Article: Kalpa-sūtra

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Mahāvīra renounces

Mahāvīra's palanquin
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Mahāvīra has an elder brother, Nandivardhana, and a sister called Sudarśanā. He later marries a woman named Yaśodā.

At the age of 30, when his parents are no more, Mahāvīra seeks permission from his elder brother and gives up the worldly life to become an ascetic. His decision is celebrated by the gods.

The former prince renounces all his possessions and wealth, distributing presents to the poor.

Sitting on a palanquin, Mahāvīra is accompanied by gods and men who celebrate him. He proceeds in great pomp to the aśoka tree in the park of the city of Kuṇḍapura. Getting down from his palanquin, Mahāvīra removes all his ornaments and plucks out his hair in five handfuls. Thus he is a perfect renouncer.

Mahāvīra the mendicant

This manuscript painting shows the 24th Jina Mahāīra enduring some of the trials – upasarga – each Jina goes through to test his spiritual resolve. He takes the kāyotsarga meditation posture though animals attack and two men push spikes into his ears.

Mahāvīra is tested
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

For the next year and one month the monk Mahāvīra wears clothes. After that he goes naked and uses the hollow of his hands to receive the food he begs as alms.

During the next 12 years Mahāvīra steadfastly overcomes all the tests of pain and the temptation of pleasures to which he is put by gods in disguise, demons or animals. The tests do not disturb his peace of mind. Throughout this time he is a perfect ascetic, leading a wandering life except during the rainy season.

During the 13th year he exposes himself to the heat of the sun and fasts for two and a half days with no water. Sitting in deep meditation under a sāla tree, he reaches omniscience.

Mahāvīra continues the wandering life of a mendicant, spending successive rainy seasons in various places. The total number of rainy seasons he experiences during his life as a monk is 42.

While spending the rainy season in the town of Pāpā – modern Bihar – Mahāvīra dies at the age of 72 and is liberated.

On the night he dies a great confusion arises. That very night his oldest and closest discipleIndrabhūti Gautama, becomes omniscient.

On that night too, local kings light a great fire, saying: 'Now the light of intelligence is gone, let us make light from ordinary materials'. This is how Jains explain the origin of the 'Festival of Lights', called Dīvālī.

The community Mahāvīra founds during his lifetime has four parts.

Mahāvīra's fourfold community

Community part

Leader

14,000 monks

Indrabhūti Gautama

36,000 nuns

Candanbālā

159,000 male lay followers

Śankhaśataka

318,000 female lay followers

Sulasā and Revatī

The length of the different stages of Mahāvīra’s life is given at the end of the passage. He lives for a total of 72 years.

Mahāvīra’s life stages

Stage

Length

householder

30 years

ordinary ascetic

12 years

omniscient ascetic

30 years

Pārśva’s life

This painting from a manuscript depicts Pārśva, the 23rd Jina. Easily recognised in art from his snake headdress, Pārśva sits in the lotus pose of meditation and wears ornate jewellery, emphasising his status as a spiritual leader.

Pārśva, the 23rd Jina
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The second life story in ‘Lives of the Jinas’ is that of Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva, the 23rd Jina.

In the incarnation before the last one, when he becomes a Jina, Pārśva is a god in the Prāṇata heaven.

He begins his final rebirth in the womb of Vāmā, wife of Aśvasena, King of Benares. Queen Vāmā has 14 auspicious dreams. After a quiet pregnancy, in due time she gives birth to a perfectly healthy boy. He is named Pārśva.

He lives for 30 years as a householder. Then gods arrive to witness his spiritual awakening.

The prince renounces all his possessions and wealth, and distributes presents to the poor. Sitting on a palanquin, he is accompanied by gods and men who celebrate him. He proceeds in great pomp to the aśoka tree in the park of the city of Benares. Getting down from his palanquin, Pārśva removes all his ornaments and plucks out his hair in five handfuls to become a monk. Thus he is a perfect renouncer.

For the next year and one month he wears clothes. After that he goes naked and uses the hollow of his hands to receive the food he begs as alms.

During the next 83 days Pārśva steadfastly overcomes all the tests of pain and the temptation of pleasures to which he is put by gods in disguise, demons or animals. The tests do not disturb his peace of mind. Throughout this time he is a perfect ascetic and leads a wandering life, except during the rainy season.

On the 84th day he exposes himself to the heat of the sun and fasts for two and a half days with no water. Sitting in deep meditation under a dhātakī tree, he reaches omniscience.  

Pārśva has eight chief disciples – gaṇadhara – who lead one group of monks each. Their names are given in the text. 

The community Pārśva founds has four parts.

Pārśva's fourfold community

Community part

Leader

16,000 monks

Āryadatta

38,000 nuns

Puṣpacūlā

164,000 male lay followers

Suvrata

327,000 female lay followers

Sunandā

The length of the different stages of Pārśva's life is given at the end of the passage. He lives for a total of 100 years.

Length of Pārśva’s life stages

Stage

Length

householder

30 years

ordinary ascetic

83 days

omniscient ascetic

70 years

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