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Home > Dig.Jain Dharma >>Jainism>>> The jain faith in life  II


  (2) The Higher Stages of the Religious Life  
Whilst it is quite possible to lead a religious life as a lay person, complete devotion to religion involves giving up completely the concerns of ordinary life. In most religions  we find groups of people, usually fairly small in numbers, who leave home and family and occupation to live dedicated  lives as monks or nuns. We are told that Mahavira organized  the Jain community into four sections, monks or nuns,  who can  follow his teachings to the fullest extent, as well as lay men and lay women. Monks and nuns make up, of course, only a  small part of the Jain community but they are a very  important part.  For a religion which has no priests, the monks and nuns serve as religious teachers. Most of the great  Jain scholars of the past  were monks and even today, when  there are also considerable scholars amongst the ranks of the Jain laity, many of the important works on Jain religion are written by monks. Monks and nuns set an example of the  religious life for lay people: their duty is their own souls'  spiritual welfare, and that of others as well. They are  greeted and treated with great respect and it is an act of  merit for the householder to feed them and otherwise provide for their needs. They possess no property beyond the bare  essentials, a couple of pieces of cloth for clothing (monks  of  the Digambara division of Jainism do not even have these and go completely naked), a bowl, walking stick, a soft brush  to remove insects gently, and one or two other objects,  together with books and writing materials. Their daily needs are supplied by the faithful.   
  Although it is permitted that a boy who shows exceptional  promise for the religious life may become a monk as early as  the age of eight, most people will be adults, or at least in  their teens, when they do so.  Indeed it is quite common for  middle-aged people to enter the mendicant life. The prospective mendicant must be free from physical infirmities  and moral short  comings and will seek the permission of  parents or guardian. The candidate will seek out a guide and  teacher (guru) in the order who will make sure that this  person is suitable in every way and who will remain his  mentor throughout  life. The diksa or initiation ritual will  be the occasion for great ceremony, when the candidate  renounces his worldly possessions and receives the essential  items for his new life. His hair is plucked out in imitation  of the act of Mahavira when he renounced worldly things. Now  the initiate receives a new name to show that he has  completely left his home and family and all his earlier life. Family life, business, politics, are no concern of the Jain  monk or nun.  For the first year or two the novice will  receive training in the rules and practices of monastic life  before being confirmed in his or her vocation.   
  The sadhu or sadhvi  is bound to keep the five great moral  precepts in their fullest  rigor. Non-violence involves for  the mendicant the most   meticulous care to avoid harm to even minute creatures which have only one sense, the sense of  touch.  (It is recognized that a layman can not always avoid harm to these.) This can involve softly sweeping the ground  if necessary to clear living creatures, carefully removing insects, and sometimes using a cloth over the mouth to avoid harm to the most subtle beings of the air. The vows of truthfulness and non-stealing are interpreted in the strictest manner: the mendicant may not take even the most trivial object without its owner's permission.  Sexual restraint is total, non-acquisitiveness means the virtually complete abandonment of material possessions.   
  The person who has adopted the mendicant life should cultivate ten qualities. First comes forgiveness of those who have done harm and avoidance of anger. Then there are modesty (not least the avoidance of pride in one's spiritual  achievements), avoidance of deceit or concealing one's  faults, contentment and the avoidance of greed, teaching  others the high ideals of the scriptures, watchfulness to  avoid harm to living beings, undertaking austerities without  hope of material reward, avoidance of tasty food and comfortable lodging, complete renunciation of the desire for possessions, and lastly careful restriction on association  with members of the opposite sex.  Self-control, and vigilance in every daily action to avoid harm, are the two chief virtues. 
  The daily life of the sadhu or sadhvi is ordered and regulated. The monk rises from his simple bed hours before dawn. He says the Panhca Namaskara, the fivefold formula of obeisance to the superior beings. He greets his teacher  respectfully. A period of meditation follows, after which he recites the rituals of penance or confession (Pratikramana ) for any violence or misdeeds he may have committed.  He checks his clothing carefully and removes any small creatures which  might get harmed (and he will do this at least twice a day).  By this time the sun will have risen and he can spend a  couple of hours in studying the scriptures (for a monk does not use artificial light). The teachers will give sermons for both monks and laity. Then he will go to the temple to worship the Tirthankara.  Detailed rules regulate the way in  which monks and nuns may seek their food: they should go each  day to different houses and will accept only food which is  willingly given and not specially prepared for them and, of course, which is acceptable in terms of the Jain monastic  vows. On returning from the trip to seek food the monk will  present the food before his teacher and will share it with other monks who, from sickness or other cause, cannot themselves seek food, before he takes any food himself . The  afternoon and evening are devoted to further study and  meditation as well as the small tasks like writing letters  which even a mendicant will have to do. There will be a  second trip to seek food in the late afternoon so that the  meal may be eaten before nightfall. The day ends with a further visit to the temple, a further ritual of contrition, and the monk goes to bed after vowing forgiveness to those who have harmed him and seeking forgiveness from all. The  life of a sadhu or sadhvi (nuns follow the same routine) is  hard but they learn to overcome hardships and face them  resolutely and with detachment. 

