Ācārāṅga

Posted: 09.07.2009
Updated on: 02.07.2015

The oldest holy texts of Jains are called canons or āgama consisting of twelve limbs (Dvādaśāngas) and considered as direct compilations of Mahāvira’s sermons by his chief disciples known as gaṇadharas. Ācārāṅga, or sometimes called as Sāmāyika or Āyāro in Prakṛta, is the first of these Dvādaśāngas. Beginning with the inquisitiveness about the soul, this is the basic holy text of Jains about the conduct of the Jain ascetics. Soul is an existent and it is eternal and going through transformation continuously also (i.e. not inert). Further soul is the doer and enjoyer of its actions, there is bondage and liberation of karmas associated with the soul which are all basic elements of Jain ethical postulates and described in details in this text. Ācārāṅga defines right conduct, based on non-violence as ‘activities of mind, body and speech without attachment and aversion.

Samavāya, another limb of the canons, indicates Ācārāṅga comprising two volumes but it appears that in the beginning there was only one volume. The second volume, written in different style and having appendices appear to have been created by Bhadrabāhu-II who indicated the name of first volume as Ācārāṅga while the second volume was named as Navabṛhamacarya. Ācārāṅga consists of nine sections named as Satthapariṇṇa; Loka vijay; Śitosaṇijja; Sammatta; Āvaṅti; Dhyūta; Vimohāyaṇa; Uvahāyaṇasūya and Mahāpariṇṇa sequentially. However later writers of commentaries etc have indicate different sequences and at times names of these sections /chapters. Further there are 51 subsections of these nine chapters with ninth chapter reported as missing. Bhadrabāhu-II and Digambara writers indicate the size of Ācārāṅga as 18000 words which are substantially more than available today.

 

Commentaries and other texts on Ācārāṅga

The text itself is supposed to be composed by gaṇadhara Sūdharmā while listening to Mahāvīra. Hence its time can be estimated to be approximately 550BC. Ācārāṅga is composed in Ardhamāgadhi (Prākrta, language of the common man of Magadh). However its composition as text, as available today is assigned to Devārdhagaṇi in 5th century AD and further commented by Śīlaṅka in the 8th century AD. The text is composed in prose, sutra, verse and mixed forms at different places.

The oldest description treatise on Ācārāṅga is Niryukti written by Bhadra Bahu-II (in 6th century vikram). This is followed by curni written by Jina Dass Mahattara. The third treatise is tikā or commentary written by Śīlaṅka. Later on a number of other treatises were written by a large number of ācāryas with the latest being written by MahāPragya. Commentaries give detailed description of each concept written in the original text.

 

Subject of Ācārāṅga

The subject of Ācārāṅga is the conduct of the practitioner of the path of purification and discuss the progress of the faithful to the highest perfection i.e. mokṣa or liberation. It starts with the inquisitiveness of the soul and its nature. It is a complete text of the entire Jain path of spiritual purification and hence it is claimed to be the essence of all the other Jain canons. Ācārāṅga is the basic texts for the ascetics to start his /her ascetic life, to the extent that a new ascetic entering the order was first examined by his guru about his knowledge of this text. Only after reading Ācārāṅga, the other texts of ethics, life sketches, karma etc are read by the ascetic.

Ācārāṅga is divided in nine chapters as indicated below.

Śastra Parijñā

Weapons or arms of destruction or giving pain to living beings. Six types of living beings according to their body form, (ṣaṭjīvanikāya).

Loka vijay

Conquest of the world i.e. give up the pride/attachment of the family and non self objects.

Śitoṣṇīiya

Hot and cold. Winning over the bodily afflictions (pariṣaha jaya).

Samyaktva.

Righteousness. Knowing the universal truth and to practice the same.

Sāra

Essence of the world i.e. non violence, laziness, non possession, self study, carefulness and giving up the wrong beliefs.

Dhyūtavāda

The cleaning i.e. methods to dissociate the karmas from the soul, service to the ascetics.

Vimokṣa

Liberation i.e. methods of performing austerities/penance.

Upādhāna

Pillow of righteousness i.e. conduct of Mahāvīra during penance in erring state (chadmastha).

Mahāpariṇṇā

Lost.

Chapter wise brief is given below:

Śastra Parijñā: Knowledge of the weapons of violence.

 

Six types of living beings according to their body form, (ṣaṭjīvanikāya).

