The Tradition of Dhyana after Lord Mahavir

The technique of Mahaprana in which Bhadrabahu engaged;

Sri Pushya’s ecstatic meditation night and day;

Other Shraman Acharyas rapt in self-meditation,

Discoverers of an ancient mode of self-realization!

Q.The practice of meditation, along with long fasts had a special importance in Lord Mahavir’s life. The incidents of his life are a witness to this fact. But how did the tradition of meditation fare after him? Did the succeeding acharyas also give an important place to meditation in their sadhana?

Ans. Hundreds of ascetic-followers of Lord Mahavir were clairvoyants, telepathists or omniscients They achieved their special powers through the practice of meditation. We repeatedly come across in the Agamas the phrase, “entered the meditation cell”. The epithet here is indicative of the importance of the tradition of meditation. Meditation is an indispensable element in the achievement of omniscience. And without practising shukla dhyana no sadhak can achieve omniscience, cannot become a veetarag i.e. gain freedom from passions and affections. Supernatural knowledge and ultra-psychological knowledge are also culminations of dhyana sadhana. In order to attain knowledge of the 14 purvas (previous scriptures), one has to pass through a specific background of meditation. The sadhak who completes the discipline of Mahaprana meditation, acquires in the final stages the ability to revive fourteen past lives. In this context, the name of Acharya Bhadrabahu is noteworthy.

Acharya Bhadrabahu was the eighth successor of Lord Mahavir. He equally nurtured the traditions of meditation and the received scriptures. In the tradition of Jain preceptors, he was the fifth. Bhadrabahu was born in the first century of Vir Nirvana. In the second century, he became the Acharya after Acharya Sanbhutvijay. After he became the Acharya, he visited Nepal. There in the tranquil solitude of the hills he started his practice of Mahaprana meditation.

At that time, the region frequented by Jain munis was afflicted with famine. Alms giving during this time of scarcity became scarce. As a result, many munis who could have preserved the oral tradition of the scriptures, died. Except,Acharya Bhadrabahu no chaturdashpoorvi muni (one who had mastered 14 purvas) survived. For maintaining the continuity of the received tradition, some munis immediately left for Nepal. On reaching there, they made this request to Bhadrabahu, “The Shraman Sangh has most respectfully invited you for lecturing on Drishtivad. Kindly do us the favor of living with us so as to benefit us with your knowledge and wisdom.” Acharya Bhadrabahu heard the Sangh’s invitation but was loath to accept it. He had accepted dhyana-sadhana as the sole objective of his life. Looking into the mirror of his intuitive knowledge, he had seen reflected there the image of the shortness of his life and bidding goodbye to all activity, had resolved to devote himself exclusively to self-realization. He gave himself up completely to the practice of Mahaprana meditation. The Shramansangh felt unhappy at this. Because of their insistence, he agreed with certain conditions, to talk about the 14 purvas without interrupting his practice of dhyana.

Among the later dhyana-sadhaks succeeding Lord Mahavir, the second important name is that of Durbalika Pushyamitra. Durbalika Pushyamitra was born in the sixth century of Vir Nirvan and died in the seventh. He was the disciple of Yugapradhan Acharya Aryarakshit. Study and meditation was the chief aim of his life. He had mastered nine purvas out of fourteen. Since he was continually engaged in study and meditation his body had grown emaciated. Once some Buddhist mendicants expressed reservations about Pushyamitra’s dhyana sadhana. For their assurance, Aryarakshit permitted Pushyamitra to roam for sometime in the region frequented by the Buddhist mendicants. On observing Pushyamitra’s systematic dhyana sadhana, the Buddhist monks and other admirers found their reservations all resolved. Up to the last moments of his life, Durbalika Pushyamitra continued to perform special exercises in meditation.

I have talked briefly about Bhadrabahu and Durbalika Pushyamitra. Authentic research in literature could probably yield information about many more dedicated acharyas and munis who, giving priority to dhyana in their practice, kept alive an isolated and, vanishing system of Jain meditation.

Q.What are the fundamental elements of the dhyana-tradition developed by Lord Mahavir or his successor acharyas? Is it possible to classify them?

Ans. The tradition of dhyana-sadhana accepted two different techniques. The first was the technique of dharmya-dhyana. Acharya Bhadrabahu was the pioneer of this tradition. The technique of dharmya-dhyana is a scientific one. It is the technique of analyzing the underlying principle. The analysis. of the essential factor is connected with the search for truth. The deeper a sadhak delves into the essence of a thing, the more profound is his immersion into meditation. Imagine how much labor and deep devotion does a scientist put in to make a new discovery. Without hard work and deep devotion no individual can hope to become a scientist. Similarly, only that aspirant may be a successful seeker of truth, who through the medium of dharrmya-dhyana delves deep into the fundamental reality.

The second method of meditation was known as shukla-dhyana. Those who practiced meditation according to this method, were successful in controlling their mental state, but their knowledge of phenomena could not be developed. Of the four kinds of meditation, shukla-dhyana is the last. It requires a.special kind of background to practise this form of meditation. Of the four kinds of meditation referred to above, the two ‘arta-dhyana’ (distress-meditation) and ‘raudra-dhyana’ (wrathful meditation)-are not very useful from the viewpoint of sadhana, because, instead of development, sadhana in these two undergoes diminution. The one objective of including these under the category of dhyana has been to underline the fact that affliction and fury, too, furnish occasion for concentration of the mind. Like joy, sorrow too makes an individual concentrate on one point. Actually, these two forms have nothing to do with dhyana-sadhana proper.

There were only two proper methods of dhyanasadhana—dharmya-dhyana and shukla-dhyana. The first was devoted to the search of truth the other to sadhana alone. According to a sadhaka’s, interest and capacity, both these methods were employed. On the basis of -these two fundamental sources, new methods were evolved, and sadhaks, too, were placed under different categories. Some of these sources dried up later, and some others became scarce. On the whole, it may be asserted that the tradition of meditation used and demonstrated by Lord Mahavir continues uninterrupted to this day. During the middle ages, it was clogged with impediments here and there. Despite obstructions, however, the tradition did not die out altogether. There was, however, need to develop that tradition anew.