History of Jainism ►Shvetambar Terapanth [1]

Posted: 28.02.2011
Updated on: 02.07.2015

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History of Shvetambar Terapanth Order

1. Beginning of Jainism

Jainism is supposed to be the oldest living religion. According to the Jain tradition it was founded by Bhagwan Rishaba in the pre-historical era. Rishabha was the first Jina hence he is often called Adi-natha, the first lord. He is mentioned in most of the Hindu Puranas, i.e. Markandeya, Kurma, Vayu, Garuda, Brahmanda, Varaha, Linga, Vishnu, Skandha etc. He was the first Tirthankara (an omniscient founder), and was followed by 23 other Tirthankaras. Bhagwan Mahavira, who was the 24th and the last in the line, gave shape to the present religion more than 2500 years ago. The birth of Lord Mahavira was in 599 BC in a royal family of Vaishali. He renounced the worldly life and became an austere ascetic, practicing the five great vows of non-violence, truth, non-stealing, continence, and non-acquisitiveness.

2. Crucial ideology of Jainism

Philosophy of soul and karma: Every living being is a soul, existing in the world from infinite time, passing through the cycles of birth and death. It is bound by karma (a fine form of matter) through its own action of passion - attachment and aversion. Soul itself is the master of its own fate, responsible for all its action - good or otherwise. Jainism does not accept creationism.

  • Freedom from passion leading to emancipation:

Soul in the worldly existence undergoes suffering caused by karma. It also possesses the potentiality of attaining emancipation. First by getting rid of passions (such as anger, pride, deceit, and greed) and attaining omniscience through right knowledge, right faith, right conduct and right penance one can finally get emancipated.

  • Non-violence and non-possessiveness:

The practice of religion consist in the renunciation of two deadly sins of humanity, i.e. the aggressive urge and the possessive urge, through non-violence and non-possessiveness respectively. The basic principles leading to this two are

    • all souls are equal to one’s own soul,
    • limitless desires and possessions vitiate one’s attitude and behavior.
  • Non-absolutism (anekantvada):

It asserts that infinite twin qualities of opposite nature such as, permanence and change, identity and difference exist in each and every substance. Therefore truth is multifaceted. All statements contain relative truth. To comprehend the complete truth, one has to take into consideration the different aspects of a thing /even from different points of view.

3. The Terapath order

Terapanth is a religious sect among Swetembar Jains. The Terapanthi sub-sect is derived from the Sthanakvasi section and was founded by Swami Bhikkanaji Maharaj (also known as Acharya Bhikshu) who was formerly a Sthanakvasi saint and had initiation from his Guru Acharya Raghunatha.

After some disagreement with his Guru on several aspects of religious practices of Sthanakvasi ascetics, Swami Bhikkanaji founded a new sect. This happened in Vikram Sambat 1817, i.e. June 28th of 1760, at Kelwa, a small town in Udaipur District of Rajasthan. This sect is entirely based upon the Ideology of Jain.
As Acharya Bhikkanaji laid stress on the 13 religious principles, namely,

  • five Mahavratas (great vows),
  • five samitis (regulations) and
  • three Guptis (controls or restraints),

his sub-sect was known as the Tera (meaning thirteen)-pantha sub-sect. In this connection it is interesting to note, that two other interpretations have been given for the use of the term Terapantha for the sub-sect: According to one account it is mentioned that as there were only 13 monks and 13 laymen in the pantha when it was founded, it was called as Tera (meaning thirteen) -pantha. Another interpretation of the term Terapantha is given by its followers: Tera means "yours" and pantha means "path" - in other words it means,

Hai prabhu yeh tera panth - "Oh Lord Mahavira! It is your path (Panth)".

This practice of regulating the entire Pantha by one Acharya only has become a characteristic feature of the Terapanth and an example for emulation by other Panthas. It is noteworthy that all monks and nuns of the Terapanth scrupulously follow the orders of their Acharya, preach under his guidance and carry out all religious activities in accordance with his instructions. Further, the Terapanth regularly observes a remarkable festival known as Maryada Mahotasava. This distinctive festival is celebrated every year on the 7th day of the bright half of the month of Magha.

