The five great vows (Maha-vratas) can be adopted by monks who are very keen about the uplift of their souls and ready to sacrifice all worldly enjoyments and family ties.
For those who want to remain in family life and for whom complete avoidance of five principle sins are difficult, Jain ethics specifies the following twelve vows to be carried out by the householder.
Of this twelve vows, the first five are main vows of limited nature (Anuvratas). They are somewhat easier in comparison with great vows (Maha-vratas). The great vows are for the monks.
The next three vows are known as merit vows (Guna-vratas), so called because they enhance and purify the effect of the five main vows and raise their value manifold. It also governs the external conduct of an individual.
The last four are called disciplinary vows (Shikhsa-vratas). They are intended to encourage the person in the performance of their religious duties. They reflect the purity of one's heart. They govern one's internal life and are expressed in a life that is marked by charity. They are preparatory to the discipline of an ascetic's life.
Three merit vows (Gunavrats) and four disciplinary vows (Shikhsa-vratas) together are known as Seven vows of virtuous conduct (Shilas).
A person may adopt these vows, according to his individual capacity and circumstances with the intent to adopt ultimately as a great vows.
The layperson should be very careful while observing and following these limited vows. These vows being limited or restricted vows may still leave great scope for the commitment of sins and possession of property.
Intention in this case applies selfish motive, sheer pleasure and even avoidable negligence.
He may use force, if necessary, in the defense of his country, society, family, life, property, religious institute.
His agricultural, industrial, occupational living activities do also involve injury to life, but it should be as minimum as possible, through carefulness and due precaution.
Nonviolence is the foundation of Jain ethics.
Lord Mahavir says: `one should not injure, subjugate, enslave, torture or kill any living being including animals, insects, plants, and vegetables.'This is the essence of religion. It embraces the welfare of all animals. It is the basis of all stages of knowledge and the source of all rules of conduct. The scriptures analyze the spiritual and practical aspects of nonviolence and discuss the subject negatively and positively.
In this vow, a person avoids lies, such as giving false evidence, denying the property of others entrusted to him, avoid cheating others etc. The vow is to be followed in thought, action, and speech, and by doing it himself or by getting it done through others.
He should not speak the truth, if it harms others or hurts their feelings. He should, under these circumstances, keep silence.
In this vow, the house holder must not have a sensual relationship with anybody but one's own lawfully wedded spouse. Even with one's own spouse, excessive indulgence of all kinds of sensual pleasure need be avoided.
Lord Mahavir said, security born of material things is a delusion. To remove this delusion, one takes the vow of non-possession and realizes the perfection of the soul.One must impose a limit on one's needs, acquisitions, and possessions such as land, real estate, goods, other valuables, animals, money, etc. The surplus should be used for the common good. One must also limit the every day usage of number of food items, or articles and their quantity.
This Jain principle of limited possession for householders helps in equitable distribution of wealth, comforts, etc., in the society. Thus Jainism helps in establishing socialism, economic stability, and welfare in the world.
Non-possession, like non-violence, affirms the oneness of all life and is beneficial to an individual in his spiritual growth and to the society for the redistribution of wealth.
Consumable (Bhoga) means enjoyment of an object which can only be used once, such as food, drink, fruits and flowers.
Non-consumable (Upabhoga) means enjoyment of an object which can be used several times, such as furniture, cloths, ornaments, buildings etc.
One should, therefore, limit the use of these two items in accordance with his own need and capacity by taking this vows.
This vow provides the time limit to the commitments of sins notrestricted by Aparigraha Anuvrata.
Doing inconsiderate or useless acts such as walking on the grass unnecessarily.
Manufacturing or supplying arms for attack.
Reading or listening, improper literature, or carelessness in ordinary behavior.
Thus this vow is of great practical importance. It makes life more vigilant and sin-proof.
By giving up affection and aversion (Rag and Dvesha), observing equanimity in all objects, thinking evil of no one, and being at peace with the world, one should practice this vow of meditation (Samayik).
This vow consists in sitting down at one place for at least 48 minutes concentrating one's mind on religious activities like reading religious books, praying, or meditating. This vow may be repeated many times in a day. It is to be observed by mind, body, and speech.
The meditation of 48 minutes makes a person realize the importance of a life long vow to avoid all sinful activities and is a stepping stone to a life of full renunciation.
This means that one shall not, during a certain period of time, do any activity, business, or travel beyond a certain city, street, house or have anything to do with the enjoyment of objects beyond that limit.
This vow promotes and nourishes one's religious life and provides training for ascetic life.
One should not prepare any foods specially for monks because monks are not allowed to have such foods. Donating of one's own food and articles to monks and others, provides an inner satisfaction and raises one's consciousness to higher level. It also saves him from acquiring of more sins if he would have used the same for his nourishment, comfort and pleasure.
While earning wealth, supporting family, and taking up arms to protect himself, his family, his country, etc. against intruder, he is taught self restraint, love and enmity. On one hand, he is debarred from doing any harm to himself, to his family, to his country, or to humanity by his reckless conduct. On the other hand, by giving up attachments he gradually prepares himself for the life of ascetics.
If one goes deeper into the rules laid down, he will find that practice of limiting the number of things to be kept or enjoyed by himself eliminates the danger of concentration of wealth at one point, which will help to minimize poverty and crime in the society. Thus limiting the desires of individuals, results in a ideal society.