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Bhagavan Mahavira Life and Philosophy : [05.04] The Gospel of Anekanta

Published: 27.08.2005
Updated: 02.07.2015

Chapter 5

Foundation Of Religious Order

ndrabhuti Gautama was an erudite and versatile scholar having encyclopaedic knowledge. But his knowledge resulted in turning him extremely self-conceited. It is a common saying that learning purges man of egotism and makes him humble. But it is a common experience that it creates a superiority complex and reduces humility in man. What is true - the common saying or the common experience? The doctrine of anekanta would hold that both of them are true: In the context of the spiritual learning, the former is found true, while in the context of the mundane knowledge, the latter holds good.

No sooner did Indrabhuti enter the domain of the spiritual learning than his egotism evaporated, and he was filled with a sense of modesty.

A new thirst for knowledge was awakened in him.

He approached Bhagavan Mahavira and asked him enquiringly, "Bhagavan, what is Reality?"
Bhagavan Mahavira replied, "Becoming."
Gautama repeated his question, "What is Reality?"
Bhagavan Maha­vira replied, "Non-becoming."
Gautama repeated his question again, "What is Reality?"
Bhagavan Mahavira replied, "Being.”

Bhagavan Mahavira revealed to Gautama the basic formula of the theory of anekanta in the form of this triad:

  • becoming, i.e., coming into existence, non-becoming, i.e., ceasing to exist, and being, i.e., subsisting.

Thus he imparted to him the essence of his philosophy.

The eternalists held that reality is eternal, while the non-eternalists believed it to be transitory.
Bhagavan Mahavira did not agree with either.

According to him, there is nothing either absolutely eternal or absolutely transitory.
He professed that the reality is a synthesis of eternity and transitoriness.

    • Reality is transitory because it is possessed of becoming and non-becoming.
    • But it is eternal because by its very nature, it is subsistent.
  • The reality is a synthesis of becoming, non-becoming and being.
  • Whatever is real must be possessed of becoming, non-becoming and being.
    • 'Being' bereft of 'becoming', and 'non-becoming' as well as 'becoming' and 'non-becoming' bereft of 'being' are absurdities.

In this discourse, Bhagavan Mahavira enlightened Gautama to comprehend the reality in the right perspective.
This enlightenment enabled Gautama to perceive the reality.

Gautama imbibed the doctrine of anekanta on the basis of which he compiled Bhagavan Mahavira's teachings in the twelve angas (canons). The following are the twelve angas and their subjects:

1 Acarang Monasticism and spiritual discipline
2 Sutrakrtanga Monasticism and spiritual discipline
3 Sthananga It expounds the above subjects in numerical sets of one to ten.
4 Samavayanga It discusses in a numerical system the above subjects
5 Bhagavati Ontology and Philosophy
6 Jnatadharmakatha Parables
7 Upasokadasa The acara or ethical conduct of the lay followers.
8 Antakrddasa Narrations about people who have attained emancipation
9 Anuttaropapatikadasa Narrations about people born in the Anuttara Vimana (the highest class of gods)
10 Prasnavyakarana 1) It discusses the five types of asravas (influx of karma) and sarhvara (cessation of asravas)
11 Vipaka It deals with the effects of karma (action)
12 Drstivada Nayavidya (Science of Perspectives)

1) The old version of Prasnavyakaranadealt wth the various kinds of sciences of angustha, prasna etc.

Like Gautama many other scholars attended Bhagavan Mahavira's discourse. They also expressed their desire to know the nature of Reality. Bhagavan Mahavira enlightened them with the philosophy of anekanta and sharpened their spiritual propensities. Just as they excelled in the Vedic and secular sciences, so also they attained perfection in the knowledge propounded by the Arhats.

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. Acara
  2. Anekanta
  3. Angas
  4. Arhats
  5. Discipline
  6. Gautama
  7. Indrabhuti
  8. Karma
  9. Mahavira
  10. Science
  11. Vedic
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