Shan N. Kothari
Excluding the Tirthankars and their Ganadhars, the most influential Jain of this half of the kalachakra may not have been a major acharya, nor was he a notable sadhu or sadhvi. Shrimad Rajchandra, one of the greatest Jain practitioners of all time, remained a shravak his entire life. Nevertheless, the effects of his philosophy and succinct writings on the spread of the Jain dharma are incalculable. Furthermore, through his correspondence with Mahatma Gandhi and other important political figures of his time, he was a major influence on political movements in India and across the world, and his philosophy of detachment and love continues to have an effect today.
Shrimad Rajchandra was born in 1867 in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat to a Jain mother and a merchant father who worshipped Lord Krishna. As he wrote in his autobiographical Samucchaya Vayacharya, for the first seven years of his life, he “cherished a wonderful imagination in his mind” and “aspired to be a great man of a resigned nature.” Still, he was very compassionate and has little attachment to worldly possessions even at this early stage, living “a life of […] spotless innocence” (Rajchandra). At the age of seven, after a long period of meditation on the separation of the soul from the body at death, he gained Jati Smarana Gnan, the power to see into his past lives (Colorado State). For the next four years, he devoted himself to his studies, and despite his indifference he progressed very quickly due to his excellent memory and sharp analytical skills. (Regarding Rajchandra’s spectacular memory, Gandhi decided to test his memory soon after meeting him. He “exhausted [his] vocabulary of all the European tongues he knew,” and Rajchandra repeated every word in the exact order they were given. Gandhi was also very impressed with his deep knowledge of Jain texts and “burning passion for self-realization.” (Gandhi 88)) Throughout his schooling, Shrimadji always had great faith in mankind and “learnt that a spirit of affectionate brotherhood was the key to family and social happiness,” an idea that would later greatly inform his philosophy as it developed throughout his life.
As a young child, Shrimadji was initiated into Vaishnavism and went daily to do darshana of Lord Krishna. Although he initially disliked Jains, he began to read Jain scriptures such as the Pratikramana Sutra and “liked this idea of universal love and non-violence very much,” eventually becoming a Jain himself (Rajchandra). He also began writing poetry at a very young age. In 1884, he published his book Stri Niti Bodhaka, which advocated hard work, education, and virtue, and discussed topics that, at the time, were controversial. It advocated women’s rights and education as a means toward national independence, and idea which had a large impact on Indian independence movements, many of which required the joint efforts of men and women (Colorado State). In the meantime, young Shrimadji’s mental abilities brought him a lot of fame; there are many stories describing his ability to perform scores of tasks at once. Soon, he began to develop a spirit of extreme detachment (Colorado State).
Nevertheless, by the time he was a young man, Rajchandra was a thriving “connoisseur or pearls and diamonds” whose “commercial transactions covered hundreds of thousands” (Gandhi 88). He was always very honest in all his transactions. In 1888, at the age of twenty, he married Zabakben and later had four children with her. However, his thoughts always turned to religion, and he spent long periods of time living the life of an ascetic and pondering matters of the soul. Although he was never disrespectful to any other religion and even read the Bible, the Qur’an, and various other sacred texts of other religions, he always remained steadfastly Jain (Colorado State). He continued to write many works that would later become important Jain texts, encapsulating vast swaths of Jain philosophy in works which helped to propagate Jainism throughout the world. He was greatly opposed to the formation of Jain sects, remarking that their founders have “substituted their imperfect beliefs for the true religion.” He also took a stance on the conflict in Jainism about idols, saying, “I am convinced of the need and authenticity of [them] by my own spiritual experience” (Colorado State).
The single question that consumed his attention most was that of death and the separation of soul and body. As a final expression of this burning desire to understand the nature of the soul, Shrimad Rajchandra produced his masterpiece, the extremely succinct poem Atmasiddhi, at the age of 28, which describes the nature of the true Guru, self-realization, and the soul in relation to the body (Rajchandra). On this theme, he also wrote a famous letter to Shri Lalluji Maharaj regarding the six fundamental truths: That the self exists, the self is permanent and eternal, the self is the cause of its actions, the self bears the consequences of its actions, there is liberation, and there is a method of attaining liberation (Rajchandra). In this one page letter, he successfully summarized all the major beliefs of the Jain dharma. Only six years later, in 1901, he died peacefully of illness in Rajkot, Gujarat.
