What is the Acaranga Sutra?

The Jain religion began over 2500 years ago in India. It was a way of living that would allow an individual to break free of karma and enter complete liberation. When followed, the Jain religion would cause a person to avoid having to reincarnate. The individual would enter kevala which is a similar state to nirvana in Buddism. Getting to this pure state requires sticking to a strict path of non-violence.

Its origins are somewhat hard to determine. There are four main teachers of this religions. The most recent one lived during the time of Buddha. He is known as Jina but he went by the name Vardhamana Mahavira or simply, Mahavira.

The Acharanga or acaranga Sutra was written around the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. It is the oldest agam and contains two Srutaskandhas or books. The second book is a treatise and was added to the first book to describe the ways of conduct in the ascetic life. The second book is made up of four sections or Kulas.

The acharanga covers ways to ask for food, a couch, a bowl, clothes and it also explains the penance of the Great Hero Mahavira. The codes of conduct include different postures, humility, traveling, quality of food eaten and spiritual studies. Other conduct that is explained includes principles of speech as well as the restraint of speech, mental thought, and physical actions. The books emphasize purity in all of these things.

These books are considered the earliest known writings on the rules and conduct for mendicant monks and nuns who observe the Shvetambara tradition. The first text was originally only given verbally for many centuries. It is believed that Mahavira gave this text orally to his disciples and the tradition took off from there. These teachings were systemized into 12 angas and then at the Council of Valabhi, the first few lessons of how to maintain vows as a mendicant were established.

There are many lessons on life and how it might end as well as how women should be treated within these books. For example, as to suicide, monks are told that they might become influenced by the cold. If this causes them to break their vows, they are essentially better off committing suicide. The contents of both books are, to this day, open to a lot of interpretation and contrasts between those who follow Jain and other religions are made freq.

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