Tirthankar Mahaveer was the last and the twenty-fourth Tirthankar of this epoch. There were twenty-three Tirthankaras before him e. g. Rishabhdeo and others.
Bhagwans (Gods) are infinite, but Tirthankaras in one epoch and in Bharatkshetra are twenty-four only. Every Tirthankar, as a rule, is a Bhagwan, but every Bhagwan is not a Tirthankar. A soul can attain godhood without being a Tirthankar. Every soul can become a God. That which leads to the attainment of perfection is called Tirtha and those who reach that supreme state themselves and show others the path of emancipation are called the Tirthankaras.
Bhagwan is not born, he grows to be one. Nobody is a Bhagwan since his birth. Mahaveer also was not a Bhagwan since his birth. He became a God, when he conquered himself. To conquer delusion, attachment and aversion is to conquer oneself.
Though the principles enunciated by Bhagwan Mahaveer are very deep, intricate, impressive and acceptable, his life is very easy, straight and eventless; there is no place for varieties in it. The story of his life, in brief is that he spent the first thirty years of life in the midst of wealth and splendour indifferently as a lotus in water. For the next twelve years he was engaged in the pursuit of the supreme soul and lived in jungles in deep meditation and during the fast thirty years, he expounded Sarvodaya i.e. the welfare of all living beings, propagated it and spread it throughout the four corners of the land, The life of Mahaveer is not eventful. It is vain to search for his personality in the course of events. However, there can be no event that did not happen in the infinite previous lives through which he had passed.
Mahaveer was born in Kundgram from the womb of queen Trishala, the wife of the Lichhavi King Siddhartha, the famous leader of the Vaishali Republic. His mother was the daughter of King Chetak, the President of the Vaishali Republic. He was born in the Nath family of Kshatriya clan, 2600 years back, on the thirteenth day of the second fortnight of Chaitra month. Looking at his constant growth, his parents named him Vardhman.
The festival of his birth was, celebrated with great zeal not only by his parents, relations and subjects of the kingdom, but also by gods and their lords, since he was going to be a Tirthankar. This festival is called Janma Kalyanak Mahotsava. The lord of the gods, Indra seated him on the elephant Erawat and performed the anointing ceremony with great pomp and show. The Jain epic texts give a vivid description of this event.
Even before his coming in the womb of his mother, it was known that a Tirthankar was to be born. One night, in the last hours, mother Priyakarini Trishla in her quiet sleep saw the following sixteen dreams indicative of a very auspicious happening .-
1. An elephant mad with intoxication.
2. A white ox with high shoulders.
3. A thundering lion.
4. Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, seated on the lotus throne.
5. Two fragrant garlands.
6. Moon in the assembly of stars.
7. Rising sun.
8. Two gold pitchers covered with lotus leaves.
9. Two fish playing in the tank.
10. A tank full to the brim with clean water.
11. The roaring ocean.
12. A throne inwrought with jewels.
13. A chariot of gods illuminated with gems.
14. The spacious sky touching the abode of Dharnendra.
15. A pile of gems, and
16. Fire without smoke.
Free from the morning engagements, mother Trishla to King Siddhartha and so a went to King Siddhartha and told him of the sixteen dreams. She wanted to know their effect. The king was well versed in Nimitta Shastra (scripture of instrumental causes). He was very happy to know of the dreams. The auspicious effect of the very happy dreams was conveyed to mother Trishla by his very happy facial expressions. He told her that she was going to be blessed with a son, who would become a Tirthankar and rule over the hearts of the creatures of the three worlds, would propagate the principles of emancipation and would be very fortunate. The womb of Trishla became as holy as that of Marudevi who gave birth to the first Tirthankar Adinath or Rishabhdeo.
All in all, these dreams indicate that the son to be born to Trishla would be as soft as leaves of flowers, as cold as the moon, as illustrious as the sun, a destroyer of the darkness of ignorance, powerful as an elephant, active as a bull, deep as an ocean, pure as the pile of jewels and bright as the flame of a smokeless fire.
