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.
“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.