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.




About 20 million children get added to Indian society each year. This is going on for more than a quarter century. So we have about half of Indians under age 25 and below. What happens to these huge young population with about 20 million annual increment?

Only a small percentage of these children born each year reach higher stages of education. Let us look at drop outs: before completing primary (5-24 years) group 44% drop out. Before 8th standard, 78% of the total. At undergraduate level that is before finishing the degree course (B.A, B.Sc, B.Com etc) about 92% (drop out) By postgraduate stage 97.5% drop out.

In other words about 2.5% of the children in each age group can hope to become a M.A, M.Sc, MCA, MBA etc. Of these Ph.D’s are 0.02%.

These statistics indicate how poorly we use our vital raw material in the era of knowledge economy. No wonder we have a vicious cycle of poverty, demands for temporary social palliatives, various forms of social violence, urban chaos, rural decay and about all much slower (than potential) economic growth.


This vicious cycle had set in and more or stabilized due to our mindset of ignoring ordinary people and concentrating only on setting up a “modern” economy and society from the top: Higher educational institutions, industry set up with foreign technologies for the domestic growth and consumption of (the small) middle class etc. Some efforts were done with the green revolution but it slowed down. It was assumed that the illiterate population can be trained on the job for agriculture, industries, services etc. Ordinary Indians showed a remarkable capability to learn and adapt: a domestic worker using washing machine or microwave oven or an ordinary truck driver transforming into articulated vehicle operator or ordinary women operating the machines of garment industry etc.

But there are limits. Assisted learning of skills through vocational education really accelerates the innate self-learning and adaptation capabilities. Then human resources can be used efficiently and effectively, reducing economic losses. Many skilled persons will generate new avenues of their own entrepreneurial actions. (In any case about 94% Indian labour force is self-employed in unorganized sector).


Since skilled labour availability becomes necessary to face global competition, Indian industry and Govt. have woken up to the dire need facing the nation. The target group for skill development as projected by Govt. and Industry documents are : workforce entering labour force for the first time 28 million; that is organized sector 27 million; that in unorganized sector 42.1 million. 11th Plan targets are to increase the current capacity of 3.3 million to 15 million by 11th plan end (2012) and 50 million by the end of 12th Plan (2017). These numbers include various forms of ITI’s and vocational education from 8th standard up. Reader can judge the uncovered gaps !

Already there is a strong private sector presence in such vocational education. Currently the distribution is :

Govt./State run ITI’s 1896 (4 lakh capacity)

Private run ITI’s 3218 (3.42 lakh capacity)

In vocational training also private sector is present in substantive number. We have to remember that almost all these efforts are post 8th standard pass as that is the current policy set up by Govt. of India. We need to question whether that is adequate especially noting the drop out rates quoted above. Till Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) picks up well and stabilizes in terms of retention,  we will have to assume that about 70% of children will be dropped out before 8th standard. This is not an issue that can be carpeted under.


The magnitude of the problem we face in terms of skilling is really astronomical in numbers. Therefore we should not be fettered by any pre-set ideas. We need every one to get into action to skill Indians, at various levels – dropped out before 5th standard onwards, including those who pass various levels of education. In addition, there is a huge working force in organized and unorganized sectors which requires several forms of retraining periodically.

Private sector and management can come for philanthropy, for tax benefits and / or for profit. We should encourage all forms through policies and public support. We should also encourage foreign funds and management. In addition various forms of government – private sector joint efforts are also needed. No one group can handle this huge task which requires investments, specialized knowledge and excellent organization for delivery and placement linkages. If we are bold, we should also encourage the “not so clear white money” to be utilized for this critical cause.

However, a note of caution: Government should not reduce its funds for vocational education. If we look at the existing role of private sector in education: in primary it is 7.8%, upper primary 21.9%, secondary/senior secondary it is 32.3%. In graduate engineering and MBA courses it is above 85%. Private sector generally seeks areas where parents can pay more. No quarrels! Let private sector choose them more and more, as lots of actions for such children are required too. Governments can be in those segments to a limited extent to set standards. But the children of  poorer parents will require nearly 100% attention by Govt. even if through subsidies and scholarships.

Above all media has a great role to popularize “Vocational Skilled Persons” as the real future of India.


