Lord Mahavira

 Mahavira or “the Great Valiant one”, like Gautam Buddha who was born a few decades later, saw the complete uselessness of observing rituals only without putting any heart into it, which was prevalent then among ordinary people who were following the ancient Vedic traditions. He went into the substance of the matter in this context.

History of the Eastern people has shown that time and again Yogis and Rishis came to this world and showed the spiritual path and, when that path became corrupted over a period of time, another set of Yogis and Rishis came again on the scene to re-establish the purity of that path. Naturally, in this process new impulse of spiritual force was given and as a result thereof new religions were born.

One can see this as the birth of a new religion or a new impulse to the old and decaying spiritual stream.

Jitendriya (The one who secures victory over one’s sense-organs!)

About the circumstance of the birth of Lord Mahavira, it is reported by Jain Sutras: “On the orders of Sakra, the Divine, Harinegamesi (Sanskrit word Harinai-gamai- shin, that one who goes like the speed of deer or Harin), the dispenser of the Divine, left the presence of Sakra and descended towards the northeastern quarter. He transformed himself through his power and produced the definitive form (when gods adopt on entering the world of men); having done so, he passed through numberless places and seas, and arrived in Jambudweepa, in Bharatvarsha, in the brahmanical part of the town Kundagrama, at the house of the Brahman Rishabhdatta, where the Brahmani Devananda dwelt.

“Having arrived there, he made his bow in the sight of the Venerable Ascetic Mahavira, and cast the Brahmani, along with her retinue, into deep sleep. He then saying ‘May the Venerable One permit me’ took the Ascetic Mahavira in his folded palms of his hands and, thus, went to the Kshtriya part of the town Kundigrama, to the house of the Kshtriya Sidhartha, where the Kshtriyani Trishala of Vasishtha Gotra dwelt. He cast her and her attendants into deep sleep, placed the embryo of the Venerable Mahavira in the womb of the Kshatriyani Trishala, and the embryo of the Kshatriyani Trishala he placed in the womb of the Brahmani Devananda of the Jalandharayana Gotra. Having done so, Harinegamesi returned to that direction in which he had come and reported the Divine of his compliance of the direction. Upon the transplant of the Venerable Mahavira in the womb of Kshatriyani Trishala, she, while in a state between sleep and waking, saw a succession of dreams.

“First she saw an elephant of enormous size (like Airavat – the elephant of god Indra) with lucky marks and fragrance. Then, she saw, a lucky white tamed bull, followed by others that of a handsome playful lion; Sri, the goddess of beauty, reposing on a lotus in the lotus-lake on top of Mount Himavat; a garland of Mandara flowers coming from the firmament; living resplendent full Moon, as white as cow-milk and glorious; the large sun; a large and extremely beautiful flag fastened to a golden staff and made of a tuft of many soft and waving peacock’s feathers of blue, red, yellow, and white colors that seemed as if it would pierce the brilliant celestial sphere and a brilliant lion on top of it; a full vase of costly metal, resplendent with fine gold, filled with pure water and shining with a bouquet of water lilies; a large lake, called Lotus Lake, adorned with water lilies wherein its yellow water in the rays of morning sun was perfumed by lotuses; milk-ocean whose milk-waters increased in all four directions raging with ever-changing and excessively high waves; a celestial abode that shone like the morning sun’s disk with dazzling beauty having thousand and eight inlaid gold columns wherein Gandharvas performed their consorts with the din of the drums of the gods like thunder of large rain-clouds; an enormous heap of jewels whose base was on the level of the earth and, iIIuminating with its jewels, it seemed as high as Mount Meru; and a fire that was in vehement motion with its beautiful burning flames and appeared to bake the firmament in some places.

“After having seen these fine and beautiful dreams, Kshatriyani Trishala rose from her bed while the hair of her body bristled with joy and went to the couch of Kshatriya Sidhartha where he was sleeping. There she, with pleasing words, awakened him from the sleep and with his permission sat down on a chair. She narrated all her dreams to Sidhartha and asked him to tell whether these dreams are the portend of happy results. On hearing these dreams from his wife, Sidhartha considered their meaning by his common intelligence and intuition and told her she had seen illustrious dreams and that ‘you will give birth to a lovely, handsome boy, who will be the ensign of our family, the lamp of our family, the crown of our family, the sun of our family… And this boy, after having passed childhood, and, with just ripened intellect, having reached the state of youth, will become a brave, gallant and valorous king, the lord of the realm, with a large and extensive army and train of wagons.’ Sidhartha was extremely pleased with his wife and she took every care, by way of hearing good, auspicious, pious and agreeable stories about gods and religious men, that her excellent and pre-eminent dreams shall not be counteracted by other bad dreams.

