Lord Mahavira's Period
The Period in which Mahavira lived was an age of acute intellectual upheaval in the cultural
history of India; and among his contemporaries there were such religious teachers as Kesa-kambalin, Makkhali Gosala, Pakuddha
Kaccayana, Purana Kassapa, Samjaya Belatthi-putta and Tathagata Buddha. Mahavira inherited a good deal from earlier Tirthakaras. He
left behind not only a systematic religion and philosophy but also a
well-knit social order of ascetics and lay followers who earnestly
followed and practiced what he and his immediate disciples preached.
Mahavira was a contemporary of Buddha, and he stands as the 24th Tirthankara who’s preaching fully breathe the spirit of the
Eastern stream of thought in India. The great champions of Atma-philosophy,
like Buddha, Janaka and Mahavira hail from Bihar. It is Mithila in
Bihar that has made substantial contributions to Mimamsa, Nvaya and Vaisesika systems.
Some 2500 years ago, Vaisali was a prosperous capital. A suburb of it was called Kundalapura or Ksatriyakunda; and here in
the palace of king siddhartha, of his queen Trisala or Priyakarini, Mahavira was born: to emphasise his various outstanding traits. He
was also known as Jnata-putra, Vaisaliya, Vardhamana, Sanmati, etc.
His mother belonged to the family of Cetaka, the mighty Licchavi ruler of Videha at whose call Licchavis and Mallas co-operated both
for defense and offence. Tradition is not unanimous about his marriage: according to the one, he was a celibate throughout; while
according to another, he married Yasoda and had a daughter called Priyadarsana. As a prince having excellent connections with ruling
dynasties of his times, it was expected of him to rule with authority and enjoy the pleasures of a prosperous career after his
Just at the age of 30, Mahavira decided like a hero to
relinquish the comforts of a princely life and undertook the life of
an ascetic with a view to attaining spiritual happiness, and thus place before the world the correct values of life and an example of
his having solved its problems in a successful manner. Attachment and possessive instincts have been the greatest obstacles in the
attainment of spiritual peace and purification; and he gave them up
in an ideal manner. Physical comforts are not an end in themselves;
and Mahavira became a nirgrantha, and went about practicing severe penances, even without any clothes on his body. A graphic
description of his hardships given in detail in the Acaranga, etc.,
people abused him, boys pelted him with stones, and thus he was
subjected to many calamities in the Eastern part of Bengal. After
twelve years of rigorous penances, Mahavira had a triumph over physical weaknesses and limitations; and he attained pure and
perfect knowledge, which transcended the limits of space and time: he became a kevalin, a sarvajna.
Srenika Bimbasara was his contemporary and was ruling at Rajagrha: Mahavira delivered his first sermon on the hill
Vipul-acala in the vicinity of Rajagrha. For full thirty years he visited different parts of the country; and it was his vihara, or
religious tour, as well as that of Buddha, that gave Magadhan territory the name of Bihar.
Mahavira's parents belonged to the school of Parsva; during his vihara, Mahavira explained to his society various problems of
life and their solutions. He laid maximum stress on the sanctity and
dignity of the spirit, and his preaching were meant for one and all
who conformed to the religious discipline outlined by him. The organisation of his followers, including princes as well as poor
peasants. Conformed to the fourfold pattern consisting of monks (muni),
nuns (aryika), householders (sravaka) and house ladies (sravika);
this nomenclature continues in Jainism even to this day.
Mahavira was a Tirthankara, who prepared a ford for the suffering humanity to
achieve peace here and bliss elsewhere, In view of the all-embracing character of Mahavira's principles, Samantabhadra, an illustrious
ascetic philosopher, in 2nd century A.D., called the tirtha of Mahavira by the name sarvodaya.At the age of 72, Mahavira attained
nirvana at Pava in 527 B.C.; and the day is celebrated with lights all over India as the Divali day.
