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The gift of food to a wandering cow: lay-mendicant interaction among the Jains.

What do we mean when we talk of 'world renunciation' in the religious traditions of South Asia? What is the 'world' that is renounced? Does the person renounce all aspects of his or her prior existence, and enter into a state of willed anomie? Or is it rather a form of psychological renunciation, in which the person renounces aspects of his or her socially-constructed personality in pursuit of a transcendent goal? In this essay I will argue that world renunciation in practice is more akin to the second model, and I will use material from the ritualized interactions between mendicants and laity within the Svetambar Murtipujak Jains to show the extent to which the roles of Jain mendicants are interdependent with the roles of the laity.(1)

Scholarly understandings of word-renunciation, both more broadly in the religious traditions of South Asia, and more narrowly in Jainism, tend to focus upon the world-renouncer as an anti-social individual, who leaves behind all connections with society in pursuit of liberation. Such an understanding is by no means wrong, for we do find in the literature of renunciation calls for the Buddhist bhikkhu to "fare lonely as a rhinoceros," and for the Jain sadhu to "abandon relationships... travel as a stranger... always avoid men and women... [and] leave his house and travel alone."(2) This understanding of the renouncer as the only true individual in Indian society has been expressed quite elegantly by Louis Dumont in his provocative and influential 1960 article "Word Renunciation in Indian Religions." Similarly, Michael Carrithers in his 1989 essay on Digambar renouncers showed that the muni of the southern Digambar Jains in many ways exemplifies a life of individualism and singularity. The very term for enlightenment according to Jainism, kaivalya, literally means "oneness" or "isolation," and indicates that the ultimate religious goal in Jainism is a state of spiritual autonomy in which all forms of social or ontological interdependence and even interaction are negated.

This understanding of the renouncer as a solitary individual is also found in what we can call the "Siddhartha syndrome," after the popular 1922 novel by the German novelist Hermann Hesse. European Romantic notions of the autonomy of the self and the solitary nature of the religious quest are read into South Asian renunciatory practices, and an idealized, inaccurate portrait of the world renouncer emerges. Recent scholarship on renunciation in South Asia has gone far toward correcting this undue emphasis upon the renouncer as anti-social, and to see renunciation for what it is: a social institution.(3) Carrithers' essay showed that Digambar munis are as physically dependent on the laity as they are theoretically independent from them. My own essay on Svetambar Murtipujak Jain mendicants aimed at showing the extent to which kinship structures are replicated within mendicant organization (Cort 1991). In this essay, I will look at the Jain mendicant not as an isolated institution, but rather within the larger setting of Jain society. Jain society is by definition a fourfold congregation (caturvidh sangh) consisting equally of male renouncers (sadhus), female renouncers (sadhvis), laymen (sravaks), and laywomen (sravikas). This definition of the sangh as fourfold, in contrast to the Buddhist definition of the sangh as consisting of male renouncers, is an important indication that by definition the Jain renouncer is an integral, interdependent part of a larger community. While there is a hierarchical ordering among these four, with mendicants being superior to laity in virtue of their being further along the path to liberation, all four of the limbs of the congregation are essential to its full composition. No description of the Jain community is complete without a description of all four limbs, and to attain a fuller understanding of the congregation as a whole it is necessary to understand the interaction between the mendicants and the laity. In particular, I will look at the way that interaction is ritually expressed through the act of lay gifting (dan) to mendicants.(4)

The Daily Routine of a Murtipujak Mendicant

The life of the mendicant is in theory, and in practice as structured by rituals, guided by a concern to advance along the path towards liberation, the moksamarg. Since karma, the subtle tainting matter which obscures the natural perfection of the soul, is the cause of bondage, avoidance of the influx of further karma (karma-samvar) and the elimination of existing karma (karma-nirjara) together form the ideological underpinning of the mendicant's actions and intentions. The daily routine of the mendicant is broadly structured by three ideological formulations, the five great restraining vows (mahavrat), the eight "matrices of doctrine" (pravacan-matrka), and the six obligatory rites (avasyak). The first two are negatively-framed restrictions on the mendicant's conduct, which specify what the mendicant should not do, whereas the third is positively-framed in terms of what the mendicant is enjoined to do daily. In adopting the great vows as part of the rite of mendicant initiation (diksa), the mendicant pledges to restrain from harm (ahimsa), untruthful speech (satya), taking what is not freely offered (astey), sexual conduct (brahmacarya), and possessing anything (aparigrah). The eight matrices of doctrine are subdivided into the threefold restraint (gupti) of mind, body, and speech, and the fivefold care (samiti), which consists of care in walking, speaking, accepting alms, picking up and putting down objects, and excretory functions. The six obligatory rites are intertwined rites which together inform key parts of the mendicant's practice. These are samayik, a state of equanimity and awareness that should pervade the mendicant's life from the moment of initiation; caturvimsati-stava, the recitation of a Prakrit hymn of veneration to the Jinas; guru-vandan, a similar veneration directed towards one's mendicant superior; pratikraman, a rite of confession for karmically-harmful actions; pacckkhan, a ritually-stated commitment to avoid karmically-harmful actions, and to perform certain specified karmically-beneficial actions; and kaussagg, a series of formulaic recitations, aimed at advancing the separation of the pure soul from the karmically-tainted body, which are performed in a standing position during the vandans and pratikraman.(5)

Let us now see how these ideological doctrines are translated into lived experience. The daily routine as I describe it is a generalized description derived from fieldwork observation of a number of mendicants, and from conversations with mendicants concerning their praxis. With an understanding of the daily rhythms of mendicant life, we will be able to see more clearly the ways in which the lives of the mendicants are intertwined and interdependent with the lives of the laity.

