While common society endows the title of “great warrior” on war heroes (for conquest of lands and people), many spiritual traditions in India recognize the true warriors or conquerors as those who had mastered themselves by harnessing their conscious to the level of gaining higher insight or vision, with the ultimate goal of self-realization or enlightenment.
For these people, the pursuit of the Spirit, the spiritual path, was not for the weak, wavering, or faint-hearted, but required the stealth and determination of a warrior. One such spiritual tradition is that of the Samanars. They were one of the many precursor indigenous cultures around 400 BCE, that all converged into would later become Jainism in Tamil Nadu around 100 CE; see article on Samanars.
The Mahavira, or the “Great Warrior”, is the name given by the Samanars to the spiritual masters who have reached the highest state of embodied enlightenment.
Even by today’s measure, they were critical thinkers way beyond their time. Scholars from leading universities in the areas of philosophy, still find their depth of metaphysical thought and hair-splitting logic to be very profound, and to say the least, stupendously mind-boggling. I can only imagine how intense their meditations had to be considering the layers of conditionings we mortals would have to shed to reach such heights of self-realization. They took the most direct path, walking on the razors edge.
This is not limited to just the Mahaviras of the Samanars, but such direct paths can also be found in other ancient yogic spiritual traditions in Hindu culture such as Siddhars, Aghoris, Nagas, and Rishis. And outside India in the Native Americans (the spirit masters, medicine men/women, shamans, and naguals), the wiccans and pagans of pre-Christian Europe, the Aboriginals of Australia, Siberia, Mongolia, and so on.
The other more well known tradition that flourished in that same time period was that of the Siddhars in Tamil Nadu. The Siddhars, aimed at the perfection of the body-spiritual. This is not “body” as in physical form, but in activating energy elements in the body (kundalini chakras), so as to merge the body-spiritual (not the body-physical) with the Self or Atman. The idea was that the body-physical (and the material world) was no more not-material than the consciousness. It’s probably from this focus arose the tradition of Siddha medicine, including methods for extending youth and longevity, regeneration, healing.
The one book that’s considered the crest of the peacock on the subject of kundalini is Thirumoolar’s Thirumanthiram. It’s a difficult read, I don’t understand most of it, but still doesn’t prevent me from revisiting it every few years. If anything, the exercise is maybe yet another way of getting us to churn our souls in different directions and get into that particular modality of critical thinking/meditation. Though the Siddha texts are written in current Tamil, it intentionally uses a mode of conveying things called sandhya basha (or “twilight language”), which unwinds or reveals itself only to those who ask the right critical questions (and not looking for the “right” answers, for in all likelihood the answers are far from anything one can even dream of, not quantifiable through the limitations of language).
Note: popular culture (influenced by Western theology and pop-culture) sometimes put a spin on the meaning of Mahavira or Great Warrior as an inner battle of good vs evil. Which is far from the truth, as even before these yogis embark on this path, is the understanding that the distinction between good vs evil are human conditions that need to be transcended. Opposing forces exist in Nature, but to apply anthropic attributes like “good vs evil”, or to even call them “opposing” forces is because of human conditioning. There is no inner battle. As mentioned, it has to do with stealth and determination, than a battle between conflicting elements.
- Shiva and the Primordial Tradition – Alain Danielou.
- Aghora – Robert E. Svoboda
- The Yoga of Siddha Boganathar – T. N. Ganapathy (poorly written, but informative and enlightening)
- Thirumantiram – Thirumoolar