The fourfold restraint of the Jains (DN2 , MN56)

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In DN 2 and MN 56 we find a description of the so-called “four-fold restraint” (cātuyāmasaṃvarasaṃvut) ascribed to the Jains, in particular their leader, Mahāvīra. The passage does not seem to equate directly with any known Jain teachings. Given that their early texts were lost, it’s unclear if this is a genuine memory of an authentic Jain teaching, or a somewhat garbled, perhaps satirical, teaching ascribed to them by the Buddhists.

I won’t review the various translations, commentarial interpretations, or parallels here; suffice to say that I don’t find any of them hugely compelling. In my interpretation, I will endeavor to find a reading that is gracious to both the Buddhist and Jaina traditions. That is, I will assume that it is a genuine Jaina practice which makes sense in terms of their broader philosophy, and that this is not being misrepresented by the Buddhist texts.

The key term is vāri, which may be a pun with the two senses of “water” and “restraint”. However, given that the dominant sense of the word in Pali is water, that rules regarding water are common in Jainism, and that the terms make sense in a watery context, I will accept that this is the primary meaning.

sabbavārivārito: Here vārita is a causitive, meaning “is held back or obstructed by”. I interpret this as referring to the Jain practice of not swimming in rivers or otherwise crossing water in a way that might harm the life therein.
sabbavāriyutto: A common sense of yutta is “devotion, committment”, and here I suggest it refers to an ascetic’s caring for and dedication to looking after water, due to the life forms it contains.
sabbavāridhuto: Dhuta is well-known as the Pali dhutaṅga, austere practices. It is based on a root “to shake off”. However as a technical term it is not well established in the EBTs, nor, it seems, in the Jain texts. There is a chapter titled dhuyaṁ in the Ācaraṅga, however the term itself only appears in the chapter in a vague sense (“the doctrine of dhuya”). Jacobi titled the text “cleansing” and Pali translators seem to have followed this. However, there is nothing really about cleansing specifically in the chapter. Rather, it concerns letting go, renunciation, or “shaking off” worldly things generally. It may also be related to the Jain practice of not using towels, heat, or other such harmful methods of drying the body (if, by accident, they happen to fall in water). They are just supposed to dry off naturally.
sabbavāriphuṭo: Phuṭa means “spread, pervade”, and in Buddhist texts is used in this sense with water in the jhana similes. But it is also used in the sense of worms or little creatures that devour a corpse (Thag 5.1, Thag 6.4). Perhaps it refers to the fact that the body is pervaded by water containing little creatures, regarding which a Jain ascetic must still practice non-harming.

So my translation is:

Take a Jain ascetic who may be restrained in the fourfold restraint: obstructed by all water, devoted to all water, shaking off all water, pervaded by all water.


I totally see what you’re doing here, but I really think it was intentionally satirical, and a quite genius satire at that. So in one way it means exactly what you just said, but in another way it means that the jains are:
obstructed by restraint (their intense asceticism gets in the way)
committed to restraint
letting go of restraint (because they’re goal is actually to let go, similar to buddhism)
suffused with restraint (because it is actually their wrong practice that is keeping them from nibbana)
I also think even the water take on it is a satire, making fun of them for not being able to go in water, but literally being made of it (suffused, pervaded).
So the joke is really quite clever, and it really shows how jainism, though similar in many ways to buddhism, is certainly not buddhism, or the true Dhamma. It is strange to think though, it’s as if a counterfeit Dhamma came to be before the actual Dhamma itself. This is all my perspective of course, I always could be incorrect in this.


Doesn’t the Buddha in a sutta make fun of those ascetics who are cleansed by water where he says the fish would be more purer than them? :slightly_smiling_face:

with metta


Well, it’s a possibility, and we know the Buddha did use satire quite frequently when treating those of other religions, including the Jains; notably in talking of how Mahavira, despite claiming to know everything, still gets bitten by a dog!

But I’m not seeing anything in this context to specifically indicate that satire is meant here. The language seems quite formal and appropriate here, and I can’t think of any narrative context that would indicate satire is meant. Is there something I’m missing?

This is just an example, I know, but I can’t see why this would be an object of satire. The whole point of Jainism is compassion and non-harming, and the root of that is recognizing that there is a similarity between oneself and others. So they’re saying, “I am made of water, this water is alive and consciousness, and it is similar to water outside me which is also alive and conscious, therefore I should strive to avoid harming it”. While this philosophy may or may not be correct, I can’t see that it’s something deserving of satire: it’s quite beautiful really. What the Buddha satirized was some of the extreme claims and practices of Jainism.