Boy Vardhman entered his mother's womb on the sixth day of the second half of Ashad month.
Boy Vardhman was healthy, handsome and possessed of an attractive personality, since birth. He justified the name Vardhman given to him, growing like the digit of the moon on the second day of the bright fortnight. His gold like physique attracted all and sundry. The lord of gods himself assumed a thousand eyes to drink deep the beauty of the frame of the Lord.
He was a sentient, thoughtful, discriminate and fearless boy. He did not know any fear. He was an embodiment of courage. He was, therefore, known as Veer and Ativeer since his childhood. Five of his names are famous -Veer, Ativeer, Sanmati, Vardhman and Mahaveer.
He was prompt and ready-witted and never lost his balance in difficulties. One day, boy Vardhman delighting his parents and citizens by his childlike playfulness, was playing in the garden with other princes. He climbed a tree in his playful spirit. Meanwhile a terrible black snake encircled the trunk of the tree and began to emit fumes out of a fit of anger that would shake even the very strong. Finding themselves in adverse circumstances, the children began to shiver with fear, but that terrible snake could not disturb patient and strong child Mahaveer. Seeimg Mahaveer fearlessly and without hesitation coming near it, the furious snake left the fury and went his way.
In the same way, once, an elephant became made and began to spread havoc in the city, breaking away from the pillar of the building in which elephants are kept. The whole city was agog and people began to run from one place to the other in panic. Prince Vardhman, however, did not lose his presence of mind and controlled the elephant with his power and cleverness. The bravery and patience of the Prince became a talk of the common men in the city.
He was a genius and could solve great problems easily. He was quiet by nature; the seriousness grew with his entry into youth. He loved loneliness. He was always busy pondering over the fundamentals of life and death and indulged in deep discussions. Those eager to get to truth, placed their misgivings before him and he solved them in no time. Most of the doubts and misgivings were resolved by the sight of his calm posture. The big doubts about the fundamentals of religion of the big monks were removed by just having a look at his physical frame. He was himself a solution of these misgivings.
One day he was sitting in the fourth storey of his palace deeply engrossed in contemplation. His comrades came and asked mother Trishla where Vardhman was. Busy in her household, the mother just pointed to the upper storey. The boys ran to the seventh storey, but did not find Vardhman there. When they asked King Siddhartha, who was studying religious texts, where Vardhman was, he just pointed to the lower storeys. Hearing the contradictory statements of the father and the mother, the boys were confused. They searched every storey and found Vardhman in the fourth one, studying. The boys complained that they had searched all the storeys of the palace and Mahaveer was hiding there as a philosopher. Vardhman asked them why they did not ask the mother to tell them where he was. The boys said that the whole trouble arose out of the asking. The mother told them that he was up, while the father told them that he was downstairs. The problem was where to find and where the truth lay. Vardhman told them that both were correct; that he was on the fourth storey, up from the point of view of the mother and down from the point of view of the father. The mother was on the first storey, while the father on the seventh. The positions downwards and upwards are relative. Without relativity there is no question of downwards or upwards. Though the nature of the substance is without any relation with any other substance, the description is relative. Thus boy Vardhman used to explain lofty principles to the boys easily.
The world tried to persuade him to follow their path but Mahaveer was engrossed deep in the depths of his soul and so the world could not entangle him to follow their path. Youth threw its die on him, but in vain. The parental affections tried to block his way, but he did not float on the flood of his mother's tears.
Accordingly he left his home in the thirtieth year of his youth, on the tenth day of the first half of Magsir. He became naked and engaged himself in the pursuit of his self in that solitary forest. The Laukantik gods came from the heavens and praised him for his resolve with great reverence. Monk Vardhman used to remain silent and did not talk to anybody. He was always engrossed in the contemplation of his soul. He did not even remember that he needed a bath or the cleaning of his teeth. He used to rest in the caves of the mountains, holding friends and foes alike, and was not disturbed by the fury of the inclemencies of weather.
