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Svasti - Essays in Honour of Prof. Hampa Nagarajaiah: Methods used by Mahāvīra for Social Change

Published: 13.01.2011
Updated: 02.07.2015


Methods used by Mahāvīra for Social Change 

In the cultural history of mankind, Mahāvīra is one of those few towering personalities who fought for individual liberty and revolted against the economic exploitation and social oppression of man and introduced vigorous innovations in the then existing social law and order. Mahāvīra regarded the individual and his social responsibility as the key to the progress of both individual and society. Mahāvīra did not confine himself to individual upliftment, but he dedicated himself to the development of a new creative social order for the healthiest orientation of the individual. Thus in the philosophy of Mahāvīra, both individual and society, ‘I’ and ‘Thou’ are properly reconciled.

1. Metaphysical Method

For the reflective person Mahāvīra propounded that our conduct and behaviour are conditioned by our metaphysical speculation. The incentive to social change emerges from a deep and sound metaphysical theory which requires proper application of logic to experience. Samantabhadra (2nd A.D.) an ardent follower of Mahāvīra argues that the conceptions of bondage and liberation, Puṇya and Pāpa, heaven and hell, pleasure and pain and the like lose all their relevance and significance, if we exclusively recognize either permanence or momentariness as constituting the nature of substance.[1] The affirmation that the momentary disintegration of all things renders impossible the financial transactions, the fact of memory, and the commonplace relations of the husband and the wife, the teacher and the pupil and the like also indicate the subservience of ethical problems to the nature of being.[2]

Mahāvīra differs from all absolutists in their approach to the unfoldment of the inner nature of reality. He weaves the fabric and structure of reality on the authority of indubitable experience and is not swayed in the least by the fascinations of a priori logic. Owing to this deep-rooted abhorrence of the abstract way of philosophising, Mahāvīra evaluates what is given in experience, and consequently advocates change to be as much ontologically real as permanence. Both are separable but only in logical thought. Being implies becoming and vice versa. Inconsistent as it may appear at the inception, there is no doubt that experience enforces it and logic confirms it. This conception of reality reminds us of the Greek philosopher Parmenides who regarded 'Being' as the sole reality wholly excludent of all becoming, as also of Heraclitus, for whom, permanence being an illusion, 'Becoming' or perpetual change constitutes the very life of the universe. It also makes us reminiscent of the Buddhistic philosophy of universal flux and of the unchanging, static, permanent absolute of Vedānta. But all these point of the one sided evaluation of experience. It may be said that "if the Upaniṣadic thinkers found the immutable reality behind the world of phenomena and plurality, and the Buddha denounced everything as fleeting and sorrowful and pointed to the futility of all speculation, Mahāvīra adhered to the common experience, found no contradiction between permanence and change, and was free from all absolutism."[3]

In consonance with the perspective adopted by Mahāvīra in the metaphysical speculation, subsistence is that which is characterized by simultaneous origination, destruction and persistence.[4] Permanence signifies persistence of substance along with attributes, and change refers to fluctuating modes along with the emergence of the new modes and the disappearance of the old ones at one and the same time. To illustrate, gold as a substance exists with its modifications and qualities. Now after making an ornament, gold as a substance is existent along with its attributes and what changes is the mode.

Thus nature of substance may now oblige us to think that things both material and mental are everlastingly existent. Such a view of things cannot even pretend to conceive without falling into inconsistency the intervention of any eternal and self-subsistent maker, either personal or impersonal, for bringing into existence the diverse things of the world.

It may be noted here that origination and destruction are applicable to Paryāyas (modifications) and persistence to qualities along with substance. Hence permanence is not the denial of change, but includes it as its necessary aspect. The notion of Paryāya is the contribution of Mahāvīra to metaphysical thinking. 


2. Socio-Ethical Method 

Effective social changes were made by Mahāvīra through the promulgation of the socio-ethical values of Ahiṃsā, Aparigraha and Anekānta. These three are the consequences of Mahāvīra's devotedness to the cause of social reconstruction.

