Jainism : The World of Conquerors: 2.3 ► Vardhamana Mahavira

Published: 16.11.2015

It is often observed that 'the period from the eighth to the sixth centuries BCE was particularly rich in charismatic religious personalities. In Israel during this period there were the prophets Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah and Jeremiah, to name the more outstanding; in Persia there was Zarathustra, and in India the Buddha and Mahavira. This was an age of intellectual ferment across the world: In Greece, we see such figures as Thales, said to be the father of geometry, and, towards the end of the century, the Sophists, itinerant teachers rather than philosophers. While the great age of Greek learning was still a century in the future, with Socrates and Plato still to arise, the sixth century was a time when the great minds were already studying the world and the meaning of life. On the other side of the world, in China, Confucius (traditional dates, 561 to 479 BCE) laid the foundations to a world outlook and social system that survived for two thousand years.

India too, one of the pioneers of civilisation, witnessed during this period enormous ferment and movements in the intellectual and social fields, economic prosperity and despair of material life for some. It was an age of frequent wars and considerable social distress due to the arrogance of the rich and powerful and the rigid caste system, and the respect for the religious teachers and the philosophers. Many philosophers, seeking to disseminate their ideas, roamed across north-eastern India, the area that may be regarded as the cradle of Indian culture. The schools of thoughts of this age were divided into many types and the main among them were Sramana and the Brahmanical. The Brahman believed in the authority of the Vedas which emphasized rituals, while the Sramana observed a set of ethical principles and did not believe or accept the authority of Vedas. The Brahman emphasised renunciation after the proper fulfilment of social duties, but the Sramana practised a detached life with a view to liberation from the worldly cycle, and accepted renunciation at any time after ceasing to be a minor. The Sutra Krutaanga gives descriptions of the philosophical theories then prevailing, with a view to refuting them: the Kriyaavaadis claimed that the individual is responsible for his actions, good or bad; the path of the Akriyaavaadis lay in inaction, indifference to good or bad actions; the Agnostics or Ajnaanavaadis held that the nature of truth was unknowable; and the Vinayavaadis claimed that truth couldn't be easily analysed. The Buddhist scripture the Suttanipata described no fewer than sixty-three Sramana (non-Vedic) schools of thought, which existed in the sixth century BCE. The multiplicity of 'schools' of philosophy created intellectual confusion among the intellingentia, but all these views were inadequate in explaining the truth when compared with the many-sided Jain view of truth.

In the social sphere there was uncertainty: Vedic ritualism was attempting to reassert itself; sacrificial rites, the offering of animal victims to the gods, had reappeared. People were passive spectators exploited by a sophisticated priestly class who professed to be a link between the gods and humanity, leading the worshippers to heaven through ritualised sacrifices. The priestly class saw itself as the custodian of spiritual and secular good and felt superior to all others, and claimed a monopoly on the preservation of culture. The lowest of the classes was the Sudra. Women were regarded as inferior to men. As the caste system became consolidated, it legitimised inequality. There is a story in a Buddhist text Majjhimanikaya (p. 281) of an incident in which a sudra was beaten and tortured because he stepped in front of a high caste girl while on the way to his home, as it was considered to be inauspicious to a person of high caste. In the Jain scriptures, a disciple of Parsvanatha the twenty-third tirthankara, Kesi Kumara, is depicted as saddened by the ignorance of the people and their exploitation by the higher classes. It was in this situation that two contemporaries, Siddhartha Gautam, known as the Buddha, and Vardhamana Mahavira, the twenty-fourth and last tirthankara, set out to remove suffering and show the path which would lead to perfection. The Jain scholar Kalghatgi, expresses the contribution of Mahavira beautifully: 'out of dust Mahavira made us into men and he lifted us to be angels' (Kalghatgi 1988:63).

