Ahimsa – the ultimate winner


The Legacy of Mahavir

[Speech as Chief Guest at the 2600th Bhagavan Mahavir Janm-Kalyanak Celebration held under the auspices of Oshwal Jain Association in London on 6 April 2001]

The 2600th Janm Mahotsav of Tirthankar Mahavir being celebrated in the multi-splendoured city of London, the nerve centre of Western World symbolizes the universality of the deeply compassionate Jain Philosophy. It also reflects the increasingly global spread of Jain community and the resultant heightened awareness about the Jain religion.

Overwhelming majority of Jains present in this gathering are ‘Born-Jains’. However their whole hearted dedication to the propagation of the fundamental tenets of Jainism – AHIMSA, ANEKANT & APARIGRAHA in the western hemisphere with unbounded zeal and energy makes them ‘Jains reborn’.

I salute you as ‘Dharm Doot’ (Ambassadors of Jain Religion). You have succeeded in establishing a unique identity of Jainism as a Religion of Environment, as a bold and vibrant voice of Non-violence and Peace and as an ‘ism’ of life ethics for all humanity.

Jain religion is not a static religion with a cult agenda. As one of the most ancient world religions, as many as 24 Tirthankaras (path-finders) have guided its evolution; each one having been a historical figure of highest standing in India at different times in the world’s chequered history of 5000 years.

This has helped the Jain religion to continuously evolve in a dynamic setting without deviating from its most fundamental

principle of AHIMSA PARMO DHARMAHA even in the face of constantly changing socio-political and security environment. Jainism is the only religion or faith in the world, which has steadfastly maintained:

Nothing is higher than Mount Meru
or anything more expansive
than the Sky,
Likewise know that no Dharma
Is equal to Ahimsa in the world”
                                                       (Bhava Pahuda 91).

There is a remarkable coherence and continuity in the teachings of all the 24 Tirthankaras starting with Rishabhdev and ending with Mahavir.Each one of them in their respective life times ensured that Jain religion did not become static or ritualistic. Each one of them enriched the quality and content of Jain teachings through their spiritual experience and penetrating observation of the world around them.

In the words of Michael Tobias, a distinguished American Jain scholar:

Jainism – India’s and possibly the World’s oldest religion – is a quiet, overwhelmingly serious way of life, a cultural insistence on compassion, a sociology of aesthetics that has dramatically changed the world and will continue to effect change………Jainism is a momentous example to all of us that there can be and does exist a successful, ecologically responsible way of life which is abundantly non-violent in thought, action and deed.”

Mahavir who lived from 599 BC – 527 BC brought a lot of clarity and lucidity in the interpretation of the basic Jain principles, put them in a wider universal perspective, and elucidated them persuasively and cogently. He put the Jain religion in the main stream of thought and faith in the following ways:

Y It is mentioned in the Jain scriptures that after renunciation from worldly life, the austerities, penance and meditation practiced by Mahavir were even more rigorous than done by his predecessor Tirthankaras. It is worth noting that during his ‘Sadhana’ spread over about 12 ½ years, on many occasions his fasts (without food and water) had the duration of 15-30 days and on occasions, even 121 days. Thereafter, after deep meditation, when he became omniscient and moved on to achieve the status of ‘Jina’ (the conqueror), he radiated unique peace, serenity, equanimity, tranquility, fearlessness and compassion.

The unparalleled depth of his contemplation opened in his teachings new and wider vistas and vision of ethical and spiritual thought and conduct and of rationally tapping the infinite potentialities of the human soul through self-restraint and self-purification.

Mahavir made a deep spiritual impact on a very wide strata of people. Acharya Mantung has paid a glowing tribute to Bhagavan Rishabhdev, the first Tirthankar and it applies in full measure to Bhagavan Mahavir.

·ë¤ÌF¢ Á»Ì÷ï ˜æØç×΢ Âý·¤ÅUè·¤ÚUæðçá Ð
»Øæð Ù ÁæÌé ×L¤Ìæ¢ ¿çÜÌæ¢ ¿ÜæÙæ¢
ÎèÂæðùÂÚUÚUˆß×çâ ÙæÍ Á»ˆÂý·¤æàæÑ!

Your life, your personality is as unique as an eternally lit flame which neither needs any oil nor any wick to sustain it. This eternal light does not go out due to the blowing winds nor does it waver in the face of storms. This light is firm and the onslaught of passion and polluted thoughts cannot disturb it. This divine light touches every atom and particle of the three loks and illuminates the entire universe.

Y Mahavir stood for equality of all souls – be it a human being, an animal, an insect or a bird with open opportunities to improve one’s spiritual performance for moving on to salvation from the cycle of life and birth in different life forms and varied experiences of pain and pleasure.

