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.


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.

Vow 1

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)

First vow of Aṇuvrat Movement


Relation to the five 'fundamental vows'

I will not intentionally kill moving, innocent creatures
I will not commit suicide
I will not commit an act that causes the death of a foetus

The first vow belongs to the category of ahiṃsānon-violence or demonstrating great reverence for all living beings.
The ahiṃsā vow is considered the cornerstone of the five mendicant vows and the 'lesser vows' of the householder.

Ācārya Tulsi expanded this vow by specifically singling out the issues of suicide and abortion. He was aware that they were topics of greater public debate in modern Indian society than issues related to animals alone, which were key to earlier understandings in a mainly agricultural culture.

Vow 2

Second vow of Aṇuvrat Movement


Relation to the five 'fundamental vows'

I will not attack anybody
I will not support aggression
I will try to bring about world peace and disarmament

The second vow is a commitment to ahiṃsā

Ācārya Tulsi again acknowledges a widespread modern concern about terrorism and the traumas of war inflicted upon humanity. Tulsi imagined that Jain experiences of taking vows could benefit secular society when combined with a willingness to be consciously aware of how actions, whether of an individual or a whole nation, affect other beings. By taking a vow, an individual redirects his or her energy inwards to fight hatred, jealousy, anger and greed within.

Vow 3

Third vow of Aṇuvrat Movement


Relation to the five 'fundamental vows'

I will not take part in violent agitations
I will not take part in any destructive activities

This vow once again falls in the category of ahiṃsā

This vow reflects another contemporary social concern. Violent protests or revolutions and destructive activities are an expression of emotional disturbance.

Vow 4

In this still from a film, Māhatama Gandhi discusses the lowly position of the Dalits or 'Untouchables'. In the 1930s he advocated ending the widespread customary discrimination against Dalits. He adopted the term 'Harijan' – meaning 'children of God'.

Gandhi condemns caste prejudice
Image by unknown © public domain

Fourth vow of Aṇuvrat Movement


Relation to the five 'fundamental vows'

I will not discriminate on the basis of caste, colour and so on
I will not treat anyone as an untouchable
I will believe in human unity

The fourth vow is classed as ahiṃsā, yet also includes part of the category of satya – truth telling

Ācārya Tulsi poses a question noted in the philosophy of the movement: 'An evil may be untouchable; dirt or an ailment may be untouchable, but how can a man [or woman] be untouchable?' (Tulsi and Karnawat 2010: 30). Here he refers to the Dalit or Harijan group in India, also known as the 'untouchable' caste. It is outside the traditional Hindu caste system because historically its members do jobs considered ritually impure, such as cleaning toilets or collecting rubbish. Here, instead of 'Dalit' Ācārya Tulsi used the word 'Harijan', meaning 'children of God', which was popularised by Mahātma Gandhi.

Ācārya Tulsi visited Harijan-dominated areas to deliver sermons and encouraged not only his monks and nuns but also the lay community to join him.

Vow 5

Fifth vow of Aṇuvrat Movement


Relation to the five 'fundamental vows'

I will practise religious tolerance
I will not rouse sectarian hatred

This vow is linked to ahiṃsā and to the second 'fundamental' vow of satyatelling the truth

This vow is very similar to the fourth vow, but here Tulsi is again modernising by highlighting a specific issue in pluralistic Indian society. This is the violence between followers of various faiths and conflicts within intra-religious groups.

Vow 6

Sixth vow of Aṇuvrat Movement


Relation to the five 'fundamental vows'

I will practise integrity and moral virtues in business and general behaviour
I will not harm others for any reason
I will not practise deceit

Like the fourth and fifth vows, this vow combines the categories of ahiṃsā, satya and aparigraha – non-possession

The sixth vow is meant to restrain people from employing unethical, immoral means to maximise profit.

Ācārya Tulsi’s chief concern here was that business should be upright and honest. An individual who takes this vow would not trade stolen merchandise, use false weights and measures, adulterate their products or replace them with inferior items, fail to pay taxes or take bribes.

