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The Quest for the Royal Road: Mahavira's Footsteps

Published: 16.01.2016

Bhagwan Mahavira is regarded as the pioneer of the philosophy of non-violence. Why? No religious leader has ever advocated the killing or harassing of the living creatures. Every great personality has laid stress on non-violence. Then what makes Mahavira the pioneer of the philosophy of non­violence? The answer would have to be found by delving deep into this question.

Mahavira was not an inexperienced propagator of non­violence. He was an experimentalist. He experimented with non-violence in his own life to the maximum extent. He demonstrated his prowess and bravery in the course of his experiments in non-violence. That is exactly why he became Mahavira, the Great Hero. He was the son of a Kshatriya. His father was the ruler of the Republic of Lichchhavi. The prince, who was born in the royal family, did not have a single opportunity to fight a battle. Inspite of this, why did he become Mahavira? He was a Vardhman at that time and he remained a Vardhman, that is, he continued growing. The family became increasingly prosperous after he was born. The parents started addressing the prince as Vardhman and he became Mahavira (one with immense valour) as he continued his experiments in non-violence. He came to realise that the body was not the ultimate truth, and that it contained something else within, which was the Supreme Truth. He related himself to the Soul. The body remained a mere companion during the journey. We are under the impression that Mahavira tortured his body a great deal. This way of thinking is not applicable to the role of non-violence. A non-violent person cannot cause physical pain to anyone-neither to himself nor to someone else. The one who goes into samadhi needs less oxygen. An outsider wonders how anyone can survive without oxygen. But it is very natural for a person in samadhi to live that way. The one who is centred in consciousness, requires less food to eat. We think that Mahavira performed penances over a long period of time and tortured his body to no end. But such a thing was very natural for Mahavira. That was his first experiment in non-violence. The one who is not centred in consciousness cannot be unattached to his body. He who is not unattached to his body, cannot be non­violent. In practical terms, we call it physical torture, but by going deep into the philosophy of non-violence, we realise that it means merging with consciousness.

Mahavira lived in the ashram of the chief of the Ashram (Kulpati). He did not arrange for the maintenance of the hut. The Kulpati reprimanded him. Mahavira was perturbed. He thought, "The Kulpati does not value me as much as he values the ashram. He exercises the right of ownership over the ashram but not over me. The master would not be eager to protect what he does not own, as he would to protect what belongs to him. That is why my non-violence tells me that I should not live where my presence causes unpleasantness to anyone." He left that ashram and after that he lived very often in vacant houses. He preached that a non-violent sage should not go for alms to any house where his visit may cause unpleasantness and should not live where his presence may be found irksome. Non-violence is supreme love. The cruelty underlying violence should be eliminated by the consecrating effect of non-violence. If that is so, how could a non-violent person allow his presence to give rise to unpleasantness?

Being religious does not mean that there should be no hardships in life. Being religious means facing the hardships of life with a smile and not losing one's sense of balance. Mahavira bore hardships smilingly. That is why the people said, "This is Mahavira: a great hero." The gods also said, "This is Mahavira."

There was a raging fire spreading all around. Straw and weeds were engulged in that fire. Mahavira had been standing in deep meditation. People warned him, "The flames of fire are spreading fast. Please move from here." Mahavira remained standing where he was. He did not move even by an inch. He thought, "Fear is the root cause of violence. He who is afraid of death cannot be non-violent. What kind of a spiritualist would a person be if he cannot feel the same affinity with life as with death? Those who have found life pleasant and death unpleasant have nurtured fear and fear has led to the use of weapons, wars and massacres. Attachment to life and fear of death, both are the basic causes of violence. Mahavira's non-violence did not permit him to be afraid of death and run away from the flaming fire. His feet got scorched but he did not sway from his sadhana.

