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Gaina Sutras

Gaina Sutras

"Knowledge of the Weapon," from "Akaranga Sutra" in the Gaina Sutras, available online from the Internet Sacred Text Archive at http://www.sacred-texts.com/jai/akaranga.htm

Compiled around the fifth centuryce

Translated by Hermann Jacobi

Published in Sacred Books of the East (Clarendon Press, 1884)

"Knowledge of the Weapon" consists of seven lessons that make up the first of twenty-four books, or chapters, contained in the Akaranga Sutra, which is found in the Gaina Sutras. It is a sutra, or a collection of religious teachings. This sutra is a holy text of Jainism. Jainism is an ancient religion practiced primarily in India, and it shares many beliefs with Hinduism. The Akaranga Sutra is one of twelve central Jain religious texts, collectively referred to as the Twelve Limbs. Like many Jain holy texts, it developed over a long period of time and was passed down orally until it was recorded in Sanskrit roughly a thousand years after it was first composed.

"He who has the true knowledge about all things, will commit no sinful act, nor cause others to do so."

The Akaranga Sutra, including "Knowledge of the Weapon," was created by one of the central figures in the history of Jainism, Mahavira. During his lifetime, Mahavira made and lived by five vows, called the Great Vows. These vows, or promises, still form the central belief system of Jainism, and all Jain ascetics (monks) continue to fulfill them. Ordinary people fulfill these vows to the extent that the circumstances of their lives allow. The Great Vows are as follows:

Ahimsa: not killing or injuring humans or any other living thing;

Satya: speaking only the truth;

Asteya: not stealing or being greedy;

Brahmacharya: chastity (for a monk, this means remaining celibate, or not married and refraining from sexual relations; for laypeople, it means remaining faithful to one's spouse);

Asparigrah: not being overly concerned with the cares of the world.

These practices grew out of Jain viewpoints about the nature of life in the universe. Jains do not believe in a creator-god (a god who created the world and living beings); instead, they consider the universe to be eternal and unchanging. Jains see the world as composed of six categories, and two of these are jiva, or soul, and non-jiva, or non-soul. Non-jiva is further divided into matter, space, time, and motion, and nonmotion. Jiva, reveals itself in six forms: earth-bodied, fire-bodied, air-bodied, water-bodied, stationary (unmoving, for example, plants and trees, and moving (including humans, insects, animals, gods, and "hell-beings"). These six forms are discussed in the excerpts from the Akaranga Sutra in the context of not doing harm to living creatures.

Jains use the concept of karma to explain the differences among living things. Karma is the built-up effect of a person's good or bad actions on his or her future lives. The basic notion is that all forms of jiva attract karma. Some of this karma does no harm; it determines such things as a person's gender and length of life. Other types of karma, however, are harmful. They lead to a loss of faith, knowledge, and energy. A person who lives a life of self-discipline is able to ward off and wear away these damaging forms of karma and eventually, perhaps, reach a state of omniscience (all-knowingness or universal understanding) and liberation, or freedom. At death, such a person moves to the roof of the universe and lives there in a state of pure knowledge, bliss, and energy. This state, however, can be achieved only through the fire of self-denial.

This is the teaching of the Akaranga Sutra. In "Knowledge of the Weapon," the speaker, who is passing along the teachings of Mahavira, outlines the way in which people can lead a moral, sin-free life of denial. He explains the presence of life, like insects, small animals and plants, in fire, wind, water, earth, and so on. For example, small life-forms can be found swimming in water, so one has to be careful not to destroy those life-forms when using water. In this way Mahavira expresses the fundamental Jain doctrine, or set of guidelines, that opposes injuring or harming living creatures. Knowing the causes of sin gives people "knowledge of the weapon" being used to keep them from a virtuous life, and knowledge is power to help them avoid sin.

