Economics of Tirthankar Mahaveer

December, 2020 by Dr. Bipin Doshi
All the cultures, religions, scientific innovations or political governance have to focus on economic empowerment of the individual and nation. Our comfort and happiness mainly depend on money we have in our pocket. Money in our pocket is important but equally important is money in everyone’s pocket. No culture or Countries will endorse inequality, especially economical inequality. Nature gives us enough for our needs but not the greeds.

No country can be considered to be developed as long as the basic needs of the last unprivileged person remain unfulfilled. Indian religions have put the emphasis on the concept of Tyag and not Bhog, on Sanyam and not Parigrah. The art of earning is appreciated but more appreciated is the art of living. Of many ancient religious leaders, Tirthankar Mahaveer is one who has taught us the art of living, the art of caring and also the art of sharing.

Socioeconomic status of our country in era of Tirthankar Mahaveer.

Before we talk about the Tirthankar Mahaveer’s concept of economics, let us first understand the socioeconomic status of our country in his era. Roughly 2600 years back it was an era of early civilization. Wandering Adimanav (Ancient Human beings) had settled at the banks of rivers as he learnt to farm, he and others collectively stayed in small houses. Such small colonies consisted of a small bazaar, a temple, a community place, etc. Their main profession was farming and animal rearing. The society was gradually learning art, craft and manufacturing of varieties of items for day to day life from metal, wood, clay, etc. The routine life of a person consisted of his efforts to feed himself and his family, and spend the remaining time in community celebrations, temple celebrations and developing new things required for the need of the community. The food was produced locally, the clothes were made from the locally available materials, and so were the houses. Most of the people were confined to their small colonies throughout their lifetime. In short, there was only localization and no globalization. There was no industrialization, no urbanization. There was hardly any wealth-creation, hardly any mode of communication and transportation. Human driven and animal-pulled carts were the only source of transportation. Above all, there was no corporate structure or currency.  The only few things which were valued were rarely available metals like gold and silver or the stones like Hira, Moti, or Manek (diamonds and precious stones). In such situations, how could there be something like economics of Mahaveer or economics of Buddha or economics of Vedas

The very words “Economics of Mahaveer” may look absurd. A person not knowing the in-depth philosophy of our great spiritual leaders may consider this as a laughing proposition. In absence of words like GDP, fiscal deficit, per capita income, the present-day economists may think a word like Mahaveer’s Economics as something which is hypothetical or presumptuous. However, when one thinks of Tirthankar Mahaveer’s Philosophy, his teachings, his rules for all people, his own life story, that person will find all the elements of basic economics. His concept of economy is the simplest of simple. It is not only simple but most easy to practice. His concept is as relevant today as it was 2600 years back, probably more relevant. It has clarity of individual economy and economics affecting all.

The only key word in Mahaveera’s economics is Resource, Resource and Resource. He observed that there is a divide between poor and rich, powerful and suppressed, learned and not learned. Like every pious person having compassion and humanity, he also thought about equality in all respects. One can confidently say that he was historically the first person to talk about equality whether it is social or economic. His concepts of economy were simply focused on

1) Availability of resources or creation of resources

2) Utilization of resources

3) Accumulation of resources and

4) Sharing of resources

Study of these concepts is important even today.  These four fundamentals decide the economy of any country. No country can plan its economy without taking into consideration these fundamentals. So now let us narrate the resources which were available in his time. We need to divide resources into main two categories: Natural Resources and Man-made Resources.

Natural Resources:

Air, water, land, plants, animals and us as human beings; these are all-natural resources.

Man-made Resources

Fire, farm products, precious metals like gold and silver, various things manufactured by ancient people; where the original resources were natural, but man had to make them.

Civilization was advancing. Man started producing not only farm products but things like utensils, instruments for farming, clothes, weapons, things for decoration, ornaments, artifacts and various things for recreation like games, sporting items etc. Worship and temple culture was growing along with this and amazing artifacts were created for worship and temple decorations.

