Jainism – a way of life
ROLE OF JAIN MONKS AND NUNS
IN THE SOCIETY
Jain monks (The discussion applies to Jain nuns as well) take five major vows when they renounce the world and enter into the order of monkhood. These five vows do not permit them to indulge into the affairs of the society, be it political, socio-charitable or any other activities. Once a man renounces the comforts of his household life and cuts the ties with his families and friends, he must spend his time in meditation and his only goal remains the upliftment of his soul. Due to his vows of observing non-violence in the subtlest form he cannot travel by using mechanical means of transport nor can he involve himself in other people’s day-to-day problems and affairs. This will merely cause the karma- bondage. He has to seek salvation for his own soul. It would not be right for him to engage in political activities. According to the belief held by many monks, the Jain renouncer should also not open social-charitable institutions. As a monk he should have nothing to do with the financial matters of any person. His vows do not allow him to stay in one place for long periods (Except during the months of monsoon). Therefore a Jain monk’s life style is somewhat different then clergies of other religions.
However, if you look back in the history of Jainism you would see that there were monks and nuns who took active part in the politics of the prevailing era. Some were very influential in the political field and had even some sort of control in decision-making process. Ganga dynasty in South India and Solanki dynasty in Gujarāt are the two famous examples.
There are instances where some monks took more interest in the social reform of the society and some were engaged towards the eradication of poverty and diseases in parts of India.
One can argue about the rights and wrongs of this situation but history tells us that these activities have helped the cause of promotion of Jainism. I have sighted some examples here where Jain monks and nuns have divulged from their normal ‘Jain practices’ but their very acts have helped a great deal in the spread of Jainism.
SOME PROMINENT JAIN ASCETICS WHO TOOK PART IN THE POLITICS, SOCIAL- CHARITABLE ACTIVITIES.
Kalkāchārya- (First Century B.C.): – He has been sighted as one of the first Jains to be involved in politics. He had a very positive influence on the Sahi (Persian?) king. Kalkacharya’s sister (who was a nun) was abducted by the king of Ujjain who ordered that this woman should be brought to his court and serve him as his courtesan. Kalkāchārya was outraged by this and sought the help of the Sahi king. Sahi invaded Ujjain and established his own rule there. Kalkāchārya was favourite of the new Sahi king.
Simhanandi:- Simhanandi was a Jain monk who had great powers of influence. He played the role of the kingmaker and encouraged Jain sympathisers to get involved in politics. Simhanandi himself established the Ganga Dynasty in Karnataka State in AD 265. Simhanandi commanded political influence to effectively function as the kingmaker and subsequent Ganga rulers were all staunch Jains. Most famous of Ganga chieftains was Chamundraya who commissioned the great Bāhubali image in 948.
Shilguna Suri: – In AD 745, A certain chieftain Vanraja had established the kingdom of Pātan (a town in North Gujarāt) with the help of a monk called Shilguna Suri. This was a starting point for the Jain influence in Gujarāt. King Vanraja gave prominence to Jain monks and had many temples built. The tradition of keeping Jains as the chief ministers started. The migration of Jains from Mārwad to Gujarāt started from that time onwards.
Hemchandrāchārya:- The Jain influence in Gujarāt steadily increased after 745 AD. Hemchandrāchārya was born in 1088 AD and his influence in the kingdom of Solanki kings was so great that he impressed two great kings Sidhharāj and Kumārpāl. Kumārpāl became a ‘Jain’ and had many temples built. (Famous being that of Tārangā). This was perhaps the golden period for Jainism.
Hirvijay Suri (15th Century):- This great monk preached to the Mogul emperor Akbar. His influence encouraged Akbar to order all of the slaughter-houses to be closed during Jain festivities. He also gave the mountain of Sammetshikhar to the Jains.
Nānchandraji (1874- 1938):- A Sthānakvāsi monk who established institutions in Limbdi and Sāyla. He was impressed by the Gāndhian philosophy and worked for the Gāndhian movement.
