Lord Mahavir and Jain Religion
Lord Mahavir was the twenty-fourth and the last Tirthankara of the Jain religion. According to Jain philosophy, all Tirthankaras were born as human beings but they have attained a state of perfection or enlightenment through meditation and self realization. They are theGods of Jains. Tirthankaras are also known as Arihants or Jinas.
One who destroys his inner enemies like anger, greed, passion, ego, etc.
One who conquers his inner enemies like anger, greed, passion, ego, etc. The followers of Jina are known as Jains.
Mahavir was born in 599 B.C. as a prince in Bihar, India. At the age of 30, he left his family and royal household, gave up his worldly possessions, including clothing and become a monk.
He spent the next twelve years in deep silence and meditation to conquer his desires and feelings. He went without food for long periods. He carefully avoided harming or annoying other living beings including animals, birds, and plants.
His ways of meditation, days of austerities, and mode of behavior furnish a beautiful example for monks and nuns in religious life. His spiritual pursuit lasted for twelve years.
At the end he realized perfect perception, knowledge, power, and bliss. This realization is known as keval-jnana.
He spent the next thirty years travelling on bare feet around India preaching to the people the eternal truth he realized. He attracted people from all walks of life, rich and poor, kings and commoners, men and women, princes and priests, touchables and untouchables.
He organized his followers, into a four fold order,namely
Later on they are known as Jains.
The ultimate objective of his teaching is how one can attain the total freedom from the cycle of birth, life, pain, misery, and death, and achieve the permanent blissful state of one’s self. This is also known as liberation, nirvana, absolute freedom, or Moksha.
He explained that from eternity, every living being (soul) is in bondage of karmic atoms, that are accumulated by its own good or bad deeds. Under the influence of karma, the soul is habituated to seek pleasures in materialistic belongings and possessions. Which are the deep rooted causes of self-centered violent thoughts, deeds, anger, hatred, greed, and such other vices. These result in accumulating more karma.
He preached that right faith (samyak-darshana), right knowledge (samyak-jnana), and right conduct (samyak-charitra) together will help attain the liberation of one’s self.
At the heart of right conduct for Jains lie the five great vows:
Jains hold these vows at the center of their lives. The monks and nuns follow these vows strictly and totally, while the common people try to follow the vows as far as their life styles will permit.
At the age of 72 (527 B.C.), Lord Mahavir died and his purified soul left the body and achieved complete liberation. He became a Siddha, a pure consciousness, a liberated soul, living for ever in a state of complete bliss. On the night of his salvation, people celebrated the Festival of Lights (Dipavali) in his honor.
Significant points of the life and teachings of Lord Mahavir.
The spiritual power and moral grandeur of Mahavir’s teachings impressed the masses. He made religion simple and natural, free from elaborate ritual complexities. His teachings reflected the popular impulse towards internal beauty and harmony of the soul.
His message of nonviolence (Ahimsa), truth (Satya), non-stealing (Achaurya), celibacy (Brahma-charya), and non-possession (Aparigraha) is full of universal compassion. He said that,
Mahavir’s message reflects freedom and spiritual joy of the living being.
Mahavir was quite successful in eradicating from human intellect the conception of God as creator, protector, and destroyer. He also denounced the worship of gods and goddesses as a means of salvation. He taught the idea of supremacy of human life and stressed the importance of the positive attitude of life.
Lord Mahavir also preached the gospel of universal love, emphasizing that all living beings, irrespective of their size, shape, and form how spiritually developed or under-developed, are equal and we should love and respect them.
Jainism existed before Mahavir, and his teachings were based on those of his predecessors. Thus, unlike Buddha, Mahavir was more of a reformer and propagator of an existing religious order than the founder of a new faith. He followed the well established creed of his redecessor Tirthankara Parshvanath. However, Mahavir did reorganize the philosophical tenets of Jainism to correspond to his times. Lord Mahavir preached five great vows while Lord Parshva preached four great vows.
In the matters of spiritual advancement, as envisioned by Mahavir, both men and women are on an equal footing. The lure of renunciation and liberation attracted women as well. Many women followed Mahavir’s path and renounced the world in search of ultimate happiness.
In a few centuries after Mahavir’s nirvana, Jain religious order (Sangha) grew more and more complex. There were schisms on some minor points although they did not affect the original doctrines as preached by the Tirthankars. Later generations saw the introduction of ritualistic complexities which almost placed Mahavir and other Tirthankars on the throne of Hindu deities.