Vow 7

When Jains become mendicants, they swear to follow the 'Five Great Vows' – mahā-vratas: 1. non-violence – ahiṃsā 2. truth – satya 3. non-stealing – acaurya or asteya 4. celibacy – brahmacarya 5. non-attachment or non-possession – aparigraha.

'Five Great Vows'
Image by Shree Diwakar Prakashan © public domain

Seventh vow of Aṇuvrat Movement


Relation to the five 'fundamental vows'

I will practise chastity
I will set limits to acquisition

This vow is similar to the sixth, but addresses aparigraha more directly
It is also the only vow that addresses the 'fundamental vow' of brahmācārya – celibacy or limiting sexual behaviour

Therefore, making the seventh vow entails much more than just non-attachment and limiting one’s material possessions.

Vow 8

Eighth vow of Aṇuvrat Movement


Relation to the five 'fundamental vows'

I will not resort to unethical practices in elections

This vow addresses ethical concerns in the categories of ahiṃsā and satya

This vow specifically calls attention to the power of politics to effect change. The movement lays down the parameters for a healthy democracy and some of the key pointers for choosing a trustworthy candidate to vote for.

The vow dictates that a worthy candidate should be honest, free from drug addiction, a man of character, efficient and not promote sectarianism (Tulsi and Karnawat 2010: 49).

Vow 9

Ninth vow of Aṇuvrat Movement


Relation to the five 'fundamental vows'

I will not encourage socially evil customs

This vow is difficult to categorise in the five aṇuvrats because it attempts to focus attention on the potential harmfulness of certain customs and traditions in Indian society

One example of such customs is that of dowry, in which the family of a bride gives cash or gifts to the family of the groom.

Tulsi encouraged people to examine familiar customs and become aware of potential harm, and to be open to adjusting alien and unfavourable customs when necessary.

Vow 10

Tenth vow of Aṇuvrat Movement


Relation to the five 'fundamental vows'

I will lead a life free from addictions
I will not use intoxicants like alcohol, marijuana, heroin, tobacco and so on


Avoiding intoxication is an uncompromising principle for an Aṇuvratī.

Ācārya Tulsi believed that intoxicants cloud the mind and character. An intoxicated person is more likely to commit undesirable or punishable acts such as suicide, rape or mass killing (Tulsi and Karnawat 2010: 59). Thus he applied the concept of the vow to reduce problems of alcohol abuse and other intoxication in India.

Vow 11

The palm of the open hand bears a wheel with a mantra inside. The mantra is the word ahiṃsā – non-violence – which is a key Jain belief. The hand and mantra remind believers to pause before acting so they can avoid causing harm.

Ahiṃsā symbol
Image by Elembis © public domain

Eleventh vow of Aṇuvrat Movement


Relation to the five 'fundamental vows'

I will be alert to preventing pollution in the environment
I will not cut down trees
I will not waste water

The final vow also falls under the category of ahiṃsā but expands the concept by including nature

It seems that Ācārya Tulsi drew inspiration from Mahāvīra’s theory of interdependence, in which all living beings render service to one another. According to Mahāvīra, 'One who neglects or disregards the existence of earth, air, fire, water and vegetation disregards his own existence which is entwined with them' (Ācārya Mahāprajña, 2001: 50).

In light of the modern resource-intensive consumerist lifestyle, the 11th vow stresses the need to preserve natural resources.

Reinterpreting the role of religion

A man reads a prayer aloud in a temple in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. Jains may perform mental worship – bhava-pūjā – which includes singing hymns, reciting mantras and meditating. All Jain prayers are praises of the Jinas and other holy figures.

Praying in the temple
Image by nusohotrightnow – Nathaniel Whittemore © CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Ācārya Tulsi neither explicitly associated his movement with any religion nor did he reject religion. Instead he reinterpreted religion according to contemporary needs. He sought to give a behavioural aspect to religion. According to him, people maintain a strong faith in their religion but often there is a gap between theory and practice.

Ācārya Tulsi unravelled three fundamental aspects of a religion and distinguished them from the Aṇuvrat Movement.

First, he said, religion is ritualistic and limited to a sacred space, such as a temple, church, synagogue or monastery, where people offer prayer or worship. Secondly, religion is ethical, which guides one to distinguish between right and wrong deeds. Thirdly, religion is spiritual, which leads a practitioner to raise his consciousness, so he can live a pure life.