Vijayvallabhsuri (1870- 1954):- The founder of the institute called ‘Ātmanand Jain Sabha’. Vijayvallabh Suri is known as the reformer and founder of many Jain Schools. These includes the famous Mahāvir Jain Vidyālaya (a boarding house for Jain students)
Santbālji (1903- 1982):- Santbālji was Nānchandraji’s disciple. He had undertaken all sorts of social, reformist activities. Because of his activities he was expelled from his own sangha. He too followed the Gāndhian philosophy.
Charitravijayji (1883- 1917):- He was first a Sthānakvāsi monk but was later converted into a Derāvāsi sect. He is known as the founder of Pālitānā Jain Gurukul- a boarding house for poor Jain girls. Once he saved dozens of people who were being carried away by the torrential rain and the floods in Pālitānā. He himself swam and threw a rope to the drowning people to save them.
Living Jainism:- Movements, Groups and Meetings:-
(A) Two great leaders who awakened Jain Spirit in America.
Two religious personalities, both initiated as monks in India broke the age-old tradition of the faith and travelled to a foreign country- USA. Both made their mark in the pioneering period when Indian engineers, doctors, chemists and students started going to that country. For these new comers, that initial period was the period of concentrating on making their living. They were cut off from the ‘homeland’ and were somewhat deprived of the religious environment. During that important time, both these monks rekindled the Jain spirit and taught the good values of Jainism to the new settlers. Their contribution was noteworthy and momentous.
(1) Pujya Gurudeva Shri Chitrabhanu
Born on July 26, 1922 in a small town of Rajasthan, India, Gurudev Shree Chitrabhanu, during his twenty-eight years of monkhood, spent the first five years in silence and meditation. With this experience, Gurudev emerged in the world with inner gaiety and enlightened spirit. With his wisdom, lucid language and eloquent speech, he won the hearts of millions in India and became one of the spiritual leaders of twenty million Jains.
Chitrabhanuji is the founder and spiritual adviser to the Jain Meditation International Center in New York City as well as to other meditation centers in America, United Kingdom, Africa, Canada and India. He is a world-renowned author of over twenty-five books.
Chitrabhanuji has a large following and together his wife Pramodaji, he is still active promoting Jain values worldwide.
(2) Shri Shushil Kumarji
Acharya Shushil Muni was born in a Hindu Brahmin family on June 15, 1926 in a small village of Sikhopur, in Hariyana, India. The village was later named Sushilgarh in Guruji’s honour. He left his family and home at the age of seven to live with a Jain monk Shri Chotelalji Maharaj, who later became his living religious guru. He took diksha at the age of 15 (became a monk) in the Jain Sthanakvasi sect.
Sushil Kumarji pursued an academic career and obtained many degrees. It was not long before his divine mission unfolded that he began to gain recognition as a fountain of wisdom, truth, and understanding, which actively promoted peace and harmony throughout his homeland. He worked untiring to establish a sense of universal brotherhood amongst the conflicting religious traditions of India. He was the honorary president of the World Conference of Religions for Peace. He founded the International Mahaviraa Jain Mission in 1978. He had also founded many other organisations to promote the world peace.
His main ashram is Siddhachalam, located in Blairstown, New Jersey. Siddhachalam consist of 108 acres, a campground, cabins, dining facilities, temples, and much more.
In June 1992, he addressed the Global Earth Gathering and the Earth Summit. There is hardly a nation that has not been touched by his efforts and all his life he worked towards the fulfilment of divine purpose.
Acharya Shri Shushil Kumarji passed away at the age of 68 years, on Friday April 22, 1994 in New Delhi, India.
(B) NEW GROUPS/FACTIONS:
Quite a few ‘new’ groups have started within the Jain ideology. These groups are mainly founded in the name of a scholar or saint who may have given his unique interpretation of the philosophy of Jainism. These groups teach and preach Jain philosophy as prescribed by a particular scholar/ founder. Most of the time such activities are nothing but the meetings of like-minded people wanting to know and practice the Jain ideology. In olden times many groups/ organisations were established (some no longer exist). Jain Social Groups’ Federation has more than 250 branches. This is an example of ‘Jainism in Harmony’. Jains of all sects gather together for social enjoyment and religious upliftment. This movement is a positive step, which helps all Jains. An organisation like the ‘Young Jains’ in the UK and also similar organisations in America and Kenya have motivated young Jains by adopting methods of frank discussions and encouraging questioning minds. Some of the monks in India have started their own ‘establishments’. The name of Āchārya Chandrashekharji is well known now. The āchārya has started his own ‘movement’ where students are trained and taught to spread the Jain ideals and the students are called ‘Veer Sainiks’ (Soldiers/ guardians of the faith of Lord Mahāvir).
