The five great vows (Maha-vratas) can be adopted by monks who
are very keen
about the uplift of their souls and ready to sacrifice all worldly
enjoyments and family ties.
For those who want to remain in family life and for whom complete
avoidance of five principle sins are difficult, Jain ethics specifies
the following twelve vows to be carried out by the householder.
Of this twelve vows, the first five are main vows of limited
nature (Anuvratas). They are somewhat easier in comparison with
great vows (Maha-vratas). The great vows are for the monks.
The next three vows are known as merit vows (Guna-vratas), so
called because they enhance and purify the effect of the five main
vows and raise their value manifold. It also governs the external
conduct of an individual.
The last four are called disciplinary vows (Shikhsa-vratas).
They are intended to encourage the person in the performance of
their religious duties. They reflect the purity of one's heart.
They govern one's internal life and are expressed in a life that
is marked by charity. They are preparatory to the discipline of
an ascetic's life.
Three merit vows (Gunavrats) and four disciplinary vows (Shikhsa-vratas)
together are known as Seven vows of virtuous conduct (Shilas).
A person may adopt these vows, according to his individual capacity
and circumstances with the intent to adopt ultimately as a great
The layperson should be very careful while observing and following
these limited vows. These vows being limited or restricted vows
may still leave great scope for the commitment of sins and possession
The twelve vows are described as follows:
Five Main Vows of Limited Nature (Anuvratas):
- 1. Non-violence Anuvrat - Ahimsa Anuvrat (Sthula Pranatipat
- 2. Truthfulness Anuvrat - Satya Anuvrat (Sthula Mrisavada
- 3. Non-stealing Anuvrat - Achaurya Anuvrat (Sthula Adattadana
- 4. Chastity Anuvrat - Bhramacharya Anuvrat (Sthula Maithuna
- 5. Non-attachment Anuvrat- Aparigraha Anuvrat (Sthula
Three Merit Vows (Guna-vrats):
- 6. Dik Vrata - Limited area of activity vow
- 7. Bhoga-Upbhoga Vrata - Limited use of consumable and
non-consumable items vow
- 8. Anartha-danda Vrata - Avoidance of purposeless sins
Four Disciplinary Vows (Siksha-vratas):
- 9. Samayik Vrata - Meditation vow of limited duration
- 10. Desavakasika Vrata - Activity vow of limiting space
- 11. Pausadha Vrata - Ascetic's life Vow of limited duration
- 12. Atithi Samvibhaga Vrata - Limited charity vow
1. Non-violence Anuvrat (Ahimsa Anuvrat): In this vow,
a person must not intentionally hurt any living being (plants,animals,humans
etc.) or their feeling either by thought, word or deed, himself,
or through others, or by approving such an act committed by somebody
Intention in this case applies selfish motive, sheer pleasure
and even avoidable negligence.
He may use force, if necessary, in the defense of his country,
society, family, life, property, religious institute.
His agricultural, industrial, occupational living activities
do also involve injury to life, but it should be as minimum as possible,
through carefulness and due precaution.
Four stages of violence are described:
- Premeditated Violence to attack someone knowingly
- Defensive Violence to commit intentional violence in defense
of one's own life
- Vocational Violence to incur violence in the execution of
one's means of livelihood
- Common Violence to commit violence in the performance of
Premeditated violence is prohibited for all. A householder is
permitted to incur violence defensively and vocationally provided
he maintains complete detachment. Common violence is accepted for
survival, but even here, one should be careful in preparing food,
cleaning house, etc. This explains the Jain's practices of filtering
drinking water, vegetarianism, not eating meals at night, and abstinence
Nonviolence is the foundation of Jain ethics. Lord Mahavir says:
`one should not injure, subjugate, enslave, torture or kill any
living being including animals, insects, plants, and vegetables.'
This is the essence of religion. It embraces the welfare of all
animals. It is the basis of all stages of knowledge and the source
of all rules of conduct. The scriptures analyze the spiritual and
practical aspects of nonviolence and discuss the subject negatively
2. Truthfulness Anuvrat (Satya Anuvrat): The second of the five
limited vows is Truth. It is more than abstaining from falsehood.
It is seeing the world in its real form and adapting to that reality.
The vow of truth puts a person in touch with his inner strength
and inner capacities.
In this vow, a person avoids lies, such as giving false evidence,
denying the property of others entrusted to him, avoid cheating
others etc. The vow is to be followed in thought, action, and speech,
and by doing it himself or by getting it done through others.
He should not speak the truth, if it harms others or hurts their
feelings. He should, under these circumstances, keep silence.
3. Non-stealing (Achaurya / Asteya) Anuvrat: In this vow,
a person must not steal, rob, or misappropriate others goods and
property. He also must not cheat and use illegal means in acquiring
worldly things, nor through others or by approving such an act committed
4. Chastity (Bhramacharya) Anuvrat: The basic intent
of this vow is to conquer passion and to prevent the waste of energy.
Positively stated, the vow is meant to impart the sense of serenity
to the soul.
In this vow, the house holder must not have a sensual relationship
with anybody but one's own lawfully wedded spouse. Even with one's
own spouse, excessive indulgence of all kinds of sensual pleasure
need be avoided.
5. Non-possession / Non-attachment (Aparigraha) Anuvrat:
Non-possession is the fifth limited vow. As long as a person does
not know the richness of joy and peace that comes from within, he
tries to fill his empty and insecure existence with the clutter
of material acquisitions.
Lord Mahavir said, security born of material things is a delusion.
