|Lord Mahavir was the twenty fourth and last Tirthankara of the Jain religion of this era. According to Jain philosophy, all Tirthankaras were human beings but they attained a state of perfection or enlightenment through meditation and self-realization. The Jains thus consider these “perfect supreme beings” as God. The concept of God as a creator, protector, and destroyer of the universe does not exist in Jainism. Also the idea of God's reincarnation as a human being to destroy the demons is not accepted in Jainism.
Lord Mahavir was born on the thirteenth day of rising moon of Chaitra month, in 599 B.C. in the state of Bihar, India. This day falls in the month of April as per Gregorian calendar. His birthday is celebrated as Mahavir Jayanti each year.
Mahavir was a prince and was given the name Vardhaman by his parents. Being the son of a king, he had many worldly pleasures, comforts, and services at his command. But at the age of thirty, he left his family and royal household, gave up the worldly possessions, and become a monk in search of a solution to eliminate pain, sorrow, and sufferings.
Mahavir spent the next twelve and half years in deep silence and meditation with an to conquer his desires, feelings, and attachments. He carefully avoided harming or annoying other living beings including animals, birds, and plants. He also went without food for long periods. He was calm and peaceful when faced with unbearable hardships. These qualities earned him the name Mahavir, meaning very brave and courageous. During this period, his spiritual powers fully developed and at the end he was able to reach a stage of absolute realization of self. This realization is known as keval jnana or the perfect enlightenment.
Mahavir spent the next thirty years travelling on bare foot across India preaching people the eternal truth that he had realized. The ultimate objective of his teaching was how one can attain total freedom from the cycle of birth, life, pain, misery, and death, and achieve the permanent state of bliss. This is also known as liberation, nirvana, absolute freedom, or Moksha.
Mahavir explained that since eternity, every living being (soul) due to its ignorance is fettered by karma. These karmic atoms are continuously accumulated by our good or bad deeds. Under the influence of karma, the soul is habituated to seek pleasures in materialistic belongings and possessions. This is the deep-rooted cause of self-centered violent thoughts, deeds, anger, hatred, greed, and other such vices. These result in further accumulation of karmas.
Mahavir preached that right faith (samyak darshana), right knowledge (samyak jnana), and right conduct (samyak charitra) together were the real path to free the soul from the bondage of karma.
The Five Pillars of Jainism
not to cause harm to any living beings
to speak the harmless truth only
Non stealing (Asteya)
not to take anything not properly given
not to indulge in sexual pleasures
Non possession/ Non attachment (Aparigraha)
complete detachment from people, places, and material things
Life of a believing and practicing Jain normally revolves around these five great vows.. These vows cannot be fully implemented without the acceptance of the philosophy of non absolutism (Anekantvad) and the theory of relativity (Syadvad). Monks and nuns are required to follow these vows strictly, while a common man follows these vows as far as his lifestyle permits him to.
Mahavir considered men and women to be on an equal footing as far as spiritual advancement was concerned. The path of renunciation and liberation attracted women as well. Many women followed Mahavir's path and renounced the world in search of ultimate truth and happiness.
Thus, the principles of Jainism, if properly understood in their right perspective and faithfully adhered to, will bring contentment and inner happiness and joy to one’s present life. This will elevate the soul, in future reincarnations, to a higher spiritual level, ultimately helping it to achieve Enlightenment, reach its final destination of Eternal Bliss, thereby ending all cycles of birth & death.
Mahavir attracted people from all walks of life - rich and poor, kings and commoners, men and women, princes and priests, touchable and untouchable. He organized his followers, into a four fold order, namely monk (Sadhu), nun (Sadhvi), layman (Shravak), and laywoman (Shravika).
This order is known as Jain Sangh.
Lord Mahavir's sermons were orally compiled into Agam Sutras by his immediate disciples. These Agam Sutras were orally passed on to the future generations. In course of time many of the Agam Sutras have been lost, destroyed, and some are even modified. About one thousand years later the Agam Sutras were recorded on Tadpatris (leafy paper that was used in those in earlier times to record manuscripts for future references).
Swetambar Jains have accepted these Sutras as authentic versions of His teachings while Digambar Jains do not accept these as authentic.
At the age of 72 (527 B.C.), Lord Mahavir attained nirvana and his pure soul left his body and achieved complete liberation. He became a Siddha, a, a liberated soul, having achieved absolute consciousness, and living forever in a state of complete bliss. To commemorate this occasion, on the night of his nirvana, people celebrated the Festival of Lights (Dipavali). This is the last day of Hindu and Jain calendar year and is known as Dipavali Day.
It is important to however note that Jainism existed even before Mahavir, and his teachings were based on those of his predecessors. Thus, unlike Buddha, Mahavir was more of a reformer and propagator of an existing religious order than the founder of a new faith. He followed the well-established creed of his predecessor, Tirthankar Parshvanath. However, Mahavir did re-organize the philosophical tenets of Jainism to correspond to his times.
A few centuries after Mahavir's nirvana, the Jain religious order (Sangha) grew more and more complex. Due to ideological differences Jainism was divided into several sects. Later generations saw the introduction of ritual complexities, which almost placed the worship of Mahavir and other Tirthankars at par with that of other Hindu deities.
Significant points of Teachings of Lord Mahavir:
Mahavir made religion simple and natural, free from elaborate ritual complexities. His teachings reflected the inner beauty and harmony of the soul.
Mahavir taught the idea of supremacy of human life and stressed on the importance of a positive attitude in life.
Mahavir's message of nonviolence (Ahimsa), truth (Satya), non stealing (Achaurya), celibacy (Brahma charya), and non possession (Aparigraha) based on, universal compassion.
Mahavir said that, 'A living body is not merely an integration of limbs and flesh but it an abode of the soul which potentially has perfect perception (Anant darshana), perfect knowledge (Anant gyana), perfect power (Anant virya), and perfect bliss (Anant sukha). Mahavir's message reflects the freedom and spiritual joy that a living being (the soul) is capable of achieving.
Mahavir emphasized that all living beings, irrespective of their size, shape, and form, how spiritually developed or undeveloped, are equal and we should love and respect them. This way he preached the gospel of universal love.
Mahavir rejected the concept of God as a creator, a protector, and a destroyer of the universe. He also denounced the worship of gods and goddesses as a means of material gain and personal benefit.