Jain Ascetics (Sädhus and Sädhvis)
When a person renounces worldly life and all worldly attachments and is initiated into monkhood or nunhood, the man is called Sädhu, Shraman or Muni and the woman is called Sädhvi, Shramani, or Äryä. Their renunciation is total, which means they are completely detached from social and worldly activities and they do not take any part in those activities anymore. Instead, they spend their time in spiritually uplifting their souls and guiding householders such as us on how to uplift ourselves (our souls).
At the time of initiation, Sädhus and Sädhvis take five major vows and live strictly in accordance with those vows. The five great vows are:
1) Ahimsä Mahä-vrata ‑ Vow of absolute Non‑violence.
Ahimsä (Pränätipät Viraman Mahä-vrata) means Sädhu and Sädhvis will never cause harm or violence to any living being including even the tiniest creatures.
2) Satya Mahä-vrata ‑ Vow of absolute Truthfulness
Satya (Mrushäväda Viraman Mahä-vrata) means they will not lie. They will speak only harmless truth otherwise they will be in silence.
3) Asteya or Achaurya Mahä-vrata ‑ Vow of absolute Non‑stealing
Asteya (Adattädäna Viraman Mahä-vrata) means without the permission of the owner they will not take anything from anywhere.
4) Brahmacharya Mahä-vrata ‑ Vow of absolute Celibacy
Brahmacharya (Maithuna Viraman Mahä-vrata) means they have to observe celibacy with an absolute adherence to it. The Sädhu or Sädhvis should not even touch a member of the opposite sex regardless of their age.
5) Aparigraha Mahä-vrata ‑ Vow of absolute Non‑attachment
Aparigraha (Parigraha Viraman Mahä-vrata) means they do not possess anything and do not have any attachment for things they keep for their daily needs.
In summary, while taking these vows, they say, “O Lord Arihanta! I will not commit the sins of violence, express falsehood, steal, enjoy sensual pleasures, and be possessive. The above sins I will not commit by speech, thought or deed; nor will I assist or order anyone to commit these sins. I will not approve or endorse anyone committing such sins. Oh Lord! I hereby take a sacred and solemn vow that throughout my life, I will follow these five major vows and strictly follow the code of conduct laid out for a Sädhu and a Sädhvi.”
Therefore, Jain Sädhus and Sädhvis never cause harm or violence to any living being. They live according to the pledge that they do not harm even the tiniest creatures. They always speak the absolute truth. They do not lie on account of fear, desire, anger or deceptive intentions. Without the permission of the owner, they do not take even the smallest thing such as a straw. They observe the vow of celibacy with an absolute adherence to it. They
do not touch the members of the opposite sex, even children. If members of the opposite sex touch them by mistake or ignorance, they must undergo a ritual of repentance (Präyashchitta) for self purification. Jain Sädhus and Sädhvis do not keep money with them. They do not own or have control of any wealth, houses, or movable or immovable property or organization. They limit their necessities to the lowest limit and apart from these limits they do not have any attachments or possessions.
In addition to the five great vows, the Jain Sädhus or Sädhvis follow special rules of conduct such as not consuming food or water after sunset or before sunrise, and wait 48 minutes after sunrise before even drinking boiled water.
Jain Sädhus and Sädhvis do not cook their food, do not get it prepared for them, and do not accept any food, which has been prepared for them. They go to different householders and receive a small amount of vegetarian food from each house. This practice is called Gochari. Just as cows graze the top part of grass by moving from place to place, taking a little at one place and a little at another, in the same way Jain monks and nuns do not take all their food from one house. They collect it from various houses. The reason Jain Sädhus/Sädhvis accept a small amount of food and not all the food from one house is because this way the householders will not have to cook again.
The cooking process involves much violence in the form of fire, vegetable chopping, water consumption, etc., and Sädhus or Sädhvis do not want to be a part of any violence due to their needs. They do not receive food standing outside the house; but they go inside the house where food is cooked or kept. This way they can understand the situation that their accepting food will not require the householders to cook again. They accept food, which is within the limit of their vows.
Digambar monks do not keep any utensils required for food to carry from one house to another. They eat the food given into their hands only. Hence on each day they have food (Ähär) at one house only. They eat and drink only once a day, standing in one position. They do not use any utensils for food and drink. They fold both hands together so that householder can put a small amount of food in their hands till they have finished eating.