In this kind of civilization under predominantly Vedic influence, Tirthankar Mahaveer observed many unpleasant things. These were:

1) A caste hierarchy including untouchability; even today many have hesitation in employing people from certain castes.

2) Women were considered as property of man which was the reason Draupadi was used as an object in gambling.

3) Slavery was a part of the society in the form of Dass and Dasi tradition.

4) Poor people were at the mercy of the rich, exploitation of the poor was rampant.

5) Some Brahmin priests were cheating common people in the name of religion where compulsory rituals were to be practiced.

6) The superstitions were so imposed that average people were performing rituals even if they had to incur debts.

7) In the name of deities there was practice of not only animal sacrifice but also the sacrifice of humans.

8) People used to live in the fear of the curse of deities.

9) There were Gods for every natural happening. Meghraj to bring rains, Laxmiji to bring wealth,  Sarswati to bring knowledge, Yamraj to take life, Dhanvantri  for sound health, Ganesh for auspicious beginnings, Rannade for child, Surya dev, Chandra dev – the list is exhaustive with 33 crore Devi-Devtas .

10) Rich and powerful men were getting more and more resources, a clear inequality.

In all such evils, there was an imbalance about resource availability, utilization, accumulation and sharing.

Tirthankar Mahaveer tried to analyze these evils. He must have observed innumerable reasons for these evils. But like a great thinker and mathematician he must have tried to isolate the root causes of these evils. He realized that man was full of desires and cravings. Satisfaction of one desire creates many more desires. Desires do not follow addition but follow multiplication. Probably applying the process of deduction, he concluded and proposed the concept of natural instincts which are driving one’s desire.

Four natural instincts

Ahar Sagna (Need for food)

Bhay Sagna (Need of security)

Maithun Sagna (Need of pleasures)

Parigrah sagna (Needs to accumulate for future)

No one can deny these desires. These are natural, essential and part of our existence. Here he just gave us one key word “Sanyam” – restraint. He said, to have desire is natural but one must make an effort to exercise Sanyam. We need food but there should be Sanyam in its consumption, we need security but we should create fearless society with nonviolence, we do need pleasures but there should be Sanyam or restraint or else the cravings for pleasures will become an addiction. We do need to store and accumulate certain basic requirements. The question is how much?

His total philosophy about economy is on

Creation of resources

Minimum use of resources

Minimum possession of resources and

Sharing of resources

He coined the word Raag or attachment to explain our desires of accumulation. It may be possession of things (Vastu) or possession of animals (Pashu) or possession of people (Daas-Daasi). He totally opposed caste system, untouchability, gender discrimination, slavery, rituals, deity worship, animal sacrifice and he denied the concept of a creator God and the need for his blessings.

He emphasized the preservation of natural resources like air, water, earth and plants saying that these were living beings, and that the concept of nonviolence was applicable to these elements too.

It was an era where faith ruled stronger than logic. The Vedic system had conditioned the minds of people into believing rather than questioning. Intelligence was yet not so developed in common people. With limited understanding of nature, average man relied more on what the leaders would say. Anything in the form of religion was easily acceptable. Following the same, Tirthankar Mahaveer propounded Jain principles in a set of beliefs in a structured manner, thus affecting the formation of Jain religion. He classified people into two categories; those who use just the bare minimum resources called Shramans, and those who do not follow this concept called Shravaks. In his concept of liberation, he proposed “Samyak Darshan Jnana Caritrani Moksha Marg.” Meaning, right faith, right knowledge and right conduct are the means of liberation. Here, Samyak Caritra means right conduct, and in right conduct he describes three levels of conducts, namely, Marganusari, Shravkachar and Shramanachar.


Marganusari focuses on rules for social life; Sharavkachar is where a person begins to learn to minimize the use and attachment to the various resources; and Sharmanchar is where a person takes lifetime vows to use the bare minimum essential things, and forsakes all materialistic attachments.

