Sunday, October 4, 2009

Monk KURGADU: A Real Inspiring Jain Story

In ancient times there was a businessman named Dhandatta. He was highly religious. He had a son who was also full of religious perspective. Once, Dharmaghosh-suri, the highly enlightened Acharya of that time, came to town, where Dhandatta lived. Afterward Dhandatta went to listen to his sermon along with his young son. The boy was much impressed by the talk of the Acharya and decided to become his pupil. As a result he renounced the worldly life and became a monk at the very young age. The Acharya could foresee that the boy was destined to be a great entity. He therefore named him as Kulguru. In the native language of that area, he came to be known as Kurgadu.

Kurgadu seriously studied the holy books and correctly grasped their essence. He realized the role of Karma in the life of every being and thereby he learned to maintain a high level of self-control. He also strictly observed the code of conduct for monks. However, he had a problem. He could not stay hungry and as such could not fast. He had to eat at least once a day. Even during Paryushan Parva, he could not fast for a single day. When he had to eat on such days of Parva, he felt bad and regretted that he had acquired incapability to fast because of his previous Karma. When other monks observed long or short fasts, he praised them and rendered every type of service to them. He wished, in heart of hearts, that he too could observe fasts.

Jain monks do not move from place to place during monsoon that normally sets in June and ends in October. The Paryushan Parva occurs roughly in the middle of that period. While the Acharya was once camping in the monsoon season, Paryushan Parva came. On that occasion, many of the monks undertook long fasts extending to more than a month. The senior monk, under whom Kurgadu was working, had undertaken one month’s fast. Kurgadu felt sad that he could not undertake such austerities. Seven days passed that way and the day of Samvatsari dawned. He wished that he could observe fast at least on that day. Before noon, however he felt very hungry and could not stay without food. He wondered what sort of body he had acquired that he could not fast even for one day! As it was impossible for him to stay without food, he went to the senior monk and begged his permission to go for alms. The latter scornfully asked him why he could not survive without food at least for one day. He should be inspired to observe fast at least for that day, especially when all his colleagues were on long fasts. Kurgadu humbly replied that he did wish to observe fast but very much regretted his inability to fast. The senior monk pitied his miserable fate and resentfully allowed him to go for alms.

Kurgadu went for alms and most regretfully accepted the food that was offered to him. Coming back, he presented the same to the senior monk, as a part of the code of monks’ conduct and begged his permission to eat. He had done that in all modesty. That monk however became very annoyed by that request. He could not believe that it was beyond the capacity of Kurgadu to fast for one day. He therefore took the humble gesture of Kurgadu as an audacity and disparagingly said that the miserable wretch did not deserve to be a monk. So saying he spitefully pushed the food bowl towards him. Kurgadu accepted that scornful gesture as the graceful permission and going to his place he most reluctantly started to eat.

All the other monks were watching with disgust the taking of food by Kurgadu on that auspicious day and pitied that he was acquiring unwholesome Karma by eating on the day of Samvatsari. While eating Kurgadu himself dwelt deep into the inability of his body to remain without food even for a day. Well read as he was, he could see that it must have been the outcome of his previous Karma. He knew that all Karma drip off after extending the appropriate consequence and this Karma too was going to drop off. He therefore made up his mind to dispassionately bear what had been ordained by his Karma. Because of his study of the scriptures, he had gained enough insight about the true nature of soul. His despising himself for not observing fast was functioning as a handicap for the full realization of that true nature. Now, his willingness to accept what was destined endowed him the insight of distinguishing the nature of soul from the varying states of the body and mind. That gave rise to the manifestation of the true nature of the soul. His realization was strong enough to destroy all the defiling Karmas on the spot and he gained omniscience, while eating the food.

When one attains omniscience, even the heavenly beings come to the place for offering their obeisance. When other monks saw the heavenly beings approaching the place for the purpose, every one thought that they must have been pleased by the acute austerities of some of them and were coming to bow to those monks. Instead, the heavenly beings turned to Kurgadu and offered their obeisance to him. No one could understand why those observing acute austerity were left out, while the one who could not observe it at all, had gained full enlightenment.

In all amazement they went to Dharmaghosh-suri and asked the reason for what had happened. The Acharya said that all of them were feeling too much proud of their austerities and were unnecessarily disparaging Kurgadu for not observing fast. Thereby they were smeared by perception obscuring Karma that obscured right perception. He urged them to bear in mind that the primary purpose of undertaking austerities or any other religious practice was to gain modesty which leads to right perception and in turn helps in attaining equanimity. They had misjudged Kurgadu who had realized the essence of religion. Earlier, he had acquired austerity obstructing Karma that did not allow him to observe the austerity. He did feel sad and sincerely repented for that Karma which had become operative in his current life. By properly comprehending the role of Karma, he had been imbibed with right perception. He did regret for that but was bearing the consequence of the Karma with equanimity. This could help in wiping out the previously acquired Karmas without incurring new bondage.