The idols of twenty-four Tirthankaras in the temple are the same because they represent the quality and virtues of Tirthankaras not the physical body. However, at the bottom of each idol a unique symbol is placed to differentiate them. Lord Mahavir’s idol is recognized by the symbol of a lion.
Prayer of Jain religion:Every day Jains bow their heads and say their universal prayer, the Navkar-mantra. All good work and events start with this prayer of salutation and worship.
In the above prayer, Jains do not ask for any favors or material benefits from their Gods, the Tirthankaras or from monks and nuns. They do not pray to a specific Tirthankara or monk by name. By saluting them, Jains receive the inspiration from the five benevolent for the right path of true happiness and total freedom from the misery of life.
Path Of Liberation
The ultimate end, and purpose of all life and activity is to realize the free and blissful state of our true being. True philosophy in Jainism should result in removing all bondages (karmas) in the process of purifying of the soul.
The central theme of Jainism considers religion as a science of ethical practice. It conceives the human body as a chariot on which the soul rides towards liberation. The conduct of the present life should be aimed to attain total freedom from which there is no return to the birth and death cycle. Every soul can attain godhood, i.e., supreme spiritual individuality by realizing its intrinsic purity and perfection.
An individual, in his conduct can be guided by the examples of five benevolent personalities (panch parameshthi). They are:
Arihantas are human beings who have attained keval-jnana, and realized perfect vision, knowledge, power, and bliss. They have preached the religion principles, philosophy of life, and the path of liberation. At the end of their human life they will be totally liberated and will become siddhas.
Siddhas are souls that are completely free from karmic bondage and have attained liberation. Both arihantas and siddhas are the Gods of Jain religions.
At present in the absence of arihantas, ascetics provide the spiritual guidance.
The first step in the process of self-realization is to discard superstitious beliefs and to adopt a rational attitude in life. Jainism lays down a definitive course of practical moral discipline, contemplation of the highest truth, and reorientation of life in light of these for attaining ultimate reality or truth.
The principle features of Jainism are:
Along with other Indian systems, it prescribes a path to liberation (Moksha), which consists of the three jewels (trinity or ratna-traya) of Jainism:
Right perception creates an awareness of reality or truth, right knowledge impels the person to proper action, and proper conduct leads him to the attainment of the total freedom. They must coexist in a person if one is to make any progress on the path of liberation.
Right Perception (Samyak Darsana)
:Right perception consists in seeing the true nature of every substances of the universe. Jainism advocates that one should first try to know, comprehend, and understand the nature of reality, one’s own self, religious goal, and the path. One should analyze it, examine it, test it, and verify it, and then, if satisfied, be convinced of its truth and efficacy.
From the practical point of view, perception in the nature of the reality means to have a total faith in the preachings of tirthankars, and their scriptures known as agams.
Right Knowledge (Samyak Jnana):
Right perception or faith makes us realize the reality of life, and the seriousness of our purpose in life. Right knowledge is the true, correct, proper, and relevant knowledge of the reality, the tattvas.
Mainly one has to know the following:
Six Universal Entities (Substances) soul, matter, motion, rest, space, and time.
Nine Tattvas (Principles) Jiva, Ajiva, Asrava, Bandh, Punya, Papa, Samvara, Nirjara, and Moksha.
Philosophically, this is known as the theory of non-absolutism (Anekantvada) and calls for an attitude of openness. Our limitations of knowledge dictate a style of relativity. The style of Syadvada allows no room for assertions. This Jain theory of knowledge, incorporating the two principles of non-absolutism and relativity, has made an esteemed contribution toward liberalizing the mind of human being.
Right knowledge makes us examine in detail the matter brought into the mind by right conviction. Both are mental processes. Right knowledge must be free from three main defects: doubt, delusion, and indefiniteness.
Right Conduct (Samyak Charitrya):
Proper, correct, appropriate, and truly natural conduct of the living being (soul) is known as right conduct. The main purpose for a human being is to free himself from attachment (raga) and aversion (dvesha). That is to be free from all impure activities of thought, word, and deed. This will attain the state of perfect equanimity.
For practical purposes, right conduct comprises ethical codes, rules, and disciplines which an aspirant is required to pursue for the ultimate freedom.
This resolves into taking the five vows of an ascetic or house-holder.
Right faith and right knowledge are required for right conduct, and all are interdependent.
All aspirants dedicate themselves to proper conduct through vows and subvows. Vows are at the heart of Jain morality and are undertaken with a full knowledge of their nature and a determination to carry them through.