(a). Ahiṃsā

In an unprecedented way Mahāvīra clarified Ahiṃsā. In the Ācārānga he says: "None of the living beings ought to be killed or deprived of life, ought to be ordered or ruled, ought to be enslaved or possessed, ought to be distressed or afflicted and ought to be put to unrest or disquiet.”[5] The sociopolitical organisations and the capitalistic set up can easily derive inspiration from this ethico-social statement. Thus the Āyāro (Ācārāṅga) conclusively pronounces that after understanding the importance of kindness to beings, the enlightened person should preach, disseminate and applaud it at all places in East-West and North-South directions.[6] The Praśnavyākaraṇa Sūtra designates Social Ahiṃsā as kindness, security, salutariness, fearlessness, non-killer, and so on.[7]

The Ācārāṅga gives us certain arguments to renounce Hiṃsā.

  1. Socio-political argument against Hiṃsā: The Ācārāṅga condemns Hiṃsā by saying that its operation is without any stop, cessation and discontinuance and it goes on increasing to the extent possible with the political consequence that the race of armaments becomes unarrestable and continues to grow without any check. In contradistinction to this it eulogizes Ahiṃsā by saying that its observance is total and not piecemeal, with the result that the armament race discontinues and comes to a stop.[8]
  2. Psychological Argument against Hiṃsā: After comprehending and beholding the significance of peacefulness of beings, one should renounce Hiṃsā, inasmuch as Hiṃsā causes suffering to beings and human suffering caused by theft, hoarding, falsehood, slavery, economic exploitation, social operation, curtailment of legitimate freedoms and the like is a great mental disturbance, is dreadful and is associated with unbearable pain and affliction. Since life is dear to all beings, pleasures are desirable, pain is undesirable for them, beings ought not to be killed, ruled, possessed, distressed and so on.[9]

It cannot be again said that human beings are engaged in actions and these actions are directed to different ends and some purposes. The Ācārāṅga expresses unpleasant surprise when it finds that there are human beings who are prone to realise ends and purposes through Hiṃsā, such as killing, ruling, possessing, distressing and disquieting beings. They not only commit Hiṃsā, but also they provoke others to commit Hiṃsā and appreciate those who commit Hiṃsā. The Ācārāṅga further tells us that these types of perverted actions defile human personality and thwart its proper development.[10] We may thus conclude that the criterion of perverted action is Hiṃsā, whereas the criterion of right action or ethico-social action is Ahiṃsā. It is of capital importance to note that when our energies are directed to Hiṃsaka (destructive) ends social development is obstructed and when our energies are directed to Ahiṃsaka (constructive) ends social development sets in.

It will not be possible to talk of Ahiṃsā without a world of living beings. Social Ahiṃsā begins with the awareness of the ‘other’. Like one’s own existence, it recognises the existence of other beings. In fact, to negate the existence of other beings is tantamount to negating one’s own existence. Since one’s own existence cannot be negated, the existence of other beings also cannot be negated. Thus there exists the universe of beings in general and that of human beings in particular.

The Jaina Āgama classifies living beings (Jīvas) into five kinds, namely, one-sensed to five-sensed beings.[11] The minimum number of Prāṇas possessed by the empirical self is four (one sense, one Bala, life-limit and breathing), and the maximum number is ten (five senses, three Balas, life-limit, and breathing). The lowest in the grade of existence are the one-sensed Jīvas which possess only the sense of touch and they have only the Bala of body, and besides they hold life-limit and breathing. These one-sensed Jīvas admit of five-fold classification, namely, the earth-bodied (Pṛthivīkāyika), water-bodied (Jalakāyika), fire-bodied (Agnikāyika) air-bodied (Vāyukāyika) and lastly, vegetable-bodied (Vanaspatikāyika) souls. The two-sensed Jīvas posses six Prāṇas, i.e., in addition to the four Prāṇas of one-sensed souls, they have two Prāṇas more; namely, the sense of taste, and the Bala of speech; the three-sensed souls have the sense of smell additionally; the four-sensed souls have the sense of colour besides the above; and lastly, the five-sensed souls which are mindless are endowed with the sense of hearing in addition; and those with mind possess all the ten Prāṇas.[12] Thus the number of Prāṇas possessed by the one-sensed to five-sensed souls is four, six, seven, eight, nine and ten respectively. This classification of Jīvas into five kinds is used for the measurement of the degree of Ahiṃsā. The more the senses, the more the evolved consciousness. As for example, two-sensed beings are more evolved than one-sensed beings, five sensed beings are more evolved than one, two, three and four-sensed beings. Thus Ahiṃsā will be directly proportionate to the Ahiṃsā of the beings (Jīvas) classified.

