Ten Days Journey Into The Self: Mahavir Jayanti

Published: 03.08.2012
Updated: 27.01.2016

15.04.1973 ►Celebrated at the Chapel of the United Nations

We are celebrating Mahavir Jayanti, Mahavir's birthday, and it rejoices my heart that this celebration is being held at the United Nations Chapel and is open for people of all nations and all religions. I have long felt that just as light and air and water are indispensable to each human being, even so the principles of the great religions are meant for mankind. Certainly the Jain principles of Ahimsa, which is non-violence; of Aparigraha, meaning non-acquisition and limited consumption; and the theory of relativity; and the law of Karma --- are all indispensable to mankind, in fact to all living beings, if we are to survive.

I would earnestly wish that not only Mahavir Jayanti, but the birth anniversaries of all the prophets and great men who have given the world the message of non-violence and non- acquisition, who have carried on deep research in the essence of godliness, be celebrated by all communities. By enclosing the Divine Light within the narrow confines of any one denomination, we wa­rp our own personality by being closed- minded, and also deprive humanity of the boon of wisdom of many seers.

Vinoba Bhave, once shocked a crowd he was addressing when he said, “I am more elevated than all the prophets." Then he explained, “We have had the words of Buddha, Mahavir and Christ, the words of all the great teachers, and now, as a child who climbs on his father's shoulders can see further than his father, so we can use the wisdom of the prophets to climb even higher than they did." Truly, we are lucky people that we can do this. Contemplation on the great wisdom of the teachings and on our own lives held up to their light will both open the door to the inner Self, and give us the vision of the outer world we need in these portentous times.

It is because Bhagvan Mahavir was an embodiment of truth and wisdom that he abides even after twenty-five hundred years. If we shut our eyes, we can experience him as if he had just been among us. Why does he seem so near to us, so fresh, so permanent? Because truth is timeless. While earthly objects, large or small, important or unimportant, constantly undergo change and die, truth does not. Of course we can realize new aspects of truth, as relativity implies. And we can remove the historical distortions from truth, that some followers of the sages seem to prefer to their essential teachings.
I would like to relate to you the anecdote that first drew me to Mahavir. The language of the state in which I grew up was Kannada, and thirty-two years ago I knew nothing of Jainism. One day I came across a saying of Mahavir rendered in Kannada: “Just as a mighty mango tree is hidden within the stone of the mango, even so, oh man, God, almighty is hidden within you. Rest not until you find him."

This beautiful thought convinced me that like the stone in the mango, the fire in the flint, God is inherent in each of us. This is what Mahavir illustrated by his life.

Vaishali in Bihar State is the place of the birth of Mahavir, a merciful soul born in 599 B.C. in a royal family. His father was Siddhartha and his mother was the beautiful queen Trishala. He was wedded to a lovely wife, Yashoda, and had a daughter named Priyadarshana. He lived in an atmosphere of luxury. He sensed the existence of suffering and sorrow and hardship beyond the high walls of the palace, and tried in vain to shut out the misery of the world. He was aware that man preyed upon man, that those in power cunningly exploited the common people instead of redressing their grievances. As he acquired this knowledge through the light of his meditational, the life within the palace became increasingly wearisome, and he felt restless and heavy at heart. Finally, unable to bear the thought of the sufferings of his fellow beings, Mahavir gave up his position as a prince to enter this world of struggle outside the palace walls.

Studying the universe, Mahavir realised it was full of beings who were unprotected, and helpless. He saw that men of lust treated women with scant respect; a man would keep numerous mistresses, as if women were goods and belongings. This abject position of women grieved his heart. Then there was the practice of animal sacrifice. Devotees, draped in spotlessly clean cloth and with flowers in their hands, slaughtered dumb animals as offerings in front of the images of the deities they worshipped. Why this atrocity in the name of religion, Mahavir wondered! The inhuman treatment meted out to untouchables, the pain of the shudras, stabbed his heart. Caste-distinction had gone to incredible lengths. An out-caste was treated worse than a brute. While pet dogs and cats were nourished and cared for, a man whose occupation was regarded as “unclean" was hounded out like a mad dog, in the name of religion!

Today many of us feast gaily in fashionable restaurants callous to the unspeakable misery of our fellow men. We talk vociferously about the uplift of the poor and declare ourselves apostles of equality, but there is a vast gulf between what we practice and what we preach. This United Nations was established to promote world unity and peace, but wars continue.

Mahavir did not content himself with preaching without practice. He determined that he would practice equality, limited consumption, in his own mode of life. Equality cannot be established by mere words. The first step towards equality, for Mahavir, was to remove the root of inequality --- luxury. Even the pleadings and tears of his dear ones failed to restrain him from taking the first decisive step: he renounced his wealth and power, and became a monk.

Only when thought, word, and deed are in agreement can there be the music of harmony in a man's life. Just as a scientist devotes himself to his research in a laboratory, Mahavir devoted himself for twelve and half years to this experiment of introducing total non-violence in his thought, word, and deed.

Mahavir in his exploration of non-violence used meditation, silence and penance. He realised that by means of deep meditation he could rid himself of ego, and realize the true self. With the help of silence, he could purify his speech and speak from silence which would radiate the reality. With the practice of penance, he could purify his body and senses which produce the vibrations of health.