The cruel animals of the forest saw is calm posture, natural ease and non-violent life and forgot their natural enmity and became friends. Snakes and mongooses, tigers and cows used to drink water from the same wharf. Wherever he stayed, the whole atmosphere was full of peace and quiet.
If sometimes he happened to have a liking for food, he would go to the nearest town with strange mental reservations. If some householder gave him pure food according to the scriptures' command and with nine types of rituals, he would take his meals and soon return to the forests. He also accepted food once at the hands of grief-ridden Sati Chandanbala.
Thus engaged in external and internal penances, he spent twelve years. At the age of forty-two in this state of deep self-absorption he annihilated subtle attachment and attained the completely detached state of his being. With this state of spiritual development he attained omniscience also. He became real Mahaveer having conquered the enemies of delusion, attachment and aversion completely. He became a Bhagwan being an omniscient and a completely detached being. In theite fruition of Tirthankar Namkaram, he got that status and was known as Bhagwan Mahaveer. His divine message was delivered first on the first day of the. month of Shravan, on account of which this day has been celebrated in the whole of India as Veer Shasan Jayanti.
Kuber was ordered by the Lord of the gods to construct a huge meeting-hall called the Samavsharan for the worldly creatures to meet and hear the divine message of Lord Mahaveer. Every being was entitled to go there and hear the message. There was no distinction of big or small. One whose conduct is non-violent, who has touched the intrinsic nature of substances, who has dived deep in his own self, is greater than not only human beings but also gods, though he may be born in a low family.
In his religious congregation kings and the commons, rich and poor, black and white, all sat together and listened to his message. Animals along with gods and humans also sat there and listened to the divine teachings of the Lord. Such equality amongst the creatures of this world is difficult elsewhere. In the fourfold federation of the Lord, there were monks, she-monks, male and female householders.
Many learned scholars opposed to him, became his disciples shunning their own wrong conceptions, after being influenced by his message of universal love and goodwill. The chief amongst them was his chief disciple Indrabhuti Gautam. He was accepted as the first preceptor of the Lord and became famous as Gautam Swami. The story of how he was initiated into Digamber Jain monkhood is quite interesting.
Indrabhuti Gautam was well versed in the Vedas and Vedangas. He had five hundred disciples. When the Indra realised that Indrabhuti Gautam alone could become the chief preceptor of the Lord, he went to his abode in disguise of an old Brahmin, Indra introduced himself as a disciple of Mahaveer and asked Gautam the meaning of a Sanskrit verse.
Indrabhuti became thoughtful. "What are these six substances, nine matters, five Astikayas etc. ?" He concealed his ignorance in his pride and told Indra that he would like to discuss these with his master i. e., Lord Mahaveer. He expressed his desire to accompany lndra to the place where the Lord was delivering his sermons. The time was ripe for the reception of real spiritualism in the case of Gautam and for the Lord to start delivering his long awaited message of religion. As Indrabhuti Gautam came near the Samavsharan his rigidity suddenly turned into softness. His pride disappeared at the sight of the Manstambha, (a pillar just in front of the Samavsharan) and he approached the Lord with a request for his own initiation into monkhood. By his own ability and the magnanimity of Mahaveer, he became the first Gandhar of the Lord. There were ten other Gandharas whose names were; (1) Agnibhuti, (2)Vayubhuti, (3) Aryavyakta, (4) Sudharma, (5) Mandit, (6)Mauryaputra, (7) Akampit, (8) Achaibhrata, (9) Metarya and (10) Prabhas.
Amongst his householder disciples Maharaj Shrenik (Bimbsar), the king of Magadh, was the chief.
