Article: Kalpa-sūtra

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Nemi’s life

This manuscript painting shows Prince Nemi’s renunciation in two parts. First he visits his fiancée Princess Rājīmatī and then he flees the scene, upset by the distress of the animals about to be killed for his wedding feast

Nemi's renunciation
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

The third story in ‘Lives of the Jinas’ describes the life of Ariṣṭaneminātha or Lord Ariṣṭanemi. The 22nd Jina is very often called Nemi.

In the incarnation before the last one, when he becomes a Jina, Nemi is a god in the Aparājita heavenly realm.

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

Nemi lives for 300 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 Dvāravatī. Getting down from his palanquin, Nemi removes all his ornaments and plucks out his own 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 54 days Nemi 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 55th day Nemi 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 veṭasa tree on the summit of Mount Girnar, he reaches omniscience.  

Nemi has 18 chief disciples – gaṇadhara – who lead one group of monks each. Their names are given in the text. 

The community Nemi founds has four parts:

Nemi's fourfold community

Community part

Leader

18,000 monks

Varadatta

40,000 nuns

Āryā Yakṣiṇī

169,000 male lay followers

Nanda

336,000 female lay followers

Mahāsuvratā

The length of the different stages of Nemi's life is given at the end of the passage. He lives for a total of 1000 years.

Length of Nemi’s life stages

Stage

Length

householder

300 years

ordinary ascetic

54 days

omniscient ascetic

700 years

Lives of 20 Jinas

The next part of the ‘Lives of the Jinas’ covers 20 Jinas, from Naminātha or Lord Nami, the 21st, to Ajitanātha or Lord Ajita, the second. The aim of the text here is to give the number of years between each Jina. No episode of their individual lives is narrated.

Ṛṣabha’s life

In golden colours, this manuscript painting shows Ṛṣabha. The first of the 24 Jinas, Ṛṣabha takes the lotus position of meditation. His jewels and headdress show he is a spiritual king, stressed by royal symbols, such as the elephant and parasol.

Worship of Ṛṣabha
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

When the narrative of the ‘Lives of the Jinas' reaches Ṛṣabha, the first Jina, it gives his full life story.

In the incarnation before the last one, when he becomes a Jina, Ṛṣabha is a god in the Sarvārtha-siddha heavenly kingdom..

He begins his final rebirth in the womb of Marudevī, wife of the patriarch Nābhi in Ikṣvāku-bhūmi. Marudevī has 14 auspicious dreams but the first one features the bull instead of the elephant. They are interpreted by Nābhi himself, without the help of dream-interpreters.

After a quiet pregnancy, in due time Marudevī gives birth to a perfectly healthy boy. He is named Ṛṣabha or ‘First King, First Mendicant, First Jina and First Tīrthaṃkara’.

Ṛṣabha lives for 2 million pūrvas as a prince and 6,300,000 pūrvas as a monarch. During his reign he teaches 72 arts, 64 feminine accomplishments, 100 crafts and 3 professions. He anoints his 100 sons as kings and gives a kingdom to each one. Then gods arrive to witness his spiritual awakening.

The king 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 Siddhārthavana park in the city of Vīnitā. Getting down from his palanquin, Ṛṣabha removes all his ornaments and plucks out his own hair in four 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 thousand years Ṛṣabha 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.

Then he fasts for three and a half days with no water. Sitting in deep meditation under a nyagrodha tree in Sakaṭamukha park outside the town of Purimatāla, he reaches omniscience.

Ṛṣabha has 84 chief disciples – gaṇadhara – who lead one group of monks each. Their names are given in the text. 

The community Ṛṣabha founds has four parts.

Ṛṣabha's fourfold community

Community part

Leader

84,000 monks

Ṛṣabhasen

300,000 nuns

Brahmī and Sundarī

305,000 male lay followers

Śreyāṃsa

554,000 female lay followers

Subhadrā

The length of different stages of Ṛṣabha’s life is given at the end of the passage. He lives for a total of 8,400,000 pūrvas.

Ṛṣabha's life stages

Stage

Detail

Length

householder

8,300,000 pūrvas

prince

2,000,000 pūrvas

king

6,300,000 pūrvas

ordinary ascetic

1000 pūrvas

omniscient ascetic

99,000 pūrvas

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