Article: Aṇuvrat Movement

The Aṇuvrat Movement is a non-sectarian moral movement emphasising character development through self-effort. It was conceived by Ācārya Tulsi (1914–1997), a celebrated monk, the ninth religious leader of the Śvetāmbara Terāpanth sect and a socio-religious reformer. Ācārya Tulsi launched the Aṇuvrat Movement in March 1949 at Sardarshahar, a small Terāpanthi-dominated town in Rajasthan.

Horrified by the detonation of nuclear bombs in Japan in 1945, Ācārya Tulsi established a non-religious organisation to promote peace and improve individual morality. He hoped to encourage Jain values, especially ahiṃsānon-violence – and to eventually create a more virtuous country through individual behaviour.

Designed to be open to followers of all religions, the Aṇuvrat Movement was built upon the traditional Jain practice of aṇuvratlay vows – which evolved from the original teachings of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina. Ācārya Tulsi modified the traditional aṇuvrat vows to formulate a set of 11 new vows for the Aṇuvrat Movement.

The aim of the movement is self-transformation through one’s own efforts, to help develop a healthy society and, eventually, an ideal nation characterised by peace, social justice and sustainability. The Aṇuvrat movement is founded on the Jain doctrines of:

The slogan ‘Self-restraint is life’ captures the core philosophical idea behind the movement.

As the Aṇuvrat Movement spread across India, Preksha Meditation and the Science of Living were established to support it. Other sets of vows for certain groups in society, such as students or peasants, and to aid the practice of Aṇuvrat were also created, especially the Aṇuvrat Sādhanā.


Ācārya Tulsi was the head monk of the Śvetāmbara Terāpantha sect for 57 years. He was innovative, establishing the AĀuvrat Movement in 1949 and new types of mendicant in 1980. The samaṇas and samaṇīs can travel outside India, helping the Jain diaspora.

Ācārya Tulsi
Image by Pramodjain3 © CC BY-SA 3.0

The Aṇuvrat Movement was conceived in the mid-20th century, during the important period after World War II, when India gained independence.

Ācārya Tulsi was inspired to create the Aṇuvrat Movement for two principal reasons. Firstly, he wanted to divert humankind from the path of destruction that had led to the nuclear bombings of Japan. He wished to introduce the non-violent Aṇuvrat Movement as an antidote to mass violence. Secondly, he was disillusioned by the selfishness, over-competiveness, over-consumerism and maximisation of profits by wrong means he saw in the newly independent republic of India.

Ācārya Tulsi held that the problems of violence, human rights, poverty and the environment cannot be solved all at once. Instead, he thought that he could use the concept of ‘lesser vows’ for the individual, borrowed from the Jain tradition, to develop a framework for social improvement that is achieved through personal action.

A secular model

Researcher Shivani Bothra interviews a Muslim Aṇuvratī man in Rajasthan in 2012. An Aṇuvratī of over 25 years, he sees no contradiction between his religion and the principles of the Aṇuvrat Movement, just as Ācārya Tulsi intended when he founded it.

Interview with a Muslim Aṇuvratī
Image by Sanjeev Bothra © Sanjeev Bothra

From the beginning, Ācārya Tulsi, along with his core group of monks, designed the Aṇuvrat Movement to be a non-religious organisation open to anyone. The main goal is to purify the soul of the individual, which will eventually produce a more morally upright society.

Ācārya Tulsi took painstaking efforts to be inclusive in his modernisation of Jain principles. He realised that religious teaching alone is not enough and that action is also required. He believed that the idea of vows as action, which has its roots in Jain traditions, could be an effective tool for social change in secular society as well.

The following three factors were central motives for his new model:

A person from any caste, religion, creed, background or nation could be an Aṇuvratī – a follower of the Aṇuvrat code of conduct. An individual’s personal religious belief or eating habits are not considered an obstacle to following the Aṇuvrat code of conduct.

