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The symbol of Jainism
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In Jainism, a Tīrthaṅkara is a human being who helps in achieving liberation and enlightenment as an arihant. According to Jain scriptures, that which helps one to cross the great ocean of worldly life is a tīrtha “ford” and a person who fills that role is a tīrthaṅkara “ford-maker”. Tīrthaṅkaras achieve liberation and enlightenment by destroying their constraining (karmas) and becoming role models and leaders for those seeking spiritual guidance. They also seek Kevala Jnana, a state of permanent, perpetual, absolute knowledge of the Soul; it is the precursor to final liberation from the cycle of birth and death.
The twenty-four known tīrthaṅkaras in this time cycle revitalized the Jain religion by establishing the fourfold sangha order which consists of male and female monastics (sadhus and sadhvis) and male and female lay persons (Śrāvakas and Śrāvikas).
The tīrthaṅkaras' teachings form the basis for the Jain canons. The inner knowledge of tīrthaṅkara is believed to be perfect and identical in every respect and their teachings do not contradict one another. However, the degree of elaboration varies according to the spiritual advancement and purity of the society during their period of leadership. The higher the spiritual advancement and purity of mind of the society, the lower the elaboration required.
While tīrthaṅkaras are documented and revered by Jains, their grace is said to be available to living beings, regardless of religious orientation.
Tīrthaṅkaras dwell exclusively within the realm of their Soul, and are entirely free of kashayas, inner passions, and personal desires. As a result of this, unlimited siddhis, or spiritual powers, are readily available to them – which they use exclusively for the spiritual elevation of living beings. Through darśana, divine vision, and deshna, divine speech, they grant their own state of kevalajñana, and moksha, final liberation to anyone seeking it sincerely.
At the end of his human life-span, a tīrthaṅkara achieves siddha status, ending the cycle of infinite births and deaths.
Jainism postulates that time has no beginning or end. It moves like the wheel of a cart. Jains believe that exactly twenty-four tīrthaṅkaras are born in each half-cycle of time in this part of the universe. The first tīrthaṅkara was Rishabha, who is credited for formulating and organising humans to live in a society harmoniously. The 24th and last tīrthaṅkara was Mahavira (599-527 BC).
Tīrthaṅkara images are usually seated with their legs crossed in front, the toes of one foot resting close upon the knee of the other, and the right hand lying over the left in the lap.
In Jain tradition the tīrthaṅkaras were royal in their final lives, and Jain traditions record details of their previous lives, usually as royalty. Their clan and families are also among those recorded in very early, or legendary, Hindu history. All but two of the Jains are ascribed to the Ikshvaku dynasty. Munisuvrata, the twentieth, and Neminatha, the twenty-second, were of the Harivamsa. Jain canons state that Rishabha, the first tīrthaṅkara, founded the Ikshvaku dynasty.
Twenty tīrthaṅkaras achieved “siddha” status on Shikharji. Rishabha attained nirvana on Mount Kailash, Vasupujya at Champapuri in North Bengal, Neminath on Girnar in Gujarat, and Mahavir, the last tīrthaṅkara, at Pawapuri, near modern Patna.
Twenty-one of the tīrthaṅkaras are said to have attained moksha in the kayotsarga “standing meditation” posture, while Rishabha, Neminatha and Mahavira are said to have attained moksha in the lotus position.
- Sangave 2001, p. 101
- "Britannica Tirthankar Definition". Retrieved 02-04-2012.
- "Tirthankar Definition". Retrieved 02-04-2012.
- "Tirthankar reestablishes the four fold order". Retrieved 02-04-2012.
- Flügel, P. (2010). The Jaina Cult of Relic Stūpas. Numen: International Review For The History Of Religions, 57(3/4), 389-504. doi:10.1163/156852710X501351
- "Tirthankar Depictions". Retrieved 02-04-2012.
- Sangave, Vilas Adinath (2001), Facets of Jainology: Selected Research Papers on Jain Society, Religion, and Culture, Mumbai: Popular Prakashan, ISBN 978-81-7154-839-2