The mendicants rise before dawn, most around 5:00 a.m., but some as early as 2:00 a.m., and perform their lavatorial functions. In observance of utsarg-samiti, or care in performing these actions, defecation is done in the open, in a place where the feces will cause no harm to living creatures, while urination is done into a shallow pan, and the urine then discarded onto a dry patch of ground.(6) Until sunrise each mendicant engages in personal practice according to his or her own interest. Some recite hymns, some study, some meditate. After sunrise they recite the morning pratikraman, the rite of confession for any karmically-harmful actions committed during the night. This can be done either collectively or individually. Over the centuries pratikraman has become the liturgical locus of all the six obligatory rites, as elements of all six are found in it. Pratikraman is followed by padilehan, in which the mendicant inspects his or her robes for insects and other minute organisms. The mendicants then perform guru-vandan, the formulae of obeisance to the elders. Junior mendicants in a group perform it to senior ones, and the seniormost performs it to a sthapanacarya.

This ritual prop, literally the "established acarya," is a symbolic representation of the mendicant hierarchy. It consists of four sticks of wood bound together and splayed out above and below in the shape of an hour-glass. When performing guru-vandan or pratikraman alone, or when giving a sermon, a mendicant will open the sthapanacarya to reveal five conch shells in a folded cloth. The shells represent the pancaparamesihins, or five "supreme lords": the Jinas, the siddhas or other liberated souls, the acaryas or mendicant leaders, the upadhyayas or mendicant preceptors, and all sadhus. The sthapanacarya physically signals that no mendicant is ever on his or her own, but rather is always in the presence of the entire Jain socio-spiritual hierarchy.

Directly following guru-vandan, and performatively indistinguishable from it, they recite the pacckkhan. This is a ritualized statement of intention to perform no karmically-harmful actions and instead to perform certain specified actions (usually dietary restrictions) aimed at the avoidance and elimination of karma.

Each mendicant is expected to go to a temple once a day if at all possible. Many choose to go after guru-vandan and pacckkhan. In the temple each recites the caturvimsati-stava, the hymn of veneration to the twenty-four Jinas. If it is raining all day, and therefore the mendicant would violate the great vow of ahimsa by inevitably tredding on invisible organisms on the wet groundwhile walking to the temple, or if the mendicant is on his or her travels and staying in a village without a Jain temple, then the hymn of veneration is performed in the upasray, the building in which they stay, in the presence of the sthapanacarya.

Also following guru-vandan and pacckkhan, some of the mendicants will go to the nearby homes of Jain laity to collect food and water in their wooden bowls, a ritualized action known as gocari. They bring back the food to the upasray, and, after first confessing and atoning for any karmic faults committed during the food-gathering round, distribute it to all the mendicants. Senior mendicants rarely collect the food themselves, and some Jains are of the opinion that it is a ritual fault for an acarya to perform gocari (Dansuri 1927: 12-13). The food is eaten in private; as a matter of custom, laity should not observe a mendicant eating or drinking. This is in sharp contrast to the extremely public manner in which a Digambar mendicant eats and drinks, as described below.

If there is to be a public sermon, it is given in the mid-morning for an hour or two. Otherwise, the mendicants engage in study, recitation, meditation, or some other personalized practice. This is also a time when many laity will visit mendicants for private instruction, pastoral advice, or simply the edifying experience of being in the mendicants' presence. The mendicants perform padilehan again in mid-morning. Late morning is time for another food-gathering round.(7)

The afternoon is even more unstructured; some rest or nap, some instruct the laity, some pursue their personal practice. In mid-afternoon is the "complete padilehan." In addition to inspecting their robes, the mendicants also sweep the upasray, taking care not to harm any insects or other minute organisms. Late afternoon is the time for the final food-gathering round and meal, eaten before sunset. Many mendicants will again visit the temple at the time of the evening darsan, when many people come to view and sing hymns to the ornamented Jina images. After sunset, the mendicants perform the evening pratikraman. Unlike the morning performance, this one must be done collectively. The remaining hours of the evening are again devoted to personal practice. Before going to sleep, usually around 11:00 p.m., each mendicant recites the santhara porisi, a formula of renunciation of the body in case one should die while asleep.(8)


With the exception of their dependence upon the laity for food, water, and shelter, the mendicants' daily routine as outlined above is largely independent of the laity. But in actual practice, there is frequent interaction between the mendicants and the laity in both the private and the public spheres.

During the four-month rainy-season period (comasu), when the mendicants must stay in one place, the chief sadhu of every group gives a daily sermon, attended mostly by women and older, retired men, but on special days by most of the lay congregation. During their eight months of travel, the sadhus give sermons whenever requested, most often when they come to a new village or town in their travels.(9)

A sermon lasts for at least one, and usually two, periods of forty-eight minutes. This is the minimum period for which a layperson can take the vow of temporary samayik, in which he or she remains seated on a cloth, mendicant's broom in hand, and performs meditation or some other form of religious practice such as repetition of a mantra or listening to a sermon.

At the commencement of the sermon, the senior sadhu performs guru-vandan to the sthapanacarya, and the other mendicants and the laity perform guru-vandan to the senior sadhu. Laity who arrive in the middle of the sermon will also perform guru-vandan, which takes about thirty seconds. The sadhu begins the sermon by reciting several holy verses to establish a proper atmosphere of spiritual purity. The sermon itself will be tailored to the needs of the occasion. During the rainy season, the sermons tend to be extended commentaries on one or two texts. The rainy season sermons in many ways resemble a college course, and nowadays this similarity is even more marked, as sometimes there are examinations at the end of the process for school-age Jains. On other occasions, the sadhu will speak impromptu on the subject at hand, such as image-worship if it is during an image-installation ceremony, or renunciation if it is in the context of someone taking diksa and renouncing the world. At the end of the sermon, after any business of the congregation has been concluded, the sadhu will recite the pacckkhan for any laity intending to perform a fast that day. He will conclude by reciting several holy verses, usually the following two Sanskrit verses:

Holy is Lord Vir; holy is Gautam Svami; holy are Sthulibhadra and the others; may the Jain religion be holy. The holiness of all holies, the cause of all goodness, the foremost of all religions, victory to the Jain teachings.(10)


The sadhus' travel is in significant part determined by lay requests that they be present at a variety of special events. These include the special rites of consecration and installation of a temple-image, large temple rituals in celebration of noteworthy acts such as the completion of a long fast or the anniversary of a diksa, or the month-long retreat for the temporary lay vow of renunciation known as updhan. The presence of a sadhu is requested, and in certain cases required, both to increase the efficacy of the rite, and to provide the opportunity for the laity to earn merit from the sadhu's presence.