Thanks to its non-sectarian outlook, the Aṇuvrat Movement is one of the most powerful secular Terāpanth activities. It connects political leaders, thinkers, the media, religious organisations and ordinary people in India.

The prime objective of traditional Aṇuvrat vows, as explained in the 11th-century ŚrāvakācāraHouseholder’s Conduct – by Ācārya Amitagati, is liberation of the soulmokṣa. The objective of the Aṇuvrat Movement is purification of the soul. In this way, Tulsian vows were a new approach to generating the spirit of self-restraint among all people.

The Aṇuvrat Movement is a social extension of an ancient spiritual tradition going back to Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina. Through the movement, Ācārya Tulsi was instrumental in taking Jain principles outside the Jain community.

Eleven modified vows

The vows that comprise the Aṇuvrat Movement can be framed within the traditional ‘five fundamental vows’ of the Jain faith. Ācārya Tulsi aimed to make Jain values, and wider moral principles, more relevant to contemporary Indian society.

Vow 1

Some types of living beings are illustrated in this manuscript painting. Over the course of the cycle of birth, a soul is born into various types of body according to the karma that has become attached to it. This painting shows examples of these beings.

Examples of types of living beings
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

First vow of Aṇuvrat Movement


Relation to the five ‘fundamental vows’

I will not intentionally kill moving, innocent creatures
I will not commit suicide
I will not commit an act that causes the death of a foetus

The first vow belongs to the category of ahiṃsānon-violence or demonstrating great reverence for all living beings.
The ahiṃsā vow is considered the cornerstone of the five mendicant vows and the ‘lesser vows’ of the householder.

Ācārya Tulsi expanded this vow by specifically singling out the issues of suicide and abortion. He was aware that they were topics of greater public debate in modern Indian society than issues related to animals alone, which were key to earlier understandings in a mainly agricultural culture.

Vow 2

Second vow of Aṇuvrat Movement


Relation to the five ‘fundamental vows’

I will not attack anybody
I will not support aggression
I will try to bring about world peace and disarmament

The second vow is a commitment to ahiṃsā

Ācārya Tulsi again acknowledges a widespread modern concern about terrorism and the traumas of war inflicted upon humanity. Tulsi imagined that Jain experiences of taking vows could benefit secular society when combined with a willingness to be consciously aware of how actions, whether of an individual or a whole nation, affect other beings. By taking a vow, an individual redirects his or her energy inwards to fight hatred, jealousy, anger and greed within.

Vow 3

Third vow of Aṇuvrat Movement


Relation to the five ‘fundamental vows’

I will not take part in violent agitations
I will not take part in any destructive activities

This vow once again falls in the category of ahiṃsā

This vow reflects another contemporary social concern. Violent protests or revolutions and destructive activities are an expression of emotional disturbance.

Vow 4

In this still from a film, Māhatama Gandhi discusses the lowly position of the Dalits or 'Untouchables'. In the 1930s he advocated ending the widespread customary discrimination against Dalits. He adopted the term 'Harijan' – meaning 'children of God'.

Gandhi condemns caste prejudice
Image by unknown © public domain

Fourth vow of Aṇuvrat Movement


Relation to the five ‘fundamental vows’

I will not discriminate on the basis of caste, colour and so on
I will not treat anyone as an untouchable
I will believe in human unity

The fourth vow is classed as ahiṃsā, yet also includes part of the category of satya – truth telling

Ācārya Tulsi poses a question noted in the philosophy of the movement: ‘An evil may be untouchable; dirt or an ailment may be untouchable, but how can a man [or woman] be untouchable?’ (Tulsi and Karnawat 2010: 30). Here he refers to the Dalit or Harijan group in India, also known as the ‘untouchable’ caste. It is outside the traditional Hindu caste system because historically its members do jobs considered ritually impure, such as cleaning toilets or collecting rubbish. Here, instead of ‘Dalit’ Ācārya Tulsi used the word ‘Harijan’, meaning ‘children of God’, which was popularised by Mahātma Gandhi.

