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   Fundamental Features of Jainism

Supreme Austerities or Penance

  (Uttam Tapa Dharma)

Source religious books written by Upadhaya Munishri Kamakumar Nandi ji in excerpt form.


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Penance is a cataract that washes away all blemishes and purges the soul of all karmic matter’

 The word austerity conveys the sense-to vanquish the enemies of soul; heating agent to purify the real self; that which burns and annihilates the karmic matter; penance; and rigorous religious meditation.


Penance is an easy medium to lead a living being towards spiritual up lift. All the great men born in the world so far became great only by practicing austerity. Penance is an extremely significant function of life. Those who adopt austerity in life, sail across the ocean of the world smoothly i.e., get rid of the cycle of birth and death. Austerity is the only path to attain liberation.


Nothing can be gained in life without austerity; the sun goes through heat and fire; that is why it supplies light and warmth to one and all. Likewise, the moon and stars undergo austerity in their own way. No work is fulfilled in the world without penance. If the sun had not been hot, the land would not have become fertile; for in the absence of the sun rays, no existence of any vegetation would have been possible on the earth. All vegetation prepares its food itself from the soil by absorbing the sun rays. In ‘Kural Kavya’ one of the scripture Acharya Kundkund Swamy has said,” The more heat the land gets, the more fertile it becomes. The seeds sown at that place germinate early and

Bear fruits quickly. The sun’s own heating is essential for it.”

 Tapa (penance) is of two folds;

a)     Bahya Tapa (external austerities), referring to food and physical activities. The ‘Tattavartha sutra’ and ‘Dash Bhakti’ categorize the external penance thus:

i          Vivikta-Shayyasana- Sitting and sleeping in a secluded place devoid of animate beings;

ii        Kayaklesh- mortification of the body so long as the mind is not disturbed;

iii      Vritti-Parisamkhyana- taking a mental vow to accept food from a house-holder only if certain conditions are fulfilled without letting anyone know about the vow;

iv      Anashana- fasting, to give up all the four type of food for the sake of meditation;

v        Avamodarya-eating less than one’s fill or less than one has appetite for; and

vi       Rasa-Parityaga- daily renunciation of one or more of six kinds of delicacies namely, ghee (made from butter), milk, cured sugar, salt and oil.

b) Abhyantara Tapa- (internal austerities), referring to spiritual     

     discipline. The internal penance has been categorized as below:

i          Svadhyaya- study of scriptures for getting rid of the ambition for name and fame, for fame is the last infirmity of noble minds,’

ii        Prayashcitta- expiation or confession and repentance of sins;

iii      Dhayan- concentration of mind and not to let the mind go astray;

iv       Vaiyavrtaya-rendering service to other saints who have been rendered helpless by sickness or extreme old age;

v         Vinaya- reverence or modest behavior-to practice four types of humility in conduct


These external and internal penances form the code of conduct for the rigorous life of self-denial ascetics have to lead.


Again penance is of two kinds:

1.    Tamasa-tapasya (ku Tapa)-dark penance. The dark penances involves the ghastly and terrible practices, as to sleep on the pointed iron nails, to walk on the burning fire, to get oneself suspended from a tree, to get oneself buried in the ground.

2.    Satvika-tapasya (SU tapa)- real or true penance . The true penance involves the genuine or natural way of practicing penance. This real or true penance gives prominence to the practice of ‘Dhayan’ (meditation and ‘Upavasa’ (fasting). Dark penance is the cause of migration of soul in the universe. True penance results in the liberation of the soul. Penance is practiced for eternal bliss. It has been said:

Ø      He who has himself from greed of worldly possessions; who has got rid of all mental impurities; who has adopted nude monk hood. Who resides in mountain caves, observes the supreme penance.

Ø      Penance is that in which calamities are suffered without murmur; that in which feelings of attachments are conquered and that in which food is accepted as alms at an appropriate time from the house-holders.

Ø      Penance is that in which the five samities-regulations of movements of the body are observed. That in which full attention is paid to the three Gupties-regulation for self-control; that in which a man ponders and meditates over his self and non-self; and that in which a man sheds the feeling of vanity in his present state of birth.

Ø      Penance that in which a man ponders over the purpose of his real life; that in which the karmas are vanquished; that in which the gods give expression to their devotion; and that in which the sermons are delivered for the well-being of the mundane souls.

Ø      Penance is that by the performance of which, as a rule one attains the salvation and obtains eternal bliss.

Ø      These are the twelve type of supreme penance. Penance rids one of a miserable state of existence. We should pay homage to it with a stable mind; and discarding vanity and malice with full pride, the living beings should subjugate all the five senses.


Hence, O Mortal Man! Mortify yourself, Mortify yourself and Mortify yourself: give up the feeling of tenderness for the body; conquer desires and then you will realize that you have conquered all sorrow and misery; cut of all types of attachment, suppressed hatred, and thus you will be happy in this worldly existence and reap a rich spiritual harvest.’

 ‘Self-torture is not accurse, but a boon and a way to eternal peace.’ Indeed, sweet are the uses of penance i.e., self-torture.

 To sum up, penance teaches us to surmount hardships and difficulties willingly and cheerfully, In truth, difficulties which are part and parcel of penance are the ladders that lead us to heaven.


                                                                                    The End

Note:-The words shown in italics and green color are from prakart/sanskrit language.

In case any mistake is noticed it may be either informed to us or the contents may be read after correction.


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