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LORD MAHAVIRA

 

LORD MAHAVIRA

 

PUBLISHER�S NOTE

 

THE RELEVANCE OF THE TEACHING OF LORD MAHAVIRA IN THE PRESENT WORLD (INTRODUCTION)

  CONTENTS
 

THE AGE OF MAHAVIRA

  EARLY LIFE OF MAHAVIRA
  ASCETIC LIFE OF MAHAVIRA
  ENLIGHTENMENT
  JAINA ATHEISM
  PROPAGATION OF THE DOCTRINE
  RIVAL SECTS
  CONCLUSION
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ENLIGHTENMENT


 

 

The individual ascetic formed an integral part of the Sangha, which was given by the Master a constitution and a code of laws. During his own lifetime Mahavira attracted a large number of disciples, both men and women. He collected an excellent community of fourteen thousand monks, thirty six thousand nuns, one hundred and fifty nine thousand laymen and three hundred and fifty-eight thousand lay women. At the head of these were eleven Gaadharas or chief disciples. This was an important item in the organization of the Sangha. Mahavira had seen in the case of Gosala what special temptations and dangers beset ascetics in their wandering life. He had made the life of his own ascetics fairly full. Unlike the Buddhist Sramanas, who had a lot of free time and were often guilty of indolence or indulged in dissension�s, disputes and strifes, Mahavira�s Nirgrantha ascetics had plenty of work to do by way of the practice of austerities, penance�s and fasts, besides meditation and the daily routine of duties, to keep them engaged. Anyhow, he insisted on his was the case with the Buddhist sramanas. But he also resolved to combat the degenerating tendencies inherent in all monastic orders by a strong organization and detailed set of regulations, and above all, as we have mentioned above, by organically connecting it with the lay element in society. This gave to the Jaina Sangha �a roof in India which the Buddhists never obtained, and that roof firmly planted amongst the laity enabled Jainism to withstand the storm that drove Buddhism out of India.�

 

The Sangha as well as the controlling Ganadharas and their succeeding Acarya were not law-makers in any sense of the term. The fundamental truths and the law were recognized to have been formally and finally enunciated by Lord Mahavira. The Sangha had only to apply and expound his regulations, and that was provided to be done by the general assembly of all the monks resident in a particular locality under the ultimate supervision of the Ganadhara or Acarya. The procedure was likely to raise an insuperable problem, such as faced. Buddhism itself when its band of disciples grew into a large spiritual force preaching and begging throughout all India and even beyond it; the problem was to effectively administer the spiritual regency in church-government in which the center of gravity lay within the circumference, within the small corps of brethren dwelling in the same circuit. The Jaina Sangha also rapidly grew, both in numbers and in the area of its activity. From Bihar its influence spread to Kalinga and from there presumably to South India on one side and to the Mathura, Gujrat and the Punjab on the other. Yet the spiritual regency of the Jainas has continued to be administered right up to this day with an honesty, a rigour, and a desire not to lose grip of the fundamental truths enunciated by the Master, which is wholly antique in the annals of any religion with such long history. The anxiety to stick to the original doctrine as closely has enabled Jainism to weather the storms that in India wrecked so many of the other faiths. �The inflexible conservatism of the Jaina community has probably been the chief cause of its survival during period of severe affliction; for there can be little doubt that the most important doctrines of the Jaina religion have remained practically unaltered since the first great separation in the time of Bhadrabahu, about 300 B.C. And although a number of less vital rules concerning the life and practices of the monks and laymen, which we find recorded in the holy scriptures, may have fallen into oblivion or disuse, there is no reason to doubt that the religious life or the Jaina community is now substantially the same as it was two thousand years ago. It must be confessed from this that an absolute refusal to admit changes has been the strongest safeguard of the Jainas.�

 

 

 

ENUNCIATION OF THE TRUTH

 

Mahavira's Teachings:

 

