Article: Vāsupūjya

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Dates and numbers

The five auspicious events that mark a Jina’s life – kalyāṇakas – are traditionally associated with a specific date. This is given according to the system of the Indian calendar:

  • month
  • fortnight
  • day in the fortnight.

Astrological considerations also play a role here and the texts normally mention the constellations when an auspicious event takes place.

Dates associated with Vāsupūjya

Last incarnation

Birth

Initiation

Omniscience

Emancipation

ninth day of the bright half of Jyeṣṭha – Śvetāmbara
sixth day of the dark half of Āṣāḍha – Digambara

14th day of the dark half of Phālguna

new moon of Phālguna

second day of the bright half of Māgha

14th day of the bright half of Āṣāḍha – Śvetāmbara
14th day of the bright half of Bhādrapada – Digambara

The dates associated with these events are potential or actual dates of commemoration. These may be marked in festivals, which determine the Jain religious calendar.

There may be variations in the dates in different sources, Śvetāmbara on one side, Digambara on the other. But there are also cases of differences within the same sectarian tradition.

There are also other numbers connected with the life of this Jina.

Other numbers associated with Vāsupūjya

Height

Total lifespan

70 bows

7,200,000 years

Question of marriage

The main difference between the accounts and descriptions of the Jinas’ lives among the two main Jain sects relates to whether they married or not. According to the Digambaras, the Jinas did not assume the responsibilities of a householder or king before becoming monks. According to the Śvetāmbaras, some assume these responsibilities, while others did not. The life of Vāsupūjya shows diverging attitudes among Śvetāmbara sources.

The ninth-century Lives of the 54 Jain Great MenCauppaṇṇa-mahāpurisa-cariya – written in Prakrit by the Śvetāmbara monk Śīlānka, has a short biography of Vāsupūjya. Its account of his life is rather mechanically told and follows a repetitive pattern. The half-sentence devoted to his life as a young man says that he lived the life of a householder and of a king for some time.

In the 12th-century Śvetāmbara text Tri-ṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-caritra, written by Hemacandra in Sanskrit, marriage is an issue. When he comes of age, Vāsupūjya’s parents request their son to marry, although they know he is reluctant to do so. Among the arguments his father puts forward is that of custom, followed by his predecessors:

The blessed Ṛṣabha [= first Jina], the first of the Ikṣvāku-family, married Sumangalā and Sunandā on his father’s advice. Just because of his father’s command, he took the kingdom and governed it, and adopted mendicancy at the right time, after enjoying pleasures [of the householder life]. The Lord attained emancipation afterwards by taking initiation. […] Others, from Ajita to Śreyāṃsa [= Jinas number two to 11], married, and supported the earth at their father’s advice and then attained emancipation. Do you do this. Follow your predecessors by accomplishing marriage, sovereignty, initiation, and nirvāṇa

Johnson’s translation, 1949, page 71

Vāsupūjya answers by referring to the theory of karmas, concluding that ‘there is no one path for the Arhats because of the difference in their karma’ (Johnson, page 71). His parents are unable to counter this point. Thus he is initiated without marrying.

In his argument, Vāsupūjya explains that Jinas who have karmas with pleasure as its fruit surviving in them must destroy these karmas by pleasure. Therefore they should marry. This, he says, applied to Jinas numbers two to 11, and will apply also to Jina number 24, Mahāvīra. He argues that, on the contrary:

Malli [= Jina number 19], Nemi [= Jina number 22] and Pārśva [= Jina number 23], three future Jinas, will become mendicants for the sake of emancipation, without marrying or ruling

Johnson, page 71

Monastic and lay communities

This painting from a Kalpa-sūtra manuscript illustrates the 'fourfold community' – saṅgha. The followers of the Jinas are made up of lay men, lay women, monks and nuns. All elements of the community are vital

Fourfold community
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

A Jina is not an enlightened being who exists alone after reaching omniscience. After perfect knowledge comes general preaching – samavasaraṇa. This sermon, which is attended by all, is reported in the scriptures as resulting in large numbers of listeners being inspired. Many turn to religious life, becoming monks or nuns, while many others make the vows that lay peopleśrāvaka and śrāvikā – can follow in their everyday lives. Further, the Jina’s teachings are preserved and passed on by his chief disciples – the gaṇadharas. This is why a Jina is also called a Tīrthaṃkara, meaning ‘ford-maker’ or ‘founder of a community’.

Each Jina establishes a 'fourfold community', led by the chief disciples. Made up of monks, nuns, lay men and lay women, the fourfold community follows the principles the Jina has set out in his preaching. How members follow the religious teachings vary according to whether they remain householders or take initiation into mendicancy. Individual figures relating to each Jina are thus important.

Vāsupūjya’s fourfold community

Chief disciples

Monks

Nuns

Lay men

Lay women

66, led by Sūkṣma – Śvetāmbara
led by Dharma – Digambara

72,000

100,000 led by Dharaṇīdharā – Śvetāmbara

106,000 led by Senā – Digambara

215,000 – Śvetāmbara
200,000 – Digambara

436,000 – Śvetāmbara
400,000 – Digambara

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