To remove this delusion, one takes the vow of non-possession and
realizes the perfection of the soul.
One must impose a limit on one's needs, acquisitions, and possessions
such as land, real estate, goods, other valuables, animals, money,
etc. The surplus should be used for the common good. One must also
limit the every day usage of number of food items, or articles and
This Jain principle of limited possession for householders helps
in equitable distribution of wealth, comforts, etc., in the society.
Thus Jainism helps in establishing socialism, economic stability,
and welfare in the world.
Non-possession, like non-violence, affirms the oneness of all
life and is beneficial to an individual in his spiritual growth
and to the society for the redistribution of wealth.
6. Dik Vrata - Limited Area of Activity Vow: This vow
limits one's worldly activities to certain area in all the ten directions;
north, south, east, west, north-east, north-west, south-east, south-west,
above and below. He gives up committing sins in any place outside
the limited areas. This vow provides a space limit to the commitments
of sins not restricted by the limited vows of non-violence. Thus
outside the limited area, the limited vows assumes the status of
full vow (Maha-vratas).
7. Bhoga-Upbhoga Vrata - Limited use of Consumable/ Non-consumable
items vow Generally one commits the sin by one's use or enjoyment
of consumable (Bhoga) and non-consumable (Upbhoga) things.
Consumable (Bhoga) means enjoyment of an object which can only
be used once, such as food, drink, fruits and flowers.
Non-consumable (Upabhoga) means enjoyment of an object which
can be used several times, such as furniture, cloths, ornaments,
One should, therefore, limit the use of these two items in accordance
with his own need and capacity by taking this vows.
This vow provides the time limit to the commitments of sins not
restricted by Aparigraha Anuvrata.
8. Anartha-danda Vrata - Avoidance of Purposeless Sins Vow
One must not commit unnecessary or purposeless sin or moral offense
as defined below.
Thinking, talking, or preaching evil or ill of others.
Doing inconsiderate or useless acts such as walking on the grass
Manufacturing or supplying arms for attack.
Reading or listening, improper literature, or carelessness in
Thus this vow is of great practical importance. It makes life
more vigilant and sin-proof.
9. Samayik Vrata - Limited Meditation Vow Meditation of
the soul and its relationship with nature is known as Samayik.
By giving up affection and aversion (Rag and Dvesha), observing
equanimity in all objects, thinking evil of no one, and being at
peace with the world, one should practice this vow of meditation
This vow consists in sitting down at one place for at least 48
minutes concentrating one's mind on religious activities like reading
religious books, praying, or meditating. This vow may be repeated
many times in a day. It is to be observed by mind, body, and speech.
The meditation of 48 minutes makes a person realize the importance
of a life long vow to avoid all sinful activities and is a stepping
stone to a life of full renunciation.
10. Desavakasika Vrata - Limited Duration of Activity Vow
This vow sets the new limit within the limitations already set by
Dik Vrata and Bhoga-Upbhoga Vrata. The general life long limitation
of doing business in certain areas and the use of articles are further
restricted for a particular days time of the week.
This means that one shall not, during a certain period of time,
do any activity, business, or travel beyond a certain city, street,
house or have anything to do with the enjoyment of objects beyond
11. Pausadha Vrata - Limited Ascetic's Life Vow This vow
requires to live the life of a monk for a day. During this time
one should retire to a secluded place, renounce all sinful activities,
abstain in seeking pleasure from all objects of the senses, observe
due restraint of body, speech and mind. A person follows five great
vows (Maha-vratas) completely during this time. He passes his time
in spiritual contemplation, perform meditation (Samayik), engage
in self study, and worship Gods (Arihants and Siddhas).
This vow promotes and nourishes one's religious life and provides
training for ascetic life.
12. Atithi Samvibhaga Vrata - Limited Charity Vow One
should give food, clothes, medicine, and other articles of its own
possession to monks, nuns, and a pious person. The food offered
should be pure and with reverence.
One should not prepare any foods specially for monks because
monks are not allowed to have such foods. Donating of one's own
food and articles to monks and others, provides an inner satisfaction
and raises one's consciousness to higher level. It also saves him
from acquiring of more sins if he would have used the same for his
nourishment, comfort and pleasure.
Peaceful Death: In the final days of life, a householder
observes peaceful death. The house-holder can attain a peaceful
death (Sallekhana) if he truly follows the above twelve vows. The
peaceful death is characterized by non-attachment to the worldly
objects and by a suppression of the passions at the time of death.
The last thought should be of a calm renunciation of the body, and
this thought should ever be present long before death supervenes.
Conclusion: By performing these twelve vows, a lay
follower may live a righteous life and advance towards a fuller
and more perfect life, and conquer desire.
While earning wealth, supporting family, and taking up arms to
protect himself, his family, his country, etc. against intruder,
he is taught self restraint, love and enmity.
On one hand, he is debarred from doing any harm to himself, to
his family, to his country, or to humanity by his reckless conduct.
On the other hand, by giving up attachments he gradually prepares
himself for the life of ascetics.
If one goes deeper into the rules laid down, he will find that
practice of limiting the number of things to be kept or enjoyed
by himself eliminates the danger of concentration of wealth at one
point, which will help to minimize poverty and crime in the society.
Thus limiting the desires of individuals, results in a ideal society.
Suggested Further Reading
Source: Twelve Vows Of Layperson (G20) 01/19/93 12VOWS.A01
Complied by Pravin K. Shah, Jain Study Center of North Carolina