“Sidhartha getting ready, by taking bath, putting emblem of his knighthood and armlets etc., called an assembly of all his stately servants and other chieftains of the area in his palace, where he got a curtain put towards the interior of the palace and behind it got arranged for a chair for his wife within the audible distance. He, then, asked his family servants to call the interpreters of dreams who well knew the science of prognostics with its eight branches.”

For a year and a month Mahavira (599 BC) wore clothes. After that he abandoned the clothes, went about naked and accepted the alms in the hollowness of his hands. For more than twelve years he neglected and abandoned the care of his body and with equanimity bore and underwent and suffered all pleasant or unpleasant occurrences arising from divine powers, men or animals.

Henceforth Mahavira was house-less and circumspect about his body, speech (senses) and mind by taking care of his walking, speaking, begging, evacuating excrements and un-cleanliness of his body. He was guarding his thoughts, words, acts, senses and his chastity (against their natural tendency of going astray and indulging in impulses and desires); he did it without wrath, pride, deceit and greed; he was calm, tranquil, composed and liberated from temptations. He had dissolved his ego (formed of body sensations, desires and mental thoughts) and thereby had cut off earthly ties.

Now he knew no worldly obstacles and needed no support. He was now always waking. He was single and alone with Himself (refer on this website to an experience of finding one’s own Psychic Being). Now he was deep like an ocean, free as bird, pure-hearted like water, valorous like elephant, strong like bull, difficult to attack like lion, steady and firm like Mount Meru, mild like moon, refulgent like sun, bore patiently like earth and shone in splendor like a well-kindled fire. This is the outwardly seeming state of a person who has got constant communion – or identification – of his body, desires and mind with his true inner Self or Psychic Being.

Mahavira lived, except in the rainy season, all the eight months of summer and winter, in villages only a single night, in towns only five nights. He was indifferent to things of this world or of (things) beyond it, desiring neither life nor death.

He had arrived at the other shore of the Samsara and exerted himself for suppression (bearing out) of the defilement of Karma. In this way, Mahavira with all the virtues that are required for attaining Supreme Knowledge, meditated for twelve years on himself (that is, on his heart where there is Real Self). During the thirteenth year, on the tenth day of Vaisakha month in summer, outside the town of Jrimbhikagrama on the bank of river Rijpalika and near an old temple and in the field a householder named Samaka, Mahavira, after fasting two and half days without drinking water, sat down in a squatting position with joined heels, exposing himself to the heat of the sun and engaged himself in deep meditation and then reached the Highest Knowledge that is called Kevala (that is, a state that is Absolute and Supreme beyond which there is nothing in this world and the worlds outside it); Kevala that is infinite, supreme, unobstructed, unimpeded, complete and full.

When Mahavira thus became a Jaina and Arhat, he was a Kevalin, omniscient and comprehending all objects; he knew and saw all conditions of the world, of gods, of men and demons: whence they came, whither they go, whether they are born as men or animals, or become gods or beings of dark world. He knew and saw all conditions of all living beings in the world, i.e., the thoughts of their minds, desires of their hearts and their deeds, done in open or in secret.

After having lived thirty years as householder, more than twelve years in efforts for attaining Supreme Truth (Kevala), something less than thirty years as a Kevalin and forty-two years as a teacher – in all seventy-two years – on the fifteenth day, in the last dark night of Kartika month, in the town of Papa, in king Hastipala’s office of writers, Mahavira, cutting asunder the ties of birth and death, quitted the world, i.e. died. On the night of the death of Mahavira, his oldest disciple named Indrabhuti was out of town for preaching at somebody’s house. On coming to know of the death of Mahavira, he grasped the truth that love (which he had for Mahavira) has no place for one who wants to be free from passion and then and there broke the tie of attachment to his master, uprooted all passions from his heart and attained Supreme Truth, that is, Kavala and quitted his body.