The Aṇuvrat Movement does not interfere with any ritualistic practice. It seeks to inspire people to adopt ethical values, like not telling lies, cheating people, becoming intoxicated or violent, and to lead a spiritual life. Ācārya Mahāprajña, who succeeded Ācārya Tulsi as leader of the Terāpantha sect, explained that the vows of the Aṇuvrat Movement were meant to reflect the ethical concepts of:

  • compassion
  • equality
  • human unity
  • integrity
  • living in the present
  • moderate consumption of resources.

The following conversation is helpful in understanding Ācārya Tulsi’s perspective on the vows as well as in interpreting the ripple effect of the movement outside India.

AT: Have you seen the rules laid out in [the] Aṇuvrat Movement?
Alvira: Yes, I have seen them. Why is the construction of these so negative?
AT: To restrain something, it is important to negate it. There is no limit to ‘Do this, Do that.’
Alvira: Even in the Bible, the rules laid out have [a] punitive tone, but it also says: love your neighbor.
AT: Such an explanation is also there in the Aṇuvrat Movement, [that is, to] extend amity [friendship –] Maitri [or 'loving kindness' –] to all. However, this is a teaching[,] not a vow.
Alvira: Indians have a strong belief in nonviolence and want to integrate [it] in their lives. They are fortunate to have such a living inspiration like you. Can it be spread in[to] the Western countries?
AT: Why not, [?] who does not want to live an ethical life [?] and especially, if we have supporters like you.
Alvira: I am always there with you in this noble cause.

The Clarion Call Of Aṇuvrat
Tulsi and Karnawat, page 29

Expansion of the Aṇuvrat Movement

The ninth leader of the Śvetāmbara Terāpanthin sect was one of the most significant Jain figures of the 20th century. Ācārya Tulsi's 1949 foundation of the non-sectarian Aṇuvrat Movement reworked Jain vows into the context of independence and diaspora

Ācārya Tulsi (1914–1997)
Image by Sampat Gandhi © Sampat Gandhi

Under Ācārya Tulsi’s leadership, the Aṇuvrat Movement grew fast and spread across the Indian subcontinent. Besides its nationwide popularity, the movement is also well known among the Jain diaspora due to the periodic visits of samaṇis from India. It is also known as the Tulsian movement because of the charisma and popularity of the founder, Ācārya Tulsi.

However, outside India the practice of the Tulsian Aṇuvrat vow is not as popular as the movement. One reason for the poor response in the West has been attributed to the fact that diaspora Jains incorporate more modern ideas in their practices than do Jains in India. Thus some of these vows are not suited to the Western context. For example, one respondent said: “Dowry is not a social evil in a Western country.”

In due course, Ācārya Tulsi realised that even within India lay people require strong willpower to maintain the aṇuvrat vows. To help them keep their vows he and his successor incorporated spirituality in the movement by introducing Science of Living for children and Preksha Meditation for adults.

Preksha Meditation

Tenth head of the Śvetāmbara sect of Terāpantha, Ācārya Mahāprajña meditates. In 1975 Ācārya Mahāprajña introduced 'insight meditation' – prekṣā dhyāna – which is now one of the principal Terāpanthin ways of worship

Ācārya Mahāprajña meditating
Image by Amitjain80 © CC BY-SA 3.0

The English term 'Preksha Meditation' comes from the Sanskrit phrase prekṣā dhyāna. The Sanskrit word prekṣā means ‘to see carefully and deeply’. In this case, 'seeing' does not imply external vision, but concentrating on subtle consciousness through the mind's eye. Dhyāna is usually translated as 'meditation' so prekṣa dhyāna means 'careful, deep meditation, focusing on inner consciousness'.

Ācārya Mahāprajña, tenth ācārya of the Śvetāmbara Terāpanth sect, founded Preksha Meditation in 1975. Although it has no religious basis and can be practised by Jains and non-Jains, in the present time this technique is popularly recognised internationally as a Jain form of meditation.

