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The Chicago-Prashnottar: Introduction

Published: 21.06.2011
Updated: 02.07.2015

The following letter was received by Shri Shri Tapagachhacharya Nyayambhonidhi Shrimat Vijayananda Suri, popularly known as Shri Atmaramji, through the Jain Association of India, Bombay.

Worlds' Congress Auxiliary
Committee on Religious Congress,
Rev. John Henry Barrows D. D.,
Chairman, Chicago, U. S. A.,
November 16th 1892.
2330 Michigan Ave. Mr. Atmaramji,
Bombay, India.

Please address me

William Pipe,
2330 Michigan Ave, Chicago,
United States of America.

Dear Sir,
There will be mailed to you in the course of a week an appointment as a member of the Advisory Council of the Parliament of the Religions to be held in Chicago in 1893. In the meantime the Chairman instructs me to ask you if you will kindly forward to me at your earliest convenience two photographs of yourself and a short sketch of your life. These are to be used in preparing the illustrated account of representatives of the great faiths of the world. Will you therefore give this matter your earnest consideration and forward to me as soon as possible what is requested? Some other pictures and explanatory literature that would illustrate any feature of Hinduism would be much appreciatedd. With fraternal greetings,

I am,
Faithfully and sincerely yours,
William Pipe.

A reply to this letter was sent by the Jains of Bombay through Mr. Vir Chand Raghavaji Gandhi B.A., M.R.A.S., in consultation with the Muniraj Atma Ramji. The purport of the reply was that the Muni Mahardj had received the letter and was highly pleased to hear of the undertaking about holding a Religious Parliament at Chicago. It was also stated that the Muni Rāj regretted that owing to oldage, religious restrictions and some other private reasons he was unable to personally attend the Parliament o£ religions in compliance with the invitation. As desired, two photos of the Muniraj and a short biographical account of him together with some other interesting photos were also sent, an acknowledgment for which was requested.

To this letter the following reply was received.

Chicago U.S.A., April 3rd, 1893
Muni Atmaramji, 9, Bank Street Fort, Presidency Mills Co. Ld.

Reverend Sir,
I am very much delighted to receive your acceptance of your appointment together with the photographs and the biography of your remarkable life. Is it not possible for you to attend the Parliament in person? It would give us great pleasure to meet you. At any rate, will you not be able to prepare a paper which will convey to the occidental mind, a clear account of the Jain Faith, which you so honor-ably represent? It will give us great pleasure and promote the ends of the Parliament if you are able to render this service.
I send you several copies of my second report. Hoping to hear from you soon and favorably, I remain with fraternal regards,

Yours cordially, John Henry Barrows,
Chairman, Committee on Religious Congress.

A reply to the above letter was sent through Shah Magan Lāl Dalpat Rām, acknowledging the receipt of the letter and intimating that, in compliance with the wishes expressed therein, the Muni Maharaj had undertaken toi write a contribution on the Jain Faith.

The following is the reply received.

Chicago U. S. A. June 12th 1893.

My dear Sir,
I am desired by the Rev. Dr. Barrows to make an immediate acknowledgment of your favour of May 13th. It is eminently to be desired that there should be present at the Parliament of Religions, a learned representative of the Jain community.

We are indeed sorry that there is no prospect of having the Muni Atmaramji with us and trust the community over which he presides will depute someone to represent. It is, I trust, needless for me to say that your delegate will be received by us in Chicago with every distinction, and during his stay here, will receive our hospitality in as great a measure as we are able to accord it. If you therefore decide to send a representative, will you kindly cable the fact to me? The paper which learned Muni is preparing, will indeed be very welcome and will be given a place in the programme in keeping with the high rank of its author. Although we here in Chicago are a long distance from you, the name of Muni Atmaramji is frequently alluded to in religious discussions. For the purpose of illustrating the volumes which are to record the proceedings of the Parliament of Religions I am in want of a few pictures to illustrate the rites and ceremonies of the Jain Faith. May I ask you to procure these for me (at any expense) and send at your earliest convenience.
I am, Very truly yours,

WILLIAM PIPE, Private Secretary.

