|Last jain tirthankara|
Mahaveer ji, Karauli, Rajasthan
|Other Names:||Veer, Ativeer, Vardhaman, Sanmati|
|Main teachings:||Ahiṃsā, Anekantavada, Aparigraha|
|Birth:||13th of Chaitra|
|Nirvana:||Kartik Amavasya (Dipawali)|
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Mahavira was born into a royal family in what is now Bihar, India. At the age of 30 he left his home in pursuit of spiritual awakening (Diksha). For the next twelve and a half years he practiced intense meditation and severe penance, after which he achieved Kevala Jnana or enlightenment. He travelled all over Bharata (which was larger than today's India) for the next thirty years to teach Jain philosophy. Mahavira attained moksha at the age of 72. Mahavira was given the title Jīnā, or “Conqueror” (conqueror of inner enemies such as attachment, pride and greed), which subsequently became synonymous with Tirthankara. Although, there is reasonable evidence to believe that Parsva, predecessor of Mahāvīra was a historical figure, still Mahavira is sometimes referred as the founder of Jainism. On this famous Indologist, Heinrich Zimmer note:
|“||The foundation of Jainism has been attributed by Occidental historians to Mahavira. There must be some truth in the Jaina tradition of the great antiquity of their religion. We have grounds for believing that he (Parsva) actually lived and taught and was a Jaina.||”|
According to Jain texts, Mahavira was born in 599 BCE.  His date of birth is on the thirteenth day of the rising moon of Chaitra in the Vira Nirvana Samvat calendar. In the Gregorian calendar, this date falls in March or April and is celebrated as Mahāvīra Janam Kalyanak. Mahavira was born into the royal family of King Siddartha of Kundgraam and Queen Trishala, sister of King Chetaka of Vaishali.
Mahavira was born into a royal family of Kshatriyas. Historians have identified three places in Bihar as his possible birthplace: Kundigram in Vaishali district, Lachhuar in Jamui and Kundalpur in Nalanda. Most modern historians agree that Vasokund was his birthplace. Traditionally, Kundalapura in the ancient city of Vaishali is regarded as his birthplace; however, its location remains unidentified. As the son of a king, Mahavira had all luxuries of life at his disposal. Both his parents were strict followers of Pārśva.
His childhood name was 'Vardhamana', which means "One who grows", because of the increased prosperity in the kingdom at the time of his birth. The name "Mahavira" is a Sanskrit word meaning Great Warrior. One of the reasons for this name is that during his boyhood, Mahavira brought a terrifying serpent under control. Mahavira has many other titles and epithets, including Vira, Sanmati and Ñataputta. The ancient texts refer to Mahavira as Ñataputta (son of Natas). This referred to his clan of origin, the Ñatta.
Mahavira was born in a democratic kingdom, in which king was chosen by voting. Therefore, freedom & equality were core of Mahavira's thinking. Jain traditions are not unanimous about his marital state. According to one tradition, Digambara, he was celibate and according to another (Shwetamber) he was married young to Yashoda and had one daughter, Priyadarshana.
Ascetic life and Kevala Jnana
At the age of 30, Mahavira abandoned all the comforts of royal life and left his home and family to live ascetic life for spiritual awakening. He underwent severe penances, even without clothes. There is graphic description of hardships and humiliation he faced in the Acaranga Sūtra. In the eastern part of Bengal he suffered great distress. Boys pelted him with stones, people often humiliated him.
The Kalpa Sūtra gives a detailed account of his ascetic life:
|“||The Venerable Ascetic Mahavira for a year and a month wore clothes; after that time he walked about naked, and accepted the alms in the hollow of his hand. For more than twelve years the Venerable Ascetic Mahivira neglected his body and abandoned the care of it; he with equanimity bore, underwent, and suffered all pleasant or unpleasant occurrences arising from divine powers, men, or animals.||”|
|“||Henceforth the Venerable Ascetic Mahavira was houseless, circumspect in his walking, circumspect in his speaking, circumspect in his begging, circumspect in his accepting (anything), in the carrying of his outfit and drinking vessel; circumspect in evacuating excrements, urine, saliva, mucus, and uncleanliness of the body; circumspect in his thoughts, circumspect in his words, circumspect in his acts; guarding his thoughts, guarding his words, guarding his acts, guarding his senses, guarding his chastity; without wrath, without pride, without deceit, without greed; calm, tranquil, composed, liberated, free from temptations, without egoism, without property; he had cut off all earthly ties, and was not stained by any worldliness: as water does not adhere to a copper vessel, or collyrium to mother of pearl (so sins found no place in him); his course was unobstructed like that of Life; like the firmament he wanted no support; like the wind he knew no obstacles; his heart was pure like the water (of rivers or tanks) in autumn; nothing could soil him like the leaf of a lotus; his senses were well protected like those of a tortoise; he was single and alone like the horn of a rhinoceros; he was free like a bird; he was always waking like the fabulous bird Bharundal, valorous like an elephant, strong like a bull, difficult to attack like a lion, steady and firm like Mount Mandara, deep like the ocean, mild like the moon, refulgent like the sun, pure like excellent gold'; like the earth he patiently bore everything; like a well-kindled fire he shone in his splendour.||”|
After twelve and a half years of rigorous penance he achieved Kevala Jnana i.e., realization of perfect perception, knowledge, power, and bliss. The Acharanga sutra describes Mahavira as all-seeing. The Sutrakritanga elaborates the concept as all-knowing and provides details of other qualities of Mahavira.
