Tirthankara Mahavira (599–527 BCE), was the Twenty-Fourth and the last Tirthankara of currently known Jain tradition –Dharma and philosophy, at the core of which is Ahimsa –non-violence, the essential condition of life and its continuity. Rishabhadeva – Rishabhanatha, Adishwara or Adinatha, was the first Tirthankara of this tradition based on the supreme, eternal and natural human value of Ahimsa. During the life of the first Tirthankara this tradition was known as “Muni”. Subsequently, it was also addressed with the names “Yati”, “Arhat” and “Nigantha” or “Nirgranth”. During the lifetime of the last –Ttwenty-Fourth Tirthankara Mahavira, and thereafter the word “Jina” was used for it. The word “Jain” is derived from “Jina” itself, which means one who conquers the senses.
From the first Tirthankara Adinatha –Rishabhadeva to the Twenty-Second Tirthankara Neminatha (about whom it is said that he lived on the earth for a thousand years in the period 3200–2200 BCE) Ahimsa –non-violence and related practices, especially active goodwill towards all life and the purity of life were central to the lives, works and thoughts of the Tirthankaras. They also inspired people to follow these and called on them to move forward on the pathway to peace and progress in life while making these nuclei of their behaviours –individual and social, to make life meaningful and worthy, eventually to attain the Moksha –liberation.
Neminatha’s successor, the Twenty-Third Tirthankara Parshvanatha (872-772 BCE), who is acknowledged as the earliest exponent of Karma philosophy and the most popular in the Jain Tirthankara tradition, after Rishabhadeva and Mahavira, gave a new and unprecedented dimension to Jain philosophy by establishing the “Chaturyama Dharma” –Four Vows (Fourfold Dharma) system. Along with having non-violence at the supreme level, he called on people to follow the Satya –truth (at individual and social levels, both), Asteya –non stealing (emotionally-pragmatically, having no illusions, and not wanting what is not given) and Aparigraha (along with non-possession spirit as well as practical detachment) for the purpose of meaningfulness of human life. In the present time, with unprecedented advancement various branches of science and technologies, the Fourfold Dharma related to the “Chaturyama” founded by Tirthankara Parshvanatha can be considered simple. However, all these four non-violence-oriented vows were very important during the lifetime of Parshvanatha; even today, they are completely relevant and welfaristic. Their importance and relevance for making life meaningful and worthy can never fade even a little.
The Twenty-Fourth Tirthankara Vardhamana Mahavira, as we know, extended the “Chaturyama Dharma” presented by Parshvanatha by adding Brahmacharya to it; thus, Lord Mahavira re-established it as the “Panchamahavrata Dharma”. Following Brahmacharya (celibacy) is the best medium of self-discipline through self-control; it is an excellent way to purity and wellness of body and mind. This is the path to strengthen morality in man’s behaviours and raising its level in his life. By the modification in the “Chaturyama Dharma” and re-establishing it as the “Panchamahavrata Dharma”, Tirthankara Mahavira, thus, gave a beautiful dimension to the former and it was one of his best philosophical contributions from the human welfare viewpoint.
Tirthankara Mahavira called on man to follow the “Ratnatraya”, Triple Gems –Samyak Darshan (the right faith –belief in substances ascertained as they are in right faith), Samyak Gyan (the right knowledge) and Samyak Charitra (the right conduct) in life. The Lord expected to take humanity to the highest level by the means of the “Ratnatraya” – “Triratna”.
Tirthankara Mahavira was himself the pinnacle of Ahimsa –non-violence. The way the Lord distinguished non-violence in his own life was unprecedented, and even today it is incomparable. In this regard, I affirm about Mahavira Swami, “We, Indians, are proud that Bharat is the birthplace of Mahavira Swami, the foster of the culmination of non-violence; we are born on the land of our Mahavira, it is our fortune.” I also declare “No one was born on the planet Earth like Mahavira before him; perhaps, no other Mahavira will ever be born on this Earth.” The glory of the supreme, Sanatana-eternal and natural human value of Ahimsa is associated with the life, works, thoughts and all-welfaristic preaching of Tirthankara Mahavira. The Sanatana, supreme, natural and eternal value of Ahimsa is blessed with its association to Lord Mahavira.
The manner in which “Anekantavaada” manifested in preaching and conversations of Tirthankara (which later emerged as one of the foremost principles of Jain philosophy), was, in fact, a great gift of the Lord to the philosophical tradition of India. Not only this, the ideas of “Syaadvaada” (the Saptabhangi idea, which is the relative principle of understanding, explaining and expressing truth) and “Nayavaada” (to try to understand other’s thoughts by using the method of object-component), which are also associated with his “Anekantavaada” are Lord’s best contribution to the Indian philosophy and spiritual thinking as they beautifully add to the treasures of both of these.
The concept of “Anekantavaada” –pluralism, which emerged from the conversations of Tirthankara Mahavira is very humane and democratic idea revealing the reality of seeing and understanding the truth. In short, the essence of this principle is that although the truth is the same, it is, however, understood in different forms when viewed from different angles by different individuals. Knowing-understanding the whole truth from the same viewpoint, is not the real.
This principle, similar to the Vedic idea “Ekam Sadvipraa Bahudhaa Vadanti –there is only one truth, the wise express it differently” (or the truth is one, but it is perceived and understood in different ways), presents before humanity an all-welfaristic pathway of attitude adjustment, stressing respect for others’ perspectives. In the absence of attitude adjustment –in a state indifferent to this, so many problems emerge in the world, from individual to global level. Problems created in the absence of the state of non-adjustment of attitude –unacceptability of others’ views are the root cause of almost all conflicts in the world and sometimes present a warring situation before humanity as a whole. The result is only destruction, chaos and massacre. Therefore, in order to ensure harmony, peace and development, attitude adjustment is necessary to move forward for the welfare of one and all. In this regard, the path shown by Tirthankara Mahavira through the idea of “Anekantavaada” is ever significant, exemplary and all-welfaristic. This doctrine propounded by Mahavira Swami is Ahimsa-oriented; at the same time, it is also the most spiritually democratic legacy of the Lord to the human world, importance of which will never reduce.
- The author is a Padma Shri and Sardar Patel National Awardee Indologist Dr. He is a Former Vice Chancellor of CCS University, Meerut; he is also the Editor-in-Chief of Global Peace International Journal.