Sudharmaswami was the fifth Ganadhar of Lord Mahaveera. Ganadhar means a group leader. Lord Mahaveera had many pupils. They were divided into 11 groups and each of them was placed under one Ganadhar. As such, there were 11 Ganadhars in all. The first and foremost was Gautam-swami, whose idol you might have seen in the temple. Actually, Gautam is his last name, because he belonged to the Gautam clan. His first name was Indrabhuti, but he is popularly known as Gautam-swami. Even Lord Mahaveera used to call him Goyam, which is the Ardhamagadhi version of Gautam.
Sudharmaswami was the son of a learned Brahmin named Dhammil, who lived in a village called Kollag situated in the present state of Bihar. The place is now known as Kollua and according to the archaeologists, it is the place where great Pundits like Vyakta and Sudharma had their schools in ancient times. Dhammil was childless. His wife Bhaddila was therefore craving for a child and worshipped the goddess Saraswati for that purpose. It is said that the goddess was pleased by her devotion and blessed her to get a highly accomplished son. Soon after that, Bhaddila became pregnant, and in due course, she gave birth to a son, who was named Sudharma. That happened in 607 BC, which means Sudharmaswami was 8 years older than Lord Mahaveera.
The boy grew up under the loving care of his parents. At the proper age he was sent to a well known Ashram school, where he studied Vedas, Upanishads and all other Brahmanical literature. By the time he came back from the school, he was known as a learned Pundit and his fame had spread round about. He then started his own school, which became a great center of learning. Pupils used to come there from all over the country. There were more than 500 students studying under him.
At that time in Pavapuri, a city of Bihar, there was a prosperous Brahmin named Somil. Once, he decided to organize a great sacrifice. He wanted all the well-known learned men to come on that occasion. Indrabhuti Gautam, who was the most learned Brahmin of that time, was going to be the presiding priest. His equally learned brothers, Agnibhuti and Vayubhuti, were going to sit by his side. Vyakta and other well known Pundits were also scheduled to remain present on that occasion. Somil had come to know about Sudharma and had sent the invitation to him. Sudharma did not wish to miss the opportunity to attend that great sacrifice. Moreover, he was eager to see the Gautam brothers. He therefore, willingly accepted Somil’s invitation.
At the appointed time, the sacrifice started in right earnest. Oblations began to be offered together with the recitation of the appropriate verses. As the sacrificial smoke rose towards the sky, they noticed the celestial vehicles coming down. Indrabhuti and other priests were satisfied that they could induce the celestial beings to come down to accept the oblations. They were, however, disappointed to see that the vehicles had diverted their direction and were descending at the other end of the city. They could not make out why, forsaking their great performance, the vehicles were bound towards a different destination.
What had happened was that after attaining omniscience, Lord Mahaveera had arrived at Pavapuri that very time. The heavenly beings were therefore coming down to pay their homage to the Lord and to listen to his sermon. Indrabhuti was surprised to know that. He had never come across anyone more knowledgeable than himself. He therefore guessed that Mahaveera might be an impostor who could have somehow impressed the heavenly beings. It was therefore necessary to counter his tactics immediately.
With that intention, Indrabhuti went towards the camping ground of the Lord. As he approached, the Lord welcomed him by calling his name. Indrabhuti was astonished that the impostor even knew his name. But as he looked at the Lord, he was impressed by his personality. His pride began to melt. The Lord soon asked him, ‘Gautam, a doubt still lurks in your mind about the independent existence of the soul. Isn’t that?’ Indrabhuti was dumbfounded to hear those words, because he did have such a doubt. The Lord then quoted the relevant Sutra from Veda itself and explained that there was no reason to hold such a doubt. With that clarification, the doubt of Indrabhuti was eradicated. Thereupon, he decided to accept the Lord as his Guru. So falling at the feet of the Lord, he requested to be accepted as a pupil. The Lord was pleased to accede to the request and initiated him as the first pupil.
As Indrabhuti did not come back, his brothers Agnibhuti, Vayubhuti and other Pundits like Vyakta went to the Lord one after another. The Lord welcomed them, and, pointing out their doubts pertaining to the soul, he gave them the convincing replies. All of them were satisfied with the Lord’s elucidation and became his pupils along with their own followers.
