A Story of Mahavira
The story of Mahavira: the twenty fourth tirthankara in the Jain tradition is in itself an entire saga of spiritual advent and the continuous attempts of a creature to attain the ultimate goal of bliss and happiness which is non-transient and in entirety. This journey of content search of that ultimate goal does not end in one lifetime, it in itself is the root form of the cycle of birth and death which a ‘jeeva’ undergoes and freedom from which is the highest achievement in the discourse of not only in Jain spirituality but also in other Indic spiritual traditions. The creature continues its journey in this pursuit in endless dimensions and spaces, the same which constitutes the story of Mahavira- which reflects the highest zenith of Jain spirituality.
Mahavira went through a cycle of uncountable lives before he ultimately became ‘Mahavira’. It is the story of one of his previous life which made him what he became and enabled him to reach to that ultimate goal.
It is said that Mahavira was in the life of a lion a few dimensions back before his last birth. A lion ferociously violent and an apogee of cruelty and violence; something which stands in stark contrast with what Mahavira would represent later on. The story in Jain traditions represents him as a perfect symbol of overwhelming violence in every sphere of life. This is where the journey of advent and redemption started for Mahavira.
The story further says that two ‘digambara’ munis with mystical and divine powers came to his rescue from the destructive path he was undertaking. While the component of supernatural powers might be considered as somewhat irrelevant to the essence of the story, the munis are told to have known the future of the jeeva of Mahavira and therefore decided to inspire him to mend his ways and renounce the path of violence. Listen to it ahead! At the moment the two munis arrived, the lion was busy in enjoying the flash of a beast he had just killed (the glaring contrast between the ahimsa for which Mahavira is revered today and his present form is being excessively emphasised here), he was at the pinnacle of physical pleasure he could imagine as in the body of a lion. This was the point when he would be made to realise the vanity of what he considered pleasure and joy, and he would make a transition from the material level of consciousness to the spiritual one.
The two munis taught him the essence of spirituality, the path of non-violence and inspired him to finally renounce the seemingly endless tendency of falling for material pleasures and aiming for something serene and eternal than those. The reader might be marveled at this prospect of a lion receiving teachings of non-violence but, they might just be too early for it. The lion instantly realizes the root element of spirituality and what all wrong he had been committing from the time immemorial. The eternal source of spiritual yearning arises in his heart and he asks the munis to confide to him the secret of his rescue and redemption.
Upon listening to their teachings and learning the secret of spirituality, the lion decided to completely renounce violence and the pleasures of the flesh and accepted the vow of ahimsa from the two digambara munis. The story becomes completely unique and ‘unheard of before’ in this aspect in the Jain tradition- not only a lion is given the essence of spiritual purification; he is also enabled to take up the vow of ahimsa, which is considered to be the highest glory of humans which makes them higher than even gods! Though the creatures of animal kingdom attend the sermons of the tirthankaras, a beast that is lion is given the sacred vow of ahimsa which he follows with utmost devotion till the last breath of his life and is ultimately able to ascend the higher and purer level of spiritual consciousness. In the second birth after this life, the jeeva would go on to become Mahavira- the one who gave a fresh lease of life to a world suffering from constant violence and hatred. In short, the story of the lion who became Mahavira is probably one of the deepest representations of what spirituality is and where it lies.
Though this story contains the possibility of as many interpretations as the reader wants just like the concept of ‘anekanata’ with infinite realities, a few aspects of the same I would like to bring in the discourse here.
First and foremost, the story lies in sync with the basic philosophy of Jainism, which considers ahimsa as the way of life as well as the way of salvation. The journey of spirituality is a journey from violence to non-violence, from himsa to ahimsa. The moment a creature is hit by this realization and decided to make ahimsa the basis of their existence, they ascend on spiritual journey. The lion that was on the heights of violent psyche received that light amidst pitch darkness and saw the luminous destination he was supposed to go to. Similar is the case with us today; for salvation in our spiritual as well as material lives we need ahimsa today. Ahimsa is the medium of salvation from the decay and destruction the world is facing today, to free ourselves from the deformed and violent psyche which is causing sufferings to everyone and to heal this planet ravaged with wars everywhere- within us and outside us.
The story also shows us the path of spiritual progress which goes from the lower material level to the higher spiritual level. A jeeva who develops this understanding of the transient nature of material pursuits (which we wrongly consider the real nature of joys), is able to find the true spirituality within itself and finds the divine inspiration of achieveing the eternal spiritual abode. The entire circle of birth and death ideated in ancient faiths is caused due to this ill pursuit of physical and material gains and forgetting the true objective of spirituality by a creature. The lion was made to understand this same truth by the two munis and then, the inspiration arose itself. One needs to go from the exterior to interior, from outside to within, from the surface to the depth which is truly represented by the journey undertaken from materialism to spiritualism. Materialism devoid of wisdom has already led us to a spree of destructive actions and a bit of spirituality could probably cure this.
Jain spirituality doesn’t believe in a form of God which is separate from a soul (jeeva). The jeeva is in itself the highest entity of the Supreme Being or God in layman term. The element of aatman is the only God present in this universe according to Jainism. It believes that this Supreme Being doesn’t reside anywhere else but within us, our purest spiritual expression is the sole expression of that element, and we in our purest forms belong to the same identity. Therefore, the path to reaching that Supreme expression of our own selves also lies within us, which is discovered once we realise the presence of the parmatman in the form of our own existence.
The Jain path of spirituality is present within one’s own existence, just like it was in the existence of that lion who realized it in his ‘moment of truth’. Application of an inward lens in the place of an outward one is the foremost step for embracing spirituality in Jain thinking. The same internal lens can be applied by the humankind today, for introspecting its actions and decisions and to find the glimmer of wisdom amidst the fog of chaos everywhere.
Last but not the least, the story of the lion who achieved salvation is also a story of hope and possibilities. A lion that was meant to go through endless cycles of this world and was submerged in the frenzy of violent means was able to renounce of all of it in one stroke and to embrace the light of eternal spirituality. His story was meant to be of total destruction and devastation, but it turned into one which climaxed on the highest achievement a jeeva can ever find- the achievement of salvation or nirvana.
It is not the situation or the past deeds which matter; it is the decision which one takes on that fortunate moment which counts at the end. No matter what has been committed by a jeeva in the past immemorial, its decision to aspire for purity changes everything. We all have the element of that lion placed within ourselves; we need to raise our consciousness and instead of waiting for a particular moment to arrive, we should constantly strive for getting in sync with that truth. After all, it is never too late: for anything and for everything.
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