Note: Since Lord Mahavira was the 24th Tirthankara in a long lineage of Tirthankaras and was born 599 BC, this makes Jainism an extremely ancient world religion..
The following is from, The Harmony of All Religions, Chapter Two (Jainism), By Swami Sant Sevi Ji Paramahans..
The word "jain" is derived from the root word jina meaning "conqueror." A Jina is one who has conquered the desires of the senses and overcome ignorance, thus attaining Samyak Jnana, Right (Absolute) Knowledge. The followers of this dharma (spiritual path) are known as Jains. The original impetus for this tradition came as a reaction to the violence in the form of animal sacrifices condoned in the Vedas. A seed of resistance began to germinate and from this seed Jain dharma developed..
Although specific details of the origin of Jainism are not known, but ancient tablets discovered at archaeological sites in Udayagiri and Junaghara in India indicate that Jainism preceded Buddhism..
The honorable teachers of Jain dharma are known as Tirthankaras. They are considered to be free from of all impurities, liberated, and granters of freedom (absolute freedom). The meaning of tirtha is "to ferry one across the ocean of the world." The one who has crossed this worldly ocean is known as a tirthankara. "Tirthakaroti iti tirthankara" means "one who has crossed over and helps others cross the world-ocean.."1
According to Jain Dharma, there have been twenty-four Tirthankaras—-enlightened spiritual teachers—who have shown the way to Liberation. Rishabhadeva was the first Tirthankara of Jain dharma. After Rishabhadeva there were twenty three more Tirthankaras. Lord Mahavira was the last in the line.The names of the twenty four Tirthankaras of Jainism are as follows:
Mahavira was born about 2,500 years ago (ca 599 B.C.E.) in Vaishali Republic (Bihar), in an aristocratic Kshatriya2 clan. His father’s name was Siddhartha........
Lord Mahavira: His Teachings
Lord Mahavira began his journey to spread the essential teachings of Jain tradition. He rejected the superiority of the higher castes which were only based on birth. Therefore, he completely disregarded the caste system. He considered the thoughts and actions of a man to be the true measure of the excellence not the high caste or class. He revolted against the established religious observances and rituals, and sought to restrain religious inexorability and squandering of monetary resources..
Lord Mahavira never tried to coerce others to follow Jain doctrines and practices. His attitude was progressive and novel..
"Whatever I say, you must test this with your own reasoning and verify it through your own experience..
"Do not accept what I say blindly by faith alone until it passes the litmus test of intellection. Otherwise, it will never be yours. If you accept what I teach on the basis of the sacred texts, or from my convincing reasoning, or even because of my radiant personality, but not by testing with your own reasoning, then in the end this will create only darkness (ignorance) in you and not light.."
Mahavira's teaching about the Law of Karma was similar to the other saints of Indian traditions. He taught that each person's own karmas or past deeds are the cause of each individual soul's present condition. Life and death, joy and sorrow, are all caused by one's past deeds [actions] or karmas. He said that it is foolish to consider other persons as the cause of our joy, sorrow, life and death. When it is understood that living beings suffer due to the consequences of their own past errors, then it will be understood that it is only through counteracting one's own errors and recognizing one's own mistakes that a person can become happy..
The central point of Mahavira's teaching is about the liberation of the soul (atman). Primarily, Jainism is the path of freedom. Lord Mahavira elaborated anuvrata (a moral code of conduct) and emphasized the absolute importance of the development of human character:
".....You are God! (lshwara): recognize yourself. Develop the inner divine qualities and become God. If the soul labors in the right direction, then that soul can become God (parma atman).."
Lord Mahavira's Teachings on Atman and Meditation
Here are some references to atman and meditation as taught by Mahavira:
"Atman is Brahma (the Ultimate Reality). Brahmacharya (living in Brahma; restraint of the senses)7 is the state of being established in one's soul. The practitioner who is freed from the body and established in the soul is the true brahmacharya. The practitioner who lives abandoning (detaching from) his/body (desires of flesh) is a true brahamchara. The practitioner who lives abandoning (detaching from) his body (desires of flesh) is a true brahamchari..
