Mahavira's five vows

This story took place during the monsoon season. During these four months of the year, the Jaina monks cease from their wanderings lest they hurt the tiny creatures which abound at that time. Mahavira arrived at a hermitage and the ascetics who dwelt there invited him to stay with them. He accepted their kind invitation and took up his abode in a grass hut.

Food being scarce, some cows came and began to eat the roof of the hut. Mahavira was happy to see them eating to their hearts' content and he continued with his meditation. But the head ascetic became furious. He insulted Mahavira mercilessly, saying, "Even the birds know how to look after their nests, and yet you do not know how to protect your own hut! Hard is it to believe that you were once a Kshatriya and the son of a chieftain."

As usual, Mahavira maintained his silence and did not make any reply. But from that day on, he took five vows which he observed for the remainder of his life. He decided never to stay at places where his presence would cause trouble to others. He determined to give all importance to the soul and not to the body. He resolved only to speak in answer to seekers' questions, or to beg for alms. In connection with alms, he vowed to accept only what he could hold in the palm of his hand. And, lastly, he made up his mind not to render service to householders for the sake of fulfilling his own needs.