Now let us see how the concept of economy is embedded in Marganusari. In the 35 rules of Marganusari, the first rule is Nyanoparjit Dhan meaning the wealth should be earned by honest, legal and morally right means. It also describes Uchit Vyaya meaning one should spend less than his income, and Paropkar Pravinata meaning benevolence to the helpless and destitute. All these three collectively are the concepts required in our earning, expenditure and helping others with whatever means available to us. Further to this is the concept of Punyanubandhi Punya, meaning if you are blessed with wealth due to your past good deeds Karmas, use your wealth to earn more Punya for better wealth in future lives.

Shravkachar – Conduct for laity:

The second step in right conduct is Shravkachar. The first vow of Shravakachar is non-violence –Ahimsa. Though it does not look practical, let us think about a society where there is no violence. It means there are no nuclear bombs, no missiles, no guns, no fighter jets — a weapon less world. You don’t need any means of security. You can enter the airport without security check, you can enter a hotel without any security check, and you don’t need commandos or bodyguards. Friends, we as on today spend trillions of dollars just because we do not follow the concept of nonviolence. We have grown a lot in the field of technology but there have been hardly any efforts towards making the world nonviolent. The leaders of the world need to recognize this and make efforts in this direction. If these trillions of dollars spent on defence and security are saved, within 24 hours we can provide all the basic needs to each and every individual in the world. There will be no poverty, no hunger, no homeless families, no one without clothes or no one without good medical care and education. The earth will not remain earth but will become heaven.

Tirthankar Mahaveer’s economy has no place for certain trades like poultry, fishery, slaughterhouses, forestry, mining, alcohol, narcotics, leather goods etc where there is killing of birds or animals or damaging the earth or plants. We need plant-based food but here also he advocated minimum use and not to use those plants that contain innumerable or infinite living organisms. According to him, foods grown underground like potatoes, onions, garlic. etc have more lives in them and should be avoided.

Sustainable economic growth

Sustainable economic growth is economic development that attempts to satisfy the needs of humans but in a manner that preserves natural resources and the environment for future generations. An economy functions within the ecosystem. We cannot separate the economy from it. In fact, an economy cannot exist without it. The ecosystem provides the factors of production that fuels economic growth: land, natural resources, labour, and capital (which are created by labour and natural resources). Sustainable economic growth is managing these resources in a manner that they will not be depleted and will remain available for future generations.

While many economists and people disagree about the importance of the environment regarding economic activity, the following facts are seldom disputed:

  1. The extraction and depletion of natural resources, as well as pollution and permanent changes made to the landscape, are caused by economic activities and can-do harm to the environment.
  2. Many of the costs of the harm created by economic activities are not borne by those who cause it but by other people who neither obtain any benefits from the economic activity nor agree to pay the costs related to it. Pollution is a perfect example. Businesses are permitted to pollute to a certain degree (less now than in the past). They don’t have to pay for the pollution, but the society does, by dirty air, water, and contaminated soil that affect the quality of our air, water, and food. This pollution can cause serious health effects, which may reduce the quality of life and health of the population. We call a cost borne by someone who did not agree to bear it an externality.
  3. Humans live in an ecosystem and cannot survive without it. If we destroy the environment, we will eventually destroy ourselves.


A recent study from Oxford has clearly mentioned that there are dual benefits of Vegetarianism — health and environmental. The economic impact of these dual benefits could be as high as 13% of the GDP.

Further, in Shravkachar, Tirthankar Mahaveer describes Achaurya meaning no fraud or cheating. Economic frauds and cheating have shaken the very foundation of the present economic system. In the vow of Svadara Santosh, Tirthankar Mahaveer recognizes the respectful position of women. He totally opposed slavery specially Dassi Pratha which was very prevalent in that era. Restraint on sexual pleasures on certain days in every month, taking a vow of celibacy at certain age, monogamy, no compulsion of Grahasthashram and gender equality are some  important traditions in Jainism, and  these are very important factors for population control, leading to better economy.

