Jainism: The 5 Main Vows & What They Mean

Jainism is a non-theistic religion, meaning there isn’t any focus on a god or deity entity that gives laws from heaven. Jainism comes from India where it was founded sometime around the 6th century BC as a sort of “counter-reaction” to the orthodox teachings of brahmanism at the time. Jainism teaches that salvation occurs through a multi-life process of striving for perfection with a strong emphasis on giving no harm to living creatures.

The tenants of the Jain faith come from five main vows, often called the five abstinences or the five ascetics. If you want to understand the Jain faith then you need to understand these.

#1: The Vow of Ahimsa (Non-Violence)
The most important of the vows, and the cornerstone of Jainism, is the vow of non-violence. This refers to the cornerstone belief that no living being has a right to injure, harm, or kill any other living being. This includes everything living: insects, plants, & animals. They understand that it’s impossible to survive without killing or injuring some life, so the goal is minimum killing.

Violence means every type: mental, emotional, and psychological count and need to be avoided as much as physical violence. Even thinking or imagining harm towards someone is considered forbidden violence.

#2: The Vow of Satya (Truthfulness)
The vow of truthfulness doesn’t just mean never lying and avoiding deception, but it goes one step further to demanding of followers to have the courage to tell the truth and kindly correct falsehoods in the open, even if that can mean harm to oneself.

#3: The Vow of Asteya (Not Stealing)
The vow of not stealing goes hand in hand with the vow of truth. This not only means the basic of not taking property that isn’t yours or credit for something you didn’t do, but also having a realistic understanding of what you need versus what would be comfortable. When taking alms or donations, not stealing means taking only the minimum of what you need – not more to be comfortable.

#4: The Vow of Aparigraha (Non-Acquisition)
This vow starts with the idea that the more attachment to material forms of wealth you have, the more you will fall into sin. While material wealth and possessions are the main focus, on the high level with monks this even goes to pushing away from the pleasures of sensation, feelings, or even relationships.

#5: The Vow of Brahmacarya (Chaste Living)
In this case chaste living means the total and complete abstinence from sensual pleasure, including thoughts, as well as abstaining from the various pleasures of the senses which can mean music from the ears, spices for the taste, the beauty of a member of the opposite sex on the eyes, etc.

These are the main 5 vows of Jainism.