Mahavir also preached equality of all human beings emphasizing action (Karma) and behaviour and not birth as a determining factor for success or superiority. Uttaradhyayana – sutra (25.31) says:

Ù çß ×é¢çÇU°‡æ âׇææð, Ù ¥æð´·¤ÚðU‡æ Õ¢Ö‡ææð´ Ð
Ù ×é‡æè ÚU‡‡æßæâñ‡æ, ·é¤â¿èÚðU‡æ Ù Ìæßâæð H
â×Øæ° âׇææð ãUæð§, Õ¢Ö¿ðÚðU‡æ Õ¢Ö‡ææð Ð
Ùæ‡æðØ Ø ×é‡æè ãUæð§, Ìßð‡æ¢ ãUæð§ Ìæßâæð H

(“A person does not become a monk by mere shaving his head, nor a Brahmin by chanting mantras nor a Muni by living in the forest nor a hermit by wearing Kusa grass clothes. One becomes a monk by equanimity, a Brahmin by celibacy, a Muni by knowledge and a hermit by his austerities”)

Y Mahavir’s intense devotion, utter tenacity, unbounded enthusiasm, limitless energy, far-reaching scholarship and enlightenment led to the streamlining of Jain religion and its being oriented to emerge as an ethical way of life for all humanity instead of remaining confined within the narrow walls of a religious sect. His sermons were full of deep wisdom, lucid expression and wide ranging inspiration. They gave birth to Jain agams in which Jain religion blossomed forth in its multi-dimensional form as a spiritual humanistic and compassionate philosophy. Acaranga Sutra, Kalpa

Sutra, Samayasar, Avasyaka – Niryukti, Sutra Krtanga Sutra, Bhagwati Sutra, Uttaradhyayana Sutra, Dasavaikalika Sutra and other Digambar and Shwetambar agamas and scriptures provide deep insight into Mahavir’s ascetic and spiritual life ingrained in the pursuit of ‘SATYA’ (truth) ‘VIVEKA’ (equanimity), ‘KARUNA’ (compassion), ‘APARIGRAHA’ (detachment) and ‘AHIMSA’ (non-violence).

Y Mahavir strengthened the roots of Jain religion and its abiding relevance to universe by prominently focusing on its compassionate life ethics orientation. In his discourses he brought home the truth that Man, Nature and other living beings were all together integral parts of the universal web of life interwoven in interdependence and mutual support.

Mahavir’s teachings of mutually supporting relationship (Parasparopgraha Jeevanam) are beautifully depicted in a story of a feast organized by the Vishwa Karma to which he invited both angels and demons to a sumptuous meal to celebrate the creation of the Universe. However, he laid down the condition that no one would move his elbow to eat but keep his hands straight. Demons walked away in anger. But angels with outstretched hands fed each other.

Acharya Samantabhadra has very vividly and aptly described Mahavir’s Sermons as “Sarvodaya Teerth” showing the way towards collective awakening, upliftment & emancipation.

ü‹Ìßžæλé‡æ×éØ·¤Ë¢, âßæü‹Ìàæê‹Ø¢ ¿ ç×ÍæðÙÂðÿæ×÷ï Ð
âßæüÂÎæ׋̷¤Ú¢U çÙÚU‹Ì¢, âßæðüÎØ¢ ÌèÍüç×΢ Ìßñß H
-Ø逈ØÙéàææâÙ, àÜæð·¤ {w

At the root of Mahavir’s teachings is the concept of tolerance-oriented, tension-free, equality inspired compassion and co-existence for all living beings. His outlook was liberal, open-hearted and universal and not narrow-minded, selfish or egocentric.

Y Mahavir’s sermons bring out forcefully Man’s obligation and responsibility to protect and preserve the environment around him instead of indiscriminately exploiting it for human greed. Human beings cannot and should not work in isolation for their own emancipation from the cycle of birth and death. Health of your inner soul environment is deeply influenced by the healthy outer environment around you. Thus with this motto, Mahavira transformed Jain religion into an ecological faith and put primary responsibility on the human being to preserve and enrich natural environment.

Y Mahavir gave the added-value orientation of a reformation movement to Jain religion at a time when in the wider spectrum of Hindu society, orthodoxy, dogmas, blind beliefs and violent sacrificial killings had become the vogue. He eloquently and ardently asserted the courage of nonviolence as well as its practicality as an effective weapon to promote tolerance and fraternity. Far from being confrontational, his approach was peaceful, persuasive, logical and compassionate.

Y Mahavir put great emphasis on the democratic nature of Jain religion. One did not have to be born as Jain to practice Jain religion. Jain religion was open to anyone to embrace it irrespective of caste, colour, creed, sex or territorial location. Jain religion rejected the caste system. It is this aspect we need to emphasize in the world of today to bring home the point that Jainism is not a narrow closed sectarian creed, but a rational and ethical way of life open for all humans to follow.

Y Mahavir infused fresh vigour into what had been dubbed as a dull and austere religion followed by a small minority. Through his own practice of meditation, contemplation, vrat and tapasya, he reached the realization that the way to bliss lay in abjuring violence, restraining your wants, curbing your desires and rejecting absolutism in your perceptions. This is how he elucidated the integrated concept of ahimsa as including Aparigraha and Anekant as its inseparable parts, Ahimsa will not be complete in thought, deed and expression without the input of abstinence, non-possessiveness and tolerance.

