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

Further the religious independence given to women had its repercussions in other fields also. Equality of opportunity was accorded to women in several social spheres of action. In education they were given equal treatment with the males. The utmost importance of imparting education to females, along with males, was realised even in the ancient past by Rishabhadeva, the first Tirthankara, who bad advised his two young daughters, Brahmi and Sundari, that "only when you would adorn yourself with education your life would be fruitful because just as a learned man is held in high esteem by educated persons, a learned lady also occupies the highest position in the female world." According to Jaina tradition a woman is expected to know 64 arts like dancing, painting, music, aesthe tics, medicine, domestic science etc. As a result of this high type of education received by women, we find, in Jaina tradition, that many women used to enter the teaching profession and to remain unmarried throughout the life in order to carry on their spiritual experiments unhampered. It is recorded in Jaina tradition that Jayanti, a daughter of King Saliasranika of Kaushambi` remained unmarried out of her love for religion and-philosophy.' When Mahavira-first'visited several abstruse ineta-physical questions and' eventually became a nun. Similarly, in later periods of history ` also Jaina women not only kept up the pace of female education' but at times made original contributions to literature. For example, along with men Jaina women also added to Kannada' literature. The greatest name among them was Kanti, who, along with the great poet Abhinava Pampa, was one of the gems that adorned the court of Hoyasala King Ballal I (A.D. 1100-11U6) in Karnatak. She was a redoubtable orator and poet who completed the unfinished poems of Abhinava Pampa in the open Court of that ruler. Similarly, a Jaina lady Avvaiyara, `the Venerable Matron', was one of the most admired amongst the poets in Tamil language. Kausha'mbi, she discussed With him,

(3) Inculcation of Self-reliance:

Tirthankara Mahavira's contribution of a revolutionary nature consisted in completely changing the attitude of the people towards God and thereby inculcating the spirit of self-reliance among the minds of the people. The common belief held by the people according to the Vedic ideology was that as this world has been created by the God and that the work of controlling the events in this world is also carried out by the God. This' popular belief engendered a feeling of divine dispensation in the minds of the people because it was firmly held by the people that God can do and undo anything in this world in accordance with his wishes.Naturally this feeling created a sense of complete dependence on the God by the people in the conduct of their daily activities and in securing happiness in this world as well as in the next world. Obviously this sense of dependence on the God urged people to find out ways and means so as to obtain in abundant measure the favours of God in mundane and spiritual matters and also to avoid the displeasure or wrath of' God which, it was thought, would not only bring several difficulties in the normal course of life but also would lead to complete disaster. As a result of this attitude, people began to place entirely blind faith on the omnipotent God and to secure his favours by practising certain rites and rituals laid down for the purposes. These prescribed rituals were so elaborate that'they did require the services of priests who were supposed to have the special knowledge about these rites and Who were also specifically authorised to perform these rituals in a proper manner. In this way the entire code of conduct of the people was fully dominated by the practice of various rituals throughout the course of life and by the priests whose help and assistance were considered most essential to work as intermediary between people and God for securing desired favours from God.

Tirthankara Mahavira launched an intensive attack on this attitude of complete submission to God by the people for attaining their final objective in life, viz. liberation. In this regard Tirthankara Mahavira firmly asserted that this world is eternal and has not been created by any power like God and that the happenings in this world are not controlled by God. He clearly proclaimed that nothing here or elsewhere depends on the favours of God but everything depends on the actions of the people. He confidently stated that all persons, irrespective of their class, family or position, have got a right to achieve salvation, their ultimate objective in life, by relying on themselves and through the observance of an ethical code of conduct and not by merely performing some rituals with the help of others. , For this purpose he laid down a path to liberation which consisted Right Faith, Right Knowledge and Right Con-duct and appealed to the people to follow this path on their individual initiative and efforts and not on the help of any intermediary. Further, he impressed on the people the Theory of Karma which is based on the principle of self-reliance. This doctrine explains the reasons lying behind or causes leading to effects. It maintains that every happening in this world is the result of some antecedent causes. Since the individual soul is the doer of actions, it must bear the consequences of these actions sooner or later. There is no way out of it. The responsibility of consequences cannot be shifted nor exemption from the consequences be given by anybody. The soul has to enjoy the fruits of the Karmas in this life or in subsequent lives. There is no salvation until the soul stops the influx of Karmas and gets rid of existing Karmas and this it will have to do by its own deliberate efforts without expecting any help from an outside agency like God. There is no use in asking the favour of God or his representative because Gods have not the power of determining the consequences of the Karmas and have no authority to forgive people from future consequences of past actions.

