Jainworld
Jain World
Sub-Categories of Passions
Foreword
I. JAINA TRADITION UPTO MAHAVIRA
II. PRINCE MAHAVIRA
IV. PRECEPTS OF MAHAVIRA
V. DOCTRINES OF MAHAVIRA
  VII. SIGNIFICANCE OF MAHAVIRA

Chapter - VII. SIGNIFICANCE OF MAHAVIRA

 

Dr. V.A.Sangave

Acharya Amitagati also attaches (in his Dharma-Pariksha, Parichchheda XVII, 24-25, 31-33) no importance whatsoever to birth and considers one's mode of life as the determinant of ,one's class.

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The idea of differentiations of classes comes in only because of differences in the ways of life. No single class has been settled as that of the true or real Brahmana class. Really there is only one class of four divisions, viz. Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaashyas and Shudras, and that is the class of human beings. They have been divided because of differences in the ways of life. People of good conduct had attained heaven evanthough they were born in low families and on the contrary men devoid of good conduct and restraint had gone to hell in spite of the fact that they had taken birth in high families. A class is formed by following a particular mode of life and it perishes when that mode is left and that is why wise people should respect ways of life only. The good people should not have pride in any class as it leads to degradation but they should observe good conduct which might give them high position.

It is clear that the society as envisaged by Tirthankara Mahavira and other Jalna Acharyas was a society where classes were not hereditary and like water-tight compartments and where complete freedom was granted to the people to change to the class of their own aptitude. The society was not divided into distinct separate sections and no differentiation was made in the status of the classes. All were considered as different ways of life and utmost importance was attached to individual character and mode of behaviour. There was no room for anybody to feel that he was neglected or degraded as he was free enough to follow any profession he liked and he could , observe, all religious rites and practices along with others.

Thus Mahavira's conception of Varna system produced social impact of great significance. The principle of social equality among- the classes was firmly established and the social mobility among the classes was considerably increased as the criterion of birth for the membership of a class was straightway removed. This had a very wholesome effect on the conditions of the Shudras which were very deplorable in the sense that the Shudras were deprived of education, denied all rights, subjected to inhuman treatment and assigned the lowest position in society Formerly, the Shudras were completely disregarded in religious matters-

and several binding.restrictions were placed on their movements and ways of living. Tirthankara Mahavira's teachings proved a -great solace to the Shudras as the practices of social discriminations against them were fully banned. - This resulted in the rise of social status of the down-trodden people. Obviously there was a distinct change in the social attitude towards the nonAryans and the common masses. Slowly there was a strong opposition to the continuation of the practice of slavery in any form. The feelings of contempt and reproach towards them also began to disappear. Naturally the general masses were tremendously benefited as the practices of social discriminations were completely banished and they were given opportunities to improve their lot.

At the same time Mahavira's teachings affected to a very great extent the privileged position enjoyed by the Brahmanas belonging to the priestly professions. From the Vedic period such Brahmana priests enjoyed high social status, political facilities, economic concessions, educational opportunities, cultural dominance and religious privileges to the exclusion of other classes. In view of this monopolistic condition the Brahmana priests held the position of prominence in society and freely made use of that position for the exploitation of the masses in different fields and especially in religious matters which were of highest-importance to the people. Obviously, the Brahmana priests were extremely keen on the perpetuation of their domination on the common masses and hence they did not hesitate to employ any means to keep the masses in their despised conditions and to make the masses entirely dependent on their favours. Naturally, the common masses were leading a very low life in an atmosphere of severe discontent and utter frustration. Tirthankara Mahavira launched an open and forceful attack on the Brahmana priestly class and on their ingenious practices used for the excessive exploitation of the common masses. At the same time Tirthankara Mahavira made his religion easily accessible to the common masses, gave equal opportunities in the practice of religion to one and all irrespective of their class affiliations, and held out a sure promise for all persons to achieve Liberation, the highest goal in their life, by observing the rules of conduct laid down by the religion and not by merely getting the different kinds of sacrifices performed by the priests. This practical and ethical approach to religion vigorously and effectively enunciated by Tirthankara Mahavira made people independent of the priestly domination, created a feeling of self-reliance and appealed to the common masses. Thus Tirthankara Mahavira's opposition was to the priestly class of Brahmanas and to the several tactics employed by them for the exploitation of the common masses by managing to keep the masses virtually ignorant and entirely dependent on the favours of the priests. This strong opposition considerably reduced the influence and domination wielded by the priestly class over the other people. But it is obvious that the opposition or Tirthankara Mahavira was confined to the priestly class of the Brahmanas and not to the Brahmana Varna as such. In fact, Tirthankara Mahavira always appreciated the intellectual capacities of the Brahmanas, initiated many learned Brahmanas to the Jaina religion, admitted several scholars among the Brahmanas to his escetic order and even appointed Indrabhuti Gautama, the most learned Brahmana teacher, as his first Ganadhara, i.e. the apostle or the Chief Disciple. It has already been mentioned that Tirthankara Mahavira delivered his first Sermon after 66 days of attainment of Omniscience, only when he got the services of the most talented Brahmana teacher, viz. Indrabhuti Gautama, for the proper interpretation of his preachings to the people: In this way Tirthankara Mahavira always showed regard to the learning and education of the Brahmanas but invariably led a strong and consistent attack against the priestly class of the Brahmanas. 