The teachings of Mahavira have come down to us as a living tradition which grew up and took a complete literary form through ten centuries from his demise. The original doctrine was contained in the Purvas of which there were fourteen, which Mahavira himself taught to his disciples. The fourteen Purvas were presumably preceded by the existence of ten Purvas, which had embodied the religious traditions of Parsva and which formed, as we are led to believe by a legend mentioned in the Bhagavati, a common basis of the Jaina and Ajivika canons. The knowledge of the Purvas was gradually lost till it became totally extinct. Only one of the Mahavira�s disciples, Arya Sudharma, handed them down, and they were preserved during six generations more. In the second century after Mahavira�s death there was a horrible famine in the land of Magadha, which lasted for twelve years. Bhadrabahu was then the head of the Jaina Sangha. There is a legend which connects this Bhadrabahu with the Emperor Chandra Gupta Maurya and says that owning to the famine Bhadrabahu emigrated with a host of his disciples including Chandragupta himself to Karnataka in South India. This is clearly unwarranted by the chronology of the event. When the famine took place, Bhadrabahu took recourse to the neighboring Nepal hills and there started his Sadhana. During the absence of Bhadrabahu it became evident that the knowledge of the sacred texts was threatening to lapse into oblivion; and so a Council was called at Pataliputra to compile a recession of the canon. The Jaina belief is that the Tirthankara himself taught the Purvas to his disciples, the Ganadharas, and the Ganadharas then composed the Angas . The Council performed its task successfully, although there was great difficulty in the compilation of the twelfth Angas, the Drstivada, which is believed to have incorporated the fourteen Purvas at the time when they ceased to exist independently of the Angas literature. The difficulty was that the head of the community in the Magadha did not have a complete knowledge of the Purvas and so was not able to proceed with the business without the guidance from a distance of Bhadrabahu himself.

 

It may be mentioned that the famous Hathigumpha inscription of Kharavela furnishes a confirmation of the Jaina tradition regarding the Council of Patalipurta and the compilation of a recession of Angas �in sixty-four section.� �It is not by accident that the knowledge of the Purvas� says Jacobi, �is said to have commenced to fade away at the same time when the Angas were collected by the Sangha of Pataliputra.� The loss of Purvas and later on of Drstivada was due largely to the rise of other books on their basis. The very name Purva (which means the former, the earlier) testifies to the fact that they were superseded by a new canon. It may be inferred that the Purvas were, like the Upanishads, a heterogeneous type of literature presenting a wide diversity of sometimes mutually conflicting views, and therefore extremely difficult to master, is of the opinion that they were devoted to the description of controversies held between Mahavira and rival teachers. It is true that the Drstivada, which is said to have included the fourteen Purvas, dealt chiefly with the drstis or philosophical opinions of the Jainas and other sects. The title which is added to the name of each Purva, would seem to support this view. When the opponents of Mahavira died and the sects headed by them became extinct, the controversies related in the Purvas evidently lost their interest and ceased to be of any practical significance. That reason may have been partly responsible for their neglect.

 

The Angas came in the course of time to be known and acknowledged as the only authoritative sacred books of Jainism. They were expressly referred to in the Sutrakrtanga as the �Canon of the Jinas, which has been taught, produced and declared by the Sramana, the Nirgrantha.� The Digambara, however, refuse to recognize the authenticity of the Angas. After the famine and the Council of Pataliputra which had compiled the recession of the Angas, the adherents of Bhadrabahu returned to Magadha but refused to consider the compilation satisfactory and so declared that the Purvas and the Angas had been irrecoverably lost. This became the basis of the belief of the Digambara who hold that what exists as the Siddhanta is not in its original form at all. Such contention does not appear to be well grounded on the facts of history, although it is undoubtedly true that the works of Siddhanta are the product of a process of compilation which extended over a long period of at least one thousand years. After compilation by the Council of Pataliputra the Canon fell into a state of great disorder again and was on the verge of being lost, when it was ultimately reduced to writing at the Council of Valabhi under the presidency of Devardhi Ganin in the 5th century A.D. During the period between the two councils, that is to say between the Council of Pataliputra in the 4th century B.C. and the Council of Valabhi in the 5th Century A.D., written copies of the Siddhanta were not easily extant. Some privately owned copies must have existed, but it is certain that the teachers made no use of written books when teaching the Siddhanta to novices, as they undoubtedly began to do afterwards. What the Council of Valabhi presumably did was to issue a large edition of the Siddhanta so as to provide every teacher with copies of the sacred books. This edition of course was merely a redaction of the sacred books, which existed already. But in the course of ages, passages must have crept into the text at any time and additions must have been made to the several books, as is clear from the variety of language forms in which different parts of the canon are written. Arguing from the language of the composition, Jacobi is of the opinion that �the first book of the Acaranga and that of the Sutrakrtanga sutra may be reckoned among the most ancient parts of the Siddhanta.� The earliest portions of the Canon do undoubtedly belong to the period of the first disciples of Mahavira himself, while the latest portions would presumably be nearer the time of Devardhi Ganin.