At that time, northern India was divided into many independent states, but for the first time in ancient Indian history these were organised into sixteen great countries (Bhagavati Sutra 1921: chapter XV), which included monarchies and republics. Amongst the republics, a large confederation of clans, the Vajjis, whose capital was at Vaisali (near Patna in Bihar), were ruled by king Cetaka. His sister Trisala, and her husband Siddhartha, ruler of Kundalpura, were followers of the religious tradition preached by Parsvanatha, the twenty-third tirthankara, some two and a half centuries earlier. To them a son was born on the thirteenth day of the bright half (when the moon was waxing) of the month of Caitra, and according to tradition, this was the year corresponding to 599 BCE. He was named Vardhamana, meaning 'increasing prosperity' as the prosperity of his father's realm steadily increased after his conception, but he is known to history as Mahavira, the Great Hero.

There are many stories about his bravery as a youth: once some children were playing in a mango grove when they encountered a huge snake. They ran for their lives hut Vardhamana coolly took the serpent in his hand and carried it away to safety. Another popular story tells of the children playing a game in which the forfeit for the loser was to carry the winner on his back for some distance, but a heavenly being joined in the game, assuming the form of young boy, and purposely lost the race. When Vardhamana sat on the back of this 'boy', he started running and grew in size until he had taken the form of a giant. But Vardhamana, far from being frightened, punched the giant so hard that he was taken aback at the youngster's enormous strength. This is the popular account of how he came to acquire the name 'Mahavira'. A story is told which demonstrates Vardhamana's sharpness of intellect at an early age: someone asked Vardhamana's parents where the boy was, his father said he was downstairs while his mother said he was upstairs when, in fact, he was on the middle floor. Afterwards he explained that both his parents were right: from the standpoint of the upper floor he was downstairs, but from the bottom floor he was upstairs (Kalghatgi 1988: 65). This is an early example of a key concept of Jain philosophy, 'relative pluralism' (anekaantavaada), the notion that contradictory statements may both be right when looked at from different viewpoints.

These anecdotes were intended to portray the physical and mental superiority of Vardhamana in a manner that is familiar in the biographies of heroic figures of the past. Whatever the facts, they portray the youth as history was to remember him. Jain scriptures claim that Vardhamana Mahavira possessed the extra-sensory perceptual capacity of clairvoyance (avadhi jnaana), in addition to the normal sensory experiences of sense perception (mati jnaana) and reasoning (sruta jnaana). All tirthankaras are credited with these capacities from birth. We need not be sceptical about clairvoyant powers: modern psychical research has not ruled out extra-sensory perception.

At the age of eight, when it would have been time for a child such as Vardhamana to begin a formal education with a teacher, his intellectual capabilities were so far in advance of other children that it was realised that such a conventional education would hamper his development. Regarding his marriage, the two major sects of Jainism, Svetambar and Digambar disagree. Svetambar texts claim his having a wife, Yasoda, and a daughter Priyadarsana, while Digambar texts state that Mahavira took his ascetic vows while still a bachelor (Kalghatgi 1988:66). In any event, Mahavira sought the spiritual life and wanted to renounce the world to seek the way of happiness for all living beings; however, he was prepared to wait while his parents were alive, as it would hurt their feelings. When he was twenty-eight years old his parents died and two years later, with the permission of his elder brother, Nandivardhana, he entered upon the life of an ascetic. In contrast to the story of the Buddha, who abandoned his family, Mahavira, and subsequently all Jain ascetics, seek the consent of their families before their renunciation.

The news of a prince giving up his wealth and position to become a recluse was a remarkable event. Throngs of people gathered to bid him farewell. An old man, Harikesi, ran towards him to touch his feet and pay his respects. The crowd shouted 'do not let Harikesi go near Mahavira, he is an outcaste.' Mahavira said, 'Please do not stop him, let him come', and he embraced Harikesi and bade him goodbye. Harikesi was overwhelmed with gratitude and reverence for Mahavira, and with tearful eyes he paid his respects (Kalghagti 1988: 67). This incident is significant in the context of the different social revolutions which Mahavira and the Buddha unleashed; both emphasised equality between men and women. In a garden called Khandavana on the outskirts of his hometown, sitting beneath an Asoka tree, Mahavira took the vow of renunciation; he shed his princely title to become a simple sramana, a homeless mendicant ascetic.

