Rohit Arya_Sacred IndiaTarot#Creating the Hermit

The greatest exponents of renunciation in India were the Jains and Mahavira was the pinnacle, so he was an obvious choice for the Hermit. It is an interesting footnote on cultural transmission that the Jains never became a world religion like their contemporaries the Buddhists. Jane had no idea who Mahavira was! I wrote a concept note so as to speak, which is included here, and may be the best small introduction to the phenomenal impact the Jains had on the social, cultural and religious life of India.  In that sense Mahavira was one of the most influential people who ever lived, on par with Confucius in China.

Rohit’s Notes for The Hermit:

THE HERMIT – MAHAVIR … who is both the prototypal example of renunciation, as well as a link to Jainism.  It is after all the Indian Mythology Tarot, and the Jain faith has been around for as long as the Vedic one, if not even earlier.  The significant contributions of the Jains to Hinduism are actually conversions of the Hindus to new social principles.  These include vegetarianism, non-violence, the practice of celibacy, the forsaking of alcohol and the assumption of sannyasa before the fourth stage of life – Vanaprastha.  All of these practices are now common, and have been so for over a millennia, but anybody who knows the Vedic Hindus will realize what an amazingly contrary transformation has occurred in their character and outlook.

“We will send an original Mahavira sculpture to serve as a reference point.  There is no need to be anything other than absolutely traditional in representing him.  The base of his pedestal should have a lion carved onto it directly under his feet, that is the traditional symbol to signify that it is Mahavira and not one of the 23 Tirthankaras, or ‘ford crossers’ who preceded him.”


The Hermit – Version One:  Sage in a Cave




Correspondence:  Gautam – 11 April 2002

1 VARUNA:  We love the Varuna card …  think it is as close to perfect in expressing the notion of Justice,   No changes required.

 2. HERMIT:  Also very powerful, and we would like to go with it.  However, the Jains of India will take exception to Mahavir being shown with hair and beard, because traditionally they pluck out their  hair with their own hands;  hence he would have to be hairless and beardless.  But the point is, this is a great drawing, and we could still go with it, as we like it.  If you feel a figure without hair would be as powerful, then should we consider re-drawing this?  as Mahavir is a very important figure in the religious history of India, perhaps we shouldn’t lose that connection.  Also, if we redo this card, the pot/loin-cloth/stick is not required, as he has no personal possessions, since he is a Jain hermit and not a Hindu hermit. 

 “Would love to have your views on this.  If you prefer this drawing, then we’ll find some connection with another Hindu sage, as this is an archetypal Rishi figure.  Is the head deliberately larger in proportion as a sign of the inward spiritual growth?

 3.” WHEEL OF FORTUNE:  We are sending you a list of fresh suggestions as to how it could be visually interpreted, in a separate email.   Hope you have recovered well from your flu.”

 Correspondence:  Jane – 11 April 2002

“Hallo Gautam, thank you for yours, yes thank you, my flu is better and therefore everything.  I didn’t know anything at all about Jains, so I just went for an archetypal Vedic Rishi, thinking it would be about the same, unclothed.  The global archetype is generally heavily bearded, etc.   His head came out large, because I felt the Lion energy of spiritual development, and the very long hair expresses this vigour.   We can find a Vedic character for him?   But I am open to redoing him at a later stage if the concept of a hairless sage – never knew this – is required.    Isn’t there anyone in the major or minor Arcana who could represent this one?   A distracting chore to sit and pluck the hair each day – and painful too.   Extraordinary image of removing Karmas and Samskaras as they accrue! – like the ashes Shiva wore.

 “The Wheel will keep me busy for a bit.  I like the idea of humans transforming back and forth into archetypal animals, but we will see.  The significant point of The Wheel is its quiet centre, from which it rotates in every direction;  and the detached Yogi who in the west is represented by a sphinx.   Let’s see how our combined vision perks out.

 Warm greetings to you both.  Am producing April “Self Enquiry” magazine at the moment, but it is almost done.  Jane.”

The Hermit was re-done a year or two later, as Mahavir

Correspondence:  Rohit – The Hermit and the Jains

Dear Jane,

The Jains are a sect in India who are exceedingly ancient and are perhaps the only faith who were genuinely independent of mainstream Hinduism at all times.  They were once powerful across the land, having kings and ministers patronize them.  Their most famous convert was the first emperor of India Chandrgupta Maurya, who was the contemporary of Alexander, and indeed even met him once.  This man walked away from his throne and kingdom to become a wandering Jain hermit after 25 years of absolute power and fabulour success.  The Jains believe, like the Buddhists whom they resemble in many ways, in a succession of saviours called Tirthankaras, which means ‘the ford crosser’ and indicates enlightenment.  The Buddhist TATHAGATHA – ‘he who knows, because he is awakened’ – would be the exact equivalent.  There are supposed to be 24 Tirthankaras, most of whom are mythological, except the last two. 

The Jains are unusually fanatical about absolute non-violence, and even re-wrote the Ramayana, because they were distressed that the great Rama did so much fighting.   In their version, his brother does all the fighting.  The 23rd Tirthankara, Parashnatha, established the rules of poverty, nakedness for monks, refusal to stay in one spot, strict vegetarianism and teetotalism and non-acceptance of gifts.   Mahavira, a literal contemporary of Buddha, and like him a renunciate prince, added celibacy to the requirements. 

