Home » The meaning of atom vows – Part II: Discussion

The meaning of atom vows – Part II: Discussion

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Part II: Discussion

Continued from Part I: Philosophy


In the first part of this article we have discussed the meaning of taking vows within a religious context. We gave special attention to ancient ‘atom vows’ as conceived by a Jain Saint named Tulsi and their value for present times. These vows are not for Jains alone or especially, they can be understood, taken to heart and implemented, partly or totally, by anyone belonging to any religion or no religion at all, even if they have never heard of or are not interested in Jainism.

Let us return to everyday life in modern society. These ‘little helpers’ the anuvratas, atom vows, need some explanation. In this second article we will think about the practice of these vows. We will put here some critical questions that might be asked by modern people. This is not exhaustive. The questions are only a few examples of what is on people’s minds. Then we will add some modern vows, i.e. for modern times, and everyone can think about them and add his or her own. They are merely applications of the atom vows. Finally we discuss some broader vows under the heading “An international code of conduct” that could be taken by nations to enhance the quality of our global living together.

The five anuvratas or atom-vows as formulated in the old scriptures run:

  1. Refraining from violence.
  2. Refraining from lying.
  3. Refraining from taking anything that is not given.
  4. Refraining from sexual activities (for monks); or sexual misbehavior for unmarried people and householders.
  5. Refraining from possessiveness, i.e. limiting one’s possessions.


Critical questions


Question 1:      When reading the list of possible vows (almost) all are in the negative: one should not do this, not do that. Can we not take a more positive attitude of advising what we can or should do to better our lives, in stead of ‘forbidding everything’?


Answer 1a:      If we read The Directive Principles of Anuvrat as formulated by Acharya Tulsi we see that the aim is without exception put in the positive; e.g.: Developing human unity; Developing purity; Developing truthfulness, etc., etc. All such principles can serve as a nucleus or core for meditation. The abandoning of some negative, harm producing habits, follows naturally.


A 1b: Some vows can by their nature only be put in the negative. There is no opposite to ‘I will not kill.’ Others, like ‘I will not take what is not given’ have a positive complementary: one can give to others and do so with the consideration that thus nobody reaches a situation in which he or she is challenged to steal. But that in itself does not extinguish ‘not-taking for oneself.’


A 1c: If people were by nature pure and well-willing, no negative anuvratas would have to be formulated. Once humanity has reached the stage in evolution when a spiritual and compassionate attitude is the normal way, we need only teachings that help us to practice our positive intentions more efficiently and deeply.


A 1d: In both Jainism and Buddhism (and other religions) we find the ‘thou-shalt-not’-s. The Buddhist pañcaśila or five virtues are practically the same as the anuvratas (no killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, intoxication). However in the further development of Mahayana Buddhism the path to enlightenment is phrased entirely in positive terms as the Six Perfections: giving (which includes mercy, charity and helpfulness towards all creatures); virtue; patience; courage; meditation; wisdom.


Here may be a fundamental disparity between Buddhism and Jainism. The ultimate purpose of a Jain is to reach freedom for himself, to become an arhat, enjoying the pure qualities of the soul forever. Every thought, word, or action attaches karma to the soul according to both Jains and Buddhists. But according to some Jain sects every karma, including the good ones, forms an obstruction for final liberation – which involves having no karmas left at all. But most Jains regard active true compassion as the noblest ethics, because it helps others, whatever the consequences for the one who is motivated and mobilized by this compassion. The ultimate purpose of a Mahayana Buddhist however is not liberation in the first place, but reaching the highest ability to practice compassion, for which one is prepared to give up ultimate liberation of nirvana for ages or eons. Every good action causes good karma, clinging to the soul, yes, but for the purpose of making us more skilled in helpful means. For Jains, nobility is the means, and liberation is the goal; for Mahayana Buddhism, seeking liberation is the means, and nobility is the goal.

Q 2:     Why non-violence, why non-killing? Nature, which is supposed to be God’s creation, shows nothing but killing and violence. Why should I take the trouble to abandon the pleasure of meat-eating only to save but a few cows or pigs in my whole life, whereas ‘Gods own nature’ kills by the millions everyday?

