Definition - What does Shila mean?

Shila is a Sanskrit term used to describe one of the seven vows of virtuous conduct in Jainism. The seven shilas are comprised of the three guna vratas ("merit vows") and the four shiksha vratas ("disciplinary vows").

Traditionally, only the Jain monks sought spiritual enlightenment; however, in order to do so, sacrificing family relationships and worldly enjoyments was necessary. As the benefits of living a spiritual life and seeking enlightenment became known, the shilas were made available to all people.

Yogapedia explains Shila

The vows of the Jain monks included vows relating to chastity; therefore, it was not thought possible for people who wanted a family to seek enlightenment. The shilas brought together the merit (guna) and the disciplinary vows that can be adopted by any person. The vows are known in Sanskrit as vratas and they refer to the limited way a person undertakes the vows by not being a monk, yet also being able to devote their entire life to spiritual practice.

The three merit vows are:

  • Dik vrata -- the vow of limited area or activity
  • Bhoga-upbhoga vrata -- the vow of mindful use and
  • Anartha-danda vrata -- the vow to avoid unnecessary sin

The four disciplinary vows are:

  • Samayik vrata -- the vow of meditation
  • Desavakasika vrata -- the vow of limiting activity
  • Pausadha vrata -- the vow of the ascetic's life
  • Atithi samvibhaga vrata -- the vow of charity

The three merit vows give guidelines for conduct and enhance and lift up the other vows that are undertaken, while the disciplinary vows encourage a person in how they navigate life and their spiritual and religious practice; together, they are the seven vows of virtuous conduct. These vows can be taken by anyone regardless of their circumstance and are to be used individually as they apply to the life of the person adopting the vows.

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