4. Formation of the order

Sadhus (monks) and sadhvis (nuns) are people who have voluntarily given up their household lives and worldly affairs and have accepted the five major vows to uplift their souls on the spiritual path. They strictly follow the rules laid down for them. Shravaks and shravikas, on the other hand, continue to lead worldly lives. They may observe in full or to a limited extent, twelve minor vows laid down for them.

Terapanth is non-idolatrous and very finely organized under the complete direction of one Acharya. In its history of more than 200 years, the Terapanth had a succession of only 11 Acharyas from the founder Acharya Bhikkanaji as the first Acharya to the present.

At present Acharya Mahashraman is the supreme head. He is the 11th Acharya of Terapanth religious sect, comprising more than 850 monks, nuns, samans and samanis (a new rank between the ascetic and the lay-followers, following critical codes of disciplines) and millions of followers all over the world.

5. The Acharyas

Apart from founder Acharya Bikshu Swami, Acharya Jitmal (popular name " Jayacharya ") and Gandipathi Acharya Shri Tulsi are of special importance due to their missionary zeal. They were a adorable torch - bearers of great spiritualistic tradition of India. Acharya Shri Tulsi is designated as a "lord of humanity" by the people and his strenuous efforts are well known.

Acharaya

Term of acharyaship

Acharya Bhikshu

1760-1803

Acharya Vharimal

1803-1821

Acharya Raichand

1821-1851

Acharya Jitmal

1851-1881

Acharya Maghraj

1881-1892

Acharya Manaklal

1892-1897

Acharya Dalchand

1897-1909

Acharya Kalugani

1909-1936

Acharya Tulsi

1936-1996

Acharya Mahaprajna

1996-2010

Acharya Mahashraman

since 2010

6. The Sadhvis

At the time of foundation of the order there were only thirteen monks and no nuns. In V.S. 1821 three women approach to Acharya Bikshu for diksha and qualified. There were no nuns in the order until then and according to the rules a minimum of three nuns were required. So the question arose what happened to the nuns if one of them should change her mind and leave the order. Hence, Acharya bikshu asked all three women to go for fasting till death (known as santhara-Salekhana) should this occur. All three women, namely Sadhvi Kusalanji, Sadhvi Matatuji and Sadhvi Ajabuji, took diksha in V.S. 1821. After the 13 founding monks, these three women were the first who took diksha. Only after a year, in V.S. 1822, the first monks joined the order.

Sadhivi Kusalanji was leader of the nuns while Thirpalji was leader of the monks and all are under the umbrella of Acharya Bikshu. From the beginning of the order up to the era of Acharya Tulsi a total of 1597 women become Terapanth nuns:

Acharya

Date of acharyaship

Number of women taking diksha

Acharya Bhikshu

1760-1803

56

Acharya Vharimal

1803-1821

44

Acharya Raichand

1821-1851

168

Acharya Jitmal

1851-1881

224

Acharya Maghraj

1881-1892

83

Acharya Manaklal

1892-1897

25

Acharya Dalchand

1897-1909

125

Acharya Kalugani

1909-1936

225

Acharya Tulsi

1936-1996

617

Until the era of the third Acharya, named Raichandji, there was no custom for appointing a leader for the nuns. This responsibility were carried out by Acharya's preferred nuns. Sadhvi Barjuji performed the task during the term of Acharya Bikshu, Sadhvi Hiranji followed during the term of Acharya Bharimalji and Sadhvi Dipanji succeeded during the term of Acharya Raichandji.

FinallyAcharya Shri Jitmalji established the "sadhvi parmukha" as the leader of the nuns. As nuns were increasing hence, it was required to maintain discipline. The first sadhvi parmukha, named Sardaraji, was appointed by Acharya Shri Jitmalji in V.S. 1910.