  The spiritual life of the Jain has been likened to a ladder.  There are fourteen 'rungs' or stages (gunasthana) on the  ladder. These have been described in great detail in the scriptures. To start with the individual has not even begun  the ascent and has totally wrong attitudes. If the individual can get rid of delusions then the soul succeeds in going  straight to the fourth rung of the ladder but the position is  still precarious and it is possible to slip back onto two  different levels of wavering states and even right back to  the beginning. But if the individual can control passions, desires, hatred to a reasonable extent (not retaining them beyond the annual self-examination in the Paryusana season of the Jain year) the ascent is begun. He or she will now feel a tranquility of spirit, will have the ability to discriminate between right and wrong, will want to avoid purely material  pleasures, will be kindhearted to others and will have a clear vision of truth.  Such attitudes will naturally lead onto undertaking to obey the five great moral precepts, and  this will be the next rung on the ladder. We saw in the previous chapter how the lay person reduces his or her attachment to the things of the world and develops  attachment to religion. That process happens at this stage or  rung on the spiritual.   
  The sixth rung on the ladder marks a great decision for now the individual has progressed so far that he or she is intent on renouncing the world and adopting the life of a monk or nun. Henceforth life is totally directed towards spiritual  progress. The great vows are followed in their entirety and  the individual reaches the stage of eliminating all the stronger passions. Daily self-examination and sorrow for offences committed knowingly or unknowingly is now obligatory and the individual who succeeds in the discipline of the  sixth stage rises further to the next rung. Passions are  virtually subdued but alertness is still needed to prevent  slipping back. The aspirant climbs three more rungs, at each stage gaining more complete control over himself. The  eleventh rung is unsafe: even now, nearing the top of the ladder the individual soul can drop back, desires and hatred  can arise again and the slow climb must be restarted. Some individuals, very few at any time, reach the twelfth stage.  Delusions and desires have been eliminated and the way is clear to the thirteenth rung when the soul achieves complete enlightenment, total knowledge. The fourteenth rung detains  only momentarily the enlightened soul which passes quickly  over it to achieve moksha or total liberation.   
  This is a long process. Every individual soul passes through  countless lives. Sometimes progress is made, sometimes not. The mendicant who sets himself or herself resolutely towards  spiritual development still has a long way to go. Even when self-control is almost achieved and delusive views of the nature of life and the universe have disappeared for the few who reach the stage described as the tenth rung on the ladder, the completion of what can be described as the constructive stages of the mystical life, even then the old suppressed passions can re-emerge and the final goal recedes  as the soul drops back into old habits, old feelings, old  delusions.   

  Throughout the development of the spiritual life the individual will have before his or her eyes the example of the Tirthankara.  According to Jain tradition, in each of the great cycles of time, lasting countless thousands of years, some people gain total enlightenment. Of these, twenty-four  in each half-cycle are known as Tirthankara. They are the  ones who, having achieved total knowledge themselves, pass on  knowledge in teaching the people, before they leave the world  and attain the ultimate state of moksa. Mahavira was, of  course, the twenty-fourth Tirthankara in the current half-cycle of time.  At all stages of the religious life the Tirthankara are seen as a help to the aspiring soul, they are the nearest thing Jainism has to a god, in fact they are  sometimes even called 'god'.  In a Jain temple the image of  the Tirthankara is worshipped and treated with great devotion  and respect. But the individual must understand that the Tirthankara is to be taken as a supreme example of spiritual  struggle and success, not as the donor of favors or the  author of fortune or misfortune. The individual must work out salvation  for himself but it is a great help and very meritorious to  meditate on the example of the Tirthankara (whether in the  presence of an image or without that material figure before  the eyes), to take the Tirthankara as an ideal and to resolve to follow the path the Tirthakara has  shown.



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