Keynote Address at Mahavir Janma Kalyanak Organized by Jains of U.K. for April 26th 2008

Posted: 28.05.2008
Updated on: 07.01.2011

Keynote Address at Mahavir Janma Kalyanak Organized by Jains of U.K. for April 26th 2008

Today is the auspicious occasion of Bhagwan Mahavir Janma Kalyanak day. We are fortunate that we have all come together under one umbrella as Jains to celebrate this auspicious occasion with the spirit of Anekant. In the memory of this colossal personality we have all united together in the feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood.

As we all know there are five auspicious occasions (Panch Kalyanak) in the life of a Tirthankar: the occasion of conception, the occasion of birth, the occasion of renunciation, the occasion of omniscience and the occasion of liberation. Every year we celebrate the birth of Bhagwan Mahavir to commemorate him and to rekindle in us the spark of the essence of his teachings in our consciousness. Whenever we celebrate we continue that spark that was ignited in us years ago by our parents and teachers.

One such spark was ignited in the heart of a common man. There was a glimmer of light in the Eastern sky. The first light of the day was about to break and ready to disperse the darkness in Magadha. The birds had started to chirp and the sun was unveiling its beauty to its worshipers. Pearls scattered during the night were glittering on every blade of grass. The hustle and bustle of the city began and life started its normal routine.

But behold, in the pond amidst the beautiful garden of King Shrenik, something unusual was seen. Sudas, the gardener, saw a unique lotus with a hundred petals as he was tending the garden. Amazed and and astonished at the sight, Sudas could not contain himself and was overjoyed. He gazed at it with love and admiration for a while and then with affection took it in his hands. He thought to himself, “What can I do with this lotus? What if I offer this unique and beautiful lotus to the king? He will gift me a hundred gold coins. My income is so little and this will take care of me for the rest of my life.” With joy in his heart and anxiousness in his mind, he started for the king’s palace.

But just then a carriage pulled by and stopped. The master of the carriage Dhannaji saw this beautiful lotus in the hands of Sudas. He asked, “What is this? This lotus with a hundred petals. Where are you taking this? “ “I am taking this to offer to the King.” “What will he give you?” “He will give me a hundred gold coins.” “I will give you a thousand gold coins. Please give this lotus to me.”

Suddenly while they were having this conversation, the queen’s chariot that was passing by stopped. Queen Chelana came down from the chariot when she overheard the conversation and saw the unique lotus and expressed to the gardener her desire and said, “I will give you two thousand gold coins but please give this lotus to me.” Poor gardener was baffled and perplexed. He wondered why these two were ready to pay so much money for this lotus. What is the reason? He gathered courage and asked them, “Why are you ready to pay so much for this lotus? They said that in the outskirts of the town the great Tirthankar Bhagwan Mahavir has graced the place by his presence and we want to offer this lotus at his feet.”

Sudas saw a spark of immense love and devotion in the eyes of Queen Chelana and Dhannaji. Suddenly something changed his heart and he said, “Forgive me,” his palms joined in supplication, “Sorry, I will not sell this lotus.” In his mind he thought, “What I will gain in material benefit from this lotus will be trivial compared to the abundance of blessings I will be showered with if I were to offer the flower myself to Lord Mahavir. They want the lotus for the Master. How much more shall I get for it from the Master himself?” With this feeling in heart, he ran breathlessly to the place where Mahavir was seated in lotus posture in peace and divine splendor.

When Sudas came in his presence, he saw him and stood transfixed. For a while he could neither speak nor move. Then he bowed down to the Master with great reverence and devotion and offered the lotus at his feet. At that moment Mahavir raised his eyes and looked at him with love and compassion. He asked him what he wanted. Sudas said, “A ray of thy light. In the quagmire of material pursuit, I have been like a leaf tossing about in my own quandary. Oh, Lord of the Lords, Can you show me the path of light that will lead me to my own liberation?” Sudas’s inner journey thus began, for in Mahavir he found that which was lost.

This is an inspiring story of unconditional love and devotion of Sudas who raised himself to that state of consciousness where the kingdom of the kings and the wealth of wealthy people had no place for him compared to the wealth of Bhagwan Mahavir’s presence and teachings.

Bhagwan Mahavira, an epitome of Ahinsa, universal love and compassion, was born in 599 BC, during a time of great intellectual and spiritual fervor. The period between 800 and 200 BC has been characterized as an axial period of history. In other words, the axis of the world’s thought shifted from the study of nature to study of the life of man. It was this period that gave birth to Lao Tse and Confucius in China; seers of the Upanishads, Mahavira and Gautam Buddha in India; Zoroaster in Iran; philosophers like Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato in Greece; all of whom turned their attention from outward nature to the study of human self.

