Parshvanath
(c. 900 B.C.E.)
   Tirthankara in the Jain tradition
   Parshvanath was the 23rd TIRTHANKARA (saint) of our cosmic half-era, in the Jain tradition (see JAIN-ISM). MAHAVIRA, the partly historical promulgator of Jain tradition, was the 24th and last for our half-era. There are indications that Parsvanath, too, was a historical figure, who preached an early version of the Jain doctrine of strict worldly renunciation and very strict noninjury to crea-tures as the only means to liberation from birth and rebirth.
   The Kalpa Sutra of BHADRABAHU (c. 500 C.E.) of the SHVETAMBARA Jains tells the story of the life of Parshvanath. It is said that he lived as a house-holder for 30 years, as a monk for 83 nights, and as an omniscient being for a little less than 70 years, for a total of 100 years.
   In his previous life Parshvanath was a divinity in heaven (in the Jain tradition one cannot reach liberation as a divinity, but only as a human). When that life ended he descended into the womb of Vama Devi, the wife of a king of the warrior caste, in the city of BENARES (Varanasi). It is said that on the night he was born the world was bright with the ascending and descending of gods and goddesses with sounds of beings inquiring what grand event was taking place.
   Possessed of immense knowledge and faith, at the age of 30 Parshva took up the life of a renun-ciant, giving away his massive princely wealth to indigents. Outside the city in a park under an Ashoka tree he took off his finery and pulled out his hair in five handfuls (the custom when one becomes a Jain monk). He began vows of severe fasting and joined the community of homeless monks.
   For 83 days, they say, he gave up the care of his body completely and bore every hardship as though it were not hardship. He adopted all the circumspect practices of the monk—careful movement, measured speech, guarded desires, restraint of his mind and physical activities—so as to leave the ego behind completely. During these 83 days he reached omniscience and pro-ceeded to terminate the bonds of KARMA. Eight major followers joined him and he created a community of 350 monks, which grew and grew as his perfection affected more and more people. After 70 years as an omniscient being, he adopted the vow of taking food without water once a month on Mount Sammeta and became perfected (a SIDDHA) and liberated, his soul going to the top of the universe to dwell in effulgence forever.
   Further reading: P. S. Jaini, The Jaina Path of Purification (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1990); Kastur Chand Lal-wani, Kalpa Sutra of Bhadrabahu Svami (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1979).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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