The Quest for the Royal Road ► I. Mahavira: His Fragrant Life ► Origin of a Comprehensive Outlook

Posted: 13.01.2016

We are celebrating today the birth anniversary of Bhagwan Mahavira. Why are we doing this? Are we doing it because cutting through the long period of two thousand and five hundred years Bhagwan Mahavira's illuminating personality has left behind a vibrant note or is it because we are guided by some illusion which binds us to the past? The past is always very attractive. The farther it is from us and the more incomprehensible it remains, the more attraction it holds for us. Is it because we are inspired by such a person that we are celebrating the birth of the one who was born thousands of years ago or because it has some useful purpose to serve even in the context of the modern times?

When I think about it with the above-mentioned question in mind, it appears to me that the fascination which people have for Mahavira, is not merely because of their attachment to the past. They are fascinated by Mahavira because of the usefulness of his philosophy even today. It's significance does not lie merely in faith and tradition. It holds answers to important questions pertaining to our life. Any religion or philosophy which ignores the problems of the life of the common people, cannot protect its existence for long.

Bhagwan Mahavira believed neither in permanence nor in impermanence. He who believe3 in permanence is also a believer in antiquity. He who believes in impermanence keeps himself linked with novelty. Mahavira was beyond both antiquity and newness. He was not lured by antiquity and he was not fascinated by novelty. According to his philosophy, everything that is new is inseparable from the ancient and the reflections of the new float in everything that is ancient. Just as the past keeps looking through the window of the present and every moment, the present is linked with the past, so also the ancient and the modern are linked with each other.

Bhagwan Mahavira started a process of co-ordination in which one has to consider all the aspects; no part is to be left out. It means that in Mahavira's philosophy no view is one- eyed or lame, whereas being one-eyed and lame is the problem of the present times. To rid ourselves of this problem, it is necessary to understand Mahavira's philosophy, as well as to grasp its meaning, not only at logical level but also at the level of our own 'experience' by raising ourselves above the logical ground.

In the context of the present times, the real problem in any field, whether it be religious, social or political, is that no decision is taken in a comprehensive manner. What else could happen except further complicating the problem, if we proceed by believing one-sided truth to be the whole truth? Mahavira had cautioned against this same problem in his times. His age was committed both to the past and to the future. From this point of view, he revealed such truth relating to the past, the present and the future that had the power to dispel the tragic situation in every age. He said, "Do not proceed in life by taking the relative value as the absolute value." Any absoluteness, which absolutely exclude relativism, would give rise to insistence and lead to further complications. That is why attempts should be made to understand transcendental and empirical truths in the light of the respective roles each of them plays.

Empirical approach manifests only the gross aspect of truths while the transcendental approach reveals its subtle form. On social level man essentially adopts the empirical approach. But empirical approach alone is not enough to solve problems. In resolving the mental conflicts, altogether insufficient. So long as man does not get to the essence of truth, every problem of his remains unresolved.

Asserting the essential relative character of transcendental and empirical view-points Bhagwan Mahavira said, "Man lives in the physical world, but that alone is not the ultimate truth. He must constantly engage himself in the quest of the subtle truth. Today, science is advancing with one achievement after another to its credit. Why? Because it is engaged in the quest of subtle truth. It does not stop at taking its achievement as the ultimate point. This is also the sole reason of their progress in the physical world. But, unfortunately this was not so with the philosophers. They stopped their quest for subtle truth. They proceeded by accepting only gross, or empirical truth as basis. As a result the problems multiplied, but their correct diagnosis and correct remedies could not be found.

It is an indisputable fact that complications arise from the subtle world. Man's personal inclinations, his impulses, his likes and dislikes, etc. are the situations arising on the subtle layers of consciousness. Incongruences arise in life when attempts are made to solve these situations through the medium of empirical or gross truth. The view stated above is not a more philosophical truth. It is a fact having universal impact. Hence, it cannot be dismissed by just branding it as philosophical truth. So long as there is no bridge built between the empirical or philosophical truth, and the transcendental or subtle truth, this reality cannot be experienced. In the absence of this experience, it is not possible to find a solution to any problem, or grasp the meaning of Mahavira's philosophy.

