30 March 2010
Leader of the undivided Sangha
Today, most Jains adhere to either of two great traditions: Digambar or Shvetambar. But in antiquity there was only one Jain tradition, and a man named Bhadrabahu holds the distinction of having been the leader of the undivided Sangha.
Teacher - student lineages recorded separately by both the Shvetambar and Digambar traditions join each other when they are traced back to Bhadrabahu, the very last individual to have attained the state of Shrut Kevalin, an authority on the 14 original Purva texts handed down from Mahavira’s own times.
The teachings of omniscient Lord Mahavira were compiled 12 Anga text and 14 Purvas. The Purvas were regarded as part of the twelfth Anga, entitled Drishtivada. These texts were passed down from teacher to student by a well-regulated system of oral tradition and mnemonics. Teacher recited them and students memorized them. All Jain principles are based on these texts. After Lord Jambu (fifth century BC) who, in all time since, would be the last human being to achieve omniscience, Jain monks and scholars were guided only by these texts. Those who knew all of these texts are called Shrut Kevalins, indicating that although they did not have full and total Keval Jnan through those texts.As already mentioned, Acharya Bhadrabahu was simply the last Shrut Kevalin. Since there have been other Jain acharyas with the name Bhadrabahu , he is sometimes referred to as Bhadrabahu I.
Bhadrabahu was born at Pundravardhan, now in Bangladesh. During his time, the secondary capital of the Mauryans was the city of Ujjain. While there Bhadrabahu was able to perceive through is nimitta jnan (subtle cognition of causes and effects) that there would occur a 12-year famine across North India. He decided the famine would make it harder for monks to survive as it would naturally make them a burden on a society already in need. He thus migrated with a group of monks to South India bringing with him Chandragupta, the aging founder of the Mauryan Empire turned Jain monk. While Bhadrabahu was away the remaining monks in the North realized that the sacred scriptures were being forgotten. A monk named Sthulabhadra convened a ouncil to recompile the Purva scriptures. However, because Sthulabhadra’s own knowledge of these texts was imperfect, he wanted Bhadrabahu to study the sections missing from his memory. Bhadrabahu taught Sthulabhadra, but forbade him to teach the Purvaa to others upon witnessing a demonstration by Sthulabhadra of certain extra corporal powers, which indicated that with time these sacred scriptures would become corrupted. Thus, the 14 Purvas in their original form died with these two men.
Bhadrabahu remains an exemplar of dedication to first principles at any cost. After him, the Sangha split into two separate teacher-student lineages of monks. Digambar monks belong to the lineage of Acharya Vishakha and Shvetambar monks follow the tradition of Sthulabhadra. Bhadrabahu composed some new texts as well. In the Shvetambar tradition, Brihatkalpa, Vyavahara, and Nisitha are considered his works.