Ethics of Jainism - Anuvratas (Minor vows)

Sep 16, 2021 - 12:24
Sep 16, 2021 - 17:56

Anuvratas (Minor vows)

The five great vows apply only to ascetics in Jainism, and in their place are five minor vows for householders. The historic texts of Jains accept that any activity by a layperson would involve some form of himsa (violence) to some living beings, and therefore the minor vow emphasizes reduction of the impact and active efforts to protect.

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The five "minor vows" in Jainism are modelled after the great vows but differ in degree and they are less demanding or restrictive than the same "great vows" for ascetics. 

Thus, brahmacharya for householders means chastity or being sexually faithful to one's partner. Similarly, states John Cort, a mendicant's great vow of ahimsa requires that he or she must avoid gross and subtle forms of violence to all six kinds of living beings (earth beings, water beings, fire beings, wind beings, vegetable beings and mobile beings).

In contrast, a Jain householder's minor vow requires no gross violence against higher life forms and an effort to protect animals from "slaughter, beating, injury and suffering".

Apart from five fundamental vows seven supplementary vows are prescribed for a śrāvaka. These include three guņa vratas (Merit vows) and four śikşā vratas (Disciplinary vows). The vow of sallekhanâ is observed by the votary at the end of his life. It is prescribed both for the ascetics and householders. According to the Jain text, Puruşārthasiddhyupāya:

The man who incessantly observes all the supplementary vows and sallekhanâ (together, these are called śeelas) for the sake of safeguarding his vows (vratas), gets fervently garlanded (a gesture to indicate her choice for a husband) by the maiden called 'liberation'.

— Puruşārthasiddhyupāya

The five 'lesser vows' of anuvrata consist of the five greater vows but with less restrictions to incorporate the duties of a householder, i.e. a layperson with a home, he or she has responsibilities to the family, community and society that a Jain monk does not have. These minor vows have the following incorporated into ethical conduct:

  1. Take account of the responsibilities of a householder.
  2. Are often limited in time.
  3. Are often limited in scope.

Guņa vratas

  1. Digvrata- restriction on movement with regard to directions.
  2. Bhogopabhogaparimana- vow of limiting consumable and non-consumable things
  3. Anartha-dandaviramana- refraining from harmful occupations and activities (purposeless sins).

Śikşā vratas

  1. Samayika- vow to meditate and concentrate periodically.
  2. Desavrata- limiting movement to certain places for a fixed period of time.
  3. Prosadhopavâsa- Fasting at regular intervals.
  4. Atihti samvibhag- Vow of offering food to the ascetic and needy people.


An ascetic or householder who has observed all the prescribed vows to shed the karmas takes the vow of sallekhanā at the end of his life. According to the Jain text, Purushartha Siddhyupaya, "sallekhana enable a householder to carry with him his wealth of piety".

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