"Through meditation of the soul Param Samadhi (highest state of concentration; state of liberation) is attained..
Absorbed in meditation the mendicant leaves behind all impurities. Therefore, meditation is the cure for all the impurities and inflictions of the soul..
"If your vision itself becomes the source of removing darkness [by the practice of meditation the divine Light dawns and the practitioner's divine vision opens up], then why would a man need an outside source of light? If the soul itself is an abode of infinite joy why then would the sensual pleasures have any value for that practitioner?"
In the above quote Lord Mahavira describes the divine vision which removes one's darkness. His words find support in an ancient anecdote about Mragavati, a devout woman and devoted wife, who was able to see clearly in the darkness..
The bright bindu point [infinitesimal point] emerges when the practitioner becomes established in the discipline of focusing on one point with the beams of both eyes. When the inner Light is attained, a practitioner is established in the divine Light, which is not conditioned by any outward source of light. This technique is known by different names in texts of the various saints and traditions. 8 In this practice of Light the practitioner sitting in meditation is able to observe the scenes from anywhere (clairvoyance ).9 The outward darkness does not hinder the power and ability of seeing. Therefore, Mahavira has asked why the practitioner would need outward light once his vision has itself become the source (instrument) of removing darkness..
Once established in light, the practitioner hears various types of sweet inner melodious Sounds. The saints have named this sound the Anahad (Unstruck, self producing divine Sound). Through the technique of Shabad Yoga (Yoga of Divine Sound) the practitioner goes beyond these sounds and enters the eternal Sound—Pranava dhvani OM (the cosmic sound of OM),. Through this the practitioner reaches God (paramatma—the Supreme Spirit) and reaches the point where the distinction between the devotee (practitioner) and God (object of worship) disappears. The soul which is united with the Supreme Soul, becomes the Supreme Soul. This is known as liberation or nirvana..
A discussion on the Shabad Yoga is found in the text, Jnanarnva composed by Shrishubhachandracharya:
"This focus (intense concentration) moves from one sound to another, and from one yoga to another. Therefore, it is known as that which is endowed with focus and logic.."
Lord Mahavira speaks of the experience of the Bindu-point-in meditation as the experience of sva (inner self) by Lord Mahavira. Dr. Hukumchand Bharill in his book, Tirthankara Mahavira and his Sarvodaya Tirthal, 10 has beautifully depicted the inner depth of meditation practice of Lord Mahavira. From these illustrations it is evident that Mahavira practiced inner Sound Yoga or (Shabad Yoga) 11..
In the Jain texts we find various references:
"In the deep state of meditation) Lord Mahavira experienced the divine Sounds. The Sound of Om was ceaselessly emanating, and the inner form of atman manifested in its utmost grandeur, and the nectar was pouring.."
Mahavira knew that in a life, without morality and observance of discipline, it is impossible to attain liberation and the well-being of the self..
"Restraint (Sheela, life of moral rectitude) is the ladder to liberation.."
He stressed purity of life and practice of moral behavior. He emphasized the five principles: non-violence, truth, non-stealing, brahmacharya (restraint in sexual misconduct), and non-possession (lack of greed; being satisfied with one's possessions). In order to apply these principles in daily life, he taught the monks and nuns mahavrata (great vows), laymen and laywomen and anuvrata (lesser vows).....
Until the last moments of his life Mahavira inspired many to seek world peace through the establishment in inner peace, and he encouraged people to realize their divine nature. For 30 years he traveled throughout India to spread his message. At the age of 72, on the day of Diwali (the Festival of Lights) in the town of Pawa Puri, Mahavira ended his worldly journey while in the state of deep meditation and attained nirvana. His close disciple was Indrabhutti Gautama..
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