Justice T.U.Mehta

Mahavira's Synthesis

In Mahavira's time there were philosophers who denied man's liberty to shape his destiny and believed in absolute determinism under different theories. It was Mahavira's task to achieve a proper synthesis of all these theories, and, at the same time, to emphasis the soul's capacity to change its future. Mahavira's emphasis on soul's capacity to change its future was a natural consequence of his belief that pure consciousness is the integral attribute of the soul, because a thing which is conscious can never remain dormant- Dynamism and consciousness always go together. Mahavira's theory of karma is the theory of dynamism. To understand how he secured the dynamism during the process of synthesis of different prevailing theories, it would first be necessary to have a bird's eye view of these theories.

Those philosophers, who believed that a human being is totally free to select his own path of good or evil, are known as ‘Yadrcchavadi'. In the west they are known as the exponents of ‘free-will'. But those who held a contrary belief and asserted that man is not free to choose his path because everything is pre-destined, were known as ‘Niyativadi', i.e., determinists. Both the philosophers were found to be taking extreme stands. In real life, we often find that some persons who have chosen their own path toil for the whole life, but are faced with unexpected obstacles and never succeed, while others with very little effort achieve success which they otherwise do not deserve on merits. When we see such instances, we feel that the theory of free-will lacks something which remains unexplained. However, the theory of ‘Niyativada' which means the theory of determinism totally rules out man's own efforts as according to this theory the man is made absolutely a victim of some unknown reason which seals his fate.

Gosala's Niyativada - In Mahavira's early years of penances Gosala who was subsequently known as a great and authoritative exponent of ‘Niyativada' (determinism) moved as a self-proclaimed disciple of Mahavira as he was greatly attracted by Mahavira's penances. Though Mahavira never accepted by Mahavira's penances. Though Mahavira never accepted him as his disciple, he moved with Mahavira wherever he went and also practiced severe penances. During this period, he remained a great admirer of Mahavira, but created sometimes very awkward situations. During his period of penances the attitude of Mahavira was merely to suffer in silence without any protest and to move and do, whatever he though would be proper for him. So when Gosala constantly followed him everything, he did not object. This was his attitude not only with Gosala but with everyone with whom he had an opportunity to meet. He never preached during this period because he believed that one should not preach before one actualizes in his own life the principles which he exhorts others to follow. Gosala kept company of Mahavira for about six years. During the last period of his stay with Mahavira he seems to have developed some thinking about his later theory of ‘Niyativada'. He began to doubt Mahavira's theory of Karma and finally came to the conclusion that man's efforts to change his destiny are futile as everything is predestined. According to him soul's journey to salvation would take its own course and time, just as a ball of string would take its own course and time to unroll up to its end. So far as man's exertions are concerned he believed that even they are predestined. He believed in the cycle of births and rebirths and contended that this cycle is bound to go on to its destined course which cannot be changed by human efforts. As a result, all the penances were found by him useless. He therefore parted company with Mahavira, proclaimed himself a Tirthankara (prophet) and could gather a large following. It seems that thenceforth, he took to the life of pleasure and ease. His followers were known as Ajivikas whose influence sustained for many years even after his death.

Other Theories - But Gosala was not the only person who rejected the theory of karma. There were some philosophers who believed in ‘Kalavada'. ‘Kala' means time. They believed that every event fructifies only when its time comes and so human endeavour is fruitless. They gave many examples one of which was that of a fruit-bearing tree which can give fruit only when its time comes. There were others who believed in ‘Svabhavavada' who contended that everything progresses and develops according to its own nature (‘Sva' means own and ‘Bhava' means nature) and that this explains all variations round in this universe. No one, according to them, can change this basic nature of the objects of this universe. There were still others who believed in ‘Isvaravada' , i.e., belief in some outside force called God who is the final arbitrator of soul's destiny. All these theories, more or less, ruled out the belief that man's destiny largely in his own hands.

Mahavira's approach - Mahavira's attitude towards all problems - physical or metphysical - has remained that of ‘Svadvada' which exhorts us to look at a question from every angle, and not to reject any proposition summarily and wholly because every truth is relative and every proposition is likely to be true from a particular angle and in particular circumstances. He, therefore, tried to synthesise all prevailing thoughts and advanced his own theory of cause and effect by assimilating the partial truth contained in each theory. Broadly stating, he said that though it is true that each event occurs as its own time and according to its own nature, it would be a mistake to rule out a change which can be brought about by one's own will and exertions. While doing so, he did not accept the contention of ‘Yadrcchavadins' that one can act of his own free-will and chalk out his path. His theory of karma (cause and effect) recognised that some of the karmas, which you have earned in your past lives, do bring their fruits in this life which cannot be avoided and which you have got to suffer, but even here, you can mitigate the rigour of the result by your own efforts. However, according to him once you recognise that you are reaping the fruits of your own actions, your future is always in your own hands. If your present is partly or wholly the result of your past, there should be no difficulty in believing that your future is also partly or wholly the result of your present. Thus Mahavira evolved a systematized synthesis of the theories of ‘free-will', ‘determinism', ‘Kalavada' and ‘Svabhavavada', and rationalised the theory of Karma.