3.2 Tirthankara Teachings

(Story begins here) Now, remember that you see souls in the environment where they made their most impact?”
“Yes”
“Well, the word tirthankara means ford-maker.”
Mahavira made cars?” said Pete doubtfully. Lisa successfully stifled a giggle.
“No Pete, a ford as in a way to cross water. In his case, the most terrifying and stormy waters of all.”
“Which are…”
“The waters of samsara.”
“Sorry Lisa, I’m none the wiser.”
“Samsara, the cycle of rebirths.” Pete still looked slightly blank. “The cause of all suffering…” said Lisa hopefully.
“Ah I see, okay, let’s go. Thanks for all that you’ve shown me Lisa.” The angel beamed.

“It’s been a pleasure as always Pete.” The Indian town dimmed as if night had fallen very quickly. Pete shivered as the temperature plummeted, he suddenly felt very alone.

“You are seeing the cycle of rebirths from your temporary viewpoint from heaven. It’s all a matter of perspective. When you get back to earth, the everyday pain and suffering that you see all around you will again become so normal that you barely notice it.”

The land around him crumbled away and he was left standing on a small island, a few metres square. All around him thick, oily black water began to swirl around, the movement built, until violent waves were crashing over the little island, sending icy thick fluid cascading over Pete’s feet. Then the howling began, Pete could see arms breaking free of the water and waving desperately for help. Instinctively he reached out to try and assist, but felt himself slipping into the chaotic blackness. At the last second, as Pete was about to screw his eyes shut ready for emersion, the waters parted as a rough, cobbled pathway emerged from beneath the furious, dark waters. Pete stumbled onto it and looked up to see a figure in the distance, slowly beckoning to him. Unsteadily, he got up and made his way along the causeway, trying to ignore the flailing arms at either side and occasionally stepping over the water which surged up and over the cobbles.

At length he reached the mysterious, seated figure, a remarkably tall, naked Indian man with very long hair. He looked to be in his late thirties. The horrendous sea and the wailing faded away and Pete found that he was in a large, highly ornate ancient Indian temple. At least the style was ancient, but the elaborately carved white pillars were immaculate, as if newly constructed. The sweet sound of birdsong filled the air and the inviting smell of freshly baked flatbread was present.
“Um, hello,” said Pete awkwardly. Rather like a climber, he was intent on not looking down.
“Good morning Peter,” said Mahavira politely but formally and in a very thick Indian accent. “Would you like to sit with me?”
“Thank you.” The young man sat and crossed his legs to match his host. “I’m glad to see you. Where I’ve just been was…”
“Horrible?”
“Yes, where was it?”
“A more productive question, Peter, might be what was it.” Pete thought, and his face lit up as he remembered what Lisa had said.
“It was samsara?”
“Very good Peter, yes it was.”
“But it seemed horrible, much worse than it really is on planet earth.” Pete shuddered as he recalled everything that he’d seen. Mahavira looked very solemn and serious, but then he always did.
“That is because you are seeing the cycle of rebirths from your temporary viewpoint from heaven. It’s all a matter of perspective. When you get back to earth, the everyday pain and suffering that you see all around you will again become so normal that you barely notice it.”
“What pain and suffering?” Pete was puzzled.
“Remember Pete, that you are in a very privileged lifetime as a human in your civilisation. For the vast majority of incarnated beings, a lifetime is about being an animal in daily threat of being slowly eaten alive. It is about being ill in an age long before effective medicines. It is about suffering pain and dismemberment in a savage battle. Or worse, it could be about being wicked and so suffering the psychological torture of being evil. This is why we easterners are so keen to escape samsara as soon as possible and go to great lengths in order to do so.”
“Like not wearing clothes?”
“Yes, and much more. I observe twenty-eight mula gunas.”
“What are they?”
“I suppose it translates as root-virtues. Those upon which all others must be based.” Mahavira shifted position and Pete glanced absentmindedly at the older man’s lap and quickly looked back up again.
“Sorry about that.”
“No need to be Peter. It is just my body and I am trying to escape this wretched thing. So the root-virtues themselves boil down to five principals, Ahimsa, truth, non-thieving, chastity and Aparigraha.”
“Sorry, I didn’t recognise some of those words.”
“That is because some do not have a direct English translation. Speech is about communication not language, which is why you are able to hear me in English even though I am speaking a long-dead language, but even heaven’s translation service breaks down occasionally. Ahimsa essentially means a complete absence of violence or harm.”
“Don’t most religions advocate that?”
“Yes, but we Jains take it a step further. To demonstrate, would you like to go over there, and I will come and join you.” Mahavira pointed a wizened, dusty finger at a shaded corner of the temple. Puzzled, Pete obediently got up, and strode briskly away across the grass. “So what happens over_” he started to say over his shoulder. But when he turned fully, he saw Mahavira still stood practically where he was before. “I thought we were going over here?” called Pete.
“Patience Peter.” Like the monk Pete had seen earlier, Mahavira had a small brush. Which he was now using to carefully sweep the area in front of him. After a few seconds, he shuffled forwards a few paces, not breaking eye contact with the ground in front of him. Then he began again to sweep the ground. “Um, Mahavira?” called Pete uncertainly. “I’m over here.” The naked monk paused and looked sidelong over at Pete. “I will reach you eventually Peter. Be patient.” Mahavira carried on sweeping and walking in what appeared to be the wrong direction, right past him. Pete sat down in the long grass, absent mindedly fiddling with the slender blades and started to wonder if too long on his own may have effected Mahavira for the worse. After about fifteen minutes however, the monk had, a few steps at a time negotiated a tortuous route around the quadrangle of the monastery to join Pete. He swept a small area of grass very carefully, then sat down on it. (continue)

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