What Does “Aparigraha” Mean In Jainism?

We previously discussed four of the five primary Jain vows. These principles (or rules of conduct) are: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truth), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (chastity), and Aparigraha (or non-possession). Now, we’ll discuss what last vow on that list actually means. Per usual, there’s more to the vow than one might expect, and meeting expectations can be difficult to achieve.

Other religions also deemphasize material wealth or possessions. Christianity, for example, rose to prominence within the Roman Empire at a time when the income inequality gap was expanding at a surprisingly fast rate. Along came a few strange groups who proposed that it wasn’t actually a bad thing to be poor — in fact, it was giving up earthly possessions that set one on the path to heaven at the end of one’s life.

Jainism holds to similar beliefs — but Jains certainly take them more seriously than the average modern-day Christian.

Aparigraha maintains that one should hold onto as few possessions as possible. They shouldn’t “grasp” for more than they need. They shouldn’t be greedy. That doesn’t mean a person cannot hold anything they might not literally need to continue living. A Jain can hold only what is important. That might mean different things depending on where a person is in life. 

This particular vow connects to the other four because it is meant to remind followers of the importance of doing no harm and living in harmony with all other beings. Self-restraint is important because it prevents a person from seeking material gain at the expense of relationships or even the continued health of others we contact. Hurting others through greed wouldn’t just contradict Aparigraha — it would also break the vow of Ahimsa.

But non-possession to a Jain means more than just giving up material possessions. It means giving up emotional attachments too. It means giving up other pleasures, including sex for pleasure or over-eating for pleasure. To Jains, consumption should only occur when it is necessary for survival. It is unnecessary when it occurs due to ego. A Jain would never buy a large house to fill with ornate furniture and invite all the friends and family over to show off. 

The irony of these vows is that sometimes con artists try to take advantage of the Jain lifestyle. Jains have the reputation for being very successful leaders in business, but also for using very little of their wealth to enrich their own lives — which makes their bank accounts temporarily full and their credit scores high. Identity theft is a common problem. A member of the Fullman firm acknowledged that Jain clients in Southern California weren’t uncommon.

Ancient Jain texts often list Brahmacarya as one of the ten virtues (which go beyond and elaborate on the five vows). The accumulation of wealth — even when incremental — is tied to jealousy and selfishness in real life as well as in religion. The Jains believe that Aparigraha is second only to Ahimsa in degree of importance to everyday life.

What Does Brahmacharya Mean In Jainism?

We previously discussed several Jain vows and principles, including four of the most important: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truth), and Asteya (non-stealing). There are only two more: Brahmacharya (chastity) and Aparigraha (non-possession). Today’s we’ll talk about Brahmacharya. Like all the other vows, this one isn’t as self-explanatory as you think — and it goes far beyond what we think of as typically “chaste” behavior.

Other religions (such as Hinduism) also regard the concept as important. Essentially, it promotes a focus on oneself in order to achieve spiritual enlightenment. It doesn’t mean that Jainism is an inherently selfish religion. What it does mean is that you have to look inward before you can look outward. Before we can help others, we need to help ourselves. It’s a philosophical belief. 

But Brahmacharya leads Jains into abstinence or even celibacy. Sound crazy? To many of us, it might be taking the idea of repression to a whole new level. But to them, the Jain religion and life here on Earth is just a stepping stone to enlightenment — and at the end of the day earthly pleasures don’t matter much. 

That’s not to say the Jains don’t understand the need for reproduction. Jains are therefore taught to abstain from sex until marriage, at which time they can create little humans until they churn out a male. One that happens, Jains are urged to once again abstain from sex!

For Jain monks, celibacy is a given. But Brahmacharya isn’t just about not having sex — it’s about not thinking about having sex. Of course, they are not allowed to talk about sexual intercourse either, because doing so would contradict the vows taken. 

And for those who are married with or without children, infidelity would mean breaking this particular vow — and because the vows are necessary to achieve spiritual liberation, breaking them is highly frowned upon.

Are Jains Allowed To Divorce?