Y S Rajan




(First Convocation address of Uttarakhand Technical University

at FRI Convocation Hall, Dehradun on 7th December, 2009)


Let me at the outset thank the Chancellor, Vice Chancellor and other University authorities for giving me the opportunity for delivering this first Convocation address to the outgoing students of this newly emerging University, named Uttarakhand Technical University (UTU).  It is three years young.  Each batch of students who pass out and engage themselves in different professions in the outside world put the stamp of the University in the sectors in which they will serve.  Over a period some of them will impact the national and global economy and eventually several societies.  Dear students, the brand of the university will very much depend upon how you perform in the world outside the institution of your University.  You are the first batch to go out and thus have a unique historic role to play.  I am therefore going to share with you some facts and thoughts as to how this economic, societal, technological and market systems perform in India and the world.


It is no longer possible to imagine a compartmentalised protected corner of the world.  The speedy process of globalization is a reality of 21st century.  For a country of the size of India, the process of globalization is a great opportunity for the people of India.   As a huge potential market, it will attract foreign investment and along with some amount of new technological knowledge and newer business processes. Indian investors will also open up new markets. All these will lead to greater employment in organized and unorganized sector.

Increase in employment has multiple effect on the economy.  Increase in income for a large number of Indians leads to greater consumption of goods and services.  In turn that leads to more business activities and new jobs.  It also leads to societal changes.  Of the so many new benefits that have accrued to the society and people due to the liberalization of Indian economy from 1991, mobile phone is a  beautiful example of impact on society.  Another one is the availability of multiple channels of TV in many Indian languages in different parts of India.  The needs of Indian people from different strata of society have strongly influenced the contents of multiple TV channels (running to 100 or more) and also the spread of cable TV and satellite direct to home (DTH) services.  All these in turn have led to growth of many new entrepreneurial businesses in multi-media, TV reporting, animation etc. Collectively these are called “Creative Industries” which have a great potential to grow and also impact the global creative industries.  Spread of various Indian processed foods and new packaging industries forms another growth sector.  I can list many more, including real estate and retail.  Thus rapid Indian economic growth is assured for next fifteen years, though there may be several ups and downs in certain individual sectors.  I have explained about this process in one of my earlier convocation address delivered at the Bharatidasan University under a title “Next Sixty Years : Actions Now” (12th October, 2007). A copy of it placed on my website :  I have described the next fifteen year growth period as period of cataclysmic fast growth. Dear students, you have that adventurous period (from now upto say 2025) before you.  Along with the rough and tumble of that period, which will also increase your income levels, it will be necessary to prepare yourselves, and the organization or industry you work for to meet the challenges of the subsequent period of innovative India; during that period (post 2025) many Indian concept based, and India innovated products will start making their mark in the domestic and global markets.  This phenomenon will be distinct from what is currently prevalent : import of foreign technology, designs and turnkey consultancies.  During the immediate next fifteen years that is from now to say 2025, such a follower type of economic and technological growth (as has been in the recent past many years) will take place, more as catch up and expansion of untapped potentials of the Indian people as well as for meeting the unsatisfied and under-satisfied demands of their material and social needs.  That is one of the main reasons for the rapid cataclysmic growth being witnessed by India now.

Let us now understand what is meant by market, how to tune the technological and business models towards meeting the market needs and also as to what is meant by innovation in this context.  We will also touch upon these concepts also fro the later period innovative decades of India (post 2025).


Mere hype of 1 billion plus be it in the context of a sports event or an iconic performance of an artist or an economic market, is away from facts. Indian demography is very varied. It is about 54% under 25 years of age. About 10% above 60 years of age. But more importantly within these aggregate percentages lay buried the harsh social and economic realities of Indian people.  Of the total employed persons only about 6% are in organized sector with some surety of income, terminal benefits post-retirement, and some basic social security facilities (like medial cover) available during the period of employment. Others are more or less daily wagers. Every day is a new day with new risks. But even within these harsh conditions, they have been resilient to survive, to earn income for themselves and their family and also to capture  new opportunities when they arise.

The income distribution and day-to-day needs of Indian people is so varied that it is not possible to go by a single formula of success for meeting their needs.  Even within an universal category of needs, say food, there are sharp variations of the type, affordability, access etc. Thus local preferences, customs and constraints dominate the choices.  Foreign food and beverage giants have learnt a strong lesson in India!  Indian palate has dominated over everything with strong local variations.  So it is for many other fields even in the choice of motorbikes or automobiles.