A 2a: Just reflect on the idea that you are that cow that is going to be killed right now. Would you not want to do everything to prevent yourself from being killed? Breaking through someone’s instinct for self-preservation – which is experienced as attachment to life – is causing tremendous psychological pain and involves physical cruelty. And of course the collections of pain-causing karmas cling ineradicable to the soul of the actor only to torture him or her in future with equal pain.

A 2b: Nature is not ‘Gods creation’ in the orthodox Christian sense, according to Jainism, Buddhism or universal Theosophy. Nature itself is but karma: a result of actions of an infinitude of conscious beings in the past. The universe has always existed, though the universe itself withdraws into sleep and death according to the universal law of cycles. Nature shows both compassion and cruelty, care and indifference. Plants work almost exclusively for the well-being of other creatures, producing edible fruits, oxygen and pure air, and do not fear or avoid death by running away. The whole universe is serving the souls inhabiting it. Nature shows the same basic characteristics as humans do. According to Jains, killing in nature is not a universal necessity, not even ‘natural.’ In many of their temples you can see a lion or tiger and a cow depicted drinking together from the same bowl, or even an eagle in peace with a snake it has found, showing the possibility of peace between sworn enemies. There are reports, or at least stories, from the Buddhist as well as the Jain world of places near (communities of) peaceful people where predators and preys sleep together in peace. The human mind even now has the power to make nature locally peaceful.

A 2c: In the world dominated by western scientific thinking a major mistake has been made in understanding evolution. In the last centuries people came to believe that humans stem from monkeys or have a common ancestor with them. Though this seems obvious, this has never been taught by earlier highly developed cultures I know of. (On the contrary, the Mayas of Guatemala believe that monkeys stem from men!). Genetically we are more then 99% identical with the great apes. Still, apes build no temples, and don’t take mental evolution in their own hand. Humans do. Though apparently our bodies are build of the same stuff of the earth, equally apparently our minds do not! Only humans have the conscious choice to become noble beings, taking their preceptors as examples. Divinity is the higher side of nature, though manifest nature is for humankind as the letters of the book to learn from.

Q 3: Religions teach us that death is nothing to fear, that a good life leads to a good after-life, and that death is a liberation rather than something terrifying, and most religions teach reincarnation – an idea which is becoming more and more supported by modern scientific findings and more and more accepted even in the Christian culture. Then why make such a point of killing? Why does religion oppose suicide, especially if it seems that we are not practicing much good ethics anyway?

A 3: The fundamental definition of violence given in the Tattvārtha Sūtra, the most respected scripture of the Jains of all sects, is: Violence is to hurt the prāṇas (vitalities) through vibration due to the passions, which agitate mind, body or speech (vii 13). Hurting or disturbing the prāṇas, either of others or ourselves, is due to passion. That means that all passionate feelings and thoughts, such as anger, hatred, personal love, selfish choices, selfishly motivated kind deeds, etc. are seen as violence, even if it does not lead to hurting others. But if it hurts others, my violence causes the vibration of the soul of others. If I obstruct the natural flow of prāṇas of others, for example by destroying someone’s body, or obstructing his taking birth at the destined moment, this is contrary to the natural karmic flow of nature. Even if we kill a sentient being its inner essence is immortal and it will incarnate again, but there is great personal suffering involved, and the inner being is forced to make a detour in its development, and there is huge passion at the side of the victim as well as the murderer, and/or purposeful evil intention on the side of the latter. Only karma itself can restore the balance. In fact, killing is worse for the one who kills than for the one who is killed.

In case of suicidal killing it should be born in mind that the committer is both murderer and victim. He or she can destroy the body, but not karma. Existing bad tendencies are not destroyed, but carried over to a next life. One has forsaken one’s karmic duty and opportunity.

The amount of vitality or the length of our life are greatly determined by previous karma. If someone destroys his body he cannot die. The violent suicidal will remain in a ‘limbo’ in which the same passion and action will repeat itself until the natural predestined lifespan is over, and will in cases regret the action to such an extend that he even bothers those living in physical bodies for selfish purposes.

Q 4: If we don’t kill terrorists, they will kill us.

