The Quest for the Royal Road: Bhagwan Mahavira and Righteous Conduct

Published: 18.01.2016

Righteous conduct has been a valuable means for the development of human culture. Any culture can have its beginning only with values governing conduct in the environment in which it is to grow. Indian culture is basically spiritual. The growth of its cultural consciousness is said to be nearly three thousand years old. From that time till today (from 1000 B.C. to A.D. 1977) countless sages and seers and learned man, in the light of their own intuitive understanding, have prescribed in their own times, new codes of conduct. A bulky research volume can be prepared if one undertakes the historical and comparative study of those codes of conduct. Bhagwan Mahavira appeared in the Indian firmament as a particular bright star and he brought light into the lives of the common people through his lustrous life. The present article aims to present in brief his concept of righteous behaviour and the manner in which he brought it into the lives of the common people.

Bhagwan Mahavira, who belonged to the sixth century B.C., was a great visionary and a religious preceptor. His thinking did not contain any prejudices and orthodox beliefs. He had established the essential tenets after realising Truth. Hence, he had no hesitation of any kind in enunciating the principles that were contrary to popular concepts. He caught in the mirror of his knowledge the reflections of those eternal human activities that were pushing mankind towards moral degradation. Deep in his heart, was the firm resolve of taking spiritual values to greater heights. Inspired by that very resolve, he promulgated a universal and perennial code of conduct, which even after two thousand and five hundred years, still continues to prove its usefulness.

Bhagwan Mahavira took into consideration both the origin and the consequence of my problem and protecting himself against the evil consequences, showed the way of destroying its very roots. His direction was that a person is steady minded who destroys both the root and the foremost result of evil. He regarded the destruction of inborn evil traits of greater value, because once those traits are wiped out, a person would not be prepared to do anything unworthy even in the face of the most trying situations.

The formulas of good conduct which Bhagwan Mahavira propagated were useful for all. They are relevant today and would remain useful in the future. His entire thinking emanted essentially from five sources. Those five sources were non-violence, truth, ncn-stealing, celibacy and non- possession. The pursuit of these five basic tenets was what Bhagwan Mahavira greatly desired and therefore, he himself followed that path. At the same time, he also realised that everyone was not capable reaching that lofty state of righteous conduct. If the ordinary people could not find a path suited to their capacity, they would not be able to go forward. Prompted by that same sense of beneficence, he defined those five principles in two ways: He showed the path of special sadhana to those who wanted to give up totally violence, untruth, stealing, conjugal pleasures and possession of wealth in thought, word and deed. For those who could not take such a great leap at once, were shown the path of righteous conduct according to their abilities. Bhagwan Mahavira set­up certain practical criteria so that people did not give their own interpretation to the idea of following the path of righteous conduct according to their capacity and they should have the basic but preliminary knowledge about righteous conduct.

Non-Violence—The first tenet of righteous conduct is non-violence. It means a firm resolve to avoid the killing of innocent living creatures. In detail it means:

  • Not to tie human beings or animals with rope or anything else.
  • Not to fatally attach human beings or animals.
  • Not to cut-off limbs of human beings or animals.
  • Not to overload human beings or animals.
  • Not to stop giving food, water, etc. to dependent animals.

Truth—The second tenet of righteous conduct is Truth. He who pursues Truth in his practical life and in his profession, would not find fault with others.

  • He does not reveal the contents of someone's secret negotiations.
  • He does not encourage any person to make a false statement.
  • He does not practise forgery.
  • He does not cheat anyone by resorting to false testimony in matters of marriage, sale transaction, return of deposits and in giving an evidence.

Non-Stealing—The third tenet of righteous conduct is Non-stealing. The followers of ethical laws have described stealing as one of the seven vices and regarded it as an absolute taboo for good citizens. Bhagwan Mahavira provided guidance in this regard by saying; "Buying any stolen item, encouraging stealing, violating the professional restrictions set by the state, cheating about measuring and weighing, adultering, pass on fake items as genuine etc. are the activities that corrupt human behaviour. Hence, the righteous person should abstain from engaging himself in all such activities.

Celibacy—The fourth tenet of righteous conduct is Celibacy. The complete sadhana of life-long celibacy is the prescribed path of the upward direction of consciousness leading to salvation. But this kind of sadhana cannot be easily practised by every individual. Hence, some rules have been laid down as a check on unrestricted sexual relations and activities that arouse passion. They are –

  • Abstain from sensuous thinking, speech or gesture concerning any male or female accept one's own husband or wife.
  • Not to have temporary adulterous relation with anyone on payment.
  • Not to have objectionable relations with an unmarried woman or man.
  • Not to provoke any one to indulge in conjugal relations except when necessary in case of a family member.
  • Avoid having too much interest in the matter of the senses.

Non-Possession—The fifth tenet of righteous conduct is Unlimited accumulation of wealth. A person with social and family relations cannot avoid accumulation of wealth altogether, but he can certainly minimise it. That is why a person who has accepted righteous conduct as an ideal for himself sets a limit to the possession of owing land, houses, gold and silver, animals and birds and other household items and does not exceed that limit. This will not only restrain him in accumulation of wealth and tendency towards exploitation but will also control his tendency to indulge in luxurious living.

Bhagwan Mahavira was a great preceptor of human values. He gave innumerable formulas in support of these five basic tenets. Sometimes at length and sometimes briefly, we find those formulas discussed in literature. However, life of the common people cannot be imbued with righteous conduct merely by this literary attainment. The benefit of righteous conduct can be accrued only by behaving righteously. The original thoughts about righteous behaviour expressed by Bhagwan Mahavira at that time are equally typical even today. They promise security and permanent peace to mankind today as they did in that age. Therefore, it is necessary to apply this code of righteous conduct to practical live and be ever vigilant about it.

It is this very code of righteous conduct of Bhagwan Mahavira that we have presented in terms suitable to the present age and called it Anuvrat. Like a broad highway, anuvrat is meant for all people without narrow considerations of religion, community, class, nation, province, language, colour, sex, etc. and is bound to bring the desired results by blossoming and fructifying from the seed of righteous conduct by the appropriate combination of faith and action.


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. Anuvrat
  2. Bhagwan Mahavira
  3. Celibacy
  4. Consciousness
  5. Environment
  6. Mahavira
  7. Non-violence
  8. Sadhana
  9. Violence
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