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Jainism– an early parallel to Buddhism and Hinduism. Free Dictionary on Mahavira. If you want more posts like this, please comment.


Below is a direct copy of the Free Dictionary’s piece on “Mahavira”, the individual person who may have been the spiritual author of Jainism. He was said to have lived contemporaneously (or nearly so) with the Buddha. There are other similarities: he stepped down voluntarily from a high position at a young age and became an ascetic. He spent years practicing “intense meditation and severe austerities” after which he achieved enlightenment and began preaching.

There are differences, too: the four critical points upon which Mahavira insisted are: nonviolence, truth, non-stealing, chastity, and non-attachment (more on these points in a future post). Mahavira’s teachings were transmitted orally at first, making them susceptible to interpretation and confusion with rapid degradation of their meanings.

Mahavira’s teachings became incomprehensible by being scrambled in repeated oral translations before they could be fully written down. Hinduism and Buddhism almost suffered the same fate. The three foundational religions of India, then, are Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. Sikhism arose later. The rest of the common religions of India are not native: Christianity and Islam (Mohammedanism).

Here is what it says in the Free Dictionary:

Mahavira (Mahāvīra), also known as Vardhamāna, was the twenty-fourth Tirthankara (ford maker) of Jainism. In the Jain tradition, it is believed that Mahavira was born in early part of the 6th-century BC into a royal family in what is now BiharIndia. At the age of 30, he left his home in pursuit of spiritual awakening, abandoned all worldly possessions, and became an ascetic. For the next twelve-and-a-half years, Mahavira practiced intense meditation and severe austerities, after which he is believed to have attained Kevala Jnana (omniscience). He preached for 30 years, and is believed by Jains to have died in the 6th-century BC. Outside the Jain tradition, scholars such as Karl Potter consider his biographical details as uncertain,[1] with some suggesting he lived in the 5th-century BC contemporaneously with the Buddha. Mahavira died at the age of 72, and his remains were cremated.[2][3]

After he gained Kevala Jnana, Mahavira taught that the observance of the vows ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (chastity) and aparigraha (non-attachment) is necessary to spiritual liberation. He gave the principle of Anekantavada (many sided reality),[4] Syadvada and Nayavada. The teachings of Mahavira were compiled by Gautama Swami (his chief disciple) and were called Jain Agamas. These texts were transmitted by an oral tradition by Jain monks, but are believed to have been largely lost by about the 1st-century when they were first written down. The surviving versions of the Agamas taught by Mahavira are some of the found-ational texts of Jainism.

(photograph by Manfred Antranias Zimmer courtesy of

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