It is an ancient belief that Indra announced in his gathering, "There is none else on the face of this earth who can suffer as much physical pain as Mahavira. No God can ever compel him to stray from his path." The Gods present at the gathering supported Indra. But one of the Gods called Sangandev did not agree. He said, "No man can suffer so much physical pain that even the gods, with their power, cannot force him to stray from his path. I can do it if you would not stand in my way of my plan." Getting that promise from Indra, Sangandev came to world of the humans. He started harassing Mahavira. In a single night he tortured Mahavira twenty times in a manner that was almost killing. He assumed the form of an elephant and tossed Mahavira high into the sky. He stung him as a scorpion, attacked him in the form of ants so that Mahavira had bleeding wounds all over his body. But all that did not disturb Mahavira in the least. One strays from the path only when he is afflicted by violence. This happens when he becomes conscious of physical sensations and begins to think that he is being harassed by someone. One of the tenets of non-violence is that a person should not be conscious of physical sensations and not regard anyone as causing harassment. Mahavira did not regard anyone except of his karma-samkara[1] that could cause him pain. He did not dissociate his meditation from consciousness. That was the reason why Sangandev, even after terrorising him in the deadliest manner, could not succeed in his plan.

Sangandev tried another method to divert Mahavira from his penance. He arranged before him a whole row of beautiful women who started tempting Mahavira and lure him with their charms. A non-violent person is required to triumph equally over favourable as well as adverse situations. It is more difficult to remain undisturbed in a favourable situation than triumphing over an adverse situation. But with the lighting of the great flame of consciousness, both the favourable and adverse situations are reduced to ashes like fuel, but it cannot burn him away.

Now Sangandev lost his patience. He approached Mahavira and said, "Oh, respected one, may you live in happiness. I am leaving. Your non-violence has triumphed, and my violence is defeated. I was causing you harassment but you continued to shower on me nectar of compassion. I was trying to drown you in the ocean of pain and you were thinking that through you, I was trying to drown myself in the ocean of violence. Not even for a moment did you have any angry thought for me. I regret that I caused you so much trouble. At the same time, I am also proud to have seen you with my own eyes as a unique embodiment of equanimity."

Mahavira's non-violence was not confined to avoiding the killing of living beings. Its limits touched the great gate of the discovery of Truth. He observed silence during most of his period of the sadhana. His silence implied that truth is to be experienced. It cannot be known or explained through words. A large number of Sramanas' Brahmins, householders, wandering ascetics and sanyasis came to Mahavira. They asked him all kinds of questions. Mahavira replied to their questions in terms of the anekant—non-absolutism. By this it was meant that the whole Truth cannot be established in words. It also indicates that what is being said is not the whole truth. Every possible statement with regard to Truth should be made with the use of the word syad [i.e. with respect to a particular stand-point]. A Brahmin, by name, Somil asked, "Oh, respected one, are you one or many?" Mahavira said, "I am one and also many. My consciousness is always consciousness. It never becomes unconsciousness. That is why I am one. I have passed through many stages in the past and passing through them in the present. That is why I am many."

In the field of religion, great controversies arise with reference to Truth. Mahavira was very mild, by temperament. He was never in favour of controversies. He would always narrate his own experiences and then become silent. He never engaged anyone in polemics. He exhorted, his sramana disciples, "Preach religion to all, to the wealthy as well as the poor, but say nothing that would shock the listeners. If ever there is any argument over truth, resort to silence. Silence itself is truth. Speak only that much which does not cover Truth with the shroud of untruth". Mahavira was nirgantha[2]. He was free from all complexes-internal or external. No one can become non-violent without being free from infatuation. He possessed no clothes and no utensils. The body was the only means-the only apparatus he had. That was his only dress and everything. He took tasteless meals innumerable times.

It is not necessary to get infatuated with a tasty meal. But when one gets infatuated with a good meal, it results in a sense of possession. Hence he experimented with various types of food. He did not prescribe taking tasteless food as a separate vow. It is only part of the vow of non-possession. For observing the vow of non-possession, cultivating taste for bland food is essential. And for the pursuit of non-violence the pursuit of non-possession is essential.


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Title: The Quest for the Royal Road
Acharya Tulsi
Publisher: Adarsh Sahitya Sangh
Edition: 2013
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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Bhagwan Mahavira
  2. Body
  3. Brahmin
  4. Brahmins
  5. Consciousness
  6. Equanimity
  7. Fear
  8. Indra
  9. Mahavira
  10. Meditation
  11. Non-violence
  12. Sadhana
  13. Samadhi
  14. Soul
  15. Sramana
  16. Syad
  17. The Pioneer
  18. Violence
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