Tributes To Acharya Mahapragya

Posted: 14.05.2010
Updated on: 02.07.2015

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The deep sorrow that I now feel upon news of the demise of Acharya Mahapragya Ji is not a normal response to the death of a holy man; there is something more holy at work: it is the spirit and character of the man.

This unfolded when in winter of 2005, Dr. Sulekh Jain, a fellow collaborator in a new organization we were creating; viz. ASJNA (Academic Study of Jainism in North America) had to be introduced to leadership in the Jain community in India. Toward that end, Sulekh devised a month-long yatra for me to facilitate, getting publicity out to lay Jain people, academics and to spiritual leaders to get them on board the ISJS train (International School for Jain Studies.) The plan was to bring to India first-class graduate students from Western universities, give them immersion courses in Jain history, culture and philosophy, with a view to have them return to their home universities, and there spread the word about the study of Jainism, hoping for a repetition of what we had done for Buddhism which is now flourishing, internationally. Two initial problems we encountered were a divided Jain community, and a somewhat cold shoulder from the Jain spiritual leaders, due to the newness of the idea, and being unaware of the Western world's interest in their faith and philosophy. For our part we were convinced that if we could win the support of one big name Jain Acharya, others would follow.

Therefore, the ever resolute Sulekh Jain, hired a jeep and in short order we were driving to Rajasthan under the  guidance of Dr. S.P Pandey (of Parshwanath Vidyapeeth, Varanasi), there to have a darshan with Acharya Mahapragya Ji. I knew absolutely nothing about the man, He was staying temporarily in Rajasthan in a simple village of mud houses, and was now walking toward a meeting centre, covered by tent-like shamiana, and followed by throngs of devotees. Upon arrival, this frail man was whisked off into a small room, guarded by priestly attendants who held me, among the throngs, at bay. When we did meet, the question of language arose. Learning I could speak some Hindi, but more to establish equality and camaraderie; we began talks in Hindi, including some mild arguments. Regardless of my tooty-footy Hindi, he got my message about ISJS, supplying some of his own words, and declared our meeting memorable; consternation on Dr.  Pandey's face was telling. Not wanting to overstay the welcome, I slipped out in the crowd, but was promptly summoned to return, by the same guards who kept me out, and were now wondering what was the gravity of our talk. It seems we clicked, to become known later, because my message of Jain education to the world was already in his plans...

A few years later, his true state of mind became apparent first thing in the morning, following conferral of D.Litt on me by JVBI. After a  few pleasantries, he stretched over the length of his talk and assured me  that the substance of our exchanges were among the very things Acharya Tulsi, asked of him, and he was now asking of me through the instrumentality of ASJNA.  Now in Rajasthan, the vision was coming full circle. Then, to endorse his commitment to our cause, he promised me all resources we would need to advance Jain studies in the West and in India. My surprise was that this ascetic, of all people, would so deftly and quickly enter my mind and heart, and there build a temple to Lord Mahavir. In Matild’s (my wife) judgment it was the humility of the man that transformed people's prejudices and brought out their better nature.

So be it. I am resolved to channel my deep sorrow at his passing to continue the visions of Acharyas Tulsi and Mahapragyaji. As representatives of the International School for Jain Studies (ISJS), an organization to which he gave blessings, we now remember achievements of his long, illustrious life of global impact. ISJS will institute a prize for visionary achievement to keep alive the vision he had set.  His writings and books will be made known to Jain academics world over.  Now, our admired guru belongs to the ages, which instantly makes of us one family, united in both grief and joy. Shanti, shanti.

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