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LORD MAHAVIRA

 

LORD MAHAVIRA

 

PUBLISHER�S NOTE

 

THE RELEVANCE OF THE TEACHING OF LORD MAHAVIRA IN THE PRESENT WORLD (INTRODUCTION)

  CONTENTS
 

THE AGE OF MAHAVIRA

  EARLY LIFE OF MAHAVIRA
  ASCETIC LIFE OF MAHAVIRA
  ENLIGHTENMENT
  JAINA ATHEISM
  PROPAGATION OF THE DOCTRINE
  RIVAL SECTS
  CONCLUSION
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THE AGE OF MAHAVIRA


 

 

This development was a particular characteristic of the age which marked the composition of the Brahmanas. The growth of ritualism led to the increase of the priestly class, and since the priestly class was the beneficiary of the performance of these rituals and sacrifices it was in its interest to develop ritualism still further. It became a vicious circle. The earlier sacrifices used to occupy one day, now they began to last for weeks, months and even years. The earlier sacrifices used to require as the most seven priests, hotri, potri, naishtri, Anidhr, Prshastri, Advaryu and brhamn; now the sacrifices required seventeen.

 

1.   Hotri with maitravarunr, achhavak, and gravrutut

2.   Udgatri with prstot, pratihartri, subrhanyi

3.   Adhvryu with pratiprasthapu, naishtri and unaitri

4.   Brahman with brahmanrhachhansin, agneedhr and potri

 

On its part, the priestly class directed all its energies to the further development of ceremonial side, which they worked out in endless detail and to which they attached the most fanciful and mystic significance. The elaboration of the technical part of the sacrifice and the growth of a special class of experts who make a monopoly often art became so marked that intellectualism of this kind began to be confused with morality, and virtue became a by-word for fineness and fussiness over little things.

 

This state of things was very disconcerting to the serious-minded section of society, and many people took recourse to meditation and contemplation of the truth. They discarded the rituals and the pantheistic worship of the priests, and developed what is known as the way of knowledge(gyanmarg) distinguished from the way of ritualism (karmmarg) of the Brahmana. From out of their philosophical and metaphysical speculation there developed the six famous schools of Indian philosophy- the Samkhya school of a Kapila, the Yoga school of Patanjali, the Nyaya school of Kapila, the Yoga school of Patanjali, the Nyaya school of Gautama, the Vaisesika school of Kanada, the purva-Mimamsa of Jaimini, and the Uttara-Mimamsa or Vedanta of Vyasa. These Upanisadic philosophers concerned themselves with the problems of the origin of the world, the nature of godhood and the creative process in general; and in seeking to solve these problems they expounded in fact a new religion which aimed at the achievement of deliverance from mundane existence by the absorption of the individual soul (atma) in the world-soul (Brahma) by virtue of correct knowledge. The underlying principles of this new religion upon which all philosophers were agreed were, first, that all reality in the ultimate issue must be reduced to one, called variously the holy power or the soul; and secondly, that a man may die repeated deaths in the next world, the doctrine, that is to say, of transmigration of soul, first mentioned in an outline form in the Chhandogya Upanisad and then involved in the form of the gospel of karma or action which determines on a man�s death the nature of his next birth in the Vrihdaranryak Upanishad. But these philosophers disagreed on many other points. Pantheistic ritualism was producing its parallel in the world of thought, a philosophical pantheism. The excessive devotion of the priest to the ritual had thus produced a reaction, but the reaction was proving as confused as the stimulus itself. Neither ritualism nor philosophy really succeeded in restoring to religion that element of ethical values which it had possessed in an eminent degree in the early Vedic period but which had inevitably got eroded from it during its progress from Kuru-Panchala country to Kosala-Videha and the country to the further east. The prevailing religion in 6th century B.C., therefore, when Mahavira was born, was significantly unsatisfying and in a chaotic state.

