Who is a Tirthankar?

Illustrated Tirthankar Charitra

Shri Amar Muni

Who is A Tirthankar?

In this universe, which is without a beginning or an end, he soul continues to experience sorrow and joy, traversing though numerous dimensions and forms including those of gods, animals, human-beings, and hell-beings.

The principle causes of these unending cycles of rebirth are the inherent attitudes of attachment and aversion, and their consequences. The attitudes of attachment and aversion result in the bondage of good and bad Karmas and as a consequence the soul continues its passage from one dimension to the other.

Every soul is a dormant source of infinite energies, uninterrupted light of knowledge and unending joy and happiness. Knowledge and happiness are the fundamental natural activities of the soul. But the accumulated inertia of ignorance and illusion acts as an impediment to its endeavor to activate these inherent infinite energies. Even when it launches its efforts, the dense accumulation of attitudes of attachment and aversion does not allow these efforts to become successful. As such, the disciplining of these attitudes of attachment and aversion becomes the prime need on this path of salvation.

When its own true form is revealed on the soul it recognizes its inherent potential and gradually starts the efforts to win over the attitudes of fondness, attachment and aversion, as a result of its intense craving for salvation and practices of equanimity, penance, and meditation, it becomes tireless or Nirgranth (a term for Jain ascetic).

Continuing its un-dogmatic practices or the Nirgranth attitude, a day comes when the soul destroys all attachment and aversion and conquers fondness. As a result of this victory the soul attains the status of Jina.

Jina means the victorious one.

The individual who has destroyed attachemtn and aversion; who is absolutely free of fondness and ignorance; who has shed the four vitiating Karmas; namely illusory (Mohaniya), knowledge obstructing (Jnanavaraniya), perception obstructing (Darshanavaraniya), and power hindering (Antaraya); is known as vitarag (the detached one), Jina (the victorious) and Sarvajna or Kewali (the omniscient).

Any deserving soul may attain the status of Jina, omniscient, ultimate or pure soul (Param-Atma), but not a Tirthankar. This is because of the fact that it is only as the result of a specific pious type of Karma that one may become Tirthankar.

The lofty person, an omniscient Arihant, who defines, elaborates, and propagates Ahimsa, Truth, Brahmacharya etc., establishes the four pronged (Sadhu, Sadhvi, Shravak and Shravika) religious organization, and is endowed with unique powers is known as the Tirthankar.

It is a belief, mentioned in Jain scriptures, that it is only the soul who earns the pious bond of the Tirthankar-nam-karma through a very high level of penance and meditation, can attain the status of Tirthankar.

During one descending cycle of time there may be innumerable omniscients but only twenty four Tirthankars. Acharya Somdev Suri has given an explanation about why there can only be this specific number of Tirthankars-

“If the number of things existing in nature is not a fixed figure why the number of things like date, day constellations, stars, planets, oceans, mountains are believed to be fixed? It means that although they are numerous their exact number is fixed as per the law of nature.” During one descending cycle of time only these twenty four Tirthankars are the originators of religious founders of religious order and persons with divine powers.

A Tirthankar is not an incarnation of the God. He is an ordinary soul that born as a human and attains the states of a Tirthankar as a result of intense practices of penance, equanimity and meditation. As such, the Tirthankar is not defined as an Avatar (god-incarnate) but is the ultimate pure developed state of the soul. Thus he may be called as the God in human form.

In the current descending cycle there have been twenty-four Tirthankars from Bhagawan Rishabhdev to Bhagawan Mahavir.

There names are as follows:

1. Rishabhdev 9. Suvidhinath 17. Kunthunath

2. Ajitnath 10. Sheetalnath 18. Arnath

3. Sambhavnath 11. Shreyansnath 19. Mallinath

4. Abhinandan 12. Vasupujya 20. Munisuvrat

5. Sumatinath 13. Vimalnath 21. Naminath

6. Padmaprabh 14. Anantnath 22. Arishtanemi

7. Suparshvanath 15. Dharmnath 23. Parshvanath

8. Chandraprabh 16. Shantinath 24. Mahavir