View Full Version : Five Great Vows (Maha-vratas)

August 10th, 2010, 12:56 AM
Five Great Vows (Maha-vratas) (G10) 01/19/93 5VOWS.A01
Complied by Pravin K. Shah, Jain Study Center of North Carolina

Five Great Vows (Maha-vratas)
Right knowledge, right faith, and right conduct are the three
most essentials for attaining liberation.

In order to acquire these, one must observe the five great vows:

1. Non-violence - Ahimsa
2. Truth - Satya
3. Non-stealing - Achaurya or Asteya
4. Celibacy/Chastity - Brahmacharya
5. Non-attachment/Non-possession - Aparigraha

Non-violence (Ahimsa):
Among these five vows, non-violence (Ahimsa) is the cardinal
principle of Jainism and hence it is called the highest religious
principle, or the cornerstone of Jainism.

Non-violence is the supreme religion (Ahimsa parmo dharma)

It is repeatedly said by all Tirthankaras in Jain literature,

"Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment,
torture, or kill any creature or living being."

According to Jainism all living beings, irrespective of their
size, shape, or different spiritual developments are equal. No
living being has a right to harm, injure, or kill any other living
being, including animals, insects, and plants. Every living being has
a right to exist and it is necessary to live with every other living
being in perfect harmony and peace.

Nonviolence is based on love and kindness for all living beings.
Nonviolence in Jainism is not a negative virtue. It is based upon
the positive quality of universal love and compassion. One who is
actuated by this ideal cannot be indifferent to the suffering of

Violence of every type should be completely forbidden. Mental
tortures by way of harsh words, actions, and any type of bodily
injuries should also be avoided. Even thinking evil of some one is
considered violence in Jainism.

Practically, it is impossible to survive without killing or injuring
some of the smallest living beings. Some lives are killed even
when we breathe, drink water, or eat food. Therefore, Jainism
says that minimum killing of the lowest form of life should be our
ideal for survival.

In the universe, there are different forms of life, such as,
human beings, animals, insects, plants, bacteria, and
even smaller lives which cannot be seen even through the most
powerful microscopes. Jainism has classified all the living
beings according to their senses as follows:

five senses - human, animals, birds, heavenly, hellish beings
four senses - flies, bees, etc.
three senses - ants, lice, etc.
two senses - worms, leaches, etc.
one sense - vegetables, water, air, earth, fire etc.

The five sense are, touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing.

It is more painful if a life of the higher forms (more than one sense)
are killed. All non-vegetarian food is made by killing a living
being with two or more senses. Therefore, Jainism preaches strict
vegetarianism, and prohibits non-vegetarian foods.

Jainism explains that violence is not defined by actual harm, for
this may be unintentional. It is the intention to harm, the
absence of compassion, and the ignorance that makes an action
violent. Without violent thought there can be no violent actions.

Non-violence is to be observed in action, speech, and thought.
One should not be violent, ask others to do so, or approve of such
an activity.

Truth (Satya):
Anger, greed, fear, jokes, etc. are the breeding grounds of
untruth. To speak the truth requires moral courage. Only those
who have conquered greed, fear, anger, jealousy, ego, frivolity,
etc., can speak the truth. Jainism insists that one should not
only refrain from falsehood, but should always speak the truth
which should be wholesome and pleasant.

One should remain silent if the truth causes pain, hurt, anger, or
death of any living being.

Truth is to be observed in speech, mind, and deed. One should not
utter an untruth, ask others to do so, or approve of such

Non-stealing (Achaurya or Asteya):
Stealing consists of taking another's property without his consent,
or by unjust or immoral methods. Further, one should not take
anything which does not belong to him. It does not entitle one to
take away a thing which may be lying unattended or unclaimed. One
should observe this vow very strictly, and should not touch even a
worthless thing which does not belong to him.

When accepting alms, help, or aid one should not take more then
what is minimum needed. To take more than one's need is also
considered theft in Jainism.

The vow of non-stealing insists that one should be totally honest
in action, thought, and speech. One should not steal, ask others
to do so, or approve of such activities.

Celibacy / Chastity (Brahmacharya):
Total abstinence from sensual pleasure is called celibacy. Sensual
pleasure is an infatuating force which sets aside all virtues and
reason at the time of indulgence. This vow of controlling sensuality
is very difficult to observe in its subtle form. One may refrain
from physical indulgence but may still think of the pleasures of
sensualism, which is prohibited in Jainism.

Monks are required to observe this vow strictly and completely.
They should not enjoy sensual pleasures, ask others to do the
same, nor approve of it. There are several rules laid down for
observing this vow for householders.

Non-attachment / Non-possession (Aparigraha):
Jainism believes that the more worldly wealth a person possesses,
the more he is likely to commit sin to acquire the possession, and
in a long run he may be more unhappy. The worldly wealth creates
attachments which will continuously result in greed, jealousy,
selfishness, ego, hatred, violence, etc. Lord Mahavir has said
that wants and desires have no end, and only the sky is the limit
for them.

Attachments to worldly objects results in the bondage to the
cycle of birth and death. Therefore, one who desires of spiritual
liberation should withdraw from all attachments to pleasing
objects of all the five senses.

Monks observe this vow by giving up attachments to all things such

Material things:
Wealth, property, grains, house, books, clothes, etc.

Father, mother, spouse, sons, daughters, friends, enemies,
other monks, disciples, etc.

Pleasure and painful feelings towards touch, taste, smell,
sight, and hearing objects. They have the equanimity towards
music and noise, good and bad smells, soft and hard objects
for touch, beautiful and dirty sights, etc.

They do not eat food for taste but for survival with the
intention to destroy his karma with the help of this body.

Non-possession and non-attachment are to be observed in speech,
mind, and deed. One should not possess, ask others to do so, or
approve of such activities.

Jainism has laid down and described in much detail these five
great vows for the path of liberation. These are to be observed
strictly and entirely by the monks and nuns. Partial observance
is laid down for the householders with an additional seven vows.