Mahavir’s focus on free will

April 20, 2024 05:00 am | Updated 05:00 am IST

Mahavir strongly emphasised the importance of free will (the freedom from external influences such as fate) as a core principle of his philosophy. While he did state that life is a combination of “niyati” (fate) and “purusharth” (action based on free will), “niyati” is always a result of previous karma, i.e., “purusharth.” An atheist, Mahavir preached the supremacy of the “Atma” (the self) in determining one’s life. Thus, the Atma was his “Paramatma” (the supreme). Not in the nihilistic sense of denying God, but in a way that transformed existentialism from a deterministic world controlled by Gods, demigods, benevolent, and malevolent entities requiring appeasement. Mahavir declares that only the one who accepts that it is, in fact, him who is the master of his own destiny, is a true follower of his principles of “Atmavad” (belief in souls characteristic of consciousness and supreme potential).

While worshipping Mahavir, devotees declare “Icchami Khamasamano.” Oh Lord! I bow to you out of my own desire to do so. Worship or rituals are not means of mercy or fulfillment of materialistic desire but like looking into a portal that can show us both our shortcomings and the highest spiritual attainments. The lives of the Jain heroes were seen as a testament to human potential, and worship was the recognition of the same within us. Mahavir rebukes Indrabhuti Gautama, his chief male disciple, eight years his senior, consistently in public for his attachment to Mahavir over his own soul, the actual personal God. He refers to Gautama as “Goyama”, a pet name given to Gautama by his mother. On the other hand, he refers to his chief female disciple, Chandanbala as “Ajja Chandana”, the great Chandana, as if referring to a superior. While conventionally female mendicants are seen as inferior to their male counterparts, Mahavir only saw souls. He acknowledged Chandana’s spiritual depth despite her age, sex, and social conventions.

Only the Shramanas were capable of doing so because they recognised human potential as supreme, to such a great extent that Moksha, the goal of spiritual endeavours, was an exclusive right of humans. On this Mahavir Jayanti, let us all act with the awareness that within lies infinite potential for superhuman endeavours and relieve ourselves from the vicious cycle of “pramad” (inaction) in our lives.

Rushil Khajanchi

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