Y Mahavir was highly effective, scholarly and convincing communicator of Jain philosophy. He displayed unique organ-izational flair and had large number of great and learned Sadhus and Sadhvis in his Sangha led by Indrabhuti Gautam (who had earlier been an authority on Vedic philosophy but was deeply impressed by Mahavir’s wisdom and joined his ranks).Mahavir displayed unique organizational flair in the establishment of ‘Chaturvidha’ Sangh (four fold congregation) of Munis, nuns, laymen and laywomen. Among the Sadhus and Sadhvis in his Sangh, there were people from diverse backgrounds ranging from Kshatriya (warrior) class, Brahmin class, businessmen, farmers, fishermen to the lowly downtrodden classes.

Y Mahavir’s great attribute was that he reached the masses by delivering his sermons not in high-flown classical language like Sanskrit or other literary languages, but in the day-to-day language of the people like Ardha Magadhi and Prakrit. His message reached both Jain and non-Jains alike. All classes of people thronged to his discourses. His message was at all times addressed to wider humanity.

Y On foot, he travelled the length and breadth of

India, inspired, and motivated the masses to take to the path of peace and tolerance abjuring hatred, mistrust and violence. Jain holy texts like “Trisastisala Kalpursasa Charitra” vividly describe the travels of Mahavir and how he inspired all stratas of society wherever he went. Much later Mahatma Gandhi drew inspiration from Mahavir’s mass contact orientation and aroused successfully the entire nation to join in the peaceful and non-violent struggle of freedom from colonial rule.

Y As a “Veetaragi” (detached) Mahavir became the ever-shining symbol of renunciation and aparigraha when he gave up all his royal comforts and luxuries and took to the path of vrat and tapasya to cleanse his soul, revitalize inner soul energy, gain deep knowledge and profound wisdom and to promote social commitment to the culture of non-violence.

Mahavir incessantly preached that the essence of Jain teaching is that the growth of attachment and possessiveness in a human soul is the beginning of violence and by the same token, an effort to cultivate detachment and renunciation is the beginning of the development of the culture of non-violence.

Purushartha Siddhyupai” in shloka 44 says:

¥ÂýæÎéÖæüßÑ ¹Üé ÚUæ»æçÎÙæ¢ Ö߈Øçã¢UâæðçÌ Ð
Ìðáæ×ðßæðˆÂçžæçãüUâðçÌ çÁÙæ»×SØ â¢ÿæðÂÑ H


The same concept has been in a “Gatha” in “Kashaya Pahud”:

ÚUæ»æÎè‡æ ׇéæŒÂæ ¥çã¢Uâ»žæ¢ çÌ ÎñçÎ΢ â×Øð Ð
Ìðç⢠¿ð ©UŒÂžæè çã¢Uâðçžæ çÁ‡æðüUçãU ç‡æçg_ïUæ H

Y Mahavir worked tirelessly for the emancipation of women and the downtrodden. Mahavir accepted food from poor Chandana, transformed her life and she rose to the post of Pravartini and enjoyed rights equal to a senior Acharya in the Sangha. Among the Sadhvis in Bhagavan Mahavir’s Sangha were many learned women like Kali, Sukali, Mahakali, Krsna, Devananda Brahmi, and Sundari. They were drawn from “all” castes ranging from Brahmins to Kshatriyas to other classes. Sadhvi Yaksa and Arya Payani were literary figures while Princes Auve of Chu was a renowed Tamil poetess.

Y Like all his predecessors, Mahavir presided over a totally unified Jain community.Divisions into different sects with each one following its own trail came after him. Jain community the world over owes it to Mahavir to close our differences, develop inter-sect tolerance and to bring out that what unites us is far stronger than what may appear to divide us.

Acharya Haribhadra observes inUpadesa Tarangini 1/8.

ÙæàææÕÚUˆßð Ù çâÌæÕÚUˆßð, Ù ·¤ÌüßæÎð Ù ¿ ÌžßßæÎð Ð
Ù Âÿæ âðßæŸæð؇æðÙ ×éçQ¤Ñ, ·¤áæØ×éçQ¤Ñ ç·¤Ü ×éçQ¤ÚðUß H

(A person cannot be liberated on grounds of being a Digambara or Svetambara, by belonging to a particular sect or by adherence to any logic or thought attribute. A person attains emancipation only if he frees himself from the clutches of attachments and passions)

The undreamt of revolution in global communications and the speed of knowledge culture provide us with an unprecedented opportunity in the 21st century to propagate Jain philosophy in all nook and corners of the world. We are not spreading religion or proselytizing, but spreading the philosophy and action programme for life ethics for universal happiness.

Let us take up the exciting task of making the wider strata of humanity the beneficiaries of Jain philosophy irrespective of their religious affiliations or political ideologies. Let Jainism become increasingly global and create the momentum for the global commitment to the culture of non-violence.

If we succeed in making 21st century a century of peace and Ahimsa, we would prove ourselves worthy of the legacy of Mahavir.


The essence of Mahavira’s teaching is that man is independent in both strife and interdependence. But to establish peace in the world he should move away from the direction of conflict towards interdependence. In our lives there are much fewer moments of struggle or conflict and many more moments of interdependence. ”

- Acharya Mahaprajna

| Contents |