Novices serve a kind of apprenticeship to full monks or nuns in the group they have joined, learning from their example. They must be at the service of older mendicants Term and carry out menial tasks. The good behaviour of a monk, and especially of a novice or junior one, is crystallized in the term vinaya, which has the shades of meaning ‘good education, humility, modesty, politeness, submission’.
Mostly, the novice depends upon an ācārya, who decides when he is mature enough to progress further. It is a close mutual relationship, which is expressed by one of the terms that mean ‘disciple’ – antevāsin – ‘the one who lives at the side of’ his teacher.
There is no formal test or examination to leave the novice stage. According to some early texts, the probationary period can last for one week, four months or six months. But according to others, a mendicant who has been with the community for less than three years is considered a newcomer.
Education in religious doctrine and practices is broadly the main task of novices. Living among religious teachers is a traditional way of transmitting holy learning and customs. Formal study of holy texts is conventionally done by memorising them.
However, the Śvetāmbara Terāpanthin and Sthānakavāsin sub-sects are unusual in allowing both monks and nuns to study all scriptures. Indeed, the Terāpan thin sect is unique in promoting female religious education. In many sects, female novices and full nuns are not permitted to study some or even all of the holy texts.
Śvetāmbara Mūrtipūjaka novices
Among Śvetāmbara Mūrtipūjakas, the novice period lasts six months or so. This period ends with the final ‘great initiation’ – mahādīkṣā – when the novices take the ‘great vows’ – mahāvrata. After this they are ready to follow the full mendicant lifestyle.
The novice monk and nun does not seek alms as full mendicants do. Instead, he or she receives food collected by other members of the group and brought back to the lodging- house.
Generally, the novices spend their time studying holy texts. They learn by heart some of the Mūla-sūtras, which can be thought of as the basic Śvetāmbara canonical scriptures. The scriptures include:
- the Daśavaikālika-sūtra – containing a long chapter of rules for begging alms
- the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra – general lessons on Jain fundamentals combined with stories of examples. Significantly, the book starts with a chapter describing the concept of vinaya – ‘modesty, good education’.
- the Āvaśyaka-sūtra – a liturgical text describing the six daily obligatory rites of a mendicant.
All these writings cover important areas of monastic life and regulate daily behaviour. Understanding these principles and rules is necessary for those who enter the mendicant life.
Among Digambaras, the novices must progress through two stages before reaching full monkhood. In the first stage the novice is called a ‘junior’ – kṣullaka for a male, kṣullikā for a female. In the next stage the novice is referred to as ailaka – an untranslatable word without feminine form. Throughout these stages the novices are not yet monks or nuns – muni or āryikā.
In the Digambara context clothing means attachment while nudity means detachment. So a junior and anailaka can be identified by their clothing. A junior wears three pieces of white clothing, while an ailaka wears only a white loincloth. This means that he is higher in spiritual progress.
A junior first takes the vows of a lay man – aṇu-vrata – which he is expected to observe strictly. He also renounces worldly activities, remains celibate and follows dietary restrictions. In the 11 stages of spiritual progress defined by Digambaras – the pratimā – he has reached the first one. Although a junior is not a monk, he receives a new name and the monastic implements used by the Digambaras. These are the water pot – kamaṇḍalu – and the broom made of peacock-feathers – piñchī.
The ailaka belongs to a mendicant lineage Term. He has reached the second stage of the 11. Some of the practices he follows are those which a full Digambara Term monk Term follows as well:
- eating once a day and receiving food from lay men in his cupped hands
- periodically plucking out hair and facial hair by hand.
In contrast to the custom among Śvetāmbara Mūrtipūjakas, the Digambara final initiation Term into full mendicancy – including the keśa-loca – is carried out in public. When male novices become fully-fledged mendicants – muni – they cast off all clothing and live nude. This distinctive characteristic of the Digambara sect gives it its name, which means ‘sky clad’ or wearing the elements.
Female mendicants Term –āryikās – always wear white clothing. They are initiated by a male mendicant and belong to a male mendicant lineage. There are recent exceptions where Digambara nuns are group-leaders and may be authorised by monks to have their own disciples, but these are extremely rare.