Now for the progress and development of these beings, Ahiṃsā ought to be the basic value guiding the behaviour of human beings. For a healthy living, it represents and includes all the values directed to the ‘other’ without over-emphasizing the values directed to one’s own self. Thus it is the pervasive principle of all the values. Posit Ahiṃsā, all the values are posited. Negate Ahiṃsā, all the values are negated. Ahiṃsā purifies our action in relation to the self and other beings. This purification consists in our refraining from certain actions and also in our performing certain actions by keeping in view the existence of human and sub-human beings.

It may be asked what is in us on account of which we consciously lead a life of values based on Ahiṃsā? The answer is: it is Karuṇā which makes one move in the direction of adopting Ahiṃsā-values. It may be noted that the degree of Karuṇā in a person is directly proportionate to the development of sensibility in him. The greatness of a person lies in the expression of sensibility beyond ordinary limits. This should be borne in mind that the emotional life of a person plays a decisive role in the development of healthy personality and Karuṇā is at the core of healthy personality and Karuṇā is at the core of healthy emotions. Attachment and aversion bind the human personality to mundane existence, but Karuṇā liberates the individual from Karmic enslavement. The Dhavalā, the celebrated commentary on the Ṣaṭkhaṇḍāgama, remarkably pronounces that Karuṇā is the nature of soul.[13] To make it clear, just as infinite knowledge is the nature of soul, so also is Karuṇā. This implies that Karuṇā is potentially present in every being although its full manifestation takes place in the life of the Arhat, the perfect being. Infinite Karuṇā goes with infinite knowledge. Finite Karuṇā goes with finite knowledge.

Thus if Karuṇā which is operative on the perception of the sufferings of the human and sub-human beings plunges into action in order to remove the sufferings of these beings, we regard that action as Sevā. Truly speaking, all Ahiṃsā-values are meant for the removal of varied sufferings in which the human and sub-human beings are involved. Sufferings may be physical and mental, individual and social, moral and spiritual. To alleviate, nay, to uproot these diverse sufferings is Sevā. In fact, the performance of Sevā is the verification of our holding Ahiṃsā-values. It is understandable that physical, mental and economic sufferings block all types of progress of the individual and make his life miserable. There are individuals who are deeply moved by these sufferings and consequently they dedicate themselves to putting an end to these sufferings. Thus their Karuṇā results in Sevā. Thus Ahiṃsā, Karuṇā and Sevā are interrelated and are conducive both to individual and social progress.

It is significant to point out that Mahāvīra’s social mind exhorted that Ahiṃsā consists in recognising the dignity of man irrespective of caste, colour and creed. Man is man and should be recognised as such without any hesitation. The dignity of man is sacred and it is our duty to honour this dignity. Every individual, whether man or woman, should enjoy religious freedom without any distinction. A non-violent society cannot subscribe to class exploitation and social oppression of man. Mahāvīra bestowed social prestige upon the down-trodden individuals. This led to the development of self-respect in them. Thus he showed that no man or woman should be deprived of availing himself of the opportunities of advancement. This “Ahimsite” spirit of Mahāvīra extended itself even to the lowest scale of life and he promulgated that life as such is basically identical. Hence no living being should be hurt, enslaved and excited.

(b) Aparigraha

Mahāvīra was well aware of the fact that economic inequality and the hoarding of essential commodities very much disturb social life and living. These acts lead to the exploitation and enslavement of man. Owing to this, life in society is endangered. Consequently, Mahāvīra pronounced that the remedy for the ill of economic inequality is Aparigraha. All the means of illegitimate Parigraha bring about social hatred, bitterness, and exploitation. The method of Aparigraha tells us that one should keep with one self that which is necessary for one’s living and the rest should be returned to society for its well-being. Limits of wealth, essential commodities, - all these are indispensable for the development of healthy social life. In a way wealth is the basis of our social structure and if its flow is obstructed because of its accumulation in few hands, large segments of society will remain undeveloped. The hoarding of essential commodities creates a situation of social scarcity which perils social life. In order to resist such inhuman tendency, Mahāvīra incessantly endeavoured to establish the social value of Aparigraha.