Sadhvi Parmukha

Term (V.S.)

Sadhvi Parmukha Sardraji

V.S. 1910-1927

Sadhvi Parmukha Gulabaji

V.S. 1927-1942

Sadhvi Parmukha Navlaji

V.S. 1942 - 1954

Sadhvi Parmukha Jethanji

V.S. 1954 - 1981

Sadhvi Parmukha Kankuvarji

V.S. 1981 - 1993

Sadhvi Parmukha Jamkuji

V.S. 1993 - 2003

Sadhvi Parmukha Landaji

V.S. 2003 - 2027

Sadhvi Parmukha Kanakprbhaji

since V.S. 2028

7. Acharya Tulsi

Gurudev Tulsi was magnanimous in life and glorious in death. He lives forever in the hearts and minds of millions of people for whose mental, emotional, and spiritual upliftment that he worked for all through his life. He was born in 1914 at Ladnun, a small town in Nagaur District of Rajasthan. Right from his early childhood he exhibited brilliant qualities of head and heart. He renounced the material world and became a recluse at the tender age of 11years and showed promise to this difficult path with remarkable dedication. He went up in the order to the highest level and surpassed all estimates being made about him by the keen observers of the society. Through his dynamism and sense of purpose, he captured the attention of his Guru Shri Kalugani who nominated him to be his successor and he actually succeeded to his seat at the young age of 22 years. So he became the the youngest of the eight Acharya’s who preceded him.

Acharya Shri Tulsi was a great visionary and conceived many innovative programes and schemes to uplift the mental, moral and emotional status of his disciples and the entire population at large. He had the unique quality to translate his vision into actual practice. Rastrapita Mahatma Gandhi is the only other name which captures our imagination in this context. Acharya Tulsi showed great dynamism in conceiving and forth-rightly implementing the Anuvrat movement for moral regeneration of the nation. The five principles of anuvrat (brief resolves for leading an upright life), i.e. satya, ahimsa, aparigraha, achaurya and brahmacharya, became the five pillars of this movement for adoption in real life by individuals. This movement made a good headway through the teaching of his disciple saints; the foremost among them was Acharya Mahaprajna, the former head of the Terapanth sect who passed away in 2010 and was followed by Acharya Mahashraman. The work of Acharya Tulsi awakened the nation to a new moral code and cleansed the personal life of a large multitudes of the people giving them a sense of confidence and a direction for a purposeful upright living.

Gurudev Tulsi took up another gigantic task of editing the old Jain ‘Agamas’(shastras) which constitute the canonical literature of the Jains. In this regard he discovered the ancient Jaina technique of meditation which he named as ‘preksha dhyana’. This system of Jain meditation was so well developed under his and Acharya Mahaprajna’s spiritual guidance that it completely revolutionized the meditation techniques so far practiced by the Jain saints.

Besides controlling and administering an order of nearly 800 monks, nuns, samans and samanis, Acharya Tulsi was seriously absorbed in thinking about the future of the nation. His main concern in this regard was the education of the children and young men. After a deep probe into the contents and methodology of present day educational system, Gurudev and Acharya Shri Mahaprajna discovered some serious loopholes which needed to be plugged to make it really effective and useful.

Acharya Shri Tulsi noticed that the current system, though it was advanced in technical and intellectual field, cared little for the emotional development of the students. This lacuna leads to many evils in the society and proves an impediment in the balanced and harmonious development of a youth’s personality. Gurudev Tulsi along with Acharya Mahaprajna worked out a innovation of ‘Jivan Vigyan’(science of living) as his latest contribution to our educational system to engineer a balanced growth of mental and emotional faculties among the youth.

A remarkable and historical event of Gurudev’s immaculate life history is his willing and voluntary abdication of his ‘acharya pad’ (headship of Terapanth order) in favor of Acharya Shri Mahaprajna. His is a landmark in Indian saintly tradition, unprecedented and unheard so far.

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