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Bhagavan Mahavira Life and Philosophy : [05.05] The Organization of the Monastic Order

Published: 28.08.2005
Updated: 02.07.2015

Chapter 5

Foundation Of Religious Order

hagavan Mahavira was the apostle of ahimsa (non-violence) and equality. Freedom is the concomitant result of ahimsa.
Bhagavan Mahavira propounded the path of emanci­pation. This path comprises of spiritual discipline and self-control, but it is free from all kinds of regimentation.
Bhagavan Mahavira eschewed compulsion in the organization of the monastic order. It was governed by self-discipline.

  • It was divided into nine ganas or sub-divisions.
  • Eleven ganadharas including Indrabhuti directed these sub-divisions.
  • Seven sub-divisions had a single head each and the remaining two were governed by two ganadharas each.
  • Akampita and Acalabhrata were the heads of the eighth, and Metarya and Prabhasa of the ninth.
  • The great nun, Candanabala, headed the nun's order.

Inspired by the teachings of Bhagavan Mahavira women belonging to all the castes, families and classes became initiated as the members of the Order.
Several queens of Srenika, the Emperor of Magadha, were initiated.
Queens of other kings and wives of the feudal lords and merchant-princes also joined the Order of nuns.
The great nun Candanabala, as the able leader of the nuns, efficiently guided them.

The Samgha (Order) of Bhagavan Mahavira was devoted to all the three ways of practising religion:

  • faith
  • knowledge
  • spiritual conduct.

The administration of the Order was in the charge of several authorities.

  • The upadhyayas (preceptor s) were responsible for the dissemination of knowledge.
  • The pravartakas (administrators) looked after the manage ment.
  • The ganavacchedakas looked after the spreading of the mission, and the development of the Order.
  • The sthaviras or the eldermen were responsible for the spiritual progress of the initiated monks as also for inculcating perseverance among them whenever they were smitten by impatience.
  • The pravatinis looked after the nuns' affairs.

Thus monks and nuns holding different posts fulfilled their responsibilities. The administration of the monastic order was run on the republican system.

Bhagavan Mahavira effected a synthesis between the perspectives of pragmatic truth and objective truth.

  • Some of the religious organizations devoted themselves exclusively to objective truth. They lost sight of pragmatic truth, which forms the basis of religious organization. The result was that their organizations became slack and then disintegrated.
  • Those of the religious organizations, which devoted them­selves exclusively to pragmatic truth, lost sight of objective truth and rendered their organization devoid of a spiritual basis.

Bhagavan Mahavira was an exponent of both the aspects of truth - the objective as well as the pragmatic. Therefore the spiritual basis of his Order remained intact as also his Order remained well established and superbly organized. This fact has been brought to light by the author of the Niryukti thus:

"If one wants to practise the religion of the Jina, he should keep in mind both kinds of truth, the objective and the pragmatic. If you discard the former, you will be estranged from the truth and, if you discard the latter, you will be deprived of a well-organized religious Order."

It is on the basis of this principle that the Jaina religious Order embodies even today both -
the truth and a superb organization.

Title: Bhagavan Mahavira Life and Philosophy
Translated & Edited: Muni Mahendra Kumar


Edition 1995
Publisher: Jain Vishva Bharati, Ladnun, India

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acalabhrata
  2. Ahimsa
  3. Akampita
  4. Discipline
  5. Ganadharas
  6. Indrabhuti
  7. JAINA
  8. Jaina
  9. Jina
  10. Magadha
  11. Mahavira
  12. Metarya
  13. Niryukti
  14. Non-violence
  15. Prabhasa
  16. Samgha
  17. Srenika
  18. Upadhyayas
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