Then Again




Acaranga Sutra



The Acaranga Sutra, or Book of Good Conduct, is one of the sacred books of Jainism. While not written by Nataputta Vardhamana (ca. 599-527 BC), also known as Mahavira, the Great Hero, it contains many of his teachings. 



The Arhats [1] . . . 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 [dharma], which the clever ones, who understand the world, have declared: among the zealous and the not zealous, among the faithful and the not faithful, among the not cruel and the cruel, among those who have worldly weakness and those who have not, among those who like social bonds and those who do not: "that is the truth, that is so, that is proclaimed in this."

Having adopted the law, one should not hide it, nor forsake it. Correctly understanding the law, one should arrive at indifference for the impressions of the senses and "not act on the motives of the world." "He who is not of this mind, how should he come to the other?"

* * *

Beings which are born in all states become individually sinners by their actions.

The Venerable One [2] understands thus: he who is under the conditions of existence, that fool suffers pain. Thoroughly knowing karma, the Venerable One avoids sin.

The sage, perceiving the double karma, proclaims the incomparable activity, he, the knowing one; knowing the current of worldliness, the current of sinfulness, and the impulse.

Practicing the sinless abstinence from killing, he did no acts, neither himself nor with the assistance of others; he to whom women were known as the causes of all sinful acts, he saw the true state of the world . . .

He well saw that bondage comes through action. Whatever is sinful, the Venerable One left that undone: he consumed clean food.

Knowing measure in eating and drinking, he was not desirous of delicious food, nor had he a longing for it . . .

The Venerable One, exerting himself, did not seek sleep for the sake of pleasure; he waked up himself, and slept only a little, free from desires . . .

Always well guarded, he bore the pains caused by grass, cold, fire, flies, and gnats; manifold pains.

He traveled in the pathless country of the Ladhas.[3] . . .

In Ladha natives attacked him; the dogs bit him, ran at him.

Few people kept off the attacking, biting dogs . . .

Such were the inhabitants. Many other mendicants," eating rough food . . . and carrying about a strong pole [to keep off the dogs], . . . lived there.

Even thus armed they were bitten by the dogs, torn by the dogs. It is difficult to travel in Ladha.

Ceasing to use the stick against living beings, abandoning the care of the body, the houseless, the Venerable One endures the thorns of the villages being perfectly enlightened.

As an elephant at the head of the battle, so was Mahavira there victorious . . .

The Venerable One was able to abstain from indulgence of the flesh . . .

Purgatives and emetics, anointing of the body and bathing, shampooing arid cleansing of the teeth do not behoove him, after he learned [that the body is something unclean] . . .

In summer he exposes himself to the heat, he sits squatting in the sun; he lives on rough food: rice, pounded jujube, and beans . . .

Sometimes the Venerable One did not drink for half a month or even for a month.

Or he did not drink for more than two months, or even six months, day and night, without desire for drink. Sometimes he ate stale food . . .

Having wisdom, Mahavira committed no sin himself, nor did he induce others to do so, nor did he consent to the sins of others.

Having entered a village or a town, he begged for food which had been prepared for somebody else. Having got clean food, he used it, restraining the impulses . . . The Venerable One slowly wandered about, and, killing no creatures, he begged for his food.

Moist or dry or cold food, old beans, old pap, or bad grain, whether he did or did not get such food he was rich . . .

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 Venerable Ascetic Mahavira endowed with the highest knowledge and intuition taught the five great vows.

* * *

The first great vow, Sir, runs thus:

I renounce all killing of living beings, whether subtle or gross, whether movable or immovable. Nor shall I myself kill living beings, nor cause others to do it, nor consent to it. As long as I live, I confess and blame, repent and exempt myself of these sins, in the thrice threefold way, in mind, speech, and body . . .

The second great vow runs thus:

I renounce all vices of lying speech arising from anger or greed or fear or mirth. I shall neither myself speak lies, nor cause others to speak lies, nor consent to the speaking of lies by others . . .

The third great vow runs thus:

I renounce all taking of anything not given, either in a village or a town or a wood, either of little or much, of small or great, of living or lifeless things. I shall neither take myself what is not given, nor cause others to take it, nor consent to their taking it.

The fourth great vow runs thus:

I renounce all sexual pleasures, either with gods or men or animals. I shall not give way to sensuality . . .

The fifth great vow runs thus:

I renounce all attachments, whether little or much, small or great, living or lifeless; neither shall I myself form such attachments, nor cause others to do so, nor consent to their doing so.

[1] The perfect souls.
[2] The Mahavira
[3] The exact location is uncertain.

From the translation by Hermann Jacobi, Gaina Sutra, in Max Mueller, ed., The Sacred Books of the East, 50 vols. (Oxford; Clarendon Press, 1879-1910), vol. 22, pp. 36, 81-87, 202-208 passim. Reprinted in Alfred J. Andrea and James H. Overfield, eds., The Human Record: Sources of Global History, 3rd ed., Vol. 1, (New York; Houghton Mifflin, 1998) pp. 72-74.

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