Mahavir - Fearless Apostle Of Non-violence

Published: 25.04.2002
Updated: 15.02.2008

Today is lord Mahavir's 2,600th birth anniversary. A number of people are born unnoticed on this earth every day but Mahavir's birth was extraordinary. While still growing in his mother's womb, Mahavir was endowed with powers of clairvoyance or avadhi gyan. An ordinary man is born with indirect knowledge or paroksh but Mahavir was born with direct knowledge or pratyaksh, as if he had experienced everything already.

On the very first day of school his teacher noticed his transcendental wisdom and declared that he didn't require any schooling. After Mahavir's birth, his family began to grow prosperous. Impressed by this phenomenon, his parents gave him the name of Vardhman. Since he was clairvoyant, he came to be known as saman. Realising his power of tolerance during spiritual practice, he was named ‘Mahavir'. Mahavir's destiny was bound with liberation or salvation (moksha).

He came from a religious family; his parents were followers of the 23rd jain tirthankara, Parshva. the teachings of Parshva left an indelible impression upon his mind. When Mahavir's elder brother, Nandivardhana came to know of his intention to embrace asceticism he asked him: ‘‘brother, are you thinking of renouncing household life?'' Mahavir nodded his head in affirmation. Nandivardhan said: ‘‘why are you doing this now? We have not yet recovered from the shock caused by the separation from our parents; you must stay at home at least for two years, and thereafter you are free to have your own way''. Mahavir acceded to his elder brother's request.

From a very young age, Mahavir was keen to leave the family and become a wandering monk, but he stayed on for his parents' sake. The past influences the present; it is equally true that the future, too, influences the present. Mahavir's two-year stay at home was under the shadow of the future, so he lived like a monk. He realised that life is transient and was committed to renunciation.

With his brother's permission, Mahavir got initiated into an ascetic life. His objective was to achieve complete samayika (equanimous state of mind or super-consciousness). His 30-year-long householder's life came to an end. Mahavir believed in ahimsa. He also personified fearlessness (abhaya). He believed that a person afflicted with fear cannot promote ahimsa. This principle became an integral part of his way of life. For this reason he remained alone during the whole span of his penance (spiritual practice). He wandered alone, day and night, fearless.

Lord Mahavir was going to a hermitage when the cowherds said, ‘‘o, mendicant! do not go further. There is great danger ahead. There is a snake called chand kaushik at a little distance. Its eyes emit venom. Even from a distance the serpent can burn a man to ashes by casting a mere look at him''. Ignoring the advice, Mahavir continued his march. He approached the serpent's hole and stood there in a state of meditative posture. Chand kaushik must have said to himself, ‘‘what kind of a man is this? He is coming to me to embrace death''. His defiance infuriated him. The serpent first looked at the sun and then looked at Mahavir. The waves of venom from the venomous looks spread far and wide but Mahavir stood motionless in a meditative pose. Enraged, the snake coiled itself around Mahavir's body and started stinging him at various points. He began to bleed but remained motionless. He countered the effect of the venom emitted from the serpent's eyes by means of radiations of compassion. Mahavir had no enemy.

Lord Mahavir's spiritual practice was the practice of renunciation. While embracing asceticism he had resolved: ‘‘i surrender this body for the sake of my soul. This body is not mine. With this feeling i shall use my body. To cross a river, a boat is needed. I shall use my body as a boat to cross the river of life. I shall bear all the pangs of suffering by being immersed in the soul''.

After becoming an ascetic he retained only an uttariya, or piece of cloth, which fell off after it got entangled in a thorny bush. Some believe that Mahavir gave it up deliberately. Mahavir practised aparigraha or non-possession. samyag-darshan or enlightened belief became anekanta or non-absolutism. The knowledge of the ‘self' became samyak gyan. Fearlessness, non-possession and non-violence (aparigraha, ahimsa, abhaya) became enlightened conduct (samyak charitra).

These three led Mahavir to the attainment of omniscience (kevalya).

At the sandy bank of the baluka river, in a farm belonging to a householder named shyamak, under a tree in godohika posture, Mahavir attained omniscience.


Times Of India 25.04.2002

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  1. Abhaya
  2. Ahimsa
  3. Anekanta
  4. Aparigraha
  5. Avadhi Gyan
  6. Body
  7. Charitra
  8. Clairvoyance
  9. Fear
  10. Fearlessness
  11. Gyan
  12. Mahavir
  13. Moksha
  14. Non-absolutism
  15. Non-violence
  16. Saman
  17. Samayika
  18. Samyak Charitra
  19. Soul
  20. Times Of India
  21. Tirthankara
  22. Tolerance
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