Preksha Meditation was developed to provide a holistic aspect to the growing Aṇuvrat Movement. According to the founder, 'mental tension has emerged as a dreadful disease of the age of industrial progress. To remedy it, the Aṇuvrat Movement has added a new chapter to itself in the form of Preksha Meditation' (Yuvācārya Mahāprajña 1992: 27).

Moreover, “meditation affects the secretion of the endocrine glands and this in turn brings about an inner transformation of the individual” (Gandhi: 8). Practising Preksha Meditation helps in the purification of emotions and a transformation from negative thinking to positive thinking. It helps improve self-control, detachment and calmness, which are needed for spiritual progress in Jainism. Unless their emotions are purified, people are not able to keep their vows.

The Preksha Meditation technique is comprised of the principles of:

  1. deep meditative relaxation – kāyotsarga
  2. inner journey – antaryātrā
  3. perception of breath – śvāsa prekṣā
  4. perception of body – sarīra prekṣā
  5. perception of psychic centres – caitanya kendra prekṣā
  6. perception of soul colourleśyā dhyāna
  7. auto-suggestion – bhāvanā – and contemplation – anuprekṣā.

Science of Living

According to the founders of the Aṇuvrat Movement, the present-day education system is incomplete as it emphasises intellectual training and ignores the emotional development of a child. The Aṇuvrat Movement introduced a curriculum for children called the Science of Living, to complement the standard education system and foster the development of an integrated personality.

The Science of Living is a system of holistic education started by Ācārya Mahāprajña in 1978. It comprises various branches of learning drawn from modern science as well as the ancient wisdom of Jainism. It visualises a balanced system of education and practice. This means equal importance is given to bodily and intellectual development on the one hand and mental and emotional development on the other.

Further Aṇuvrat vows

An Indian government official talks on the phone. Aṇuvratīs – members of the Aṇuvrat Movement – take vows to improve their spirituality and those in certain occupations, such as civil servants and businessmen, must take extra vows.

Official on the phone
Image by lecercle – Akshay Mahajan © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The core set of 11 Aṇuvrat vows is supplemented in certain circumstances.

In some cases there are specific sets of Aṇuvrat vows for certain groups of people. It is obligatory for an Aṇuvratī to observe those vows meant for his group in addition to the 11 vows which all Aṇuvratīs take.

Moreover, there is a specific set of rules for nation states, which are designed to reduce hostilities and foster peace.

Finally, the five vows of the Aṇuvrat Sādhanā were created to help practise Aṇuvrat.

Vows for certain groups

Certain social groups are given special sets of Aṇuvrat vows to help them overcome temptation in their everyday lives. The rules are intended to strengthen moral conduct and also reveal some practices that Ācārya Tulsi observed around him when he formulated the vows.

Aṇuvrat vows for specific groups

Social group



I will:

  • not cheat in examinations
  • not take part in violent agitations and destructive activities
  • not use obscene language
  • not read pornographic literature
  • not watch obscene movies
  • not use intoxicants, such as alcohol
  • not use unethical practices in elections
  • be courteous towards my parents and teachers


I will:

  • help as much in the building of my student’s character as in his or her mental development
  • not help students cheat in examinations
  • give no place to party politics in my educational institution
  • not encourage my students to take part in party politics
  • not use intoxicants
  • co-operate in expanding the Aṇuvrat Movement


I will not:

  • adulterate goods
  • sell counterfeit goods
  • use false weighing or measuring
  • trade in or undertake the import or export of goods and articles banned by the state
  • go back on my pledge to return articles in my custody or that are mortgaged by others
  • hoard items

Officials and employees

I will not:

  • accept bribes
  • abuse my authority
  • deliberately create delays or do injustice in the exercise of my duties
  • use intoxicants


I will:

  • work with dedication
  • not take part in violent agitations or destructive activities
  • neither drink nor smoke
  • not use intoxicants
  • not gamble


I will not:

  • be cruel to the animals dependent on me
  • hoard item
  • use intoxicants

International Code of Conduct

The rules for nation states are intended to decrease possible causes of friction between countries.

This is a voluntary code.