(c) Anekānta

It should be borne in mind that along with human and economic inequality, differences in outlook create a situation of conflict in society. The result is that constructive tendencies in man suffer a great deal. If we take things in the right perspective we shall find that differences in outlook appear as a result of the use of creative faculties inherent in man. If this fact is not adhered to, these differences become the cause of conflict between man and man, the consequence of which is that social unity is disrupted. Mahāvīra by his deep insight could see the waste of social energy on account of the wrong understanding of the nature of things. Consequently, he preached that differences in outlook are in fact differences in the nature of things. These different aspects of things are to be understood as the different aspects of truth. In fact, difference in outlook should be treated as difference in standpoints. By this, dissension disappears and social solidarity sets in. Mahāvīra's doctrine of standpoints can be called Nayavāda which is a corollary of Anekāntavāda, the doctrine of multiple aspects of truth. By virtue of the promulgation of this social value, man started thinking that along with his own standpoint, the standpoint of the other is also significant. This gave rise to social tolerance and broad-mindedness, which is a key to social adjustment and progress. This led to the conclusion that truth cannot be monopolised and every man in society, can subscribe to the discovery of a new aspect of truth. Thus Anekānta is the dynamic principle of social life, by virtue of which life is saved from being stagnant.


3. Method of According Religious Freedom to Women and Down-Trodden People

Mahāvīra gave complete religious freedom to women. They were allowed to accept the life of asceticism like men. Mahāvīra himself initiated Candanā into the ascetic order. In the Saṃgha of Mahāvīra 36000 Sādhvīs were following religious observances. The followers of Jaina religion have been divided into four categories, viz., Sādhus, Sādhvīs, Śrāvakas and Śrāvikās. Sādhvīs are female ascetics who follow the five great vows in a very strict manner. This shows that complete freedom was given to women to enter the ascetic order. Female sex was no bar to the practice of asceticism. The Jaina Ācāryas were extremely sympathetic in their attitude to women and admitted them freely into their order, no matter whether the candidates for admission were royal consorts, members of the aristocracy, and women belonging to the common run of society.[14]

Religious freedom given to women enhanced their prestige in society. They were imparted education like men. As the full religious freedom was allowed to females, widows could devote their time for their spiritual upliftment and thus carve a respectable position for them in their family and in the minds of people in general.

Mahāvīra based the fourfold division of society on activities and not on birth. He accorded full freedom to one and all including women and down-trodden people to perform religious practices and admitted them into the order of ascetics.[15] Thus "the doors of Jainism were thrown open to all and equal opportunity was given to everybody to practice religion according to his capacity. Those who followed religion as house-holders were known as Śrāvakas and Śrāvikās and those who observed it fully by leaving their houses were called as Sādhus and Sādhvīs”.[16] The Uttarādhyayana says that Harikeśa who was born in a family of untouchables attained saintly character owing to the performance of austerities.[17] Good conduct and not caste is the object of reverence. Merit is the basis of caste and the pride of caste destroys right living.

It is significant to point out that Mahāvīra's social mind exhorted that Ahiṃsā consists in recognizing the dignity of man irrespective of caste, colour and creed. Man is man and should be recognized as such without any hesitation. The dignity of man is sacred and it is our duty to honour this dignity. Every individual, whether man or woman, should enjoy religious freedom without any distinction. A non-violent society cannot subscribe to class exploitation and social oppression of man. Mahāvīra bestowed social prestige upon the down-trodden individuals. This led to the development of self-respect in them. Thus he showed that no man or woman should be deprived of availing himself of the opportunities of socio-spiritual advancement.[18]


4. Method of Propounding the philosophy of fighting defensive wars and philosophy of Vegetarianism

The term Hiṃsā may be defined as the committing of injury to the Dravya-Prāṇas and the Bhāva-Prāṇas through the operation of intense-passion-infected Yoga (activity of mind, body, and speech).[19] Suicide, homicide and killing of any other life whatsoever aptly sum up the nature of Hiṃsā, inasmuch as these villainous actions are rendered conceivable only when the Dravya-Prāṇas and the Bhāva-Prāṇas pertaining to oneself and to others are injured. The minimum number of Dravya-Prāṇas has been considered to be four and the maximum has been known to be ten; and the Bhāva-prāṇas are the very attributes of Jīva. The amount of injury will thus be commensurate with the number of Prāṇas injured at a particular time and occasion.

