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Parshvanatha

Introduction

Parshvanatha, also known as Parshva and Paras, was the 23rd of 24 tirthankaras of Jainism. He is one of the earliest tirthankaras who are acknowledged as historical figures. The Jain sources place him between the 9th and 8th centuries BC whereas historians point out that he lived in the 8th or 7th century BC (around 877 BC).
Parshvanatha was born 350 years before Mahavira. He was the spiritual successor of 22nd tirthankara Neminath. Parshvanatha attained moksha on Mount Sammeta (Madhuban, Jharkhand) in the Ganges basin, an important Jain pilgrimage site. His iconography is notable for the serpent hood over his head. According to Jain texts, Parshvanatha was born in Benares (Varanasi), India. Texts of the two major Jain sects (Digambaras and Svetambaras) differ on the teachings of Parshvanatha and Mahavira, and this is a foundation of the dispute between the two sects.

Teaching

The Digambaras believe that there was no difference between the teachings of Parshvanatha and Mahavira. But as per Svetambaras, Mahavira expanded Parshvanatha's first four restraints with his ideas on ahimsa (non-violence) and added the fifth monastic vow (celibacy). Svetambara in Acharanga Sutra, say that Mahavira's parents were followers of Parshvanatha.
Gautama says that there are outward differences, and these differences are "because the moral and intellectual capabilities of the followers of the ford-makers have differed".
  • Parshvanatha allowed monks to wear clothes
  • Mahavira recommended nude asceticism, a practice which has been a significant difference between the Digambara and Svetambara traditions.

According to the Svetambara texts, Parshvanatha's four restraints were:

  • Ahimsa,
  • Aparigraha (non-possession),
  • Asteya (non-stealing)
  • Satya (non-lying)
He was also the earliest exponent of Karma philosophy. He is popularly seen as a propagator and reviver of Jainism. Renouncing worldly life, he founded an ascetic community. Parshvanatha did not require celibacy, and allowed monks to wear simple outer garments.