Bhagavan Mahavira (540 – 468 BCE) was passing through a village in the kingdom of Magadha (present-day Bihar) with many doting initiates in tow. His ganadhara 1 followed their master with such extraordinary devotion and surrender that it baffled everyone unfamiliar with Mahavira’s teachings. Giving him epithets like Bhagavan,2 Vardhaman,3 and Sramana (devoid of love and hate) among others, his word was their nirvana.
When Mahavira realized the nature of reality, to show his abandon and indifference towards the social customs, he dropped his clothes and wandered digambara, sky-clad; his devotees followed suit. It was not just courageous or bold but downright rebellious. For, even now, we shame nudity, we equate it with obscenity and disgrace. The chief sign of our social etiquette and moral character borders around how private we keep all acts we do when we are naked — from bathing to breeding and everything in between. You are judged in the society almost exclusively not on how you actually are but how well you cover your tracks. We don’t celebrate nudity, if anything, we dress our bodies to appear honorable. To cover is to be civil is the universal belief. Mahavira, however, rejected it completely. 4 Our civility is in our moral values, he said.
It is, therefore, no surprise that he commanded peerless deference and love from his disciples, that they called him Bhagavan. For, not only Mahavira took compassion to extreme lengths (covering your mouth, so you don’t accidentally eat and kill small organisms while breathing; not eating roots for such food belongs to the creatures born under the ground; sweeping before you move, so you don’t step on any living entity; not eating after sunset, so you won’t kill nocturnal insects who might rush to the fire; walking barefoot, so no animal is killed to make your shoes and you are more mindful of what you are stepping onto and so on), he also proclaimed that there’s no one way to realize or approach the truth. In fact, the discovery of truth was an individual matter and depended on one’s conditioning. To that effect, he propounded the doctrine of anekantavada, a multi-sided reality or a multi-dimensional truth.
Like in a kaleidoscope, how you see the truth depends on how you see it, if you see what I mean.
Shunning all social customs, he took men, women, young, old, mendicants and householders under his wings and had a colossal following.
Presently, as Mahavira meandered through the village and reached the outskirts, he saw a distraught woman wailing. She was emaciated, her hair rough and unkempt, her saree torn, her body soiled and her hands grimy. His chief disciples tried to form a queue around him so he wouldn’t have to see the unpleasant sight of that woman. Who knows if she was just homeless or mad or both. But, this ploy failed before the ever alert and mindful sage.
He stopped walking, looked to his right where the lady had been sitting, now hidden by a long and full line of monks and nuns, and said to Akampita, one of his foremost disciples, “Make way. Mahavira would like to see her.”
“Indeed, Bhagavan,” Akampita replied, stepping to the side. “However, forgive my audacity for saying this but if Bhagavan continued with his journey that would be better. We’ll make sure someone speaks to that woman and provides what she needs.”
“It’s not befitting of the lord to approach that lady,” Agnibhuti, another disciple holding Mahavira’s parasol, spoke softly, “she has been shunned and deemed outcast by the elders of the village.”
Mahavira peered into Agnibhuti and Akampita’s eyes without whispering another word. They immediately understood that their master had made up his mind. Without a moment’s delay, the disciples parted and the awakened sage walked to the lady.
“O Niranjani,” Mahavira said to her, “what is the cause of your grief?”
“You called me Niranjani,5 O Sage!” the woman said, sobbing. “I am the most unfortunate person alive, every inch of my karma is tainted.”
“Mahavira will deliver you,” he spoke compassionately with conviction. “What aggrieves you?”
“You are Mahavira!” Her eyes lit up. “The awakened one who is called Vardhman? Please cast a merciful glance on me and wash away my sins. I do not wish to live anymore. I lost my husband and only son to a house fire last month. I’m widowed, homeless, and childless now. Nothing can make me happy.”
Meanwhile, the disciples had arranged their master’s seat and they requested him to sit. Agnibhuti continued holding the parasol. Mauryaputra placed a small bench next to Mahavira and put his water-pot on it while Aryavyakta gently fanned with peacock feathers and Akampita stood alert in attendance. The large crowd behind him, stopped dead in their tracks, maintained pindrop silence. Mahavira offered the woman water from his pot.
“What is your present age?” he said to the lady.
“I am 24 years old, Bhagavan.”
“When did you marry?”
“How old were you when you had your son?”
“Think back and tell me if you were happy before your marriage.”
“I had a wonderful childhood and a very loving father.”
“So, you were happy before you got married and had a child?”
“What has changed then?”
“I’m sorry, Lord, but I am unsure of the meaning of your words.”
“You were happy before you had your husband and son, and once again, they are no longer in your life. It’s the same situation as it was when you were fifteen. What is stopping you now from being happy again? The loss of your husband and son is not the cause of your grief. It is your attachment to the joys of the family and your memories with them.”
“But, O Vardhaman,” she contended, “at fifteen I had my father.”
“Only that you did not between the ages of 15 and 24 and yet you were happy. Earlier, you were happy because your father was in your life and later due to your husband and son. You have mistaken them for the cause of your happiness when, in fact, they were merely the source. You alone are the cause of your happiness. The sources of happiness are transient and temporary.”