Understanding Mahavira means experiencing the subtle truth. Knowing Mahavira means proceeding towards the subtlest truth. Understanding Mahavira means movement from the state of extroversion to introversion. Analysing Mahavira means finding light through darkness. Celebrating Mahavira's birthday means resolving to follow in practice the example of Mahavira's life. Only those who resolve partially or wholly to do this can consider themselves the followers of Mahavira. They alone can understand his philosophy. They alone implement in their practical life the celebration of Mahavira's birthday.

According to Mahavira, we must have an equanimous attitude not only towards the world of human beings but also towards the world of animals. Those animals may be huge or tiny, mobile or immobile, strong or weak-all of them possess life and consciousness. If there is imbalance in the case of those animalism, the whole world is thrown out of balance. What is called in the modern terminology, is the reflection of an equanimous approach of Lord Mahavira. Only when this principle of equanimity is practised in actual life, man can experience true joy of living.

If non-violence is defined in terms of ecology, we discover some new points of view and new thinking. For instance, one fact before us is that of cutting down forests. Now, cutting down forests means violence and it needs to be renounced. But merely by pointing this out, it is not possible to divert any person from violence. But if the same reality is presented as a totality, it can be easily understood, how by just cutting down one forest, the pattern of the whole world goes away. There is less rain in the region adjoining that forest. Scarcity of rain has its impact on agriculture. If there is not sufficient agricultural produce, hunger is not satisfied and there is chaos in the world. When there is a decline in the growth of vegetation, the entire world of living creatures is affected. This is a cause for concern not only from the point of view of restraint, but also from the point of view of order in the world. If even a single utensil is removed from the bottom of the pile of utensil, the whole pile is disturbed. Shifting a single brick from a house, means danger for its entire structure. Similarly, by shifting just a single object in the entire natural order of the world, the entire order of the world is affected-and this may be in the form of water, earth or vegetation.

While talking about non-violence, Bhagwan Mahavira laid as much stress on self-restraint with reference to inanimate objects as well as animate creatures. In this order, misuse of inanimate objects is also counted among acts of violence. Gandhiji was in complete agreement with this philosophy of Mahavira. He described both the misuse of things as well as unrequired accumulation of wealth as violence. The definition of violence, far from being confined to the killing of any living creatures. In such condition the problem of violence has become the universal problem era. To eliminate this problem, the principle of non-violence needs to be understood in all its subtleties.

Non-violence is synonymous with Bhagwan Mahavira's life. He realised that every living being has the desire to live, to have freedom and longing for happiness. At the same time, he also had a close understanding of the minute internal changes taking place in the inanimate world. From this point of view, his birthday is the birthday for the whole world. By defining anew the life of the world which is rushing towards death, we have to make it realise its significance. Only the person who understands the excellence and divinity of life and puts it to good use and remains steadfast giving challenge to the problems of the age can testify the significance of Mahavira Jayanti.

On this occasion, the person who can realise oneness with the world, experiences the pain of any being as his own pain. The renowned saint Tukaram of Maharashtra, while travelling from one place to another, saw a he-buffalo being slaughtered. He shuddered at heart to witness that sight. He trembled in every pore of his body. He stopped right there and said, "Brother, please do not kill the buffalo." The slaughterer asked, "Why?" Saint Tukaram, expressing the anguish of his heart said, "When you are slaughtering that animal, I feel as though you are slaughtering me. I am feeling the pain and my soul is crying out in anguish." When that man did not understand, Saint Tukaram said, "Brother, I feel myself one with all living creatures of the world. In their soul I can see my own soul. When they feel happy, I feel happy too. And why then would I not feel pain when they are experiencing pain?" Those who heard these words of Tukaram were flabbergasted, because they had not understood Bhagwan Mahavira. He who has faith in the philosophy of Mahavira would very naturally feel one with all living creatures.

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Title: The Quest for the Royal Road
Acharya Tulsi
Publisher: Adarsh Sahitya Sangh
Edition: 2013