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
Mahatma Letters Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
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, nonstealing,
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.
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.