Shri Datta Swami

Posted on: 11 Jan 2021


What is the difference between Shvetaambaras and Digambaras in Jainism?

[An online spiritual discussion was conducted on December 19, 2020, in which several devotees participated. Some of the questions of devotees answered by Swāmi are given below.]

[Smt. Anita Renkuntla asked: The Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras in Jainism are two different sects. They have different lifestyles. Is the goal of those two sects the same?]

Swāmi replied: The word digambara in a spiritual context is misunderstood. The original meaning of this word is to be naked without any clothes on the body. This meaning represents some concept. A word has two types of meaning. One type is the literal meaning (vācyārtha). The other is the implied meaning (lakṣaṇārtha). You have to take the implied meaning of this word in spiritual knowledge. Digambara refers to the unimaginable God, without any associated medium (Nirguṇa Brahman). He is just like a naked person who is not wearing any clothes (ambara) on His body. Such an unimaginable God can never be expressed to humanity since He is unimaginable. A naked person also does not reveal himself to the public. Clothes (ambara) mean the medium or the body, as said in the Gītā (Vāsāṃsi jīrṇāni...). Any person is always seen by the public wearing clothes on the body. Similarly, the unimaginable God can only be grasped by souls when He is covered with a body (Saguṇa Brahman).

When the unimaginable God is mediated, the medium may have sattvam as the predominant quality. Sattvam is indicated by the white colour (śveta). The mediated God in a predominantly sāttvika medium is Śvetāmbara. The founder of Jainism, called Ṛṣabhadeva, was an Incarnation of God Viṣṇu and God Viṣṇu is the embodiment of the sattvam quality. Hence, the founder of Jainism is called Śvetāmbara, meaning the person wearing white clothes on the body. Since Śvetāmbara is clothed, He can be expressed to the public. But unimaginable God without any medium or body (clothes) cannot be expressed to any soul. Therefore, the Jains must follow their mediated God and wear white clothes. But some of them appear before the public without any clothes. This is not the correct tradition established by Ṛṣabhadeva. Just as the unimaginable God cannot be imagined by any soul, a naked person without any clothes should not be seen by anybody in public. Such a naked person should stay in the caves of the Himālayas and not in society.

In order to insult Bhagavān Śrī Satya Sai Bābā, villagers once brought a naked saint to His presence. Then, Bābā told the saint that he should go to the caves of the Himālayas and not to move around in society. Bāba also told him that he should not fear the lack of availability of food in the caves because God gives food to every soul in creation. Bābā can be taken as the second reference on this subject. Bābā’s preaching of nonviolence and kindness, which are the top qualities related to sattvam, are very important in Jainism.