This is a somewhat “taboo” subject for Jain followers. Jainism is a religion that teaches pacifism is the height of everything on the journey to liberate the soul. Peace is paramount! This religion is millennia old, and set in its ways. But what do these principles really mean when Jains conduct daily routines? Probably not what you’d expect. Not only are Jains urged to protect life both big and small, for example, but they are also taught to protect and nurture their relationships.

In a previous post, we discussed Ahimsa, the vow of non-violence. You might remember that “violence” to a Jain isn’t really defined the same way as it is to everyone else. To them, aggression constitutes an overt form of violence. The mere thought of violence is contrary to the vow of Ahimsa. Conflict is simply not acceptable to Jains. They must make peace in order to live their lives.

How does divorce fit into the equation? If you’re reading carefully, then you already know: divorce doesn’t fit into the equation. The act of divorcing a partner is considered anti-Ashimsa. 

The purpose of Jainism is to overcome the conflicts that lead to these perhaps impetuous reactions. To Jains, divorce is nothing more than a complication of everyday life and the principles they should be following. That’s why the Jain faith strongly urges those considering divorce to work things out instead. To them, seeking inner peace will help strengthen (or repair) relationships. Harmony is the way!

However, a religion this peaceful and pacifist can’t have it both ways — right? What we mean to say is that you can truly believe in Jainism but still legally divorce, if that’s how you want to approach your soon-to-be-ended relationship. Other Jains won’t denounce you or eject you from the faith. They might not approve of your decision, but in order to achieve peace and harmony in their own lives, they have to accept your decision. 

Keep in mind though, that the taboo is still there. And if some Jains might consider divorce an option — even though this course of action is not compatible with Jain vows and principles — then other Jains might similarly act outside of their vows and showcase the stigma more openly. Whichever decision you make, it’s best to think it through first.

Jains living in the United States might find themselves more open to the potential for divorce, in part because the stigma against it is less spoken here. What should you do before seeking a divorce? We recommend first sitting down with your spouse to discuss each of the many consequences in the future. This is particularly in line with Jain beliefs. After that, it makes sense to discuss the consequences of not getting a divorce. Is there any way to reconcile before making this choice that cannot be undone? 

Next, we recommend sitting down with Jain priests at a temple near you for spiritual guidance. Their advice is not absolute and you are not bound to do what they ask or suggest. Last but not least, we recommend consulting with legal representatives who know what the process would look like. Bernal-Mora & Nickolaou offer such consults for free. 

What Does “Satya” Mean In Jainism?

We recently explored what Ahimsa (non-violence) and Asteya (non-stealing) vows mean in Jainism. There are three other vows we have yet to discuss: Brahmacharya (chastity), Aparigraha (non-possession), and Satya (or truth). Today, we will look at Satya. Like all the vows, the Satya principle extends far beyond the simple telling of truth. This includes the concept of lying by omission! 

Jains are reputable businessmen and businessmen, and that reputation has been well-earned. After all, what better merchant is there than one whose religion demands total unadulterated honesty? A Jain merchant, for example, is not allowed to omit defections in a particular product he would like to sell. 

One of the ways that Satya extends the idea of truth further than you might think is dependent on whether or not you believe someone else is lying or telling the truth — to be truthful yourself, you must always discourage dishonesty in others. That means calling someone out when they lie!

The Jain text Sarvarthasiddhi says, “That which causes pain and suffering to the living is not commendable, whether it refers to actual facts or not.”

Another text, the Purusarthasisddhyupaya, says, “All these subdivisions (injury, falsehood, stealing, unchastity, and attachment) are himsa as indulgence in these sullies the pure nature of the soul. Falsehood etc. have been mentioned separately only to make the disciple understand through illustrations.”

“The Four Noble Truths” in Jainism refer to the truth of suffering, the origin of suffering, the extinction of suffering, and the Noble Eightfold Path (which results in the extinction of suffering).

Satya is a vow taken to restrain oneself from these falsehoods. This is done through body, words, and thoughts. 