In the rite of diksa the Jain mendicant takes a vow of complete non-possession (aparigrah). As a result the mendicant is dependent upon the laity for food and all the other necessities of life. The laity provide (and legally own) the upasray where the mendicant stays, the food the mendicant eats, the robes the mendicant wears, the books the mendicant reads, medicine for the mendicant, and any other ritual paraphrenalia required by the mendicant. The general term for such service to the mendicants is vaiyavacc.(11)

In his twelfth-century Yogasastra, a foundational text for the tradition's normative understanding of lay conduct, Hemacandra describes seven fields (ksetra) in which wealth can be given.(12) In order of precedence they are: images, temples, texts, sadhus, sadhvis, laymen, and laywomen.(13) Hemacandra distinguishes between wealth spent in the seven fields, which is done out of a spirit of devotion (bhakti), and giving to the non-Jain needy, which is done out of a spirit of compassion (daya). Whereas the latter is a laudable expense, only the former constitutes gifting(14) (dan) in the ritual sense.(15) The benefits to the donor of such gifting are manifold. In an article on the seven fields, based on a sermon deliviered to lay Jains, the twentieth-century Acarya Vijay Susilsuri (1974: 285) wrote, "Those who use their wealth properly in the seven fields attain full merit. They gain a reputation for having wealth, and so are successful in their human life."(16) He underscored that benefits accrue in terms of both advancing the donor towards the transcendent goal of liberation and improving his or her worldly well-being by quoting from the late-twelfth century Sanskrit Sinduraprakarana of Somaprabhasuri:

For the man who himself sows plentifully the seeds of wealth in the seven fields, pleasure abides with him, fame is his servant, and wealth yearns for him.

Wisdom is affectionate, and he becomes familiar with the wealth of a world emperor. He holds in his hands the rewards of heaven and his desire for liberation is successful(17)

The various implements required by a mendicant, such as robes, staff, food and water bowls, and a mat to sit on, are formally gifted to the mendicant at the time of diksa. Many laity who are special devotees of mendicants will try to replace all these items annually. The gifting of these items is not a liturgically ritualized act, although it is usually done in the context of the layperson performing guru-vandan and otherwise obtaining the mendicant's blessings.

Since a mendicant is in theory both possessionless and striving to attain a state of indifference to material objects, he or she should not specifically ask for anything. Ideally, therefore, whenever a layperson visits a mendicant to perform guru-vandan or otherwise meet with the mendicant, he or she should ask if anything is needed, being careful to ask specifically about a large number of basic items. Nonetheless, when mendicants need some other object, such as medicine, writing implements, or a book, spontaneous requests are often made, of visiting scholars as well as of Jain laity.

Gifting of Food to a Svetambar Mendicant

The routine b.y which mendicants procure their food is relatively straightforward among the Svetambar Murtipujaks.(18) The mendicant comes to the door of the house, and announces his or her presence with the benediction, "dharm labh" ("blessings of the religion"). If it is proper for the mendicant to accept food,(19) the layperson (usually the housewife) invites the mendicant to enter by saying, "padarche," a Gujarati verbal request which can be translated as, "please grace us with your presence."(20) If the mendicant is observing a particular dietary restriction, he or she will accept only food which meets that requirement. Since a mendicant should not request that a specific type of food be prepared, the laity ask mendicants what dietary restrictions they are observing when they first come to a neighborhood upasray, and incorporate those foods into their daily diet for the duration of the mendicants' presence.

The technical term for the food gathering round of the mendicant is gocari. The literal translation of this word is "travelling like a cow," referring to the ideal by which the mendicant goes spontaneously and without any preconceived desire to whatever layperson's house he or she happens to come first. To express any preference in the matter of collecting food would be a violation of the vow of aparigrah (non-possession).(21) Nonetheless, laity usually are expecting the mendicants, and have prepared any special foods required by the mendicants' dietary restrictions.

Jains are very explicit that the Jain mendicant does not beg (bhikh magvu) for food. Rather, in theory the laity request that the mendicant take food to maintain the body while on the path to liberation. There is often a certain amount of back and forth activity between the mendicant and the householder, as the mendicant rejects certain foods, or asks for fewer pieces of bread, for example. How much the mendicant takes depends upon the number of mendicants for whom he or she is collecting food. As noted above, the seniormost mendicant in any group rarely goes on gocari, and one or two junior mendicants will collect enough food for everyone.

Gifting of Food to a Digambar Mendicant

The Murtipujak procedure of gocari contrasts sharply with the much more formally ritualized practice of ahar-dan or gifting of food among the Digambar Jains, as reported by Mahias (1985: 249-251), Shanta (1985: 506-508), Carrithers (1989: 227-228), and Zydenbos (1999).(22) Each mendicant, no matter how senior, performs his or her own food gathering round. The mendicant usually makes a silent resolution to eat only where he or she finds a certain requirement fulfilled, such as a tree in front of the door.(23) The mendicant walks in total silence and in an attitude which indicates that he or she will eat: the tips of the right fingers rest on the right shoulder, a water pot and peacock-feather fan held in the left hand. When the mendicant arrives at a suitable house, the laity address the mendicant in mixed Sanskrit and vernacular as follows: "Hail, hail, hail. Stay, stay, stay. [My] mind is pure, [my] speech is pure, [my] action is pure, this food and water are pure. Please enter into the eating house."(24) The laity thrice circumambulate the mendicant, and then conduct him or her inside the house, and indicate a raised seat or platform where the mendicant is to crouch. The feet of the mendicant are washed with cold water, which is saved. According to Shanta, the laity perform eightfold puja (worship) to the mendicant, a rite normally used only in worshipping Jina images in the temple, by making offerings onto a small table. To eat, the mendicant stands on the platform and holds his or her right hand in front with the palm up, cupped in the left hand. Each food item is placed in the right hand, and is carefully inspected by the mendicant before being eaten. The presence of a hair or other sign of impurity in the food is called an antaray, whereupon the mendicant stops eating.(25) The mendicant eats no more than thirty-two such handfuls of food. When the mendicant is finished eating, his or her hands are washed with water. Before departing, the mendicant may retire to a different part of the house for a brief conversation with household members and neighbors. Carrithers notes that in the case of ahar-dan he observed, neighbor women took advantage of this opportunity to worship the muni by placing bananas and coconuts at his feet. After the mendicant has departed, the family then eats its own meal, considered now as prasad, or consecrated leftovers from the mendicant's meal.

