A Beacon Of Peace - Acharya Mahapragya

Published: 04.05.2001
Updated: 01.06.2012

Acharya Mahaprajna, the 80-year old spiritual head of the Terapanth sect of Jains around the world, welcomed me into his humble abode; a simple little classroom of a primary school in a remote little Rajasthani village. He and his following of munis and sadhvis had reached the settlement after walking 12 km that morning and would be setting out for the village down the road early next day. I had driven over 50 km of dusty roads from Ladnun, the physical headquarters of the sect, expecting to be awed by the holy man. Instead I found one who accepted his karma with unassuming grace.

Acharya Mahaprajna took up the mantle as leader of the Terapanth sect of Jains on the death of his guru Acharya Tulsi in 1998. Born in 1921 in Tamkar, a small village in Rajasthan, Acharya Mahaprajna became a monk at the age of 10. At the age of 59, he was appointed the successor designate of the order by his mentor and guru Acharya Tulsi.

The acharya has written over 150 books on various subjects including philosophy, literature, yoga and religion in Hindi and Sanskrit. The acharya is also a great sadhaka or practitioner of meditation and the rediscovery of the lost links of the Jain way of meditation - preksha dhyana - are credited to him.
Karma took on a whole new meaning that day as i sat at the feet of the acharya. He shared with me insights into the work he and his order were engaged in over the years: reinterpreting the Holy Scriptures in light of modern realities. "They are not very different apart from the words used to describe things," he said. "For instance, our scriptures talk of karma that predetermines your life. Science, calls it genes. Though faith and reason may appear to be poles apart, they are not contradictions as they share a common source."

He told me about the task of re-examining the scriptures in light of modern findings, which was what he and his followers were busy doing. I asked him his views on the nuclear bomb that India had recently acquired. How did he, who covered his mouth when he spoke so as not to harm the bacteria in the air, feel about a weapon of such enormous destructive power?

"The bomb," he assured me, "was not the problem but a symptom of people losing sight of basic moral values. What is at stake here is that each individual has to resolve the conflict within himself. Once everyone in a family, society, nation and the worldwide community of mankind accepts the principle of non-violence and respect for all living things, the issue of making and possessing weapons of destruction is automatically resolved."

I emerged from my audience with the acharya awed by both the depth of his vision as also by its clarity and simplicity: qualities that are manifest in the lifestyle of his order. As we drove to the next village in which the head sadhvi had taken up temporary residence, we passed two sadhvis setting out with their bowls to accept whatever people offered them for their evening meal.

The head sadhvi was surrounded by women who had come to seek her blessings and like the acharya she showered her grace on them with a total lack of self-indulgence. in the little time she could spare for me before attending to matters concerning her flock, she explained the need for them to keep travelling from one place to another.

It had nothing to do with penance. They were constantly on the move so that they did not get attached to any given place: an extension of their renouncement of materialism. The longest they could stay at one place was four months during the monsoons and after that no more than one month at any given place.
And talking to her, I recalled the elderly sadhvi I had met at Siva Kendra, a home for old sadhvis, back in Ladnun. Almost 82, she was stooped over and had to walk with the aid of a walking stick. But the memories of her wanderings were still fresh in her mind and she showed me a map of India in which she has marked out all the places that her acharya, with her in tow, had visited on foot. Little dots stretched across the length and breadth of the country and then there were all those unmarked villages through which they had passed. There was no place they could call home, but the entire country was their backyard.

By the time I started my journey back to civilisation, the sun has slipped low in the sky. Wild peacocks graced the rooftops of homes in the little hamlet where the acharya had settled in for the night. Looking at the peacock's silhouette against an orange sky, I realised that the village, like everything, including me, that had been touched by this gracious man, was blessed.

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from: vardhman - a book on jainism

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharya
  2. Acharya Mahaprajna
  3. Acharya Tulsi
  4. Dhyana
  5. Genes
  6. Guru
  7. Jainism
  8. Karma
  9. Kendra
  10. Ladnun
  11. Meditation
  12. Munis
  13. Non-violence
  14. Preksha
  15. Preksha Dhyana
  16. Rajasthan
  17. Rajasthani
  18. Sadhaka
  19. Sadhvi
  20. Sadhvis
  21. Sanskrit
  22. Science
  23. Terapanth
  24. Tulsi
  25. Yoga
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