The Secret of Past Lives: 01 ►Compassion and Rebirth: A Story of Recollecting the Past Life

Published: 29.07.2017

Story goes that Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara[1] or ford maker in the Jain tradition was visiting the city of Rajgriha. Rajgriha is the now known as Rajgir and lies in the northern state of Bihar in India.

Rajgriha, was, in the 6th century BC, being ruled by King Srenika. His wife was called Dharini. They had a son called Meghkumar. The story is told of a time when Meghkumar was a young prince, enjoying himself with the pleasures the palace had to offer him. When he, Mahavira, entered Rajgriha, Meghkumar happened to be looking out of his palace. Curiously enough he saw hundreds of men and women head in one direction. On asking for the reason, he was told that a saint called Mahavira had entered the city and that these men and women were going to listen to his sermon.

Meghkumar's curiosity was kindled. He called for his chariot and got into it, to go listen to the sermon. The sermon had such an effect on him that he decided he had had enough of the worldly life and that he wanted to renounce[2].

When he came home and told his mother, she was most unhappy. She could not bear the thought of being separated from her son. She told her son how difficult it would be to live the life of a monk, how much greater pleasure there was in the life of a householder and how he would soon be king. But Meghkumar was undeterred in his resolve. He was going to renounce and self-realization would be his goal from now on. His mother's words fell to deaf ears. Instead, he made his mother realize that this world is full of misery and is transient. Finally, his mother said that if joining the monastic order was what promised him satisfaction he could join and leave the family. "But my dear son, listen to us. We want to see you crowned first. Be a king just for one day. Later you may choose the path you like." Megh Kumar agreed to be a king for one day.

Preparations for the coronation were in full swing. At the auspicious moment the coronation ceremony took place. Meghkumar was declared the king. Every one congratulated him. But Meghkumar was least tempted by the grandeur.

A day passed. Much to his mother's disappointment, Meghkumar started preparing himself to join the monastic order. After taking leave from the members of his family and the people of his kingdom, the young and handsome prince came to Bhagvan Mahavir. Both the parents very humbly addressed Bhagvan Mahavir and said, "Lord, we wish this child be accepted in your order. He is an innocent child. He has been brought up in luxury but he is not quite attached to them. Heis like the lotus that flowers in the marsh. He is as pure as the lotus. Please accept him as your disciple. We will feel blessed."

Bhagvan invited him to accept the monastic order. As Meghkumar removed his princely jewels, his mother's eyes were veiled with tears. She never wanted her son to become a 'Bikshu', a monk who would give up all riches and go from door to door begging for alms.

Bhagvan Mahavir himself initiated Meghkumar, removed the hair on his head and introducing him to the life of a monk he said, "Child, you have become a monk now, you will have to change the direction of your life. Now you have to walk mindfully, sit mindfully, sleep mindfully, stand mindfully and even eat mindfully. Do not make even the slightest error in this way of life. To be mindful is to practice restraint, the way to moksha. Not to be mindful is to be without restraint, it is a means of strengthening your bondage with the world."

The first day was spent. Then night fell. Every monk was allotted a place to sleep. Meghkumar being the junior most, as had been initiated just on the day, was the last to get a place to sleep. The place was close to the door and of course on the floor. A number of monks kept walking that way at night. Meghkumar's sleep was disturbed. It was dark everywhere. Nothing could be seen clearly. As Meghkumar was sleeping close to the door he felt the touch of many monks disturbing him as they moved up and down. His body was covered with dust. He could not sleep. He thought, "I was a prince. I was brought up in luxury. I enjoyed all kinds of facilities. All the monks used to talk to me. They respected me. They used to discuss the secrets of living a life of renunciation. But now I have become a monk. I have come into their fold. No one talks to me or respects me. They just seem to be oblivious of my presence. I am not even able to sleep. Instead of this kind of disrespectful life I would rather get back to my palace where I can live in luxury. I shall take the permission of Mahavir in the morning and return to the palace."

Since he was uncomfortable, he felt the night to be too long. As the night gradually gave place to dawn Muni Meghkumar came toBhagvan Mahavir. He prostrated before him and then sat down quietly, preparing to speak.

