The contribution of the first Jain Tirthankara Rishabhdev in strengthening the Indian Way can be apparent on four aspects. And the first among them is that being a great and wise cultivator he trained Indians in systematic agricultural work. He called upon people to domesticate animals on larger scale along with agriculture; he inspired Indians for it. Both these practices could grant dimensions to Ahimsa and thus strengthened the Indian Way.
All the above four contributions of Rishabhdev, in spite of being extraordinary in his on time, are worth giving a thought until today. Tirthankara Rishabhdev is ideal for those who think about the Indian Way, who are concerned of making this way firm and broad in prevailing conditions of India and the whole world. Doubtlessly, in this regard, Rishabhdev goes beyond the limits set by any particular religious-community.
Chain of Tirthankaras
After Rishabhdev, the first Tirthankara, his great tradition was spread and propagated among the masses by other twenty-one Tirthankaras in prevailing circumstances of their respective times. Among those eighteen Tirthankaras-Ajitnath, Sambhavnath, Abhinandannath, Sumatinath, Padamprabhu [or Padamprabh], Suparshvanath, Chandraprabhu [or Chandraprabh], Pushpadant, Shitalnath, Shreyansnath, Vasupujya, Vimalnath, Anantnath, Dharmanath, Shantinath, Kunthunath and Arhanath came from the Ikshavaku family line. They made the people realize the importance of Ahimsa and tried their level best to bring day-to-day activities of all general and particular within its domain. They were great initiator of Ahimsa in their respective eras.
Mallinath, the child of Queen Prabhavati and Ikshavaku Vanshiya King Kumbha of Ayodhya, who according to the Digambar sect of Jain-community was masculine in gender and according to the Shwetambar sect a feminine, rose to the stature of the Nineteenth Jain Tirthankara. Like earlier Tirthankaras Mallinath too accomplished the great task of spreading Ahimsa and conveyed the reality of this supreme value for the welfare of all.
Suvratnath and Naninath were twentieth and twenty-first Jain Tirthankaras and both of them also came from the Ikshavaku family line, while Neminath, the twenty-second Tirthankara, came from the Hari Vansha. They successfully went forward in giving dimensions one after the other to Jain philosophy in their respective eras. They became source of inspiration for many to come to the fold of Jainism and make Ahimsa the basis of their chores.
Parshvanath [872-772 B. C.], the son of King Ashvasen and Queen Vama of Varanasi, who rose to the stature of the Twenty-Third Jain Tirthankara, became most popular in the chain of Tirthankaras after Rishabhdev. He was the predecessor of Vardhamana Mahavira, the last and the Twenty-Forth Tirthankara. The most valuable contribution of Parshvanath to the Indian philosophy and spiritualism was the foundation of the Chaturyama, a fourfold Shramanika system by him. And the solidarity which Parshvanath gave through this contribution to the Indian Way was not the less than any of the Vedic Rishis.
When during the Upanishadic era under the Vedic system Ahimsa was being purified as the supreme human value, and altogether it was being mentioned particularly in the Shandiloyopnishad and Chandogyopnishad, at that very time Parshvanath, with the purpose of making it foremost in theory and practice both, and to accord it the supreme place in prevailing circumstances, made it first in the Chaturyama. Through this he ratified Indias commitment to human equality and unity. Thus, he himself proved to be the best representative of the Indian Way of his time.
Chaturyama is made of those four principles on the basis of which Parshvanath established the Shramanika System. Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya and Aparigraha are included in it. Doubtlessly, by following this system, particularly its principles of true conduct, non-stealing and Aparigraha, the level of ethics and morality increases to a large extent. Both-ethics and morality-are necessary for the development of Ahimsa. They are the means of realizing it. Therefore, through his Chaturyama system, which is made of Satya, Asteya and Aparigraha along with Ahimsa, Tirthankara Parshvanath gave an extension to the Indian Way; he made it concrete.
Vardhamana Mahavira, who rose to the stature of the Twenty-Fourth Jain Tirthankara, was the son of Kashyapgotriya King Siddhartha and Queen Trishla of Kundagram near Vaishali in present Bihar. It was Mahavira who not only had brought forward the Jain tradition established by Rishabhdev but gave to it the best, unprecedented, unique and historical dimension in theory and practice, which could be known and understood by his own lifelong practices. In his own life Mahavira was on the peak of Ahimsa. I am of the view that he was unique in fostering Ahimsa. Until today he holds unique position in this regard. I am not acquainted of any such other who experienced and practiced Ahimsa to the extent as Mahavira did. Also I am not sure whether someone else will become equal to him in this context. Indians can take pride of having such a unique and matchless initiator of Ahimsa like Mahavira who born on their motherland.
Mahavira added Brahmacharya [Celibacy] to the Chaturyama system established by the Twenty-Third Tirthankara Parshvanath. Thus, he based it on five principles-Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya and Aparigraha. The purpose behind adding this new principle in the Chaturyama system was to make human conduct morally sound. In fact, celibacy is one of the best means of self-control and self-restrain. It contributes towards maintaining mental and physical balance. Furthermore, it plays vital role in developing constructive approach in man. Therefore, it promotes activities related to Ahimsa.
Being a great guide, elucidator and defender, Mahavira took the Indian Way to heights. The Ratna-traya system established by him is one of the living examples of it. Through the Ratna-traya System-Samyak Darshan, Samyak Jnana and Samyak Charitra-he inspired the people to go forward to attain the highest stage of humanity.
Being a great initiator of Ahimsa and elucidator of the Indian Way, Mahavira tried to make all, general or particular, realize that unity in diversity was a reality. He declared Ahimsa to be the soul force, and through its constant development he emphasized upon realizing harmony, which prevailed not only among human beings, but also between a dangerous and a weak or feeble animal. He talked of drinking water by a lion and a buffalo on the same landing-place.
In the scope of Mahaviras harmony and human-unity all general and particular, woman and man, rich and poor were, and are, equal. All were, and are, eligible of equal progress. All can attain the highest-Moksha. In the entire history of Jain tradition, Mahavira set record of inspiring lacs of men and women to follow Jainism by making Ahimsa nucleus in their day-to-day practices. He wished all to break their bonds and to reach the level of a Tirthankara. In this regard he surpassed all his predecessors.
To understand the reality of the [exiting or materialistic] world, Mahavira proposed a great philosophy of Anekantvad [non-absolutism]. He also presented another philosophy of Syadvad, which was based upon seven possibilities, before the world. These philosophies gave strength to the Indian philosophy on the one hand and on the other they fostered Indias way of life. Moreover, by repeating the principle of possibility of harmony among all creatures he made the aspect of universal acceptance of the Indian Way strong in theory, and by his own pure and true activities in practice.
Dr. Ravindra is a renowned Indologist; he is a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Meerut in India.