Ācārya Tulsi visited Harijan-dominated areas to deliver sermons and encouraged not only his monks and nuns but also the lay community to join him.

Vow 5

Fifth vow of Aṇuvrat Movement


Relation to the five ‘fundamental vows’

I will practise religious tolerance
I will not rouse sectarian hatred

This vow is linked to ahiṃsā and to the second ‘fundamental’ vow of satyatelling the truth

This vow is very similar to the fourth vow, but here Tulsi is again modernising by highlighting a specific issue in pluralistic Indian society. This is the violence between followers of various faiths and conflicts within intra-religious groups.

Vow 6

Sixth vow of Aṇuvrat Movement


Relation to the five ‘fundamental vows’

I will practise integrity and moral virtues in business and general behaviour
I will not harm others for any reason
I will not practise deceit

Like the fourth and fifth vows, this vow combines the categories of ahiṃsā, satya and aparigraha – non-possession

The sixth vow is meant to restrain people from employing unethical, immoral means to maximise profit.

Ācārya Tulsi’s chief concern here was that business should be upright and honest. An individual who takes this vow would not trade stolen merchandise, use false weights and measures, adulterate their products or replace them with inferior items, fail to pay taxes or take bribes.

Vow 7

When Jains become mendicants, they swear to follow the 'Five Great Vows' – mahā-vratas: 1. non-violence – ahiṃsā 2. truth – satya 3. non-stealing – acaurya or asteya 4. celibacy – brahmacarya 5. non-attachment or non-possession – aparigraha.

‘Five Great Vows
Image by Shree Diwakar Prakashan © public domain

Seventh vow of Aṇuvrat Movement


Relation to the five ‘fundamental vows’

I will practise chastity
I will set limits to acquisition

This vow is similar to the sixth, but addresses aparigraha more directly
It is also the only vow that addresses the ‘fundamental vow’ of brahmācāryacelibacy or limiting sexual behaviour

Therefore, making the seventh vow entails much more than just non-attachment and limiting one’s material possessions.

Vow 8

Eighth vow of Aṇuvrat Movement


Relation to the five ‘fundamental vows’

I will not resort to unethical practices in elections

This vow addresses ethical concerns in the categories of ahiṃsā and satya

This vow specifically calls attention to the power of politics to effect change. The movement lays down the parameters for a healthy democracy and some of the key pointers for choosing a trustworthy candidate to vote for.

The vow dictates that a worthy candidate should be honest, free from drug addiction, a man of character, efficient and not promote sectarianism (Tulsi and Karnawat 2010: 49).

Vow 9

Ninth vow of Aṇuvrat Movement


Relation to the five ‘fundamental vows’

I will not encourage socially evil customs

This vow is difficult to categorise in the five aṇuvrats because it attempts to focus attention on the potential harmfulness of certain customs and traditions in Indian society

One example of such customs is that of dowry, in which the family of a bride gives cash or gifts to the family of the groom.

Tulsi encouraged people to examine familiar customs and become aware of potential harm, and to be open to adjusting alien and unfavourable customs when necessary.


The Jaina Path of Purification
Padmanabh S. Jaini
University of California Press; Berkeley, California USA; 1979

Full details

'The Aṇuvrat Movement in Retrospect'
Yuvācārya Mahāprajña
Aṇuvrat Movement: a constructive endeavour towards a nonviolent multicultural society
edited by S. L. Gandhi
Jain Vishva Bharati; Ladnun, Rajasthan, India; 1992

Full details

Acharang Bhashyam
Ācārya Mahāprajña
Jain Vishva Bharati; Ladnun, Rajasthan, India; 2001

Full details

The Clarion Call Of Aṇuvrat
Ācārya Tulsi
and Mahendra Karnawat
translated by Narendra Sharma
Aṇuvrat Mahasamiti; 2010

Full details


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