The essence of Lord Mahavira’s teachings:

Declared Parsva: “In this ocean (of universe) with its currents (births, pleasures, attachments, pains, diseases, deaths etc) difficult to cross, one man (that is, he himself) has reached the opposite shore (of the ocean); one wise man (that is, he) has given an answer to the following question: ‘Two ways of life ending with death have been declared (by wise men as the only possible): death with one’s will, and death against one’s will.

“Death against one’s will is that of ignorant man, and it happens (to him) many times. Death with one’s will is that of wise men, and at best, it happens but once. ‘(An ignorant) man attached to pleasures and amusements is caught in the trap; (he thinks) ‘I never saw the next world, but I have seen the pleasures of this life with my own eyes’. (He thinks) ‘The pleasures of this life are in my hands (that is, I can get them whenever I want), but the future ones (in next world) are uncertain. Who is there who knows whether there is a next world or not?”

Jain Sutras further inform us of the wisdom thus: The fool boasts: I shall do as people generally do (enjoy pleasures); but by his love of pleasures and amusements he will come to grief. Overbearing in acts and words, desirous of wealth and women, he accumulates bad results (of his conduct) in two ways (that is, getting polluted outside on the body and inside in his inner existence), just as a young snake gathers dust (on its body and in its mouth, both). Then he suffers ill and is attacked by disease; and he is in dread of the next world when he reflects on his deeds. (He thinks) I have heard of the places in hell and of the destination of the sinner, where the fools who do cruel deeds will suffer violently.

“As a charioteer, who against his better judgment leaves the smooth highway and gets on a rugged road, repents when the axle breaks; so the fool, who transgresses the Law and embraces unrighteousness, repents in the hour of death, (like charioteer) over the broken axle. Then when death comes at last, the fool trembles in fear; he dies ‘the death against one’s will … Thus has been explained the fool’s ‘death against one’s will’; now hear from me the wise men’s ‘death with one’s will’. Full of peace and without injury to anyone is, as I have known, death of the (virtuous) ones who control themselves and subdue their senses.”

Let us look at the circumstances under which Lord Mahavira and earlier Rishis – or Tirthankars – of Jainism came on the scene of spiritual history of India to denounce the outer relics of inner spiritual essence and establish once again the purity of the spiritual stream. We know that in India, since ancient times, Brahman was put by the social organization at the apex of the four Varnas because his life was dedicated to realize Supreme Truth. He was ordained by law and habituated by tradition and customs to devote his earthly existence to pursue the path of purity and chastity whereby he could gain mastery over his sensual desires and dictate them on to the path of sublime Truth.

At the initiation of the Varna system, in antiquity, a Brahman was to earn his Varna by his conduct in life and not as a matter of right by his birth in a Brahman family.

However, with the passage of time things degraded and it became possible to earn this highest order of foursome Varnas by merely being born in Brahman family. This was decaying of an institution that was originally geared to achieve higher goal. One after another, many great Rishis tried to check this decline by formulating laws that forbid the Brahman to indulge in comparatively degraded activities that were allowed for Kshatriya, Vaisya and Sudra. Then Manu codified and promulgated an elaborate law binding all the four Varnas. That worked for some time and the gradual decline was checked for considerable period. It was not a mean achievement.

But who has been able to stop the flow of time and the accompanying results designed by scheme of things? Brahmans degraded themselves; they became arrogant in the pride of their birth.

Lord Mahavira was the first revolutionary, later on followed by Lord Buddha, to challenge the Brahman of his highest station in the Varna system merely on the basis of his birth. He was the true seeker of truth in his early years and had no sympathy with false pretence.

When he realized Kaivalya (Enlightenment of Supreme Single Truth), he preached against false pride by anyone who claimed the highest status of knowledge by his mere birth circumstances.

Who is a Brahman and Who is a Chandal?

Here we are giving an instance that provided the real test as to who was Brahman and who was Chandal (or low caste inferior person). We read in the Jain sacred scriptures:

“Harikesha-Bala was born in a family of chandalas (called Swapakas); he became a monk and a sage, possessed of the highest virtues, the one who has subdued his desires and senses. He observed all the rules of conduct required of a person who has subdued his body’s senses, desires and worldly thoughts.