Whereas the Svetambar gocari is a relatively simple, unaccented transaction, whereby the laity provide the mendicants with needed food, the Digambar ahardan is strikingly similar to both Jain and especially Hindu forms of temple worship. This equation is seen most clearly in Shanta's description of the eightfold puja performed to the mendicant. Such an action would be considered a blasphemy (asatna) among the Svetambars, for it ritually equates the unliberated mendicant with the liberated Jina. The Svetambar rites of caitya-vandan addressed to the Jinas(26) and guru-vandan addressed to the mendicant have extensive liturgical overlap, but at key places the distinction between the two is maintained by, for example, bowing thrice to the Jina when one bows only twice to the mendicant. The distinction between the two is well-known to most Murtipujak laity as well, and in 1986-1987 an acrimonious debate arose within the Tapa Gacch in Gujarat and Bombay when some Jains accused the followers of a popular acarya of worshipping him in a manner that ritually equated the acarya with the Jina.

The Digambar mendicant is fed in a manner that provides the laity with several valuable, spiritually-charged leftovers: the water from bathing both the feet and the hands, and the meal itself. Whereas the Svetambar mendicant is treated like a guest with special requirements, the Digambar mendicant is treated like a god. The Digambar ritual interaction conforms to Hindu ritual paradigms that have been discussed by several authors (e.g., Babb 1975, Fuller 1992, Wadley 1975). In Hindu temple worship, offerings of food, flowers, incense, light, and other pleasing substances are made to the deity in its image form. The edible offerings are 'eaten' and absorbed by the deity, and then returned to the worshipper in the form of form of prasad, a term literally meaning "grace" that can also be more broadly translated as "God's leftovers." Through consumption of this valorized food, the worshipper absorbs some of the deity's grace, and becomes in some small manner more godlike him or herself. The acceptance of the leftover food also serves to emphasize the worshipper's lower status in relation to the deity. There is seemingly little difference between Hindu worship of a temple image of a deity and Digambar worship of the deity-like muni. Both are quite different from the Svetambar and Digambar rites of worshipping the Jina image. In sharp contrast to Hindu worship - and this contrast is evident to most Jains - the food offerings placed in front of the Jina image are considered to be given up by the worshipper, and after the rite cannot be returned to the worshipper, but must instead be given to a non-Jain recipient (see Babb 1988).

Gifting, Merit and 'Sin'(27)

Gloria Raheja (1988) and Jonathan Parry (1980, 1986, 1994) have discussed the ways in which in Hindu and Brahmanical notions of dan, the recipient of the gift also accepts and so ingests the sins (pap) or inauspiciousness (asubh, kusubh, nasubh) of the donor.(28) The argument has been summarized by Raheja (1988: 36) as follows:

... inauspiciousness and pap, "evil," are thought to be generated not only at death but in most life processes. Birth, marriage, death, harvests, the building of a house, and very many occasions during the calendrical cycles of the week, the lunar month, and the year are thought to generate inauspiciousness (but not necessarily "impurity") that must be removed and given away in dan if well-being and auspiciousness are to be achieved and maintained.

Different forms of inauspiciousness require different recipients (patra) for their proper and safe removal: women, untouchables, priests, and poor relatives are all appropriate receptacles in various contexts. Parry has vividly described the anxiety of Mahabrahman funeral priests of Banaras concerning the dan they receive in the context of funeral rites. According to Parry (1994: 124), they feel that if they are incapable of adequately digesting the sin (pap) they receive in dan through various forms of expiation, they will contract leprosy:

The result of accepting dan that is only imperfectly 'digested' is that the priest's intellect is enfeebled, his body gets blacker and blacker and his countenance loses its 'lustre' with every gift received. He is liable to contract leprosy and rot; to die a premature and painful death vomiting excrement, and to suffer the most terrible torments thereafter.

The inauspicious and dangerous dan received by these lower caste Mahabrahmans is carefully distinguished from the auspicious daksina received by higher-caste Karmakandi Brahmans who preside over the death rites of more well-to-do patrons who want a more learned officiant.(29) Raheja in her detailed ethnography of a North Indian village shows that such notions of sin and inauspiciousness are ubiquitous in a wide range of Hindu ritual transactions.

The Svetambar Jain notion of dan is different in certain key respects, perhaps in reaction to this Hindu paradigm.(30) The mendicant is not considered to "eat" (jamvu) the food he or she receives, but rather to "use" (vaparvu) it, for the mendicant has no "taste" (svad) for food. The mendicant takes the food not out of desire or pleasure, but rather to sustain the body as the vehicle temporarily inhabited by the soul on its path to liberation. To enforce this understanding, many mendicants mix together all the foods collected in gocari into a rather unpalatable mush. As Lawrence Babb (1988:80) has said of the mendicant's acceptance of food,

By never actually asking for food and by never taking food prepared on his behalf... the ascetic recipient minimizes the effects on himself of worldly and morally problematic activities: they were not done at his instigation. He is protected from any remaining negativity by his nonattachment. He consumes the food with indifference and regards it as a mere temporary means of body maintenance while on the road to salvation. He takes little and is minimally affected by what he takes; in the end (at least ideally), he sheds it all.

