Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

3.2: The Teachings of Mahavira

  • Page ID
    23223
  • THE TEACHINGS OF LORD MAHAVIRA

    Lord Mahavira was born on March 30, 599 B.C. and attained the nirvana in the year 527 B.C. at the age of 72. He was a contemporary of Lord Buddha. He was the 24th and the last of the Tirthankars. The present form of Jainism was shaped by him.

    The cardinal principles of Jainism are:

    1. Ahimsa (non-violence)

    2. Anekantvada (multiplicity of views)

    3. Aparigraha (non-possessiveness)

    4. Non-stealing

    5. Brahmacharya

    The first and the third are quite simple to understand but the second one needs some explanation. It is dealt under ‘Multiplicity of Viewpoints and Relativism (Syadavada)’, in the Jain literature. Difference of view points, quite often, add to the knowledge and one should infer, only after hearing diverse views on any subject. If it is not done, then the conclusions

    reached could be biased or incorrect. It provides for the tolerance for the views of the others. One can have a better perception only after hearing others. For example, we are all familiar with the story of the eight blind men and an elephant. There the views expressed about the elephant by each of the blind men were correct but only partial knowledge could be obtained from any one view. The total knowledge about the elephant could be had only by listening to all of them.

    An object can, on occasions, be described by two completely opposite statements, i.e. it is (ASTI) and it is not (NASTI). These two statements can be made referring to (1) substance, (2) place, (3) time, and (4) form. Let us take an example of a piece of furniture. A piece of furniture made of jungle wood is not made of sandal wood. Similarly, it could be located in a given room but not in other rooms. Thus, it can be specified in either way which seem to be opposite to each other. This way of specification is called ASTI – NASTI – VADA.

    Another set of logic lines has been developed by the Jain thinkers which postulate that there can be as many as seven modes of prediction in a given case. This introduces an element of uncertainty in the predictions and therefore introduces the concept of probability. This is called Syadavada or the doctrine of `may be ‘.

    If we consider the Jainist and the Vedantic philosophies, we will find that both are correct in their own ways. They do not contradict each other. The Jain philosophy does not go into the depth of the process of creation as does the Vedantism and therefore it ( Vedantism ) arrives at the conclusion of The God as the First Cause. On the other hand, the Jainism comes up with the understanding of the complexity of the universe for the common humans and proposes the Syadavada which is a marvellous concept of accommodation which is necessary for the correct evaluation of anything. The Jainism defines life in almost everything, and therefore, preaches non-violence of extreme degree.

    In summary, the Jains consider the highest ideal – Tirthankara who possesses infinite knowledge, infinite bliss and infinite power. This blissful state is similar to that of Vedantic `Chitananda’. Jainism makes distinction between Arhat and Siddha which are analogous to the Vedantic Jivan Mukta (free form life) and Videha Mukta ( free from body ). A Jivan Mukta might also be a Videha Mukta as in the case of King Janaka. Tirthankaras are those Siddhas who profound the truth during their life time which is a higher thing. The Jains have Arhats, the Siddhas, and the Tirthankaras who in the simpler terms and in the corresponding manner are: those who deserve, those who accomplish, and those who sanctify. It is possible for every man to attain the highest state. Tirthankaras take the place of God in the Jain philosophy 

    • Was this article helpful?