The trinity are necessary for a successful life. This threefold discipline helps us realize our own intrinsic purity. The three jewels must be cultivated collectively to ensure liberation. Individually, they are incomplete and insufficient because they are mutually dependent. In isolation, perception, knowledge or conduct causes conflicts or tensions and vitiates the environment. Collectively, the three jewels produce harmony, contentment, and blissfulness with the progressive march of the soul to higher planes.
Jainism believes that universe and all its substances or entities are eternal. It has no beginning or end with respect to time. There is no need of some one to create or manage the affairs of the universe. Universe in run own its own accord by its own cosmic laws. Hence Jainism does not believe in God as a creator, survivor, and destroyer of the universe.
However Jainism does believe in God. When a living being destroys all his karmas, he possesses perfect knowledge, vision, power, and bliss. He becomes omniscient and omnipotent. This living being is a God of Jain religion. Hence Jains do not believe in one God. Gods in Jain religion are innumerable and the number is continuously increasing as more living beings attain liberation. Every living being has a potential to become God of the Jain religion.
While travelling on the path of spiritual progress, a person destroys all eight types of his karmas in the following sequence.
First Mohaniya (delusion), then Jnana-varaniya (knowledge), Darasna-varaniya (vision), and Antaraya (natural qualities) all three together.
Lastly the remaining four namely Nama (body), Ayu (life span), Gotra (social standing), and Vedniya (pleasure and pain of the body). He then attains liberation.
The first four karmas are called Ghati karmas because they obscure the natural qualities of the soul. The last four karmas are known as aghati karmas because they are related to the body of the soul. Once a person destroys all Ghati karmas, automatically he will destroy all his Aghati karmas at the end of his present life. No fall back can occur.
A person who destroys all eight types of karmas is called Siddha. A person who destroys only four ghati karmas is called Arihanta (Tirthankara, Jina etc). Both Arihantas and Siddhas are classified as Gods in Jainism.
When a person destroys his ghati karmas, he attains keval-jnana. He has regained the original attributes of his soul which are perfect knowledge, vision, power, and bliss. He is omniscient of the past, present and future forms of all entities (living and nonliving beings) of the universe. He is still a human being. He preaches the religion and remains in the state of blissful condition for the rest of his life. He is known as an Arihant.
Arihantas have two categories:
:Immediately after attaining keval-jnana, if a person establishes the four-fold religious order of monks, nuns, sravaks (male laypeople), sravikas (female laypeople) is known as Tirthankara.
He preaches the Jain philosophy, religion, ethics, etc. to his followers.
Twenty-four Tirthankaras are born during this descending part of the time cycle (Avasarpini Kaal) of this region (Bharat Kshetra) of the universe. No two Tirthankaras have lived at the same time in this region. Generally a Tirthankara is born when the religion is at its depression state. He revives the same philosophy and religion at that time. Sometimes he gives a different form to the religion depending upon the time, place, and human behavior.
For example, Lord Mahavir preached five great vows, while Lord Parshva preached four great vows. The vow of celibacy was included in the non-possession category during Parshav’s time.
Tirthankaras are also known as Jina or Nirgrantha.
Jina means one who has conquered his inner passions like desire and hatred.
Nirgrantha means one who has gotten rid of all attachments
iThe only difference between Tirthankara and ordinary-kevali is that the latter does not establish the religious order. He remains in the state of perfect blissful condition for the rest of his life after attaining Keval-jnan.
In the religious scriptures the name Arihantas and Tirthankaras are interchangeably used because ordinary-kevalis do not play a significant role in the religious order.
All Tirthankaras and ordinary-kevalis destroy their remaining Aghati karmas, and attain liberation at the end of their present life. Now they are known as Siddhas. They are totally free. They do not possess body. They are free from the birth and death cycle. They do not feel pleasure and pain, or joy and sorrow. They live in an ever lasting blissful condition at the top of Lokakas known as Moksha. All siddhas possess the same quality of soul, and their attributes are same. However, they still maintain their unique identity.
For Example, Lord Mahavir’s soul as a siddha has a different form than the soul of Lord Bahubali.
Both Arihants (Tirthankaras and ordinary-kevalis) and Siddhas are considered Gods of Jain religion.
Q. In the Namokar Mantra we pray to the Arihants (Tirthankara) first and then to the Siddhas second. Even though the Siddhas are perfect souls and have destroyed both Ghati and Aghati Karmas, and Arihantas have destroyed only Ghati Karmas.
A. It is because Arihants after attaining keval-jnana (after destroying ghati-karmas), preach the Jain philosophy and religion. They explain the path of liberation and attributes of Siddhas. Without the help of Arihantas we would not have known Siddhas. For this reason we pray Arihantas first and Siddhas second.
The Four-Fold order