By Sudheendra Kulkarni
July 10, 2019
Are freedom and self-control mutually contradictory concepts? Yes, the prevailing dominant culture in the world would say. Who wants constraints, including those urged by one’s own self, when it comes to exercise of one’s freedoms? Yet, if we search for the roots of the many problems in the world, we find them in our inability and unwillingness to live a life of ‘samyam’, a profound Sanskrit word for self-taught self-restraint, to secure enlightened self-interest.
This wise teaching is common to all great religious leaders around the world. Jain munis and acharyas place special emphasis on ‘samyam’ because ‘ahimsa’ – non-violence indeed, word, thought and feeling – which is a central precept of Jainism, is impossible without self-control. Naturally, propagation of this wisdom is the main theme of the birth centenary of Acharya Mahapragya (1920-2010), the 10th head of the Svetambar Terapanth order of Jainism and one of the greatest spiritual leaders of our times. This year is being celebrated as ‘Jnana Chetana Varsh’ to spread knowledge about his life and legacy.
Acharya Mahashraman, his worthy successor, whom i met during his ‘chaturmas’ – ritual four-month stay at a single place – in Bengaluru recently, explained its purpose in a beautiful couplet – “Jnana Chetana Varsh Kare Prakash/ Jaage Samyam Mein Vishwas.” That is, ‘May people develop their faith in self-control. And may the light of Acharya Mahapragya’s birth centenary illuminate this message.’
As a monk, Mahapragya travelled more than 1,00,000 km on foot across the length and breadth of India, including 10,000 km of ‘Ahimsa Yatra’ that he undertook in the last decade of his life. He popularised the Preksha meditation system, which teaches self-control for achieving self-transformation. He expanded the Anuvrat Movement, launched in 1949 by his guru, Acharya Tulsi, which seeks to create a non-violent, socio-political world order, with the help of a worldwide network of self-transformed people. He promoted ‘Jeevan Vigyan’, Science of Living education system, that aims at value-based and holistic education.
I had the privilege of meeting the Acharya at the Jain Vishwa Bharati University in Ladnun, Rajasthan. My friends and i asked him what, according to him, was the single biggest challenge before India. His reply: “It is the divorce between economic growth and ecological well-being, ecology understood both as man’s outer and inner environment. Economic growth of the kind being pursued in India and elsewhere in the world has become an end in itself. It is divorced from ethics, righteousness and spirituality. It stands in conflict with man’s responsibility towards his own community and the community of other creatures on Earth. Which is why, human beings everywhere, are unhappy.”
He had another deep concern, which he often expressed candidly. In 2003, the Acharya and APJ Abdul Kalam, who was then India’s President, jointly organised a conclave of senior leaders of all religions in Surat, Gujarat. In his speech, he said: “In the world of religion, moral values are not being given adequate importance. Therefore, even a religious man does not hesitate to indulge in evil deeds. In the world of religion, spirituality is being ignored. Therefore, the dream of human unity is not being realised and no refinement is evolving in human relationships.”
This is my tribute to this venerable saint, whose name Mahapragya, ‘Great Consciousness,’ defined the man.
Sudheendra Kulkarni was former aide to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the PMO
DISCLAIMER: Views expressed above are the author's own.