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published: 3/17/04
updated: 12/28/13

Jain Rituals and Practices




Jain monk with mask
A Jain monk wearing a mask, to avoid killing microbes by inhaling them. Photo: Meena Kadri.

Monasticism

An essential aspect of Jainism is the ascetic lifestyle. Monks and nuns undertake the ascetic life full-time and take the "Five Great Vows":

  1. Non-violence (ahimsa)
  2. Truth (satya)
  3. Non-stealing (asteya)
  4. Celibacy (brahmachanga)
  5. Non-possessiveness (aparigraha)

In addition to keeping these vows carefully, Jain monks and nuns observe other special practices that set them apart. They do not eat when it is dark or in front of a layperson, they do not accept food that is cooked for them, they do not wear shoes, they do not stay in one place for a prolonged period of time, they do not touch any person of the opposite sex, they wear simple white clothes or nothing at all (nuns always practice the former) and they do not create art or get involved in social matters.





Monks are expected to be homeless, shave their heads and beg for food. The vow of ahimsa requires them to be vegetarians. Some sects take these already strict vows even further. For instance, to more perfectly fulfill the principle of nonviolence to any living thing, some do not eat vegetables, but only fruit, nuts and milk. Also on this principle, some wear masks over their mouth and nose to avoid inadvertently harming insects or microbes by inhaling them.

To more completely demonstrate their non-attachment to material possessions, some sects eat out of their hands rather than own a bowl, and go naked rather than own even a simple white cloth. The latter group are referred to as digamboras, or "sky-clad." (The debate over whether one should wear nothing or a white cloth that resulted in a major schism in Jainism.)

The disciplined life is not only for monks and nuns, but for all people. Those who do not undertake the monastic life take lesser vows that closely parallel the greater. 

Worship

Worship occurs publicly at stone temples or at home at wooden shrines resembling the temple. Worship rituals may include chanting mantras, gazing at images of the gods (puja) or anointing such images. Although the prime focus of Jainism is self-discipline, adherents may call upon the deities for assistance on their journey.

Meditation

Jain meditation (samayika) focuses on achieving a peaceful state of mind. It usually involves the chanting of mantras. Mantras are a significant part of Jain worship and ritual. In particular, the Five Homages (panka namaskarais) are said by most Jains every morning. Doing so is believed to dispel evil, cure illness and bring good fortune. Another mantra, the ahimsa vikas, aids in following the nonviolent path. Many others serve to guide meditation.

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