“I seek your refuge, O Sramana,” she said, and urged Mahavira to initiate her.
An unsuccessful quest for happiness arises from one’s inability to segregate the cause of happiness from the source of it. The cause is always us. When we forget this we look outside at objects and people to bring happiness in our lives. We dwell on our memories, we long for pleasures and whatnot, as if to say, let’s at least have the source if I can’t find the cause.
In dealing with your loss, the greatest affirmation you can give to yourself is the knowledge that you were okay before you had what you may have lost today. And, if you remain open to the possibilities, you’ll be okay after a while too. If you don’t brood your way to the future, you will be surprised how quickly life can take a pleasant turn.
avyaktadini bhutani vyakta-madhyani bharata avyakta-nidhanany eva tatra ka paridevana.6 All those in your life today were not there earlier and they won't be there in times to come. For a small span (of a few decades), they have shown up. What's there to lament? (Quoted it here too.)
Maybe you didn’t deserve to lose what you have lost. Granted that you probably stepped into someone else’s karmic field. Perhaps, you had bought a first-class ticket to be delighted in the pristine alps of Switzerland but ended up choking in the smog in New Delhi with paddy stubble burning all around you. Tough luck. Bad. I agree. It’s terrible. But, it’s happened already. Now what?
The place you aspire to be in, you alone have to build it. As they say: wherever you go, there you are. (Your luggage is a different story).
A religious man stayed with a family on a farmhouse and gave sermons every day for one full month. It had felt that even the farm animals listened to him in rapt attention.
And sure enough, much to everyone’s surprise, on the last day, a plump and cute piggy approached the holy man and said, “Will I also go to heaven if I pray to God?”
“Without a doubt,” he replied, “the eternal joys of heaven await anyone who surrenders to the Divine Will.”
The piglet sauntered back to the barn all happy and warm inside.
A few minutes later, the young son of the farmer came to say goodbye to the preacher and said, “Please tell me the truth. Is heaven really the place where one can have whatever one wants?”
“Absolutely,” the holy man said while packing his last bag.
“And, I can play video games all day, have fun and eat whatever I like,” the boy asked.
“You mean, I can even get a hamburger there?”
“Son, let me tell you,” the preacher said with great enthusiasm, “you get the most delicious bacon in heaven.”
(Some nervous movements in the barn…)
Piglet or the boy, the truth is that there is only one heaven where unimpeded bliss flows and that is our own mind. Like clothes cover our body, the sheaths of ego, anger and conditioning cloak the beauty and bliss we carry within. Upanishads called them avarana, covers. Veils of ignorance, covetousness, vanity, hate, fear, shame, jealousy and so on. Somewhere, Mahavira had probably figured that the path to try and fit into the mold of this world would not lead one to their truth. And so he chose to shed inner and outer covers. For the one who has dropped it all, has nothing to lose. And, that is a great starting point. Your loss gives you the chance to start anew; grab the opportunity with both hands.
Before it all comes to a screeching halt, the train of life will stop at many stations, there will be delays, even detours, the weather will not always be on your side, the co-passengers may be unruly, even the very rails of the track never unite beyond a few moments at the junctions, and no matter how nice a station, the train can’t stop there forever. It must move. This is the wisdom of life: to move along. Else you run the risk of becoming rigid and closed. Stagnation is the opposite of evolution, spiritual or any other. Loosen up and walk away from your loss if you wish to make your journey worthwhile.
What’s there to lose anyway? There was a time when you didn’t have it, so what if it’s not there now. How come it’s your loss? You are where you were. Mahavira would have said something like that. I concur.
P.S. Delhi camp is closing soon. Some more spots have been added to the Bangalore one. Details here.
Notes [ + ]
|1.||The ganadharas were the eleven chief disciples of Mahavira. After the passing of their master, they orally transmitted Mahavira’s teachings which were later documented and known as Gani-Pidaga, or the Jain doctrine.|
|2.||Coined from the Sanskrit root bhaj meaning worthy of adoration and worship, Bhagavan meant someone not only who’s befitting of reverence but also someone who possesses the six bhagas: bala (strength or power), buddhi (intellect), virya (potency), tej (radiance or creative power), aishvairya (opulence) and shakti (energy).|
|3.||Vardhaman means someone who’s ever-progressive and prosperous. Mahavira was given this title because his followers believed that his blessings brought them prosperity. And historically too, a vast majority of Mahavira’s followers were merchants who really progressed and flourished in that era and beyond. Sharp in mathematics and business, the Jainas — as the followers of Mahavira are called — pretty much ruled the commercial landscape of central and North India.|
|4.||The video you see at the top of this post shows sandstone sculptures of a Jain temple in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India.|
|5.||Anjana means black colored matter. It was used as an eyeliner or as a black spot on children to ward off evil. Niranjana means spotless, pure, and devoid of objectification.|
|6.||Srimad Bhagavad Gita, 2.28. अव्यक्तादीनि भूतानि व्यक्तमध्यानि भारत। अव्यक्तनिधनान्येव तत्र का परिदेवना।। IAST: avyaktādīni bhūtāni vyaktamadhyāni bhārata, avyaktanidhanānyeva tatra kā paridevanā.|