The dates of Mahavira's life are uncertain, but evidence shows that he lived at the same time as the Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. This means that he was probably born in about 490 bce and died in about 410 bce, though many sources give dates in the sixth century bce. Mahavira, whose name means "Great Hero," was born Nataputta Vardhamana and grew up surrounded by luxury as the son of a local king. After his parents died when he was about thirty years old, however, he left his home, gave up all of his possessions, and eventually became one of the great teachers of Jainism. As a teacher, he provided his students and followers with guidelines for living a holy life. Jain tradition regards Mahavira as the last of twenty-four respected teachers called Jina, a word meaning "conqueror" and referring to conquering one's inner enemies, such as greed, dishonesty, pride, and anger. The word tirthankara means "makers of the ford" and is also used to refer to these teachers. The term signifies the construction of ways to cross the "ocean" of rebirth. The Akaranga Sutra includes Mahavira's teachings, which were recorded by a group of his followers.

Mahavira was an ascetic, meaning that he gave up worldly activities and interests and lived a life of self-denial, poverty, and contemplation, or deep thought, in a monastery. A monastery is the residence of a group of people who have taken religious vows. At first, his only possession was a single robe, but eventually he gave up even that and went naked. For years he wandered throughout India, never staying in one village for more than a day at a time and refusing to shelter himself from either cold or heat. When he walked or sat, he was careful never to cause hurt to any life-form. For this reason, he would remain in one place for long periods of time during the rainy season, when the paths he walked would have been covered with life-forms he did not want to injure. Because of this refusal to do harm, Mahavira was a strict vegetarian, meaning he did not eat meat or any food that came from an animal. He was so strict that he even strained his drinking water to ensure that no creature was living in it. In these ways, Mahavira was setting an example for his followers about how to live.

Jainism and Vegetarianism

Some people think of Jainism as almost identical with strict vegetarianism. Vegetarians do not eat meat. Strict vegetarians also will not consume animal-based products, such as milk and eggs. The two are thought of in relation to each other because of the Jain concept of ahimsa, or nonviolence, and many vegetarians' wish not to harm living beings, even for food. While this view oversimplifies the religion, the emphasis on vegetarianism in Jain life has led to the development of what is called a "Jain menu," which defines suitable dishes to be served both in the home and at restaurants.

Some Jains are more strict than others when it comes to their diet. Many, for example, refuse to eat root vegetables (vegetables that grow in the earth, such as onions, garlic, potatoes, and carrots) because they are likely to hide other life-forms. Others fast (refrain from eating) extensively during the monsoon season, which is the growing season; they are likely to avoid roots during this time, so that they do not risk injuring living things that are growing. Jains typically avoid eating after dark because of the possibility of accidentally harming a living being that cannot be seen.

Nonetheless, Jains still enjoy many meals common in everyday life, such as burgers. Instead of beef, however, the chief ingredients in a Jain burger are bananas, peas, and chilies, pressure-cooked with tomato sauce, vinegar, sugar, and oil and served with tomatoes, cucumbers, and spicy condiments.

Things to remember while reading the excerpt from the Gaina Sutras:

  • A defining doctrine of Jainism is ahimsa, not killing or harming other living creatures. In the modern world, Jains pledge to follow this doctrine by means of pacifism, or opposition to violence (especially the refusal to fight in a war); vegetarianism; and concern with not harming or polluting the environment.
  • According to Jain belief, "sin" and "acting sinfully" means in large part to do any kind of harm to other living creatures, not just humans but even the smallest living things. This type of sin can occur through any type of daily activity, or what the excerpt calls "through his doing acts relating to earth." People who "pretend to be houseless" commit sin by pretending to adhere to Jain practices but are insincere in their beliefs.
  • The text uses the term Bauddha to refer to those who object to the teachings of Jainism. The word Bauddha comes from the word buddha, referring to the founder of Buddhism. In Jain contexts, it refers to intellectuals, to thinkers who examine and question Jain doctrines.