Aṇuvrat Movement International Code of Conduct




No country should commit aggression against another country


No country should try to occupy the territory or grab the property of another country


No country should interfere in the internal affairs of another country


No country should try to impose its form of government or ideology on another country


In the event of differences between them countries should adopt a policy of reconciliation


There must be efforts to bring about disarmament


Developed countries must have goodwill towards under-developed countries

Aṇuvrat Sādhanā

Finally, followers of the Aṇuvrat Movement can also take another set of vows to help them keep their resolutions. The Aṇuvrat Sādhanā is made up of five vows, which are a form of practice that help an Aṇuvrati in keeping his vows. This practice was developed after Preksha Meditation and the Science of Living were introduced into the Aṇuvrat Movement.

This is a voluntary code.

Details of Aṇuvrat Sādhanā




I will practise Preksha Meditation


I will have a conciliatory attitude for the sake of a peaceful domestic life


I will be restrained in my individual possessions and consumption


I will control my eating


I will practise diligence, self-reliance and simplicity

Aṇuvrat song

Two samaṇis pray before the 2008 Ahimsa Day event in London. Samaṇis and the male samaṇas are special nuns and monks in the Śvetāmbara Terāpanthin sect. Able to travel overseas, they are the only mendicants whom Jains of all sects outside India can meet

Samaṇis praying
Image by Ravin Mehta © Ravin Mehta

Ācārya Tulsi composed an Aṇuvrat song, which had mass appeal and was intended as a secular song for character development.

Initially, any secular Terāpanth program started with the recitation of the Aṇuvrat song. During the monsoon retreat of monks and nuns the morning prayernamaskāra-mantra – always started with the Aṇuvrat song in Ācārya Tulsi's time. Such a practice continues in most places even today.

Let with temperance imbued our life be

Let with temperance imbued our life be[,]
Dipped in the holy stream of morality[,]
Let every mind reach pristine purity.
Aṇuvrat stands for disciplining the self by self,
Its Dharma’s language free from caste[,] colour or creed,
May there be a change of heart through vows small.
May our friendly feeling for all increase day by day,
May equality, coexistence and conciliation ever succeed,
Let our means be pure for the end that’s pure.
Be it a student or a teacher, a worker or a businessman,
A man or a woman – let everyone tread the virtue’s path,
Let there be parity in what we say and what [=how] we act.
God we can adore only by attaining ourselves a godly state,
Through integrity alone can we cross the sea of vicissitudes,
With valour, vigour and ahiṃsā blended our life’s philosophy be.
If a man’s character improves, society and nation by themselves will improve,
The mighty voice of Aṇuvrat throughout the world will resound,
Let our body and soul stand dedicated to human code of conduct.
Let with temperance imbued our life be.

Ācārya Tulsi
English rendering by Dr Narendra Sharma (also known as ‘Kusum’)


