Homage to a Maha Gyani

Published: 18.05.2010
Updated: 18.05.2010

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The demise last week of Acharya Mahapragya, the legendary Jain spiritual  leader, received paltry and perfunctory coverage in our mass media. How sad.  Here was a godly figure, a genuine and persuasive preacher of non-violence,  an embodiment of all the virtues of Jainism. Nominally, he was the 10th head  of the Jain Swetambra Terapanthi tradition. Yet, transcending all barriers  of caste and creed, he embraced the concerns of the entire humanity with his  caring heart and penetrating mind. Unlike several New Age preachers, here  was an Old Age guru whose personality fully reflected the meaning of his  name. Mahapragya means the most knowledgeable. His learned followers, and  they belonged to different religions, India’s former President Dr APJ Abdul  Kalam being one of them, unanimously averred that Acharya Mahapragya was “not  merely a Person but also a Purpose, not just a Being but also a Belief”.

Who was this man? What did he strive to achieve during his 90-year-long  journey on this planet? Why did he literally Walk His Talk, traversing more  than 100,000 km on foot across the length and breadth of India, including  10,000 km of “Ahimsa Yatra” that he undertook in the last decade of his  life? Most people remained unaware of the answers to these questions because  our newspapers did not deem that his passing away merited more than an  obligatory news snippet. I didn’t see a single editorial, nor a befitting  obituary in any newspaper. Our TV news channels, which devote endless hours  of broadcast time to covering the scandals of fake swamis, didn’t consider  it their duty to enlighten the people about this true and towering religious  leader.

I had the good fortune of having the Darshan of Acharya Mahapragya on  several occasions. The most vivid among them was when, in 2005, my friends  and I drove to Ladnun, a small desert town in Rajasthan, where he was  staying on the campus of the Jain Vishwa Bharati University. It was a  special occasion, the 75th anniversary of his acceptance of Diksha, an  initiation ceremony for a disciple by a guru that is common in many  religions. There was a lot of excitement in the air since Dr Kalam, who had  collaborated with the Acharya on many worthy projects, was going to deliver  a message via a video link from Rashtrapati Bhavan. What a reassuring  manifestation of the Indian ethos of statecraft and secularism it was to see  that the Head of the Indian Republic was seeking the blessings of a holy  man, and that too from one who denominationally belonged to a different  faith! In 2003, Dr Kalam and the Acharya had joined hands to organise a  conclave of senior leaders of all religions in Surat, Gujarat. The “Surat  Spiritual Declaration”, which they adopted, envisaged collective celebration  of religious festivals; multi-religious development projects for healthcare,  employment, environment protection, women’s empowerment and welfare of the  needy; value-based education in schools; encouraging interfaith dialogue for  peace and harmony; and establishment of the Foundation for Unity of  Religions and Enlightened Citizenship (FUREC).

After the video message from Dr Kalam, my friends and I asked the Acharya  what he thought was the single biggest challenge before India. He said it  was the disconnect between economic growth and ecological well-being,  ecology understood here both as man’s outer and inner environment. “Economic  growth of the kind being pursued in India and elsewhere in the world has  become an end in itself. It is divorced from ethics, righteousness and  spirituality. It stands in conflict with man’s responsibility towards his  own community and the community of other creatures on Earth. Which is why,  human beings everywhere are unhappy.”    Acharya Mahapragya, who had succeeded Acharya Tulsi, an equally illustrious  Jain seer, was not unaware of the problems in the realm of religion itself.  His speech at the Surat conclave is a source of both caution and  enlightenment for the followers of all religions. “In the world of  religion,” he said, “moral values are not being given adequate importance.  Therefore, even a religious man does not hesitate to indulge in evil deeds.  In the world of religion, spirituality is being ignored. Therefore, the  dream of human unity is not being realized and no refinement is evolving in  human relationships. Spirituality is the path of purity of consciousness.”

In a world divided by religious distrust and discord, the Acharya’s  articulation of the philosophical basis of inter-faith amity has an enduring  global relevance. “The themes of awakening spiritual consciousness and  development of moral values,” he said at the Surat conclave, “can serve as  an universal platform for all religions. From this platform, all religions  can proclaim the message of unity and harmony. There need not be any problem  with the fact that the modes of religious worship and devotion are different  for each religion. The distance between religious traditions, however, may  exist on the basis of rituals and customs. But if we emphasise freedom of  thought and devotion to divinity, then, in spite of this distance, we can  come closer, sit together on the platform of spirituality and morality, and  work together. If we can develop this thought, then a new sun will rise over  our world.”

The man who strove for that New Dawn is now no more. But his message will remain alive.

Sources
Sudheendra Kulkarni
Posted: Sun May 16 2010, 02:46 hrs
Indian Express
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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharya
  2. Acharya Mahapragya
  3. Acharya Tulsi
  4. Ahimsa Yatra
  5. Consciousness
  6. Darshan
  7. Diksha
  8. Ecology
  9. Environment
  10. FUREC
  11. Gujarat
  12. Guru
  13. Jain Vishwa Bharati
  14. Jainism
  15. Ladnun
  16. Mahapragya
  17. Non-violence
  18. Rajasthan
  19. Rashtrapati Bhavan
  20. Surat
  21. Terapanthi
  22. Tulsi
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