Vaishali, the birthplace of Mahavira was at its height of
prosperity, and by its association with Mahavira it became far-famed
in the religious world of India. Teachers from Vaishali preached
great principles for the uplift of humanity and lived an austere
life of fasts and penances: and Mahavira stood out as the most prominent of his contemporaries.
According to the Maha-vastu, Buddha sought his first teachers
in Alara and Uddaka at Vaishali and 'even started his life as a Jain
under their teachings.' After discovering his Middle Path, he became
more and more honored at Vaishali, receiving even royal reception;
the city built him a kutagara-sala, a pinnacled rest house, in its
suburban park known as the Maha-vana. It is at Vaishali that the
Second Buddhist Council was held; and it came to be looked upon as a
holy spot where differences in the Sangha could be ironed out. His
celebrated disciple Amra-pali was a resident of Vaishali at which
place she bequeathed her park to Buddha and the community.
Vaishali had a republican government, and king Cetaka,
the Licchavi republican president, 'organized a federation of
republics comprising Mallakis, and 18 gana-rajas of Kasi-kosala,
besides the 9 Licchavi republics.' The working of the Vajjian
confederation, so vividly described in the Digha-nikaya, is a unique
example of its king and essentially contributed to the efficiency
and solidarity of the republic. Further, Vaishali was a commercial
Capital where seals were issued by three classes of guilds, namely,
Bankers, Traders and Artisans. When Fa-Hien visited India (A.D.
399-414), it was an important religious, political and commercial
center; but its fall began in the next three centuries, and what
Hiuen-Tsang (A.D. 635) saw there was more or less in ruins. And today it is a neglected village.
Buddha and Mahavira lived in the same age and moved
about in the same area with the same dynasties and rulers in view.
They stressed the dignity of man as man, and preached to the masses
in their own language high moral ideals, which advanced the individual on the spiritual plane and further contributed to social
solidarity. To posterity, they are the best representatives of the Eastern or Magadhan religion, of what is generally called the
Sramanic culture; the basic literature embodying their utterances, has luckily survived to us.
A comparative study of the early Jaina and Buddhist works presents a remarkable similarity and breathes verily
the same religious and moral spirit which has not only stood the test of time for the last two thousand years and more but is also
serving today as the master key to the solution of many a human problem.
Buddha is less compromising with the creeds of his contemporaries. Because he started with the conviction that he had
personally discovered something new for humanity. But Mahavira was
more accommodating and compromising and quite willing to understand the point of view of others, primarily because he was preaching an
earlier religion, maybe for a slightly different order of monks and laymen. 'It is evident, as Jacobi has remarked, 'that both Mahavira
and Buddha have made use of the interest and support of their families to propagate their Order. Their prevalence over other
rivals was certainly due in some degree to their connection with the chief families of the country'. Buddha had a longer lease of life:
he lived for full eighty years, while Mahavira lived only 72 years. The middle path of Buddha struck a note of novelty and inspired so
much enthusiasm among his new followers that its influence spread far and wide. Mahavira, however, had to preach both to old and new
followers, and obviously he must have been guided by a spirit of compromise; the question of new recruits was not with him as urgent
as it was with Buddha. There is evidence, further confirmed by close similarity between Jaina and Buddhist of living for a while,
obviously the one preached long before by Parsvanatha. As observed by Jacobi 'Nigamthas (nirgramthas), now better known under the name
of Jainas or Arhatas, already existed as an important sect at the time when the Buddhist church was being founded.' The Pali canon
refers to Mahavira as Nigamtha Nataputta.
Both Mahavira and Buddha thus started their careers with the
same capital of Sramanic ideology, but differed later on in details, and so also their followers with changing times and places. The
subsequent history of Jainism and Buddhism, the former confining itself primarily to India but still surviving as a living
institution and the latter spreading with remarkable zeal practical all over the Eastern hemisphere but losing its bearings in the very
land of its birth, has its seeds to be sought in their earlier beginnings outlined above