Well I certainly trust your analysis more than mine. I guess the only reason I thought so was because of the two-fold meaning I saw with the word water and restraint being the same or similar. There is obviously the possibility that I’m just reading too deeply into something that isn’t really there. Also, I actually wasn’t thinking that it was the Buddha who was being sardonic, but more so the compilers of this particular sutta, only because just as you said, this would be a seemingly low blow attack against the Jains themselves, something the Buddha I don’t think was known for.


Anyone who reads up on the Jains in the EBT can see that it’s a weird relationship. They are a competing sect centered around non-violence and yet - according to the EBT - destined for a horrible rebirth, with an influential leader who is mentioned quite a bit. But there are enough inconsistencies to see a prominent role of the compilers and editors as @jimisommer argues.

For example the death story of Nataputta in MN 56 is ridiculous:

Then, since the Nigantha Nataputta was unable to bear this honour done to the Blessed One, hot blood then and there gushed from his mouth.

Also there is the claim of omniscience that appears in AN 3.74, AN 9.38, MN 14, MN 101. In my view it’s an AN source that found its way into the MN. Anyhow, the Buddha doesn’t react consistently to it.

At one place, as @sujato mentions the Buddha ridicules Nataputta for it (MN 76, without mentioning him by name but the reference is rather clear). First of all this text is not backed up by another piece of AN or SN. But more importantly, since it’s very unlikely that Buddha and Nataputta actually met, this ridicule would be based on hearsay - and usually the texts are quite good in telling us what is based on hearsay or firsthand experience.

In contrast, in AN 9.38 where the Buddha is confronted with the supposed claim of Nataputta’s omniscience he deems it as irrelevant and goes on to teach the Dhamma - a much more noble approach…

About the four restraints, it might well be that it means water since the Niganthas had a special relationship to it (boiling, straining, not-swimming etc). All-in-all it’s just regrettable that we don’t have more doctrinal positions on the Niganthas in the EBT.

A few practices are described in the Greek source of Strabo, Geographica XV, and we can assume that some Jains are meant:

Onesicritus [a companion of Alexander] found, at the distance of 20 stadia from the city, fifteen men standing in different postures, sitting or lying down naked, who continued in these positions until the evening, and then returned to the city. The most difficult thing to endure was the heat of the sun, which was so powerful, that no one else could endure without pain to walk on the ground at mid-day with bare feet.


The most interesting thing to me is the remarkable similarity between the two. There are obviously major doctrinal positions that they totally missed and thankfully the Buddha came along and corrected, but their meditative practice is really quite impressive considering. They give different names to certain terms, and use some others differently, but quite often you can do less than strenuously mental gymnastics to reconcile the two. They also seem to practice meditation much more heroically than most buddhist today. It makes me wonder, if some of them would see their faults and start practicing in the way the Buddha taught, they might reach awakening more than most of us!


I am totally unaware of what Jaina meditation actually is. Do you have any reliable source for that?

As far as I know, the logic of their contemplative efforts is mostly based on the numbing effects of pain. They do then take that numbness as an indicator that the soul is being stripped of the kamma particles/substance which effectively stops it from floating up to the roof of the universe and sticking there. Yep, this is what liberation means to them: :sweat_smile:

According to Jain texts, the liberated pure soul (Siddha) goes up to the summit of universe (Siddhashila) and dwells there in eternal bliss.
– Wikipedia

I see no way to reconcile this crazy world view to the dependent origination-centered spiritual path Buddhism is all about.

Hence, I do really doubt any Jaina “meditator” (or masochist?!) has any chance to prosper in terms of Buddhist meditation without giving up completely their path of pain and heroic endurance.

By the way, we see in MN36 that this is exactly what the Boddhisattva did and allowed awakening to take place within himself:

“I thought: ‘Whatever recluses or brahmins in the past have experienced painful, racking, piercing feelings due to exertion, this is the utmost, there is none beyond this.
And whatever recluses and brahmins in the future will experience painful, racking, piercing feelings due to exertion, this is the utmost, there is none beyond this.
And whatever recluses and brahmins at present experience painful, racking, piercing feelings due to exertion, this is the utmost, there is none beyond this.
But by this racking practice of austerities I have not attained any superhuman states, any distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones. Could there be another path to enlightenment?’

“I considered: ‘I recall that when my father the Sakyan was occupied, while I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I entered upon and abided in the first jhāna, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion. Could that be the path to enlightenment?’ Then, following on that memory, came the realisation: ‘That is indeed the path to enlightenment.’

