Feb 11, 2008

Mahavira, the sage of total non-violence

Mahavira, the sage of total non-violence

MAHAVIRA was born as Prince Vardhamana Jnataputra in Khatriyakunda near present day Vaishali on the 13th day of brighter half in the month of Chaitra in 599 BC. Later he earned the sobriquet of Mahavira for his courage and valour.

Leaving behind the luxuries of life of a prince, a loving wife and an infant daughter, Mahavira became an ascetic at the age of thirty. He practiced stringent austerity, owned nothing, went about naked, allowed insects to crawl over him and kept fasts for long periods extending even up to 200 days. After the hard penance of twelve and half years Mahavira attained kevala-gnana or the highest knowledge on the bank of the river Rjuwalika on the evening of the tenth day of the bright half of Vaisakh. He became the Jina - one who had conquered attachment and greed.

Standing firmly against the prevalent brahminical rituals, which emphasized on animal sacrifice, he preached the doctrine of Ahimsa - prohibiting violence even in thought. In fact, as the latter precedes the former, he considered it as a greater form of violence. According to Jaina philosophy, four Bandhanas, viz, Prakriti, Sthiti, Anubhava and Pradesha and four Kashayas, viz, Krodh, Maan, Maya and Lobha bind one to the eternal cycles of rebirths and the resultant sufferings. To get freedom from this bondage one has to posses the three jewels, Ratna-traya, viz, Samyag Darshana (right vision), Samyag Jnyana (right knowledge) and Samyag Charitra (right conduct). In his non-theistic approach, he emphasised on the human possibility of self-overcoming and moral excellence without reliance on a God-creator figure.

Mahavira established rules for ascetics and laity in the Jaina sangha. Ascetics must undertake Mahavrata, a vow to observe 5 karaniyas, viz., Ahimsa (non-violence), Sunrta (truth), Asteya (refrain from unjust possession), Brahmacharya (celibacy) and Aparigraha (getting rid of desire). Mahavrata even prohibits taking of meals after sunset to avoid injury to minute insects. Anuvrata for the laity are similar to Mahavrata but less stringent. For example as against the total celibacy in Mahavrata, they enjoin one to contentment with one’s own spouse.

The human side of Jainism led his followers to contribute in all branches of knowledge, making unique contributions in the fields of Astronomy, Medicines, Philosophy and particularly Mathematics. In fact, “Ganitanuyoga” and “Sankhyayana”- the science of numbers and astronomy - was a must for the Jaina priests. Their various achievements include applications of place value, law of indices, theory of logarithms, special methods for dealing with the fractions and methods used in geometry and mensuration.

Jaina philosophy avers that everything in this universe even the dust particles have jeeva - a soul. To tackle the realistic enumeration of this huge number of jeevas, Jaina theologians made an early crack in the theory of numbers. Advanced ideas in practical sciences and medicine are also abundant in Jaina scriptures. Much attention had also been paid to architectural sciences resulting in some beautiful creations.

Like all religions, Jainism attempted to bring the entire mankind into the folds of universal brotherhood. At the same time, like most other religions it suffered schism after some time. Even considering all the sects together, the Jainas are numerically a small fraction of Indian population. Yet in every sphere of life, economic or otherwise, the Jainas hold glorious positions far in excess to their proportional numerical strength. May be this is due to their inherent philosophy of positive humility as expressed in the immortal shloka: Khammami savvajeevanam, savve jeeva khamantu me. Mitti me savvajeeveshu veran majjanan kena vi. – ‘I forgive all creatures. All creatures may forgive me. I am friendly to everybody. I bear no enmity to any one. One only wishes that it becomes a universal statement to end bitterness in the world.’

This great seer and savant attained his Nirvana in Pavapuri near Rajgir in Bihar on Diwali in 525 B.C.

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