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Mahavira (Vardhamana)


Mahavira, also known as Vardhamana, was the twenty-fourth tirthankara in Jainism who revived and reorganized the religion. He expounded the spiritual, philosophical and ethical teachings of the previous tirthankaras from the remote pre-Vedic era. He was the spiritual successor of 23rd tirthankara Parshvanatha. According to Jain philosophy, all Tirthankaras were human beings but they have attained a state of perfection or enlightenment through meditation and self-realization. They are the Gods of Jains.

Mahavir early life

Mahavira was born in the early part of the 6th century BCE into a royal Kshatriya Jain family in present-day Bihar, India. He abandoned all worldly possessions at the age of about 30 and left home in pursuit of spiritual awakening and solution to eliminate pain, sorrow, and sufferings. Mahavir became an ascetic (monk). The ultimate objective of his teaching is how one can attain total freedom from the cycle of birth, life, pain, misery, and death, and achieve the permanent blissful state of one's self. This is also known as liberation, nirvana, absolute freedom, or Moksha. Historically, Mahavira was a contemporary of Gautama Buddha who preached Jainism in ancient India.

Mahavir teachingMahavira taught that observance of (5 great vows):

Nonviolence (Ahimsa) Not to cause harm to any living beings
Truthfulness (Satya) To speak the harmless truth only
Non-stealing (Asteya) Not to take anything not properly given
Chastity (Brahmacharya) Not to indulge in sensual pleasure
Non-possession/ Non-attachment (Aparigraha) Complete detachment from people, places, and material things

Jains hold these vows at the center of their lives. These vows canít be fully implemented without the acceptance of a philosophy of non-absolutism (Anekantvad) and the theory of relativity (Syadvad). Monks and nuns follow these vows strictly and totally, while the common people follow the vows as far as their life styles will permit. Mahavir birth is celebrated as Mahavir Jayanti, and his nirvana (salvation) is observed by Jains as Diwali. Mahavir explained that from eternity, every living being (soul) is in bondage of karmic atoms, which are accumulated by good or bad deeds. Under the influence of karma, the soul is habituated to seek pleasures in materialistic belongings and possessions. This is the deep-rooted cause of self-centered violent thoughts, deeds, anger, hatred, greed, and such other vices. These result in further accumulation of karmas.

Mahavir Preached:

  • Right faith (samyak-darshana)
  • Right knowledge (samyak-jnana)
  • Right conduct (samyak-charitra) together is the real path to attain the liberation of one's self.
In the matters of spiritual advancement, as envisioned by Mahavir, both men and women are on an equal footing. The lure of renunciation and liberation attracted women as well. Many women followed Mahavir's path and renounced the world in search of ultimate happiness. Mahavir attracted people from all walks of life, rich and poor, kings and commoners, men and women, princes and priests, touchable and untouchable.

He organized his followers, into a four-fold order (Jain Sangh), namely:

  • Monk (Sadhu),
  • Nun (Sadhvi),
  • Layman (Shravak),
  • Laywoman (Shravika)
Jainism existed before Mahavir, and his teachings were based on those of his predecessors. Thus, unlike Buddha, Mahavir was more of a reformer and propagator of an existing religious order than the founder of a new faith. He followed the well-established creed of his predecessor Tirthankar Parshvanath. However, Mahavir did reorganize the philosophical tenets of Jainism to correspond to his times.

Significant points of Teachings of Lord Mahavir:

  • Mahavir made religion simple and natural, free from elaborate ritual complexities. His teachings reflected the internal beauty and harmony of the soul.
  • Mahavir taught the idea of supremacy of human life and stressed the importance of the positive attitude of life.
  • Mahavir's message of:
    • Nonviolence (Ahimsa),
    • Truth (Satya),
    • Non-stealing (Achaurya),
    • Celibacy (Brahma-charya),
    • Non-possession (Aparigraha) is full of universal compassion.
  • Mahavir said that, "A living body is not merely an integration of limbs and flesh but it is the abode of the soul which potentially has perfect perception (Anant-darshana), perfect knowledge (Anant-jnana), perfect power (Anant-virya), and perfect bliss (Anant-sukha). Mahavir's message reflects freedom and spiritual joy of the living being.
  • Mahavir emphasized that all living beings, irrespective of their size, shape, and form how spiritually developed or undeveloped, are equal and we should love and respect them. This way he preached the gospel of universal love.
  • Mahavir rejected the concept of God as a creator, a protector, and a destroyer of the universe. He also denounced the worshiping of gods and goddesses as a means of material gains and personal benefits.

Mahavir teaching Relevance in modern times

  • In the present scenario of struggle, hatredness, grief, sorrows, unhappiness, atrocities of all kinds and misunderstandings so Mahavir teaching helps to fight these evils with soft power and non-violently
  • Mahavir teaching helps to eliminate materialistic desire, where power and wealth are the ultimate goals of the domain religion. So Mahavir teaching helps to fight corrupt practices
  • The values of the life of Lord Mahavir needs more attention to us i.e. we people, as we form the part of individuals, families, societies, the nations and the world.
  • Mahavir relinquished his worldly wealth and pleasures and at the same time embraced renunciation of everything he possessed, even his body. This is more important when people become more greedy and self-center so much that not hesitate to acquire other property or wealth by corrupt mean
  • At the outset, Mahavir realized that either mere words or sermons or rituals are not sufficient and efficacious to accomplish the desired ambition. Before uttering a single word the preacher must exhibit impeccable conduct. His mind should be pure and conduct must be exemplary.
  • Non-violence (Ahimsa) we saw militancy, terrorism, refugee crisis which paint image of people suffering from violence