A 4: If we kill terrorists, we ourselves are terrorists. Karma puts us in a cycle that never ends until we choose a different approach. Every individual being can only kill the illusions in himself. Terrorists are living souls as are all humans, but have wandered far away from compassion and wisdom. But as they also have a jīva or god-spark as their essence, they may eventually become gods like each of us. Even terrorists think that they serve their country, honor, or God – though some, especially their leaders may have much darker motivations, even more than they themselves are aware of. Safety measures against such violent people are at all times preferable above war and destruction. The best protection against terrorism is to genuinely understand the individual psychology or the philosophical reasons or basis behind his or her actions. Even this ‘philosophy’ we can approach with respect, and discuss its possible flaws as well as its sound origin.

Almost every (but not absolutely every) enemy can turn into a friend when he meets a heart.

Q 5: Should we let ourselves be overrun by an invading army, or kill the enemy?

A 5a: When a particular international karma presents itself, we may be faced with the situation that the only way to defend our people is by killing soldiers of the opposite party and causing all that subsequent pain and harm to their left-behind wives and children or parents. A child’s mind and feeling are still much malleable. Being unable to handle the emotional and mental impact the child may himself become filled with hatred and act accordingly in the next generation. Yet if we refuse to fight, we are possibly responsible for even much more killing and its consequent suffering. If we take the vow of non-killing deeply, as monks and quite a few principled individual people do, we should refuse military service entirely, even at the risk of punishment or execution, realizing that our so-called enemies are no enemies, but fellow human beings. We may however in case of the actual event of war face a situation where greater wisdom is simply not available to our present intelligence and power. Then an option is that we accept military service and subject our vow of non-killing to a vow to serve one’s country at any cost. The possible killing a soldier performs in a war situation attaches the karma of that act to the soldier (as far as he could be hold responsible from a divine point of view), but one may decide to bring the sacrifice of loading karma on oneself knowing that we will have to pay for that later with the genuine intention to protect our country and culture. But this can never justify the effort to destroy another country or culture. That other culture too is, at least originally, also based in universal values and virtues. Allow the other to have their own values, and at best help them to purify these values and return to their divine origin and essence, not to hunt them down to doom. No two people and no two cultures are exactly the same. Various cultures together form a mosaic of different colors which make up the eath. However the intention of the decision is in the mind, and therefore more forceful and important than physical karma.

A 5b: One may life in a country where our army and the government are offensive rather than defensive. From the point of view of non-violence one should never serve in such an army. Violence calls for violence (because most of our opponents are no Jain or Buddhist monks), and hatred creates hatred, remorse, and either willful revenge, or a future repeated karmic confrontation, and so on until one has learned to respect each other. Mentally, verbally or actively supporting violence would be against the non-violence vow.

A 5c: Even in the most dangerous situations people in crucial positions in the army can carry the wish of preventing of killing and greater suffering in their heart rather than feelings of hatred or fear, so that actual violence becomes really the last option. It all depends on to what measure in which the person who has to decide is a real hero.

Q 6: Lying is an efficient element of international politics as well as commerce. We could not survive if we were honest in all circumstances. Sometimes being honest even hurts. Why not use our intelligence to reach our goals?

A 6a: Just imagine a world in which we could trust each other. Just imagine a world in which we regard each other as brothers and sister pilgrims on a path to fulfill our Original Vow. A fundamental saying of Jainism is: ‘All beings are there to help each other (parasparograha jīvanam).’

A 6b: Speaking the truth as much as we humanly can is of course in harmony with Truth itself, which is the totality of Nature itself, even though we make mistakes through ignorance. To maintain it as a habit under all circumstances is a great training in self-discipline and unselfishness, and keeps undesirable karmas away from the soul.

A 6c: Lying distorts the mind, and will finally destroy our ability to see things as they are and our ability to acquire wisdom.

Q 7: What do you mean by ‘not taking what has not been given? Even the vegetables and fruits we eat have been taken by us from the plant kingdom.