If the mendicant were to ask for a specific type of food to be prepared, then he or she would accrue bad karma or pap.(31) But in theory the mendicant does not ask for food to be prepared, and takes no interest in the food preparation other than to ensure that it has not violated either of the great vows of nonharm or non-possession. The mendicant thereby avoids the accrual of karma and pap, even through implicit approval (anumodan) of the food-preparation and its accompanying violence.(32) In this Jain model of dan, the pap is not passed along with the dan. Lay Jains are not so much concerned with the removal of pap through dan as they are with the generation of punya through dan. The layperson accrues pap through the preparation of food for the mendicant, but this pap is more than offset by the punya accrued through the act of dan of the food to the mendicant. Since pap and punya are mirror opposites (i.e. pap is negative punya), then the end result for the donor is the same in the Jain and Hindu situations - their karmic status has improved. But the end position for the recipient is different, for the Jain mendicant does not have the added pap to contend with. The mendicant accrues no pap, however, only if due to his or her conduct he or she is a proper recipient (patra) for dan.(33)

Ensuring that mendicants observe proper mendicant conduct, and therefore remain proper recipients for dan, has been a long-standing concern in the Jain community. In the twelfth century, Hemacandra defined a proper sadhu as one who "through following the teachings of the Jina observes right conduct, makes fruitful this rarely attained human birth, crosses over [to liberation] himself, and causes others to cross over."(34) One of the aims of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century reform movement among the Murtipujak Jains was to remove the institution of domesticated sadhus known as yatis by convincing the Jain laity that yatis were unsuitable as recipients of dan, in which case the donor would receive less punya.(35)

A diagram of the Hindu and Jain transactions can clarify the differences between the two ritual systems:


donor - - - (dan) - - - [right arrow] recipient

(pap-) (pap+)


donor - - - (dan) - - - [right arrow] recipient

(pap+) (no change)

(punya + +)

An interesting aspect of these transactions is that in the Jain case this same diagram is accurate regardless of whether the recipient is a Svetambar sadhu, a Digambar muni, or an image of a Jina in a temple. In none of these Jain transactions does the pap associated with the dan sticks to the recipient. In the case of the Jina, this is because the latter is theologically nonresponsive, and the transaction as a result is largely self-reflexive on the part of the donor (Babb 1988). As part of their initiation, mendicants have taken vows of aparigrah, the universal and lifelong renunciation of all physical and mental notions of ownership. As long as the mendicant is firm in his or her observance of the vow, and as a result is a suitable recipient (is a supatra), the donation will have no moral or ontological effect upon the recipient. We see here the importance of the Jain insistence that Jain mendicants in theory do not ask for food, and that they oftentimes must be cajoled by the laity into accepting food in order to sustain their meritorious presence. We also see the transactional logic behind the otherwise sometimes puzzling abhigrahs discussed above: by establishing a random set of preconditions upon the food-gathering round, the mendicant ensures against any even unconscious intentionality (and therefore desire) entering into his or her gocari. At the same time, many Jains refuse to give alms to Hindu renouncers (except out of cautious respect for the renouncers' worldly magico-spiritual powers), and refer to Hindu renouncers contemptuously as "beggars," precisely because from a Jain perspective they are not suitable recipients.(36)

What is not explained by this model is what happens to the pap in the Jain instance. Raheja indicates that for North Indian village Hindus, the economy of auspiciousness and inauspiciousness is a closed, zero-sum system: inauspiciousness can be removed only if some other recipient takes it on. Auspiciousness is really only a lack of inauspiciousness. The Jains would seem to operate in a different transactional universe, where the ascetic and renunciatory powers of the mendicant to wear away karma (karma-nirjara) allow for the generation of auspicious karma by the layperson's actions. This would seem to hold regardless of whether the food is returned to the donor as prasad or is retained solely for consumption by the recipient.(37) The powers of the mendicant result in a network wherein new auspiciousness can be created and inauspiciousness can be destroyed, not just removed. This seems to be an inherent property in the Jain religion itself. In the auspicious verses recited at the end of every sermon, the Jain religion is described as "the cause of all goodness."(38) The five goodness-creating events (kalyanak) of conception, birth, initiation, enlightenment, and liberation in the life of every Jina, set in motion a process by which within the context of the Jain religion there is a constant supply of new auspicousness, which is available to devout and faithful Jains. This is one reason the five kalyanaks are the focus of much of the lay Jain ritual life.(39) Similarly, the Jain religion in the same verse is described as "the holiness of all holies."(40) The word I have here translated as "holy," mangal, is frequently translated as "auspicious" (Marglin 1985; Madan 1987:48-71), and so this phrase could just as well have been translated, "the auspiciousness of all auspicious things."(41) The other auspicious verse cited above refers to the whole of the Jain tradition, as represented by Mahavir, Gautam Svami, and Sthulibhadra, as being auspicious or holy. We see here another indication that whereas the Hindu universes as studied by Raheja and Parry are closed, zero-sum systems in which the primary concern is for the removal of inauspiciousness, the Jain universe is an open, expandable system in which the primary concern is the accrual of more auspiciousness.

Both Parry and Raheja focus on transactions within the realm of samsar, in which the recipients are either lower-caste humans or passionate, potentially harmful deities. If these authors had paid attention to devotional forms of religious practice, they might have found that Hindu bhakti also allows for systems in which unlimited auspiciousness is available to the devotee. Vasudha Narayanan (1985) and D.F. Pocock (1973) have both shown that God (Visnu and Krsna) in the Srivaisnava and Pusiimarg traditions is the source of worldly auspiciousness for devotees in ways very similar to that by which the Jain tradition itself is a source for auspiciousness. Lawrence Babb's work on contemporary urban Hindu gum-based movements in north India demonstrates a similar understanding, in which "an offering to the gum would appear to be, among other things, a possible vehicle through which the offerer can deliver up impurities, his or her 'sins,' which are taken by the guru into or onto himself" (Babb 1986: 66). The Jain ideology of interaction is analogous in many ways to the ideologies found in Hindu bhakti traditions (although there are fundamental differences in the understandings of the transactional ontology involved), and quite different in terms of its having a source of boundless goodness from the zero-sum non-devotional Hindu systems of prestations.