Excerpt from the Gaina Sutras

"Knowledge of the Weapon"

Second Lesson The (living) world is afflicted, miserable, difficult to instruct, and without discrimination. In this world full of pain, suffering by their different acts, see the benighted ones cause great pain. See! there are beings individually embodied (in earth; not one all-soul). See! there are men who control themselves, whilst others only) pretend to be houseless (i.e. monks, such as the Bauddhas, whose conduct differs not from that of householders), because one destroys this (earth-body) by bad and injurious doings, and many other beings, besides, which he hurts by means of earth, through his doing acts relating to earth. About this the Revered One has taught the truth: for the sake of the splendour, honour, and glory of this life, for the sake of birth, death, and final liberation, for the removal of pain, man acts sinfully towards earth, or causes others to act so, or allows others to act so. This deprives him of happiness and perfect wisdom. About this he is informed when he has understood or heard, either from the Revered One or from the monks, the faith to be coveted. There are some who, of a truth, know this (i.e. injuring) to be the bondage, the delusion, the death, the hell. For this a man is longing when he destroys this (earth-body) by bad, injurious doings, and many other beings, besides, which he hurts by means of earth, through his doing acts relating to earth. Thus I say….

Third Lesson … See! there are men who control themselves; others pretend only to be houseless; for one destroys this (water-body) by bad, injurious doings, and many other beings, besides, which he hurts by means of water, through his doing acts relating to water. About this the Revered One has taught the truth: for the sake of the splendour, honour, and glory of this life, for the sake of birth, death, and final liberation, for the removal of pain, man acts sinfully towards water, or causes others to act so, or allows others to act so. This deprives him of happiness and perfect wisdom. About this he is informed when he has understood and heard from the Revered One, or from the monks, the faith to be coveted. There are some who, of a truth, know this (i.e. injuring) to be the bondage, the delusion, the death, the hell. For this a man is longing when he destroys this (water-body) by bad and injurious doings, and many other beings, besides, which he hurts by means of water, through his doing acts relating to water. Thus I say.

There are beings living in water, many lives; of a truth, to the monks water has been declared to be living matter. See! considering the injuries (done to water-bodies), those acts (which are injuries, but must be done before the use of water, e.g. straining) have been distinctly declared. Moreover he (who uses water which is not strained) takes away what has not been given (i.e. the bodies of water-lives). (A Bauddha will object: "We have permission, we have permission to drink it, or (to take it) for toilet purposes." Thus they destroy by various injuries (the water-bodies). But in this their doctrine is of no authority.

He who injures these (water-bodies) does not comprehend and renounce the sinful acts; he who does not injure these, comprehends and renounces the sinful acts. Knowing them, a wise man should not act sinfully towards water, nor cause others to act so, nor allow others to act so. He who knows these causes of sin relating to water, is called a reward-knowing sage. Thus I say.

Fourth Lesson (Thus I say): A man should not, of his own accord, deny the world (of fire-bodies), nor should he deny the self. He who denies the world (of fire-bodies), denies the self; and he who denies the self, denies the world (of fire-bodies). He who knows that (viz. [namely] fire) through which injury is done to the long-living bodies (i.e. plants), knows also that which does no injury (i.e. control); and he who knows that which does no injury, knows also that through which no injury is done to the long-living bodies. This has been seen by the heroes (of faith) who conquered ignorance; for they control themselves, always exert themselves, always mind their duty. He who is unmindful of duty, and desiring of the qualities (i.e. of the pleasure and profit which may be derived from the elements) is called the torment (of living beings). Knowing this, a wise man (resolves ): "Now (I shall do) no more what I used to do … before." See! there are men who control themselves; others pretend only to be houseless; for one destroys this (fire-body) by bad and injurious doings, and many other beings, besides, which he hurts by means of fire, through his doing acts relating to fire. About this the Revered One has taught the truth: for the sake of the splendour, honour, and glory of this life, for the sake of birth, death, and final liberation, for the removal of pain, man acts sinfully towards fire, or causes others to act so, or allows others to act so. This deprives him of happiness and perfect wisdom. About this he is informed when he has understood, or heard from the Revered One or from the monks, the faith to be coveted. There are some who, of a truth, know this (i.e. injuring) to be the bondage, the delusion, the death, the hell. For this a man is longing, when he destroys this (fire-body) by bad and injurious doings, and many other beings, besides, which he hurts by means of fire, through his doing acts relating to fire. Thus I say.

