The path of austerity

Vardhamana practised austerities to the extreme. He meditated day and night, under the blazing sun or in the freezing depths of caves. He fasted for long periods of time. He even abstained from water for weeks on end.

When he felt the need to take food, Vardhamana would go to the house of a villager to beg for alms. If he saw that another monk was there ahead of him, or even if he saw a dog or cat moving around, Vardhamana would quietly go away from the place. He would say, "All souls are equal. They have come here before me, so they are more deserving than I am. If I stay, then their share will be less. I do not want to deprive them. Let me go somewhere else to beg for food today." Such was his compassion-heart.

While he was seated in meditation, many kinds of insects gathered on his body, causing him great discomfort. But he valued the souls of these little creatures and he would not remove them or bathe.

Living in this way, immersed in prayer and meditation, Vardhamana walked all over India. He acquired the epithet 'Mahavira', meaning 'Great Hero', because of his unimaginable austerities.