He traversed the length and breadth of India continuously for thirty years. Different beings understood his teachings in their own languages. His sermons were called Divya Dhwani. He has upheld the independence of the soul and all other substances. He declared that every soul is independent; none depends upon the other; self-reliance is the way to achieve complete independence. Self-reliance is nothing but centralisation of one's vision on one's soul only, different from colour, attachment and division. Independence can only be achieved on one's own strength; you can't get infinite bliss and independence in charity or achieve them on others' strength.
All souls are separate and independent, not one, but like one, similar, none big or small. He, therefore, ordained :-
1. Regard other souls as your own.
2. All souls are equal, but not one.
3. If our efforts are directed towards right direction, every soul can attain godhood.
4. Every creature is unhappy on account of his own mistakes, and can become happy by removing the mistakes.
Mahaveer did not propagate any new truth; there is nothing like old or new in truth. Whatever he said is true and eternal. He did not establish truth; he only inaugurated it. He did not found any new religion. Religion is the nature of substances. The nature of substances cannot be built. How can that which can be built be called nature ? It can only be known. Remaining away from the pride of doing and detaching himself from non-self entities one who knows the self and the non-self, without in any way being influenced by others, and in all their perspectives, is God. Tirthankar Bhagwan knows and exposes the nature of things, does not create them.
He was a Tirthankar. He propounded the Tirtha i.e., the way to the liberation of the soul. Acharya Samant Bhadra has called his teachings Sarvodaya Tirtha (religion that preaches the welfare of all living beings).
Oh Lord Mahaveer - Your religion is for the welfare of one and all. There is no contradiction in your teachings, only whatever you say is relative i.e. described from different perspectives, one predominating the other according to contexts; the assertions of other preachers, not being relative, are not able to propound the nature of things, as they are. Your exposition of the truth of life is capable of destroying all the miseries and misfortunes of this world and of leading worldly beings to their supreme happiness and as such it is Sarvodaya Tirtha i.e., religion for the welfare of all living beings."
That which leads to the welfare of all is Sarvodya. The religion for the welfare of all as propounded by Lord Mahaveer and his exposition of truths of life and immortality, have no narrowness or limits. The religion of the soul is for all creatures. It is a kind of narrowness to associate religion with human beings only. It is a religion of all the living beings. The term "religion of man" is also not liberal enough. It limits the scope of religion to the community of human beings only, while religion extends to all the sentient world, for all the creatures want to live in peace and happiness.
Tirthankar Bhagwan Mahaveer has expounded the complete independent existence of every substance and that every substance changes its modifications itself. No other substance can interfere in this natural procedure. Even God, the almighty, is not the creator or the destroyer of, this existence of the things. The preachings of Mahaveer upheld the independence not only of the living beings, but of all the atoms, which are the smallest (indivisible) particles or units of matter substance and which cannot be further divided. The desire to interfere in the activity of others is false, of no avail and causing unhappiness, for it is sheer ignorance to regard others as the creator or destroyer of happiness and misery, life and death, of other beings.
It has been well said that our own merits and demerits will be meaningless if one being is regarded as the creator of others' happiness and misery, life and death. The question is - can anybody, however strong, make us happy, even, if we indulge in demerits ? Likewise can anybody, be it God himself, harm us, if we keep ourselves busy in meritorious engagements ? If yes, it would be worthless to do good and be afraid of the bad, because it is not necessary to reap the consequences of one's actions. If it is true that we have to reap the consequences of our own actions, good and bad, the concept of any interference is meaningless. The same truth has been expressed by Acharya Amitgati in Slokas 30-31 of Bhawna Dwatrinshatika.
In the end, at the age of seventy-two, on the Dipawali day, the last Tirthankar of this epoch Bhagwan Mahaveer, abandoned this physical frame and attained Nirwan (complete liberation). The same day, his chief disciple Indrabhuti Gautam achieved omniscience. According to Jain tradition, the great festival of Deepawali is celebrated in honour of the liberation of Bhagwan Mahaveer and attainment of complete sentience by his chief disciple Gautam.
Thus we see that the story of the life of Mahaveer is the story
of the orderly development of the soul to Godhood.