Compared histories of Gautama and Mahavira

While both Guatama and Mahavira followed a similar patterns in life, there were small differences in Mahavira’s and Gautama’s life from the beginning. For example, the mothers of Gautama and Mahavira both had dreams that foretold that the boys would either become great religious leaders or great warriors. Mahavira’s mother dreamed that the baby was conceived in the Brahmin Devanda’s womb and then later transferred to her body; Gautama’s mother dreamed that a white elephant holding a lotus flower entered her body. However they were raised differently: Gautama’s father surrounded him with every earthly pleasure to force him to become a warrior; however, Mahavira’s father did not try to force the outcome and allowed the boy to find his own path.

Mahavira was born in 599 BC in Bihar, India (formerly Vaishali Videha) where he lived a normal princely life until the age of 28 when both of his parents died. He, in respect to the wishes of his brother, continued to live at home for two years. During this time, he began his practice of self-denial and meditation. In contrast, Gautama was born in 536 BC in Kapilavastu, India (now called Nepal) where he lived surrounded by earthly pleasures and excesses to the point that his father never allowed him to see anything dissatisfactory with the world for fear Gautama would become a spiritual leader rather than a warrior. Gautama was content with his life, but when he was about 29 years old he became discontent with his life because of what are referred to as the “four sites”. These four sites (age, sickness, death, and mediation) caused him to question his place in life and caused him to fear the same happening in his own family. Soon after, he cast aside the burden of householder life and, leaving his family behind, began his journey to enlightenment.

Mahavira, after his renunciation, began his quest for enlightenment first by joining a group of ascetics, but left them soon after because of differences in opinion. (Oddly, he left because he had angered the other Ascetics by allowed starving cattle to eat the thatch roofs of their huts.) He then spent two years in the town of Nalanda. During the second year he meet Gosala, and the two traveled together for ten years (less 6 months) until Gosala left him. However, Gosala did not leave Mahavira’s life permanently later he tried to kill Mahavira by cursing him; however, the curse backfired and, if the legends are to be believed, Gosala himself died from the same curse 7 years later. Mahavira spent 12 years in meditation to achieve enlightenment; as he progressed his spiritual abilities grew and he achieved perfect enlightenment. After his enlightenment, Mahavira spent the reminder of his life preaching the way to enlightenment he had achieved.

Gautama began his journey by studying with the hermits Arada and later Udraka. They taught him how to meditate and achieve a state of non-existence and to achieve a state not of perception or non-perception respectively. After Gautama mastered both of these techniques, he began practicing asceticism, and he was later joined by a group of wandering ascetics who were impressed by the degree of self-mortification Gautama had achieved. After several years, he remembered the meditative states he had achieved as a boy, and he began to become discontent with the ascetic way. He decided that the ascetics would not help him achieve the enlightenment he desired, so he renounced asceticism, ate some food and began his pursuit of a “middle way”. Gautama then began seeking enlightenment through meditation rather than self-deprivation. After leaving the ascetic way of life, Gautama sat under a bodhi tree and began his meditation; shortly after, he achieved a heightened state of awareness, and by turning this awareness inward, he realized the four noble truths. The truths he realized became known as the Dharma which Gautama spent the remainder of his life preaching to those who would listen.

The paths of these two men are very similar: their life choices follow the same path and the end result was the same. The differences can be traced back to a single point: one was spoiled as a child and one was not. Gautama who lived a life of excess beyond what was normal even for other princes chose a middle path that did not require self-deprivation, Mahavira who lead a “normal” life for a prince chose extreme self-deprivation as a tool. One can only wonder if the roles were reversed would their decisions have been the same.

Categorized as: History
  • Truden

    Are you Buddhist, Aaron?

  • Aaron

    First off, I kinda re-wrote the post after reading the first few torturous lines. (The content of the post was written years ago.)

    Secondly, because I deal with a lot of controversial issues I keep personal details about myself to a minimum to ensure what I say can’t be brushed of as simple bias.

    If I say I am a Buddhist, then my opinions on Christianity, Judaism and other religions are easier to dismiss, or if were to say I was an atheist then I wouldn’t be able to make a single comment about a religion without taking flack.

    This is the same reason that I don’t openly say the country I live in and refer to all countries in the third person.

    It is much easier just to not answer.

  • Aaron

    Fear is different from bias. A lot of people I know personally know who I am and about the site, so it isn’t me hiding my opinions. However, what I don’t want to is to cheapen the contents of the site and my writings by allowing people to brush them off by inferring a bias based on unimportant things like gender, race, religion and nationality.

    For example, if I said I was a Chinese national and then said good things about communism people would assume it was only because I was Chinese and afraid of reprisals or if I said good things about communism and said I was an American, people would assume I have those same opinions because I must be a hippy or an anarchist.

    Getting horribly off-topic, I have seen how people on the internet must make judgments based off of the most inconsequential information. No reason to help them.

    Oh and the first weakness of mankind is their inability to rise above their most base desires.

    And you did :D

    No I didn’t. :) You just think I did.

  • Truden

    The first thing that I can think off after reading your comment is “fear”.
    The first weakness of mankind is fear.

    Second: I wanted to ask you about your nationality, but I thought that you’ll answer without asking you.
    And you did :D

  • Truden

    I understand you.
    Thanks for your answer :)

    Oh and the first weakness of mankind is their inability to rise above their most base desires.

    I think that this is the second weakness.

    Any way…
    Once again – Thank You.

  • lisa

    Great discussion! You’ve got a good blog going here.

  • gautama

    This is Siddhattha Gotama here and you are all a bunch of ninnies! Do not compare me to this man, Mahavira!!! He is merely an extremist who hated his life and starved himself for 12 years. I may have given up my family and worldy possesions but HEY I did it with styleee. Cmon now I got a whole friggin religion based more or less on me, and who the hell has ever heard of Jainism? I asked Abraham Lincoln here on the spiritual plane of bliss and he said that jainism is a load of slave crap! You all now have bad karma and due to samsara will be reborn as a dung beetle or worse, as a mexican!! Peace out I gotta go not have sex or even think about desire…..wish me luck!

  • sara

    U guys have no life!
    U are sitting here complaining and talking about nothing!
    These men made something with their life! What have u acheived?????!!!!!

  • name

    there are 720 tathagathas –
    or elements

    Jesus is alive

    from ‘the same’ or ‘ísu’
    jesus means ‘rain’ which is -dajhd- in bulgarian which translates if pronounced in english as the ajhd and that ajhd is a short for the word – dragon- in slavic
    as its god of dajhd was – perun
    which can mean – washing –

    write into blueletterbible the greek letters for ‘rain’which is the magyr word ‘eso’ which is the period in japan

  • rachit

    u bloody bastard…
    fuck off…..
    go to hell.
    mother fucker…
    writing from d side of lord budhha these bad things???

  • dana

    This is a very good essay.

    I am a student of World Religions class and I now have a better understanding of the two personalities.

    Keep it up