Justice T.U.Mehta

Revolutionary push by Mahavira

This needs was supplied by Mahavira and subsequently by Buddha. Mahavira did not establish any new order. He merely carried out the work of previous Tirthankaras, the last of whom was Parsva. The Sramana tradition, not subscribing to the Vedic words as last words, was itself divided into many schools of thought as we have already, noted. Mahavira's task was to evolve a complete synthesis of those different schools and to put the whole line of thinking into a sound and organised basis. This he did by the theory of Nayavada and Syadvada, which gave its due place to every line of thinking. When a proper time came, and after he himself got the realization of the truth, he moved from place to place and like a whirlwind, took every body who counted in the society under his powerful influence, which was solidified by organizing the Jaina Sangha into four sections of monks, nuns, male and female householders, by appointing different heads of each and sending emissaries of faith to different parts of the country. He himself was a powerful speaker. He spoke to people in parables and in their own language breaking the monopoly of the knowledge of Samskrta. People appreciated this very much. They were made to participate in religious discourses. In his age, Mahavira was the first to give a fatal blow to the notions of Brahmanical superiority and caste distinctions based on birth as he declared :

Uttaradhyayana-Sutra, 25/33.

"One is a Brahmin by action, a Ksatriya by action, a Vaisya by action and a Sudra also by action."

He interpreted Vedas and showed that real sacrifice is the sacrifice of one's baser instincts and not the sacrifice of innocent creatures. He declared that each soul is its own master, and it is not in hands of any god to make you really happy in this life or in the next. Your real enemy, he said, is not outside you and you are the author of your own happiness and misery.

Ibid, 20/37.

"Soul is the author of its own miseries and happiness; Soul is its own friend and foe as the maker of good and bad deeds."

This infused self confidence and the spirit of liberty as well as equality in the common man, taught by Brahmanical clergy to rely only on the favours of an unpredicatable divinity.

To the powerful kings, out to conquer their political enemies, he admonished :

Uttaradhyayana-sutra, 9/35, 34.

"Oh man, (if you have to fight) fight with your own self, what is the use of fighting with an outside foe? Conquer yourself by your own self. That is the supreme victory more difficult than thousand and thousands of victories in the battle fields."

Emphasising the real nature of religion, he said that real religion is not to try to please gods by sacrificial rituals and violence. Real religion is :

Dasavaikalika-sutra, I/I.

"Ahimsa (non-violence), Restraint (of mind, speech and action) and Austerities (religious penances) constitute real religion which brings benedictions and freedom. Even Gods bow down to them who practice this religion."

He did not preach any sectarian doctrines and did not insist on following only a particular path. Nor did he claim to be the sole messenger of the Divine because his theory was that Divinity is inherent in every soul. To a questioner, who wanted to know how one should behave so as not to commit any sin his answer was totally direct and of universal utility. He was asked :

Dasvaikalika-sutra, 4/7.

"How shall we move, stand, sit, sleep, speak and eat so that we may not be bound by sinful actions. "He replied :

Ibid, 4/8.

"Move, stand, sit, sleep, speak and eat with all discrimination, You shall not be bound by sinful actions." Discretion means awareness in whatever we do, is the corner stone of an intelligent existence.

And he came out with the message of friendship as well as fraternity for all and enmity for none when he exhorted his disciples to repeat these words constantly in their minds :


"I offer my apologies to all the sentient beings of the universe and shed all ill feelings for them. I declare my friendship for them all. I have enmity towards none."

He gave equal status to women and established the order of nuns under the leadership of Canadian, a princess of the king of Camp, on whose defeat in a battle, she was taken as a slave and sold to a wealthy man named Dhaka. In the four-point discipline of Parsva, celibacy had not a separate place as it was treated as included in ‘Aparigraha', restraint in possession of number of wives. A woman was impliedly treated as an object of possession Mahavira, added the concept of Brahmacharya for all men, women, monks and nuns, thus giving a dignified place and equality of treatment to both the sexes.

It is believed that the emphasis of Mahavira and Buddha on ‘Samnyasa' was responsible for the addition of fourth Asrama, namely ‘Samnyasarama' as the last stage in a man's life. Whatever it may be, the fact remains that the impact of the rational and logical thinking of Mahavira and then of Buddha was so great that the Indian culture took altogether a new turn from 6th century B.C. onwards. It is not that the principles of Ahimsa, Truth, Asteya, Aparigraha and Brahmacarya were unknown to the Aryan society. As already noted above, Sramana line of thinking existed side by side with Vedic line from time immemorial and the great Rsis of Upanisadas had already initiated philosophical interpretation of Vedas much before Mahavira. However, on account of priestly stronghold and language monopoly of scriptures the ideas of Ahimsa, etc., had not reached the masses. This was achieved by Mahavira and Buddha, both of whom condemned cast superiority and inequality. The great Jaina saint of Mahavira's time Sri Harikesi was a Candala (untouchable of untouchables). He was very highly respected by the whole society. He furnishes a shining example of the way in which the down-trodden section of the contemporary society was elevated to its rightful position as a result of Mahavira's preaching.