His Ascetic Life

Many Jain scriptures recount the story of Mahavira's ascetic life, including the Kalpa Sutra, one of the most widely read and popular of these texts; however, there are very few books in English (such as Lord Mahavira and His Times by K.C.Jain), which give some account of his life as an ascetic. The scriptures tell how he had to make superhuman efforts to attain total knowledge, omniscience, which is the highest spiritual achievement.

His ascetic life began with a two-and-a-half day fast, after this he put on the simple clothing of a mendicant and, plucking out his hair, he left his home forever. To begin with he had clothing but he gave half his robe to a poor Brahmin, and when the other half became entangled in a thorn bush he abandoned it and remained thereafter without possessions. When people gave him food he simply took it in the hollow of his hand. For more than twelve years he accepted all hardships, without regard for his body, suffering without concern for pleasure or pain, totally chaste, circumspect in speech and movement, overcoming pride, deceit and greed, he cut all earthly ties. In the eight months of summer and winter, outside the rainy season, Mahavira never spent more than a single night in any village and five nights in any town. He regarded everything with complete detachment: the scent of sandalwood or the stench of decay were alike to him. Free from all passions, he meditated for twelve years on the path to liberation, which is the reward of truthfulness, self-control, penance and good conduct. There are many Jain writings that give a chronological account of the years of Mahavira's mendicant life and the incidents therein. He would stay a night in a workshop, a village square, a shop or in a straw-roofed shed, sometimes in a cemetery, an empty house or just at the foot of a tree. He did not seek sleep for the sake of pleasure, he would sleep occasionally, or lie down in meditation or perhaps he would walk about for an hour in the night. Often he encountered hardships and calamities, attacks and assaults, but always in control of himself and free from resentment as he endured these hardships, speaking little and deep in meditation, he progressed on the path to liberation.

In the rainy season, when plant and insect life burgeoned and the likelihood of endangering tiny creatures increased, Mahavira ceased his wandering life and stayed in one place, and this practice is still followed by Jain ascetics to-day. The Kalpa Sutra gives the names of the places where he stayed after he first became an ascetic. The authority of the Kalpa Sutra's itinerary is ancient and probably reliable, as it gives us a fair idea of the area over which he wandered propagating his faith. When the places can be correctly identified we know that this area roughly covered the modern state of Bihar and parts of Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, but there is a much later tradition that Mahavira disseminated his message in other parts of India, even as far afield as Rajasthan.

Tradition says that Mahavira was born with three types of knowledge: mind-based knowledge, the reasoning faculty and clairvoyance, and at the moment of renunciation he also gained a fourth kind of knowledge, the ability to know the thoughts of all creatures in the world.

The period of twelve years spent in penance and meditation was not fruitless, for in the thirteenth year Mahavira at last attained the supreme knowledge and final deliverance from the bonds of pleasure and pain, and Jain scriptures describe this as the most important moment of his life. It was the tenth day of the bright half of the month of Vaisak when Mahavira, having fasted completely without food or drink for two and a half days, sat in a squatting position with his heels together. He was on the northern bank of the river Rujupalika outside the town of Jrimhikagrama in the field of a householder called Samaga, just north-east of an old temple and near a sal tree, with the heat of the sun beating down upon him; and here, with his head bowed, in deepest meditation he attained the complete and full, unimpeded, infinite and supreme form of knowledge and intuition. This total knowledge, omniscience, is kevala jnaana and the person who attains it is a kevali, an arhat, the one who has attained enlightenment. He is also to be described as a Jina, one who has conquered himself. Now, as we are told in the Kalpa Sutra

Now, as we are told in the Kalpa Sutra, the venerable Mahavira was omniscient and comprehending all objects, knowing all the conditions of the world, of celestials, humans and demons, whence they came, where they go, whether they are born as humans or animals, or in the heavens or the hells, their food and drink, their actions and desires, their public and secret deeds, their talk and their thoughts. To him nothing was inaccessible and he knew and saw the conditions of all living beings in the world.

