BHAGWAN MAHAVIRA's GANDHAR
In 607 B.C., in the village of Gobar, state of Magadha, India, lived a Brahmin couple named Vasubhuti and Prithvi Gautam. They had three sons, Indrabhuti, Agnibhuti and Väyubhuti. All three sons were well versed in the Hindu scriptures (Vedas) and were experts in the performance of Hindu rituals. They were great scholars at an early age. Each one of them had 500 disciples.
Once in the nearby city of Apäpä, a Brahmin named Somil had organized a sacrificial ceremony or Yajna at his home. Forty-four hundred Brahmins gathered for the occasion and eleven popular scholars were among them. Indrabhuti Gautam stood out among the eleven as a shining star. He was the head priest conducting the ceremony.
The whole town was excited by this event in which they were going to sacrifice sheep and goats. As he was about to begin his ritual everyone noticed many celestial beings from heaven descending towards the sacrificial site. Indrabhuti internally rejoiced thinking that this would make the sacrificial ceremony the most famous in history. He told the people, 'Look at the sky. Even the celestial beings are descending from heaven to bless us.' Everyone eagerly looked up at the sky.
To everyone's surprise, the celestial beings did not stop at their site. They continued past their site and headed towards the nearby Mahäsen forest. Indrabhuti learned that the celestial beings were going to pay homage to Bhagawän Mahävir who had just attained Keval-jnän and was about to deliver his first sermon in the language of the common people called Ardha Mägadhi - Präkrit.
He was furious that the celestial beings did not pay their respect to his sacrificial rite. He angrily thought to himself, "Who is Mahävir? He does not even use the rich Sanskrit language to deliver his sermon, but speaks the common people's language of Ardha Mägadhi." He decided to debate with Mahävir in order to prove to the celestial beings that he was more knowledgeable than Mahävir. So he left with his 500 disciples to debate with Mahävir.
Mahävir welcomed Indrabhuti by his name even though they had never met before. At first, Indrabhuti was caught off guard, but then he thought, "Why should Mahävir not know my name? I am Indrabhuti Gautam, the famous scholar."
Also Bhagawän Mahävir's omniscience (unbounded knowledge) allowed him to know all of Indrabhuti's thoughts. Mahävir realized that Indrabhuti had come to debate with him. He also realized that Indrabhuti had doubts about the existence of the soul or Ätmä.
Mahävir said, "Indrabhuti, do you doubt the existence of soul?" Then he explained that the soul exists and it is eternal. He provided proper interpretation of the Hindu scriptures (Vedas) and convinced Indrabhuti that the soul does exist. Indrabhuti was shocked and surprised that Mahävir knew his doubts about the existence of the soul and the proper interpretation of his scriptures. He felt awakened, refreshed, and realized how incomplete his knowledge had been. He became Mahävir's first and chief disciple. Indrabhuti was fifty years old at the time and from then on he was called Gautam-swämi, as he came from the Gautam family.
Meanwhile, Somil and the other ten scholars were waiting to greet the expected winner of the debate, Indrabhuti Gautam. However, they were stunned to learn that Indrabhuti had become a disciple of Mahävir. The other ten Brahmin scholars, with their disciples, immediately set out to debate with Mahävir and became his disciples too. Dejected and abandoned, Somil cancelled the ceremony and set all the animals free. These eleven learned scholars were the main disciples of Lord Mahävir and they are called the eleven Ganadhars.
Änand Shrävak’s Clairvoyance Knowledge
Gautam-swämi was living his life as a Jain monk observing all the austerities and following the five great vows. Once, while returning from Gochari (getting food or alms), he learned that many people were going to pay homage to Änand Shrävak (a Jain layman). He also learned that Änand Shrävak had attained clairvoyance knowledge known as Avadhi-jnän by performing severe penance and austerities. Since Änand Shrävak was one of Mahävir’s followers, Gautam-swämi decided to visit him.