One of the distinctions taught to Jains, for example, is that you might not always know the truth, but you always know when you’re lying. In this case it is better to stop speaking, rather than to express that which you do not know for certain is accurate.

Finding Jain Resources In NYC

Jains often travel for business, which makes New York City a popular location to frequent. Anyone who’s ever traveled to a new place in a different country will understand the culture shock associated with the experience. It might be difficult to find information that you need — especially if you find yourself in hot water with the law or another organization through no real fault of your own. Here are a few resources that our Jain friends and family might find useful when in NYC.

New York City resident, founder, and president of International Ahimsa Foundation Neeta Jain has employed the principles of her religion using the organization she built. Was was the first Indian American to become an elected official in NYC, serving as Democratic district leader for the 25th Assembly District (B). She also serves as president for the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Democratic Club of Queens.

Jains rarely find themselves in situations requiring a trial lawyer, but it happens on occasion. Those who do may visit https://nagelrice.com/ for more information on what might happen during a trial, their local courthouse to find more information on the processes related to serving on a jury, or the local Jain temple to consult with a priest for spiritual guidance.

Those looking for help related to Jain matters (or who are having trouble in the new location) might find insight by visiting the Jain Center of America on Ithaca Street in Queens. A temple is located there. This location is actually the very first that was ever recorded or registered as a Jain religious center in the United States all the way back in 1976. For those who would simply like to celebrate with like-minded individuals, there are a number of activities available for various age groups all year long (but contact the center before going, because the facility might still be operating at reduced capacity because of COVID-19.

The Jain Temple of New York is located at 271-09 80th Ave in New Hyde Park. The temple is open to the public from 7 to 10 AM every Monday through Friday, but the evening Aarti is conducted at 7:40 PM. Hours are extended until noon on weekends.

Keep in mind that the temple’s priests ask visitors to be safe. They write: “…As per NY State regulation, all members visiting the temple are required to have face covering at all times during their visit to the temple. For the safety of our members, you will be requested to leave the temple if you do not comply with this regulation… Please note: Given the current situation, JYNY, BOT and EC cannot be held liable for your visit to the temple so we request all members to use your judgment when visiting the temple and observe all regulations put forth by the government.”

What Does “Ahimsa” Mean In Jainism?

“Ahimsa” is one of the five core vows and principles of Jainism, and means “non-violence.” The word is derived from Sanskrit, and sometimes spelled “ahinsa” or “avihinsa.” Ahimsa is the first vow learned and perhaps the most fundamental in the entire culture of the religion. It goes far beyond the more common religious doctrine of “don’t kill,” in part because it expands this belief to encompass all life on earth, no matter how small or unintelligent.

True understanding of ahimsa means you don’t have to ask whether or not Jains work as farmers or eat meat — they don’t. These jobs make it too easy to kill microscopic life or insects, and farmers are expected to raise livestock (which will eventually be butchered for food even if the Jain does not do the killing himself). Even Jain Vegetarians must be careful what types of foods they eat for fear of doing more damage to tiny organisms than necessary. 

Ahimsa is somewhat different from other vows we’ve discussed in past articles. For example, the principle of non-stealing is not governed by a person’s “intent” to steal. Even thinking about stealing is a transgression. Ahimsa is different, because intention does matter. 

Acharya Jinabhadra wrote in the 7th century AD: “It is intention that ultimately matters. From the real point of view, a man does not become a killer only because he has killed or because the world is crowded with souls, or remain innocent only because he has not killed physically. Even if a person does not actually kill, he becomes a killer if he has the intention to kill.”

This belief still allows doctors to cause pain because the intention is not to cause pain, but to heal. The act itself does not mean the vow has been broken. 

The five transgressions of ahimsa include, binding animals too tightly, beat animals, cutting animals, overloading animals, and neglecting to feed animals. Although all Jains must remain pacifist, a Jain king would not transgress by fighting to defend his people.

What Types Of Jobs Do Jains Take?

We recently considered the definition of the Jain vow, asteya, which means “non-stealing.” You  might be surprised to know — after reading up on this — that the Jains have a reputation for being very heavily invested in business. And they’re good at it, too! One might ask whether or not venturing into business affairs might detract from the vow against stealing, or even contradict it entirely. Well, it depends on who you ask.