At the time of his achieving omniscience, Mahavira was forty-two years old, and he now entered a new stage of his life, that of a religious teacher. His followers became known as nirgranthas, meaning freed from all bonds, and this was the ancient name for the Jains. He went from place to place to propagate his teachings, and his first declaration aroused confidence among his followers that urged them to follow his example in their own lives. According to Buddhist sources, this went as follows: 'I am all-knowing and all-seeing and possessed of infinite knowledge. Whether I am walking or standing still, whether I sleep or remain awake, supreme knowledge and intuition are with me, constantly and continuously. There are, O Nirgranthas, sinful acts that you have done in the past, which you must now undo by this acute form of austerity. Now that you will be living a restrained life as regards your acts, speech and thought, this will negate the effects of karma for the future. Thus, by the exhaustion of the force of past deeds through penance, and the non-accumulation of the effects of new acts, [you are assured] of the end of the future course [of the effects of karma] and the resultant rebirths, of the destruction of the effects of karma, and from that the destruction of pain, and from that of the destruction of mental feelings, and from that the complete absence of all kinds of pain (Majjhima Nikaya: pp.92-93, quoted in Jain K.C. 1991: p.57)

Soon after Mahavira attained enlightenment, he travelled seventy-two miles to the garden of Mahasena at Majjkima Pava. Here a religious gathering took place, at which, after long discussion, Mahavira converted eleven learned Brahmins who had gone there to attend a great sacrifice. Srenika the King of Magadha and his family, including his queen, Celana asked many questions which Mahavira answered to the king's satisfaction.

The Four Orders of the Jain Community

Initially, Mahavira, by his preaching, converted the eleven learned Brahmins who became his chief disciples or ganadharas: the first was Indrabhuti Gautam, the others were Gautam's two brothers, Agnibhuti and Vayubhuti, as well as Vyakta, Sudharma, Mandikata, Mauryaputra, Akampita, Acalabharata, Metarya and Prabhasa. One significant fact is that all of them were Brahmins, showing that even among the Brahmins an ideological revolution was taking place, driving them to give up their traditional beliefs and ritualism. Moreover, it was subsequently the intelligentsia, predominantly Brahmins, who helped to spread his teachings.

Mahavira showed a remarkable power of organisation which, with his impressive personality, attracted a large number of people, both men and women, to be his followers. Some could follow his teachings completely and took what came to be known as the five great vows. These were:

  • Ahimsaa (non-violence and reverence for all life)
  • Satya (truthfulness)
  • Asteya (not taking anything without the owner's permission)
  • Brahmacarya (control over the senses, chastity)
  • Aparigraha (non-attachment to worldly things).

Those who could accept these vows and renounce the world became the ascetics, the remainder became the laity, obeying the same vows but with less stringency. Thus there arose the interdependent fourfold community of male ascetics, female ascetics, laymen and laywomen which survives to this day.

Within thirty years Mahavira had attracted a large following, chief among these were some fourteen thousand male ascetics, who were placed under the charge of Indrabhuti Gautam. For organisational efficiency, he divided the 14,000 ascetics into nine divisions called ganas, placing each under the headship of one of the chief disciples or ganadharas who were to lead and guide their groups. Even more women than men renounced the world: 36,000 became female ascetics and at their head was the senior nun, Candana.

Mahavira's third order consisted of laymen, sraavakas, numbering, it is said, about 159,000, with Sankha Sataka as their leader; and these laymen were householders who could not actually renounce the world but who at least could observe the five lesser vows (called anuvrata). The similarity of their religious duties, differing from those of ascetics not in kind but in degree, brought about the close union of laymen and ascetics. Most of the regulations meant to govern the conduct of laymen were apparently intended to make them participate, to a degree and for some time, in the merits and benefits of ascetic life without obliging them to renounce the world altogether. 'The genius for organisation, which Mahavira possessed, is shown in nothing more clearly than in the formation of this and the order of laywomen' (Stevenson S. 1970: p. 67), '. These two organisations gave the Jains a root in India that the Buddhists never obtained, and that root firmly planted amongst the laity enabled Jainism to withstand the storm that drove Buddhism out of India.'

The fourth and last order consisted of devout laywomen or sraavikas, numbering, it is said, about 358,000, with Sulasa and Revati as the heads. The numbers of members in the four orders of Mahavira's day may be exaggerated, but there is little doubt that Mahavira converted a large number of people to the Jain faith.