Hiṃsā is of two kinds, namely, intentional and non-intentional.[20] The intentional perpetrator of Hiṃsā engages himself in the commitment of the acts of Hiṃsā by his own mind, speech and action, provokes others to commit them, and endorses such acts of others. Besides, Hiṃsā which is unavoidably committed by defending oneself from one's foes is denominated as non-intentional defensive Hiṃsā. This leads us to the philosophy of fighting defensive wars.[21]

Now the householder is incapable of turning away completely from Hiṃsā; hence he should keep himself away from the deliberate commission of Hiṃsā of the two-sensed to five-sensed beings.[22] The commitment of Hiṃsā in adopting defensive contrivances cannot be counteracted by him. Thus he has to commit intentional injury to one-sensed Jīvas, namely, the vegetable-bodied, the fire-bodied etc; and non-intentional injury in fighting defensive wars. Even in the realm of one-sensed Jīvas and in the realm of fighting defensive wars he is required to confine his operations in such a way as may affect the life and existence of a very limited number of Jīvas.[23] In these two provinces the point to be noted is that of alleviating the amount of injury that is apt to be caused and not that of total relinquishment which is not possible without jeopardizing the survival of man. The hard fact to be noted is that man is subject to Hiṃsā by the very condition of his existence. Yet instead of aggravating the natural weight of Hiṃsā by falling foul upon one another and by our cruel treatment of the animal and vegetable kingdoms, we should endeavour to alleviate this general curse, to the extent to which we are capable of doing, by conforming ourselves to the sacred injunctions enjoined by Jaina spiritual teachers. Vegetarianism is therefore prescribed. It limits us to the unavoidable injury caused to only one-sensed-Jīvas. This is the philosophy of vegetarianism propounded by Jainism.


5. Method of propagating the Doctrine of Karma

Mahāvīra ascribed responsibility to an individual for the actions that he does in society. For establishing this he propagated the doctrine of Karma. Individuals differ from one another in respect of cognition, conation and affection etc. What is the cause of this difference? How to account for these perceptible distinctions among individuals? The answer of Mahāvīra is that it is the beginningless material subtle principle known as Karma that is responsible for the cause of differences in individuals. This Karma has been exercising its limiting and crippling influence on individuals from the beginningless past. This material subtle principle is known as Dravya-karma, and its psychical counterpart in terms of Rāga (Attachment) and Dveṣa (Aversion) is called Bhāva-Karma.

It is no doubt true that Karmas bind the self to mundane existence. Now the question that arises is this: How the self is bound by Karmas? What are the causes that create Karmic bondage in individuals. The answer of Mahāvīra is that it is action (mental, bodily and vocal) polluted by passion that causes empirical bondage to individuals.[24] The passion-free actions do not bring about any mundane bondage whatsoever. When there are no passions, there is no bondage (Bandha). It is passion that mars the socio-spiritual career of an individual.


6. Method of Emphasizing Individual Liberty Along with Social Responsibility

Mahāvīra fought for individual liberty in the context of social life. He revolted against the economic exploitation and social oppression of man and introduced vigorous innovations in the then existing social law and order. In a way, he was a social anarchist. In this way, Mahāvīra regarded individual and his social responsibility as the key to the progress of both the individual and society. He seems to be aware of the fact that the emphasis on merely individual progress without taking note of social responsibilities is derogatory both to the individual and society. Mahāvīra was neither merely individualistic nor merely socialistic. In his attitude both individual and society are properly reconciled. If individual liberty is to be sought, social responsibilities cannot be dispensed with.

The history of social thought reveals that with the advancement of knowledge social beliefs of a particular age are replaced by new beliefs. Many religious superstitions, social paths of life and other forms of follies and falsities are derogatory to individual progress, therefore they are condemned in every age of history. But the change is met with great resistance. The reason for this is that change is looked by individuals with doubt and uncertainty. Besides love for conventionality and vested interests run counter to the acceptance of novelties in thought. All these obstacles mar individual dynamism. The individual who is a slave to customary beliefs, however false they have been declared to be, cannot develop his own personality and his actions are just like machines. Mahāvīra, therefore, preaches that an individual should be free from follies (Amūḍhatās).[25] It is only through such individuals that society progresses and a scientific outlook gains ground. Such individuals are forward looking, and are free from the pressures of narrow traditionalism. They are always open-minded and are ever eager to learn from history and experience.