There are beings living in the earth, living in grass, living on leaves, living in wood, living in cowdung, living in dust-heaps, jumping beings which coming near (fire) fall into it. Some, certainly, touched by fire, shrivel up; those which shrivel up there, lose their sense there; those which lose their sense there, die there.

He who injures these (fire-bodies) does not comprehend and renounce the sinful acts; he who does not injure these, comprehends and renounces the sinful acts. Knowing them, a wise man should not act sinfully towards fire, nor cause others to act so, nor allow others to act so. He who knows the causes of sin relating to fire, is called a reward knowing sage. Thus I say.

Fifth Lesson I shall not do (acts relating to plants) after having entered the order [having become a Jainist], having recognised (the truth about these acts), and having conceived that which is free from danger (i.e. control)….

See! there are men who control themselves; others pretend only to be houseless, for one destroys this (body of a plant) by bad and injurious doings, and many other beings, besides, which he hurts by means of plants, through his doing acts relating to plants. About this the Revered One has taught the truth: for the sake of the splendour, honour, and glory of this life, for the sake of birth, death, and final liberation, for the removal of pain, man acts sinfully towards plants, or causes others to act so, or allows others to act so. This deprives him of happiness and perfect wisdom. About this he is informed when he has understood, or heard from the Revered One, or from the monks, the faith to be coveted. There are some who, of a truth, know this (i.e. injuring) to be the bondage, the delusion, the death, the hell. For this a man is longing when he destroys this (body of a plant) by bad and injurious doings, and many other beings, besides, which he hurts by means of plants, through his doing acts relating to plants. Thus I say.

As the nature of this (i.e. men) is to be born and to grow old, so is the nature of that (i.e. plants) to be born and to grow old; as this has reason, so that has reason; as this falls sick when cut, so that falls sick when cut; as this needs food, so that needs food; as this will decay, so that will decay; as this is not eternal, so that is not eternal; as this takes increment, so that takes increment; as this is changing, so that is changing. He who injures these (plants) does not comprehend and renounce the sinful acts; he who does not injure these, comprehends and renounces the sinful acts. Knowing them, a wise man should not act sinfully towards plants, nor cause others to act so, nor allow others to act so. He who knows these causes of sin relating to plants, is called a reward-knowing sage. Thus I say….

Seventh Lesson … There are jumping beings which, coming near wind, fall into it. Some, certainly, touched by wind, shrivel up; those which shrivel up there, lose their sense there; those which lose their sense there, die there.

He who injures these (wind-bodies) does not comprehend and renounce the sinful acts; he who does not injure these, comprehends and renounces the sinful acts. Knowing them, a wise man should not act sinfully towards wind, nor cause others to act so, nor allow others to act so. He who knows these causes of sin relating to wind, is called a reward-knowing sage. Thus I say.

Be aware that about this (wind-body) too those are involved in sin who delight not in the right conduct, and, though doing acts, talk about religious discipline, who conducting themselves according to their own will, pursuing sensual pleasures, and engaging in acts, are addicted to worldliness. He who has the true knowledge about all things, will commit no sinful act, nor cause others to do so, &c [etc.]. Knowing them, a wise man should not act sinfully towards the aggregate of six (kinds of) lives, nor cause others to act so, nor allow others to act so. He who knows these causes of sin relating to the aggregate of the six (kinds of) lives, is called a reward-knowing sage. Thus I say.

What happened next …

The "Knowledge of the Weapon" is a portion of a description of the life of an ascetic. The five Great Vows taken by Mahavira are also taken by modern-day ascetics, such as monks and nuns. For most Jains, however, renunciation, or self-denial, is not the major focus of their lives. Nonetheless, they follow what are called the Small Vows, which they find a way to incorporate into their daily lives.

These vows include avoiding a job or profession that is likely to involve violence to other life-forms (for example, agriculture), being honest in business dealings, not stealing, not showing off material possessions, and donating excess wealth to charity. Jains also try to live by three Subsidiary Vows (additional vows), which are to avoid unnecessary movement, excessive enjoyment, and self-indulgent brooding, or feeling sorry for one's self.