The Kalpa Sutra gives the names of the places where Mahavira spent the rainy seasons as an ascetic and as an omniscient teacher. The exhaustive and chronological itinerary of Mahvira described in Kalpa Sutra is fairly reliable (Yasovijay, Tirthankar Bhagwan Mahavira 1993: pp.100-103).

Influence on lay followers

Mahavira seems to have tried to attract a congregation, who were to form a large body of lay followers, by prescribing certain rules of conduct: he made no distinction between people of one caste or class and another, nor between men and women; and he did not lay down one set of rules for monks and another for nuns, nor one for male lay followers and another for females. When he travelled around the country female as well as male ascetics accompanied him.

Mahavira not only taught his followers to observe penance and live a life of restraint in all possible ways, but also kept watch over their spiritual progress, encouraging them in the study of his teachings and developing their powers of reasoning and argument. The Buddhist records attest that there were some able and powerful disputants among the nirgrantha recluses and disciples (Majjhhima Nikaya, 1, p 227). The lay followers and supporters of Mahavira and his fourfold order are all mentioned as people of wealth and influence. At the same time they were noted for their piety and devotion.

Royal patronage

Not only rich financiers and merchants, but also even the kings and queens, princes and the ministers, became followers of Mahavira. His family connections with the various rulers were through his mother Trisala and his maternal uncle, Cetaka, the King of Vaisali; and many royal names are found in the Jain tradition. Those who joined the fourfold order established by Mahavira and the royal patronage must have encouraged the spread of the faith. Both Jains and Buddhists claim most of the contemporary rulers as followers of their respective religions, as it seems that it was the general policy of the rulers of these, and indeed later, times to show respect to teachers of different traditions. The Parsvanatha sect had its stronghold in Rajagriha and King Srenika's father was a follower, so it was natural that his son should be attracted to Jainism, and Srenika's son Kunika, in his turn, is represented in Jain texts as a Jain. According to Jain scriptures, Srenika's soul, in a subsequent rebirth, is to become an arhat and the first tirthankara of the next half-cycle of cosmic time (Chandrasekhar 1979: 124). In Buddhist texts, however, Srenika and Kunika are known by the names of Bimbisara and Ajatasatru, and are both described as accepting Buddhism (Chatterjee 1978: p.26).

Mahavira is said to have visited southern India and Rajasthan and propagated his message, but the evidence requires further research. There are stray references in the Jain texts to conclude that in the course of time Jainism spread to different part of India and received royal patronage. In the times of Mahavira, its influence seems to be mainly to the modern states of Bihar, and some parts of Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa.

Another of Mahavira's converts was a prince Ardraka, who became an ascetic (Sutra krutaanga, II.6). He was very much influenced by the teachings of Mahavira and supported Jainism in disputations with the teachers of other religions. This Ardraka is identified with a prince of the Persian Emperor Surusha (588-530 BCE). Both the emperor and the prince are said to have sent gifts to King Srenika of Magadha and his son Abhayakumara, who sent presents in return. It is also said that Abhayakumara convinced Ardraka of the truth of Mahavira's teachings so that he became a follower of Mahavira.

Mahavira and the Buddha

The evidence from Buddhist literature (Anguttha-Nikaya: 8-2, 1, 7 and Majjhima Nakaya) proves that Mahavira and the Buddha were contemporaries, and although they did not meet, there were occasions when they felt interested in knowing and discussing each other's views through intermediaries. These included in particular the Jain ascetics Dirghatapasvi and Satyaka, and, among the Jain laity, the prince Abhaya, the banker Upali and the general Sinha. Even though they are said to have been present at the same times in certain places, Nalanda, Vaisali and Rajagriha, they are not known to have met. Mahavira was older than the Buddha and predeceased him by several years. It is said that the Buddha had great respect for Mahavira and did not openly preach while the latter lived.