“I thought: ‘Why am I afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensual pleasures and unwholesome states?’ I thought: ‘I am not afraid of that pleasure since it has nothing to do with sensual pleasures and unwholesome states.’

“I considered: ‘It is not easy to attain that pleasure with a body so excessively emaciated. Suppose I ate some solid food—some boiled rice and porridge.’ And I ate some solid food—some boiled rice and porridge.
“Now when I had eaten solid food and regained my strength, then quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I entered upon and abided in the first jhāna, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion. But such pleasant feeling that arose in me did not invade my mind and remain.

“With the stilling of applied and sustained thought, I entered upon and abided in the second jhāna…With the fading away as well of rapture…I entered upon and abided in the third jhāna…With the abandoning of pleasure and pain…I entered upon and abided in the fourth jhāna…But such pleasant feeling that arose in me did not invade my mind and remain.


The old Jaina sources unfortunately don’t have much of meditation instructions in the Buddhist sense. Later texts have the notion of vitarka & vicara, but it might well come from Buddhism. Still whatever the two precisely mean, everyone who attempts meditation deals from the beginning with thoughts and the seemingly endless movements of the mind so it’s not necessary that the Buddha came up with these notions of the very first Jhana. So even if I wanted to numb myself I would come across them without necessarily developing bliss.

I’m highly skeptical about this passage (just an opinion), because these biographical claims here and in MN 12 are not backed up by other sources and for my taste it carries a bit too much the argument of ‘been-there, done-that’. So Buddhist followers wouldn’t need to worry about these practices, because the Buddha did it all to no avail.

Asceticism in Buddhism is awkward. We revere Mahakassapa for it, and are in awe hearing the feat of Japanese and Korean monks sitting for ten hours straight. On the other hand there is the strong notion of its pointlessness and ‘why should I do this to myself?’

What we tend to forget here is that whatever asceticism someone practices they tackle one of the big obstacles for progress, i.e. ‘I am the body’ and our almost hopeless exposure to pleasure-seeking and displeasure-avoidance. In a good case scenario an ascetic might come to the conclusion that s/he is not the body, nor the feelings just from that practice. So I tend to agree with @jimisommer that ascetics who switch to Buddhist views might progress faster than others if they are mentally flexible.


Thanks for sharing your point of view. I above just created a separate topic to discuss this.

Please kindly share with us your reasons for skepticism and as well, if possible, what could be the argument to take those accounts as legit.


IMO the Buddha shredded their doctrines but actually said to keep supporting the persons, even after their supporters turned to the Buddha’s teachings. :man_shrugging:

with metta


I was reading about Jainism and came across the fact that when referring to the practice of Jains Buddhist scriptures only mention four key spiritual principles, while current Jain tradition has five principles.

This is taken by some scholars as evidence that the Jainism in practice in the time of Buddha was still traditionally linked to the teachings of Pārśvanātha / Pārśva, which was framed around four restraints: ahimsa, aparigraha, achaurya/asteya and satya. And it was only with time that the fifth principle of brahmacharya introduced by Mahavira became mainstream.

Nevertheless, when I re-read the essay above written by bhante @sujato, I am puzzled by how are scholars able to come up with the aforementioned hypothesis given that the fourfold restraints mentioned in DN2 are not exactly aligned with the hypothetical pre-mahavira vows of non-violence, non-greediness, non-stealing and non-lying.

Is it the case scholars just match the number of vows and overlook the weirdly unique way those are detailed in the Buddhist scriptures?


The reason is that the description of ‘cātuyāmasaṃvarasaṃvuta’ attributed to Nigaṇṭha Nāṭaputta in DN 2 is unique. It is neither found in any of the five parallel versions of the Śrāmaṇyaphala Sūtra, nor elsewhere in the Pāli canon, and as far as I know, it is also not found anywhere in the Jain scriptures. The conclusion is therefore justified that this description is a fabrication of the Pāli ‘Dīgha-reciters’ in order to emphasize the ridiculousness of the answer given by Nigaṇṭha Nāṭaputta to the kings question.

The Nigaṇṭhas reply to the kings question in the Saṃghabhedavastu of the Mūla-Sarvāstivādins, corresponding with the Tibetan parallel and one Chinese parallel of the Śrāmaṇyaphala Sūtra, is as follows:

(A 506b) sa evam āha: aham asmi mahārāja evaṃdṛṣṭir evaṃvādī - yat kiṃcid ayaṃ puruṣapudgalaḥ prativedayate sarvaṃ tat pūrvahaitukam iti purāṇānāṃ karmaṇāṃ tapasā vāntībhāvaḥ, navānāṃ karmaṇām akaraṇasatusamudghātaḥ, evam āytyām anavasravaḥ, anavasravāt karmakṣayaḥ, karmakṣayād duhkhakṣayaḥ, duḥkhakṣayād duḥkhasyāntakriyā bhavati iti

Saṃghabhedavastu II 226

As MacQueen observes in his ’ A Study of the Śrāmaṇyaphala Sūtra’ (p.161):
‘This doctrine is especially impressive in so far as it seems to represent a genuine attempt on the part of the Buddhists to understand their rivals rather than merely to poke fun at them’.