(2) Emancipation of Women:

Another contribution of a distinctive nature made by Tirthankara Mahavira in the social field was in the direction of raising the status of women. In the latter part of the Vedic period women had practically been reduced to the status of Shudras. Like the Shudras, women were debarred from the right of initiation and investment with the sacred thread. They were considered to have no business with the sacred religious texts. In many passages we find that women and Shudra were bracketed together. The very sight of woman was considered as inauspicious and people were asked to avoid seeing women, Shudras, dead bodies, etc. Thus women had practically no place in the religious life of the society and as such she was neglected and degraded by the people.

This low position of women was definitely changed by Tirthankara Mahavira in many ways. He removed various restrictions imposed on women especially in the practice of religion. In fact Tirthankara Mahavira did not make any distinction between the males and females in the observance of religion. The rules ofconduct rescribed

for the � males and females were exactly the same. Both the exes were given equal opportunities in different matters of religion like the study of sacred texts, observance of necessary duties, practice of vratas, i.e. vows, entrance into the ascetic order, practice of penance, making spiritual progress, etc. In the religious order of Tirthankara Mahavira the male householders were called Shravakas and the female householders were termed Shravikas and both were quite free to observe their common religious duties and to prepare themselves for adopting ascetic life in due course. Similarly, complete freedom was given to women, like men, to enter the ascetic orders. The female sex was no bar to the practice of asceticism. Tirthankara Mahavira always showed this attitude of equality towards women and admitted them freely into his ascetic order, no matter whether the candidates for admission were royal consorts, members of the aristocracy, and those belonging to the common run of society. Naturally many ladies availed themselves of this opportunity of achieving their salvation in due course by entering into the ascetic order. That is why in Tirthankara Mahavira's religious organization there were two orders of ascetics, like those of householders, namely, Sadhus, i.e. male ascetics and Sadhvis, i.e. female ascetics. It is stated that in Tirthankara Mahavira's fourfold religious order there were about 14000 Sadhus, 36000 Sadhvis, 1,00,000 Shravakas and 3,00,000 Shravikas. This show that the female members outnumbered the rliale members in both the 'categories of householders and- ascetics. It is a clear indication that the females were very eager to take full advantage of the opportunity offered to them by Tirthankara Mahavira. In fact, many females from royal families and close relatives of Tirthankara Mahavira joined his ascetic order along with the other ordinary members. For example, Chandana and Jyeshtha, the two younger sisters of Queen Trishaladevi, the mother of Mahavira, and Yashasvati; the wife of their maternal uncle, entered the ascetic order of Tirthankara Mahavira; and eventually Chandana assumed the' position of the head of the Sadhvis, i.e. the female ascetics. In this way Tirthankara Mahavira effected emancipation of women by giving them similar opportunities like men to achieve their highest objective in life, viz. Liberation. - Females made best of these opportunities and many of them distinguished themselves as teachers and preachers.