Mahavira attained moksa (liberation) in 527 BCE according to the traditional dating. It is said in the Kalpa Sutra that when Mahavira died the eighteen confederate kings of the neighbouring regions instituted illuminations, saying 'since the light of intelligence is gone, let us make an illumination as a symbol of knowledge' (Kalpa Sutra 1984: 127) As we have seen, Mahavira was not the founder of a new religion. What he did was to reform and elaborate the previous creed handed down through a succession of previous tirthankaras. He addressed the various problems of the day, such as slavery, the inferior status of women in the family, society and religion, the Brahmanical caste system and untouchability, the exploitation of the weak by the strong, the ills of economic inequality, indulgence in carnal desires and passions of the flesh, killing or harming life for the sake of religion or pleasure of the senses; evils which are no less in evidence in the present-day world. He supplied a very firm philosophical basis to the simple creed of non-violence (ahimsaa), and reorganised the fourfold order of monks and nuns, laymen and laywomen. This began in the time of Mahavira's predecessors, the twentieth or twenty-first tirthankaras, was consolidated during the time of the twenty-second, Neminatha, and the twenty-third, Parsvanatha. It was an accomplished fact by the time Mahavira's terrestrial career came to a close.

So, the Master of Thought, the great apostle of ahimsaa, the benefactor of mankind and the friend of all living beings, ended his bodily existence, attaining moksa, on the banks of a lotus lake outside the town now known as Pavapuri, in Bihar, a little before dawn on the fifteenth day of the dark half (when the moon is waning) of the month of Aso. In the Indian chronology the year was 470 years before the beginning of the Vikrama era (which commenced in 57 BCE) and 605 years before the Saka era, that is in the year 527 BCE. This is celebrated today as Dipavali, the festival of lamps, or Divali, symbolising the light of knowledge revealing the truth and illuminating the soul when the master was no longer physically present.

Mahavira was one of the great religious teachers of mankind. He recognised the need for the perfection of the self and prescribed certain practical rules of conduct for its attainment. He did not preach to others what he did not practise himself. He believed that the entire being can achieve blissfulness, but this cannot be bought by the wealth, pomp and power of the world but can certainly be realised through patience, forbearance, selfdenial, forgiveness, humanity, compassion, suffering and sacrifice. For this reason he inculcated the doctrine of non-violence (ahimsaa) in thought, word and action. Those who came under the influence of his personality renounced the eating of fish and meat and accepted a vegetarian diet. This principle was at the basis of the many humanitarian deeds and institutions which he encouraged.

For Mahavira, distinctions of caste, creed or gender were irrelevant; for him, liberation is the birthright of everyone, and it is assured if one follows the prescribed rules of conduct. The doctrine of karma, which has the root meaning of 'action' and hence the effects of action, as expounded by Mahavira, made the individual conscious of his responsibility for all his actions. It also awakened the realisation that salvation was not a gift or favour but an attainment within the reach of human beings. Mahavira was tolerant in religious matters, there were different conflicting religious views in his time, and in response to this, he formulated the doctrine of syaadavaada. This doctrine teaches that assertions are not made absolutely but always remain subject to qualification. It allowed room for the consideration of all views and produced an atmosphere of mutual harmony among the followers of different sects, who began to appreciate the views of their opponents as well as their own.

Mahavira is regarded by Indian traditions, not only by Jains, as the greatest sage the world has known, possessed of infinite knowledge and faith. He explored the condition of all beings, mobile or immobile, high or low, eternal or transient. He saw things in their true light, knew this world and the world beyond, and his perception was infinite.

He was a great reformer. Since many abuses had crept into Jainism he did his utmost to remove them. For this he had to initiate changes even in the traditional religion of Parsvanatha. He added the vow of chastity and emphasised the importance of nonattachment and control over sensual pleasures. Although his teachings were based on the older religion, he created a more systematic arrangement of its philosophical tenets, which point to his great reforming zeal.

Mahavira possessed a great organising capacity and he made the laity participate in the Jain community along with the ascetics. He encouraged a close union between laymen and laywomen, and monks and nuns by advocating similar religious duties for both, duties that differed not in kind but in degree.

The Teachings of Mahavira

Mahavira's teachings are based partly on the religion taught by his predecessor, Parsvanatha, and partly on his own innovations. Mahavira was able to perceive correctly the root causes of the disorder of those times and of the numerous divisions in society. He understood the factors which led to the aimlessness of the loosely grouped ascetic communities and which had heralded the rise of ritualistic Brahmin practices. He also recognised that the brahmanical ideas of superiority through birth and the privileged position of the priestly class were unacceptable. He felt impelled to introduce changes to the religion of the people in order to meet the needs of the time. He systematised the beliefs and the code of conduct for each constituent of the Jain order.