According to a New South Wales report from 2016, more than half of Jains who resided there labeled themselves business professionals. Most of these jobs included management. Only a measly 2.4 percent of New South Wales residents had jobs in the labor industry. You wouldn’t find a Jain in need of a waiter pay law firm, because they rarely work in service — and probably wouldn’t get angry when taken advantage of, anyway!

Other jobs with a large percentage of workers included official/administrative, sales, and machinery operators or drivers. Less surprising was the number of Jains who worked as community or personal service workers — which would seem more in line with a traditional way of Jain thinking.

Internationally, the Jain career makeup is similar. They work as jewelers, financiers, traders, merchants, textile sales, and in the healthcare or technology industries. Because of the strong skills of the Jain following, they have been quite prosperous. But how does one bridge the gap between prosperity and non-theft? Jains also take vows of non-possession!

The answer is simple: Jains live to serve and provide for others as part of their pacifist lifestyle. Business is technically a way to provide goods or services that other people require to live their own lives, and providing those goods or services is a chaste and just thing to do. Beyond that, the prosperity achieved through business allows Jains to give back to the community. They are known for their patronage and charity. They also spend profits on artistic endeavors to enrich the culture of Jainism.

Although it might seem ironic or unsensible to the layman, it’s the very practice of non-violence that leads Jains to these career paths in the first place! This is because Jains believe even the smallest organisms should be allowed to live in peace and harmony with larger ones. How can a person hold that type of belief and go into agriculture or farming, for example? Tilling the land would kill innumerable insects and microscopic lifeforms. Farming also results in the breeding and butchering of livestock, which is about as far away from a Jain’s beliefs as you can get (they are vegetarian, if you hadn’t heard). 

Because Jains are typically well-educated and very successful in business, they also have a strong influence over other aspects of Indian society (even with their relatively small numbers; the population of Jains in India sits around 5 or 6 million out of a total Indian population nearing two billion). They are invested in politics, economic righteousness, and Indian culture in general.

What Does “Asteya” Mean In Jainism?

The five basic vows of Jainism include ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), brahmacharya (chastity), aparigraha (non-attachment), and asteya (non-stealing). In order to achieve spiritual liberation at the end of life (or multiple lives, depending on karma), these five vows must be honored and maintained constantly and without interruption. Asteya is also sometimes replaced with the word “Achourya.” Both are Sanskrit words that mean “non-stealing.”

Asteya goes far beyond the physical act of stealing. Once this vow is taken, a Jain cannot steal, intend to steal — or even think about stealing. The five vows are as much about controlling one’s deepest, darkest thoughts as they are about controlling one’s physical actions.

Asteya is a vow in Hinduism as well, and also a form of temperance or self-restraint practiced by many Indian citizens. 

The Jain text Sarvathasiddhi describes asteya: “Prompting a person to steal, or prompting him through another or approving of the theft, is the first transgression. The second is receiving stolen goods from a person, whose action has neither been prompted nor approved by the recipient. Receiving or buying goods otherwise than by lawful and just means is an irregularity or a transgression. An attempt to buy precious things very cheaply in a disordered state is the third transgression.”

One can clearly see that “theft” of any kind is counted as disobeying the vow of asteya, and there is very little room for interpretation.

The text continues: “Cheating others by the use of false weights and measures in order to obtain more from others and give less to others, is the fourth transgression. Deceiving others with artificial gold, synthetic diamonds and so on, is the fifth transgression. These five are the transgressions of the vow of non-stealing.”

These transgressions can be committed by any practicing Jain, including both monks/nuns and/or householders. Committing these transgressions will prevent spiritual liberation.

What Is The “Kalpa Sutra” In Jainism?

Not to be confused with Hindu’s textbook on erotic love called Kama Sutra, the Kalpa Sutra is a biography on numerous Tirthankaras with a primary interest in Mahavira and Parshvanatha. The text is mostly used by the Sventambara (one of the two main sects of Jainism). The oldest copies unearthed date to around the 14th century and were written in India, which is the largest hub for Jain followers (although the faithful live all over the world in smaller numbers). 

Newer copies of the text (meaning any that were transcribed after the oldest copies) began to be illustrated sometime in the 15th century. Often, they were painted to show the life history of the figures detailed within. 

The text was likely written down by Acarya Bhadrabahu, who was believed to be the last Shruta Kevalin (even though the Svetambara sect believes the last Shruta was a different man). He also wrote four other Chedda sutras and a number of commentaries on Jain scriptures.

Radha Kumud Mokerji wrote, “The oldest inscription of about 600 AD associated ‘the pair (yugma) Bhadrabahu along with Chandragupta Muni.’ Two inscriptions of about 900 AD on the Kaveri near Seringapatam describe the summit of a hill called Chandragiri as marked by the footprints of Bhadrabahu and Chandragupta munipati.”

Keep in mind that Acarya Bhadrabahu lived from approximately 367 to 298 BCE. 

Mokerji continued, “A Shravanabelagola inscription of 1129 mentions Bhadrabahu ‘Shrutakevali’, and Chandragupta who acquired such merit that he was worshipped by the forest deities. Another inscription of 1163 similarly couples and describes them. A third inscription of the year 1432 speaks of Yatindra Bhadrabahu, and his disciple Chandragupta, the fame of whose penance spread into other words.”

The Tirthankara “Parshvanatha” was sometimes called “Parshva” or “Paras,” and was the 23rd of 24. He likely lived during the 8th or 9th century BCE, or slightly later according to most historians, and was known to have revived Jainism from bankruptcy.  

When we say “bankruptcy,” we don’t mean in the traditional sense. It isn’t possible for a Jain monk or nun to go bankrupt, which means the concept has little meaning to the most devout followers of Jainism. They have no belongings of their own, and male monks typically don’t even wear clothing! Visit website for more information on bankruptcy. Although the term has more meaning elsewhere, one might say that a Jain monk or nun with no access to historical texts, temples of worship, or fellow Jain members, would be bankrupt. 

Like most religions, Jainism has had high points and lows. Parshvanatha was simply a man who brought the religion out of one of those low points.

“Mahavira” was the 24th of 24 Tirthankaras, and sometimes he was also called “Vardhamana.” He was of royal blood, and was born early in the 6th century BCE somewhere in Bihar, India. He was known for his utter obedience to the five vows of Jainism, including ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, and aparigraha.

What Is The Meaning Of “Sangha” In Jainism?

“Sangha” is a word used in more than one religion, including Jainism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. It literally means “assembly” or “community.” But where did it come from? Sangha is a Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is a predominantly South Asian language, also considered the sacred language of Hinduism, and arose from the ashes of several other dying languages toward the end of the Bronze Age. 

Sanskrit is also linked to the ancient texts of Buddhism and Jainism, guaranteeing its relevance for ages to come. One might consider this analogy to fully understand its impact on the region’s culture and religions: Sanskrit is to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism as Latin is to Christianity.

Sangha in Jainism simply refers to the “community” of those practicing dharma to achieve spiritual liberation at the end of life. 

According to Champat Rai Jain, “The continuity of the sangha (community of the faithful) will be maintained right up to its very end. There will be at least one saint, one nun, one householder, and one pious female follower of the Lord Jinendra in the world. When only three moments will be left in the running kala, raja (kingship), agni (fire) and dharma (religion) will be destroyed, one after the other, in the order mentioned!”

He continues, “The last king, who will be called Kalki, will snatch away the food from the hand of the last Saint, and will be destroyed by the devas for his extreme impiety. The Saint and the Nun will perform sallekhana death, along with the householder and the pious lay lady. Fire will disappear instantly, and dharma will cease to exist in the next moment!”

In other words, Sangha will only terminate when the religion itself comes to its end.

Sometimes “Sangha” also refers to Digambara lineages. (Digambara is one of the two primary sects of Jainism). The concept of Sangha was first conceived in the 5th century by Madurai.