In the 5th vow of Iccha Pariman he describes the control of desires. In controlling the desires, his emphasis is on minimum use of both natural and manmade resources. For the extent of desires, he uses the word ‘Agasegu Ananta’ meaning the extent of desire is more than the extent of space, infinite of infinite. Whether it is house or food, Dass or Dassi, land or gold, one must possess only what is essential. Uncontrolled desire or Parigrah makes us to consume something where others will be deprived of their share of it, because at any given time the resources are always limited. Tirthankar Mahaveer terms this an act of violence. The wrong tradition of unproductive accumulation of gold has great negative impact on our economy. One more example is the unnecessary use of petrol and diesel (yes, we pay in rupees, but it involves a great loss of foreign exchange).

In the vow of Dikvirti, he emphasizes that there should be a limitation on areas of activities. This can be related to the shifting the economy from global to local. The economists today have agreed that it is the success of local economy that brings about the success of Global economy. House, clothing and food should comply with the local conditions. Neglecting the local or rural economy causes disastrous effects. Urbanization seems glorious, but it has lots of disadvantages, and extract a heavy price in future.

Bhog-Upbhog Pariman Vrat or vow is a red signal against consumerism. Production of one shirt needs 2,700 litres of water. Market is full of items which are absolutely not required as basic needs. There are temptations and attractions dangled by the producers to sell their products. People buy those things, and there seems to be a general euphoria about more buying fueling greater economy. This seems paradoxical.

The last vow of Shravakachar, Athithi Samvibhag means one distributes all his belongings to unknown needy people before taking the vow of becoming Sadhu or Shraman.


Tirthankar Mahaveer does not stop here. He creates another community of people called Sadhus and Sadhviji’s who leave all materialistic attachments, vowing with bare minimum use of natural resources including water, plant and land. Looking at the availability of resources and the population of those days, his concept of Sanyam may look absurd but when we delve deeper, this is what he must have realized as the solution to future problems.

For Mahaveer’s economy, you can say he pointed to two words “Use less and share with others”. On economy front, he believed in helping others even at the cost of one’s own needs. Depriving somebody for his needs was violence in his view.

Environmental friendliness

One most important by-product of his philosophy of nonviolence is environmental friendliness. Considering air, water, earth and plant as living beings was his unique philosophical thought. He considered that in the universal ecosystem, for ecological equilibrium each of these elements is important. Whether microbes, birds or animals, they have their own roles to play in the universal ecosystem. Destruction or damage of any of these — whether it is land, water, air, plant, microbes, insects, birds or animals – will leads to ecological disturbances. The numbers of living beings which can harm the human beings is very small. To protect our health, many times we have to kill microbes or insects. This is permitted by the concept of Vidrohi Himsa which is permitted for Shravakas but of course not for Sharmanas.

Jain Diet rules

Physical Health: His diet rules have vast implication on our physical health. Right type of food, eating at right time, no food after Sunset, intermittent fasting or Upvas, Unodari, Vrutishankshep and Rasparityag are surely factors vitally and important for good physical health. Overeating, wastage of food, unhealthy junk food, alcohol etc. cause so many diseases that no country can afford to spend on the health care of the diseases caused by such unhealthy diet. It is unfortunate that we have not been able to control these industries causing great harm to the health with subsequent loss of productivity and increased health budget of the nations.

Mental Health: His advice on the concept of minimum requirement and contentment will create an individual having no anger, no greed, no fear, and no ego. Today we see most of us suffer from depression, anxiety, stress, FOMO (fear of missing out) and FONOMO (fear of no mobile). There is no doubt that those who adhere to the philosophy of minimum use and minimum requirement enjoy the bliss of life, devoid of any mental illnesses.