In his early sermons he declared that: 'Birth or external appearances do not make one a Brahmin or an ascetic. It is mental purity and right conduct which make a person a real Brahmin or ascetic. Such persons practice equanimity, penance, celibacy, and nonattachment to worldly matters and right behaviour' (Jain K.C. 1991: 130). He denounced the caste system, which embodied the idea that a person is born into a fixed, unchangeable social status, rather he taught that the social status of a person can be changed, and that the determining factor in a person's life is one's own conduct. Surprisingly, his truthfulness and reforms attracted the very Brahmin intellectuals whom he denounced. He did not try to find fault in the teachings of others, but instead sought to clarify the thought of the great personages who had preceded him. He expanded the fourfold religion (cajjuama dharma), as preached by Parsvanatha, into a fivefold religion (pancajama dharma) by adding celibacy as a separate vow, though some see celibacy implied in Parsvanatha's teaching on non-attachment (aparigraha). The Uttraadhyayana Sutra explains the reason for this additional vow that is to promote 'mental purity' and to strengthen the vow of non-attachment. He reformed the ascetic order while keeping doors open to all deserving individuals irrespective of class or caste, and thus became a pioneer in the field of spiritual democracy.

Mahavira had a unique method for conveying his 'system' to the people: he always preached to the masses in their vernacular language, ardhamaghadhi, rather than using the classical Sanskrit, which was not understood by most ordinary people. He encouraged his disciples not to be afraid to seek guidance from him and to ask questions concerning their doubts. The entire Bhagavati Sutra is a record of the answers given by Mahavira to his inquisitive disciple Gautam and their relationship as teacher and disciple. The Uttraadhyayana Sutra is a continuous sermon given during the last thirty-six hours of Mahavira's earthly life that recounts the fundamentals of his teachings.


Title: Jainism: The World of Conquerors
Dr. Natubhai Shah
Publisher: Sussex Academic Press
Edition: 1998
Share this page on:
Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Abhaya
  2. Agnibhuti
  3. Akampita
  4. Anuvrata
  5. Aparigraha
  6. Arhat
  7. Asteya
  8. Bhagavati Sutra
  9. Bhagwan Mahavira
  10. Bihar
  11. Bimbisara
  12. Body
  13. Brahmacarya
  14. Brahman
  15. Brahmin
  16. Brahmins
  17. Buddha
  18. Buddhism
  19. Celibacy
  20. Clairvoyance
  21. Deceit
  22. Dharma
  23. Digambar
  24. Dipavali
  25. Divali
  26. Equanimity
  27. Ganadharas
  28. Greed
  29. Indrabhuti
  30. Indrabhuti Gautam
  31. Jain Philosophy
  32. Jainism
  33. Jina
  34. Kalpa
  35. Kalpa Sutra
  36. Karma
  37. Kevali
  38. Magadha
  39. Mahavira
  40. Mauryaputra
  41. Meditation
  42. Metarya
  43. Moksa
  44. Nalanda
  45. Nirgrantha
  46. Non-violence
  47. Omniscient
  48. Orissa
  49. Parsvanatha
  50. Patna
  51. Pavapuri
  52. Plato
  53. Prabhasa
  54. Pradesh
  55. Pride
  56. Rajagriha
  57. Rajasthan
  58. Sankha
  59. Sanskrit
  60. Satya
  61. Socrates
  62. Soul
  63. Sramana
  64. Srenika
  65. Sruta
  66. Sutra
  67. Svetambar
  68. Tirthankar
  69. Tirthankara
  70. Tirthankaras
  71. Trisala
  72. Uttar Pradesh
  73. Vardhamana
  74. Vedas
  75. Vedic
Page statistics
This page has been viewed 1503 times.
© 1997-2023 HereNow4U, Version 4.5
Contact us
Social Networking

HN4U Deutsche Version
Today's Counter: