Article: Aṇuvrat Movement

Contributed by Shivani Bothra

The Aṇuvrat Movement is a non-sectarian moral movement emphasising character development through self-effort. It was conceived by Ācārya Tulsi (1914–1997), a celebrated monk, the ninth religious leader of the Śvetāmbara Terāpanth sect and a socio-religious reformer. Ācārya Tulsi launched the Aṇuvrat Movement in March 1949 at Sardarshahar, a small Terāpanthi-dominated town in Rajasthan.

Horrified by the detonation of nuclear bombs in Japan in 1945, Ācārya Tulsi established a non-religious organisation to promote peace and improve individual morality. He hoped to encourage Jain values, especially ahiṃsānon-violence – and to eventually create a more virtuous country through individual behaviour.

Designed to be open to followers of all religions, the Aṇuvrat Movement was built upon the traditional Jain practice of aṇuvratlay vows – which evolved from the original teachings of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina. Ācārya Tulsi modified the traditional aṇuvrat vows to formulate a set of 11 new vows for the Aṇuvrat Movement.

The aim of the movement is self-transformation through one's own efforts, to help develop a healthy society and, eventually, an ideal nation characterised by peace, social justice and sustainability. The Aṇuvrat movement is founded on the Jain doctrines of:

  • ahiṃsā – non-violence
  • aparigrahanon-possession
  • anekānt – non-absolutism.

The slogan 'Self-restraint is life' captures the core philosophical idea behind the movement.

As the Aṇuvrat Movement spread across India, Preksha Meditation and the Science of Living were established to support it. Other sets of vows for certain groups in society, such as students or peasants, and to aid the practice of Aṇuvrat were also created, especially the Aṇuvrat Sādhanā.

Background

Ācārya Tulsi was the head monk of the Śvetāmbara Terāpantha sect for 57 years. He was innovative, establishing the AĀuvrat Movement in 1949 and new types of mendicant in 1980. The samaṇas and samaṇīs can travel outside India, helping the Jain diaspora.

Ācārya Tulsi
Image by Pramodjain3 © CC BY-SA 3.0

The Aṇuvrat Movement was conceived in the mid-20th century, during the important period after World War II, when India gained independence.

Ācārya Tulsi was inspired to create the Aṇuvrat Movement for two principal reasons. Firstly, he wanted to divert humankind from the path of destruction that had led to the nuclear bombings of Japan. He wished to introduce the non-violent Aṇuvrat Movement as an antidote to mass violence. Secondly, he was disillusioned by the selfishness, over-competiveness, over-consumerism and maximisation of profits by wrong means he saw in the newly independent republic of India.

Ācārya Tulsi held that the problems of violence, human rights, poverty and the environment cannot be solved all at once. Instead, he thought that he could use the concept of 'lesser vows' for the individual, borrowed from the Jain tradition, to develop a framework for social improvement that is achieved through personal action.

A secular model

Researcher Shivani Bothra interviews a Muslim Aṇuvratī man in Rajasthan in 2012. An Aṇuvratī of over 25 years, he sees no contradiction between his religion and the principles of the Aṇuvrat Movement, just as Ācārya Tulsi intended when he founded it.

Interview with a Muslim Aṇuvratī
Image by Sanjeev Bothra © Sanjeev Bothra

From the beginning, Ācārya Tulsi, along with his core group of monks, designed the Aṇuvrat Movement to be a non-religious organisation open to anyone. The main goal is to purify the soul of the individual, which will eventually produce a more morally upright society.

Ācārya Tulsi took painstaking efforts to be inclusive in his modernisation of Jain principles. He realised that religious teaching alone is not enough and that action is also required. He believed that the idea of vows as action, which has its roots in Jain traditions, could be an effective tool for social change in secular society as well.

The following three factors were central motives for his new model:

  • religious diversity within India
  • secularism in India
  • the philosophy of 'lesser vows'.

A person from any caste, religion, creed, background or nation could be an Aṇuvratī – a follower of the Aṇuvrat code of conduct. An individual’s personal religious belief or eating habits are not considered an obstacle to following the Aṇuvrat code of conduct.

Thanks to its non-sectarian outlook, the Aṇuvrat Movement is one of the most powerful secular Terāpanth activities. It connects political leaders, thinkers, the media, religious organisations and ordinary people in India.

The prime objective of traditional Aṇuvrat vows, as explained in the 11th-century ŚrāvakācāraHouseholder’s Conduct – by Ācārya Amitagati, is liberation of the soulmokṣa. The objective of the Aṇuvrat Movement is purification of the soul. In this way, Tulsian vows were a new approach to generating the spirit of self-restraint among all people.

The Aṇuvrat Movement is a social extension of an ancient spiritual tradition going back to Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina. Through the movement, Ācārya Tulsi was instrumental in taking Jain principles outside the Jain community.

Eleven modified vows

The vows that comprise the Aṇuvrat Movement can be framed within the traditional 'five fundamental vows' of the Jain faith. Ācārya Tulsi aimed to make Jain values, and wider moral principles, more relevant to contemporary Indian society.

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