Shrimad Rajchandra’s influence on international politics and history is incalculable. Gandhi was highly impressed by his intelligence and the Jain doctrines of ahimsa and aparigraha. He and Leo Tolstoy “awakened Gandhi to enlightened spirituality blended with humanism,” imbuing in him a belief not only in non-violence but that the world can be improved by human brotherhood and spirituality (Dutta 1346). In fact, he was considered perhaps Gandhiji’s greatest spiritual advisor, and along with Tolstoy and John Ruskin, certainly one of his greatest influences (Gandhi 90). Gandhiji’s adoption of non-violent techniques as a means of fighting oppression was inspired by Shrimadji’s deep spirituality and distinctive humanism, while his renunciation of his privileged lifestyle was the result of Jain teachings regarding non-possessiveness. Gandhi once remarked that Shrimadji “was satisfied with whatever food was offered to him. He put on simple put clean clothes” (Jainbeliefs.com). Gandhi himself would later adopt the dhoti and a vegetarian diet, not only for religious reasons, but to reduce India’s economic dependence on the British; he also practiced brahmacharya (Gandhi 204), and adapted the Jain principle of satya into satyagraha, his detailed philosophy of “determined but nonviolent resistance to evil” (Britannica.com). These techniques of civil disobedience have since been adopted by such notable leaders as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who claimed that “Gandhi was the guiding light in our technique of nonviolent social change” which was “the only logical and moral approach to the solution of the race problem” (U.S. Department of State), and Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese resistance leader who has been kept under continual house arrest for her actions against autocracy. As Gandhi continues to be a role model for millions worldwide, Rajchandra’s teachings of detachment and universal love continue to find a place in the world today.
While Shrimad Rajchandra was essentially a traditionalist, he was one of the major figures to adapt Jainism to the turbulent 20th century. As we plunge further into the fifth Ara, we will not be able to support the same complexity of thought regarding the soul as the early Gurus did. The works of Shrimad Rajchandra, although certainly not lacking in depth, are shorter and more easily understandable than many other Jain texts, helping us to continue the Jain tradition. Shrimadji also incorporated into his beliefs a sense of humanism which has encouraged many people around the world to make the world better through the Jain principles of satya, aparigraha, and most importantly, ahimsa. While it is true that he regarded the world as spiritually lost, once even describing the entire city of Mumbai as a cemetery, he actively worked to ameliorate this situation, spreading the Jain dharma worldwide through his works. That is why Shrimad Rajchandra is so incredibly influential.
Dutta, Amaresh. The Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature, Vol. 2 (Devraj to Jyoti). New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2005.
Fenner, Louise. “Martin Luther King Inspired by 1959 Journey to India.” 04 February 2009. U.S. Department of State Bureau of International Information Programs. 21 March 2010. < http://www.america.gov/st/diversity-english/2009/February/20090204161809xlrennef5.894107e-02.html>.
Gandhi, Mahatma. The Story of My Experiments With Truth. Boston: Beacon, 1993.
Pramod R. Patel. “Shrimad Rajchandra and Mahatma Gandhi.” Jain Beliefs – Shrimad Rajchandraji. 21 March 2010. < http://www.jainbelief.com/shrimad/gandhi.htm>.
Rajchandra, Shrimad. Atmasiddhi. Ahmedabad: Shrimad Rajchandra Gyan Pracharak Trust.
Rajchandra, Shrimad. “Letter of Six Steps.” 1894.
Rajchandra, Shrimad. Samucchaya Vayacharya.
"Satyagraha." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 21 March 2010 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/525247/satyagraha>.
“Shrimad Rajchandra.” Colorado State University Department of Computer Science. 21 March 2010. < www.cs.colostate.edu/~malaiya/rajchandra.html>.
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