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Paryushan is for everyone

Date: 15 Oct, 2018  No Comments
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ACHARYA SHRI CHANDANA speaks to a reporter, SONAL SRIVASTAVA, about the festival of self-purity and the power of love.

Acharya Shri Chandana ji offers candy, “Today we are celebrating Bhagvan Mahavira’s birthday,” she says, with a smile. I take the candy from the soft-spoken nun, who is surrounded by disciples and followers; they tell me that she is the first Shvetambar Jain nun to have earned the title of ‘Acharya’, an influential, spiritual mentor. Dressed in a white sari, Acharya Shri is a petite figure with soft eyes and a mild demeanour, but with a steely resolve to educate and help people in need. She does it through her NGO, Veerayatan that is actively involved in social work in many countries including Kenya and Nepal. In Bihar’s Rajgir, Veerayatan runs schools, colleges and seva mandirs together with medical camps that conduct eye surgeries and help with post-surgery care.

The name of the NGO is derived from the words ‘Veer’ for Bhagvan Mahavir and ‘aayatan’, holy place. “Tirthankara Mahavir gave updesha, teachings for everybody; there were no religious differences in his times,” says Acharya Shri, who is currently in Delhi for Paryushan Parva, the annual Jain festival.

Important Pillars

“Paryushan neither belongs to nor is related to any one individual or religion. Two things are important in Bhagvan Mahavir’s teachings: the first is protection of the environment and for that you have to accept maitri, friendliness. Only when you become a friend can you protect something or someone; Paryushan Parva is also called Maitri Parva. The second most important teaching is Parasparopagraho Jivanam — you need earth, water, air, plants and animals for your survival; you make use of everything that nature offers. But you have to remember, just like you take, you should also give back to the earth,” says Acharya Shri.

“Man makes mistakes, however, most people never accept their mistakes; they blame others – Don’t rationalise their mistakes. This parva is for atma shuddhi and atma jagaran, self-purity and self-awakening. Bhagvan Mahavir says when you accept your mistakes then only you can become free from them. You have to take a Sankalpa that you will not repeat your mistakes,” explains Acharya Shri.

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“Sadhana is not just puja, bhakti, or renouncing the world. Sadhana is overcoming one’s weaknesses. First, we have to try and develop the emotion of maitri; once you have maitri bhaav for all — whether it is man, other species, trees or prakriti, nature — then animosity will reduce and you will not find it so difficult to forgive even those who have hurt you,” says Acharya Shri.

Vegetarianism is one of the most important pillars of the Jain religion; however, some people use vegetarianism in a divisive way. Is there a more universally acceptable way to promote vegetarianism? “Nothing should be forced on others. You can bring transformation only through love; forcing someone, or being scornful towards someone, never helps. You can help others understand the benefits of vegetarianism. One’s heart can be transformed only by love. Those who want to remain vegetarians, they should be respected by others too; we should have Karuna bhaav, compassion for others,” says Acharya Shri who is also lovingly referred to as Tai Maharaj. According to her, compassion is one of the most important prerequisites for living a life of peace.

What is her opinion on the latest judgement of the Supreme Court, decriminalising homosexuality? “It is a natural instinct; it has to be understood. If I want to feel angry, can someone make it illegal? If I love somebody, can you stop it? You cannot stop things that are natural; however, you can share literature and create awareness. Such things cannot be regulated by laws,” says Acharya Shri, who took diksha at the tender age of 14 and took a vow of silence that lasted 12 years.

“The world is full of words; it’s not easy to decide what is right and what is wrong. We have to think about what makes us happy and what makes life easier. If what you learn from TV and books is affecting you and confusing you, then stay away from them,” says Acharya Shri. Her’s is a contemporary interpretation of right knowledge: one of the three gems of Jain religion along with right faith and right conduct. She adds, “Parents and teachers have a big responsibility to guide students on the right path.”

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Acharya Shri reminds us of the strength women have: the power of love. She says that along with the power of love, if women get other powers, then they will be able to resolve all of society’s problems. “The fields of education, medicine, politics and armed forces should have more women. A woman will try to avoid war. Men should work in the fields, construct houses, and do whatever requires hard labour. Women, on the other hand, should take control of professions that require critical thinking,” says Acharya Shri, giving the example of Draupadi. When Ashwathama killed Draupadi’s sons, Arjuna caught Ashwathama and presented him before Draupadi so that she could take her revenge by punishing him. But Draupadi said ‘I don’t want his mother to cry like I am crying, having lost my children. A mother cannot be so cruel to others.’ Acharya Shri explains her point of view with passion and determination to transform the world.

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Compassion In Action

Isn’t it said in Jainism circles that women cannot get enlightenment? “This is because of patriarchy,” she answers brusquely. “When I was working in Bihar, people would stop me, saying it is not safe to work among naxalites and dacoits. But many of them started working with me. They said, ‘Ma, we can be anything for the world, but we are powerless before your love; please teach our children. “Today our schools are among the best in Bihar, even in naxalite-hit areas. If women channel their power in the right direction, they can transform society. If you give knowledge, then people might say that we have had enough, we don’t need anymore. But, love is always required; at any stage in your life, you will not say that please don’t love me,” says Acharya Shri, dismissing the concept of enlightenment. She says one attains liberation through selfless service of the less privileged and that, according to her, is compassion in action.

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