A Study of the Śrāmaṇyaphala Sūtra

This description has a parallel in MN 101, Devadaha Sutta:

Bhagavā etadavoca - santi, bhikkhave, eke samaṇabrāhmaṇā evaṃvādino evaṃdiṭṭhino - ‘yaṃ kiñcāyaṃ purisapuggalo paṭisaṃvedeti sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā, sabbaṃ taṃ pubbekatahetu. Iti purāṇānaṃ kammānaṃ tapasā byantībhāvā, navānaṃ kammānaṃ akaraṇā, āyatiṃ anavassavo; āyatiṃ anavassavā kammakkhayo; kammakkhayādukkhakkhayo; dukkhakkhayā vedanākkhayo; vedanākkhayā sabbaṃ dukkhaṃ nijjiṇṇaṃ bhavissatī’ti. Evaṃvādino, bhikkhave, nigaṇṭhā.

MN 101, Devadaha Sutta, MN II 214 (cf. AN I 173)

MacQueen quotes SN 2.30 Nānātitthiyasāvaka Sutta (SN I 66) as a reference in the Pāli canon for attributing ‘cātuyāmasaṃvarasaṃvuta’ to Nigaṇṭha Nāṭaputta. However there ‘cātuyāmasusaṃvuta’ is given as an attribute of Nigaṇṭha Nāṭaputta by a certain Devaputta visiting the Buddha, the term itself is not further described here.

The reason for attributing ‘cātuyāmasaṃvara’ to Pārśva lies partly in the Jain tradition itself. Contrary to what is often asserted, the oldest part of the Jain canon is of great antiquity. The Āyāraṃga Sutta in the recension available to us has been assigned by scholars to around the 3rd century B.C. on philological grounds. H. Jacobi, the editor of the text, has shown that parts thereof represent remnants of an even earlier original. In the second book of the Āyāraṃga Sutta (lecture 15) it is said that the parents of Mahāvīra (Nigaṇṭha Nāṭaputta) have been worshippers of Pārśva. In the same section we find the earliest detailed explanation of the fivefold restraint, and already there it is attributed to Mahāvīra. The fifth restraint, ‘apariggaha’, is explained as follows:

‘If a creature with ears hears agreeable and disagreeable sounds, it should not be attached to, nor delighted with, nor desiring of, nor infatuated by, nor covetous of, nor disturbed by the agreeable or disagreeable sounds. The Kevalin says: If a Niggaṃtha (Nigaṇṭha) is thus affected by the pleasant or unpleasant sounds, he might fall from the law declared by the Kevalin, because of the destruction or disturbance of his peace. If it is impossible not to hear sounds which reach the ear, the mendicant should avoid love or hate, originated by them. A creature with ears hears agreeable and disagreeable sounds. This is the first clause.’
(Translation H. Jacobi, Jaina Sūtras, p. 208)

The same is repeated for the other four senses. This sounds very much like the ‘indriyasaṃvara’ of the Buddhist texts. Although the attribution of ‘cātuyāmasaṃvara’ to Pārśva is purely hypothetical, some scholars have argued that ‘apariggaha’ was split by Mahāvīra into two, since his fourth vow, ‘mehuṇa’ (methuna) is in a way already implied in the fifth, which he specified only separately by creating the fourth vow.


Thanks, that’s a really helpful explanation.


Thanks for you detailed answer.
I wasn’t unaware of how the Pali DN2 is unique in the listing of the four restraints. To me this gives strength to the satirical reading of that mention in the scriptures.


Do you maybe know where on the internet one can find the prakrit originals of the jain texts`?


The most important Jain Prakrit texts can be found on the GRETIL server.

However some remarks may be in order here. In the case of the Āyāraṃga Sutta the GRETIL text contains extra material which is unaccounted for. I couldn’t find out from where or which edition this extra text was brought in. It results in a new arrangement of chapters and numbering of paragraphs, sometimes leading to considerable difficulties in locating the corresponding passages in Jacobi’s edition of the text as well as in his translation.
More serious is the fact that the whole of the second book is missing in the GRETIL text. It seems therefore advisable to resort to Jacobi’s excellent edition of the text, which can be downloaded from (though it may take a couple of minutes).