Now, it came the turn of Sudharma. He had the concept that every living being could reincarnate in its own species. In other words, human beings could be reborn as human only. His belief was based on the analogy of plant life. An apple tree, for instance, would produce the seeds from which only apple trees can come out. The Lord welcomed him, too, and, pointing out his doubt, he explained that as different types of plants could be produced by cross breeding, so human beings could be reincarnated as human or heavenly beings or even as animals depending upon their tendencies and longings. Sudharma was convinced with that explanation and became the Lord’s pupil along with his 500 followers. As a Ganadhar of the Lord he came to be known as Sudharmaswami.
This happened during the 42nd year of the Lord. The eleven Pundits who had come from Somil’s sacrifice became his first pupils and later came to be known as Ganadhars. Thereafter the Lord lived for 30 years. During that period, he continued to move in different parts of the country in order to lay down the path of liberation. During his discourses, Sudharmaswami always sat in front of him and carefully listened to what the Lord had to say. That enabled him to compose the Lord’s teaching in the form of Agams.
By the time of the Lord’s Nirvan in 527 BC nine of the eleven Ganadhars had passed away and only Gautam-swami and Sudharmaswami had survived. Since Gautam-swami had attained omniscience on the very night of Lord’s Nirvan, the administration of the order was left to Sudharmaswami. During the next 12 years that he remained at the helm, he efficiently managed the order set up by the Lord and spread his message far and wide. He gained omniscience in 515 BC and attained Nirvan in 507 BC at the ripe age of 100. After gaining omniscience, the religious order was entrusted to his principal pupil Jambuswami.
During the period of his stewardship, Sudharmaswami composed the Lord’s teachings in 12 parts, which are known as 12 Anga Agams. They are known as our original Agams and are collectively known as Dwadashangi. Dwadash means 12, and Anga means limb. As there are various limbs of the body, so there are these 12 limbs of the spiritual science. Many of the Agams are composed in the form of questions asked by the disciple Jambuswami and the replies given by Ganadhar Shri Sudharmaswami. A brief description of those 12 Agams is given below.
|01. Acharang Sutra
||It is the first and foremost Agam. It deals with the code of conduct for spiritual aspirants and particularly for monks and nuns. It also covers Lord Mahaveera’s life during the period of renouncement.
||It deals with different ideologies, Karma, salvation and various other aspects of special importance to the spiritual aspirants.
|03. Sthanang Sutra
||It deals with various aspects of Jainism by classifying them in 1 of 10 categories.
|04. Samavayang Sutra
||Its pattern is similar to Sthanang, but the classification extends to more than 10 categories. This and Sthanang together form a sort of Jain encyclopedia.
||This is also known as Bhagavati Sutra. It deals with thousands of questions pertaining to spiritual as well as worldly aspects, raised by Gautam-swami and others and replies given by Lord Mahaveera.
||It conveys various aspects of Jainism in the form of stories. The story of Draupadi and the well-known story of four daughters in law occur in this book.
||It describes the lives of Anand, Kamdev, and eight other laymen who adopted and rigorously practiced the code for house-holders or Shravaks as laid by the Lord.
||It describes the lives of 10 entities who ended the life cycle and attained liberation.
||It describes the lives of the entities who are reborn in Anuttara heaven. Only the souls, who are destined to attain liberation in the next life, are born in that heaven.
|10. Prashna Vyakaran
||It describes violence and other defilement as sources of Asrava and narrates how the major five restraints result in Samvar or prevention of Karma.
|11. Vipak Sutra
||It describes stories depicting the consequences of Karma that the souls have to bear at the time of fructification of Karma.
||This Anga has been lost more than 2000 years ago. It had 5 parts. One of them was known as Purvas. There were 14 Purvas in all. Four of them were lost before 300 BC The other Purvas were also lost later on.
Many other Sutras were compiled thereafter. Aside from the above-mentioned Anga Agam sutras, the following Sutras are prominent.
Jainism has deep roots and we practice it based on the scriptures that have been passed down from many generations. These scriptures called Agams have been authored by well qualified monks and very respected souls. We don’t have the benefit of such great monks as Gautam-swami in this era, but we do have the benefit of learning and extracting those ideas from the scriptures.