Guruji Chitrabhanuji’s 90th Birthday Celebrations ►Mountain of Blessings

Posted: 02.08.2012
Updated on: 30.07.2015

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Gurudev Chitrabhanu 

Last week in July could be very hot and humid in the US but not this year.  In 2012 mother nature kindly provided us cool weather as hundreds of Jains in New York and New Jersey gathered at various Jain centers to celebrate 90th birthday of Gurudev Shri Chitrabhanuji.

Gurudev had expressed his desire that the celebration should be called a day to collect blessings and not a celebration of birthday because  his mission in life is to receive and share blessings from whoever he meets. And the blessings came from all over the world in hundreds of messages by phone calls, emails and greeting cards recalling memories of decades of personal associations, blessings and lectures still fresh in their minds. All the messages received were compiled in an album and presented to Gurudev in appreciation of his so many years of service to the Jain community all over the world.

The celebrations at each Jain center began with singing of Manglik by American students of Gurudev from Lighthouse Center in Michigan and Jain Meditation International Center in New York. Most of these devotees of Gurudev have adopted Indian names like Nirmala, Subodh, Jeevan or Prema given to them by Gurudev to represent their new life as practitioners of meditation, yoga and Veganism. To hear CHATTARI MANGALAM or Navkar Mantra from them was really an emotionally moving experience for everyone in the audience and it set the tone for the rest of the evening.

On Friday July 27, at the Jain Center of America (JCA), Bhattarak Swami Shri Charukeerti Ji spoke of the admirable life Gurudev has lived and message of Ahimsa he has spread across the globe. Jaybhai Shetty, the Chairman gave the history of how early Jain migrants established one of the first Jain Centers in America and how Gurudev has been involved with not only the JCA in New York but also with many of the Jain centers across the United States along with JAINA and YJA. A ten-minute play by the members of the youth group on veganism was very much appreciated by everyone.

Next day at the Jain Temple of NY, Anop Vora, past President of JAINA was the main speaker. He wondered about thousands of lives Gurudev had touched and changed for better in all corners of the world. Jainism has thrived and flourished in North America because of the solid foundation built by Gurudev’s vision, efforts and persistence.  He told everyone that Gurudev’s coming to America and contribution in creating JAINA has earned him the title of “Most influential spiritual leader to change Jain History in the west”. As a gesture of their appreciation of Gurudev’s tireless nourishing of the Jains in the NY area, The Jain Temple of NY announced that they would support Gurudev’s initiative for academic education of Jainism by raising funds for the next year’s International Scholars Conference at Claremont Lincoln University in California.

Sunday, the third day of the celebration was at the grand new Temple of the Jain Center of New Jersey in Somerset. This Temple was inaugurated only three weeks earlier and this was the very first program scheduled after the pratistha. Over 600 members came to be part of the historic event - 90th Birthday of their beloved Gurudev and see him in person. Program was organized by Gunvant Shah who has been celebrating Gurudev’s birthday at his home for the past 6 years. Gunvantbhai enumerated plentiful alternatives to dairy products available and urged everyone to at least try them out. Prof. Gary Francione, 2009 Keynote speaker at JAINA Convention in Los Angeles, delivered the main address. He mentioned the three things Gurudev did that have changed the landscape for Jainism in the US. First was a spark of Jainism that he ignited and gave birth to community of Jains in the US by starting Jain Meditation International Center in New York as the very first place where Jains could come and pray together - without any sectarian differences.  Next he brought Yoga and meditation as heart of Jainism. Third and most important, an emphasis on Ahimsa Gurudev has put in our daily lives. He quoted Bhagwan Mahaveer’s message from Acharanga Sutra on prohibition against torture or killing of animals and compared it with Gurudev Chitrabhanujis insistence on Veganism as true practice of Ahimsa. As per Mahaveer’s message, Jains cannot be part of any cruelty on five sensed animals and until we give up use of milk and milk products in our homes and in our Temples, we could not be considered as walking on a true AHIMSAK path. Prof. Francione declared that only the Vegan food could be considered as true Ahimsak food. Gary’s forceful presentation of reasons to go vegan was the most admired speech of the three days events.

Dr. Sushil Jain President of JAINA was the next speaker. He recounted his own family ties with Gurudev and his accomplishments in inspiring so many Jain Centers all over North America and formation of JAINA with Acharya Shri Sushil Kumar Ji. He proposed planting of a tree in each Jain center as a gesture of recognizing Gurudev’s legacy and offered JAINA’s financial support in planting a first tree at the Jain Center of NJ. He was followed by H.E. Amrendra Muni Ji who told everyone to follow Gurudev’s example and live the message of Mahaveer - reading and praising Bhagwan’s message is not enough.

The programs at all three centers were highlighted by the inspiring musical performance by Kummar Chaterjee who had flown in specially from Mumbai for this celebration. He gave a melodious recitation of Anand Ghan Ji’s stavans like AB HUM AMAR BHAI NA MARENGE and BAHER BAHER NAHI AAWE. He followed these by classical rendering of NAMOTHTHUNAM and LOGGUS Sutras that so moved the audience that many eyes had tears down their faces.

Many other speakers spoke about their admiration for the life he had lived or path he showed and their own encounters with Gurudev. Three past Presidents of JAINA, past or present JAINA committee chairs, Jain center executives and prominent Jains from neighboring states shared stories of how Gurudev had influenced their lives. A few chosen messages of people who could not be there were read to demonstrate depth of feelings and gratitude apparent in their writings. Everyone was wishing a long life to Gurudev and looking forward to his 100th Birthday celebration. Now it was the time for the main event of the day - what everyone was waiting for patiently - address by Gurudev himself.

Gurudev started by talking about the four important characteristics everyone should strive for: Maitry (amity), Pramod (appreciation), Karuna (compassion) and Madhyastha (equanimity). But living an Ahimsak life is a must. Ahimsa in words, thoughts and action. One cannot claim to be a true vegetarian if he/she also consumes milk and milk products. He urged everyone to watch the documentary film “Fork over Knives” and learn about the cruelty visited upon the speechless animals. The only reason people are consuming milk and cheese is tradition and ignorance about modern dairy farm practices. He urged everyone to not trust the memories of olden days where cow was treated like a member of the family in the present age of factory farming. Consumption of milk is a subsidy to the meat industry and we the followers of Ahimsa as way of life must turn away from dairy products. There is plenty of literature out there enumerating adverse health effects of milk.

He told everyone that he did not have particular desire to live to be a hundred or one hundred twenty years - they are just numbers devoid of any significance in a spiritual life.. What he worries every day before he puts his head to the pillow at the end of the day is how many blessings he gained that day. He would love to get blessings of people, animals and birds. He would like cows to bless him because he refused milk so that baby cow can have the milk. Number of years is not a good measure of a man but number of blessings collected is what is to be treasured.

The day ended with a sumptuous vegan meal. Many who had never before tried a vegan meal were heard saying - not bad at all - I can be a vegan!

Submitted by
Dilip V. Shah

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