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Jain Doctrines and Practices of Nonviolence: The Example of Mahavira

Vardhamarma Mahavira (‘The Great Hero’) was a contemporary of the Buddha. He is said to have left his home at the age of thirty and wandered for twelve years in search of salvation. At the age of forty two he obtained enlightenment and became a ‘conqueror’ (jina, term from which the Jain took their name). Mahavira founded an order of naked monks and taught his doctrine of salvation for some thirty years. He died in 468 B.C., at the age of seventy-two, in a village near Patna.

1. 3. For a year and a month he did not leave off his robe. Since that time the Venerable One, giving up his robe, was a naked, world relinquishing, houseless (sage).

4. Then he meditated (walking) with his eye fixed on a square space before him of the length of a man. Many people assembled, shocked at the sight; they struck him and cried.

5. Knowing (and renouncing) the female sex in mixed gathering places, he meditated, finding his way himself: I do not lead a worldly life.

6. Giving up the company of all householders whomsoever, he meditated. Asked, he gave no answer; he went and did not transgress the right path.

7. For some it is not easy (to do what he did), not to answer those who salute; he was beaten with sticks, and struck by sinful people. . . .

11. Thoroughly knowing the earth-bodies and water-bodies and fire-bodies and wind-bodies, the lichens, seeds, and sprouts,

12. He comprehended that they are, if narrowly inspected, imbued with life, and avoided to injure them; he, the Great Hero.

13. The immovable (beings) are changed to movable ones, and the movable beings to immovable ones; beings which are born in all states become individually sinners by their actions.

14. The Venerable One understands thus: he who is under the conditions (of existence), that fool suffers pain. Thoroughly knowing (karma), the Venerable One avoids sin.

15. The sage, perceiving the double (karma), proclaims the incomparable activity, he, knowing one; knowing the current of worldliness, the current of sinfulness, and the impulse.

16. Practicing the sinless abstinence from killing, be did no acts, neither himself nor with the assistance of others; be to whom women were known as the causes of all sinful acts, he saw (the true sate of the world). . . .

III. 7. Ceasing to use the stick (i.e. cruelty) against living beings, abandoning the care of the body, the houseless (Mahavira), the Venerable One, endures the thorns of the villages (i.e. the abusive language of the peasants), (being) perfectly enlightened.

9. When he who is free from desires approached the village, the inhabitants met him on the outside, and attacked him, saying, ‘Get away from here.’

10. He was struck with a stick, the fist, a lance, hit with a fruit, a clod, a potsherd. Beating him again and again, many cried.

11. When he once (sat) without moving his body, they cut his flesh, tore his hair under pains, or covered him with dust.

12. Throwing him up, they let him fall, or disturbed him in his religious postures; abandoning the care of his body, the Venerable One humbled himself and bore pain, free from desire.

13. As a hero at the head of the battle is surrounded on all sides, so was there Mahavira. Bearing all hardships, the Venerable One, undisturbed, proceeded (on the road to Nirvana). . . .

VI 1. The Venerable One was able to abstain from indulgence of the flesh, though never attacked by diseases. Whether wounded or not wounded, he desired not medical treatment.

2. Purgatives and emetics, anointing of the body and bathing, shampooing and cleaning of the teeth do not behoove him, after he learned (that the body is something unclean).

3. Being averse from the impressions of the senses, the Brahmana wandered about, speaking but little. Sometimes in the cold season the Venerable One was meditating in the shade.

4. In summer he exposes himself to the heat, he sits squatting in the sun; he lives on rough (food); rice, pounded jujube, and beans.

5. Using these three, the Venerable One sustained himself eight months. Sometimes the Venerable One did not drink for half a month or even for a month.

6. Or he did not drink for more than two months, or even six months, day and night, without desire (for drink). Sometimes he ate stale food.

7. Sometimes he ate only the sixth meal, or the eighth, the tenth, the twelfth; without desires, persevering in meditation.

8. Having wisdom, Mahavira committed no sin himself, nor did he induce other to do so, nor did he consent to the sins of others.

(‘Akaranga-sutra, I, 8, 1-3-IV-8)

Translation from Prakrit by Herman Jacobi, Jaina Sutra, part 1, in Sacred Books of the East, (Oxford, 1884), PP. 85-7