Mahavira

The Founder of Jainism

Mahavira or Varhamana was the 24th and last Tirthankara (person who has conquered Samsara) of Jainism, therefore the founder, or reformer of the Jain religion. Mahavira, like the legends of the

Mahavira
Mahavira

buddha, was born into a royal family in Bihar, India. The name Mahavira means great warrior, though in youth Mahavira received what he desired, his father being the king. Some traditions state that he was celibate, some that he married, but most agree that he was born in 599 BCE achieved moksha in 527.

Mahavira spent 30 years traveling through India to teach his philosophy with eight cardinal laws. Mahavira abandoned his royal life at the age of thirty. Over the next twelve years, Mahavira honed his senses and killed his desires so that he became all-knowing and all-seeing in the eyes of his disciples. He taught that pursuit of pleasure is endless, equanimity of mind, and self-restraint as a means to obtain enlightenment of the greater population. At the age of 72, in 527 BCE Mahavira died and is said to have obtained nirvana.

Tirthankaras
Mahavira to the right

Mahavira taught 8 core tenets, which correspond to other teachings you are likely familiar with in the aim to increase quality of life. The eight teachings are: ahimsa (giving the highest respect and most possible kindness to each being), Satya (truthfulness, which leads to confidence), Asteya (non-stealing, one should not take anything if not properly given), Bramacharya (control over sexual pleasure), and Aparigraha (non-attachment). Sound familiar? These are the 5 yamas, or the first limb of yoga. It’s interesting to think that the two religions overlapped, but in truth, all religions do in one way or another.

Mahavira was intensely intellectual and even the Buddha is argued to be one of his mentors. He paved the way for all of Jainism and for the religions of India to flourish during the next hundreds of years. He taught a philosophy of enlightened society that was influential and coincided with traditions that would last India until the modern-day.

Jainism | जैन धर्म

Jainism

Jainism is an Indian religion devoted to the practice of Ahimsa, self-control, and self-discipline and teaches that these are the pathways to liberation. Jainism is non-theistic, and modern Jainism is divided into two sects, Digambara and Svetambara. Jainists are renowned for their literacy and education and have the highest degree if literacy of any religious community in India and their manuscripts are the oldest in the country. Jain’s do not believe in a creator god, rather view the universe as eternal and self-sustaining; their proofs use logic and syllogism to refute creationist theories which have been used as examples in science and literature even in recent times. The goal of the religion is to achieve Moksha, liberation from the cycles of rebirth, where one is no longer interested in the functionings of the universe and attains nirvana.

A long time ago, Jainism was one of the most popular religions in India. Jains trace their lineage through a succession of twenty-four tirthankaras who created the religion, with Rishabha being the first and Mahavira the last. The religion has been in decline since the 8th Century because of the expansions of Hinduism and Islam and their oppression over the Jain religion.

Jainism is derived from the Sanskrit word Jin which means ‘to conquer’. This is a conquest over the desires, passions, and pleasures of the senses to win liberation, a victor is known as a Jina, or conqueror. Jaina Dharma (जैन धर्म) is another name for the religion which prescribes equality for all of life, a path of complete ahimsa, and emphasizes spiritual independence, intelligence, and exploration of subjective truth.

There is a body of wisdom taught by all Tirthankara known as the purvas. Due to the exclusively oral tradition of these teachings, they were lost during the ages due to famine that caused the death of many of the Jainist saints. The Jain Agamas are the canonical texts of the religion, comprised for forty-six works based of Mahavira’s teachings, who was the last Tirthankara. Jains encourage higher education their philosophy has had great impact on Indian culture.

The fundamental doctrines of Jainism are revolutionary: The Jain’s call the universe ‘Loka’ meaning world and say that it was not created, but has existed since infinity and has neither beginning nor end; Jains also believe that the universe is made up of six dravya, or substances called Jiva, Pugdala, Dharma-dravya, Akasa, and Kala; the Kalacakra or spinning wheel of time is eternal and beginningless; there are three dimensions of the universe, Urdhva Loka, upper world, Madhya Loka, middle world, and Adho Loka, lower world; Their concept of truth is called anekantavada, referring to the idea of subjective truths and that life is viewed with very limited perception which humans may have in much more limited quantities than we normally consider. These are only a few of the philosophical subjects that Jainism tackles with its theoretic metaphysics. I will be writing another article on them shortly, check back in a couple weeks.

Jain’s believe strongly in the cultivation of wisdom, knowledge, and education. They believe in five core principles: ahimsa, non-violence; satya, truth; asteya, non-taking; brahmacharya, refrain from sexual activity; and aparigraha, non-possessiveness. Worshippers of Shiva and the Buddha are the main reasons for Jainism’s decline, they were violent and contemptuous towards the Jain ascetics. The Vaishnava sects of Hinduism and the growth of Hinduism itself are what drove the decline of Jainism. Today, there are about 4.2 million around the world, spread throughout mostly Asia.

The Jains primary mantra is that of a prayer towards the good qualities of the gods, monks, and towards their spiritual teachers throughout the universe, praising and respecting their good qualities. The prayer is recited as follows:

Namo Arihantanam
Namo Siddhanam
Namo ayariyanam
Namo Uvajjhayanam
Namo Loe Savva sahunam
Esopancanamokkaro, savvapavappanasano
Mangalanam e savvesim, padamama havai mangalam

Jains fast and meditate often; monasticism is encouraged and respected deeply. Followers have neither possessions nor homes, but wander from place to place traveling barefoot without using any services and only accept food that is offered to them. Jains spend four months not traveling and wandering, known as Chaturmas when they teach the communities they join about religion and observe the rules from the Kalpa Sutra.

Jainism is one of the most interesting and unique religions in the world, currently it is making a resurgence in eastern Europe and various places in Asia. Its concepts are fascinating and I haven’t even gotten to half of them yet, stay tuned for my next article on Jain philosophy and probably another on Jain cosmology. I am really hoping that I can find more information when I get to India, although I don’t know how much of an influence Jainism will have in Mysore.