 

Economic Conditions:

 

From the point of view of economic structure, Indian society in 6th century B.C. was passing through a transition from a cultivating and handicraft to a cottage industry stage. Early Aryans were a pastoral people, their chief occupations being cultivation and cattle -rearing. The land was ploughed, the plough was drawn by oxen. Cattle consisted of kine and sheep. Weaving in cotton and wool was done but of industries very little was known. As the Aryans spread towards the east and the south and occupied the fertile plains of the Ganges and the Yamuna, their material prosperity considerably increased. The plough gradually assumed a large and heavy form; there is mention at one place of twenty-four oxen being harnessed to one plough. Irrigation also improved, and along with it the quality and variety of grains raised from the ground. At this time the society got divided into a number of classes and castes; and among the servile castes we find mention of such as fishermen, shepherds, fire-rangers, charioteers, workers in jewelry, basket-makers, washer-men, rope-makers, dyers, chariot-makers, weavers, slaughters, cooks, professional acrobats, musicians, etc. In the literature collectively known as the later Samhitas there is frequent mention of merchant and also users. The knowledge and use of metals had become quite extensive; besides gold, we find mention of tin, lead and silver, and possibly copper and iron. But during this period Indian economy remained on the whole a purely rural economy, with arts and crafts only incidentally developed.

 

In the 6th century B.C., however, and about this period our information is both large and accurate, the structure of economy began to get fundamentally transformed. (1) The gram was still the unit of administration and the center of all activities; but the grama was apparently a generic term, meaning almost anything from a group of two or three houses to an indefinite number. In the Buddhist texts there is also an occasional mention of cities in northern India, about twenty such having been recounted, six of which are reckoned as sufficiently important ones. (2) Further, rural economy was based upon a system of village communities of land-owners and marked by instances of collectivist initiative. The peasant proprietors had a nominal head in the bhojak (or headman) who, as their representative at political headquarters and municipal head, was paid by certain dues and fines. (3) Above all in the arts and crafts considerable proficiency and specialization of industry had been reached. �A list of callings given in the Milindapanho reveals three separate industries in the manufacture of bows and arrows, apart from any ornamental work on the same. In the same work, the allusion to a professional winnower of grain indicates a similar division of labor to our own threshing-machinists and steam plough-owners who tour in rural districts.� Important handicrafts were organized into guilds, and at the head of each guild as a president (prmukh) or elder man (jaithak), and these leaders were often important ministers in attendance upon and in favor with the King. There is evidence that regulation of industrial life was on a corporate basis; not only individual but families were often referred to in terms of traditional calling. (4) The age was marked by freedom of initiative and a high degree of mobility in labor. This finds exemplification in stories like those of enterprising woodworkers who, failing to carry out the orders for which prepayment had been made, were summoned to fulfill their contract and, instead of abiding in their lot, secretly made a mighty ship and emigrated with their families shipping down the Ganges by night and so out to sea till they reached a fertile island. (5) Trade and commerce was fast developing. Partnership in commerce either permanent or on specified occasions only, are frequently mentioned in Buddhist and Jaina texts. The overland caravans are sometimes represented as going �east and west� and across deserts that took days and nights to cross. They may have gone from Benares, the chief commercial and industrial center in early Buddhist and Jaina age, across the deserts of Rajputana to the seaport of modern Broach or the seaboard of Sovira and its capital Roruka. Westward of these ports there was traffic with Babylon. The nature of exports and imports is not always specified, but they would seem to include such articles as �silks, muslin, the finer sorts of cloth, cutlery and armor, brocades, embroideries and rugs, perfumes and drugs, ivory and ivory work, jewelry and gold.� It appears that trade was free, in the sense that it was determined solely by supply and demand and unhampered by any system of statutory fixed prices. The use of standard currency and of substitutes for money, like instruments of credit, also appear to have become common. The taking of interest was considered legitimate and the payment of debts an honorable obligation.

 

Of this developing capitalist economy the natural need was that there should be a theory of economic individualism to support it. This found its echo in spiritual doctrines like Jainism and Buddhism, which placed their emphasis upon the individual rather than upon a World-Soul. The prevailing Brahamnic religion with its traditional restrictions, its caste system, and its expensive sacrifices had begun to collide at an ever-increasing number of points with the existing economic ethics, and this made the growth of �heretical� sects inevitable which, originating outside heiratic circles, would offer a philosophic justification for a concept of individualism and a development of individual personality.

