jain religion and teachings of bhagwan mahavir





Supreme spiritual leader

Bhagwan Mahavir, the 24th and the last Tirthankar of Jain religion in the present time cycle lived from 599 B.C. till 527 B.C. His 2600th birth anniversary (JANMA KALYANAK) was celebrated in the year 2000 A.D. with festive rituals as well as thought-provoking conferences in all major capitals of the world. Mahavir has emerged globally in the front ranks of spiritual masters as an ardent and inspiring messiah of non-violence, peace and compassion.

He made a distinct and ever-lasting contribution to the universal spiritual heritage through his elucidation and elaboration of Jain philosophy’s principal tenets of Ahimsa (non-violence), Aparigraha (non-possessiveness), and Anekant (doctrine of manifold aspects and relative nature of truth) both as shaping an ethical art of living for humanity, as well as showing the path to eventual salvation.

He put focus on taking an integral view of life as propounded in the Jain philosophy. Neither faith nor knowledge alone could take the humanity to the path of true happiness and bliss. One needed a combination of right faith, right knowledge and right conduct. By knowledge, one understands the nature of substances ( Vastu-Swabhava), by faith and perception one believes in it, by conduct one puts an end to the flow of karmas, and by austerity one attains purity.

Jain scripture Sutra Kratang describes him as follows :

Just as Airawat (Indra’s elephant) is regarded as supreme among all the elephants, lion among all the animals, Ganges among all the rivers, and Garuda (eagle) among all the birds, in the same way Mahavir stands tallest among all the spiritual teachers in guiding humanity to take to the path of eventual salvation.”

Mahatma Gandhi, who drew abiding inspiration from Jain religion described Mahavir as an incarnation of non-violence, who spread the message of nonviolence as no other person ever did. Dr. Ernest Liey, a renowned German scholar paying a warm tribute to Mahavir has observed that he was a divine being, a paragon among the practitioners of penance, greatest among the thinkers, a leader among the evolutionists of soul, and a beacon light in all branches of knowledge. C. Rajagopalachri, former Governor General of India and a front-ranking freedom fighter has very thoughtfully observed that the message of Bhagwan Mahavir is not for any particular community or sect, but for the entire world. If one follows his preaching based on first practicing oneself, one can lead an ideal life of true happiness.

Mahavir’s teachings strike a common universal chord since all the religions and faiths of the world recognize that protection of nature and all living beings and kindness towards all should be the basic essence of human behavior. The great Jain sage Kartikeya Swamy expounded the teaching of “JEEVANAM RAKKHANAM DHAMMO PARMODAYA VISHUDHO”, meaning preservation of all forms of life constitutes the purest form of religion

Life prior to Renunciation

Mahavir was born in a royal family on the thirteenth day of the rising moon half of Indian calender Chaitra month in 599 B.C. in the state of Bihar, India. This day falls in the month of April as per the Christian calendar. His birthplace was Kundalpur, which was part of the famous Vaishali (LICHHAVI) republic. The famous Chinese traveler has described with great admiration the highly prosperous and rich city of Vaishali. His father was King Siddartha the King of Kshatriyakund, and his mother was Queen Trishala. She was the daughter of the Emperor of Lichhavi Republic.The royal family were devotees of Jain (then called SHRAMANA) religion and followers of the 23rd Jain Tirthankar Parshvanath. This left a deep impact on Mahavir’s perceptions in the course of his upbringing.

His birth marked a period of prosperity for the kingdom, and hence he was named as VARDHAMAN. Right from his early childhood, he displayed signs of great courage and fearlessness. Later during his penance as an ascetic, he wandered alone in the forests. Jain scriptures narrate several encounters with cruel men as well as beasts to illustrate his fearlessness. This earned him the name of MAHAVIR. His family name was Jnataputra. Buddhist scriptures refer to him as Nataputa, Nayaputta and Nirgrantha. Digambar holy texts also call him Sanmati signaling his inborn wisdom and equanimity.

During his over 12 years long penance and Sadhana, the intense and dedicated practice of SAMYA YOGA, the yoga of equanimity was pursued by him. Jain scriptures vividly describe significant details of his previous 26 life incarnations in the ongoing cycle of birth and death in human or animal forms in the course of which he went on steadily moving towards detachment from karmic bondages. It is said that in one of his early births, he was Marich, the grandson of the first Jain Tirthankar Rishabhnath.

His divine potential was signaled in the form of 14 (shwetambar tradition) or 16 (digambar tradition) auspicious dreams his mother had when she conceived him. Jain tradition has associated such dreams with the birth of all the Tirthankars. The highly auspicious dreams were forerunners of the birth of a child with divine moorings.

Although Mahavir grew up surrounded by all trappings of royal comforts and palace luxuries, instinctively he felt the urge for gradual detachment. The digambar tradition maintains that he did not marry at all, while according to shwetambar tradition he married Princess Yashodhara and had a daughter named Priyadarshini. After the passing away of his parents, he was all set for renunciation, but he deferred it for two years on the request of his elder brother. Finally at the young age of 30, he left the palace renouncing all worldly relationships. His 30 years life as a householder and family man came to an end. He took to the path of achieving complete Samyaktva (equanimous state of mind or super-consciousness).

Ever-shining symbol of total Renunciation

Mahavir became the ever-shining symbol of the courage of total renunciation (VEETARAAG), self-restraint and intense discipline. He took to the ardent path of vrat (fasting) and tapasya (penance) to cleanse his soul of all karmic impurities, revitalize his inner soul energy, gain deeper knowledge and profound wisdom about eventual human destiny and purpose of life through contemplation and meditation. The austerities practiced by Mahavir, and the many trials and tribulations, hostility and harassment faced by him were far more arduous than done by his predecessor Tirthankars. It is noteworthy that in his 12-1/2 years of continuous penance, normally his fasts without food or water lasted for as long as six months.

Renowned Jain saint Acharya Mahapragyaji has very thoughtfully observed that while embracing asceticism, Mahavir had resolved :

I surrender this body for the sake of my soul. This body is not mine. With this feeling, I shall use my body. To cross a river, a boat is needed. I shall use my body as a boat to cross the river of life. I shall bear all the pangs of suffering by being immersed in the soul.”

In his last sermon, Mahavir pointedly observed :

Varam me appa danto,
sanjamena tanena ya
maaham parehim dammanto,
Bandhanehim vahehi ya”

A spiritual practioner should think that it is better to conquer oneself by self-control and penance rather than allowing others to give you pain and suffering”

Elaborating it further he preached that:

Appa katta vikattaya,duhaha ya suhana ya;
Appa mittam mittam cha, duppattiya supatthio
Maker, unmaker of pleasure and pain for self
Is the self itself, none else’
Self again is friend and foe
That induces good or evil

<to be continued>