All the monks realized that they were indulging in unnecessary vanity that obstructed the dawn of right perception. The Acharya also explained that the soul had really nothing to do with the state and activities of the body. The body is obtained as a consequence of the operative Karma and should be used simply as an instrument for realizing the true nature of soul. It can be an effective instrument only if it were used purposefully. Understanding the true nature of soul was the essence of religion and that is the main thing worth pursuing in this life.

- Rahul Zota (Bhuj-Gujarat)

Thursday, October 1, 2009



Lord Parshvanath was the 23rd Tirthankar (ford-maker) of Jainism who lived during 877-777 BCE and has been accepted as a historical figure.

Like other Tirthankars, important events of earlier incarnations of the being that became Lord Parshvanath are available in Jain scriptures. Study of these incidents reveals that amnesty and compassion played a major part in his life and progress toward purity of soul. In every incarnation his rival, Kamath, continued to torture him and he continued to forgive and forget.

Kamath and Marubhuti

The soul that was to be Lord Parshvanath was inspired to take the direction of purity in its birth as Marubhuti. He was born to the wife of Purohit Vishabhuti living in Potanpur city. His elder brother was Kamath. As Kamath was cruel, conceited, and a debauch, in spite of being the elder son it was Marubhuti who succeeded his father on the post of Rajpurohit (the director of ritual ceremonies of the king and state). Attracted toward the beautiful wife of Marubhuti, Vasundhara, Kamath seduced her. When Kamath’s wife came to know about the affair, she tried to dissuade him in vain and told Marubhuti about it. Marubhuti made a secret inquiry and conveyed everything in detail to the king. Kamath was exiled by the king. He became a mendicant and started doing rigorous penance.

After sometime Marubhuti felt that it was because of his report that Kamath was insulted and thrown out of the state; as such he should go and beg forgiveness from his elder brother. Marubhuti went into the jungle near Kamath and bowed before him seeking his pardon. Instead of getting pacified, Kamath was over powered by the desire of vengeance. He picked up a large stone and hit Marubhuti on the head. Marubhuti died on the spot and reincarnated as an elephant.

Birth as an Elephant

The soul of Marubhuti was reborn as an elephant in the forests of Vindhyachal. It became the leader of the herd. One day when an ascetic was standing in meditation in the Vindhyachal area, the king elephant came near him. The memory of its past life precipitated and it became a follower of the ascetic and turned mellow and detached. One day the elephant rushed into and stationed itself in the middle of a pond in order to save himself from a forest fire. The being that was Kamath had taken birth as a serpent of the Kurkut species. When it saw the elephant, the serpent recognized it as its enemy from the earlier birth. The serpent landed on the head of the elephant and stung it. The elephant equally tolerated the pain and died peacefully.

Suvarnbahu Chakravarti

In his third birth the being that was Marubhuti reincarnated as a god in the Sahasrar dimension. From there it descended and was born as prince Kiranveg in Mahavideh area. He furthered his progress towards purity by becoming an ascetic and was killed once again by the Kamath, now born as a snake. His next birth was as a god in the Achyut Kalpa dimension. From there he came to Mahavidh area as king Vajranabh. Kamath was born as a Bhil aborigine who shot Vajranabh, who had become an ascetic now, with an arrow. Reincarnating in the Madhyam Graiveyak dimension of gods, the being that was to be Parshvanath enjoyed the fruits of his pious Karma.

In his eighth birth this being was born in the royal family of Puranpur in the Mahavideh area. After ascending the throne Suvarnbahu conquered six continents and became a Chakravarti. In later part of his life he became an ascetic and did purest of meditations to earn Tirthakar-nam-and-gotra-karma. During this birth also, this being was killed by its old enemy Kamath who was born as a fierce lion. From here this being went to the Pranat dimension of gods.

Birth of Lord Parshvanath

Descending from the Pranat dimension of gods, the being that was Marubhuti came into the womb of Vama Devi, wife of King Ashvasen of Varanasi. On the tenth day of the dark half of the month of Paush Vama Devi gave birth to a son. At the time of his naming ceremony king Ashvasen announced that during her pregnancy Vama Devi one night saw a snake slithering on the bed near his flank. She woke him up and saved him from the impending danger. As such, he was naming the new born as Parshva (flank).