Unfortunately, today’s economists propose more resource production, more utilization, more accumulation. We do believe in principle of reasonable sharing, but in practice, our greed is beyond limits. The divide between rich and poor is very evident. Pleasures are necessary but to what extent? When uncontrolled, pleasures are addictions, pleasures are poisons. Pleasures beyond limits not only destroy the individual but destroy the society. Things for comfort and pleasure are pouring into the market; there is a mad rush to acquire this materialistic happiness and, in bargain, we lose our inner happiness. In a rat race, even if you win you are a rat.

Jain community as a leading business community

Success of Jain community as a leading business community is founded on values like hard work, self-discipline, intelligence, integrity and a sense of community loyalty. Ethical values are embedded in their genes. It is for this quality that Jains have been ministers in various kingdoms looking after finances of the kings as seen in the history of India. Commonly, we feel that wealth is power, but whom do we worship? We worship the ones who have given up all their possessions. Though Jains are less than 1% of the population in India, their charity contributions are very significant.

Practice of Nonviolence (Ahimsa), truthfulness (Satya), honesty (Achaurya), restraint (Sanyam), least possessiveness (Aparigrah), austerity (Tapas), tolerance and respect for others’ views (Anekant), charity (Dan), compassion (Karuna), daily worship (Pooja), regular meditation (Samayik), DAILY repentance (Pratikraman), etc are parts of Jains’ day to day life. These are the virtues which makes them highly successful as entrepreneurs. Spirituality and humanity are part of their lives. Collectivism keeps checks on their morality, and helping fellow beings is their religious duty.

They strongly believe that success or wealth is not only due to their efforts or Intelligence, but they are due to Punya or rewards of the meritorious deeds of their past lives. This makes them naturally self-motivated and charitable without any significant efforts. Corporate social responsibility or CSR is a new term for Indian companies, but it is an integral part of Jain business community. Sustainability is a part of their business norms; they avoid any businesses where there is damage to other living beings or environment. Their aim in business is definitely profit, but not to compromise on the values they traditionally possess. Many Jains carry on with family business, with the attitude of compromise and not conflict. They are the champions in local charities.

True Jain Philosophy is not limited to ethical earning and sustainability but goes beyond these to human evolution and liberation. Jains are a perfect blend of spirituality, ethics, and commerce.

Advancements in science and technology have created a new world of materialistic prosperity. It is gained at the cost of spiritual loss. Materialistic prosperity leads to self-interest or individual orientation.  Tirthankar Mahaveer’s principles advocate a society-oriented prosperity and not individual-oriented prosperity. Modern economists may think of GNP or gross national product but Mahaveer’s economy will think of GNH – Gross National Happiness. His Philosophy promotes neither capitalism nor socialism but egalitarianism wherein everyone is taught to promote equality.

With increasing population, hi-tech innovation and better lifestyle, we need to make progress. It may not be possible to implement Tirthankara Mahaveer’s economic principles in totality. But we need to develop a system where the present needs and the wisdom of Tirthankar Mahaveer are blended together. Life has only one simple purpose, and that is happiness. Happiness is very expensive to acquire. It needs a conduct, which is full of compassion and inclusiveness. The focus should not be on individual welfare, but on universal welfare. It may be a long way to demolish all that is bad or to rebuild all that is needed, but each one of us has to recognize this and move in that direction.

About Author

Dr. Bipin Doshi

Dr. Bipin Doshi

Dr. Bipin Doshi is a physician, Jain Scholar, writer, and a Social worker. He is one of the pioneers of promoting awareness and education on Jainism. An active mentor of various organizations in the field of Jainism and social service. Story writer and presenter of Jainism theme-based dramas like Gandhi before Gandhi, Jagdushah etc. creating novelty.

co-edited by Bhavi Khetani.

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Mrudula Shah
Mrudula Shah
1 year ago

I truly enjoyed reading above article about Lord Mahavir & his teachings. I agree with Mahavir’s teachings and will try to put it in action as much as possible.