A 7a: All we need is given to us: the air we breath, rivers bring (originally) pure water from melted sun-pervaded snow crystals, the soil we walk on and build our houses from, the thoughts we think, the fruits, seeds and minerals we need to sustain our bodies, the teachings we receive from our first day, the warmth and light of the sun, the calm of the night, all are given to us without resistance from the side of nature. It is the basic idea underlying ecological living.

A 7b: It is said that the innate wisdom in each and every soul always provides what is the best for us, to guide us, and to correct our deviations. Whatever we get is serving our purpose. Wise people accept only what they get, including their duties, because this is the fastest way to accomplishment, and because it is their karmic link with Truth. Jains depict their heroes often standing upright in contemplation and nude, symbol of complete acceptance without wish or need for protective measures. The Jain monks of the Digambara sect take this so literally that they reject every possession including clothing for their whole life, take no medicine, and accept death peacefully when it presents itself. But even in our life in ‘normal’ society we can strife to work with nature in stead of against it, and become givers rather than takers.

Q 8: Why so much fuss about sex? If we take some care we have all the means to prevent pregnancy and diseases, and we are no longer facing the health risks and social consequences of our ancestors, nor do our women have to carry the burden of almost continuous pregnancy and childcare anymore, as was the case in the past. Why always this religious suppression of our most natural and delightful passion? Why wait until marriage? Why stay with one partner if my main partner allows me to enjoy sexual freedom?

A 8a: Sex has been the greatest passion and creative energy for animals, plants, and humankind providing nature’s inventiveness with beautiful colors, forms and sounds and songs, but for humankind it has also become the greatest problem. Pregnancy, childcare, children’s premature dying, dying of women and children at birth, pain of delivery, abortion, miscarriage, hatred, jealousy, murder, war, social suppression of women, overpopulation, pollution, and besides a whole list of diseases have plagued humankind since the immemorial past in relation to this passion. All solutions for the problem have been tried, from total liberality to total abstinence, and sometimes ‘hiding’ and veiling if not jailing women away from the gaze of men who can not control their passionate mind. If we could implement absolute abstention, as has been (successfully) tried by ascetics, our species would die out with this present generation. Civilized societies have therefore found a middle way by setting all kinds of rules, such as limiting sex to one partner, and only in distinct sections of one’s lifetime, ‘taking’ no more than a limited number of children etc. Have we become addicted to this passion beyond the functional and normal measure as we see it in the animal kingdom? (Most animals mate only in season, but show no sexual passion at other times, some even are willing or fertile only on one or two days in a year, as with some lemurs, close relatives of humans.) Have we put our mind in service to get more intense and more frequent satisfaction, instead of restraining it to adjust ourselves to the precautions necessary to live in a happier world together, men and women and children alike? Has passion overruled our potential for unselfishness? A reasoned vow can help us to regulate our life to steady happiness.

A 8b: Total abstention as practiced by Christian, Buddhist, Jain and other monks is meant to strengthen the mind and the will, to ultimately overcome the passions and even subtle desires of the physical body, psychology and low mentality. When we all will become spiritualized, tremendous forces and powers awaken within us, and lack of ethical control by the mind over the body leads to disaster beyond description. Higher spiritual beings or ‘gods’ have no more gender, teaches Jainism. Also we wish to argue that much more than physical and worldly well-being is at stake. One day, in future incarnations we will all be more spiritual beings and – as is taught in occult literature which is not widely known – humanity as a whole will have abandoned the sexual way of procreation, and progeny will be produced by an action of our conscious mind and will. It is at present our duty to prepare for the future.

A 8c: As soon as a person dies, his or her next birth is already prepared in ‘him’  or ‘her’ by karma, and in due time, after we have experienced the imprinted results of our recent life on earth (sometimes called heaven and hell), the immortal part of us will be again attracted to an earthly family or environment with which it has a karmic connection. It is said (though I have not heard it from Jains) in occult literature, that the process of incarnation begins even before conception, and that mere flirtation is enough to have an impact on the waiting ego ‘in heaven.’ This makes clear that sex without the intention or preparedness to get a child causes disturbance and suffering to an ego, and disturbs its prāṇas – which answers to the definition of violence. Therefore, partnership along mental and psychological lines should be established to such an extent that one is sure of each other and of one’s own and the responsibilities of the other as a parent. With this in mind, a vow could be taking to limit one’s sexual activity to one partner who we trust in full responsibility. We may say that decent people and peoples already do this by instinct.