Next to the Āyāraṃga Sutta in terms of antiquity is the non-canonical Isibhāsiyāiṃ (‘Sayings of the Sages’), the available recension is assigned by scholars to the 2nd century B.C. on linguistic grounds, part of which goes back to considerably earlier originals. It is a highly interesting text, and badly neglected by scholarship, the reasons for that are really incomprehensible.
Unfortunately the GRETIL text is riddled with mistakes, which may be due to a technical failure since the same errors and elisions are repeated and scattered all over the text.
The Isibhāsiyāiṃ was brought to light and edited by Walther Schubring in 1942. The revised edition of the text was published in 1969 and accompanied by a German translation (Isibhāsiyāiṃ - Aussprüche der Weisen, De Gruyter, 1969). It can be found in major public and university libraries around the world.
There exists also an edition of the text with an English translation of Schubring’s German translation (Isibhāsiyāiṃ - A Jaina Text of Early Period). It was published by the L.D. Institute of Indology, Ahmedabad, India, in 1974 and is available in some countries via university libraries.


This reminded me of the called-eccentric stance of Tendai-shū regarding the Buddha-nature of insentient things.


In a recent post on this thread I noted as part of a concluding remark that ‘the attribution of ‘cātuyāmasaṃvara’ to Pārśva is purely hypothetical’. However after revisiting the section devoted to Pārśva in the Isibhāsiyāiṃ (31), that statement has to be revised.

In the Isibhāsiyāiṃ each of the 45 sections basically follow the same structure: First comes the dictum of the sage, which is a more or less laconic statement in prose or verse, which is expressly attributed to the sage (e.g. ‘pāseṇa arahatā isiṇā buitaṃ’).
This is followed by more detailed considerations of varying length in prose or verse, culminating in a shared concluding statement (‘evaṃ se siddhe buddhe virate vipāve dante davie alaṃ tāī ṇo puṇar-avi icc-atthaṃ havvam āgacchati tti bemi’).

The designation ‘cāujjāme ṇiyaṇṭhe’ (Pāli: cātuyāmo nigaṇṭho) occurs in the explanatory section to the dictum of Pārśva, and already Walther Schubring in his introduction to the first edition of the text (1942) remarked that within the Isibhāsiyāiṃ it is found only here. He even sees it as the only distinguishing feature of the section dedicated to Pārśva, since the rest of the text could have been attributed to any of the other sages occurring in the Isibhāsiyāiṃ as well. However that be, the designation ‘cāujjāme ṇiyaṇṭhe’ is significant here.

What we learn from this is that the distinction between the followers of the ‘fourfold restraint’ and the followers of the ‘fivefold restraint’ was already drawn in the earliest Jain texts available to us. In the Isibhāsiyāiṃ (31.39) the ‘fourfold restraint’ is clearly associated with Pārśva, while in the second book of the Āyāraṃga Sutta (lecture 15) the ‘fivefold restraint’ is attributed to Mahāvīra.

However this does not mean that the rules related to the ‘fourfold restraint’ are associated with Pārśva alone. The four rules are an integral part of the first section of the Isibhāsiyāiṃ which is devoted to Nārada, a well known figure in Brahmanical, Jain and Buddhist traditions, although here they are not designated as ‘cāujjāme’.

This situation fits well into the larger historical picture as outlined by Thomas Oberlies, who conducted a literary historical study of Brahmanical, Jain and Buddhist observances. He concludes that ‘chronological considerations make it highly probable that it (i.e. the set of rules) originated within the vedic-brahmanical culture. While in very conservative Jainism the old rules have been basically maintained, yet tightening its ascetic rigour considerably, Buddhism renewed them in many respects’ (Bulletin d’Études Indiennes 15, 1997, p. 196 ff.).

In historical terms the Jain rule concerning attachment (pariggaha) was originally an expansion of the old rule concerning sexual intercourse (mehuṇa), which was later on reinstated as a separate precept by Mahāvīra. Interestingly, in the detailed explanation given in the Āyāraṃga Sutta the prohibition concerning sexual intercourse has been expanded to include deities besides humans and animals.
In Buddhism the four rules have been preserved in the ‘pārājika’-section of the Pātimokkha, although here some regulations have been restricted to special cases, with the general rule occurring in other sections of the Sutta demanding milder disciplinary action. Much more accurate than the ‘pārājika’-rules the said observances correspond to the first four of the ten ‘dasasīla’, which are undertaken by the novice on the occasion of his admission into the Buddhist order.