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The Jain path to freedom

Guru Shree Chitra Bhanu

Introduction

JUST as a mighty mango tree is hidden within the stone of the mango, even so, O man, divinity itself is hidden within you. Rest not until you uncover it."

These words, spoken more than twenty-five hundred years ago by the twenty-fourth Prophet of Jainism, Bhagwan Mahavir, resounded in the heart of Gurudev Shree Chitrabhanu when he first heard them as a young adult. This seed-thought continued to grow, blossom, and bear fruit throughout his life's experiences. Before he became a monk at the age of twenty he was inspired by two shining examples of the divine in man: his loving and highly principled father, and Mahatma Gandhi, with whom he worked for the freedom of India.

Events in his life accelerated the process of his inner ripening. At four years of age, he lost his mother, and at eleven his younger sister. As a college student, he won a severe bout with rheumatic fever, during which time he glimpsed his soul's longing to live in light and service to all. In his second year of working in Gandhiji's non- cooperation movement, he lost his closest and dearest friend. Then he lost his peace. He confronted and unmasked questions which lay smoldering in his consciousness "Is there some meaning to life? Do we have some mission, or are we to pass the years only in filling and emptying the body, in collecting and rearranging things? Where did my loved ones go? What is the point of living if those dearest to us depart from us sooner or later?"

Rather than give in to the pain, depression, and confusion of those moments, he took a positive step. In search of permanent understanding, he discovered a genuine master who initiated him into the Jain monkhood and advised him "Books and other people's answers alone cannot illumine you. You have to dive into yourself. Why do you not have the experience of your own life"

Through patience, introspection, and the practice of silence for the greater part of five years, he began to remove the clouds of his unawareness. Living the itinerant life of a monk in the inspiring company of his master as well as his revered father, who became a monk along with him, he came closer and closer to his own reality. One night he unlocked the door which had sealed him from the knowledge of Self. He experienced fully the radiant sunlight of his being.

From that moment, his life became an actualization of his inner reality. It was his inborn gift to be able to melt the hearts of listeners and readers by his vibrant, poignant, and direct words arising from his own experience. In twenty-nine years as a monk, he walked barefoot over thirty thousand miles bringing people out from their pettiness, sectarianism, and closed-mindedness into the realm of the highest and noblest in them. As people's hearts were touched, they began to transform their lives. They attuned themselves to Mahavir's universal message and took the ideal of reverence for all life into the practical details of their day-to-day living.

In Bombay, Gurudev turned his energies to the stream of social action. He founded the Divine Knowledge Society, to which his students offered complete dedication. When a natural disaster, famine, or flood struck, teams of volunteers would go to those areas and distribute food, clothing, blankets, and medicines. The words of Mahavir came to life in the numerous instances of their giving of themselves: "Since you receive more than any other form of life, it is natural that you will want to give more."

Gurudev soon became one of the well-known spiritual leaders of the Jains in India. Founders of the Temple of Understanding invited him to address their First, Second, and Third Spiritual Summit Conferences in Calcutta and Geneva and at the Harvard Divinity School in 1968, 1970, and 1971, respectively. Gurudev's decision to attend in person the last two conferences represented a daring step. It was the first time in five thousand years of known Jain history that a Jain monk had traveled out-side of India. The winds of change were stirring within him. He rejected precedent, tradition, and public opinion, and risked his position of great authority and respect in order to bring the universal teaching of reverence for life to the larger human family.

Inspired by the genuineness of his message, Gurudev's audiences in Europe, Africa, and America urged him to stay and teach them. Moved by their sincerity and eagerness to learn, Gurudev gave up the orthodox life of a monk, his title and post, and accepted the many invitations to teach in America. Among the institutions of human development sponsoring his talks were the United Nations, Koinonia Foundation, Pendle Hill, Wainwright House, Princeton, Sarah Lawrence, Cornell, the State University of New York at Purchase, and many others. He became for a time president of the World Fellowship of Religions, and worked closely with individuals involved in the Temple of Understanding and in the fields of yoga, psychiatry, philosophy, and government.

Founder of the Jain Meditation International Center in New York City, of which Gurudev is the spiritual leader he has inspired his students in Brazil, India, Canada Kenya, England, and diverse parts of America to open centers where the philosophy of reverence for life can be taught and practiced. Throughout the many changing phases of his life, as a monk or a family member , as a teacher or a student he has been communicating from his heart the underlying oneness he feels with all forms of life inviting mankind to see, experience, and rejoice.

--Clare Rosenfield