It is no doubt true that cognitive and conative clarities are essential to individual progress. If man’s mind is prejudiced and his actions are stereotyped and wrongly directed, nothing worthwhile can be achieved. In order that an individual becomes an embodiment of noble thought and actions, virtuous dispositions are to be cultivated. This prepares the individual to do certain kinds of actions in certain kinds of situations. This is not just to think or feel in certain ways. There may be individuals who can think clearly and express good emotions whenever the situation calls for, but they may not act virtuously when required to do so. Consequently, Mahāvīra preached that an individual should develop virtuous dispositions of honesty, gratitude, Ahiṃsā, forgiveness, modesty, straightforwardness etc. This individual characteristic is known as upabṛmhaṇa.[26] It cannot be gainsaid that noble thoughts can be translated into action through the medium of character. Mere thought is important to bring about any individual transformation. It is only virtues in addition to thought that can effect transformation in the life of an individual and transmute existing state of affairs.

Mahāvīra, no doubt, greatly emphasised the development of the individuals, inasmuch as he was convinced of the fact that there is nothing over and above the good of the individual men, women and children who compose the world. But he did not lose sight of the fact that the individual develops not in isolation but among other individuals. The proper adjustment of ‘I’ and ‘thou’ leads to the healthiest development of both ‘I’ and thou’. ‘Thou’ may represent social and political institutions. Social and political institutions must exist for the good of the individuals. All individuals should live together in such a way that each individual may be able to acquire as much good as possible. Thus every individual, therefore, shall have certain responsibilities towards one another. This is the same as saying that an individual has certain social responsibilities. Therefore, social and individual morality are equally necessary to a good world.

Mahāvīra unequivocally says that the other is like our own. This does not mean that there are no individual differences. Rather it means that the individual should be allowed freedom to develop his own individualities. There should not be any distinction between man and man on the basis of religion, race, nationality. To create differences between one individual and the other on these factors is derogatory, therefore, it should be condemned ruthlessly. Consequently, Mahāvīra exhorted us not to hate individuals on these accounts (Nirvicikitsā).[27] These are irrelevant inequalities.

These negative conditions of not hating others is not sufficient, but the positive condition of loving them (Vātsalya) is very much necessary.[28] To love is to see that equal opportunities of education, earning and the like are received by every individual without any distinction, of race, religion, sex and nationality. In his own times Mahāvīra fought for the equality of all men, and he revered individual dignity. Where there is love there is no exploitation. To treat other individuals as mere means is decried and denied. Where there is Vātsalya, all our dealings with others will be inspired by reverence; the role of force and domination will be minimised.

It is likely that individuals may deviate from the path of righteousness. In dealing with persons they may become so selfish as not to allow others their due share of liberty, they may become very possessive. Pride of power, use of force, and exploitation of the weak may look to them normal ways of life. Creative impulses in man may suffer owing to their destructive attitude. When individuals behave fanatically with one another, the real good will be served if they are (convinced) to deal with others rationally. To establish them in the good life is ‘Sthitikaraṇa’.[29] This is very much necessary in a society where the rule of creative impulses is to be established.

Lastly, the good ways of life, of thinking and doing things should be made widely known to people at large, so that they may feel obliged to mould their lives in that pattern. For this psychological methods of transmitting knowledge are required to be followed in all earnestness. The scientific techniques of radio, television and the like are to be utilised for propagating good ways of life. If the researches in the laboratories are not taken to and utilised in the fields, they will serve no significant purpose. They will be like doing things in seclusion. Similarly, if the findings in the human laboratory in the realm of values are not taken to human beings in general, things will deteriorate and conditions will not change. Mahāvīra, therefore, says to propagate values of life (Prabhāvanā).[30]


7. Method of Using Common man's Language

It is incontrovertible that the 6th Century B.C. witnessed the rise of the 24th Tīrthaṃkara, Mahāvīra who played a dominant role in shaping the cultural history of India. He revolted against the socio-religious exploitation and oppression of man and introduced vigorous innovations in the then existing social law and order. In fact, he serves as an illustration both of spiritual realization and social reconstruction.

