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PREFACE

 

ESSENCE OF JAINISM

 

TIRTHANKARA MAHAVIRA

 

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TIRTHANKARA MAHAVIRA


 

 

The conflict between himsa and ahimsa dates from the beginning of man's history, but it was, perhaps, never before so poignant as at present. There is also no doubt that it was the first awakening of the 'ahimsic' attitude in the soul of the uncivilized, barbarous, primitive man which marked his transformation from a veritable brute into a humane being. The moment he began to realize the truth and justice of the precepts 'live and let live and 'do unto others as you would have others do unto you' angered the dawn of human reason, culture and civilization. The endeavor to translate these wholesome precepts into practice gradually humanized the brute in man.

The brute could, however, not be completely annihilated; it still lurked and lived. The attraction of gross materialism; the desire to indulge in unrestrained sensual pleasures and the greed to acquire and possess more and more power and pelf tended to awaken the brute in man and goad it into fury. And, in the face of this inhuman fury, humanity has often found itself paralyzed. It was, therefore, left to the great teachers who, renouncing even the very idea of mundane pleasures, devoted themselves heart and soul to the eradication of inhuman tendencies from human society and helped it to regain itself. Again and again, in different fumes and lands, such masters have been born to help mankind.

Among these, the Jaina Tirthankaras of ancient India were the foremost in showing to suffering humanity the 'ahimsa' way of life and peaceful coexistence, not only by precept but by their own practice and conduct. Beginning with Lord Rishabhadeva, twenty-four such Tirthankaras gave in their respective fumes this message of peace and good-will to the world. The last in this series of great teachers was Vardhamana Mahavira (599-527 B.C.). He was a senior contemporary of the Buddha who always spoke with respect of the Nigantha-Nataputta (Mahavira). Both these masters were the last great exponents of the Shramana or Arhat current of ancient Indian culture, which had 'Ahimsa' for its fundamental creed.

Bhagwan Mahavira, the greatest apostle of ahimsa and one of the greatest benefactors of mankind, was born on the 14th day of the bright fortnight of the Indian month of 'Chaitra' 599 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, at Kundagram a suburb of Vaishali (in Bihar). His father, Siddhartha, was the republican head of the Jnatrika clan, and his mother, Trishala, was the daughter of the Lichchavi chief Chetaka, the head of the Vajjian confederacy of republics, with his chief city as Vaishali. Thus Vardhamana Mahavira was a scion of a highly respectable 'kshatriya' family, born and nurtured in a free republican atmosphere. From his very childhood, he revealed in various ways signs of true greatness. His extremely compassionate heart combined with a highly spiritual bent of mind made him live the life of a householder with but reluctance and indifference. In the midst of luxury he lived the detached life of a Yogi. At last, at the age of thirty he gave up all worldly possessions and left home to lead the life of a wanderer in search of truth. For twelve years he practiced severe austerities in order to purge his soul of all impurities and to make himself a perfect man. At the end of that period, thanks to this long process of self-purification, he became an Arhat or Jina. And, for the remaining thirty years of his life, like the foregoing twenty-three Tirthankaras, last of them being Parshvanath (877-777 B.C.), he journeyed on foot the length and breadth of the country and with untiring energy incessantly showed to the suffering humanity the Path of liberation both by example and precept. At the age of 72 in the last watch of the night of the 14th day of the dark fortnight of the Indian month of Kartika, in 527 B.C. he attained Nirvana at Pava.

Like the foregoing twenty-three Tirthankaras, Mahavira was a master propagator of the Jaina creed and is credited with the reorganization of the Jaina order. At the same time he was one of those great teachers of marking through whom the problem of the perfection of man came to be recognized as the highest achievement for progressive humanity. All the rules of religious life, which he enjoined, were intended to be practical aids in the attainment of the perfection of the self. He did not preach to others what he had not practiced himself. The path of his was patients, forbearance, self-denial, forgiveness, humanitarianism, compassion and consideration, in short, of sacrifice, love and kindness.

Mahavira, as his name indicates, was an embodiment of physical, moral and spiritual courage of the highest order, and the supreme lesson of ahimsa rings out from every chapter and verse of his life. He believed in non-violence not merely in bodily action but also in word and thought. He and after him, the Jaina saints who followed in his footsteps never tired of reawakening humanity to its duty towards itself as well as other living beings. Ahimsa, the first principle of higher life, is to be the rule of all conduct. Life is sacred in whatever form it may be found to exist. 'Jainist' culture stands for universal well-being and for universal brotherhood. Its aim is spiritual uplift and ultimate perfection of the soul; hence it enjoins on its followers the greatest self-control. It deprecates the action of those who for their selfish end, pleasure, wanton willfulness, or even by careless or rash conduct, hurt other's feelings or deprive them of their life-forces. To treat others as one's own self is Mahavira's principal teaching. Once this truth is realized all other questions are easily solved. The end can not always justify the means. Good cannot come out of evil. Violence cannot pave the way for peace and happiness.

According to Mahavira faith, every living being is endowed with a soul. All souls are alike and possess inherent goodness in them. Every one of them can attain the highest spiritual perfection, although it is dependent on the conditions of its bodily existence and on the environments it finds itself placed in; still in however limited a degree or however slowly, it can always aspire to and achieve the supreme spiritual evolution. If men come to realize this noble community of interest among all riving beings they are sure to lover one another and also sub-human life.