Article: Five 'fundamental vows'

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

2. Truth

This illustration from an 18th-century Ādityavāra-kathā manuscript shows Digambara monks preaching to lay men. Sitting on low platforms above their listeners, the monks hold up scriptures. The bookstands in front underline their role as religious teachers

Monks preach to lay men
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The satya-vrata or vow of truth is the second vow in the list of five. It directs the vow-taker to always tell the truth, to never lie.

Lying is often done from passion, such as hatred or a wish to avoid embarrassment. Passions are a sign of attachment, which Jains believe should be conquered to advance spiritually towards liberation.

Telling only part of the truth is also considered to be a lie and is thus wrong.

Despite this, lay Jains can knowingly utter a falsehood if this stops a greater wrong. Mendicants must never tell a lie under any circumstances.

Absolute vow of truth

Monks and nuns vow to never say anything that is untrue. In some situations, lying may prevent harm to other living beings, but is not permitted. In this case saying nothing at all is the best action.

Limited vow of truth

Lay Jains are not supposed to tell lies, especially those from which they benefit or which harm others. This includes not telling the whole truth or taking part in dishonest business practices.

However, deliberately saying something false is permitted if this would prevent harm to another living creature.

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