Āchārya Tulsi’s (1914- 1997) name in the field of world peace is noteworthy. He became the head of the Terāpanthi sect when he was only 22 years old. He started the ‘minor vows’ (anuvrata) movement in 1949. Through this movement he inspired thousands of people to take some small vows. The Āchārya became very famous because of this movement. He taught the science of living to the common mass and started a certain practice of meditation called Preksha Dhyan. Āchārya also founded a University in Ladnun, Rajasthan that teaches and promotes the Jain philosophy. His contribution to the field of meditation and in spreading the ideals of peace and non-violence has been greatly praised by the scholars of many countries. He also started a new category of monks and nuns (samans and samanis) with some relaxation in the rules of ascetic life. This was initially criticised but now favoured by many people in India and abroad. A saman or a samani can travel and go abroad to teach Jainism and they are also allowed to stay with other families in their houses. Āchārya Tulsi died in 1997 but his establishment is getting stronger day by day. The present Āchārya is Mahāprgyaji. There are branchs of his establishment in many countries outside India in the names of Jain Vishva Bharati.
Āchārya Chandanāji:- Āchārya Chandanāji is the principle disciple of Upādhyāy Amar Muniji (1901- 1992) and the head of socio-religious organisation called Veerayatan. This organisation is in the State of Bihar where nuns and devotees care for the sick and provide shelter, clothing and food to the poor. This complex is located on a 40- acre site at the foot of a beautiful hill called Vaibhārgiri near the city of Rājgir, Bihar. Here eye hospitals, orthopaedic, polio, and artificial limbs, out patient medical clinics, ophthalmic research and training centres have been established. Āchārya Chandanāji and her disciples’ selfless activities are gathering momentum and spreading in other states of India. Veerāyatan’s activities have spread in Gujarat and Maharashtra too. In the Kutch region of the state of Gujarat, Veerayatan has established a Pharmacy College in a village called Jakhania. Āchārya Chandanāji was very much inspired by her ‘Guru’ Upādhyāy Amar Muniji (1901- 1992). It was Amar Muni’s dream to establish an institution which will look after peoples physical (like hunger and diseases), mental and spiritual needs. Āchārya Chandanāji, by her untiring dedication and with the support of well-wishers through out the world has made Veerāyatan a socio-religious hub with branches in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bihar and through out the world. The idea ‘Jainism in Action’ appeals to youths and many of them see this movement as the proper interpretation of the principle of Ahimsā.
Veerayatan has also established Jain schools in many countries.
Sadhavi Shri Shilapiji, one of the disciples of Chandanaji, is very active in promoting the educational and charitable activities throughout the world.
VARIOUS MEDITATION/ DISCUSSION GROUPS:-
Some groups are regarded as ‘Satsang’ groups or ‘Swādhyāy’ groups. In these types of groups people regularly (usually once a week) meet and read or learn about teachings of a particular saint or a scholar. Devotional songs are sung and books written by a particular saint are read. Some of the well-known groups are as below-
Shrimad Rājchandra Swādhyāy Groups-
There are many groups, which regularly meet and learn about the philosophy of Shrimad Rājchandra. Many organisations have been founded in India and more and more people are doing weekly meditations/ reading (satsang/Swādhyāy) in such groups.
Shrimad Rājchandra was born in November 1867 in a small village, called Vavania in the state of Gujarāt. His father’s name was Rāvjibhai and mother’s name was Devabai. He was named Rāichand when he was four year old. Rāichand was always a brilliant child. He was very intelligent and had completed his seven years’ study in two years. It is said that he knew about his past births when he was seven years old. This knowledge is called jati smaran gnan.