Prince Parshva was very handsome and intelligent. His fame reached Kushasthalpur and princess Prabhavatti, daughter of king Prasenjit, determined to become his wife. Before a proposal for marriage could be sent the king of Kalinga lay a seize of Kushasthalpur and sought the hand of Prabhavati in marriage. King Prasenjit, aware of the might of Yavanraj sent a messenger to Varanasi for help. King Ashvasen got irritated at the misconduct of Yavanraj and commands the army in this battle, Ashvasen was well aware of the ability and prowess of prince Parshva; he accepted proposal without any hesitation.

Before the prince started for the battle field the king of gods sent a divine and air worthy chariot for Parshva. After reaching the battle field the and prior to giving the orders to attack, Parshva sent a message to Yavanraj that now Prasenjit was under the protection of king Ashvasen, and as such he should break his seize of Kushasthalpur or face the great army of Varanasi and divine powers of Parshva. Although the youthful Yavanraj and some of his younger ministers were provoked, a senior minister informed him that the king of gods himself sided Parshva. He not only had divine powers but also the flying chariot of Indra. To fight Parshva was to embrace certain defeat. Yavanraj accepted the advice of the senior minister and surrendered before prince Parshva without a fight. He offered rich gifts to Parshva and became a friend of Prasenjit.

Victorious Parshva Kumar returned to Varanasi. King Prasenjit also came to Varanasi with his daughter Prabhavati and requested king Ashvasen to marry Parshva Kumar with Prabhavati. Parshva was averse to the bond of marriage. However, his parents persuaded him and he could not hurt their feelings. He was married to Prabhavati but led a simple and detached life.

One day prince Parshva was enjoying a view of the town from the balcony of his palace. When he saw groups of men and women, carrying items for worship, passing by, he asked out of curiosity if it was some day of religious ceremonies. His attendants informed him that some mendicant named Kamath is doing a harsh penance named Panch-agni Tap (five fire penance). The citizens are going to pay homage to him with all these presents. Prince Parshva also proceeded to witness this strange scene. As he was endowed with three levels of knowledge since birth, Parshva perceived everything worth knowing about this person at once. This was the same being that had been nurturing an intense feeling of vengeance for him for many births. After completing his age in the hell he was born in a poor family. Driven by hunger and poverty he had become a mendicant and was influencing the ignorant masses with his harsh but ill conceived penance.

When prince Parshva came near the mendicant he saw that some logs of wood were burning all around the mendicant. Inside one of the logs was a pair of serpents, writhing in pain due to the intense heat of the burning flames. Moved by a feeling of compassion the prince said to the mendicant, "Burning a five sensed being in fire, what sort of self improvement do you strive for?" The mendicant replied angrily, "Prince! You are a child; go and enjoy your princely games. It is mendicants like me who know about religion not you. How can you claim that some being is burning in the fire around me?"

All the efforts to persuade him that a pair of serpents was burning in the fire went in vain. Parshva then ordered his attendants to draw the specific log aside and split it. As soon as the attendants did that, a pair of serpents, partially scorched, fell on the ground writhing in pain. Realizing that they were about to die, prince Parshva said to them that they should not be annoyed with the ignorant mendicant and should remain silent during the last moments of their lives. He also recited the Namokar Mantra. As a result of silent thoughts and hearing the Namokar Mantra, after death the pair was born as the king and queen of the gods of the Nag Kumar clan (Dharanendra and Padmavati).

The mendicant became angry and kept on adding more fuel to the fire of vengeance

Path of Renunciation

This incident inspired Parshva Kumar to step on the right path and show the path to the masses misled by such ignorant hypocrites. While he was contemplating this, he one day went to garden and chanced to see some frescoes about the incidents of life of the 22nd Tirthankar Lord Arishtanemi. These vivid paintings pushed him to the decision of becoming an ascetic. He sought permission of his father and started the year long charity. On the eleventh day of the dark half of the month of Paush he became an ascetic under an Ashok tree.

One day Parshva-muni was standing in meditation in Kaushamv jungle. God Dharanendra arrived there to pay homage. When he saw scorching sun rays falling on the meditating ascetic, he covered Parshva-muni with canopy of snake hoods. It is said that this area later became famous as Ahichhatra.

Final Affliction By Kamath
One day Parshva-muni was standing in meditation under a banyan tree in an Ashram outside a village. The being of Kamath who was incarnated as a celestial being saw Lord Lord Parshva and identified him as his enemy by his Clairvoyance. Driven by the animosity of earlier births, Meghamali arrived at the spot where Parshva-muni his extremely loud and fearsome laughter. When Lord Parshva remained unmoved, Meghmali inflicted pain on him by attacking in the form of various animals. Lord Parshva tolerated all these afflictions with equanimity. Meghamli’s anger reached its peak.

