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Mahavira (540 B.C.E.-468 B.C.E.)

Mahavira (540 B.C.E.-468 B.C.E.)

Mahavira, Indian guru of the Jain tradition, was born into the kshatriya or warrior caste and originally named Vardhamana. His birthdate is traditionally given as 599 B.C.E. , but modern dating has suggested a more likely date of 540. He married at a young age, but at the age of 30 left his home on a spiritual quest. After 12 years of wonders and accomplishments in the spiritual life he was given the name Mahavira or Great Hero. He eventually reached a state thought of as complete isolation from harmful karma, called kevela. He was acknowledged as the 24th Great Teacher of his tradition, and his new title, Jaina or Victor, gave the name to the Jaina community. Mahavira concluded early in his spiritual quest that the key to spiritual advancement was the avoidance of injury to any life form, a difficult process as life was everywhere.

After attaining kevala, Mahavira took a student, Makkhali Gosala, who had attained some magical powers. Mahavira questioned the equation of his powers with spiritual enlightenment, and the two went their separate ways. Before their parting, Makkhali Gosala tried to use his powers on Mahavira. Though he lost his first disciple, Mahavira soon gained others, including 11 brahman priests. According to tradition, he had half a million followers by the time of his death. As with his birth, there is a discrepancy between the traditionally accepted date (527 B.C.E.) and the estimates of contemporary scholars (468 B.C.E.).

Since Mahavira's time Jains have followed a path of liberation that has 14 stages. The basics of the life include the successive taking of vows of nonviolence (ahimsa ), truthfulness, non-stealing, sexual abstinence, and nonpossessiveness. Each vow leads to a releasing of karma. In Jainism, karma is pictured as a sticky substance that adheres to one's life force and prevents liberation. This substance is attracted by violence and the most violent are said to be covered in black karma.

Jainism forms an important element of the Eastern teachings that came into the West, especially England, beginning late in the nineteenth century. These teachings influenced the development of various nonviolent perspectives, some of which became identified with Spiritualism and the metaphysical community including the antivivisection movement and vegetarianism.

Sources:

Chalpple, Christopher Key. Nonviolence to Animals, Earth and Self in Asian Traditions. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993.

Jaini, Padmanabh S. The Jaina Path of Purification. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979.

Tatia, Nathmal. Studies in Jaina Philosophy. Benares, India: Jaina Cultural Research Society, 1951.

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Mahāv

MAHāVīRA

(fl. Mysore, India, ninth century)

mathematics.

Mahāvīra, a Jain, wrote during the reign of Amoghavarṣa, the Rāṣṭrakūṭa monarch of Karṇāṭaka and Mahārāṣṭra between 814/815 and about 880. Nothing else of his life is known. His sole work was a major treatise on mathematics, the Gaṇitasārasan̄graha (see essay in Supplement), in nine chapters:

  1. Terminology.
  2. Arithmetical operations.
  3. Operations involving fractions.
  4. Miscellaneous operations.
  5. Operations involving the rule of three.
  6. Mixed operations.
  7. Operations relating to the calculations of areas.
  8. Operations relating to excavations.
  9. Operations relating to shadows.

There is one commentary on this work by a certain Varadarāja, and another in Kannaḍa, entitled Daivajñavallabha.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The Gaṇitasārasan̄graha was edited, with an English trans. and notes, by M. Ran̄gācārya (Madras, 1912); and with a Hindī anuvāda by Lakṣmīcandra Jaina as Jīvarāma Jaina Granthamālā 12 (Solāpura, 1963). There are discussions of various aspects of this work (listed chronologically) by D. E. Smith, “The Ganita-Sara-Sangraha of Mahāvīrācārya,” in Bibliotheca mathematica, 3 , no. 9 (1908–1909), 106–110; B. Datta, “On Mahāvīra’s Solution of Rational Triangles and Quadrilaterals,” in Bulletin of the Calcutta Mathematical Society, 20 (1932), 267–294; B. Datta, “On the Relation of Mahâvîra to Śrîdhara,” in Isis, 17 (1932), 25–33; B. Datta and A. N. Singh, History of Hindu Mathematics, 2 vols. (Lahore, 1935–1938; repr. in 1 vol., Bombay, 1962), passim; E. T. Bell, “Mahavira’s Diophantine System,” in Bulletin of the Calcutta Mathematical Society38 (1946), 121–122; and A. Volodarsky,“O traktate Magaviry ‘Kratky kurs matematiki,’” in Fizikomatematicheskie nauki v stranakh vostoka, II (Moscow, 1969), 98–130.

David Pingree

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Mahāvīra

Mahāvīra (Skt., mahat, ‘great’, + vīra, ‘hero’). In Jainism, the honorific title given to Vardhamāna Jnātṛputra, the 24th tīrthaṅkara. The Digambara and Śvetāmbara sects recount two divergent accounts of his life. Both agree that he was born the son of a kṣatriya couple, Siddhārtha and Triśalā, at Kuṇḍagrama just north of modern Patna (Bihar State, India) in 599 BCE. The Śvetāmbara Jains date his life 599–527 BCE (the Digambara hold that he died in 510), but some modern scholarship suggests 549–477 BCE. Śvetāmbara tradition claims that Mahāvīra married a princess Yośodā, who bore him a daughter, Priyadarśanā; but Digambara tradition rejects this. At the age of 30, Mahāvīra renounced family life to become a wandering ascetic in the tradition of Pārśva—for a time in company with Makkhali Gosala. After twelve years of severe fasting to cleanse his body, of silence to improve his speech, and of meditation to clear his mind, he gained omniscience (kevala jñāna) and became a jina. For the next thirty years he travelled throughout NE India, teaching by word and example the path of purification. Mahāvīra died and passed to mokṣa at the age of 73 at Pāvāpurī, near Patna, leaving (tradition claims) 14,000 monks, 36,000 nuns, 159,000 laymen, and 318,000 laywomen to continue his teaching. Jains today look back on Mahāvīra as the greatest of all their teachers.

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Mahavira

Mahavira: see Jainism.

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