Those in search of larger markets for their products and services have also to learn beyond these diversities.  If they only go by upper middle class fads their potential markets gets limited. There is a deceptive euphoria in the beginning because of the huge sizes encountered in India.  Even in a narrow niche market there can be a few tens of millions of consumers.  But if the investors and producers learn to understand the social and aspirational needs of varied strata of Indian society which is severely constrained by income levels, then they can choose their technologies and business models to suit such a population.  That is the new type of innovations, which Indian entrepreneurs have to learn as also their foreign counterparts and competitors who have interest in India.

It is not a cheap throwaway product which low income consumers will aim for. It has to be modern.  It is to add a new value to their lives in terms of mobility, access, capability of using time effectively in a day to suit their working needs and some rest, etc.  At the same time the pricing must be such as to enable them buy it without too much of compromise of other basic needs of food, habitat etc.  Mobile phone gave all these points to the low income Indian consumer. It is possible to think of such solutions in many other sectors too.

It may not always mean a new technological R & D.  It has to be a choice amongst many existing ones.  After such a choice, one has to system-engineer them innovatively to reach a new customer, within the constraints of their income levels.  If need be some performance requirements can be downsized to meet the cost constraints. You will find such a range of low cost mobile phones to highly sophisticated hand held wi-fi systems. Food industries in India have mastered this diverse range from a four wheeled street side hawker selling hot food to dhabas to middle income eat outs to super rich five star hotels.


When I refer to markets I do not merely restrict its meaning to stock markets, financial markets and the transactional markets of a consumer economy. Though market forces play a key role in a society and its economic systems, there are a number of societal needs that cannot be satisfied merely by the operation of market forces. In areas like national security, the State plays a major role while citizens accept the restrictions placed on them and cooperate with the State.  But for items such as protection of environment mere laws and regulatory agencies or incentive-disincentive systems for business etc. alone will not suffice.  Citizens and civil society have to play a major role.  There is a ‘market’ or felt social need for having clear water or fresh air or a nice surrounding.  Paying for it, is not easy in terms business processes.  A very rich person can acquire a huge farm land and create an excellent habitat for himself or herself.  But she or he cannot create such an environment wherever they have to go.

In places like Uttarakhand there are a number of beautiful and environmentally unique areas.  But there is also a large number of poor people living there.  One cannot expect that they will remain in those difficult terrains without any access of modern facilities of life.  Nor can these areas be left to rapacious consumption by investors who can market them as beauty tourist spots for satisfying the felt needs of some other segments of Indian or foreign society.  Definition of social needs in case of environmental segment, ranges from micro-social level in terms of local environmental issues, to global issues.  Again individual business or R & D groups may concentrate only on one issue and project them as ultimate solution.  But the reality of life is more complex.

I have given these few illustrations only to point out the complexity of social markets.  They are not pure public good as it could be in the case of defence forces.   Social markets have many complex interactions in most other cases.  There is often a clear perception one’s own personal, family or nearby group’s needs; then the concern expands to broader issues.  But an increase in the tariff of water to be able to establish and to operate a waste-waster-recycling plant to ensure sustainable water supply to individual households will be resisted!  However when a water crises is faced, then more costly and less optimal quick-fixes are allowed by public opinion thus enabling, expenditure from public funds (diverting them from some other area of social need).

Dear students you are stepping into a career at a time when a bulk of Indians are truly aspiring for better quality of life.  It is not the old cliché of roti-kapada-makaan.  Even a poor Indian has a much more nuanced personal and social need.  You need to understand them so that your organizations and enterprises can meet such a huge emerging market needs.  Business success and therefore your own success even if you are employed (and are not an entrepreneur) will depend on understanding such complexities of market needs in India.  If you are a researcher or doing R & D or design for a new product or service, your understanding of the complexities of transactional and not so transactional social markets of India will be of great help.  Unlike the scientists, engineers or technology managers of our generations, you can have many great new product successes, with such an understanding before research, development or design.