  • Ācārya Tulsi Ācārya Tulsi was the head monk – ācārya – of the Śvetāmbara Terāpantha sect for 57 years. His main innovations were founding the Aṇuvrat Movement in 1949 and establishing new types of mendicant in 1980. The samaṇas and samaṇīs may take transport, thus helping to spread Jain teachings outside India.. Image by Pramodjain3 © CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Interview with a Muslim Aṇuvratī Researcher Shivani Bothra interviews a Muslim Aṇuvratī man in Rajasthan in 2012. An Aṇuvratī of over 25 years, he sees no contradiction between his religious faith and the principles of the Aṇuvrat Movement, just as Ācārya Tulsi intended when he founded the movement.. Image by Sanjeev Bothra © Sanjeev Bothra
  • Examples of types of living beings 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 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)
  • Gandhi condemns caste prejudice In this still from a short film, Māhatama Gandhi discusses the lowly position of the Dalits or 'Untouchables'. In the 1930s Gandhi was a prominent advocate of ending the widespread customary discrimination against Dalits. He adopted the term 'Harijan' – meaning 'children of God' – for this group of people, who were traditionally considered outside the caste system of India.. Image by unknown © public domain
  • 'Five Great Vows' When they become mendicants, monks and nuns swear to follow the 'Five Great Vows' – mahā-vratas – for the rest of their lives: 1. non-violence – ahiṃsā 2. truth – satya 3. non-stealing – acaurya or asteya 4. celibacy – brahmacarya 5. non-attachment or non-possession – aparigraha.. Image by Shree Diwakar Prakashan © public domain
  • Ahiṃsā symbol The palm of the open hand bears a wheel with a mantra inside. The mantra is the word ahiṃsā – non-violence – which is a key Jain belief. The hand and mantra remind believers to pause before acting so they can avoid causing harm. Symbolising the endless cycle of rebirth, the wheel has 24 spokes, which represent each of the Jinas. Following the teachings of these spiritual leaders helps Jains break out of the neverending cycle.. Image by Elembis © public domain
  • Praying in the temple A man reads a prayer aloud in a temple in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. Jains may perform mental worship – bhava-pūjā – which includes singing hymns, reciting mantras and meditating. All Jain prayers are praises of the Jinas and other holy figures.. Image by nusohotrightnow – Nathaniel Whittemore © CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
  • Ācārya Tulsi (1914–1997) The ninth leader of the Śvetāmbara Terāpanthin sect was one of the most significant Jain figures of the 20th century. In addition to his personal piety and learning, Ācārya Tulsi was known for his efforts to make Jainism relevant in modern India and beyond. His 1949 foundation of the non-sectarian Aṇuvrat Movement reworked the long Jain tradition of vows into the contemporary context of a newly independent, diverse and increasingly secular India, taking account of Jains living outside the subcontinent.. Image by Sampat Gandhi © Sampat Gandhi
  • Ācārya Mahāprajña meditating Tenth head of the Śvetāmbara sect of Terāpantha, Ācārya Mahāprajña meditates. In 1975 Ācārya Mahāprajña introduced 'insight meditation' – prekṣā dhyāna – which is now one of the principal Terāpanthin ways of worship. Intended to purify the practitioner’s mental state, it is also practised by people who are not members of this sect or religion. . Image by Amitjain80 © CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Official on the phone An Indian government official talks on the phone. Ācārya Tulsi drew up vows for officials and civil servants to strengthen moral behaviour, which he hoped would eventually create a morally upright nation. People of all faiths who join the Aṇuvrat Movement he founded – Aṇuvratīs – must observe the 11 standard vows and, if they do certain jobs, take extra vows that apply to those occupations.. Image by lecercle – Akshay Mahajan © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
  • Samaṇis praying Two samaṇis offer prayers before the 2008 Ahimsa Day event in London. Samaṇis and the male samaṇas are special types of nuns and monks in the Śvetāmbara Terāpanthin sect. They are permitted to use transport while traditional Jain monks and nuns can only walk, to minimise deliberate violence. Because samaṇis and samaṇas can travel overseas, they are the only mendicants whom Jains of all sects outside India can meet regularly.. Image by Ravin Mehta © Ravin Mehta

Further Reading

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

Full details

Dharma Chakra ka Pravarta (Achary Shri Tulsi ki Jeevan-Katha)
Yuvācārya Mahāprajña
edited by Muni Dulahraj
Ācārya Shri Tulsi Amrit Mohatsav Rashtrya Samiti; Rajsamand, Rajasthan, India; 1986

Full details

'The Aṇuvrat Movement in Retrospect'
Yuvācārya Mahāprajña
Aṇuvrat Movement: a constructive endeavour towards a nonviolent multicultural society
edited by S. L. Gandhi
Jain Vishva Bharati; Ladnun, Rajasthan, India; 1992

Full details

Acharang Bhashyam
Ācārya Mahāprajña
Jain Vishva Bharati; Ladnun, Rajasthan, India; 2001

Full details

The Clarion Call Of Aṇuvrat
Ācārya Tulsi
and Mahendra Karnawat
translated by Narendra Sharma
Aṇuvrat Mahasamiti; 2010

Full details



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


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


A term used by Digambaras for thinking about the 12 topics that stress the negative nature of the world of rebirths and that help to overcome it:

  1. impermanence
  2. helplessness
  3. the cycle of rebirth
  4. solitariness
  5. the isolated nature of the soul
  6. the impurity of the body
  7. the influx of karma
  8. stopping the influx of karma
  9. the elimination of karma
  10. the nature of the universe
  11. the difficulty of reaching omniscience
  12. the teachings of the sacred law.