The first chapter has a unique description about life in different beings from stationery/ immobile (sthāvara) living beings with one sense organ and those with tras /mobile bodies having two to five sense organs and mind. These six types of living beings, namely those with earth, water, fire, air and vegetation as their bodies and belonging to sthāvara category and the rest to the mobile category (ants, mosquitoes, animals, birds, human beings etc.).

The life/soul in sthāvara beings is justified and explained based on their ability to get born, grow and decay, breath, feelings, subtle body, concrete or being cognizable by senses. Ācārāṅga proves life in these beings by a number of examples and logical discussions e.g.

    • A human being, who is devoid of his speech and eye senses, feels the pains of pricking /cutting etc of his body and. yet he cannot express these. Similar is the situation of the sthāvara beings.
    • A healthy human being, when inflicted with 32 types of pains simultaneously, cannot express the same. Similarly the sthāvara beings even though they feel cannot express their feelings.
    • When a person is made unconscious by others, the unconscious person cannot express his feelings, similarly the sthāvara beings cannot express their feelings.
    • Air and water get polluted and decay by different types of effluents like human beings get suffocated or even die by different types of effluents.
    • Fire grows when fuel is added to it. It dies when it is starved of fuel like human beings grow with the food they eat and die in the absence of food for long periods.
    • Like human beings, plans are seen to be born, grow, express feelings and die.

 

Mahāvīra, in the end invokes his listeners to believe in omniscient who can cognize subtle things that life exposits in one sensed beings. To support his claim, he even provides anti bodies of each type of living being belonging to sthāvara category.

Concerning the living beings with mobile bodies, it talks of three ways in which such beings are born e.g. those born out of some liquids /sweat and by cracking the earth (all three put in the category called sammurchama or unconscious beings like bacteria, virus, live cells in sperm or body etc); out of the egg born with naked body or in a shell through a birth place called garbhaj and finally with celestial body like heavenly and hellish beings i.e. without a specific place from where they are born. Mobile beings are those who have the knowledge to move i.e. to be comfortable they move from place to place in search of food, pleasure or avoiding pain etc. Ācārāṅga talks of a number of reasons due to which the mobile beings are killed or hurt by others, e.g.

    • Medicinal and cosmetic effect i.e. by using the body or eating the flesh/ using urine or using teeth of some type of beings, the disease can be cured or enhance the potency or beauty of he user /killer.
    • For using the skin of living beings for use as clothing, shoes etc.
    • Fearing that such and such types of beings will kill or had killed / hurt me or my loved ones.
    • For entertainment like bull fight, riding, transport of goods and people etc.

 

Ahiṅsā or non violence:

The arhats and the bhagawats of the past, present and future, all say thus, speak thus, declare thus, explain thus: all breathing, existing, living, sentient creatures should not be slain, nor treated with violence, nor abused, nor tormented, nor driven away. This is the pure, unchangeable, eternal law, which the clever ones, who understand the world, have declared.

Paṇaya virā mahāvihā i.e. only strong people can practice be dedicated to Ahiṅsā the path of Ahiṅsā.is the path of strong and not of the cowards. Ahiṅsā niuṇaṅ ditthā savvabhuesu saṅjamo i.e. self restraint towards all types of living beings is Ahiṅsā. Thus Ahiṅsā implies the path of self restraint /saṅyama. Those ascetics, who wish to protect from the ills of the world, purify to attain liberation, make it of auspicious nature to avoid pains, their souls of the sins should free should follows self restraint towards all. Ācārāṅga says ‘Do not kill, discipline, enslave, give pain to other living beings. Consider them all as equal or same like yourself. Just remember that the one whom you wish to kill /give pain /enslave etc., has similar desires to live and enjoy as you do. “

Then Ācārāṅga proceeds to say ‘Jasa ṇtthi imāṇāi aṇṇa tasa kao siyāi.e. how can a person who does not have the knowledge of Ahiṅsā can acquire the knowledge o other basic elements i.e. one who does no know that allurement to sensual pleasures and attachment to worldly objects is hiṅsā; or the one who does not practice restraint towards sensual cravings as done by others, that person cannot practice Ahiṅsā. Ācārāṅga thus identifies two hurdles in the practice of Ahiṅsā namely craving for sensual pleasures (viṣayāsakti), and. lokaiṣaṇā or to act and have desires for objects of sensual cognition because others do so also. A person after accepting the vow of Ahiṅsā should observe it carefully and not develop flaws in his practice. The practitioner of Ahiṅsā should be fearless and should neither commit himself nor ask others to commit or admire those who commit hiṅsā.

