Pancha Mahavrata: Lord Mahavira’s gift to mankind

The Three Jewels of Jainism or Triratna i.e. Right Faith, Right Knowledge, and Right Action are at the core of Jainism’s doctrine and to attain Triratna one need to observe Panch Mahavrata, the philosophy of five great vows, propounded by the 24th Tirthankara Mahavira.

The Five great vows, if strictly observed, become Mahavratas or full vows and they are normally meant for the ascetics. Laymen cannot observe them strictly and hence, they are allowed to practice them as far as their conditions allow them to. When vows are partially observed then they are known as Anuvratas or small vows.

Lord Mahavira: The 24th Jain Tirthankara

The Philosophy of Panch Mahavrata consists of the following:

  1. Truth: Also known as Satya in Hindi. This vow insists that one should always speak the truth and refrain from falsehood. The truth should be pleasant and wholesome. If truth causes pain, anger, hurt, or death of any living being then one must remain silent. Jokes, anger, greed, and fear are the breeding grounds of falsehood and only those can speak the truth who have conquered these stated breeding grounds of falsehood. Courage is required to speak the truth and this truth should be observed in mind, speech, and deeds.
  2. Non-stealing: Also known as Asteya or Achaurya in jainism. This vow insists that one must not claim anything lying unattended or unclaimed. Stealing consists of taking another’s property without his consent or by unjust and immoral methods. According to this vow, one should not touch even a worthless thing and when accepting alms, help, or aid, one should not take more than the minimum requirement.
  3. Celibacy/Chastity: Known as Brahmacharya and this vow is added by Lord Mahavira himself. Celibacy is defined as complete abstinence from sensual pleasure and the pleasure of the five senses. Sensual pleasure is an infatuating force that sets aside all virtues and reason when one indulges in it. In subtle form, this vow is very difficult to observe. One may control himself at the physical level but may still think of the same which is not correct. Monks are required to observe this vow strictly whereas several rules have been made for observing this vow by householders.
  4. Non-attachment or Non-possession: This vow is known as Aparigraha. One who desires spiritual liberation must withdraw from all attachments to objects that please any of the five senses. According to Jainism, the more worldly wealth a person possesses, the more he is likely to commit sin to acquire and maintain those possessions. In the long run, he falls prey to unhappiness. Also, this results in greed, selfishness, violence, hatred etc.
  5. Non-violence: Everybody know this vow which is called as Ahimsa. This vow is the cardinal principle of Jainism and thus, it is also known as the cornerstone of Jainism. Jainism says that all living beings are equal irrespective of their shape, size, or spiritual developments. No one has the right to harm, injure, and kill other living beings including animals, plants, and insects. Jainism recognizes four forms of existence. deva (gods), manushya (humans), naraki (hell beings), and tiryancha (plants and animals). Tiryanchas are sub-divided into ekendriyas (single sense bodies) and nigodas (lowest of ekendriyas who have the sense of only touch and whose lives last for a fraction of a second). Laymen need to avoid harming beings with two or more senses and the monks need to adhere to strictness to not harm even an ekendriya. Jainism teaches strict vegetarianism as non-vegetarian food is prepared by killing beings with two or more senses. Jainism says that it is the intention to harm, the absence of compassion, ignorance, and unawareness that makes an action violent. Violence has its roots in violent thoughts. Thus, Non-violence is strictly to be observed in speech, action, and thought. Even agriculture is prohibited in Jainism along with the practice of war.

Observing these five great vows may help in the transformation of a human being and this philosophy is a gift to mankind by Lord Mahavira.

Wants and desires have no end, and only sky is the limit for them.

Lord Mahavira

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