Bhagwan Mahavir at an early age of thirty left home in search of the ultimate reality. He realized that behind the surface of the life that we know lies something much greater and important. Until we know more about what lies behind the known, all our knowledge of life and of ourselves is really negligible. The callous life we live today doesn’t have to be the life we live tomorrow. He emphasized that we make a choice: take a leap and rise above the circumstances to the next level of greatness. He taught us to take that leap and go beyond the boundaries of the matter to the boundless treasures of the self.

To realize the self, he found it necessary to purify the mind, speech and body -- the three means that help one to achieve liberation. He purified his thoughts by meditation, his speech by silence, and his body by austerity. After twelve and a half years of meditation, silence and austere penance, he mastered all his senses and achieved Kevalya gyan - complete omniscience. It is after attaining omniscience and self-realization that he started to preach his gospel of Ahinsa and reverence for life. During this time he preached one of the fundamental truths that, “All life is sacred and potentially the same, experiencing the same feelings of pain and pleasure as we do. Each of us is a vital thread in another’s life tapestry and our lives are woven together for a reason, a reason to survive and live peacefully together - Parasparopagrahajivanam.”

When he was moving among the people, he observed that the priestly order was dominating the society and putting people down. There were special and more favorable laws for Brahmins. The women were treated as servants and sold in the market as slaves. Animals were sacrificed in the name of religion and the caste system separated man from man. Seeing this, Mahavir, a non-violent revolutionary, realized that it is time for the social conditions to change.

The first awareness was brought on the custom of animal sacrifice. Seeing the river of blood flowing from the slaughtered animals on the sacrificial pyre made his heart bleed in pain. He said that religion is associated with the sacredness of the soul and not with the sacrifice of the voiceless creatures. When one cannot give life, one has no right to take life. A thorn pricked in one’s foot causes much agony and pain: how much more pain it would cause when the animal’s neck is slit open. Animals have souls as we have and they experience the same pain and pleasure as we do. He said that basically all souls are equal but due to the individual karmic conditions they appear different in caste, creed, color and form.

Mahavir was the first to remove the notions of Brahmanical superiority and caste distinctions based on birth, and it was he who brought the awareness of equality of all souls. He declared:

“Kammuna Bambhano Hoyi”

“One is a Brahmin by action, a Kshatriya by action, a Vaisya by action, and a Sudra by action”

He interpreted the Vedas differently and showed that the real sacrifice is the sacrifice of one’s baser instincts and not the sacrifice of innocent creatures. He declared that each soul is its own master, and it is not in the hands of any god to make you really happy in this life or in the next. ”Your real enemy,” he said, “is not outside you but it is inside you. You are the author of your own happiness and misery.”

This infused self-confidence and the spirit of liberty as well as equality in the common man. He emphasized that all life is sacred, from microcosm to macrocosm. He taught that the true religion is the religion of Ahinsa (non-violence), Anekantvada (multiplicity of view-points), Law of karma (as you sow so shall you grow) and Aparigraha (limiting one’s possession).

To sum up his teachings, he taught to reflect on the nature of the self:

 

  1. Firstly, he taught to see the changeless beneath the changes. We see in the world that everything changes every moment but behind everything, there is something that never changes and is constant and that is you, me and the other life forms.

 

  1. Secondly, to experience the eternity of life against the ephemeral nature of matter. That which is constant is also eternal. The soul was, the soul is, and the soul will be. As Robertson in 1853 said, “Everything is in a state of becoming; only God is in a state of being,” - that is the state of eternity, always being … always existing…so I will always exist wherever I am.
  1. Thirdly, he taught liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Endless desires are the cause of birth and death. Free yourself from the state of want and you will be liberated.

 

  1. Fourthly, he taught that freedom from dependency is freedom from suffering. One comes alone and will depart alone and so dependency on people, objects and material possessions brings more pain than happiness. Be liberated from outside props and start trusting oneself.

To practice these teachings, he prescribed five ethical codes:

 

  1. Not to kill, injure or disturb any innocent creature;

 

  1. Not to lie;
  1. Not to steal;
  2. Observe celibacy;

 

  1. Limit one’s possessions.

His teachings of non-violence, reverence for all life and active compassion are very relevant in today’s time where violence, strife and unrest prevail in the world.

If what we have been given by Mahavir inflames within us a spark of inspiration and aspiration to dedicate our life to the evolution of consciousness, both personal and planetary, then our life will have served its purpose as a human being.

I would like to end my talk with a prayer for the wellbeing of all beings:

Shivam astu sarvajagatah
Parahitanirata bhavantu bhutaganah
Dosha prayantu nasham
Sarvatra sukhi bhavantu

be healthy, happy, peaceful and blissful.

Let the whole universe be blessed; Let everyone be engaged in one another’s well-being; Let all sickness, weakness and defects be diminished and evaporated; Let everyone, everywhere be healthy, happy, peaceful and blissful.

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Pramoda Chitrabhanu, Jain Meditation Int’l Center New York, NY 10028 USA