Thoughts on Mahavir Jayanthi
Now my joy knows no bounds when I came to know that this land is further sanctified by the birth of God-man Vardhamana Mahavira, the apostle of Jainism. I share a few of my thoughts.
Vaisali’s claim to fame rests on the fact that it was the first republic in the world that followed a democratic system of government over an area much larger than the Greek city-state or a Swiss Canton. Vaisali had no monarch, but a popular assembly and elders’ council who carried on the business of the state. It was a city with three walls, each of them built in a cow’s call distant from the next wherein 7707 Rajas were living. Vaisali, thus made a significant contribution to the evolution of the Indian polity and its importance in the cultural history of India is very great.
Vaisali was the cradle of Jainism from where the concepts of truth, non-violence, peace, right conduct, honesty and frugality radiated to all directions about six hundred years before the birth of Christ. Jainism has developed in to a major world religion through a succession of twenty-four teachers, called “Tirthankaras” starting with Rishabhadeva, whose name finds a place in Bhagavatha purana. The last two teachers are considered as historical personalities. They are Parsvanatha and Vardhamana Mahavira. The 23rd Tirthankara, Parsvanatha, confined his message to three principles viz. Ahimsa, Satya and Aparigraha.
Vardhamana Mahavira (599 -527 B.C) to whom the world owes Jainism, was virtually a product of the Vaisali confederacy. He was born to Siddhartha and Trisala at Kundagrama (present village of Basukunda) near Vaisali, in the clan of Lichchhavis during the reign of Ajatasatru. Ajatasatru annexed the Vrijji territory with Magadhan kingdom in the year 484 B.C. However, the tribe of Lichchhavis, the main element of the confederacy, succeeded in preserving its identity and survived till the 4th century A.D when it was again influential in the politics of eastern India. Vaisali, was a place of peace, righteousness and a cultural centre. The quiet life, which the ordinary people of the republican clans enjoyed under their autonomous states, was being completely disturbed under the rule of Ajatasatru. It was a period when those who happened to be in charge of the affairs of the states began to lose their faith in the values of eternal principles of religion, and the example of these leaders was probably becoming infectious and even the ordinary people looked at possession of worldly riches and powers as a worthy end to be achieved in utter disregard of means. It was at such a critical time in the history of our nation that Bhagavan Vardhamana Mahavira descended on the earth to preach his message of peace, love and kindness to all. As we find in the life history of all avatars, Trishala also experienced divine dreams. The fourteen auspicious dreams that she dreamt were: an elephant, an ox, a lion, anointment, a garland, the moon, the sun, an ensign, a jar, a lotus lake, a sea, a celestial abode, a heap of gems and a burning flame. His mission was to awaken in the people a true sense of brotherhood and a genuine desire to go by the path of righteousness.
Many are not aware the great work of Mahavira in raising the moral level of mankind and preventing it from being completely lost. Its matter of joy to mention that the Jaina religion still maintains its distinctive individuality both in the organization of order of ascetics and the lay community which is remarkable for its commercial enterprise and its super-abundant wealth. Though Jainism cannot claim to have the patronage and support of the rulers of the state as in the past, it still maintains its hold on a considerable part of the mercantile community of India.
In his 30th year, Mahavira renounced the world and after 12 year long self-penance, in his 42nd year of age, attained supreme knowledge on Vaisakha sudi dasami day. It happened in the field of the householder Samaga outside the town of Jrmbhakagrama on the northern bank of the river Rijupalika. When he attained the supreme knowledge, he was in a squatting position with joined heels, exposing himself to the heat of the sun, with knees high and the head low in deep meditation.
In his 30 years of spiritual ministration he was successful in making a peaceful proselytisation.
What did he preach in his 30 years of spiritual ministry?
Mahavira added two more ethical codes to the three principle of Parshvana and thus brought out a five-fold philosophy for attainment of kevala jnana. Those two ethical codes were asteya and brahmacharya.
Mahavira left behind a well-organised monastic order to which he taught a four-fold meditation technique to the monastic community. They are:
(1) Kayotsarga (2) Bhavana (3) Vipashyana and( 4) Vishaya
For lay community, he stressed only the seond of the above namely Bhavana which consists of contemplation of the meaning and the importance of Jaina triratna, namely, right faith, right knowledge and right conduct. Of these Triratna, it is the last one, viz. right conduct that was highly emphasized by him through his five-fold character principles namely, ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya and aparigraha. A deep study of this five-fold character building strategy will help us in understanding the significance shown to these principles by Avatars like Rama, Krishna and Ramakrishna and will help us in imbibing these virtues in our lives. Many of us may not know the significance of the last cardinal principle – aparigraha – meaning the vow of non-possession. The possessive and acquisitive instincts are the most degrading passions of humanity. It springs from and feeds upon undue self-love and self-esteem. It only strengthens the animal ego. The desire for having more than others and what is necessary is a crime and a sin according to Mahavir. The trends of modern though and policies of the states all over the world are definitely set against this psycho-ethical malady. Mahavir went to the root of the problem of evil when he gave it a co-ordinate status with non-violence.
These cardinal principles of Mahavir constitute the universal basis of all religions in the true sense of the term.
In 527 B.C, at the age of 72 years, Mahavir attained his Maha Kevala Jnan at Pava now popularly called as Pavapuri, a pilgrimage centre to all.
Mahatma Gandhi’s practical application of this doctrine of ahimsa as a weapon for the recovery of political independence removed the passive attitude of the Jaina community, who were stirred to enthusiasm by the Father of the Nation.
The Mauryan emperor Chandragupta embraced Jainism and settled in Sravana-belagola which is situated in Hassan district of Karnataka. At present Sravana-belagola houses a 57 ft. colossal statue of Gomoteswara made out a single stone slab. Though the statue is called as Gomoteswara which was another name of Chamundaraya who built it, in reality it is that of Bahubali, a son of the first Tirthankara Lord Rishabhadeva. Maha-mastaka-abhiseka ceremony performed to Bahubali every 12 years draws lacs of devotees from all over India.
The famous Jain Garden temple of Calcutta also is an important Jain shrine in India.
In Tamilnadu, the Jains were called as “Nayanars”. In Chennai –Mylapore, Thiruvalluvar temple was known as “Nayanar temple”. The fact that Chennai-Mylapore was the seat of the Jainas during the period before 17th century A.D is recorded in the old Thothirathirattu (collections of songs of prayers) called Mylapore Paattu. Nannool commentator Mylainathar, Avirothenather, Gunavira Pandita of Neminather fame lived in Mylapore. So, it is not surprising that the Jainas of ancient Mylapore erected a temple for the author of Thirukkural installing therein the footprints of the Thevar and worshipped them. But no body knows the whereabouts of the holy foot-prints of Thiruvalluvar in the temple dedicated to him. Ilangovadigal, in his “Silappathikaram”, begins the chapter Madurai Kandam with prayers to Arhat. Adiyarkku Nallar, in his commentary on Silappathikaram, says that Arhat temple stands for Nayanar temple. Even the stone inscriptions of Kalugumalai, near Villupuram of Tamilnadu mention that Nayanars were the followers of Jain religion.
The effects of the deeds of God-men continue to inspire men of all faiths in all times to come.
Lord Mahavir will always occupy a foremost place among the benefactors of humanity and I pray to Him to bless us a life of ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya and aparigraha!
Swami Nishthatmanana, Muzaffarpur Ramakrishna Mutt.