 

Political Conditions

 

The economic changes leading to the growth of capitalism in society caused corresponding changes in the political constitution of the country. The power of the tribal chieftain of old increased and he became more or less a real king, with power to deprive any commoner of his private property. The nobles obtained the position of landlords or intermediaries between the cultivators and the king. Slaves and serfs also increased in number. Within the framework of autocracy, there were still operative certain democratic elements, e.g. (1) the people�s voice in choosing the king; (2) the promises made by the king at his coronation; (3) the king�s dependence on the ministry; (4) the popular assemblies the Sabha and the Samiti; but these democratic limitations upon the powers of the king were becoming increasingly obsolete. The territorial concept of the state was becoming more pronounced.

 

In the 6th century B.C. northern India seems to have been divided into the following sixteen states: (1) Anga, covering possibly the Patna and Monghyr districts, (2) Magadha, covering the Patna and Gaya, (3) Kasi, covering Benares, Ghazipur and Mirzapur districts, (4) Vajji, covering Muzaffarpur, Saran and Champaran districts of north Bihar, (5) Kosala, possibly covering the Gorakhpur district, (7) Vamsa, covering the modern Allahabad and Banda districts, (8) Cheti, possibly the present Kanpur and Unnao districts, (9) Panchala, which may by identified with modern Rohilkhand, (10) Kuru, covering the Aligarh, Meerut, Delhi and Karnal districts, (11) Matsya, possibly covering the present Gurgaon district along with portions of Alwar and Jaipur states, (12) Surasena, possibly covering the Muttra district and portions of Bharatpore and Jaipur states, (13) Asuraka, on the Godavari, (14) Avanti, which seems to be just another name for Malwa, (15) Gandhara, presumably covering the northwest districts of the Punjab as far as Peshawar and adjoining districts, and (16) Kamboja, which may possibly be identified with the modern districts of Kabul and Jalalabad. These sixteen names are given in several places in the Buddhist text, Anguttara-Nikaya and partially repeated in the Sanskrit work Mahavastu. The Jaina text Bhagavati, which also enumerates sixteen names, described the delimitation of states at a somewhat later period; the geographical margins of states mentioned there is much wider.

 

Among these states four seem to have been particularly powerful Kosala with its capital at Sravasti, Avanti with its capital at Ujjaini, Vamsa (or Vatsa) with its capital at Kausambi, and Magadha with its capital at Fajgriha; and the period was marked by perpetual military contests between them. Ultimately Magadha, under its king Bimbisara (or Srenika), rose to the position of paramountcy. It is possible that the big states included certain more or less autonomous clan or tribal areas, which enjoyed a form of home rule. The Sakyas, for instance, were a tribe of the Kosalas, but held an autonomous tenure.

 

Besides kingdoms, republic states also existed. Among the republics the following names were prominent:

The Sakyas, with their capital at Kapilvastu;

The Bulis, with their capital at Amalkappa;

The Kalamas, with their capital Kesaputta;

The Bhaggas, with their capital at Sumsumara;

The Koliyas, with their capital at Ramagama;

The Mallas, with their capital at Pava;

The Mallas, with their capital at Kusinara;

The Moriyas, with their capital at Pipphalivana;

The Videhas, with their capital at Mithila; and

the Licchavis, with their capital at Vaisali.

 

These tribal republics seem to have occupied in 6th century B.C. the whole country east of Kosala between the mountains and the Ganges. Each one of them included several big towns besides the capital. In the territory of the Sakyas, which covered the lower slopes of the Himalayas, there is mention of a number of towns like Catuma, Samagama, Khomadussa, Silavati, Medalumpa, Negaraka, Ulumpa, Devadaha, and Sakkara. The administrative business of these tribal republics and the more important judicial work was carried out in public assembly at which the young and old were alike present. The meetings were held in motehalls, i.e. roofy structure supported by pillars without walls, and the procedure adopted in these meetings seems to have been as in modern parliaments. A single chief was elected as office-holder; he bore the title of raja, although the term did not mean king. He was something like the Roman consul. There were tribal confederacies also, a classical example of which was the Vijjian confederacy, comprising the Licchavis, the Videhas and other clans.