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Mahavira performed a very prolonged course of severe penance for twelve years for the destruction of the karma. This course of penance�s comprehended �uninterrupted meditation, unbroken chastity, and the most scrupulous observance of the rules concerning eating and drinking.� The account of his sadhana given in the Acaranga is literally soul -stirring.


He mediated day and night, undisturbed and non-perturbed. Avoiding women and giving up the company of householders, he realized singleness. He lodged in workshops, assembling places, manufactories, shed of straw, towns, garden-houses, in cemeteries and burial grounds, or at the foot of a tree, wherever shelter was available. He did not care for sleep for the sake of pleasure and slept only for short hours. In winter when cold winds blew, he did not seek sheltered places or kindle wood or seek to cover himself with clothes. In the cold season he mediated in the shade, in summer he exposed himself to the heat. He would mediate with his eyes fixed on a square space before him of the length of a man or in some of the posture without the smallest motion. While mediating he would concentrate on the things above, below, or beside. He meditated free from sin and desire, not attached to sounds or colors, and never acted carelessly. Being averse from the impressions of the senses, he spoke very little and was always calm.


�Thoroughly knowing the earth-bodies and water-bodies and fire-bodies and wind-bodies, the lichens, seeds and sprouts� and comprehending �that they are, if narrowly inspected, imbued with life�, he avoided all kinds of sin and abstained from all sinful activities. He did not use another�s robe, nor did he eat out of another�s vessel. He did not rub his eyes or scratch his body. Knowing measure in eating and drinking he was not desirous of delicious food, nor had he a longing for it.� For more than a couple of years he led a religious life without using cold water. He completely abstained from indulgence of the flesh; whether wounded or not, he took no medical treatment. He lived on rough food-rice, pounded jujube and beans. Sometimes he ate stale food. He accepted moist or dry or cold food, old beans, old pap, or bad grain, whatever was available. But where there were hungry crows or thirsty beings or other beggars standing in his way, he would go past that place without begging alms. He kept fasts; sometimes he ate only the sixth meal, or the eighth, or the tenth, or the twelfth; sometimes he did not drink for half a month or even for a month or for more than two months or even six months.


In accordance with the rules of the order he wandered about unceasingly, except for the four months of the rainy season. During the rest of the year, he lived in villages only a single night and in towns only five nights. He was indifferent alike to the smell of ordure and the sweet scent of sandal, to straw and jewel, dirt and gold, pleasure and pain, his world and the world beyond, to life and death. His mind was completely free from attachment. Circumspect in his thought, words and acts, he moved without wrath, pride, deceit and greed. Like water in a vessel, he was unattached in the midst of sin. During the course of his travels, he visited the pathless country of the Ladhas, in Vajjabhumi and in Subbhabhumi; and here his troubles were endless. The rude natives of the place attacked him and set dogs to bite him, but he did not use as much as a stick to keep off the dogs. He endured the abusive language of the rustics and bore pain, free from desire. �When he approached the village the inhabitants met him on the outside and attacked him, saying �Get away from here�. He was struck with a stick, the fist, a lance, hit with a fruit, a clod a potsherd. Beating him again and again many cried. When he once sat without moving his body they cut his flesh, tore his hair under pains, or covered him with dust. Throwing him up they let him fall, or disturbed him in his religious postures�. But like a hero at the head of a battle, bearing all hardships he proceeded on his path wholly undisturbed.


His Wanderings:


The Jaina books give a precise description of Mahavira�s wanderings during this period of over twelve years, the various places he visited and the several contacts he formed. The Kalpasutra and the Bhagavati supplement, and do not as certain scholars are inclined to think, contradict, each other; together help to frame a complete picture of his travels from place to place.


