Celebrating the Timeless Legacy of Lord Mahavira and Jain Philosophy

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“Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, torment, torture or kill any creature or living being,” said Lord Mahavira.
Mahavira Jayanti is the festival which holds a major significance in the Jain community and is celebrated with splendor in India and across the world. This year it will be on March 24. It usually coincides with the 13th day of the Hindu month of Chaitra.
The festival commemorates the birth of Lord Mahavira. Though Lord Mahavira is called the founder of the Jain religion, there have already been twenty-four Tirthankaras of the Jains. A tirthankara is an enlightened soul who is born as a human being and attains enlightenment through leading a life of austerity and intense meditation.
Born as Vardhaman Mahavira in 599 BC as a prince in Vaishali, in Bihar to King Sidhartha and Queen Trishala, he later came to be known as Bhagwan Mahavira. According to some, the religion might have been founded by Rishabha (Adinath), the first Tirthankara who was born in Ayodhya.

Lord Mahavira attained Kevala Jnana (enlightenment) at the age of forty-two and attained moksha/nirvana in 527 BC at the age of 72 years. It was the day of Diwali. Being a prince, he was brought up in luxury, yet worldly pleasures could not affect him. He led a simple life. His father passed away when Mahavira was 28 years old. Two years later, he abandoned his home and embraced the ascetic life of a monk. Mahavira spent almost 12 years moving from place to place leading a life of penance and meditation. On the tenth day of the rising Moon in the month of Vaisakh, 557 BC Mahavira sat under a Shal tree on the bank of river Rijuvalika (now Barakar) and attained the Kevala Jnana or enlightenment. He became a Jina, the one who is victorious over all worldly attachments.

He gathered a large following of monks (munis), nuns (aryikas), and common people (shravikas). Several kings of that time followed him. Chandragupta Maurya was one of them. Mahavira gave his sermons in Pali, a common man’s language at that time. His last sermon was in Pavapuri, Bihar.

Lord Mahavira encouraged the rich and poor, men and women to join him. His teachings were to attain freedom from the cycle of rebirth. According to him, every living being suffers under the bondage of Karma. He preached that through the practice of Samyak Darshan (right faith), Samyak Jnana (right knowledge) and Samyak Charitra (right character) one can get liberated from the cycle of Karma.

His sermons have been compiled by his followers in the form of ‘Agam Sutra’. He prescribed five vows to be observed. These are: nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, chastity, and non-attachment. Mahavira believed in the eternal existence of the universe – neither it was created, nor it can be destroyed.

To him, the universe is made up of six eternal substances – soul, space, time, material atoms, medium of motion and medium of rest. He believed in non-absolutism, means that truth and reality may differ when perceived from different points of view and that no single view represents the absolute truth.

The idea of ‘Anekantwad (pluralism) is Jainism’s greatest contribution to human thought. Also, non-violence is its most sublime gift to human action. He said that everyone can become a Tirthankar by one’s good deeds in life. In Jainism, the physical form of a Tirthankar is not worshiped but his gunas and virtues are praised.
There are two sects of Jainism. The ‘Digamber’ (they do not wear cloths) and the ‘Swetamber’ (wear white rob). The second sect came out of the original some 300 years after Mahavira. At present when there is violence, hatred, and intolerance, Mahavira’s teachings are more important than they were during his time.
The Jain philosophy left a profound impression on many famous people. Mahatma Gandhi molded his practice of non-violence based on Jainism. Albert Einstein said, “I do not know if there is rebirth or not, or life after death. But if it is true, then I would like to be born in India as a Jain.”
Mahavira rejected the concept of God as a creator, a protector, and a destroyer of the universe. He also denounced the worshipping of gods and goddesses as a means of material gains and personal benefits.
Let us on this pious occasion resolve to strive for harmony and amity in Canada and across the world. Jains’ estimated population: India- 45 lakh; US- one lakh; UK-60,000; Canada-18000. Thousands of them live in Nepal and Tanzania also.