When Änand saw Gautam-swämi approaching his house, he was very happy. Though weak, due to his austerities, he got up and welcomed Gautam-swämi. He inquired about Änand’s health and asked about his special knowledge. With respect, Änand replied to Gautam-swämi, “Reverend Guru, I have attained Avadhi-jnän. With this knowledge I can see as high as the first heaven and as low as the first hell.” Gautam-swämi explained to Änand, “A layman (Shrävak) can attain Avadhi-jnän, but not to this magnitude. You need to do Präyashchitta (atonement) for believing you can do this.” Änand was puzzled. He knew that he was correct but his guru questioned his truthfulness and told him to repent for it. He therefore politely asked Gautam-swämi, “Does one need to repent for speaking the truth?” Gautam-swämi was equally puzzled and replied, “No one has to repent for speaking the truth.” Thinking that he would confirm this with Bhagawän Mahävir, Gautam-swämi left Änand.
Gautam-swämi returned to Bhagawän Mahävir and asked about Änand’s clairvoyance knowledge. Mahävir replied, “Gautam, Änand was telling the truth. He can see as high as the first heaven and as low as the first hell. Rarely can a layman attain such a level of Avadhi-jnän. You should repent for your mistake of doubting him.” Mahävir valued truth and would never conceal the mistake of his disciple to protect his own image. Gautam-swämi set aside his alms and immediately returned to Änand and asked for his forgiveness.
Offering food to 1500 Hermits
On another occasion, Gautam-swämi went to a temple on Mount Ashtäpad to pay homage to the 24 Tirthankars. The mountain was very difficult to climb. At the foothill of the mountain fifteen hundred hermits were trying to climb the mountain but they were not successful. They saw Gautam-swämi complete this difficult journey and were very impressed. They decided to be his disciples. Gautam-swämi preached to them about true religion and the correct ways of penance and accepted them as his disciples. All fifteen hundred hermits became Jain monks. Gautam-swämi realized that they were hungry and offered them Kheer (rice pudding) from a small Pätra (bowl).
They began to wonder how Gautam-swämi would feed all of them. Gautam-swämi requested all the hermits to sit down. Since he possessed a special power called Akshin-mahänasi Labdhi (non-diminishing power), he served everyone Kheer from his small bowl. While serving Kheer he kept his thumb in it to invoke the power. To everyone’s surprise, they all were well-served from this small Pätra.
As time passed, all the disciples of Gautam-swämi attained Keval-jnän, the ultimate knowledge. However Gautam-swämi was still unable to attain it. He was worried that he may not attain Keval-jnän in this life. One day Gautam-swämi asked Lord Mahävir, “Ten other scholars joined me on the day that I accepted Dikshä and all eleven of us became your disciples. Nine of them have attained Keval-jnän. All my disciples have attained Keval-jnän. Why am I so unlucky that I am not able to attain Keval-jnän?” Lord Mahävir replied, “Gautam, it is because you have too much affection for me. In order to attain Keval-jnän you must overcome all types of attachment, including attachment to your beloved Guru. Until you give up your attachment towards me, it will not be possible for you to attain Keval-jnän.”
On the day that Lord Mahävir was going to attain Nirvana (liberation), he sent Gautam-swämi to a nearby village to preach to a man named Devsharma. On his way back, Gautam-swämi learned that Lord Mahävir had attained Nirvana. Gautam-swämi lapsed into a state of shock and sorrow, “Lord Mahävir knew that this was his last day on Earth. Why did he send me away?” Gautam-swämi could not stop his tears. He also thought, “I could not attain Keval-jnän while Mahävir was alive. Now there is no hope of attaining Keval-jnän because he is gone forever.” However within a few minutes he realized his error and began thinking, “No one can live forever. No relationship is permanent. Why am I so attached to Lord Mahävir?” He contemplated that he was wrong and gave up his attachment towards Mahävir. During this deep thinking, he destroyed his Ghäti Karmas and immediately attained Keval-jnän at the age of eighty. He attained Nirvana at the age of ninety-two in 515 B.C.
Lord Mahävir attained nirvana on the last day of the Jain and Hindu calendar known as Deepävali day and Gautam-swämi attained Keval-jnän on the first day of the New Year.