Kummaragrama may be supposed to be the starting point of Mahavira�s travels. The Acaranga mentions that renunciation implied the quitting of �the northern Ksatriya part of the place Kundapura� and arrival in the village Kummara,- which was presumably a suburb of Kundagrama. From Kummara he moved on to the settlement of Kollaga (situated close to Nalanda), where he was hospitably received by the Brahman Bahula. After roaming about in that area for some six months, Mahavira ultimately came to Asthigrama to spend his first rainy season there. The commentary on the Kalpasutra refers to Vardhamana as the former name of Asthigrama; Dr. B.C. Law is inclined to identify it with modern Burdwan. On the way to Asthigrama Mahavira had the first taste of those bitter experiences, which were going to be such a common feature of his Sadhaka life, (1) of hostility towards him of the parivrajaka sects living in north India at time, and (ii) of his persecution at the hands of various tempter gods in a similar way to the temptation of the Buddha by the traditional Mara. On both these a few words may be parenthetically added.


In the 6th century B.C. north India generally and the north-eastern provinces in particular were buzzing with ascetic life. A whole legion of ascetic orders was flourishing in these regions. Scholars are of the opinion that asceticism has its roots in the Vedas; the center of Vedic religion is the Rsi (seer) who is capable of a direct realization of Truth by practice of Tapasaya or asceticism. There is no doubt that asceticism received great encouragement in the age of the Aranyakas and the Upanisads when, dissatisfied with growing rituals and superstition under the aegis of the priestly class, serious-minded people openly questioned the prevailing intellectualism of religion and retired to the forests in their search for the highest knowledge and for a new world of experience. The Sruti practice of asceticism was accordingly regularized into a system in the Smrtis, which made it obligatory upon every Hindu to devote the latter part of his life to the two ashrams of Vanaprastha and Samnyasa. It may be mentioned that the Brahmanical system did not confine asceticism only to elderly people or advanced householders; even youths could be permitted to take up the ascetic career, if they wanted to shun the world in their quest for the Ideal, such youths being known as the naishthik brahamchari. Thus in the normal brahmanic system quite about half of society would be wandering about as mendicants and ascetic in pursuit of Truth under the guidance of chosen teachers. This floating mass of houseless population was organized into different orders or sects in accordance with the different systems of doctrines and discipline they followed. The Buddhist text Udana bears testimony to the fact that the characteristic feature of the religious life of India during this period was a multiplicity of ascetic groups, secretaries of Sramanas and Brahmanas, all parivrajakas, followers of different dittis (viewpoints), darshan system, gyanti (beliefs), ruchi (aims), and ashray (organizations)�, the Jaina texts also mention numerous sects and schools, with their own beliefs and practices, existing in the country at the time. In his introduction to the Acaranga, Jacobi has elaborately compared the rules and religious practices of Brahmanic and Sramanic ascetics, and stated his conclusion that certain rules were commonly observed by most of the ascetic orders, for instance, (1) the injunction that the Bhiksu must station himself in a fixed retreat during the rains, (2) the injunction that the Bhiksu must not store up articles of consumption, nor kill life, and (3) various rules regarding beggings etc. Tapas (or austerities), in some form or other, it appears, was common to particularly all orders. But Mahavira was now giving a new meaning to the term, which conflicted with all its prevailing notions and which raised the practice of tapsaya to a spiritual height, unattained and not even intended to be attained, by any of the existing parivrajaka orders.


Mahavira�s idea of tapas was that of self-restraint with regard to the body, speech and mind; in his view, austerities had to be inward as well as outward, and fasting, absolute chastity and unmitigated meditation were its several forms. The practice of austerities or penance�s was to be restored to as a means of wearing out and ultimately destroying the effect of sinful deeds committed in former existence�s, and the practice of the threefold self-restraint, of the body, speech and mind, as a means of stopping the production of new karmas. As justified forms of penance�s, Mahavira was prepared to recognize only anshan (fasting), unrodaree (limiting the food that one eats), bhikshacharya (eating only begged food), rasparityag (abstaining from special items of food which one most enjoys, kaeyklaish (bodily austerity), Pratisanleenta (avoidance of temptation by control of senses and mind), Prayishchit (confession and penance), vinay (reverence), veyivritay (service rendered to the aged and the helpless), swadhyai (the study of the scriptures), dhyan (meditation), Kayotsarga (feeling and showing absolute indifference to the body and its needs). He gave no honored place to practices like the tending of a fire the exorcising of evil spirits; the performance of agnihotras; the taking of regular bath; the living under water, or in caves, or on trees; the eating of roots, leaves, moss, flowers or bark of trees, or of grass; the besmearing of body with ashes, etc., just the practices in which the other parivrajaka orders had gloried. It appears that Parsva�s monks had been fairly lax in their morals and discipline, but they were far more regulated in their conduct than the other parivrajakas, for there is an occasional mention in the Jaina texts of the weaker spirits in Parsva�s order finding it hard to observe the rules and consequently joining the other parivrajaka sects with less rigorous rules of discipline. But it is certain that the austerities prescribed by Mahavira for himself, and later on for the members of his Order, presented an infinitely harder code of penance�s and were combined with a far more rigorous discipline of ethical and spiritual conduct than was prevalent in any parivrajaka sect at that time; and there is no doubt that Mahavira earned the hostility of the other sects for doing so.


