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The Ethical code of Jainism

jainism prescribes 5 moral principles to be observed by all the members of the society. these are called pancha vrathas, five vows:

  • ahimsa or non-violence
  • satya or truth
  • astheya or non- stealing
  • brahmacharya or chastity
  • aparigraha or non-possession

of these  5  principles,  the  first,  ahimsa  or  non-violence  is  the  most  important  vow. though the term is negative implying abstinence from killing any living being, it is really a positive virtue based upon universal love and mercy towards all living beings. abstinence from killing other animals must be observed by thought, word and deed – mana, vachana and kaya respectively.

the mere thought of killing is as much a moral evil as actually killing. similarly, any word expressing the desire to kill is also deemed as killing. hence, the principle of ahimsa – non-violence, naturally implies purity of thought, word and deed actuated by universal love and mercy. further, it is not enough if one abstains from inflicting pain on other beings. how can excuse yourself by saying:  ‘i do not kill’ if you engage an agent to carry out your desire. you are morally responsible for the evil deed committed by your agent because he acts through your instigation. you cannot also remain self-satisfied by saying.

“neither do i act myself nor do i have it done through my agent”.  if you indirectly approve of such an evil conduct in others,   that approval makes you responsible for the cruelty of killing, practiced by others. thus one is expected not to kill oneself nor to kill  through  an  agent nor  should  one  approve the  evil  deed.  in short, ahimsa should be observed by mana, vachana and kaya -thought, word and deed respectively and violence should be avoided in all aspects – kritha, karitha and anumodha – acting oneself, to make the agent to act and passively approve the action wherever violence is practiced.

thus, ahimsa vritha is binding on all members of the society whether householder or ascetic. in the case of the ascetics, it is to be observed absolutely without any limitation. it is obvious that its application should be limited in the case of the householder.  since the vegetable kingdom is also admitted to be constituted by living beings, i.e.  one  sensed organisms,  destroying  this  living  being  is  prohibited  in  the  case of the ascetics; but it cannot be enforced in the  case  of  householders.  in  the  case,  the   householder  cannot engage  himself  in  agriculture  because  harvesting  would  imply  the  destruction  of  one sensed  organism.


without  agriculture,  there  would  be  no  food  for  the members of the society  to  consume.  hence,  the  householder  is  expected  to  observe  this  principle  of ahimsa only  with  reference to the other organisms beginning with the  two  sensed  ones which are generally  called  animals capable of  moving  or  thrasajivas.  thus limited, the ethical principle is called anuvrutha – a minor vow to be observed by the householder.

the same applicable absolutely without any limitation, is called  mahavratha –  the  great  vow binding upon the ascetics.
this interpretation of the principle of ahimsa naturally rejects the principle of\ ahimsaobserved by the non-jains. the buddhists excuse themselves for eating  meat  though  they do  not  kill  but  only  purchase  meat  from  the  butchers.  this is condemned by the jains because butcher acts merely as an agent to the meat-eaters and kills the animal to supply meat to the meat-eating customer. hence, the person who eats meat though he does not kill the animal by himself kills the animal through an agent and approves his action.

similarly, jainism condemns the vedic. dharma which enjoins the killing of animal as a religious ritual. sacrificing of animal implies willful killing and blame is not removed because it is done in the name of religion. hence, according to the jains, sacrifice of animals in the name of religion, does not remove the responsibility of killing, because it is certainly a moral evil.
satya or truth, this second principle also applies with limitation to the householder and absolutely to the ascetic or yathis. since the whole moral code is based upon ahimsa, every subordinate moral principle must necessarily be consistent with the primary principle of ahimsa or non-violence.

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