Similarly, the human recipients in the cases reported by Parry and Raheja are in all instances married householders. By definition householders are involved with possessions and desires. In the words of T.N. Madan (1987), they are involved not with renunciation, but with non-renunciation. Since householders are possessive accumulators, the pap attached to any dan will stick to the recipient. Higher-caste, more orthodox Brahmans, as indicated by Parry, will try to circumvent this occurrence, by insisting on the acceptance only of non-dangerous daksina instead of dangerous dan, and by the observance of as ascetic and renunciant a lifestyle as possible within the householder's state. I suspect that an investigation of the moral effects of donations to Hindu renouncers would uncover a situation quite similar to what we see with Jain mendicants.(42)

Concluding Observations

In this essay I have explored in detail one transactional aspect of the relationship between laity and mendicants in the Murtipujak Jain tradition. We have seen that while the ritual of gifting food to a Murtipujak mendicant is strikingly different from the ritual of gifting food to a Digambar mendicant, the underlying transactional logic is in fact quite similar. Further, both cases show a structural similarity with the logic underlying the offering of food in paja before the image of the Jina: the offering results in an improvement in the donor's karmic balance, but results in no change in the ontological status of the recipient. This should not surprise us, since the Jina is different from the mendicant only in degree, not in kind. The Jina is a former mendicant who through the observance of the mendicant regimen came to the successful conclusion of the path to enlightenment. As real humans, many mendicants exhibit personality traits that can be quite different from the ideals of dispassion and enlightenment embodied by the Jina; but as ritual recipients, as long as they remain suitable patras, they non-transact in quite similar ways with Jain laity.

By looking at Hindu transactional systems that lie outside of but culturally nearby to the Jain systems, we have seen ways in which the Jains are both similar to and different from Hindus. But the distinctions between the two systems are not absolute, and we have found that we have to make distinctions as to what forms and rites we are looking at within the traditions before clear patterns emerge between them. But this should not have surprised us, either. Jains have been part of South Asian culture since the tradition's inception, and share many of the same ritual and theological actions, concerns, and values as Hindus and Buddhists. What distinguishes the Jains from their South Asian neighbors is not an absolute difference in ritual and theology, but rather the particular aspects they emphasize within a larger shared family of rituals and theologies.

I began this essay by contrasting world renunciation as a lived religious practice with it as an abstract ideological (and sometimes Romantic) construct. My aim has been to study world renunciation as a socially interactive practice. I have looked not at theoretical expressions of world renunciation as a means to a spiritual liberation through the transcendence of the physical body, but rather at the daily interactions of renouncers with non-renouncers. In particular I have looked at interactions centered around one of the basic facts of physical, embodied existence: food. We have seen that in these interactions the renouncers are still very much a part of the world they have renounced, leading us to the realization that what is renounced is a certain culturally-created persona, not the world in toto. But the care with which the renouncers enter into these interactions, and the care taken by the laity to ensure that the recipients of their gifting are in some crucial sense truly renouncers, indicates that we cannot reduce world renunciation merely to an altered social role within the world. All of the actors themselves see a profound qualitative difference in the ontological nature of a person before and after the act of renouncing the world. The renouncer through the act of renunciation simultaneously participates in shaping the cultural values that undergird the social world while denying the ultimate importance of that social world.

This essay is based in part on fieldwork conducted in Gujarat from 1985 to 1987 under the auspices of a Fulbright-Hays doctoral dissertation fellowship, and in 1995 under the auspices of an Asian Cultural Council fellowship. I thank Alan Babb and Bob Zydenbos for comments on earlier versions. This essay shares many of the same concerns and conclusions as those found in Babb (forthcoming) and Laidlaw (1995: 289-323). Except in the case of transcriptions of Sanskrit texts, all technical terms are given in their Gujarati transcriptions, and spelled according to contemporary usage and pronunciation. This usage sometimes reflects the Prakrit language of ancient Jain praxis, and sometimes a later Sanskritization of the Prakrit terms.


1. I intentionally use the term "mendicant" rather than "monk" or "ascetic." "Monk" has cenobitic connotations that are inappropriate for Jain peripatetic renouncers, while "ascetic" ignores the extent to which asceticism is a major practice among Jain laity.

2. The Buddhist phrase is from Sutta Nipata, as translated by E.M. Hare, and found at Conze 1959: 79-82. The Jain passage is paraphrased from Uttarajjhaya Sutta 15, as translated in Tatia and Kumar 1981: 87-90.

3. See, for example, the excellent essays in Creel and Narayanan 1990.

4. See Cort 1989: 306-340 for a fuller discussion of lay-mendicant interactions, including lay veneration and worship of mendicants.

5. For textual discussion of the mahavrats, see Dundas 1992: 135-38 and Williams 1963: 55-99; for the pravacan-matrkas, see Jaini 1979: 247-248; and for the avasyaks, see Balbir 1993 and Williams 1963: 184-215.

6. For a layperson to observe either function is considered an impropriety. This contrasts sharply with the invitation Carrithers received to observe a Digambar muni defecating.

7. The precise timing and number of padilehans and gocari's will vary depending on which particular ascetic practices each mendicant has committed him or herself to perform in the recitation of pacckkhan.

8. The obligatory rite of samayik (equanimity), a perpetual condition of detailed awareness of all one's mental states and physical actions, is considered to pervade the mendicant's life from the time of initiation. Kaussagg is a temporary renunciation of the body, performed by standing erect, with eyes cast downward, and the arms held downward and slightly away from the body. The duration of kaussagg is determined by the recitation of a certain number of the caturvimsati-stava. Kaussagg, caturvimsati-stava, guru-vandan, and pacckkhan are all integrally incorporated into the performance of pratikraman.

9. Within the Tapa Gacch, numerically the dominant Murtipujak mendicant lineage, sadhvis cannot give public sermons as a matter of customary practice. They only give private instruction and advice to laity, mostly women, in the upasrays. This restriction does not apply in the Khartar Gacch, the Murtipujak lineage found mostly in the Jaipur area, nor in the Sthanakvasi and Terapanthi sects.

10. mangalam bhagavan viro mangalam gautamasvami/ mangalam sthulibhadradya jainadharmo'stu mangalam// sarvamangalamangalyam sarvakalyanakanam/ pradhanam sarvadharmanam jainam jayati sasanam//

Gautam Svami was the chief disciple of Mahavir, and is also the focus of later devotion as a wonder-working sadhu (see Dundas 1992: 33-34 and Laidlaw 1995: 376-380). Sthulibhadra was an early acarya who, according to the Svetambar version of Jain history, was leader of the community when the Digambars split off. His exploits are often told in Jain story literature. The reference to these two essentially encapsulates the Svetambar mendicant lineage.

