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INTRODUCTION

 

MAHAVIR - THE TWENTY-FOURTH TlRTHANKAR

 

JAIN PHILOSOPHY

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INTRODUCTION

 

 

1.1 PRELIMINARY

Man is endowed with the faculty of thinking. On gaining

self-consciousness, he tries to understand the meaning of life and the nature of the universe around him. He gropes in various directions. Such speculation culminates in systematic

reasoning. His quest produces some results. He forms certain concepts and adopts a course of action for advancement. Man has been involved in these exercises since the beginning of time, Such an endeavor of human intellect gives rise to philosophy - a theory of life and the nature of the universe, and religion - a code of conduct for spiritual advancement.

1.2 HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The dawn of the "Historical Period" sometime between the tenth and seventh centuries before Christ, is remarkable in the

history of mankind. The period witnessed an upsurge of human spirit and endeavor. Intense waves of activity of the human intellect swept many lands where man had emerged from the Bronze Age. Zoroaster gave a new creed to Iran; Confucius and Laotse taught wisdom to China; Jews in their Babylonian captivity developed unflinching faith in Jehovah; Greece emerged as the pioneer of European culture, and her philosophers tackled the problems of life and existence; Rome was founded.

At this time, the situation in India was quite different. A highly complex civilization and a noble culture had been

flourishing in the country for centuries (1). There had been a continuous upheaval of mind and spirit, and an all pervasive effervescence was weaving the fabric of Indian culture. The centuries old dream of universal conquerors (chakravartis), both in political as well as in religious fields, was in the process of being realized. It is evident from the philosophy of the Upanishads that human intelligence and metaphysical concepts had sufficiently developed in India before the emergence of the so-called dawn of the "Historical Period". The foundations had been laid down on which the six systems of Indian philosophy were later built. The ideas developed by the sages of the

Upanishads led to expectations which were fulfilled in later periods. They provide us with the evidence that different points of view had begun to emerge. The considerable

intellectual activity going on in different directions was awaiting its full philosophical maturity.

The sixth century B.C. marked the beginnings of philosophical speculations in many lands, particularly in Greece. However, in India, it was the age of considerable philosophical progress. Elsewhere philosophy and religion pursued quite different and independent paths. Although the two had, at times, crossed paths and one had influenced the other, philosophy and religion never merged into one. In India on the other hand, it was and still is not possible to differentiate between the two. Unlike the Greek, the Indian philosophy was not confined to the academies. It became the religion of the masses. While the Indian sages and intellectual thinkers found solutions for the problems of life and existence that were basically philosophical, their teachings created and shaped components of a religious system. In course of time, these thinkers became prophets and saints for their religious followers.
 

1.3 PARALLEL DEVELOPMENTS IN INDIAN CULTURE

There have been two parallel developments of thought in the main stream of Indian philosophy; one emphasizing the principle of self-discipline and nonviolence (ahimsa), and the other, the sacrificial duties, for the salvation of human beings. There is evidence to suggest that the religious and philosophical ideas were present in the consciousness of the people even before the arrival of Aryan races in India.

In the sixth century B.C., there was an upsurge of ideas leading to new philosophical tenets and religious systems, often of a revolutionary character. The growth of the new religious

systems and philosophical doctrines modified the outlook of the future. These systems had very little in common with the Vedic rituals. Freedom of thoughts was their common feature. The Brahminical scriptures have formulated four life stages

(ashrams); The student, the householder, the hermit and the ascetic. In this scheme, the last two stages developed a class of wandering ascetics, who freed themselves from the obligations of prevailing religious ideas and practices, and thought out a new the fundamental problems of life and existence. Their number increased and their constant movements brought them into frequent association with one another. The result was a vigorous reorientation of the religious life and a twofold reaction ensued.

 

First, the thinking mind was in search of higher knowledge (para vidya) which was indestructible (aksharam). The

philosophical mind of the Upanishads turned to VEDANTA(2)

while revolting against the sacrifices. This introduced a new element of of enlightenment (Jnana marg) through meditation (Dhyan) instead of the traditional approach of sacrificial work (karma marg). Meditation was assigned a higher value in the new scheme of philosophical development. As a result, more intrepid thinkers arose, some who wanted to disregard the Vedas completely and who openly rebelled against them. Jainism and Buddhism, among others, reflected a powerful systematic and philosophical departure from the massive and elaborate Vedic sacrifices and ceremonies.

