The Twelve Vows of Laity
Upholding and adhering to the Five Great Vows is difficult or impossible for some Jains, particularly those who desire to participate in family life. These members of the faith take the vows of laity, or vows of the householder, which illustrate the prescribed behaviors of good conduct on the path to kevala. These twelve vows are divided into categories: the first five are the Anuvratas, similar to the Five Great Vows, but easier to follow. The following three vows are Gunavrata, or strengthening vows for the Anuvratas, and the final four vows are disciplinary vows, or Shikshavrata. The Gunavrata and Shikshavrata are known as the seven vows of virtuous conduct.
Ahimsa Anuvrata – Limited Nonviolence
The principles of nonviolence apply to all Jains, though there is recognition that violence is necessary for householders to subsist. The practices necessary for the householder, including cooking, farming, or employment, are permissible acts of violence, though they should always be conscious of limiting the violence committed.
Satya Anuvrata – Limited Truthfulness
Like with yatis, truthfulness is essential to non-attachment to the world. Householders should tell only the truth, in their minds and audibly to others, unless that truth would harm another living being.
Achaurya or Asteya Anuvrata – Limited Non-Stealing
Jains cannot take things that do not belong to them, regardless of the value of those things, unless freely given. The transition for Jains from vegetarianism to veganism stems from this vow. Dairy products, like milk from a cow, were once considered acceptable for consumption because the milk was freely given. However, Jains in recent decades have become strictly vegan due to the industrialization of dairy farming.
Brahmacharya Anuvrata – Limited Chastity
Many Jains choose lives as householders rather than yatis because of the desire for the family life. In this case, complete celibacy cannot be adhered to, but the experience of sensual pleasures is still limited. Householders can only have relations with their own spouse, and even then, sexual experiences within the marriage should be limited.
Aparigraha Anuvrata – Limited Non-Attachment
Householders need to be able to sustain life and support the family existence, so acquiring some possessions is necessary. However, householders should not earn more than needed to survive, and they should limit possessions and attachments.
Gunavrata, the Three Merit Vows
The three merit vows have two purposes: first, they act as purifiers, clarifiers, and strengtheners for the Anuvrata. Second, they govern the external actions of householders, encouraging an outward existence that strives for kevala.
Dik Vrata – Limited Area of Activity
This vow limits the ability for sins to be committed to the ten directions: north, south, east, west, northeast, northwest, southeast, southwest, above, and below. Essentially, Dik Vrata permits deviation from the Anuvrata to the boundaries of the physical world. Beyond the physical world, the Anuvrata becomes Mahavrata.
Bhoga-Upbhoga Vrata – Limited Use of Consumable and Non-Consumable Items
The enjoyment of consumable items (bhoga) such as food and drink, as well as the enjoyment of non-consumable items (upbhoga) such as housewares, furnishings, and clothing, is permitted within a limited scope. Householders should exercise caution so as not to become attached to these items, but their enjoyment is not a major offense.
Anartha-danda Vrata – Avoidance of Purposeless Sins
Committing an unnecessary offense, like walking on grass without need, manufacturing weapons to be used for violence, or reading obscene books, should be avoided.
Shikshavrata, the Four Disciplinary Vows
The purpose of disciplinary vows is to govern the internal behavior and conduct of householders. It encourages strong participation in religious life and activities.
Samayik Vrata – Limited Meditation
This vow encourages householders to meditate for at least 48 minutes in one sitting, though many Jains partake in meditation more than once per day.
Desavakasika Vrata – Limited Duration of Activity
Though Bhoga-Upbhoga Vrata permits the enjoyment of objects within a limited capacity, this vow puts additional limits on days and times when these things can be enjoyed.
Pausadha Vrata – Limited Ascetic’s Life
Though householders live their lives outside of the monastic order, this vow requires that the laity live as yatis for at least one day during their lifetimes. This provides a training or prerequisite for a future life as a member of the monastic order.
Atithi Samvibhaga Vrata – Charity
The final vow of the laity is a vow of charity. Householders are asked to give freely to yatis and people in need. Particularly with yatis, the householders should not prepare a separate meal for the monks and nuns but rather give some of the food intended for one’s own meal, as yatis cannot accept food prepared specifically for them.