As regards the persecution of Mahavira by the tempter-gods, it is a reminder of the story of Mara in Buddha�s life. Mara is looked upon in Buddhist literature as the supreme lord of all evil, the chief seducer to evil thought, word and deed. He is supposed to have followed the Buddha step by step and watched for a moment of weakness to over-power his soul and deflect him from the pursuit of knowledge. As a god of evil he is not associated with that gloomy tragedy with which we are accustomed to fancy the diabolical, deadly foe of good surrounded; and as seducer his methods of work are fairly commonplace, �appearing at one time as a Brahmin, at another as a husband man, at another as an elephant king, and in many other different forms� in order to shake Buddha�s life. Instead of the traditional Mara, however, Jaina books speak of different gods appearing at different times and the methods of their attack are not always non-violent as in the case of Mara, but comprehend elaborate bodily pain and torture. The first encounter with the temper-god in Mahavira�s life took place on the ever of his firs chaturmus. While on the way to Asthigrama, he came across a small temple dedicated to the God Sulapani, which used to be left completely untenanted at night but where Mahavira decided to stay and meditate. He suffered frightful tortures at the hands of the god in the course of his meditation at night. But the real battle with temptations took place in the eleventh year of his sadhaka life, when Sangamaka, another temper-god, set about his task with a view to confuse Mahavira and, if possible, to shake him from his search for Truth, followed him step by step for a period of six months giving him all sorts of torture and creating all conceivable difficulties in his way in order to overpower his soul in a moment of weakness. Adopting the garb of a disciple of Mahavira, he started committing theft in a house, got caught, put the blame upon his guru and had him severely beaten. He had Mahavira arrested on suspicion of being a spy. Several times he made Mahavira�s excursions for alms fruitless by various devices he had him ridiculed by people with derisive gestures; and gave him troubles in a hundred other ways. But Mahavira remained steadfast, bore all his trials with fortitude, and therefore the god was ultimately obliged to depart.


Gosala Mankhaliputra:


