Jainism according to Jaina tradition there were twenty-four Tirthankaras or ‘ford-makers across the stream of existence’, each of whom preached the doctrine to his own age.
- Each of these prophets enjoyed a shorter life than his predecessor in keeping with the steady worsening of the world’s condition.
- Of these the first twenty-two are of doubtful historicity. In the case of the last two, Parsva and Mahavira, Buddhist canon supplies us with incontrovertible proof of their historicity.
- Parsva is reputed to have lived a hundred years and died only 250 years before his more celebrated successor, Mahavira.
PARSVA AND MAHAVIRA
- Parsva is said to have been a son of Asavasena, king of Benares and his wife Vama.
- Asavasena is the name of the Naga king in epic literature and a snake is the invariable emblem of Parsva in Jaina iconography.
- Parsva lived for 30 years as a householder, then became an ascetic and, after a penance of 84 days, received enlightenment. He lived for a full hundred years and died on Mount Sammeta in Bengal.
- We are told that Parsva believed in the eternity of matter as did Mahavira after him. Parsva enjoined four great vows on his followers to avoid injury to life, to be truthful, not to steal, and to possess no property.
- To these Mahavira added a fifth chastity. It is clear that some kind of Jain faith existed before Mahavira and his teachings were based on it.
- Thus he was more a reformer of an existing religion, and possibly of a church, than the founder of a new faith.
- Mahavira’s original name was Vardhamana.
- He was born in a suburb of Vaishali (Vaishali of the Pali books), called Kundagrama, now known as Basukunda.
- He belonged to the Naya clan known as Nata in Pali and Jantri in Sanskrit.
- His parents were Siddhartha, a wealthy nobleman, and Trisala, sister of Chetaka, an eminent Licchavi prince of Vaishali. Chellana, queen of Bimbisara of Magadha was Chetak’s daughter. Vardhamana married Yasoda and had a daughter by her, whose husband Jamali became the leader of the first schism in the Jaina church.
- In order not to grieve his parents Mahavira became a monk at the age of 30, after the death of his parents, with the permission of his elder brother.
- Thirteen months after, in winter, he gave up his clothing and began to wander abroad as a naked monk. Probably, this was the first important step in the reformation of the church of Parsva which allowed two garments.
- It appears possible that Parsva’s followers became the svetambaras (those who wear white robes), and Mahavir’s digambaras (nudes).
- Vardhamana attained supreme knowledge (kevala jnana) in the thirteenth year of his life as a wandering ascetic.
- The canon gives him a number of suggestive epithets like Nataputta ‘a scion of the Naya clan’, Kasava on account of his gotra, Visalia after his place of birth, and Vedehadinna after his native country.
- He is most frequently referred to as ‘the venerable ascetic Mahavira’. He is also known as Arhat and Jina.
- One most important event in Mahavira’s life was his meeting with Gosali Moggaliputta at Nalanda. Gosali remained with him for six years.
- Then came a breach between the two on the point of rejuvenation and perhaps also on other points and Gosali went his own way.
- He claimed to have become a tirthankara two years before Mahavira and became the founder of the sect of Ajivikas.
- This sect was certainly atheistic, and its main feature was a strict determinism.
- Gosali is said to have died a week after a disputation with Mahavira at Sravasti in which he sustained a crushing defeat. Mahavira survived him for sixteen years.
For nearly thirty years after his enlightenment Mahavira travelled and taught in the valley of the middle Ganges. He wandered for eight months of the year and spent four months of the rainy seasons in some famous town of eastern India. The Jaina tradition gives the names of such places as Champa, Mithila, Sravasti, Vaishali, Rajagriha and other places. He often met Bimbisara and Ajatasatru who were equally on friendly terms with the Buddha.
- The Jaina books make no mention of Buddhism, but the Pali books refute the teachings of Mahavira and record instances of disputations of the Buddha with the Jainas in which the latter are invariably worsted.
- At the age of 72 Mahavira died at Pava near Rajagriha. The place is said to be Pavapuri in the Patna district.
- It is said that on the night of his death the kings of the two clans, the Mallas and the Licchavis, celebrated the lamp festival in his honour.
Mahavira held that inanimate objects are endowed with consciousness or soul and to some degree can feel hurt by bad treatment. The great moral is ahimsa, non-injury carried to an extreme degree.
According to Jainism there is no God or Creator and man’s emancipation from suffering does not depend upon the mercy of any such Being. By living an austere life of purity and virtue, man can escape the ills of life.
The best life was the life of renunciation and it was the shortest way to salvation. Jainism is thus more a moral code than a religion. God as understood by other religions is not needed by Jainism because it denies both intermediation and forgiveness.
However, if the necessity arose it was not unwilling to admit a god of popular Hinduism to its galaxy. Being much less hostile and more accommodating to Hinduism than the other heterodox systems Jainism has survived in India till today.
Our knowledge of Jainism after Mahavira is meagre. There were eleven gandharas, heads of the schools, but only one of them, Sudharman, survived the master and became the first pontiff.
He died twenty years after Mahavira. During Chandragupta Maurya’s reign, a dreadful famine lasted for twelve years. This is the result of migration to Karnataka of Bhadrabahu and his disciples.
When they returned at the end of the famine they found that those who had stayed behind had lapsed from the strict code. This was the beginning of the great schism between digambaras and svetambaras. According to digambaras the original canon perished with Bhadrabahu, who was the last to possess a knowledge of it in its entirety.
He imparted it to Sthulibhadra but forbade him to teach more than the first ten of the fourteen purvas to others. The centre of Jainism shifted to the west in later times ; Mathura, Ujjain and Gujarat became prominent in Jaina tradition. Jainism of its organization and the steady support it has commanded from the laity.
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