He left school at the age of eleven but continued his studies at home. At the age of 13 he helped his father in his business. Rājchandra quickly acquired scriptural knowledge. He could understand and memorise books in a very short time. His power of remembrance developed further and he managed to do hundred avadhān (paying attention in hundred different things simultaneously). This extra ordinary power was due to his supernormal capabilities. He gave a public performance of this extra ordinary capacity in a packed auditorium in Bombay. The British officers and some journalists witnessed this. Although he could perform the hundred avadhan when he was only 19 years old, Shrimad gave up this practice because, as he said, this was not going to help in his spiritual quest. He did not care for fame or money that might have earned from this avadhans. His goal and destiny were certainly different.
At the tender age of 16, Shrimad composed a book called Mokshmālā containing 108 short lessons. This book was first published in 1888 when Shrimad Rājchandra was 20 years old. He has written scores of poems and his letters to various people including some letters to Mahātma Gāndhi are now very famous and big source of inspiration to all who read them.
His poem Ātmasiddhi Shāstra is very famous. This poem was written in 1896 and consists of 142 verses. The poem explains the theory of soul and it’s liberation. The poem is of highest spiritual value and revered and recited by the followers of Shrimad Rājchandra in regular gatherings worldwide. Shrimad’s ascetic life style and strict code of conduct took its toll and he was in a poor health. He did not care at all for any material gain in his life and his weight had gone down to only 45 lbs. when he was 32-33 years old. However, he was in a perfect blissful state and there was an aura of spirituality around him. He died peacefully and in the state of Samadhi at the very young age of 33 in AD1901. For his followers he is a Krupalu Deva (ever merciful god) and revered with utmost respect and devotion.
Other Devotional Groups-
Mumukshus (Those who desire moksha): Obviously every true Jain is a mumukshu but the term has been coined by the followers of a saint/monk called Kanji Swāmi. His teachings are largely based on Digambara Holy books like Samay-sār, Pravachan-sār etc. Some groups following the teachings of Shrimad Rājchandra are calling themselves mumukshus too.
Pujya Atmanandji (real name Dr Mukund Soneji) has established an institution at Koba in the State of Gujarat. It is called Shrimad Rājchandra Ādhyātmik Sadhana Kendra. This centre has worldwide followings.
An Ashram established at Dharampur also attracts thousands of devotees now. Pujya Rakeshbhai Zaveri is the founder and inspirer of this Ashram. Rakeshbhai has thousands of followers world-wide. His message is the message of Lord Mahaviraa, however his preachings and teaching centre on the writings of Shrimad Rajchandra.
Pujya Nalinbhai Kothari: Nalinbhai is the head of the Sayla Group. In a town called Sayla, they do religious, educational and charitable activities. They organise medical campa to help poor and needy people. There are followers of this group in the UK and they also meet regularly.
There is a particular movement founded by a saint called Dada Bhagvān which incorporates basic tenets and mantras of Jain and Hindu philosophies. This ‘faction’ is gathering momentum and many Jains and non-Jains have become the followers of this path. Dada Bhagvān (real name- Ambalal Patel ) was born on 7th November 1908. He acquired a certain super-knowledge whilst seating on a bench and waiting for the train on a railway platform at Surat station (1958). By and large his philosophy is that of the Jain scriptures. However, he had a unique knack of explaining everything in the simplest and easiest form. This attracted large number of followers. He asked his followers to worship Tirthankara Simandhar Swāmi. According to the Jain faith Tirthankara Simandhar Swāmi is still living ‘in a distant planet’ called Mahāvideha Kshetra. As He is a living (viharmana) Tirthankara, His worship is considered more in tune with the time and therefore more beneficial. The prayer recited in Dada Bhagvān’s groups is the combination of Jain and Hindu verses. Dada Bhagvān died on 2nd January 1988 but his followers are keeping his ideology alive and it is flourishing in India and abroad. A very large temple and a housing colony for the devotees have been constructed near the city of Ahmedabad.
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