Mahavir Jayanti is a holiday celebrated by Jains (Jainism is an ancient Indian religion) to observe the birth of Tirthankar Mahavir. Tirthankar is a liberated soul who has achieved Nirvana. Tirthankar established a fourfold Sangh, or religious community. The Sangh consists of monks, nuns, Shravak (laymen) and Sharvika (laywomen). He was the last of the 24 Tirthankars of this time cycle.
Tirthankar Mahavir and Gautama Buddha were both born in the state of Bihar in India. Though they were contemplatives of their time, neither of them had met the other at any time during their life cycle. Nonetheless, they both observed the same philosophy of non-violence.
Mahavir was born to King Siddhartha and Queen Trishla. He was born in 615 BC. When Mahavir was in the womb, the kingdom experienced more happiness as farmers harvested the highest amount of quality crops, businessmen realized more profits, and the overall atmosphere was one of peace and joy that kept on increasing.
Mahavir renounced his throne and kingdom at the age of 30. For 12 ½ years he left his kingdom and did his penance. He fasted for many days. (Jains observe the fast without any solid or liquid food for 24 hours. They may drink boiled water or go even waterless.) He would meditate for days and nights. He slept only for forty-eight minutes during this a 24-hour time period. During his penance, he observed silence so he could contemplate and achieve enlightenment. He attained enlightenment at the age of 42 ½.
Mahavir gave five codes of conduct to reduce Karma. They are:
• To practice non-violence in thought, word, and actions.
• To seek and speak the truth.
• To behave honestly and never to take anything that does not belong to you, even if it is unclaimed by anyone.
• To practice restraint and chastity in thought, word, and actions.
• To practice non-acquisitiveness.
His main teachings were Ahimsa, Anekantvad, and Aprigraha, meaning “non-violence,” “pluralism,” and “non-attachment.” Mahavir said that there is life in every living being. You do not want to hurt others as they have souls just like you. If you hurt other people they too will hurt you, either in this life or the next life. The cycle would never stop unless you break it. This is your chance in this lifetime while you are born as an individual to stop the hate cycle. You should see the pure soul like yours in others and spread love and compassion.
Jains believe that Tirthankar Mahavir’s philosophy and practice ended his cycle of life and death. He achieved Nirvana at the age of 72. Since then, several enlightened souls have expounded the philosophy of Jainism. One such exalted soul was Shrimad Rajchandra. Jains believe that he was the last disciple of Tirthankar Mahavir during His time. Shrimad Rajchandra greatly influenced Mahatma Gandhi’s spiritual philosophy.
Mahatma Gandhi adapted the practice of non-violence in political struggle and strategy. He observed Satyagraha, championing human rights and practicing civil disobedience to oppose unjust government orders. Gandhi’s practice ended colonialism in India and achieved freedom after 200 years of British rule.
Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence impressed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He practiced Gandhi’s method non-violence and challenged racism in America. Nelson Mandela also achieved victory against apartheid in South Africa.
Mahavir Jayanti will be observed by Jains around the world on Sunday, April 13, by observing special ceremonies in Jain temples. In the early morning of Mahavir Jayanti, Jains give a ceremonial bath to the statue of Tirthankar Mahavir. There are cultural programs with music and dance for everyone to enjoy the birthday of Tirthankar Mahavir. There is also a feast for the visitors of the temple. They give donations to the poor and needy. In many places in India, Jains donate money to release animals from the slaughterhouse and put them in Panjrapol (the animal house) where they are looked after till their last day.
There are no Jain temples in Waco, Texas. The nearest Jain temple is in the Dallas area. The temple is open to anyone wanting to attend Mahavir Jayanti. You can get more information about their program at www.dfwjains.org.
Sources: www.jainworld.com; www.times of india.com; Wikipedia.
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Kirit Daftary is a past president of JAINA (Federation of Jain Associations in North America). There are 67 Jain Centers and a population of over 150,000 Jains in North America. He is also a board member of Greater Waco Interfaith Council and a trustee and officer of the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
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