A practice for internal self-improvement, such as meditation or reflection. It is also the term for:

  1. a synonym of anuprekṣā among the Digambaras
  2. 25 supporting practices that uphold mendicant vows.


Hindu society is traditionally divided into numerous jātis or classes, which are usually grouped into the four varṇas – often called 'castes' – of:

  • Brāhmaṇa – priest
  • Kṣatriya – warrior
  • Vaśya – merchant or farmer
  • Śūdra – labourer.

Relating to ritual purity, castes are hereditary and probably based on occupation. Members of different castes performed particular socio-economic roles and did not mix or eat the same food. People outside the caste system were usually looked down upon.


Groups of people historically considered outside the caste system of India. In traditional Hindu society, they were 'untouchable' or ritually impure because they carried out unpleasant tasks such as cleaning toilets or sweeping streets. Mahātma Gandhi used the term Harijan, meaning 'children of God', for the various Dalit groups. The lowly social and economic status of Dalits – officially termed 'Scheduled Castes and Tribes' – has improved since the Indian constitution abolished longstanding discrimination against the 'untouchables' but many still suffer prejudice.


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


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.


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.


From the Greek term meaning 'scattering or dispersal', the word 'diaspora' describes large groups of people with shared roots who live away from their ancestral homes. They have usually moved because they were forced to by other groups, because they have fled war, famine or persecution, or to improve economic opportunies. They usually have strong emotional, religious, linguistic, social and economic ties to their original homeland.


Follower of the majority faith in India and an adjective describing something belonging to Hinduism. Hindus have numerous gods and diverse beliefs and practices, though many believe in the soul, karma, the cycle of births and liberation. Roughly a billion Hindus comprise the third largest religion in the world.

Indian Independence

With its independence from the British Empire on 15 August 1947, India became a secular, sovereign state. The date of 15 August is a national holiday in the Republic of India.


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


Sanskrit for 'self', 'soul' or 'that which is sentient'. It makes up the universe along with ajīva, or non-sentient material substance. It is a material substance that changes in size according to the body it inhabits in each life. It is born in different bodies in various places in the Jain universe based on karma from earlier lives. The soul is liberated from the cycle of birth when it has achieved spiritual purity and omniscience. Also called ātma or ātman.


'Absence of concern for the body'. This commonly refers to a standing or sitting posture of deep meditation. In the standing position the eyes are concentrated on the tip of the nose and the arms hang loosely by the body. The individual remains unaffected by whatever happens around him.


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.


Karmic stain, the colour of which indicates a soul’s degree of purity. There are traditionally six colours:

  • kṛṣṇa – black
  • nīla – blue
  • kāpota – ‘pigeon-colour’, usually grey
  • tejas – ‘fiery’, usually red or yellow
  • padma – ‘lotus colour, usually yellow or pink
  • śukla – white.

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


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.

Mohandas Gandhi

Often known by his title Mahātma – meaning 'Great Soul' – Gandhi (1869–1948) was one of the leaders of the struggle for Indian independence. Influenced by the Jain notion of ahiṃsā, his policy of peaceful non-co-operation was a key factor in the British withdrawal from India.Gandhi's non-violent civil disobedience continues to inspire activists around the world.


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.


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.


A religious communication offered by a believer to a god or object of worship. It may:

  • be private or public
  • be silent or aloud
  • be undertaken alone or in a group
  • take prescribed ritual form or be improvised
  • need tools and accessories or not
  • be a wish to be granted
  • be a request for guidance
  • be a hymn of praise or thanks
  • be a confession
  • express an emotion or thought.


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.


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.


Sanskrit for 'community'. The Jain ‘fourfold community’ is composed of monks, nuns, lay men and lay women.


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.


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.


Term for either everyday or material life, not the spiritual, or for a social or political system that concentrates on the material world, rejecting spiritual or religious influence. A secularist believes that religion has no place in fields such as education and politics.


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 Indian or South Asian subcontinent is a term for the geographical area roughly covering modern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.


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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