 

Conquest of the world

This chapter describes the world (saṅsāra) and ways of conquering it. Quality (in the qualities of other things lies the primary cause of the saṅsāra viz. sin; the qualities produce sin and sinfulness makes us apt to enjoy the qualities) is the seat of the root. He who longs for the qualities is overcome by pain and he is careless (i.e. gives way to love, hate etc.) as he starts thinking that he is savior of his family, property etc. and continues to be engrossed in them. Those who are of steady conduct, do not desire this (wealth, family etc.). Knowing birth and death, one should firmly walk the path (right conduct) and not wait for the old age to commence a religious life.

 

Winning body afflictions

The unwise sleep, the sages are always awake ‘suttā amuṇi muṇiṇo sayā jāgaraṅti’. Know that in this world that misery (ignorance and delusion) bring forth evil consequences. Thus the monk (nirgrantha) should cease from violent acts, not mind heat and cold and maintain equanimity against pains and pleasures. He thus does not feel the austerity of penance. Awake and free from hostilities, a wise man gets liberated from miseries.

 

Essence of the world: Samyaktva

Many entertain cruel thoughts against the world with a motive or without one; they entertain cruel thoughts against these (six classes of living beings). To them pleasures are dear. Therefore they are near death. Because they are near death, they are far from liberation. But those who are neither near death nor far from liberation, consider the life of a slow and ignorant fool as similar to the dew drop trembling on the blade of grass which falls down when shaken by the wind. A fool, doing cruel acts, comes ignorantly to grief. Through delusion he is born and dies. Many do not live by injurious deeds against the world of living beings and cease from them. They perceive ‘This is a favourable opportunity and search for the right moment for their body (should never be careless)’. This right conduct is the road taught by the noble ones.

 

The cleaning: Dhuta

As in a lake a greedy leaf covered tortoise cannot rise up; as the trees do not leave their place (though shaken by storm etc); so men born in various families cry bitterly because they are attached to the objects of the senses. Thus on account of their sinfulness they do not reach liberation. Such persons are seen to suffer like from leprosy, blindness, lameness, hunchback etc. Those whom lust conquers sink; therefore do not shrink from the hard control. Thus a man who exerts himself, and is of a steady mind, without attachment, unmoved by passion but restless in wandering about, having no worldly desires, should lead the life of an ascetic.

 

Liberation

The difference between a heretic and a wise is indicated as. Noble and tranquil men who are enlightened and exert themselves in these (1. to kill no living beings, ii. to speak no untruth, iii. to abstain from forbidden things like theft and sexual pleasures are called free from sinful acts.. Mahāvīra calls a person unfettered who is without desires and does not harm any living being in the whole world Based on this, the mendicant should not exhort others or accept things specifically made for him or are stolen by the giver, or obtained by hurting or killing some one. Thus the mendicant with full faith in his teaching should thoroughly and in all respects conform to it. He should develop indifference to various bodily afflictions like thorns and grass pricking, heat and cold attacks, mosquito bites etc. Still in the erring state, in the end knowing that the death has come, he observes sallekhanā (religious death) by totally subduing the passions and living on little or no food, neither longing for death nor for life continuing his contemplation on self, should strive for absolute purity.

 

Pillow of righteousness.

Always well controlled and like a hero at the head of the battle surrounded on all sides during the erring state (i.e. as chadmasta), he bore different sorts of feelings; overcoming carelessness and pleasure, wandered about speaking but little, eating but very little the unsavoury food, wore nothing to protect from vagaries of the weather or shame, lodged in places like cremation grounds, gardens or dilapidated cottages, factories etc, not reacting to the unpleasant or pleasant gestures of people, not distracted by family or women. Thus, himself understanding the truth and restraining the impulses for the purification of the soul finally liberated and free from delusion, the venerable one was well guarded during his whole life.

 

The second volume

It has details of the practices for the ascetics concerning begging for food, place for stay, personal effects like bed /seat, books, bowls and broom etc, daily routine, hygiene etc, walking carefully and choice of the route for pilgrimage, speaking(without pride or deception) and choice of words to be precise, interaction with the laity.

 

References:

Ācārāṅga Sutra, published by Beaver Rajasthan
Jain āgama sāhitya. Manana aur mimāṅsā - Ac. Devendra muni
The Sacred Books Of The East (vol.xxii) - Jain sutras part-1 translated by Herman Jacobi and Max Muller.

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