Q 9: Drugs. We live in a free world and our mind and psyche are our own. It is not the task of the government to tell me how to live my freedom. Our own experiences and those of others with particular drugs have been most helpful in discovering new aspects of consciousness and of my own feelings and influenced my viewpoints in a positive way. ‘I felt more peaceful than ever before.’ Moreover many peoples from the Amazon to Siberia and Vedic India and elsewhere have regarded some drugs as holy plants and have seen them as teachers or doors to other realms of perception, which may help witch doctors and sorcerers to find cures for the diseased, both psychologically and physically. Are not such plants real helpers of humankind?

A 9a: There is of course a very great difference between various drugs concerning their effect on body or psyche, their purpose of use, their risks and rewards.

Drugs which bring addiction should never be taken even for experiment. The same applies for drugs which carry great risks or cause lasting harm to body or psyche. In modern society drugs are often taking for mere enjoyment and enhancement of sensuality, which takes place on a physical and emotional level. This brings temporary pleasure, but no spiritual progress; on the contrary they distract us from our higher reason of existence, and pull us into the delights of sensuality and physical relaxation or excitation. Many also cause less or more harm to our psychological and physiological system after long term use. One can but guess about the future karma of continuous distortion of the natural mind and perception.

A 9b: Traditionally, in cultures who applied what we call drugs, did so under strict guidance of knowledgeable people and under longstanding cultural experience. Usually they are taken only by a few experts in the community. There is no purpose of enjoyment, but the purpose is to acquire particular types of wisdom and knowledge. Shamans went often through immeasurable sufferings in their life before they reached their results. They have fulfilled important functions in many societies.

Nevertheless, Buddhism, Jainism, and modern Hinduism, Islam, Christianity etc., in short all ‘major’ religions, reject all drugs (except for alcohol in the case of Christianity, but that may not have been what Jesus meant!). Also true esoteric students will never use drugs because everything one needs to reach enlightenment and wisdom is already inherent in oneself, as one’s inner god. Why? Because the purpose of religion and philosophy is much higher than psychic experience, astral knowledge, or mere psychological and physical healing. The purpose of our great teachers was and is to make humankind nobler, expand his higher mind towards the realms of spirit, and to guide humans to become gods which are infinitely more knowledgeable and wise, powerful and skillful in helping then any sorcerer, witch or mere medicine man or woman. Wisdom is the only effective medicine for all diseases and mental and psychological illusions. The astral realms of which we may get an inkling during the influence of hallucinating or passion-enhancing drugs are known as the great delusion, worse and far more dangerous and seductive even than the physical world. From this information the best vow is to abandon all drugs, including alcohol, forever.

A 9c: The desire among mostly young people to try all kinds of drugs is a result of a predominantly materialistic society, in which schools and universities teach materialism (and sometimes dogmatic religion) exclusively. Naturally the inner psychology of a developing human recognizes that there is more than materialistic experience, and we wish to investigate our consciousness, the workings of our mind, and we hope to meet with deeper knowledge. For most people there are no answers available other than the scientific, the dogmatic, or the unintelligible ones of deep occult literature. Drugs and ‘easy experiences’ through meditations etc. are widely available. Often no good information about particular drugs is given on schools, other than labeling all things as evil. As a consequence we label the people who use them as criminals or patients even before we have considered that the person may be a great soul in development who is going through a particular phase of inner research. Not all drugs are equally evil, and many can not understand why to not take them, especially once they have tried. Even less we receive information about the dangers of particular types of meditation, yoga, development of powers such as clairvoyance, experiments with consciousness etc. Formal education should provide all such information based on true knowledge and philosophy, so that each citizen can freely choose on basis of correct information. Then many, or at least some, will, sooner or later, understand the value of a vow or stern determination in relation to the use of drugs. But above all, education should include lessons about the higher wisdom taught by humanity’s great teachers concerning the existence of higher beings, consciousness after death, the ultimate spiritual goals of life that are greater than any mundane goal – but this should never be done from a dogmatic of formal religious point of departure.

