Aparigraha – Ancient and Contemporary Conception

May, 2022 by Dr. Satyanarain Bhardwaj


A farsighted view presents a bleak future with no easy solution. Perhaps, there is no solution in the context of what is euphemistically called ‘development,’ ‘progress’ and ‘material advancement.’ This path and the speed of man’s journey on it are unable to give him peace and happiness. On the other hand, journeying inward, at a controlled pace, with self-discipline have a lasting solution. The problems of consumerism and environmental degradation can be tackled only by an attitude of mind, not just at the individual level but at the social level. More important people, for instance, the policy makers who have a greater role to play, must change the prevailing atmosphere which is detrimental to the human race and its future. The solution lies in the limiting of desires pertaining to personal material achievement and focusing on social betterment. It is in this light and spirit that paragraph must be understood and studied, where mankind in general is primary and the individual in particular is secondary. This further implies that the individual and his moral growth cannot be ignored, since the individual is the chief organ of the society. Limiting or controlling one’s desired (Icchā-parimāna), provides an answer to the crisis that mankind is facing. In the present-day world peace and drastically deterioration humaneness. This makes aparigraha very pertinent today. Aparigraha does not man renunciation from the world for the achievement of a purely spiritual goal; it is a social goal with a social mission and is instrumental in establishing spiritual socialism. The principle of aparigraha, (Icchā-parimāna parimana, parimita-parigraha) is not a rigorous principle of self-control or an ascetic way of life that may entail self-torture of some kind. Such an approach is associated with religious rigorous practices and its fundamentalism. Aparigraha is a realistic, practical, and rational principle with a solid foundation in the social system. It has individual moral growth as its basis, with direct relevance for the society of which the individual is a part. Its main thrust is on a balanced society consisting of balanced individuals. In fact, all ethical principles have evolved for individuals in and through the society to which they belong. The importance of aparigraha and its universal acceptance lies in its social basis.


The meaning of aparigraha and other similar terms mentioned earlier would be understood clearly only after the term. ‘Parigraha’ is understood and analysed in all its aspects and their completeness. The term ‘parigraha-non-possession, non-grasping – has its root in the term ‘parigraha’ which means to amass, to grasp, to accumulate, to compile, to seize, to hold, to fence in and to receive or accept possessions or property. Etymologically, it consists of two terms: ‘pari’ and ‘graha’: ‘Graha’ is rooted in ‘grahana’ meaning to take hold of, to accept or to receive or to possess something; ‘pari’ means round, roundabout, abundant, rich or fullness. Thus, parigraha means acceptance or taking or receiving gifts or other possessions. It has both outer implication of possessions, and inner implications of non-attachment, detachment, anāsakti or amūrchā, – the finer nuances of aparigraha. These gross and subtle implications together imply an attitude a way of life material world of objects both for the individual and the society.

Parigraha, thus means the worldly objects around us and our attachment to them. Thus, to understand parigraha only in the sense of accepting worldly objects would be incomplete; likewise, to understand it only in the sense of attachment or āsakti would also be incomplete. However, in the finer analysis of this term, thinkers have emphasised the ‘mūrchā or ‘āsakti’ aspect, rather than the possession of objects as such. But a comprehensive view of the two implications of ‘parigraha’ would show that the two are intertwined and have a kind of circular relation. As the abundance of material objects arouses attachments or ‘āsakti (mūrchā) which in turn disturbs the mental peace, likewise inner craving, attachment or mūrchā, makes one long for and acquire more and more material possessions.
The opposite of ‘parigraha,’ understood in its wider implications is aparigraha, which is not just a negative concept or an idea of denial as it may appear because of the prefix of ‘a’ meaning ‘not’. It is a positive virtue for the man in society thus meaning icchā-parimāna, parigraha-parimāna and parimaita-parigraha. It’s obvious and subtle, outer, and inner implications make it a comprehensive precept or an ethical principle for a good social system.

The importance of aprigraha in Jainism can be noticed by the very fact that it not only occupies the fifth position in the fiveforld scheme of vows of Mahāvira but is also accepted in the fourfold scheme of the vows of Pārśvanātha called cāturyāma-dharma. The technical term used for this fourth precept is ‘bahiddhādānāo veramanarn’. By ‘bahirdhā is meant external, ādāna is ‘acceptance’, and ‘veramanarn’ means abstinence. Literally it means, therefore, abstinence from acceptance of something external. The term ‘bahirdhā or ‘external’ in itself is very comprehensive while discussing the types of parigraha it would be clear how wide the term ‘bahirdhā’ or ‘exernal’ is; and in Pārśvanātha’s code it is even more extensive and comprehensive, since it includes the vow of celibacy too, which is separated in Mahāvira’s fivefold scheme. However, ‘bahirdhādāna is the synonym of parigraha. But the Jaina scriptures clearly point out that sheer non-acceptance of something external is meaningless unless it is dissociated from what is called ‘mūrcchā’, ‘mamatva’ or desire, clenching or attachment. In Daśavaikālika parigraha is identified with ‘mūrcchā. In the Tattvārthasūtra too Umāsvāti has precisely pointed out that parigraha is nothing but ‘mūrcchā’. This desire being the root of parigraha is the root of suffering as soon as it is overcome suffering would come to an end.

