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Article: Śvetāmbara Stānaka-vāsīn

Contributed by Peter Flügel

The Sthānaka-vāsin are a specific sectarian tradition of the Śvetāmbara Jains which includes monastic orders and lay followers. They are found mainly in Gujarat and in the Hindi- and Punjabi-speaking areas of North India.

The word Sthānaka-vāsin literally means 'hall-dweller' in Sanskrit and should be understood as being the opposite of mūrti-pūjaka or 'image-worshippers'. A 'hall' here is an empty building, contrasted with temples where images of the Jinas are housed and worshipped. First found in a text written in 1630, the term 'Sthānaka-vāsin' became regularly used only at the beginning of the 20th century. The Sthānaka-vāsins are sometimes considered to be ‘protestant’ Jains.

Origins and early history

The Sthānaka-vāsinsect can be traced to the reform movement started by Lonkā (circa 1415–1489), also called Lunkā, Lumpāka and Loṅkā Śāh. Born in Rajasthan, Loṅkā was from an Osvāl background.

A lay man founding a reform movement is remarkable because mendicants usually start reforming factions. As a copyist of Jain scriptures for monks, Loṅkā read the texts himself and looked at the behaviour of the ascetics around him. He made some observations on the oldest Śvetāmbara scriptures, which proved the starting points of his reform. He found the following things were not in the holy texts:

  • the practice of merit-making by giving money as religious gifts to build temples
  • the performance of image-worship – mūrti-pūjā – or similar ostentatious rituals involving the breaking of flowers and other acts of violence
  • the notion of ascetics staying in one place.

According to Loṅkā, strict asceticism and total non-possession are the key words of the scriptures. Asceticism is made up of practising non-violence, self-restraint and penance. Therefore he denounced the legitimacy of the existing Jain sects that were in favour of image-worship, and started to follow the oldest textual prescriptions himself. Though he lived as an ascetic, he had not been initiated by any mendicant so he formed his own group.

There are few reliable sources on Loṅkā, partly because rival groups suppressed information about him. But there is overall agreement that Loṅkā:

The Loṅkā-gaccha – 'Loṅkā’s monastic order' in Sanskrit – was not founded by Loṅkā himself, but by his first disciple, Bhāṇa, who initiated himself and 45 followers of Loṅkā’s doctrine. This happened some time between 1471 and 1476. The new Loṅkā-gaccha took the 'five great vows'mahā-vrata – of the Jain monks and nuns.

From the 16th century until the 19th and 20th centuries, the history of the order is that of successive splits creating many subgroups. Most of them comprised an intermediate category of lay-ascetics called yati, who did not accept all of the monastic vows and returned to worshipping images.

The tradition now known as Sthānaka-vāsins derives from five monks who separately split from different lines of the Loṅkā-gaccha tradition during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Monastic organisation

Two Śvetāmbara Stānaka-vāsīn nuns walk along a road in India. The monks and nuns of the Śvetāmbara Stānaka-vāsīn sect wear permanent mouth-cloths to avoid harming minute life forms. Like all Jain mendicants, they use their brooms to sweep before they sit

Śvetāmbara Stānaka-vāsīn nuns
Image by Anishshah19 © public domain

The Sthānaka-vāsin monks and nuns are split into numerous groups, mainly on account of historical, doctrinal and regional differences they think cannot be overcome. There were unsuccessful attempts at promoting unity before the Śramaṇa-saṅgha was founded in 1952. This still unites the majority of the Hindi-speaking Sthānaka-vāsin orders.

At present, there are 26 mendicant orders, which have a very complex history. Their origins can be traced to one or more of the five principal reformers – pañca munis – of the aniconic Jain tradition.

First is Jīvarāja, who was probably born in Surat in Gujarat and lived some time between 1524 and 1641. Some Sthānaka-vāsin scholars believe that he launched the innovations that are crucial to Sthānaka-vāsin identity:

  • selecting the 32 scriptures that are agreed to be canonical by all Sthānaka-vāsins
  • introducing various monastic items characteristic of Sthānaka-vāsin mendicants, namely the square mouth-cloth – muṃhpatti – which is used permanently, and the long broom – rajoharaṇa.

The second main reformer is Dharmasiṃha (1599–1671), who founded the Āṭh-koṭī or 'Eight Class' tradition. He was a scholar and wrote Gujarati commentariesṭabo – on the Prakrit scriptures. He introduced a special pratikramaṇa rites for his lay followers and taught that there is no accidental death, because the life span of a living being is determined by its karma.

The third reformer is Lava or Lavjīṛṣi (circa 1609–1659), who was also born in Surat. He is the founder of the Ḍhuṇḍiyā or 'Seeker' tradition. According to their mūrti-pūjak opponents, this name comes from the early mendicants, who looked for other accommodation rather than stay in buildings in temple grounds used by mendicants from Śvetāmbara mūrti-pūjak sects. Sthānaka-vāsins interpret the word as a term for those mendicants who seek the true path of salvation.

Fourth is Dharmadāsa (1645–1703), who also founded his own tradition. He initiated himself in 1660, launching the Bāīstolā or 'Twenty-Two Schools' group.

Lastly, Hara created his own branch of Sthānaka-vāsin mendicants in 1668 or 1728.

The most recent statistics show that Sthānaka-vāsins represent 27.5% of all Jain mendicants. In 1999, there were 3,223, divided into 533 monks and 2,690 nuns.

Scriptures

The Sthānaka-vāsins recognise 32 canonical scriptures as authoritative. This compares with 45 canonical scriptures for other Śvetāmbara groups. The Sthānaka-vāsins consider that the other 13 do not reflect the teaching of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina, and are apocryphal.

The Sthānaka-vāsin canon comprises:

Sthānaka-vāsin views are expressed in the commentaries or creative writings authored by some of their teachers and written in local languages such as Gujarati and Hindi.

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