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A brilliant mind - a beloved teacher - Acharya Mahaprajna

A brilliant mind – a beloved teacher - Acharya Mahaprajna

-         Sudhamahi Regunathan

It is a struggle to find the right words to describe Acharya Mahaprajna. Either idolatry adjectives describe him best, like ‘the greatest saint’, “an apostle of peace”, ‘a supermind’ and so on. Or they fall wide off the mark and are tame semblances to the perfect picture. Acharya Mahaprajna referred to himself as an ascetic or a student of philosophy. So be it.

On Sunday the 9th of May 2010, Acharya Mahaprajna, the tenth spiritual head of the Terapanth Jain community left his bodily abode. The world lost a brilliant mind and the most twinkling pairs of eyes of his generation. Many people lost their precious teacher. He was ninety.

Nathmal, as his parents had named him, was the only son of businessman Tolaram and his wife Baluji. He was born on 14 th June 1920 in the village of Tamkor , Jhunjhunu district, Rajasthan. Even as Nathmal was playing with his friends, a sage passing through the village prophesied that this young boy would one day be a leader among men.

The little boy adjusted his pride possession, the gold watch and ran home, unaware of import of what the saint had said. A few years later destiny saw Nathmal initiated into monk hood on 18th February 1930.

In today’s world of wondering and whimsical morals, Acharya Mahaprajna’s challenge was to be still relevant as a custodian of high principles and purity of heart. If he was equal to it, it was not just because of his erudition but also because of his alert mind which was in step with the ever-changing world with clarity and curiosity, not to mention humour.

Acharya Mahaprajna combined in his detachment, the best of enlightenment with an almost naive romanticism. And yet as a leader of a community he could take all kinds of people in his stride.

While Acharyaji practiced a religion that is seen as severe and dry ...he was anything but that. A sensitive writer, he wrote in every genre ranging from poetry to philosophy imbuing his writings with a sensitivity that was polished and subtle. Using his strength of self restraint like a musician uses a moment’s pause in his choreography Acharyaji wove layers of meaning into his writings.

Acharya Mahaprajna wrote in Hindi, Sanskrit and Prakrit. Elegance and logic are central to his writing be it in their clarity of thought, choosing the right word, not to mention writing with an element of suggestion and not with aggressive assertiveness.

Nonviolence was his religion. He saw it as the only solution to the problems of today and has written many books explaining its role in creating a peaceful society. He has also unfurled the idea of nonviolence in many aspects: as the other name for diplomacy, as respect for fellow beings and so on.

Walking across the length and breadth of the country became Acharya Mahaprajna’s method of seeking the truth. His interaction with people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs made him further develop the Jaina philosophical principle of anekanta which says everything is relative; even truth. Extending this idea as his basis for peaceful co-existence, this social artist - a communicator; a private, often enigmatic person was nonetheless keen to be widely and clearly understood, so as to draw more and more people towards a harmonious way of life.

Acharya Mahaprajna’s urge to communicate was not born of self aggrandizement for it spun far beyond his writings. He developed a system of meditation to nurture and protect the spirit of human kind. The problem of the present generation which would be bequeathed to the future, Acharya Mahaprajna said would be one of emotional imbalances. To keep control over emotions was a contemporary interpretation of the Jaina dictum for detachment. How to manage life and your mind without needing to become an ascetic?

In answer to this question he developed a system of meditation called Preksha dhyan which though eventually led you to moral edification, ans could in shorter spells calm the mind to attend to day to day matters without stress.

That which makes a lasting impact on everyone’s mind after a meeting with Acharya Mahaprajna is his affability. He was deeply revered and respected by not just the disciples in his fold and community members but also by intellectuals and influential people from all over the country. Under his patronage, urged by Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam, former President of India, Acharya Mahaprajna founded an organization for unity of religions and enlightened citizenship. The spiritual leaders from nine different religions who came together on the occasion had no hesitation in accepting Acharya Mahaprajna’s leadership.

 When someone precious and deeply revered is no more, the happiest memories get recollected with regret bordering on sorrow. With Acharyaji there is a compulsive urge to fight such an expression. He gave so much so many people; he touched so many lives that one must be resolute, as perhaps he would have too, on treasure his influence beyond mourning.

So Acharya Mahaprajna lives on in many ways: first and foremost in the memories he leaves for those lucky enough to have known him or heard him speak, secondly in the system of meditation, preksha dhyan and thirdly in one of the most impressive and important bodies of work on philosophy and Jainism.