For the next 30 years Mahavira travelled far and wide in India to teach his philosophy. His philosophy has eight cardinal (law of trust) principles, three metaphysical, and five ethical. The objective is to elevate the quality of life.
- Five ethical principles that were preached by Mahavira:
- Ahiṃsā or non-violence- Mahavira taught that every living being has sanctity and dignity of its own and it should be respected just like we expect to respect our own sanctity and dignity. In simple words, we should show maximum possible kindness to every living being.
- Satya or truthfulness which leads to harmony in society. One should speak truth and respect right of property of each other's in society. One should be true to his own thoughts, words and deeds to create mutual atmosphere of confidence in society.
- Asteya or non-stealing which states that one should not take anything if not properly given.
- Brahmacharya or chastity which stresses steady but determined restraint over yearning for sensual or sexual pleasures.
- Aparigraha or non-possession, non-attachment which requires complete detachment from people, places and material property.
Mahavira taught that pursuit of pleasure is an endless game, so we should train our minds to curb individual cravings and passions. That way one does achieve equanimity of mind, mental poise and spiritual balance. One should voluntarily limit acquisition of property as a community virtue which results in social justice and fair distribution of utility commodities. The strong and the rich should not try to suppress the weak and the poor by acquiring limitless property which results in unfair distribution of wealth in society and hence poverty. Attempting to enforce these five qualities by an external and legal authority leads to hypocrisy or secret criminal tendencies. So the individual or society should exercise self-restraint to achieve social peace, security and an enlightened society.
Another fundamental teaching of Mahavira was Anekantavada i.e., pluralism and multiplicity of viewpoints. Mahāvīra employed anekānta extensively to explain the Jain philosophical concepts. Taking a relativistic viewpoint, Mahāvīra is said to have explained the nature of the soul as both permanent from the point of view of underlying substance (nīshyānay), and temporary, from the point of view of its modes and modification.
According to Jain agams, Mahavira attained moksha or complete liberation in 527 BCE and his soul is believed to have become Siddha i.e., soul at its purest form. On the same day Indrabhuti Gautama, his Ganadhara (chief disciple) attained Kevala Jnana. According to Mahapurana, after the nirvana of tirthankaras, devas do the funeral rites. According to Pravachansar, only nails and hair of tirthankaras are left behind, and rest of the body gets dissolved in the air like camphor. Some Western scholars suggests that this date would have been around 425 BCE. There is a Jain temple named Jal mandir in Pawapuri, the place where Mahavira is believed to have attained nirvana. Mahavira is usually depicted in a sitting or standing meditative posture with a symbol of a lion under him.
Mahavira’s previous births are discussed in Jain texts such as the Trisastisalakapurusa Charitra and Jinasena's Mahapurana. While a soul undergoes countless reincarnations in transmigratory cycle of saṃsāra, the births of a tirthankara are reckoned from the time he determined the causes of karma and developed the Ratnatraya. Jain texts discuss twenty-six births of Mahavira prior to his incarnation as a tirthankara.
There are various Jain texts describing the life of Mahavira. The most notable of them is the Kalpa Sūtra of Bhadrabahu. The first Sanskrit biography of Mahavira was Vardhamacharitra by Asaga in 853 CE. Mahavira was grandson of the first tirthankara, Rishabha, according to Jain legends. He was earlier born as the heretical grandson of Rishabha known as Marichi. During his time, many of his contemporaries claimed to be the 24th tirthankara. Some of these were Puran Kashyapa, Makhali Goshala, Ajit Keshkambli, Pakuda Kachchhayan and Sanjay Vellathiputta. However, none of them have any special place in jaina universal history except Mahavira.
Mahāvīra's teachings influenced many personalities. Mahatma Gandhi was greatly influenced by Mahavira.
Bhagwan Mahavira is sure to be respected as the highest authority on Ahimsa. If anyone has practiced to the fullest extent and has propagated most the doctrine of Ahimsa, it was Lord Mahavira. - Mahatma Gandhi
|“||"Mahavira proclaimed in India, the message of salvation, that religion is a reality and not a mere social convention, that salvation comes from taking refuge in the true religion and not from observing the external ceremonies of the community, that religion cannot regard any barriers between man and man as an eternal variety. Wonderous to say, this teaching rapidly over topped the barriers of the race abiding instinct and conquered the whole county." - Dr. Rabindranath Tagore||”|
Mahavira's teachings were for the welfare of humanity and can be the answer to challenges of the modern world.
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|Wikisource has the text of the 1905 New International Encyclopedia article Mahāvīra.|