jain religion and teachings of bhagwan mahavir



(Chapter 3 continued)

Jain religion has its own long philosophical tradition with distinctive lineage of 24 Tirthankars (spiritual masters), detailed and comprehensive scriptures and history. With Rishabhnath (Adinath) as the first Tirthankar (spiritual master), the Jain spiritual quest is both pre-vedic and pre-aryan. Jain religion then called Shraman religion culture predates Indus, Egyptian, Babylonian, Mesopotamian and Roman cultures. The pre-aryan Indus valley civilization as revealed in the excavations at Harappa and Mohenjadoro depict an entire society and its civilization built on the edifice of Ahimsa (non-violence). The seals with images of a meditating saintly figure found in these excavations relate to Rishabhdeo and confirm Jain traditional lore.

With Rishabhnath as the first and founder Tirthankar, Jain religion traces its beginning to the formation of organized society after transition from nomadic life. Prior to renouncing worldly material life and becoming an ascetic, Rishabhnath as the Emperor of then India pioneered the introduction of division of labour in the society by identifying distinct professional sectors of livelihood as ASI (making and using of weapons), MASI ( reading and writing ), KRISI (agriculture), VIDYA (learning and fine arts), VANIJYA (business), and SHILPA (arts and crafts ).

Historically it is significant that India derived its original name ‘Bharat’ from Bharat, the son of Rishabhdeo and his successor as Emperor. Bharat’s younger brother Bahubai following the footsteps of his illustrious father took to the path of renunciation and became a Jain monk. Bahubali’s 57 ft. high granite statue stands in its divine grandeur of renunciation and total detachment and inspiring serene glow of penance and meditation at Shravanbelgola in the state of Karnataka in South India.

The statue was built during the rule of The Gang dynasty by General Chamundrai in the 11th century. At the same place where many centuries earlier Emperor Bharat had built a statue to commemorate the arduous penance of Bahubali. Infact inspired by Bahubali’s renunciation, Bharat himself became a Jain monk.

Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan writes in his book ‘Indian philosophy’ :

“Evidence is available that much before first century A.D., there were followers of the first Tirthankar Rishabhdeo. There is no doubt whatsoever, that Jain religion existed much before Mahavir and Parsvanath. Yajurveda also mentions Rishabhnath, Ajitnath and Arishtnemi. Bhagwat Purana also supports that Rishabhdeo was the founder of Jain religion.”

It is pertinent to mention here that while as a religion Jainism has a limited following of 10 million in India and around 300,000 abroad, it has made an abiding impact on India’s cultural heritage with its central focus on the practice of non-violence as compassionate life ethics. Jain religion has not been a proselytizing religion and is open to any one in the society regardless of caste or social status. Its compassionate philosophy has indeed, inspired ethical and humanitarian values in thought and conduct at individual as well as collective levels in India.

Despite its emphasis on intense penance and austerity particularly for the monks, Jain religion has survived the vicissitudes of history and the competing space claimed by other faiths in multi-religious India. According to Amartya Sen, the Noble Laureate, Jainism has from the beginning advocated a spirit of synthesis and has vitally contributed to the evolution of cultural pluralism and heterodoxy which has characterized the growth of Indian culture and spirituality from the earliest times.

In recent times, Mahatma Gandhi imbibed the traits of love for Truth (SATYA) and abiding faith in Non-violence (AHIMSA) both in thought and conduct from his Jain Guru-like friend Srimad Rajchandra (1868-1901).The detached life style of Srimad Rajchandra full of equanimity, devotion to truth and compassion had a lasting influence Gandhiji far greater than even the impact the spiritual outlook of Tolstoy and Ruskin in his formative years.

He always recalled with pride that the Jain spirit instilled in him by Srimad Rajchandra gave him the courage and vision to successfully lead India’s struggle for freedom from colonial rule through the technique of Satyagraha firmly rooted in the persuasive power and courage of non-violence. Gandhiji transformed non-violence from a religious doctrine into a potent spiritual force in the day-to-day life of not only the individual, but also the community and the nation.

Until very recent times, Jainism remained, by and large, confined to India. This was largely due to the severe restrictions forming part of the highly austere code of conduct for the monks and nuns ( Sadhavis ), who could not travel except on foot. Yet Jainism spread to distant parts of India, judging from the discovery of ancient Jain temples in M.P., Gujarat, North India, Bihar, U.P., Orissa, Bengal and very notably South India. Jain religion reinforced its firm moorings in South India as early as the 3rd century BC, when under the leadership of Acharya Bhadrabahu, 12000 Jain monks traveled to south India when north India was struck with a severe 12 years duration famine during the reign of Emperor Chandragupta Maurya (322-298 B.C.). Chandragupta also became a Jain monk who joined the southwards migrating group of Jain ascetics

It is towards the end of the 19th century and with much greater momentum in the 20th century that Jain businessmen and professionals started settling down in community groups all over Africa and in recent times in U.S.A. and Canada, U.K. and other countries both in east and west. A large number of Jain temples have come up in these countries as Jains abroad continue to pursue their religion subscribing to its salient principles and rituals with devotion and dedication. Noteworthy examples of Jain temples- invariably composite ones with simultaneous worship facilities for different Jain sects are Siddhachalam-the first and only Teerth outside India in New Jersey (U.S.A.), temples in New York, Detroit, Chicago, Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles and many other cities in U.S.A., Edmonton, Toronto and elsewhere in Canada, Kathmandu in Nepal, Hongkong, Malaysia, Bangkok (Thailand), Singapore, Kobe in Japan, Nairobi and Mombasa in Africa, Antwerp in Belgium and so on.

What is more, slowly but significantly Jains have started taking active part in inter-faith cooperative endeavours both in India and abroad propagating the universal relevance of Jain philosophy and practices for bringing peace and succour to humanity tormented by increasing violence, lust of power, hatred, exploitation and discrimination. Carl Sagan, noted American spiritual scientist has recognized that it is only the Jain religion in which the concept and implementation of ‘the Right to Life’ and reverence for all forms of life has been enshrined with comprehensive clarity.

In a very thoughtful observation, Michael Tobias, a reputed American Jain scholar, maintains that

In no other religion has thought and action been so intricately merged into a unity of behavior, and an environmental code of ethics that permeates every aspect of Jain life, posterity and history.The intense spirituality, transparent ecological orientation, mutually supportive and tolerance promoting attributes and a highly disciplined ethical art of living puts the Jain philosophy in the ranks of the common heritage of humanity.”

At the session of the U.S. Congress commemorating the 2600th birth anniversary of Lord Mahavir in April, 2001, Congressman Frank Pallone observed :

Jainism is a beautiful religion originating in India over two millennia ago built on the principle of non-violence, working on the self and realization of multiplicity of truth through our varying perspectives of life.”