The Uttarādhyayana tells those desires are as endless as the sky; hence instead of trying to satisfy them repeatedly. They should be destroyed from their very roots; so mere non-acceptance of external objects is meaningless if the desire is existent. Who is unable to root out mūrcchā or attachment to his belongings, cannot be said to have been established in the vow of non-possession, even if he gives up all his belongings, even his clothes? It is only mūrcchā which is the true essence of parigraha. Thus, anything for which one has attachment is parigraha, whether it is a living or non-living being (jada and cetana), visible or invisible (rūpi and arūpi), big or small (sthūla and anu). With these broad implications of parigraha it is mainly classified into two kinds, i.e. apparent and real (bāhya and abhyantara[1]). These include all objects of attachment that retard liberation. By real or ābhyantara parigrah is meant the inner attitude of attachment towards worldly objects, living or non-living. This inner attitude may be constituted of various stages such as mithyātva (wrong notions), avirati (reluctance to accept the moral principles), pramāda (negligence) etc. Basically, real parigraha arouses from within, it pertains more to thoughts and attitudes than to objects. On the other hand, apparent or bāhya parigraha is aroused from without. External objects culminating into ābhayantara parigraha. These external objects (or bāhya parigrahas) are grossly classified into two types, types, living and non-living cetana and jada), jada parigraha means attachment to all lifeless objects such as clothes, house, and cetana parigraha means attachment to all living being (wife, children, servants, etc.). ābhyantara parigraha is divided into fourteen types. These fourteen types are-wrong notions, attachments for sex, laughter, affliction, fear, and disgust, four passions of anger, conceit, crookedness, and greed and also four stages of these passions of anantānubandhi etc.

The classification is valuable since it gives an account of the nature of parigraha and its broad perspective, and it also shows that parigraha is inseparably associated with violence; specially the class of ābhyanara parigraha are also the roots of violence or they are different names of violence. This classification can be criticised; because the very term ‘parigraha’ has been seen as associated with the term “mūrcchā or ‘ mamatva’, and that means that the inner involvement with certain objects (physical or mental) is necessary in parigraha as such; therefore, bāhya or apparent parigraha is mainly a superficial term, for without some inner involvement in an object, there is no parigraha. Thus, either there is ābhyantara parigraha or there is no parigraha at all. This criticism can be answered by a clarification, i.e., that the causes of mūrcchā or the essence of parigraha can be of two kinds,

  1. inner, such as a wing notion, reluctance to observe the vows (mithyātva and avirati) etc. and
  2. outer, such as house, money, clothes, etc. In this sense, therefore, this division of parigraha as ‘bāhya’ or ābhyantara’ can be understood as fairly logical.

The Sthānānga cites another classification of parigraha where parigraha is said to be of three kinds, these are:

  1. karmanparigraha,
  2. śarira parigraha and
  3. bhandopakarana parigraha.

The first one can be compared with the ābhyantara parigraha of previous classification while the second and third to bāhya parigraha. However, all these three kinds will mean parigraha, only if they are accompanied by mūucchā, otherwise no karman, śarira, or bhandopakarana etc. can be termed parigraha.

For all ethical ideals there are certain fundamental presumptions without which the edifice of ethics will not exist. Similarly, for aparigraha there are certain presumption essentially psychological than metaphysical or religious in any traditional sense. These are:

  • The source of happiness and peace lies in the human individual within him and not outside him.
  • External possessions are only meant to be used and not to be owned. The ownership of everything of the world lies with nature (prakriti), which is the true caretaker of everything, ownership as ‘mine’ and ‘yours’ is meaningless and can be a source of conflict.
  • The human individual has tremendous energies and potentialities, which are not based on external possessions. Thus, the role of possessions is limited in the life of the individual.
  • All human passions, such as anger, conceit, crookedness, attachment, ego, etc. have their term in external objects or possession, which create disturbance in the mind of the individual. Therefore, self-control of one’s possessions and consumptions are necessary.

This is the abridged version. To read the original article:

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