As a continuation of social market needs, one has to address the health sector. It is wide ranging from public health systems to advanced super specialty centres.  One important element of the modern health services delivery pertains to good quality medical check up to facilitate the physician to prescribe correct treatment.  Most villages in India, even those which have functioning primary health centres (PHC’s) do not possesses any good modern equipment.  A well trained doctor in a PHC is wasted in terms of good quality service delivery.  Even in some of district headquarters where secondary health centres (SHC’s) operate, there are problems of access and equipment downtime; equipment do not function or unavailable due to power cuts and lack of maintenance.  Often people in states like Uttarakhand have to travel to the State Capital, wait for two or three days to get simple diagnosis done. It is a lot of expenditure for them, driving many families to bankruptcy or severe debts.

It was so in Uttarakhand as well.  A real social need existed in terms of modern health check up for people who seek the advice of a medical doctor.  Laboratory testing facilities, ultrasound unit, X-ray unit, an ECG equipment, gynecological table, and a diesel electric generator were all integrated into a simple bus which can run on the usual roads in the mountains.  It was a major innovative step and system engineering using existing technologies.  It was to meet a major social need of people with minimal investment.  The project also took into account the social needs of medical and paramedical personal who prefer a city or town life because they want better education for their children and desire ‘goodies’ which towns and cities can offer.  So the diagnostic unit went mobile.  The doctors stayed at Almora but for a stretch of about ten days, the diagnostic equipment unit bus and a van carrying doctors and paramedics will go to villages according to a pre-announced calendar.  They return after a trip, take a few days off and restart another route. The experiment was done by TIFAC (Technology, Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council) along with Uttarakhand Government and Birla Institute of Science & Research, Bhimtal.  It is a grand success functioning for about seven years with a small interruption for re-engineering the unit recently.  It had an exemplary record of service to more than 1.25 lakhs people which about 40% were of BPL (Below poverty line) category. The success have spurred the Uttarakhand government to decide one such unit for all the districts.

I have pointed out this example mainly to show how widely felt social need can be met with right business plan, technology and innovation.  It is possible to run more such units all over India and in many parts of the developing world as a public-private-partnership mode.  Even ordinary low income people can get good modern service and the operator can profit, if charging and consultancy policies are fine tuned.

I feel some of you in a similar way, may be able to venture into delivering education to elementary schools in rural and remote areas and also for migrant children with innovative use of mobile units, satellite and/or terrestrial communication and use of many local talents to supplement.  Education and right economic skills (which can fetch better incomes) are universally felt social market needs of all Indians.  It is continuing need as globalization process introduces many rapid changes in business plans and therefore the worker profiles.  It look forward to many of you coming up with new solutions as suited to the diverse needs of India.  It can also be a good business as service industry.


I have elaborated on a few of the many aspects of economy and society as well as the markets which are imbedded in them.  Markets – both of consumer type or social need market type – determine the major directions of economy and business.  If they are ignored or ill understood, business will fail and economic planners will fail to reach the targets they have planned.  Markets in India are very diverse due to the demography and wide disparities in income levels.

The persons who will drive the economic, business and technological engines of the country or the State need to understand these market needs and their changing dynamics.

Things don’t stop there.  Right technological solutions have to be found out from the existing global or domestic milieu. If new innovations can help to modify them or downsize them to meet the lower income group market needs or to change to suit Indian cultural requirements etc. they need to be attempted.  More the innovation added to the existing milieu, more will the products / services be closer to the market needs described earlier.

Those of you who are ready to venture into such enterprises that will be unleashed during the next fifteen years of fast cataclysmic growth of India from now to say 2025 would have really mastered the process of taming (or creating anew) technologies and of leading innovation to meet the requirements of India and perhaps many other parts of the globe.

That grounding will lead to the creating of a large amount talent pool of persons who will spearhead the launching of Innovating India around 2025 leading several decades of innovation thereafter, as a part of our national developmental processes.

I hope and pray that many students of UTU presently you, and those who will pass out in future, will be a part of these ventures thus contributing to increase of your own wealth and quality of life.  Also in the process you would lift the lives of many more presently less privileged Indians to raise themselves to much better standards of life.  Also India and the globe would have mastered the process of protecting the local and global environment.

Thank you all.

Empowering Indians : With Economic, Business and Technology Strengths For the Twenty-First Century

“Any vision can be realized only when there is a set of integrated policies, the

details of procedure of governance and management, national security interest duly taken care of

and most importantly preparing the human resources for reasonably high income employment.

All these are addressed in this book. Also aspects like science communication, value system

for the new century etc.”