“Once on a begging-tour (to sustain his body), he approached the enclosure of a Brahmanical sacrifice. When the priest saw him coming up, emaciated by austerities, in a miserable condition, and with the poorest outfit (simply a begging bowl), they laughed at him, the ruffians. Struck up by pride of birth, those killers of animals, who did not subdue their senses, the unchaste sinners, made the following speech: ‘Who is that dandy coming there? He is swarthy, dreadful, with a turned-up nose, miserably clad, a very devil of a dirty man, with a filthy cloth put up on his neck? ‘Who are you, you monster? Or for what purpose have you come here? You miserably clad devil of a dirty man! Go, get away! Why stand you there?’

“At this turn of event a helping spirit, who lived in the Tinduka-tree, had compassion on the great sage, and making his own body invisible spoke the following words:

“I am a chaste Sramana, controlling myself; I have no property, nothing belonging to me, and do not cook my food; I have come here for food which is dressed for somebody else at the time when I call. ‘You give away, eat, and consume plenty of food; know that I subsist by begging; let the mendicant get what is left of the rest.’ The dinner has been prepared for Brahmans, it has been got ready especially for ourselves and for us exclusively; we shall not give you such food and drink; why stand you there?’ ‘The husbandmen throw the corn on high ground and low ground (so that corn may grow and return in plenty to them) hoping for a return. For the like motive (you may also) give unto me; I may be the field which may produce merit (as the result of your benevolence).’ ‘The entire world knows that we are (as it were) the field on which gifts sown grow up as merit; Brahmans of pure birth and knowledge are the blessed fields’

“Those who are full of anger and pride, who kill, lie, steal, and own property, are Brahmans without pure birth and knowledge; they are very bad fields.’ You are only the bearer of words, as it were, you do not understand their meaning, though you have learned Vedas. Saints call at high and lowly (houses for begging); they are the blessed fields.’ ‘Detractor of the learned doctors, how dare you speak thus in our presence! This food and drink should rather rot, than we should give it to you, Nigrantha (that is, one who does not possess or believe in the books like Vedas).’ ‘If you do not give me what I ask for, I who observe the Samities (that is, rules of conduct), who am protected by the Guptis (that is, capacity to control one’s body senses, desires of heart and thoughts of mind), who subdue my senses, what benefit, then, will you gain by your sacrifices?’ ‘Are there no Kshatriyas, no priests who tend the fire (of sacrifice ritual), no teacher with their disciples, who will beat him with a stick, or pelt him with a nut (that might have been obtained as a gift), take him by the neck, and drive him off?

“On hearing these words, many young fellows rushed forward, and they all beat the sage with sticks, canes and whips. At that turn Bhadra, a beautiful woman, the wife of the Purohit and daughter of king Kaushalika, saw that the monk was beaten. She appeased the angry youngsters saying: ‘He is the very man to whom my father, impelled by my disease of devil-possession, had given me, but who would not think of me; he is the sage whom princes and gods adore, who had refused (to accept) me. ‘He is that austere ascetic, of noble nature, who subdues his senses and controls himself; the chaste man, who would not accept me when my own father gave me to him. ‘He is the man of great fame and might, of awful piety and power; do not injure him who cannot be injured; least he consume you all by the fire (of his spiritual powers)… The helping spiritual forces, finding things going the wrong way, at that moment came to the assistance of the sage and kept the youngsters at bay in a subtle manner.

“Bhadra continued: ‘Like a poisonous snake is a great sage of severe austerities, with a tremendous piety and power; like a swarm of moths you will rush into a fire, if you beat a monk on his begging tour. ‘Prostrate yourself before him for protection, you together with all of them, if you want to save your life and your property; for in his wrath he might reduce the world to ashes.’

“When the Brahmana saw the disciples bowing their back and head, and holding out their hands, not minding their occupation (of giving sermons)… he became heartbroken and dejected, and together with his wife he appeased the sage saying ‘forgive us our injury and abuse, sir!’Forgive, sir, these ignorant, stupid boys, that they injured you. Sages are exceedingly gracious, nor are the saints inclined to wrath.’ ‘There is not the least hatred in me, neither now, nor before, nor in future. The helping spiritual powers attend upon me, therefore, they have beaten the boys’ ‘You know the Truth and the Law; you are not angry, compassionate sage; we take refuge at your feet, we together with all of them. We worship you, mighty sir; there is nothing in you that we do not worship; eat this dish of boiled rice seasoned with many condiments. I have got plenty of food; eat it to do a favor.’