Jain monks and nuns always walk bare footed and continuously travel from one place to another. They do not use any vehicle like bullock cart, car, boat, ship or plane for traveling. Whether it is cold weather or scorching sun; whether the road is rough, unpaved, or full of thorns; whether it is burning hot desert sand or sun-baked asphalt, they do not wear any footwear at any time. They move about on bare feet
all their life. The reason for not wearing shoes is that while walking, they can avoid crushing the bugs or insects on the ground. When they travel from place to place, they preach religion (Dharma) and provide proper spiritual guidance to people. They do not stay more than a few days in any one place except during the rainy season, which is about four months in duration. The reason they do not stay anywhere permanently or for a long period in one place is to avoid developing an attachment for material things and the people around them. The Sädhus and Sädhvis generally do not go out at night. The place where they stay is called Upäshray or Paushadha Shälä. They may stay in places other than the Upäshray if those places are suitable to the practice of their disciplined life and if they do not disturb or impede the code of conduct.
The Jain Sädhus and Sädhvis after receiving the Dikshä (initiation), pluck their hair twice a year or at least once a year at the time of Paryushan. They pluck their hair or they get the hair plucked by others. This is called Kesh-lochan or Loch. It is also considered as one kind of austerity where one bears the pain of plucking hair calmly.
Digambar Jain monks do not wear any clothes. Shvetämbar monks wear un-stitched or minimally stitched white cotton clothes. A loincloth, which reaches to the shins, is called a Cholapattak.
Another cloth covering the upper part of the body is called Pangarani (Uttariya Vastra). A cloth that passes over the left shoulder and covers the body up to a little above the ankle is called a Kämli. They also carry a bed sheet and a mat to sit on. Shvetämbar monks also have a Muhapatti- a square or rectangular piece of cloth of a prescribed measurement either in their hand or tied on their face covering the mouth. They also have Ogho or Rajoharan (a broom of woolen threads) to clear insects from where they sit or walk. Digambar monks have a Morpichhi (peacock feathers) instead of an Ogho and a Kamandal (small wooden pot) in their hands to keep water for purification of the body. These are the articles by which they can be distinguished. This practice may vary among different sects of Jains but the essential principles remains the same to limit needs.
The Jain Sädhus, after being initiated (receiving Dikshä), devote their lives to spiritual activities such as meditation, seeking knowledge, acquiring self‑discipline, etc. Proceeding on the path of spiritual endeavor, they reach a higher level of attainment. Their spiritual elders, for the preservation of the four‑fold Jain Sangha, confer upon them special titles.
The Title of Ächärya:
This title is considered to be very high and involves a great responsibility. The entire responsibility of the Jain Sangha rests on the shoulders of the Ächärya. Before attaining this title, one has to make an in‑depth study and a thorough exploration of the Jain Ägams and attain mastery of them. One must also study the various languages of the surrounding territory and acquire a thorough knowledge of all the philosophies of the world related to different ideologies and religions.
The Title of Upädhyäy:
This title is given to a Sädhu who teaches the other Sädhus and Sädhvis and has acquired a complete knowledge of the Ägams (Scriptures) and other religious books.
The Title of Panyäs and Ganipad:
To attain the status of Ganipad one should have in-depth knowledge of the Bhagawati Sutra along with other Ägams. To attain the Panyäs‑pad one should have attained a comprehensive knowledge of all aspects of the Jain Ägams.
The Title of Parävartanä:
This title is given only to Sädhvis after attaining the knowledge of certain Ägam Sutras such as Uttarädhyayan Sutra, Ächäräng Sutra and ten Payannä Sutra.
The Jain Sädhus and Sädhvis are unique. Their entire life is dedicated to the spiritual uplift of their souls and others. They bestow their blessings on all, uttering the words Dharma Läbha (may you attain spiritual prosperity). They bless everyone alike irrespective of their caste, creed, gender, age, wealth, poverty, and social status. Some put Väskshep (scented sandal wood powder) on the heads of people. Monks and nuns show the path of a righteous, and disciplined life to every one through discussions, discourses, seminars and camps to attain spiritual prosperity. They perform the Pratikraman (introspection) daily and perform other austerities.