Bhagvan understood his predicament and even before Meghkumar could speak said, "Megh you are disturbed by the difficulties you faced last night and you now want to go home."

Bhagvan was a visionary with intuition. He could easily visualize the past, the present and the future. His knowledge was pure, beyond time and beyond place. He could at a glance see Meghkumar's past three births. "Three births before this one, you were an elephant in the foothills of the Vaitadya mountains. Your name was Sumeruprabh. You were the head of the herd of elephants. There were many male and female elephants. You were leading a very happy life. You used to roam about without any fear. It was summer, the month of May/ June. The scorching sun was beating down the earth. There was a sudden storm. Due to the bright sun and storm it led to a forest fire. The animals started to run hither and thither for safety. But you were quite old. You didn't have the capacity to save yourself. The entire herd had ran to various places of shelter. You were alone. You were in search of water to quench your thirst. You saw a pond. It was marshy and there was little water. As you entered the pond to drink water you were caught in the marsh. At that time a young elephant spotted you. On seeing you he was reminded of his old enmity towards you and he tried to attack you. Since you were weak and old you could not protect yourself. After having almost killed you, he was happy. Having taken revenge, he was very happy. You being helpless succumbed to your injuries.

After that you were born in the foothills of Vindhyachal mountains near the Ganga, again as an elephant. Again you were the leader of the herd. You had a big army of elephants. Once you thought of the eventuality of a forest fire. Your mind suddenly became alert and honed into one thought: your past life. You could recall the wild fire of your previous birth. You could visualize the dangers of such a situation. In order to save yourself and your herd, you cleared a piece of land and made it absolutely barren and flat so that not a single plant, tree or bush could be seen. Suddenly, a fire did break out in the forest. All the animals and birds moved to safer places. You also lead your family to safe ground where fire could not reach. Other animals also joined you. Since there were no plants fire could not sweep the ground. The whole place was plain. Just as you lifted your leg to scratch the itching part of the other leg, and were about to put your leg down, you saw a small rabbit that would be crushed if you put your leg down. You did not put down that leg but instead stood on three legs. After three days the fire subsided. All the animals returned to their places. The members of your family left for their destinations. The little rabbit had also gone. But you could not keep your leg on the ground because your leg had become numb. Your weight could not be balanced on three legs. Having stood on three legs for three days without food or water had made you weak and you fell down. You were 100 years old at that time. You died an unnatural death. After that, in this birth, you have been born as a human being in the home of the royal family of King Shrenika.

Even as an animal you faced a very dangerous situation with fortitude and wisdom. Therefore it is that you took birth as a human being in the subsequent birth. Today you have been enrolled in a monastic order. How is it that you have suddenly become nervous about such small physical inconveniences? Why are you so agitated? You have decided to go back home. Recall your previous birth and those incidents. What you have undergone last night is nothing in comparison to what you had undergone in your previous birth. Where is a mountain and what is a molehill in its comparison?"

Megh seemed to have been awakened. A new life filled his being. His mind began to concentrate and like a movie his past life unfurled before him. He was able to experience the whole episode and it was just like Bhagvan Mahavir had narrated.

Megh had goose pimples watching his previous births. His compassion doubled. His eyes clouded with tears of joy. His heart filled with bliss. He prostrated before Bhagvan Mahavir and said, "From today onwards only these two eyes will be mine. The rest of my body I dedicate to the ascetics. Please accept me as your disciple again and once again lead me through the manner of living a life of restraint."

This story is told both to illustrate the idea of rebirth in the Jain tradition as well as to draw the connection between karma and the type of rebirth. Since Meghkumar was compassionate as an elephant, he attained not just birth as a human being, but also became a prince, the most endowed state of human existence. In the same birth he further went on to become a monk, which is the highest aspiration of any living being.


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Title: The Secret of Past Lives
Authors: Muni Kishan Lal
Publisher: B. Jain Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 2017

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Bihar
  2. Body
  3. Dharma
  4. Fear
  5. JAINA
  6. Jaina
  7. Karma
  8. Karmas
  9. Mahavir
  10. Mahavira
  11. Moksha
  12. Muni
  13. Omniscient
  14. Rajgir
  15. Soul
  16. Srenika
  17. Tirtha
  18. Tirthankara
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