Mahavira�s second chaturmus was spent in Nalanda, a suburb of Rajagrha. While here he was met by Gosala Mankhaliputra (or Maskariputra), the Ajivakas teacher. Gosala was then wandering about in the country showing pictures to the people, and was attracted by Mahavira owing to his extra-ordinary self-restraint and impressive habits of medication and by the fact that a rich householder of Rajagrha, by name Vijaya had shown respect and hospitality towards Mahavira. Possibly another factor, Mahavira�s capacity to prophesy things correctly, also helped to increase Gosala�s keenness, as it certainly helped towards the diffusion of Mahavira�s influence and following in the later part of his career. The Jaina books mention that Gosala approached Mahavira with a request that he may be adopted as his disciple, but that Mahavira declined his request, presumably because he at once sensed the great difference between their temperaments. Gosala�s request was repeated on two later occasions and on each successive occasion with greater earnestness, and was ultimately granted by Mahavira. It appears that from this time onwards, Mahavira and Gosala lived and traveled together for period of six years. The third and the fourth chaturmas were spent at Campa, at different quarters of the same town. After the fourth chaturmas for a short period, they seem to have trekked into the Ladha country, which they visited again in the ninth year. The fifth and the sixth chaturmas were spent at Bhaddila, the capital town of the Mallas; the seventh at a place in the kingdom of Magadha; and the eighth at Rajagrha. In the ninth year Mahavira traveled again into the Ladha-desa and stayed there for over six months; in the absence of any settled retreat to spend the rainy season he had to wander about during the period. Presumably Gosala was with him this time also, although the fact that no incidents are mentioned of his use of his undeniably harsh tongue during the sojourn in Ladha- desa is somewhat remarkable. On return from Ladha country, while they were traveling from Kumaragrama to Siddharthagrama, they met the ascetic Vesayana, who was seated with upraised arms and upturned face in the glare of the Sun while his body was swarming with lice. Gosala jesting and indiscreetly asked whether this man was a sage or a bed of lice. Provoked at this, Vesayana attempted to strike Gosala with his super-normal powers, but was shielded by Mahavira. Gosala, however, was so impressed with the fact of the possession of supernormal powers that he felt inclined to give up Mahavira�s company and to devote all his energies to the practice of the severest penance�s with a view to acquire these powers, and after that he proclaimed himself a Jina and founded the order of the Ajivakas.


     On the Gosala episode, the opinions of the scholars are very different and highly conflicting. Gosala figures in the early tradition of Buddhism as an independent leader of thought, the head of an order, of a following, the teacher of a school, well known and of repute as a sophist......a man of experience who has long been a recluse�; there is no suggestion made of his personal relation with Mahavira. From the point of view of thought and belief, the Jaina and the Ajivakas sects are undoubted allied, having many points in common between them. In the immediate background of both were the teachings of Parsva, Parsva being honored by both as the last but one Tirthankara, while Mahavira and Gosala were sharply divided in their claim to the position of the last Tirthankara. The eight Mahanimittas of the Ajivakas canon were in fact extracts made from the Ten Purvas, which are recognized as the literary authority of the sect of Parsva. The commonness of their tradition and the fact that Gosala proclaimed himself a Jain and was recognized as a teacher for at least two years before Mahavira, were considered by Jacobi and Barua as adequate reasons for advancing the somewhat fanciful opinion that contrary to the Jaina account Mahavira was a disciple of Gosala for sometime. Such an opinion is clearly unfounded for if Gosala had ever been Mahavira�s teacher, it is presumable that the Buddhist texts would have at least recorded something to that effect, and anyhow Gosala would have put forward that claim when he visited Mahavira to upbraid him for calling him his own disciple. Thus, even if the Bhagavati version of the relationship between Mahavira and Gosala is not accepted a reversal of that relationship cannot surely be accepted at all. That the Bhagavati account may be somewhat exaggerated is warranted by the fact that neither in the Acaranga nor in the Kalpasutra is there any mention of Gosala. It may also be mentioned that the Digambara accounts of Mahavira�s life also do not refer to his contact with Gosala. What appears on the basis of available materials to be well- founded is that Mahavira and Gosala did not have a teacher and disciple relationship at all. It is highly doubtful that Mahavira had started taking disciples before his attainment of Enlightenment. Mahavira and Gosala were just two associates in a common concern, two sadhakas who lived together for six years in asceticism. Later on there sprang up acute differences of opinion between the two. They separated from each other and became irreconcilable opponents, fighting out their differences generally through their followers.





1.   It seems necessary to point out in this connection that the same interpretation has been accepted in a passage in the Samavayanga, a sutra in the Svetambara canon. As this is a solitary instance of such construction in the whole Svetambara literature, it points to the influence of the prevailing Digambara tradition and should help us to determine the date of the present text of this particular Sutra. The passage reads-

Aigunrveesam titthyera agarvasmajay vasita mundai bhavita nran agarao anrgarian pviya - Samvayang-16


     On the other hand, a Digambara text �Harivanspuran� admits that Mahavira was engaged to Yashodhara, but says he was obstinate in his refusal and that therefore the proposal had to be dropped.