Did you know …

  • Jains do not worship a god, nor do they believe that the world was formed by a creator-god. Jainism, in this sense, is as much a philosophy of life as it is a religion. Its core belief is that people can achieve knowledge and understanding about their role in the world, as well as freedom from rebirth, by leading a life of renunciation and withdrawal from sensory experiences. Sensory experiences are those that a person comprehends through sight, sound, taste, and touch.
  • The number of Jains in the world can only be estimated, but most experts think that about 3.3 to 3.6 million people follow the religion. Nearly all of them live in India. Approximately 100,000 Jains live abroad in other countries.
  • Some scholars believe that Jainism gave rise to Buddhism. They point out, for example, that just as the Jains identify twenty-four Jina, Buddhism speaks of twenty-four Buddhas before Siddhartha Gautama (563–483 bce), the founder of Buddhism, who is referred to as the Buddha. They see a connection between Jainism and Buddhism based on the possibility that the Jina and the Buddhas are the same. They believe that the Buddhist doctrine of the Middle Way, a philosophy of moderation, may have been a reaction against the strict and active self-denial of the Jains.
  • Jains hold many beliefs in common with Hindus. In fact, Jainism can be regarded as a sect, or subgroup, of Hinduism. However, the two religions are different enough that Jains think of theirs as a separate religion, one that is culturally distinct from Hinduism. Good examples of beliefs that the two religions hold in common are karma, or the belief that a person's deeds determine the nature of his or her future; reincarnation, or rebirth in another body and time; and moksha, or the belief that a person can escape from the eternal cycle of birth, death, and rebirth and achieve salvation.
  • For Jains, karma is not an abstract idea. Rather, they view karma as an actual physical substance, like dust, that weighs down a person's soul.

Consider the following …

  • Describe the one principle above others that defines Jainism.
  • Define ahimsa and explain its importance for Jains.
  • If someone were to state that "Jains do not believe in God," explain how a Jain might respond.

For More Information

BOOKS

Dundas, Paul. "Jainism." Encyclopedia of Religion, edited by Lindsay Jones, 2nd ed., vol. 7. Detroit, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005.

Dundas, Paul. The Jains, 2nd ed. London and New York: Routledge, 2002.

Jaini, Padmanabh S. The Jaina Path of Purification, rev. ed. New Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass, 2001.

"Knowledge of the Weapon." In Gaina Sutra, translated by Hermann Jacobi. Vol. 22 of The Sacred Books of the East. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1884. This excerpt can also be found online at http://www.sacred-texts.com/jai/akaranga.htm.

Singh, Nagendra. Encyclopaedia of Jainism, 30 vols. New Delhi, India: Anmol, 2001.

WEB SITES

Jainism: Jain Principles, Tradition and Practices. http://www.cs.colostate.edu/∼malaiya/jainhlinks.html (accessed on June 5, 2006).

Jayaram, V. "The Jain Canonical Literature." Hindu Website. http://hinduwebsite.com/jainism/jaincanon.htm (accessed on June 5, 2006).

Afflicted: Troubled.

Discrimination: Common sense, judgment.

Benighted: Living in a state without knowledge or morals, unenlightened.

Embodied: Alive, having physical form.

Bauddhas: Buddhists.

Injurious: Harmful.

Revered: Respected, honored.

Liberation: Release, freedom.

Deprives: Takes away, leaves without.

Coveted: Desired.

Bondage: Slavery.

Delusion: False impression.

Distinctly Clearly.

Declared: Stated.

Object: Disagree.

Comprehend: Understand.

Renounce: Give up, reject.

Accord: Free will.

Deny: Refuse to let have.

Exert: Make an effort.

Unmindful: Careless or unaware.

Derived: Obtained, gotten.

Torment: Suffering.

Resolves: Makes a firm decision.

Decay: Rot.

Takes increment: Proceeds one step at a time.

Delight: Find pleasure or enjoyment.

Conducting: Behaving, acting.

Sensual: Relating to the five senses.

Engaging: Taking part, involving oneself.

Addicted: Dependent on, regularly occupied with.

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