11. See Williams 1963: 222-224 and 149-166 for detailed textually-based discussions of vaiyavacc and dan.

12. evam vratasthito bhaktya saptaksetryam dhanam vapan/dayaya catinesu mahasravaka ucyate//Yogasastra 3.119.

13. saptaksetri jinabimba-jinabhavana-"gama-sadhu-sadhvi-sravaka-sravika-laksana. Svopajnavrtti on Yogasastra 3.119 (p. 564). According to contemporary understanding of the fields, the seven are ranked hierarchically, as money given in a lower field can be transferred to a higher field, but not vice-versa. This hierarchical understanding is not found in Hemacandra's text.

14. I use the English noun "gift" and verb "to gift," instead of the commoner "donation" and "to give" in order to indicate the formal, ritual status of such transactions. This usage accords with that found in other recent discussions of dan, such as Haynes 1987.

15. bhaktipurvakam hi saptaksetryam yathocitam danam. Svopajnavrtti on Yogasastra 3.119 (p. 576).

16. Tari pase dhan che teno sate ksetrama sadvyay karva purvak punya uparjan karto ja. Malel laksmino lhavo leto ja. Tethi manusyajanmane safal karto ja.

17. tasyasanna ratiranucari kirtirutkanthita srih snigdha buddhih paricayapara cakravarttitvarddhih/ panau prapta tridivakamala kamuki muktisampat saptaksetryam vapati vipulam vittabijam nijam yah // Sinduraprakarana 80.

18. See Laidlaw 1995:309-313 for a more extended description of the process of food gathering and gifting in Jaipur.

19. There should be no pollution due to death, birth, or menstruation. Should the mendicant accidentally enter a polluted house, he or she would have to perform a prayascitt (penance), usually some sort of abstention from food.

20. The Hindi equivalent is "padariye."

21. James Laidlaw (1995: 306) has observed that the gocari paradigm also prevents the mendicant from being, even unwittingly, the occasion of the layperson's accruing negative karma through the violence involved in preparing food.

22. While I have observed the ritual in Delhi, my description here is based primarily upon that of Mahias, with additional or different details from Shanta as appropriate. See also Fischer and Jain (1977: 74-76) for twelve photographs of the ritual.

23. The technical term for such a resolution is abhigrah. They are less common, but by no means rare, among Svetambars, where they are an optional, not a mandatory, practice. Tatia and Kumar (1981: 57-58), citing the c. sixth century C.E. Brhatkalpasutrabhasya of Sanghadasagani, give a detailed synopsis of the Svetambar understanding of this topic, which they translate as "secret resolve."

The biographies of the Jinas are replete with such resolutions. A famous example comes from the biography of Hemacandra's biography of Mahavir in his Trisastisalakapurusacaritra (1962: 112). Mahavir took an abhigrah to break a fast only if he were offered unspiced boiled lentils by "a princess, who has been reduced to slavery, her feet bound by iron chains, shaven, fasting, weeping from distress, one foot inside the threshold, the other one outside... [and who has] turned away from the house all seeking alms." (I have slightly altered the passage for clarity.)

In the course of my fieldwork, one sadhu vowed to break his varsi tap ("year-long fast," a special food restriction lasting thirteen months) only if three requirements were met: (1) there should be only nine rickshas and nine jeeps present in the upasray compound; (2) on his gocari he should meet any two women who had just come from a particular nearby town bringing sugarcane juice for his fast-breaking; and (3) he should meet any three men who had come from another particular nearby town and were at the time wearing their puja clothes, the pure clothes worn for ritual performance. All three requirements were met, and so he broke his fast.

Thomas Zwicker (1984-1985: 5/27-29.17) reported that once a teenage Jain girl in a small village vowed not to eat until both he and a certain sadhu stood before her. Since such an abhigrah if carried to its logical conclusion could result in death, there was much frantic scurrying to try to meet the girl's unstated requirements. At the same time, everyone was peeved at the girl's willful demand.

I encountered various explanations for such abhigrahs, but no one was confident of their response, and they were clearly uncertain as to the rationale behind such practices. Some said that it exhibited the willpower or telepathic powers of the sadhu. Nor do Tatia and Kumar provide any rationale. But it seems evident that the abhigrah helps prevent any unconscious intentionality behind the mendicant's gocari; intentionality could involve the mendicant in the karmically-harmful violence involved in the food preparation, and could also lead to the establishment of emotional attachments (even if only fondness or preference) between mendicants and laity.

24. namostu namostu namostu tistha tistha tistha man suddhi vacan suddhi kam suddhi ahar jal suddh hai bhojan-sala me praves kijiye

This is according to Mahias (1985: 250); I have replaced her Hindi-ized Sanskrit form tistho with the proper Sanskrit form tistha, as this is found in all other sources. An anonymous pamphlet (Balyogi n. d.) in the possession of Lawrence Babb gives the more Sanskritic kary in place of kam. Shanta gives "[my] body is pure" (kay suddhi), as does Zydenbos. The meaning is largely the same, and the formula of dividing intentions into mind, speech, and body is common in Jainism (as well as South Asia in general). Further, in place of "please enter into the eating house" (bhojan-sala me praves kijiye), the pamphlet gives "please enter into my house" (mere ghar me praves kariye). According to Shanta (1985: 507), the formula of inviting the mendicant to partake of food is simpler:

I venerate, I venerate, I venerate. Stay, stay here. (vandami vandami vandami atra tistha tistha)

In Shanta's description, the other phrases are uttered later in the ritual. The slight variants found in different written sources are par for the course of most Jain rituals.

25. Antaray ("hindrance") is that form of karma in Jain theory which blocks the innate energy of the soul (Jaini 1979: 123). In other words, the impurity is a sign of a karmic hindrance in the mendicant's spiritual-physical makeup which should be addressed by added asceticism, in this case a further restriction on the intake of food.