This letter was passed on by Muni Atma Ramji to the Jain Association, India, with the remarks that it would be well if the Jains at Bombay were to consider the matter of sending Vir Chand Raghavji Gandhi as a representative of Jain faith to the Parliament. He added that by his reputation as a delegate to the Parliament of the religions of the world he would be able to give publicity to the religion of the Jains to all those who did not know what Jainism and its tenets were, and that the course was calculated to disseminate the truths of Jainism far and wide. This opinion of the Muniraj was accepted by the gentlemen of Bombay, because they implicitly believed in his words and were convinced that the opinion expressed by Muniraj could never be against their scripture or prejudicial to them in any way, for they well knew that in the modern times there was none equal to him in the knowledge and scholarship of Jain religious literature. Having thus considered the matter, the Jain Association of Bombay requested Mr. Vir Chand Gandhi to go as their delegate to Chicago. On this occasion at the request of Mr. Vir Chand Gandhi as well as that of Chicago committee on Religious Congress the Muniraj wrote this work in the form of questions and answers on Jainism. I venture to publish the work for the benefit of my brethren. As the book was specially written for the Chicago Parliament and contained answers to the questions received from Chicago, it was aptly entitled the "Chicago Prashnotar" i.ey Questions and Answers on Jainism for the Chicago Parliament of religions. The name and learning of the author of the book being universally known, it is needless for me to dilate on the merits of his books. Nor can I do justice to the task, even if I were to attempt it. How can I be considered qualified enough to do full justice to the merits of the works of an author about whom occidental scholars and savants have expressed such a high opinion? The following is an extract in this connection from the English translation of Upasakdasang Sutra by Dr. A. F. Rodolph Hornell, Secretary of the Asiatic Society of Bengal.

"In a third Appendix (No. III) I have put together some additional information, that I have been able to gather since publishing the several fasciculi. For some of this information, I am indebted to Muni Maharaj Atma Ramji, Anand Vijayji, the well-known and highly respected Sadhu of the Jain community throughout India, and author of (among others) two very useful works in Hindi, the Jaina Tattvadarsha mentioned in note 276 and the Ajnana Timira Bhaskara. I was placed in communication with him through the kindness of Mr. Magan Lai Dalpat Ram. My only regret is that I had not the advantage of his invaluable assistance from the very beginning of my work. For some useful suggestions and corrections I am also indebted to Mr. Virchand R. Gandhi, the Honorary Secretary to the Jain Association of India."

On the 21st page of "The World's Parliament of Religions," published in London, there is a photo of the Muniji Maharaj bearing the following eulogy.

"No man has so peculiarly identified himself with the interests of the Jain Community as Muni Atmaramji. He is one of the noble bands sworn from the day of initiation to the end of life to work day and night for the high mission they have undertaken. He is the High priest of the Jain community and is recognised as the highest living authority on Jain Religion and literature by Oriental scholars."

The above has also appeared at page 3 of the treatise entitled "Eulogies to holy places." Dr. Hoernell has written certain eulogistic verses in Sanskrit on Muniji in the beginning of his publication on Upasak Dasang Sutra, the translation of which is given below:

"(1) Thou art like the sun in dispelling the black clouds of ignorance; thou established the minds of others on the sea of nectar of good and noble instructions; thou cuttest as under all knots of doubts; thou art beyond the eighteen blemishes condemned by Jainism. Thou art unsurpassingly great in the knowledge of the spiritual lore of Jains and that thou art all-wise.

(2) For the purpose of dispelling the ignorance of all good men, thou hast written the works entitled "Agyan Timirbhaskar" and "Jain Tattvadarsha."

(3 & 4). O Master of bliss, O glorious soul, O Enjoyer of spiritual knowledge, O great sage, O unfailing answerer of all my questions; O purified soul! In recognition of the good thou hast done me, I dedicate this book to thee in all sincerity of feeling as a mark of my gratitude."

