Just like truth, religion is never founded, it is realized. Mahavir Swami realized the truth of life and its working, through a vigorous practice of letting go of all worldly pleasures. He devoted his life to spreading the truth and gained the title of Swami, a religious teacher. His truths, vows, and practices gave birth to the religion of Jainism.
Swami Mahavir was born to a king named Siddhartha and Queen Trishala. His father ruled the regions of modern-day Bihar. The parents had given him the name Vardhaman. He was born in a time when their kingdom’s prosperity was growing, hence the name Vardhaman, meaning the one who grows.
During his childhood days in Gurukul, he came upon the concept of Karma. The Ramayana, the Mahabharat, and Vedas, all seemed to centre around the idea of karma. The concept of karma states that your life right now is the result of past action. Vardhaman was intrigued by this idea.
One day while playing with his friends. He encountered a poisonous snake. All other boys ran away from fear but Vardhaman stayed still. Then he started walking towards the snake. He bent down to slightly pet the snake. The snake was calmed by his touch and retrieved back into the forest. Vardhman’s confidence in the workings of karma, now grew stronger.
While visiting a nearby village in his teen years, Vardhaman heard about a mad elephant. The elephant was destroying everything that was coming in its way including crops and huts. Vardhaman began his search for this elephant. Upon finding him, he began slowly approaching it. The nearby onlookers warned him. Vardhaman reached for the trunk of the elephant. Holding its trunk in between his hand he asked the elephant to calm down. Suddenly a wave of calmness ran over the elephant and it became still. The villagers hailed Vardhaman’s courage and named him Mahavir- the greatest hero.
Mahavir wanted to delve more into the field of spirituality. He asked his parents permission to live the life of a monk. His parents were saddened by the news and said he was free to do so only after their death. Mahavir did not disagree and served them till their death.
At the age of thirty, Mahavir started his journey to monkhood. He gave away all his possessions, gold, and money to the people of his kingdom. Then he asked his brother to accompany him to the nearby jungles of Jhimbhrikagram. There he found a spot under a tree of Ashoka. He shed his clothes away and pulled out hairs from his head and sat down under that tree. He meditated there for twelve years. When he finally opened his eyes, there were no thoughts on his mind. No hatred, no jealousy, no anger, no pity, no fear, no happiness, no pride, no amusement, nothing but the truth. This state of mind was termed ‘kevalgyan’ (omniscience).
After the enlightenment, he began visiting different places and taught them to observe the five vows. These vows included Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truth), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (chastity), and Aparigraha (non-attachment).
During his visits, he was faced with a lot of opposition. Followers of different religions would often find his presence unsettling. They would beat him, manhandle him, and abuse him. But no hatred ever found its place in Mahavir’s heart. He saw all these people as helpers, who were helping him erase his bad karma and find Moksha.
Once an angry cow shepherd nailed wooden nails in the ears of Mahavir. Mahavir was in a deep state of meditation and didn’t feel anything. It was his disciple named Sidharatha who noticed it. He took Swami Mahavir to a local physician.
Mahavir told them this was his karma from a past life where he had poured hot oil in the ears of a man. The man was reborn as the cow shepherd and took his revenge. Hearing this Siddhartha too began his journey to attain enlightenment.
The day Siddhartha attained enlightenment, Mahavir decided to leave this planet. His knowledge has been passed to the next individual and now he was free to go. In a village named Pawapuri, he found Moksha while sitting in deep meditation. He left his body on the auspicious night of Diwali.
Though humans have claimed themselves to be more intelligent than any
other species on this planet, we are still slaves to our animal instinct. We still seek pleasure, fight against each other, lie and deceive, and form attachments to things. The principles of Mahavir are not just words, they are the definition of the highest human potential. They are the difference between what we are and what we can be.