A study of the philosophy of Jainism

by Deepa Baruah | 2017 | 46,858 words

This page describes the Meaning of the term Tirthankara from the study of the philosophy of Jainism: one of the oldest religions in India having its own metaphysics, philosophy and ethics. Jainism is regarded as an ethical system where non-violence features as an important ethical value.

Chapter I.b - Meaning of the term Tīrthaṅkara

Regarding the meaning of the term Tīrthaṅkara different opinions have been given by the Jaina followers. The word Tīrthaṅkara is a derivation of the word tīrtha in the sense of taraṇa (boat) which means bridge. Thus Tīrthaṅkara is a bridge maker. Śvetāmbara and Digambara define that Tīrthaṅkara is a prophet. A Tīrthaṅkara is always freeform all the causes of bondage of this ocean of saṃsāra or transmigration. Some Jaina followers opine that pravacana (sound teaching) is the meaning of tīrtha. As this pravacana is found without fail in a saṃgha or Jaina church, so a saṃgha is called tīrtha and a Tīrthaṅkara is one who is the founder of the church (saṃgha). According to Jacobi, the word Tīrthaṅkara is derived from the word tīrtha in the sense of doctrine. So, one who is a founder of the doctrine is also called Tīrthaṅkara.

Another authority believes that the Jaina Tīrthaṅkaras were deified heroes, born of human parents who were raised to the position of God by their renunciation and great services to religion for the deliverance of mankind.

Again, some Jaina philosophers describe that tirtha means dharma and one who expounds dharma is called Tīrthaṅkara. They are the founders of their religion.

Tīrthaṅkaras are considered as Gods for the followers of the Jainas. They occupy highest position in Jainism because of their great service for the deliverance of mankind. They are regarded as guides and spiritually great souls. The Jainas believe that each Tīrthaṅkara is a separate individual, a perfect soul. The Tīrthaṅkaras keep their individual identity even after their liberation from physical body. Like all other liberated souls he is called a siddha.

The lives of the Tīrthaṅkaras are found in different books. The earliest reference to the twenty-four Tīrthaṅkaras has been made in the Samavāya and the Kalpasūtra. Hemacandra’s Triṣaṣṭiśalākāpuruṣacarita reveals that the life of the twenty-four Tīrthaṅkaras ran almost on identical lines.All the Tīrthaṅkaras were born in kṣatriya royalfamilies. All were averse to worldly life. All of them had very long lives, except Mahāvīra. Most of them ruled for a long time. They practised asceticism and attained mokṣa and founded a community of disciples. According to the Jaina works like the Samavāya and the Kalpasūtra, Ṛṣabha, the first Tīrthaṅkara was born in the third age, i.e., the periods of happiness and sorrow, and the remaining twenty-three Tīrthaṅkaras were born in the fourth age, i.e., the period of sorrow and happiness. Ofthe twenty-four Tīrthaṅkaras twenty-two belonged to the to the Īkṣvāku dynasty of the kṣatriyas. But the Munisuvrata and Neminātha are said to have belonged to the harivaṃśa dynasty of the kṣatriyas. Some Caritasand Purāṇas describe the lives of the Tīrthaṅkaras. The life of Ṛṣabha is found in Ādipurāṇa and Uttarapurāṇa. Bhavadevasuri’s Pārśvanāthacarita, Sakalakīrti’s Śāntināthacarita, Vijayagaṇi’s Ariṣṭanemicarita, Kṛṣṇadasa’s Vimalanāthapurāṇa, Brahmanemidatta’s Nemināthapurāṇa etc, are some other works where the lives of the Tīrthaṅkaras are found.

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