26. See Cort 1995.

27. I have placed the term 'sin' within quotation marks to indicate that this is a rather problematic English translation for the Indic term pap. Sin is an extremely weighted term in Christian and Jewish theology, and these preunderstandings can obscure an adequate understanding of pap for many Euro-American readers. Nor does the word sin fully indicate the extent to which pap is the binary oposite of punya, 'merit,' an opposition seen clearly in the synonymous pairings of subh - asubh and mangal - amangal. Nonetheless I have retained the use of sin, since this is found extensively in the scholarly literature on exchange in South Asia.

28. See also Toffin's (1990) and Parry's (1994: 135-139) pointed critiques of parts of Raheja's thesis.

29. Parry (1994:130) notes that daksina is not completely free of perilous side-effects either. While dan is widely used for all forms of gifting, one finds many texts and informants who distinguish dan as gifting to socio-moral inferiors from other forms of gifting, such as daksina, to socio-moral superiors. In the Jain case, this is reflected in the frequently-heard comment that supatra dan, which by definition must be given to a superior, i.e., to mendicants and Jina images, is in fact not a form of dan at all. On this see also Laidlaw 1995: 316.

30. There is a degree of overlap in Hindu and Jain understandings of the effects of dan to world-renouncing mendicants. Parry (1994: 129-130) observes of "the bhiksha (or bhikh) given in alms to an ascetic (or beggar), and the chanda donated towards the upkeep of a monastery" that "neither of them is said to contain the sins of the donor." See also Babb 1986: 64-70, 210-214.

31. In Jain karma theory, karma is divided into two broad categories. Auspicious or good (subh) karma is also termed merit (punya), while inauspicious or bad (asubh) karma is also termed sin or demerit (pap). The results of the former lead to improvement of one's ontological status within the worldly realm of rebirth (samsar), whereas the results of the latter lead to a deterioriation of one's ontological status. Since karma in all forms, bad and good, is the cause of bondage to samsar, neither form of karma can lead to liberation, and how far good karma (punya) can help one along the path to liberation has been a subject of extensive controversy in Jain history. In the end, liberation is attained only by ridding the soul of all karmic effects; the spiritual practices that lead to this state are characterized as pure (suddh).

32. Karma accrues to the soul through three mechanisms: the actions one performs, the actions one causes others to do, and approval (anumodan) of the actions of others. Thus the mendicant has to be careful not to appear even to approve of the way a householder has prepared the food.

33. Similarly a Brahman in theory can accept dan without endangering himself if he is a supatra, i.e., if he lives a life that closely approximates to that of an ascetic renouncer; but since the Brahman by definition is a householder, he cannot fully embody the required ascetic and renunciatory practices. The very fact of accepting of the dan "irretrievably compromises this ideal of ascetic autonomy" (Parry 1994: 131), and indicates that he was not truly a supatra.

34. jinavacananusarena samyakcaritramanupalayatam durlabham manusyajanma saphalikurvatam svayam tirnanam param tarayitum. Svopajnavrtti on Yogasastra 3.119 (p. 572).

35. See Cort 1991 on this dramatic change in the nature of Murtipujak mendicancy. Josephine Reynell found similar Jain attitudes to dan and merit among Svetambar Murtipujak Jains of the Khartar Gacch in Jaipur. She has written (1987: 355), "... dan is seen as indicative of inner spiritual purity but this is not achieved through the donor's sins leaving with the donation. Any accumulated sin must bear its fruit. The only way that dan can affect sin is that the act of dan accumulates punya which may then modify the future consequences of any sin already accumulated."

36. This analysis also sheds light on the moral force behind the decision of the early Buddhist (and some early Jain) renouncers to adopt consciously the epithet "beggar" (bhiksu, bhikkhu). To accept willingly a title indicative of one who is the unwilling recipient of worldly pap is an even stronger expression of the renunciation of worldly values than we see in the carefully controlled renunciation in the practice of most Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu renouncers.

37. The situation of the food offered before the image of the Jina may reflect a slightly different understanding. As Babb (1988) notes, this food becomes a sort of "hot potato," the disposal of which presents a dilemma to the Jains. Orthoprax and orthodox Jains cannot accept this food, and so it is either passed on in the form of salary (not dan) to the non-Jain temple servants, or else sold in the market to non-Jains. The stringency of restrictions encircling this food would seem to indicate that it is in fact a bearer of some pap. Taking all these different forms of transaction together, the net increase in punya within the Jain universe might be in part a result of the beneficial effects of the Jina's actions while alive, in part a result of the pious, ascetic acts of contemporary Jain mendicants, and in part a result of the passing on of pap to non-Jains. In other words, the Jains do not operate in a zero-sum economy for two reasons: (1) the abilities of the Jain supatras, the Jinas and the Jain mendicants, both to create punya and to eliminate pap; and (2) the presence of non-Jain receptacles for pap.

38. sarva-kalyana-karana.

39. See Fischer and Jain 1978: I for an illustrated discussion of the intersection of the five kalyanaks and Jain ritual life.

40. sarva-mangala-mangalya.

41. I prefer "holy" to "auspicious." The former term translates to an English-speaking audience some of the numinous power of mangal, a power missing in the more academic but antiseptic "auspicious."

42. A complete analysis here would also include ritual transactions between Jain laity and unliberated (samsarik) deities, from whom prasad can be received. But here also we find the Jain ritual system at pains to control the possible negative effects of the transactions, by limiting the kinds of permissible offerings, and in some cases restricting the movement of the prasad. See Cort 1989: 405-407 for a preliminary discussion of some of these issues in the case of Ghantakam Mahavir, a Jain protector deity whose shrine at Mahudi in north Gujarat is one of the most popular of all Jain pilgrimage destinations.


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1999 The Aharadana to a Digambara Ascetic: The Ritual and its Significance. In Olle S. Qvarnstrom and N.K. Wagle (eds.), Approaches to Jaina Studies: Philosophy, Logic, Rituals and Symbols. Toronto: University of Toronto Centre for South Asian Studies.

John E. Cort is associate professor of religion at Denison University. He is the author of several dozen essays on the Jains, and editor of Kendall W. Folkert, Scripture and Community: Collected Essays on the Jains (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993), and Open Boundaries: Jain Communities and Cultures in Indian History (Albany: SUNY Press, 1998).
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Author:Cort, John E.
Publication:Journal of Asian and African Studies
Date:Feb 1, 1999
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