“The noble monk said ‘yes’ and took food and drink after having fasted a whole month. Therefore, it is said ‘0 Brahman, why do you tend the (sacrificial) fire. And seek external purity by water? The wise ones say that external purity which you seek for, is not the right thing… ‘Where is your fire, your fireplace, your sacrificial ladle? Where (is) the dried cow-dung? Without these things, what kind of priests can a monk be? What oblation do you offer to the fire?’ ‘Penance is my fire; life my fireplace; right exertion is my sacrificial ladle; the body the dried cow-dung; Karma is my fuel; self-control, right exertion and tranquility are the oblation, praised by the sages (as right things), which I offer.’ ‘Where is your pond, and where the holy bathing-place? How do you make your oblations or get rid of impurity… ‘The Law (the teaching of Mahavira) is my pond, celibacy my holy bathing-place, which is not turbid, and throughout clear for the soul (Atmaprasannalesya, that is, True Self that is blissful in its abode); there I make ablutions; pure, clean, and thoroughly cooled I get rid of hatred etc (dosa). ‘The wise ones have discovered such bathing; it is the great bath, praised by the seers, in which the great seers bathe, and pure and clean, they obtain the highest place (Kevala)”

Departure (Leaving the physical body):

On the night when Mahavira died, the eighteen confederate kings of Kasi and Kosala, the nine Mallakis and nine Lichchavis instituted an illumination (of their places) saying ‘as the light of intelligence is gone, let us make an illumination of man-made matter!’

This event of eighteen confederates illuminating their places sheds a light on an otherwise important aspect of historical relevance, that is, political state of India in those ancient times and is worth mentioning here.

Sidhartha, the father of Vardhamana who became Mahavira on conquering his passions, was the chief of Kundagrama (or Kundapura), a suburban village of Vaisali, and the capital of Videha. He belonged to Kasyap Gotra of Janatrika Kshatriya clan of Lichchavi Tribe, who exercised authority over Kundagrama territories, and his wife was Trishala, a Kshtriyani. He belonged to the recognized aristocracy of the country and his wife, Trishala, was sister of Ketaka, the king of Vaishali. She was called Vaidehi or Vaidehadatta (given in marriage by Vaideha) because she belonged to the reigning line of Vaideha. King Ketaka was the maternal uncle of Mahavira.

The government of Vaishali was vested in a senate composed of the nobility and presided over by a king, who shared the power with a viceroy and a general-in-chief who commanded the army. Lichchavis themselves belonged to a confederation of eighteen tribal and kingly governments. It was a peculiar Indian form of ancient republican confederation. It is related in Jaina sacred Sutras (Nirayavali Sutra) that Ajatashatru (or Kunika), the King of Champa, was preparing to attack King Ketaka with a large army whereupon King Ketaka called together the eighteen confederate kings of Kasi and Koshala, the Lichchavis and Mallakis, and asked them whether they would satisfy Ajatashatru’s demands or go to war with him.

It seems that Ketaka was one of these confederate kings and of equal power with them and that the constituents of this confederation were bound by a political convention or constitution to defend themselves together against an outside attack. In addition to this, King Ketaka’s powers were checked by the constitution of Vaishali that was of a republican nature.

Through his mother Mahavira was related to the ruling dynasty in Magadha since King Ketaka’s daughter Keilana was married to Seniya Bimhisara (or Bimbisara), the king of Magadha, and residing at Rajagriha. King Bimbisara was a friend and patron of Mahavira.

Mahavira prized the virtue of sincerity among his disciples and was against lustful designs of priests. Priests having selfish motive and established for centuries generally did not find merit in Mahavira’s teaching of uprooting and destroying desires and passions in order to attain Supreme Truth, the Kevala. In the prevailing conditions Jainas originally preferred the Kshtriyas to the Brahmans. Kalpa Sutras say thus: “It never has happened nor does it happen, nor will it happen, that Arhats, Chakravartins, Baladevas, or Vasudevas, in the past, present or future, should be born in low families, mean families, degraded families, poor families, indigent families, beggars’ families, or brahmanical families. For indeed Arhats, Chakravartins, Baladevas and Vasudevas, in the past, present and future, are born in high families, noble families, royal families, noble man’s families, in families belonging to the race of Ikshvaku, or of Hari, or in other such like families of pure descent on both sides.”

This document is systematically sequential. Read NEXT here.

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