Jain monk, he asked the nun Rājimatī, who was his brother's jilted fiancée, to accept him as her lover. He was brought back to the right path by her response.


'Eating at night'. No Jains should eat after dark because of the greater risk of unknowingly eating living beings. It is counted as a supplement to the five Greater Vows of the ascetics. Lay Jains should also observe it, but not all of them do so.


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.


Someone who is declared by a religious organisation or by popular acclaim to be of outstanding goodness and spiritual purity, usually some time after his or her death. The person's holiness is often believed to have been demonstrated in the performance of miracles. Saints are frequently held up as examples for followers of a religious faith.


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.


Self-control, restraint which prevents aggressiveness and violence.

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


A fragrant wood from trees in the Santalum genus, which is often made into oil, paste, powder or incense. Widely used in religious ceremonies across Asia, sandalwood paste and powder are used to mark or decorate religious equipment, statues or images, priests and worshippers. Also used for carvings, sandalwood produces a highly prized oil used in cosmetics and perfumes.


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.


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.


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.


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.


A Śvetāmbara mūrti-pūjaka sect, first established in the 13th century and reformed from the 19th century. Today nearly all mūrti-pūjak mendicants belong to this sect.


A category of Sanskrit commentary generally written in prose.


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.


Earliest scriptures of the Hindu faith, which are divided into four collections, all written in verse:

  • Ṛg-veda, often known as the Rigveda in the West
  • Yajur-veda
  • Sāma-veda
  • Atharva-veda.

In tradition, the sage Vyāsa compiled the Vedas. The works were probably composed from roughly 1500 to 1000 BCE, though they were probably first written down around the fifth century of the Common Era. The Vedas and the large body of associated literature capture the mainstream of Indian thought over many centuries.

The term veda – knowledge – is also used for sexual desire or sexual preference. In this sense it is one of the 14 Jain 'gateways' or categories of investigation of mārgaṇā or 'soul-quest'.


In line with the key principle of ahiṃsā – non-violence – Jains are traditionally vegetarian. They do not eat meat, fish, eggs or anything that contains potential life, such as onions, potatoes and aubergines. They do generally eat dairy products.


The everyday or common language spoken by people in a particular country or region, often contrasting with the literary form or the national or official language. Similarly, vernacular architecture reflects local conditions and conventions more than other considerations, such as national or international design trends, and may be built by non-professional architects.


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.


Reverence towards the elders, modest behaviour.


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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