The Jain impact on Indian culture is tremendous, because Vedic India was a gleefully fornicating, wine drinking, non-vegetarian warrior culture, pugnacious, fiercely athirst to experience life.  Over two thousand years, the Jain ideal has completely permeated Hinduism as ideal spiritual behaviour, so much so that people miss the obvious fact that there was almost nothing Hindu and everything Jain in Gandhi’s ideas, he coming from the state of Gujarat, one of the few places where they are still influential and numerous. 

Even today, the authorities confuse the Jains to be one of the many fringe sects of Hinduism, but that is a great mistake.  They have an original theology and cosmology, and always were separate though ot above sharing some gods like Kubera or Indra.  They also contributed some magnificent temples (Mount Abu in Rajasthan) as their chief patrons were the merchant and business class.  Most Tirthankaras were Kshetriyas (they had great contempt for Brahmins) but for obvious reasons there couldn’t be too many Kshetriya Jains.

They have this incredible fear of harming any living thing – as it will add immeasurably to their personal Karma;  and Jain monks have been wearing face masks for two millennia to prevent the accidental ingestion of minute life forms.  They have this great fetish about fasting and its spiritual merit.  Senior monks literally fast themselves to death when they feel their time has come.  This is called the Sallekhana, and even the Emperor Chandragupta Maurya is supposed to have received enlightenment in this manner.  At the site of his Samadhi in Shravanabegola in Karnataka, has been built the largest free-standing monolith rock statue of another great Jain hero.  The annual puja performed there, has not become part of the International exotica media circus.   Mahavira had a world record for fasting, which was actually shattered two years back, by a monk who endured for almost 200 days without food.

There is no question of cheating here.  It was done in public with immense crowds in waiting.  Agriculture too is prohibited, so the faith is defined by existing as a community of true believers amongst a larger body of those indulging in sinful acts.  Both Buddhism and Jainism flourished in the 6th century BC.  Indeed Buddha and Mahavira were not only contemporaries;  they were almost the same age, and lived for over eighty years each.  There is no reliable historical proof that they ever met, though a Jain tradition says that they did, and had a silent conference in which each realized the other was enlightened, and went his peaceful way.

The Jains were the first to launch the habit of renunciation while still a young man, instead of waiting for the third stage of vanaprastha, as the rest of society did.  In a sense, they invented sanyasa in India.  They also invented monastic orders before the Buddhists or indeed before anybody else in the world.  The Digambaras are sky-clad, i.e. naked.  The Svetambaras wear white robes.  Lay people dress like the rest of society.  The Jain impact is still visible as they converted the Aryans into the Hindus of today.  All the values professed to be spiritual today, are Jain contributions – celibacy, renunciation, poverty, non-violence, vegetarianism – none of which was Hindu or even Buddhist to begin with.   Incidentally, Buddha was a non-vegetarian all his life.

Jain Tirthankaras or ‘Jinas’ (Conquerors over themselves) are always represented in this stiff immobile manner of the pictures we sent you.  They are supposed to be beyond all human passion and emotion, almost pure abstractions.  Indeed some of them are represented in metal as a hollow human shaped space where the person would be.  The only clue in sculpture we have, to recognize one Tirthankara from another, is the vahana or mount carved on the pedestal.     Mahavira is represented by the Lion carved on it, which was what I wanted.   Just reproduce the statue of the standing man, without the breaks of course.  It need not look like living flesh, as they believe the Tirthankaras are beyond realistic representation.  However, that is your choice.  The genitals are to be shown as small and inconspicuous as possible, as the Jains believe the Jinas have completely transcended the sexual drive.  They do believe however, that salvation is possible only as a male.  If female, then you have to incarnate one more time!

Jane’s Notes:

This Archive turns up further themes and companionships in the Sacred India Tarot.   The bearded version of the Hermit is a scion of the vigour of that Vedic culture, although pared down by his meditations.     Certainly I always pictured them as householders with large families, and the capacity to sit still under a tree and hear the Cosmic sruti.   They wrote down their Hymns by direct revelation through Nature;  they easily understood the measurements of the Universe and of atoms;   they were fine instruments.    They may have had – like Cro Magnon Man – a larger cerebral cavity.  Much of their brain power has atrophied down our ages, and become “unconscious”.

The naked version of the Hermit has pared away anything that might separate him from the element in which he bathes.  Through frost, monsoon and scorching heat, he shines, and is un-possessed.   In this picture he performs kumbakha – the ecstatic retention of the prana, or conscious breath.   He travels in space;   he journeys his inner being.   He dives into the heart.   He sits in the flowing sap, like a fountain within the tree.

“Hermit is the lamp itself of the divine,
the hidden and immortal One
Heart of all seeds.”

Rohit Arya is an Author, Yogi and Polymath. He has written the first book on Vaastu to be published in the West, {translated into five languages} the first book on tarot to be published in India, co-authored a book on fire sacrifice, and is the creator of The Sacred India Tarot {82 card deck and book}. He has also written A Gathering of Gods. He is  a corporate trainer, a mythologist and vibrant speaker as well as an arts critic and cultural commentator. Rohit is also a Lineage Master in the Eight Spiritual Breaths system of Yoga

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