 

Notwithstanding occasional later accretions, however, the text of the Angas and of some at least of the Upangas offer a substantially correct description of the state of society, religion and thought in which Mahavira performed his Sadhana and attained omniscience and of the teachings of the Lord himself.

 

View of the World:

 

Like Buddha, Lord Mahavira presented a gloomy picture of the world. �The (living) world is afflicted miserable, difficult to instruct and without discrimination.�

 

Thus begins the second lecture of the first book of Acaranga �Quality is the seat of the root, and the seat of the root is quality. He who longs for the qualities, is overcome by great pains, and he is careless. (For he thinks) I have to provide for a mother, for a father, for a sister, for a wife, for sons, for daughters, for a daughter-in-law, for my friends, for near and remote relations, for my acquaintances, for different kinds of property, profit, meals, and clothes.

 

Longing for these objects, people are careless, suffer day and night, work in the right and wrong time, desire wealth and treasures, commit injuries and violent acts, direct the mind, again and again, upon those injurious things (described in the first lecture). (Doing so) the life of some mortals (which by destiny would have been long) is shortened. For when with the deterioration of the perceptions of the ear, eye, organs of smelling, tasting, touching, a man becomes aware of the decline of life, they (i.e., those failing perceptions) after a time produce dotage. Or his kinsmen with whom he lives together will, after a time, first grumble at him and he will afterwards grumble at them. He is not fit for hilarity, playing, pleasure, show. Therefore proceeding to pilgrimage, and thinking that the present moment is favorable (for such intentions), he should be steadfast and not, even for an hour, carelessly conduct himself. His youth, his age and his life fade away.

 

�A man who carelessly conducts himself, who killing, cutting striking, destroying, chasing away, frightening (living beings) resolves to do what has not been done (by anyone)-him his relations with whom he lived together, will first cherish, and he will afterwards cherish them. But they cannot help thee or protect thee, nor canst thou help them or protect them.�

 

In bold relief against this gloomy view of the Samsara, there is presented the bright prospect of religious life as lived and taught by Lord Mahavira. Mahavira developed a systematic exposition of Kriyavada or Karmavada which he clearly distinguished from (1) the Akriyavada of Gosala, who was essentially fatalist, (2) Ajnanavada or agnosticism of Sanjaya, and (3) Vinayavada of the average ascetic, who believes that the goal of religious life is realized by conformation to the rules of discipline. He also distinguished it from the other brands of Kviyavada, by defining his own creed as follows. �The painful condition of the self is brought about by one�s own action, it is not brought about by any other cause (fate, creator, chance or the like)�. �Individually a man is born, individually he dies, individually he falls (from this state of existence), individually he rises (to another). His passions, consciousness, intellect, perceptions and impressions belong to the individual exclusively. Here, indeed, the bonds of relationship are not able to help or save one.� �All living beings owe their present form of existence to their own Karman; timid, wicked, suffering latent misery, they err about (in the circle of births), subject to birth, old age and death.� Mahavira declared that there are as many souls as living individuals, and that Karman consists of acts, intentional or unintentional, that produce effects on the nature of the soul. The soul is not passive in the sense that it remains untouched or unaffected by what a person does for the sake of some interests. It is susceptible to the influences of Karma, and it possesses the capacity to actively annihilate Karma. By the practice of austerities and penance�s the jiva can wear our, and ultimately destroy the effects of sinful karma committed in former existence�s and by the practice of far-reaching self-restraint it can free itself from the production of new karmas. The result of this freedom from the bondage of Karma will be a non-guiding of the self in the course of samsara in future, and the attainment of the eternal and blissful condition of the soul in its perfection.
 

 This condition of the soul is realizable in this very existence and solely by human efforts, if rightly directed. The life of the Master stood for all his disciples as a living example of such realization. The development and manifestation of supreme personality, such as was attained by Lord Mahavira himself, was the visible fruition of religious effort and self-discipline; and this self-discipline was set out and preached by him for the adoption of all persons, male or female, irrespective of any class or caste distinctions.