Second, there grew a monotheistic movement which denied the necessity, if not also the reality, of the Vedic gods together with the preeminence of the Brahmins in spiritual matters, and accepted devotion (bhakti marg) as the way of pleasing Gods such as Vishnu or Shiva.

The intellectuals, while rejecting the Vedas as a source of knowledge and devotion, emphasized a vigorous system of

discipline based on a code of moral and spiritual behavior. They were also averse to the inequities of the caste system, particularly to the high pretensions of the Brahmins. They were termed by the defenders of tradition and orthodoxy as

"heterodox" thinkers. They believed that life was full of ills, and escape could be effected only through meditation on devotion to the highest truth.

With the rise of the heterodox movement, the mass of sacrifices and ceremonies which were inculcated and supported by the

authority of the Vedas began to fade away. A new and powerful religious current of the quest of the Absolute originated. This idea progressively acquired a predominant character of the Indian culture in future generations.

Dr. K. M. Munshi has described its development in the following words:

Long before the dawn of the "Historical Period" a central idea was already becoming clear from a mass of incoherent urges which went under the generic name of dharma. Man was not a struggling worm but a `self', of an essence with a supraphysical destiny which can only be attained by a mastery over the misery which was man's lot on earth; this mastery in its turn can only be achieved by integrating personality by self-discipline so as to raise the `self' above the flux of passing sense experience. The discipline implied a double process, the relinquishment of the greed for life and the broadening of the personal self into a universal self. The end of this discipline was variously named. 

self-realization (siddhi)

emancipation (mukti, moksha)

freedom (nirvana)

enlightenment (jnana)

bliss (ananda)

In substance it was absolute integration of human personality (kaivalya) freed from the limitations of attachment and

fear. (3)

It was this experience of different philosophical theories and interpretations that Mahavir inherited. A stage was reached when the problems of life and mysteries of the universe could be unraveled without presupposing the existence of God or the revelation of His will. Vardhamana Mahavir and Gautama Buddha provided the strong base for this intellectual make up of the country. Bhagwan Mahavir attempted to build a logical system of intellectual pursuit and religious organization based on

individual experience, by individual effort and for individual salvation.
 

1.4 ANTIQUITY OF JAINISM

Jainism contains the traces of the earliest developments of philosophical thinking in the history of mankind. It has been generally recognized that Jain philosophy was sufficiently advanced before the tenth century B.C. Earlier glimpses of Jainism have, however, been lost in the antiquity, and the available sources of information do not provide hope of

recovering them. According to the traditional Jain literature, there have been twenty-four Tirthankaras who reinstated the religious order at various times. The historical details of the first twenty-two Tirthankars are not known, although traditional account of them found in Jain literature is not altogether insufficient to understand the line of Jain thought. According to traditional information, Jainism was propagated by the

kshatriya (of warrior class) princes. It repudiated, explicitly or implicitly, the Brahminical claim that the Vedas were

infallible sources of spiritual truth and the rituals prescribed therein, the means of salvation.

The lives and teachings of the last two Tirthankars, Bhagwan Parshvanath and Bhagwan Mahavir, are historical facts. From their times onwards, we get an accurate outline of the growth of Jain religion and philosophy. Historically, it is recognized that long before the Christian Era, Jain metaphysical thought had crystallized into a definite school of philosophy. It marked a considerable departure from the Vedic system and was, therefore, looked upon as a heterodox system. It was not merely a reform of the orthodox religion, but an altogether separate religious system.

1. The Story of Civilization: Part I. Our Oriental Heritage by Will Durant, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1935, pp.

394-396.

2. The essence of the Vedas, which is the last portion of the Vedic literature.

3. The History and Culture of the Indian People: The Age of Imperial Unity, Vol, II. R. C. Majumdar, General Editor;

Bharatiya Vidya Bhayan, Bombay, 1968.