Jain Asceticism

Asceticism (from the Greek: ???????, ásk?sis, “exercise”) describes a life-style characterized by abstinence from various sorts of worldly pleasures (especially sexual activity and consumption of food and drink) often with the aim of pursuing religious and spiritual goals.

Asceticism, is found in one of its most intense forms in Jainism. Jainism encourages fasting, yoga practices, meditation in difficult postures, and other austerities. According to Jains, one’s highest goal should be Moksha (i.e., liberation from samsara, the cycle of birth and rebirth). For this, a soul has to be without attachment or self indulgence. This can be achieved only by the monks and nuns who take five great vows: of non-violence, of truth, of non-stealing, of non-possession and of celibacy.

Most of the austerities and ascetic practices can be traced back to Vardhaman Mahavira, the twenty-fourth “fordmaker” or Tirthankara. The Acaranga Sutra, or Book of Good Conduct, is a sacred book within Jainism that discusses the ascetic code of conduct. Other texts that provide insight into conduct of ascetics include Yogashastra by Acharya Hemachandra and Niyamasara by Acharya Kundakunda. Other illustrious Jain works on ascetic conduct are Oghanijjutti, Pindanijjutti, Cheda Sutta, and Nisiha Suttafee.

Below are given some of the code of conducts in general for the Jain ascetics:

  • Monks and nuns renounce all relations and possessions.

  • Jain ascetics practice complete non-violence. They do not hurt any living being, be it an insect or a human. They carry a special broom to sweep any insects that may cross their path. Some Jains wear a cloth over the mouth to prevent accidental harm to airborne germs and insects.

  • They travel from city to city, often crossing forests and deserts, and always barefoot.

  • They sleep on the floor without blankets and sit on special wooden platforms.

  • Jain ascetics follow a strict vegetarian diet without root vegetables. Shwétambarà monks do not cook food but solicit alms from householders. Digambara monks have only a single meal a day. Neither group will beg for food, but a Jain ascetic may accept a meal from a householder, provided that the latter is pure of mind and body and offers the food of his own volition and in the prescribed manner. During such an encounter, the monk remains standing and eats only a measured amount.

  • Fasting (i.e., abstinence from food and sometimes water) is a routine feature of Jain asceticism. Fasts last for a day or longer, up to a month. Some monks avoid (or limit) medicine and/or hospitalisation out of disregard for the physical body.

  • Other austerities include meditation in seated or standing posture near river banks in the cold wind, or meditation atop hills and mountains, especially at noon when the sun is at its fiercest. Such austerities are undertaken according to the physical and mental limits of the individual ascetic.

  • Jain ascetics are (almost) completely without possessions. Some Jains (Shwétambarà monks and nuns) own only unstitched white robes (an upper and lower garment) and a bowl used for eating and collecting alms. Male Digambara monks do not wear any clothes and carry nothing with them except a soft broom made of shed peacock feathers (pinchi) and eat from their hands.

  • Jain monks and nuns practice complete celibacy. They do not touch or share a sitting platform with a person of opposite sex.

  • Jain ascetics do not stay in a single place for more than two months to prevent attachment to any place. However during four months of monsoon (rainy season) known as chaturmas, they continue to stay at a single place to avoid their killing life forms that thrive during the rains.

  • Every day is spent either in study of scriptures or meditation or teaching to lay people. They stand aloof from worldly matters.

  • Many Jain ascetics take a final vow of Santhara or Sallekhana (i.e., a peaceful and detached death where medicines, food, and water are abandoned). This is done when death is imminent or when a monk feels that he is unable to adhere to his vows on account of advanced age or terminal disease.

Reference: Wikipedia

Post Author: JHC