Mahavira  (599 – 527 BCE) is the name most commonly used to refer to the Indian sage Vardhamana who established what are today considered to be the central tenets of Jainism. According to Jain tradition, he was the 24th and the last Tirthankara. He is also known in texts as Vira or Viraprabhu, ...Sanmati, Ativira,and Gnatputra. In the Buddhist Pali Canon, he is referred to as Nigantha Nātaputta.

At the age of thirty Mahavira renounced his kingdom and family, gave up his worldly possessions, and spent twelve years as an ascetic. During these twelve years he spent most of his time meditating. He gave utmost regard to other living beings, including humans, animals and plants, and avoided harming them. He had given up all worldly possessions including his clothes, and lived an extremely austere life. He exhibited exemplary control over his senses while enduring the penance during these years. His courage and braveness earned him the name Mahavira. These were the golden years of his spiritual journey, at the end of which he achieved Kaivlya Gyan. He was now a person of infinite harmony, knowledge and self-control.

Mahavira devoted the rest of his life to preaching the eternal truth of spiritual freedom to people around India. He traveled barefoot and without clothes, in the hardest of climates, and people from all walks of life came to listen to his message. At one point Mahavira had over 400,000 followers. Mahavira's preaching and efforts to spread Jain philosophy is considered the real catalyst to the spread of this ancient religion throughout India and into the mainstream.

Mahavira preached that from eternity, every living being (soul) is in bondage to karmic atoms accumulated by good or bad deeds. In a state of karmic delusion, the individual seeks temporary and illusory pleasure in material possessions, which are the root causes of self-centered violent thoughts and deeds as well as anger, hatred, greed, and other vices. These result in further accumulation of karma.

To liberate one's self, Mahavira taught the necessity of right faith (samyak-darshana), right knowledge (samyak-gyana), and right conduct (samyak-charitra'). At the heart of right conduct for Jains lie the five great vows:

* Nonviolence (Ahimsa) - to cause no harm to any living being;
* Truthfulness (Satya) - to speak the harmless truth only;
* Non-stealing (Asteya) - to take nothing not properly given;
* Chastity (Brahmacharya) - to indulge in no sensual pleasure;
* Non-possession/Non-attachment (Aparigraha) - to detach completely from people, places, and material things.

At the age of 72 years and 4.5 months, he attained Nirvana in the area known as Pawapuri on the last day of the Indian and Jain calendars, Dipavali. Jains celebrate this as the day he attained liberation or Moksha.


There is a very sweet story about Mahavira's life. Mahavira was standing in a forest engrossed in meditation and a king who was his childhood friend was coming for Mahavira's darshan. On the way he saw another king, who had become Mahavira's sannyasin, standing near a rock doing austerities, tapasya. These three were childhood friends.

The first king felt very repentant for leading the worldly life. He thought, "Look at this king, Prasenchandra, how peaceful and silent he is. How blissful he is. How unfortunate I am. Mahavira has attained liberation and I am still counting money." The thought of renunciation arose in him.

When he met Mahavira he said, "I want to ask you a question. On the way I saw Prasenchandra doing austerities, tapasya. He is your disciple. Seeing him I also feel like renouncing this world. And I want to know something: if Prasenchandra had died at the moment when I was standing near him, where would he be reborn?"

Mahavira said, "If Prasenchandra had died at that time he would have been born in the seventh hell."

The king was shocked to hear this. Prasenchandra was standing so peacefully, so silently, merged in meditation -- and if he dies he will be born in the seventh hell! Mahavira said, "Don't be worried. But if he dies now -- only a few moments have passed between the two events -- he will enter the seventh heaven."

The king said, "This sounds like a riddle. Please explain it to me."

Mahavira said, "Before you came soldiers had passed by Prasenchandra. They saw him and remarked, 'This fool is standing here with closed eyes. His sons are too young yet and the ministers, to whom he has entrusted his kingdom, are busy looting his wealth and he is standing here like a fool!' The soldiers said this while passing him, and when Prasenchandra heard this, that the ministers were looting his wealth -- that the people whom he had trusted were deceiving him -- for a second he forgot that he had renounced everything. He forgot, he was not conscious, and the thought came to his mind, 'I am alive yet, you fools. What do you think? I am very much alive yet and I will sever the heads of these ministers from their bodies!' And unconsciously his hand tried to get hold of his sword which is not there now, but due to the old habit he tried to draw the sword from its sheath! And another old habit was that when he used to be angry he used to adjust his crown...."

Many of you are also in the habit of scratching your head or scratching your brow. So now in his anger when he tried to adjust his crown there was no crown, and he could touch only his shaven head. At once he became conscious: what am I doing? I am no longer King Prasenchandra, I have renounced everything. How could I think of killing people?

Mahavira said, "When you were standing near Prasenchandra, within him the sword was drawn, so if he had died at that moment he would have gone to the seventh hell. But now he has become conscious, he is laughing at his own foolishness. If he dies at this moment then he will be born in the seventh heaven.

Every action is the judge, and the decision for the action is within you, not outside you. You can stand silently outside while a storm may be raging within you. You may look very peaceful from outside while you may be restless within. You may be quiet outside, while within you may be ready to explode at any time.

Your outside is not valuable. Your inside is your existence. Every action of yours decides the nature of your soul. Every action of yours creates you. There is no other judge except you.


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