After the attainment of omniscience (Kevalajñāna), Mahāvīra remained silent and did not deliver, according to Digambara tradition, any sermon for sixty-six days. At the advent of a renowned Vedic scholar, named Indrabhūti Gautama in the Samavasaraṇa (religious assembly) Mahāvīra delivered his first sermon at the Vipulācala mountain outside the city of Rājagṛha, the capital of Magadha, on Saturday the 1st July 557 B.C. This day is celebrated as the Vīraśāsana day and Indrabhūti Gautama was designated as the first Gaṇadhara (chief disciple) by Mahāvīra. Along with Indrabhūti Gautama his five hundred pupils joined the order of Mahāvīra. Gradually Mahāvīra initiated more Vedic scholars into the ascetic order. It is of capital importance to note that Mahāvīra made use of Prākṛta for his discourses, as a result of which the whole canonical literature in Prākṛta was prepared by the Gaṇadharas.

Now the question is why did Mahāvīra deliver his first sermon only at the advent of a Vedic scholar? My interpretation of the event is: Vedic scholar is a Prākṛta scholar, since the Vedas have been composed in loka Bhāṣā (language of the masses) of that period. Pt. Kisoridasa Vajapaye tells us that the language of the Vedas is the first form of Prākṛta, though this underwent change in form in course of time and became the second stage of Prākṛta at the time of Mahāvīra. This second stage was prevalent in a very large area and Mahāvīra's discourses were meant for all without any distinction of caste and creed, classes and masses, so he chose Prākṛta for his deliverances.

It will not be out of place to mention that Mahāvīra was desirous of making the values of life accessible to the masses of the people, so he adopted Prākṛta for the propagation of ethico-spiritual ways of life and living. Now it is intelligible that Mahāvīra's Sojourn in the Arhat state of life inspired him to preach in the universal language used by the masses of people, though Vedic language and the classical Saṃskṛta preceded him. This may be styled language renascence which supported the upliftment of the masses. The neglect of the common man ended with this attitude of Mahāvīra.

From what has been said above it may be rightly inferred that the Second Stage of Prākṛta originating form the First Stage of Prākṛta of the pre-Vedic times was used by Mahāvīra for his deliverances and Gaṇadharas prepared the Āgamic literature from it.

This means that the Prākṛta language which is the representative of the common man's aspirations is denied the respectful position in society at large. Its revival is very much important for making intelligible the cultural history of India. Without it India will be misunderstood and the increasing significance of the common man in the present day democracy will not find its basis in ancient history of India.


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SVASTI - Essays in Honour of

Prof. Hampa Nagarajaiah
for his 75th birthday 7.10.2010

Editor: Prof. Dr. Nalini Balbir.

Publisher: Dr. M. Byregowda
K.S. Muddappa Smaraka Trust
Krishnapuradoddi #119, 3rd Cross,
8th Main, Hampinagara
Bangalore - 560 104 Karnataka
Ph: 080-23409512
e-mail: baraha.ph[at]gmail.com

Edition: 2010

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  1. Ahiṃsā
  2. Akalaṅka
  3. Anekānta
  4. Anekāntavāda
  5. Aparigraha
  6. Arhat
  7. Bandha
  8. Bhāṣā
  9. Body
  10. Bombay
  11. Buddha
  12. Consciousness
  13. Delhi
  14. Digambara
  15. Dveṣa
  16. Fearlessness
  17. Gautama
  18. Gaṇadhara
  19. Haribhadra
  20. Hiṃsā
  21. JAINA
  22. Jaina
  23. Jainism
  24. Jaipur
  25. Jñāna
  26. Jīva
  27. Karma
  28. Karmas
  29. Karuṇā
  30. Kevalajñāna
  31. Kundakunda
  32. Ladnun
  33. Loka
  34. Magadha
  35. Mahāvīra
  36. N. Tatia
  37. Nayavāda
  38. New Delhi
  39. Nirvicikitsā
  40. Parigraha
  41. Parmenides
  42. Paryāya
  43. Pañcāstikāya
  44. Prabhāvanā
  45. Pride
  46. Puṇya
  47. Pāpa
  48. Pārśvanātha
  49. Rājagṛha
  50. Samiti
  51. Sholapur
  52. Soul
  53. Sādhus
  54. Sādhvīs
  55. Sūtra
  56. Tolerance
  57. Tīrthaṃkara
  58. Uttarādhyayana
  59. Varanasi
  60. Vedas
  61. Vedic
  62. Vegetarianism
  63. Vātsalya
  64. Vīra
  65. Yoga
  66. Ācāryas
  67. Ācārāṅga
  68. Āgama
  69. Āyāro
  70. Śrāvakas
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