Some suggestions for added vows for modern society


I vow to always drive carefully and clean, thinking of the consequences for possible victims as well as the health of then planet.

I vow to carry no private gun or other weapon at any time.

I vow to avoid aggressive company.

I vow to stay away from ‘bad’ discos, dance halls, bars and parties.

I vow to take no pets if my circumstances do not allow its conditions of life to be natural and optimal.

I vow to consume no junk food.

I vow to use no alcohol / no drugs (all drugs or at least particular types).

I vow not to support violent and hate-based politics.

I vow to consider nature and environment in relation to all my actions in life

I vow never to think in terms of hate or disdain about whoever on earth.

I vow to ever work to erase causes of suffering within the human mind and heart, but never by destroying the carrier of such causes.

I vow to direct all my thoughts and activities towards universal beneficial goals for humanity and all living beings.

I vow to avoid abortion for any selfish reason or ease.

I vow to obstruct no being in its normal course of life, death, and rebirth.


Of course the old values and vows: not to steal, lie, kill, sexual misconduct or perform sex for mere satisfaction, should remain the basics at all times.


Many more could be prompted by your own intuition and added to this list, also in relation to the circumstances of your specific life and work circumstances. As all such vows are but formulations as helpers to the mind that guides practical life, and in fact come forth from one’s higher inner being, the deep inner knowledge that everyone possesses. The individual who lives in his or her inner beings, needs no vows. The act correctly by Nature.

An International Code of Conduct


If we read such codes of conduct as above, probably nobody will disagree. There is probably no government in the world which would not subscribe these codes in principle. That means that one does not lack in general goodwill. The fact is that it does not happen in practice, as we all know. So what’s wrong? Is it because some countries are ruled by the biggest monkey in stead of the biggest mind? Is it that the mind overrules the heart, because the prompting from the heart are regarded as ‘sentimental.’? Are we repeatedly choosing for direct self-interest (economic, political, etc.) in stead of the wider interest on a longer tem for all others?  Are we suffering from the (in most cases) ‘mind over feelings/ emotion’ approach of Plato? Are we suffering from the impact of dualistic religions, dividing the world in good and evil, God and Devil? Why do countries or their authorities always praise themselves and deride or distrust others? Why do we hardly hear any president genuinely talk about the well-being of other countries and why do they hardly ever pronounce respect for the plights of other peoples, instead of talking about ‘our interests?’ Even peace elsewhere in the world is only valued if it is in ‘our interest.’ However, true compassion does not talk about our own interests, but only about the well-being of the whole world.

Some major positive vows are here suggested for countries and peoples:

Every country and people could and should first realize the value of and then vow to continuously bear the well-being of all humans (and all other creatures) in every part of the world in mind. This vow transcends its own isolated interests.

Every country and people could vow to continuously bear the well-being of the planet in the ecological sense in mind, and develop means of existence and technology which sustain ecological harmony including the human species. We are aware that we all live together in the same spaceship. If it perishes, all perish.

Every country and people could vow to adopt compassion as principle for the universal brotherhood of living beings as its highest goal towards true humanity above its political and religious system, and acquire knowledge and wisdom as servants of compassion.

Every country and people could vow to adopt non-violence as principle for the universal brotherhood of living beings as its highest pursuit, above its political and religious system, and acquire knowledge and wisdom as servants of non-violent conflict resolution.

Every country and people could vow that every effort will be taken to develop harmless means and technology of defense, which can never be applied for aggression. Confidence and fearlessness will naturally develop. Of course this should not imply that one gives up alertness and leans back in lazy confidence and silly goodness. Ultimately and in the future, every country and people should vow to non-aggression to all nations, even if attacked. (Jesus already taught that more than 2000 years ago).

The next vow is of a different nature because it can not be pronounced and should not be pronounced, nor can it be externally checked. It can only be taken when one is ready and well-prepared to take it. It can only be taken naturally and in silence and only be taught by example:

Every country and people could take the silent inner vow to abstain from violence, even in one’s most hidden thought life – preparing for when the time for it has come.