By penance I mean largely the sacrifice that is entailed in any creative endeavor. To pass an examination, a student will sacrifice his leisure and pastimes. To bear a child, a mother will endure the pain of childbirth. To experience peace and self-reliance, one must give up luxury and hoarding. This penance or sacrifice does not come from any outside compulsion; it comes from our inner understanding and well-being. Penance of course can include also fasting and other voluntary suffering which many of the great religious traditions have regarded as a step toward experiencing the inspiration of union with the Divine.

For enlightenment, unity and harmony of body, speech and mind are inevitable. If the body is a house of disease, how can one enjoy peace? If speech is distorted with lies and pretension, how can one express the truth? If the mind is confused with emotions, limitations and projections, how can one experience clarity and purity. To create unity of this trinity, meditation, silence and penance become the means.
Mahavir in his meditations realised that all human beings, all living beings in the whole world, desire three things --- happiness, friendship, and freedom.

By giving an added inflection to the word happiness, Mahavir filled it with a new significance. The happiness that all beings crave he defined as “bliss". Bliss is not sensuous happiness, not mere pleasure and indulgence. Senses get fatigued, satiated, therefore sensuous happiness does not endure. However, there is no fatigue in bliss because it stems from contentment, peace. “Aparigraha", non-acquisition, is the key to this spiritual treasure. The man who strives unceasingly to amass material treasure finds that his peace of mind is gone, often he cannot even enjoy the quiet sleep his body needs, so he has to drug himself to snatch a few hours of troubled sleep. Is he then, happy? Mahavir pointed out that only inner peace and contentment lead to true happiness.

Now for the second desire of man - friendship. It is in human nature to desire a friend. Life is lived in relationship to others, and without such relationship life is a barren, lonely desert. However, our first friend is within. Mahavir was in tune with his inner voice and advised, “Seek friendship with your own soul. Learn to understand your soul through introspection: talk with your soul in solitude, confide all your joys and sorrows to your soul and this friend will never let you down, never let you feel lonely. This bond between you and your soul is unbreakable and in it you will find solace...." But this companionship needs to be cultivated. Spare some time every day to converse with your soul, in solitude and in silence, and you will experience a sense of security, a sense of serenity which will build a bridge of companionship between the self and the world at large.

Now we come to the third desire that fills the human heart --- the desire for freedom. But freedom from what and for what? We need freedom from hunger and outward insecurity. We need freedom from outer tyranny and coercion, from violence or the threat of violence. As I just said, we need freedom from the pressure to acquire possessions and status, since these will not make us happy but only distract us from finding inner peace. Most of all, we need freedom from our inner enemies; from fear, pride, greed, vindictive rage, indifference. We need freedom to become what we were meant to be, to be aware of the glory within, to realize our divinity. We need freedom to turn away from the non-essentials as did all Arihantas, and to become fully ourselves by being concerned for the welfare of all.

With the coming of political freedom, whether in the U.S.A. two centuries ago or in India recently, has our attitude toward suffering changed? Violence, overt and covert, continues unabated. Famines cannot be wiped out by rituals and ceremonies. Nor can the problem of famines all around the world be solved by giving free food and clothing, although not to supply these would be inhuman. People will be able to rid themselves of the spectre of famine only if they struggle to their feet in sincere endeavor to end this bizarre inequality. But also, those who have the capacity to help others must find a way to do so.

There have been so many prophets, so many saints, and yet the conflict between man and man continues unchecked --- conflict for territory, for material resources, for power. Words cannot express the poignancy of my grief at the sight of this conflict raging all around us. Is there no remedy for this malaise? Reverence for life calls for building institutions such as the United Nations, dedicated to a global community without injustice or war. The law of Karma implies that action brings reaction. We cannot be violent without perpetuating violence. Reverence for life calls for social change but admits of no enemies. It demands the humanity of the opponent be recognized, and speaks with amity. Moral fury is as bad as any other fury.

Those whose survival is safe, who are free from fear of starvation or helplessness must share their privilege to free those who are in hunger and pain. This way the freedom will dawn from within and without.

Today being the birth anniversary of Mahavir, our hearts lift with joy. We have all come together on this auspicious occasion, but how can we derive the greatest benefit from it.

Only if from our contemplations we attain a determination which would enrich life. Then, and then alone will we add to the radiance of this day, and the brilliance of this night!

The life of Bhagwan Mahavir and his meditations are as vast as the ocean. How can I do justice to such greatness within this brief hour? I can only awaken your imagination. I would pray humbly yet fervently that just as light, air and water benefit all, so also contemplation, silence and penance, Ahimsa and Aparigraha, should be practiced for the benefit of all living beings.

Title: Ten Days Journey Into The Self
Compiled by: Elizabeth Cattell
Publisher: Jain Meditation International Center, New York

1. Edition 1974
2. Edition 1978
3. Edition 1998
5. Edition 2002


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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Ahimsa
  2. Aparigraha
  3. Arihantas
  4. Bhagwan Mahavir
  5. Bihar
  6. Body
  7. Buddha
  8. Contemplation
  9. Fasting
  10. Fear
  11. Greed
  12. Jainism
  13. Jayanti
  14. Karma
  15. Mahavir
  16. Mahavir Jayanti
  17. Meditation
  18. Non-violence
  19. Pride
  20. Shudras
  21. Soul
  22. Trishala
  23. Vinoba Bhave
  24. Violence
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