Shri Atmaramji Maharaj - An Appreciation

Posted: 27.12.2010
Updated on: 03.01.2011

The essay was published in Jainacharya Shri Atmanand Janma Shatabdi Smarak Grantha (Jainacharya Shri Atmanand Centenary Commemoration Volume), edited by Mohanlal Dalichand Desai, Bombay 1936, pp. 67-70.

Shri Atmaramji Maharaj - An Appreciation

"To be weak is the true misery" - Carlyle.

Individuals become great or small, shine like the sun on people's memory or sink into the deep pit of oblivion and are forgotten as they face the odds bravely and live and die for their convictions or give in and are affected by every puff of wind that blows. All the great men of the world who while departing have left behind us their footprints on the sands of time invariably had to suffer a lot to live up to their ideals. For the strong, obstacles become stepping stones to success but for the weak, they remain but obstacles to knock them down. Tolstoy observes that fortune turns like a wheel, one man it lifts, the other it turns down. But that may be trueonly about the common run of men. For those who have sacrificed their all and themselves for the amelioration of their souls and that of their brethren, fortune-good or bad-matters little. They go on and the so-called fortune licks their feet in the end. They believe that their own Karmas make their fortune and rightly do they do so.

Such a one was Shri 1008 Jainacharya Shri Vijayanand Surishwarji Maharaj, also known as Shri Atmaramji Maharaj, the greatest Jain Sadhu of modern times whose centenary we are celebrating.

Shri Vijayanand Suri may truly be said a harbinger of great enlightenment among the Jains. With him set in a new era in the history of our religion and began the renaissance of our literature. He was the first modern scholar to introduce us to the treasure of the old forgotten Jain classics. That is why we revere and worship him as our great Jaina.

Some are born great and upon some greatness is thrust. He was none of these. Born of not so very influential parents in a small village Lehara, where there was no Jaina, where there were no prospects for getting education, where the people were steeped in ignorance, and where the people had no other idea of religion but ceremonialism, this man became known far and wide not only in his own country but also in America and Europe. Why was it so?

From his very childhood he was fearless. With a sword in his hand he could stand at the gate to defend his house from the robbers in absence of his father. It was at Zira that he first came in contact with the Jaina Sadhus and ultimately resolved to take Diksha inspite of the discouraging remarks of his near relatives. He had a great thirst for knowledge and roamed from place to place to quench it.

All of us know that he first took only Sthanakvasi Diksha but his first guru and other Sadhus of his sect could not satisfy him. He was of questioning nature. He could not rest, unless everything was clear to him. He hated to follow any principle or person blindly. He must be convinced first and only then could his mind rest. That was why he left his first fold and became a disciple of Shri Buteraiji Maharaj. That was extraordinary. To change one's creed especially for a Sadhu and for a Sadhu also of great name and fame means bearing great public ridicule. But he was prepared to bear all that. Not because he was to become richer in the worldly sense or to get any political or social power but because he was a seeker after truth. I have not the slightest doubt that he might have changed his religion for some other, had he not been satisfied by Jainism. Once convinced he was prepared to do Shastrarth with anybody. But he was not satisfied only with his own satisfaction. He made it the mission of his life to spread and preach what he believed to be true in every nook and corner of our country. That is why we see so many temples all over the Punjab, whereas before him there was practically none.

He was not an ordinary guru. He was far-sighted. He felt that these temples could not serve any useful purpose, unless there were true and enlightened worshippers. To achieve that end he impressed two things upon the public mind - firstly that the Jains must have their own gurukuls and pathshalas to receive religious and secular education and secondly to catalogue, reprint, translate and study our old manuscripts and shastras and make necessary arrangements for their study in the form of libraries and reading rooms.

(आत्मारामजी) महाराजश्रीना देश पंजबना गुजरांवालामां अग्निसंस्कारने स्थाने बांधेलो स्तूप

A monument built at the funeral spot in Gujaranwalla Punjab District in respect of Shrimad Vijayanand Suri

This idea of starting Saraswati mandirs and Gnyan mandirs was quite a new idea for the Jains. As there is always an opposition to every new reform, so naturally this met opposition from many quarters. Unfortunately, he could not give a practical shape to it in his short but all active life. He, however, found a very good disciple in Acharya Shri Vallabhvijayaji Maharaj and I can confidently say that the seed sown bythe late guru is bearing fruit now. We have got good many though not in any way sufficient educational institutions and libraries due to his efforts and all-pervading influence.

Shri Vijayanandsuri was totally modern in his outlook and did not like the evil customs of his day. May we take heed and act according to his advice and get rid of our social corruptions that are eating into our vitals. He wished that the Jain society should march along with the time, it should educate itself, organise itself and act and preach the doctrine of Ahimsa to every person. Who else could prepare Shriyut Virchand Raghavji Gandhi to go to America and at Chicago to explain to the whole religious world the Jain philosophy. But for his efforts Jainism would have been little known to the other religious-minded people of the world. Now Western scholars come to India to study Jainism. Could we establish a grand research library, where these foreigners and our own scholars may be able to dip deep into the ocean of our ancient literature and bring out for the world pearls of purest ray serene.

The great Guru little cared for what the other people thought of him and always bravely spoke out his mind. He was physically, intellectually and spiritually above par. He had strength of character that other sadhus should copy. He had no mouselike fear of the capitalists. He had hypnotic influence over the rich and the poor alike. He fully believed that the principle of Ahimsa, can not be observed by the weak. It requires sacrifice without grumbling and that can be done only by those who are spiritually strong.

Now when we are celebrating his centenary, it becomes us to act according to the dictates of our great Guru not blindly but after understanding and realising fully what he has said there and following him. He never said or did what he did not believe to be true. He never felt weak and hence never miserable.


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