Justice T.U.Mehta


Thinkers outside India in times of Mahavira

Jaina ideas are confined, in modern times, to India. But that does not seem to be the position in the past. As we have already noted, 6th Century B.C. was the period of great intellectual fervor in Greece and countries did not remain entirely isolated. Even before the dawn of history the Indus valley culture of India was closely connected with the contemporary cultures in Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. The commercial links between the mouths of Indus and Persian Gulf was continuing even in times of Mahavira. As early as 975 B.C. Phoenicians provided link between Mediterranean and Indian cultures.

In about 510 B.C. Darius is said to have sent a Greek mercenary named Seylax to the mouth of the Indus.

Heredotus (484 B.C.) who flourished round about the time of Mahavira gives some details about the two races of India - one dark aboriginals and the other fair looking Aryans. He also makes a reference to a religious sect in India which ate nothing which had life and lived on grains. This is a likely reference to Jainas.

In 580 B.C. Pythagoras was born. He seems to have been deeply influenced by Jaina doctrines of Lord Parsva. H.G.Rawlinson notes in his Essay on Early contacts between India and Europe as under :

"The most starting of the theories of Pythagoras was that of the transmigration of the soul from body to body.... Almost all the theories religious, philosophical and mathematical, though by the Pythagoreans, were known in India in 6th cent. B.C. and the Pythagoreans, like Jainas and Buddhists, refrained from the destruction of life and eating meat, and regarded, certain vegetables, such as beans, as baboo."

He further records in the same essay :

"The theory of metapsychosis plays almost as great a part in Greek as in Indian religious thought. Both Pythegoras and Empedocles claimed to possess power of recollecting their past births. Metempsychosis is referred to in the many passages in Pindat and with the contemporary doctrine of Karma, it is the key-stone of the philosophy of Plato. The soul is ever travelling through a ‘Cycle of necessity'.

About the Greek philosopher Empedocles, he records:

"Empedocles, besides believing in transmigration, held a number of tenets which are curiously like those of Kapila, the author of Sankhya-system. Empedocles, looks on matter as consisting of four elements, earth, water, air and fire acted upon by the motive forces of love and hate."

During this time China witnessed the ideological impact of two great personalities of the world, namely Lao-tse and confusius (born 551 B.C.).

Lao-tse's teaching was very much similar to that of Mahavira ‘The wisest thing in life', he says, "...is never to get one self involved in anything."

His philosophy was, "All things in nature do their work quietly. They become nothing and they possess nothing. They fulfil their purpose and they crave nothing. All things accomplish their ends; then we see them recede again. When they have reached their prime they return to their source. This withdrawal is peace and fulfilment of destiny. This ebb and flow is an eternal law. To know that law is wisdom."

This, indeed, sounds very much like the sayings of Buddha.