This theory of Karma has been an original and integral part of the Jaina ideology and Tirthankara Mahavira convinced the people of the necessity of adopting this doctrine and of mould ing their entire life on the foundation of this theory. Naturally Tirthankara Mahavira laid full stress on individual action and completely denied the existence of divine dispensation. He emphasised that man is the architect of his destiny and that there is no external power which can come in the way of getting the fruits of one's actions, whether good or bad. He assured the people that the attainment of liberation, the ultimate objective in life, is within their reach and it depends entirely on one's, own efforts in the march on the path to liberation. In this; way Tirthankara Mahavira wanted every individual to become a true hero on the battle-field of self-conquest. Thus Tirthankara Mahavira inculcated a spirit of reliance among the people in place of the feelings of utter dependence on the God. This basic change in attitude brought an over-all change in the course of life of the people who began to lay stress more on the ethical aspects than on the ritualistic aspects of their.conduct.

(4) Emphasis on Non-violence:

Tirthankara 1Vlahavira's most distinctive contribution consists in his great emphasis on the observance of Ahimsa, i.e. noninjury to living beings, by all persons to the maximum extent possible. Ahinsa in its full significance was realised and preached by twenty-three Tirthankaras preceding Tirthankara Mahavira. In fact, the philosophy and rules of conduct laid down in Jaina religion have been based on the solid foundation of Ahimsa, which hats throughout and consistently, been followed to its logical conclusion. That is why Jainism has become synonymous with Ahimsa and Jaina*religion is considered as the religion of Ahimsa. The significance of this basic principle of Ahimsa was very powerfully reiterated by Tirthankara Mahavira as the practices of committing violence in the different pretexts had become rampant at that time.

During the Vedic period utmost importance was attached to the performance of sacrifices with a view to secure the favours of God and to avert His anger.The sacrifices were very elaborate, complicated and hedged with various restrictions. The sacrifices became a regular feature of the religious life of the people. The peculiar characteristic of these sacrifices was that they were usually accompanied by the slaughter of animals. As the sacrifices were mainly animal sacrifices they involved the practice of Himsa to a considerable extent: Along with this practice, the flesh-eating or non-vegetarian diet was extremely popular among the different sections of the people. The Rigvedic people, including the Brahmins, were fond of meat-eating and practically all the important ceremonies were attended with the slaughter of animals. Offerings of flesh were frequently made to the Gods, and worshippers, including the priests, ate the offerings. The meat of cows and bulls does not seem to have been excluded. It was a custom to entertain a distinguished guest with the meat of a bull or a barren cow. At the wedding ceremonies oxen were slain, evidently for the feeding of the invited guests. In fact, the sacrifice of cow and bulls was not only optional as in the case of the arrival of a guest and marriage but compulsory on certain occasions and ceremonies. At Shradhhas, or periodical oblations to the manes, the sacrifice of cows was recommended, as substances like rice, barley, sesamum, fruits, etc. keep the manes satisfied for a month, the flesh of goats for six months, while beef satisfied them for a year. Meat was almost compulsory at Annaprashana, i.e. the first feeding with solid food, ceremony of a child and from then till death and cremation, sacrificing of animals was necessary on most of the ceremonial occasions of life.

Tirthankara Mahavira launched a vigorous attack against meat-eating and the performance of sacrificial rites by propagating the principle of Ahimsa, i.e. non-injury to living beings. In fact in all his preachings Tirthankara Mahavira invariably laid great stress on the observance of Ahimsa because the principle of Ahimsa is the logical outcome of the basic Jaina metaphysical theory that all the souls are potentially equal. He therefore asserted that as no one likes pain, one should not do unto others what one does not want Others to do unto one. Since all living beings possessed soul, the principle of non-injury was obviously extended to cover all living beings. He explained the doctrine of Ahimsa systematically and to the minutest detail. He considered injury or violence of three kinds : (i) physical violence, which covered killing, wounding and causing any physical pain, (ii) violence in words consisted in using harsh words, and (iii) mental violence; which implied bearing ill-feeling towards others. Further, he made it clear that violence or injury should be avoided in three ways, that is, it should not be committed, commissioned or consented to. Moreover, among the five main Vratas, i.e. vows, the first place was given to the observance of Ahimsa. In addition, Ahimsa was regarded as the principal vow, and the other four vows were considered to be merely details of the principal vow.