The reader of the present work will find all necessary information regarding the following questions:

What is God? What kind of God ought to be adored? In what way do the Jains and in what way do the followers of other religions believe in God? Whether God can be proved as the creator of the universe or no? What is action and how is it internally and externally classified? What bondages are caused by what actions and what are their fruits? What is that which leads from one state of existence to another state of existence? What connection is there between the soul and the actions? Does the soul perform the actions itself or is led by some other force to perform them? Does the soul enjoy the fruits of its actions itself or is allowed by some other to enjoy them? In what matters do all religions agree unanimously? Has the soul the power of becoming God or no? Does the soul return to the world after liberation or no? Whether or not is it possible for the world being depleted of living beings when there is a continuous streams of the souls going into liberation which prevents their return? How is the transmigration of soul established? How is the existence of soul proved? What advantages are there in wor­shiping God and loving God, and how should this adoration be made? What form of image-worship should be observed and why? What connection between God and man do religions believe in? What are the duties of an ascetic and what of a house-holder? What are the prescribed characteristics of the spiritual and the worldly life? What is the necessity and ad­vantage of the study of various religious books, and what are the rules regulating such a study? Is there an incarnation of God or no? If so, whether the liberated soul of God catches any contamination by the process of incarnation? Has or has not God any defects?

In addition to the above questions, the author has also discoursed on such topics as the re-purification of a contaminated soul, rules calculated to ward of the fear of death, the classes and cha­racteristics of religion etc. etc.

In consideration of the subjects treated in the book it would not be inappropriate if it is entitled "Tattvapunj" or collection of cardinal truths.

This work after completion was handed over to Mr. Vir Chandra Gandhi, who by its aid created a thirst in the minds of the people at Chicago and other places for spiritual know­ledge to such an extent that he was again invited to America. The invitation was gladly accepted by Mr. Vir Chandra Gandhi who resolved to go there with his family. On the occasion of kis departure, the spiritual-minded Jains of Bombay presented several addresses to him. For fear of space, the purport of only one o£ these addresses is given below:

Dear brother Mr. Vir Chandra Raghav Gandhi.

We, the members of the Shri Hem Chandracharya Abhyas Society, have met together to express our feelings of joy and sorrow - joy at the thought that you are going to such a distant country for the dissimination of tenets of Jainism, and sorrow because we will be deprived of the assistance of such a useful member.
Dear brother, at a time when there was very little education among our community, you passed the highest collegiate examinations and displayed too deep an interest in spiritual and worldly matter to be adequately spoken of. The strenuous efforts you made in connection with the holy places of pilgrimage such as Shri Satrunjaya and Samedshikhar etc., are highly com­mendable.
In 1893 you went as a representative of Shri Muniraj Atmaramji on behalf of the Jain community to the Parliament of Religions in America.
The Muniraj is one of those selfless men who are always devoted to the interests of the Jain community and who have pledged from the day of their initiation to the end of their lives to perpetually preaching the highest truths of Jainism. He is one of the greatest preachers of the Jain religion and scholars of its literature - the preacher and scholar whose premature death is mourned by the whole community - the equal of whom in erudition and the knowledge of Jaina Shastras is difficult to find to succeed him and whose holy and virtuous deeds will forever be remem­bered with undying gratitude by the present and the coming generations.  The speeches which you have delivered in America on Jain religion & philosophy have done immense good to us and our American brethren. It is very gratifying that on this occasion of your going for the second time in response to the invitation of our Ameri­can brethren, you are also taking your wife with you. Her resolve in going with you on this occasion justifies in its fullest sense the signifi­cance of the word "Sahcharni" a constant companion.

In conclusion, dear brother, our prayer is that happiness and prosperity may attend you while you are abroad, that success may crown the mission which you have voluntarily under­taken, that blessings may be showered upon you and that you may achieve distinction.

Gentlemen, it is my humble request that if there is any error in the book due to my short­comings or inadvertence or misprinting, it may kindly be corrected, and that I may be informed of the same so that I may correct it in the next edition.

Jaswant Rai Jaini,

Mr.Veerchand Raghavji Ghandi teaching Jain philosophy to a lady in America 1893



The Chicago-Prashnottar

Translator & Publisher:
Atmanand Jain Pustak Pracharak Mandal, Roshan Mohalla, Agra.

Edition: 1918 (1st Edition - 500 books)

Edited Online Edition: HereNow4U

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  5. Chicago
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