Now he created dark and dense clouds in the skies. The sky was completely covered by dark rain-bearing clouds. With fearsome rumbling and thunder and lightening it started raining heavily. Meghamali caused so much rain that it flooded the whole area. Lord Parshva tolerated the torment of this torrential rain like the Meru mountain. The water level rose and it reached the tip of Lord Parshva's nose. He was still unmoved in his meditation. At this peak of the affliction, the throne of god Dharanendra trembled. He came to know about the incident through his divine powers and reached the spot with Padmavati. One of these snake-gods created a platform under the feet of Lord Parshva and the other a canopy of its multiple hoods over hid head. And thus they worshipped Lord Parshva. 

This incident has a mythological touch but we have to observe and find out the essence out of this. The moral of this incident is equanimity. Lord Parshva performed great equanimity as he didn't show hatred towards Meghmali who was afflicting him and didn't show love to Dharnendra and Padmavati who were worshipping him. The soul is complete in itself. It never loses its own essential qualities and never gains anything from outside. The soul is a substance with infinite knowledge, infinite perception, infinite power and infinite bliss. These essential qualities never leaves an individual, independent soul in any circumstances. When this fact is accepted we can practice equanimity with high stability. That is what Lord Parshva did and got rid of high amount of karmic atoms attached with his soul since infinite births.


After eighty three days of penance and spiritual practices Parshva-muni came to Ashrampad garden in Varanasi and stood in meditation under a Dharanendra tree. With fast increasing purity he attained enlightenment or omniscience on the fourth day of the dark half of the month of Chaitra. Now he was visualizing everything in the entire universe.


 Lord Parshvanath gave his first discourse on the form of religion. He propagated the four dimensional religion for upliftment of the soul. Lord Parshvanath preached four vows.  The four vows preached by Lord Parshvanath are: not to kill, not to lie, not to steal, and not to own property. The vow of chastity was without a doubt, implicitly included in the last vow, but in the two hundred and fifty years that elapsed between the Nirvana of Parshvanath and the preaching of Lord Mahavira, considering the situation of that time, included the fifth vow of chastity explicitly to the existing four vows.   

Inspired by the discourse of Lord Parshvanath, many members of his family including his father Ashvasen, mother Vama Devi and wife Prabhavati renounced the mundane life. Many other princes and scholars including the famous Vedic scholar Shubhdatta also took renunciation after hearing to his magic discourse. Lord Parshvanath established the four pronged religious organization. He had eight chief disciples with Shubgdatta being the first and most senior.

Although no detailed mention is available about the areas visited by Lord Parshvanath, it can be surmised from various incidents and related stories that he covered a considerably wide area of the subcontinent. It appears that he visited Kashi-kaushal (Uttar Pradesh), Nepal, Bang (Bengal), Kalinga (Orissa), Anga (Magadh), Vidarbh, Konkan, Saurashtra (in Gujarat) etc. Among his followers were Shakya Kings, rulers of Magadh (grandfather and father of king Shrenik) and many others.

Even during the period of Lord Mahavir (the 24th Tirthankar) the faith and devotion for Lord Parshvanath was wide spread. The masses strongly believed that remembering the name of Lord Parshvanath was the panacea for all troubles as well as the means of success. This was the reason that in Lord Mahavir’s time Lord Parshvanath was popularly known as "Purushadaniya".

Many scholars are of the opinion that the Chaturyam Dharm (the four dimensional religion) was the leading and prominent religion in whole of India during that period. Lord Buddha also got initiated into this school in the early part of his spiritual life. Later he evolved and propagated his eight pronged religion out of this only.

Lord Parshvanath was a householder for thirty years and then an ascetic for seventy years. When he was 100 years old he got liberated on the fifth day of the bright half of the month of Shravan at Sammet Shikhar Mountain.

It is believed that the time span between the Nirvana of Lord Parshvanath and Lord Mahavir’s launching of his own school was about 250 years. There is a mention of four prominent leaders of Lord Parshvanath’s school:

1. Disciple Shubhdatta (Shumbh)

2. Arya Haridatta

3. Acharya Samudra Suri

4. Arya Keshi Shraman

The last one is believed to have existed between 166 to 250 years after the Nirvana of Lord Parshvanath. Arya Keshi Shraman was a forceful Acharya. The staunch non-believer king Pradeshi became a highly devoted Jain house-holder under his influence only. There were nine groups of five hundred ascetics each, in the large religious organization headed by Keshi-muni. These groups worked in far fling areas like Tailang (Andhra), Konkan and Maharashtra. He himself wandered in the Magadh area with one thousand ascetics.