26.07.2012 ►Tribute To Gurudev Chitrabhanu Ji On His 90th Birthday

Published: 28.07.2012
Updated: 02.07.2015




Gurudev Chitrabhanu

Friends, Jai Jinendra

http://www.herenow4u.net/fileadmin/v3media/pics/persons/Dr._Sulekh_Chand_Jain/Dr._Sulekh_C._Jain.jpgThe year was 1971. I was sitting in my office in Boston area and my eyes moved to a news item in a 4 page weekly newspaper published by Indian Embassy in Washington, D.C. It mentioned about the arrival of a Jain monk; Chitrabhanu Ji to the United States who against many odds and demonstrations against his travels (by many traditionalist Jains) at Bombay airport decided to come to America. The news item also listed contact phone #. Since I come from New Delhi and also had been away from India for several years, even though Muni Chitrabhanu Ji was very famous and well-known in Bombay and Gujarat area, I personally had never heard of him. His coming to USA was great and exciting news to me. I immediately picked up the phone and dialed the phone #. Chitrabhanu JI answered. I said vandana namaskar muni ji, introduced myself and started chatting. Chitrabhanu ji immediately stopped me and told me that he is no longer a Jain muni and hence will like to be addressed just as Chitrabhanu JI. I mentioned to him that I respect his honesty and frankness (which touched my heart). For me he is still the Jain scholar in different robes and if it will be ok with him that from then onwards I will address him as Gurudev Chitrabhanu ji. He agreed. I was touched by my first phone introduction to him and our relationships and journeys of life which now spans more than 41 years started. It has been a great and very enriching journey for both of us.

Friends, when I was leaving India for the first time for my studies, my parents (who were very devout Jain sharavak and shravika) were worried whether their son will remain Jain, practice vegetarianism and maintain Jain tradition and way of life. At the same time, they were confident that the sanskars/upbringing they had given to me will not shake me. My encounter and introduction with Chitrabhanu was not only very heartening but also provided a strong bond to those values. Fifteen years later when my parents came to USA to visit with us, they were not only satisfied but very pleased that their son and his family had not walked away from Jain values. Thank you Gurudev for the help and support you provided not only to us but also to thousands of others in their life journeys.

Let me mention here, that Virchand Raghav Ji Gandhi was the first Jain and a Jain Scholar to come to USA in 1893 and 74 years later Chitrabhanu Ji was the first Jain scholar and a spiritual leader to come to United States.  Their (of V.R. Gandhi and Chitrabhanu JI) coming to the West was strongly objected by the Jain community; first one was literally expelled from the Jain SANGH he belonged to  and the second one had to literally walk over the  bodies of Jains  lying  in his way  at  the Bombay airport tarmac to board the plane.  They both came here not to start a business and make money. They came with nothing except a mission and a life style of Jain values and its practical application in life. They came here to share the rich treasure of Jain culture and philosophy.

Within few weeks or months of our first phone introduction, he and I had another face to face encounter in Boston area when he came there to deliver lecture at Harvard University. About this, Gurudev has been talking publicly during the last 40 years and I am sure, you must have heard of this from him many times.

Brothers and sisters, when Chitrabhanu JI arrived in USA in 1971, there was only one Jain Center (Jain Center of America in New York), no Jain temple, not more than a total of 1000 Jains in the whole of North America, no JAINA, no YJA and hardly anyone knew about Jain Dharma. Now what we are and where we are, you know the whole picture and the story. Gurudev has been a big and important part of all that growth and I salute him for his steadfast and untiring contributions. We all Jains owe him a debt of our sincere gratitude.  

During the last 41 years, he and I have had many many chances of working together at Boston, Houston, Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, and several other cities. He and I talk often, share ideas and get advice and directions. During my 8 years in JAINA; first 4 years as Secretary and then 4 years as its President, he was my mentor and constantly my maarg darshak. When I was down he will pull me up. Even though he himself a Shwetambar Poortipujak, he has always preached and stood for non sectarianism and unity amongst all Jains.  He never built (to the best of my knowledge) any institution after his name and except being called Gurudev he never succumbed to the temptation of adding many long titles before or after his name. He has been a part of the emergence of Jain scene and presence outside India; in U.K, Belgium, Kenya and Africa in general but significantly on the North American soil in particular.  He has done pratishthas of many dozen Jain temples here and never asked for or gave permission to his name to be engraved under any pratimas or anywhere in any temple. He is a constant fixture at practically every JAINA and YJA conventions. Together, we went to US House of Congress for the Jain prayer. His more than a dozen books in English are inspirational and very well written. During his life here, He has inspired many Jains and non Jains and changed their ways of life. To the best of my knowledge, he never asked for and raised funds for his needs and projects here and in India, a rare trait when we see how others do just that.

After seeing the cruelties and suffering of animals; particularly the cows and calves, he adopted veganism as his own life style first and then vigorously started preaching about it. He vehemently opposed the use of any dairy products for food, worship and also use of all animal products for clothing, jewelry, body, auto and home decorations etc. He preaches what he practices. I have been practicing veganism for nearly 20 years, but Gurudev’s life style made my resolve stronger. It is due to his constant preaching that vegan food is now regularly offered at JAINA, YJA and many other events.  Last year, at the inauguration of Jain Studies program at Claremont Lincoln University, even that university decided to and served pure vegan Jain meals. Thank you Gurudev for making us better Jains and ahimsak.

He enjoys the company of scholars and thinkers and inspires them to think of compassion and ahimsa rationally and critically.  About 15 years ago, Dr. Michael Tobias recorded Gurudev’s life story.

Last year, Pramoda behn did the manglacharan and sang maitribhavnu at the inauguration of Jain Studies program at Claremont Lincoln University. Immediately after, they both donated $15,000 to establish an annual International Conference on Applied Jainism at Claremont Lincoln University, a first. They put their talk and walk together.   Brothers and sisters, how many times you have seen holy men donating their own money; probably never?  Normally, it is the other way around. Wow; what an example! The first such conference will be held next month (August 24th and 25th) titled Jainism and Bioethics at Claremont Lincoln University in Claremont, California. Let us applaud their vision and efforts.

Friend, to me his name Charitrabhanu (instead of Chitrabhanu) which means sun of character says it all. He rightly is what his name is. He practices what he preaches. 

Friends, I don’t know where I should begin and where I should end to describe the life of this Jain yogi. I can go on and on.

The best tribute that we can pay to this great aatmaa is to establish an annual lecture series in the name and memory of the two great luminaries and visionary Jain leaders; V.R. Gandhi and Gurudev Chitrabhanu who both tirelessly laid the foundation of Jainism and the Jain SANGH in this country.  Our hope is that in time, this (annual lecture series) will grow into a fully fledged V.R. Gandhi and Gurudev Chitrabhanu Chair at Claremont Lincoln University which is striving to become a world known Center of Excellence in Jain education. The time is now and let us pledge to do it right here today.

And yes, Gurudev, you are not 90. In fact you are just 45 twice. Here today, I want to tell this audience that I personally will organize a grand celebration on your 100th birthday.

Let us all wish him happy, healthy and fun filled birthday and long life.

Jai Jinendra.

Dr. Sulekh C. Jain,
Chairman Governing Council,
International School for Jain Studies (ISJS), USA
Past President, Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA)
'Houston, Texas
July 28, 2012  


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