In 607 B.C., in the village of Gobar of India, a Brahmin couple called Vasubhuti and Prithvi Gautam (family name) had a son named Indrabhuti. He was tall and handsome. He had two younger brothers named Agnibhuti and Väyubhuti. All three were well versed in the Hindu literature (Vedas) and other rituals at an early age. They were very popular and great scholars in the state of Magadh, India. Each one of them had 500 disciples.
Once in the city of Apäpä, a Brahmin named Somil was conducting a Yajna (sacrificial ceremony) at his home. There were over forty four hundreds Brahmins present for the occasion, and there were eleven popular scholars among them.
Indrabhuti stood out as a bright star. Somil was a staunch supporter of the Brahmin sacrificial rite and was very happy during the ceremony. The whole town was excited by this event in which they were going to sacrifice sheep and goats. Suddenly, Somil noticed many celestial beings from heaven descending towards his sacrificial site. He thought that this would make his offering ceremony the most popular in history. He told the people, “Look at the sky. Even the angels are coming to bless us.” The whole town eagerly looked at the sky.
To their surprise, the celestial beings did not stop at their site, instead they went further down. Somil’s ego melted away as he learned that the celestial beings paid homage to Lord Mahävir, who had come to nearby Mahäsen Forest for sermon. Indrabhuti was outraged by this incident and his ego was bruised. He started thinking to himself, “Who is this Mahävir who does not even use affluent Sanskrit, but speaks the common public language of Ardha Mägadhi.” Everyone in the ceremony was overpowered by the mere presence of Lord Mahävir. Indrabhuti once again thought, “Mahävir opposes animal sacrifices, and if he succeeds then we Brahmins will lose our livelihood. I will debate with him.” He left the Yajna site to challenge Lord Mahävir.
Mahävir welcomed Indrabhuti by calling him by his name even though they had never met. Indrabhuti was surprised, but then he said to himself, “Who does not know me? I am not surprised he knew my name. I wonder if he knows what I am thinking.” Omniscient Mahävir knew what was going through Indrabhuti’s mind. Indrabhuti, even though a great scholar, had doubt about the existence of Ätmä (soul) and was thinking to himself “Can
Mahävir tell that I doubt the existence of the soul?” The next moment Mahävir said, “Indrabhuti, Ätmä (soul - consciousness) is there and you should not question it.” Indrabhuti was shocked and began to think very highly of Mahävir. Then they had a philosophical discussion and Indrabhuti changed his beliefs and became Mahävir’s first and chief disciple. Indrabhuti was fifty years old at the time, and from then on he was called Gautam-swämi, because he came from Gautam family.
Meanwhile in the town, Somil and other scholars were waiting to greet the expected winner of the debate, Indrabhuti. They were shocked to learn that Indrabhuti had become a disciple of Mahävir. The other ten Brahmin scholars also went to debate with Mahävir, but instead became his disciples the same way as Indrabhuti did. The people present at Somil’s place began to leave and Somil canceled the ceremony and turned all the animals loose.
Once, Gautam-swämi was returning after the Gochari (getting food or alms) and he noticed many people going in another direction. He asked them what was going on. They said, “We are going to see Änand Shrävak. He has been performing austerities and has attained a special power (Avadhi-jnän).” Änand Shrävak was Lord Mahävir’s follower so Gautam-swämi decided to go and visit him. When Änand saw Gautam-swämi coming to his house he was very happy that his guru (spiritual teacher) visited him. Though he was very weak due to his austerities, he got up and welcomed Gautam-swämi. Gautam-swämi inquired about his condition. Änand replied, “With your blessings, I am fine.” After some time Änand told Gautam-swämi with respect, “Reverend teacher, I have attained a special power (Avadhi-jnän) and because of which I can see as high as the fourteenth heaven and as low as the seventh hell.” Gautam-swämi thought, “ A Shrävak can attain Avadhi-jnän, but not to this extent.” Aloud he told Änand, “You should do Präyashchitta (atonement) for your wrong imagination.” Änand was puzzled. He knew that he was correct but his teacher told him to atone for it. So he politely asked Gautam-swämi, “Does one have to atone for telling the truth?” Gautam-swämi replied, “No,” and then left the place thinking, “I will reconfirm this with Lord Mahävir.”
Gautam-swämi returned to Lord Mahävir and asked about Änand’s special power. Mahävir said, “Gautam, Änand was telling the truth. How could a person like you with so much knowledge make such a mistake? You should atone for your mistake.” Mahävir believed in the truth and he would never cover up the mistake of his disciple just to make their group look good. Gautam-swämi put his alms aside and immediately went to Änand’s house to ask for forgiveness for his doubt about his special power. Änand was proud of his humble teacher who did not mind admitting his own fault to his followers.
On another occasion, Gautam-swämi went to town for the alms. He was returning with the Kheer (a sweet made from rice and milk) in a Pätra (bowl) when he saw fifteen hundred hermits. Gautam-swämi felt that they were hungry and offered them the Kheer.
They began to wonder how Gautam-swämi would feed all of them. Gautam-swämi requested all of the hermits to sit down. Since he possessed a special power call Akshin-mahänasi Labdhi (non-diminishing power), he then served everyone the Kheer from his bowl. While serving the Kheer, he kept his thumb in it to invoke the power. To everyone’s surprise they were all well served from the small Pätra (bowl). The hermits were all so impressed by Gautam-swämi that all fifteen hundred decided to become Jain monk under Lord Mahävir.
Many Sädhus, including those hermits, attained Kevaljnän, the ultimate knowledge but Gautam-swämi was still unable to attain it. He was worried that he would never attain Kevaljnän. One day Gautam-swämi asked Lord Mahävir, “There were eleven of us (main disciples - Ganadhars) who accepted Dikshä and most of them have attained Kevaljnän. Why am I so unlucky that I am not able to attain Kevaljnän?” Lord Mahävir replied, “Gautam, you have too much affection for me. In order to attain Kevaljnän you must overcome the attachment. So, until you give up your attachment towards me, it will not be possible for you to attain Kevaljnän.”
On the day when Lord Mahävir was to attain Nirvän (liberation), Mahävir sent Gautam-swämi out to a nearby village to preach to a man named Devsharma. On his way back, Gautam-swämi learned that Lord Mahävir had attained (died). Gautam-swämi went into a state of shock and sorrow, lamenting, “Lord Mahävir knew this was going to happen. Why did he send me away.” Gautam-swämi could not stop his tears and started weeping. Within a few minutes he came back to his senses and began thinking, “No one can live forever; no relationship is permanent. Why was I so attached to Lord Mahävir?” May be Mahävir sent me away at this time so that I can understand the reality”. He contemplated that he was wrong and gave up attachment for Mahävir. During this deep thinking he destroyed his destructive (Ghäti) Karmas and attained the ultimate knowledge, (Kevaljnän) at the age of eighty.
He attained Nirvän, at the age of ninety-two in 515 B.C.
Gautam Swami was Brahmin by birth and a very well learned Pundit. When he met Lord Mahävir and found that the Lord was far more learned than him, he let go his ego and became His disciple. Thus, his life teaches us that one should always respect those who are spiritually and religiously more advanced than us. Gautam Swami was the first and the main disciple of Lord Mahävir. However, he could not attain omniscience even though many other disciples had attained omniscience. This was due to his deep love for the Lord. Love is a passion. To attain omniscience, one must get rid of all passions. When Gautam Swami, realized this and got rid of all his passions, he attained omniscience.