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JAINA Special Newsletter: Remembrance of Gurudev Shri Chitrabhanuji
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Jai Jinendra!

With deep sorrow, with profound grief and with heavy heart, we would like to inform that Gurudev Chitrabhanuji at age 97 left his body in a peaceful state in the early morning of Friday, April 19th, 2019 - Chaitri Punam day in Mumbai, India and Jain Community lost a divine soul. He was surrounded by his family. Recently he was slowly recovering at home in Mumbai after a short hospital stay.

JAINA sends heartfelt condolances to Pramodaben and the entire family. Pujya Gurudev will be remembered forever for lighting the eternal lamp of Jainism in the USA, instilling Bhavna of Maitri all over the world “Maitri Bhavnu Pavitra Zarnu...” will be in our hearts forever.

Shri Chandraprabh Sagarji Maharaj whom we lovingly know as Gurudev Chitrabhanuji was one of the co-founders of JAINA - which represents all Jains without distinction of sects or the region. His departure is an irreparable loss to JAINA and the entire Jain Community around the world. Let's pray to God together for his soul to rest in eternal peace. We all will miss him forever.

Warm Regards,
Gunvant Shah
JAINA President
We have all loved hymn (સ્તવન) – “Maitri Bhavnu Pavitra Zarnu”. As if it is a Jain Anthem. We enjoy it for its melodious tune and deep religious meaning. Composed by musical duo Kalyanji Anandji and sung for the very first time by Mukesh on the Chowpati beach at Mahavir Jayanti celebration in presence of crowds exceeding 100,000 more than 50 years ago. But what do we know of Chitrabhanuji - the author of that immortal song?

Some remember Chitrabhanuji – Shri Chandraprabh Sagarji Maharaj- for his Mumbai discourses on “Gandharvad” during Paryushan in mid-sixties and others remember his enlightening columns in newspapers. Others remember him for being the first ever Jain sadhu to travel overseas and overseas Jains think of him as an ambassador of Jainism to the West. Some have never forgiven him for leaving monkhood and starting a family. Here are some highlights of an extraordinary human being many consider as a man of the millennium. (This is his 97th Year)

Born in Rajasthan on July 22, 1922 to Chhogalalji and Chunibai, he was named Ruprajendra. He was handsome, intelligent and a free thinker. His troubled childhood – losing his mother at the age of 4, his sister at the age of 11 and a dear friend at the age of 19 truly tortured his soul. He questioned the meaning of life from early on in his life. Latently he was becoming a Vairagi. He met and sought guidance from Shri Aurbindo in Pondechari, shri Raman Maharshi and Jain Acharyas in Palitana. He tried to join independence movement and met Subhash Chandra Bose and Gandhiji but in the end, his quest for spiritual advancement won. After graduation from college at the age of 20, he obtained the permission of his father and took Diksha. His father, who never married after losing his wife and devotionally raised his only child both as a father and a mother also took Diksha a few months thereafter.

As monks, the father and the son traveled together all over the state of Gujarat for 18 years as a guru and a disciple. During those years, our muni Maharaj studied Jain scriptures and world religions, read literature, observed silence for years and walked over 30,000 miles barefoot. In 1958, on his 37th birthday, his father died peacefully in his arms. Soon after that he started writing in Newspapers under the pen name of Chitrabhanu and moved to Mumbai – his second “Karmabhoomi”.

The Mumbai years were a meteoric ascendance of Chitrabhanuji as a thinker and an orator. Politicians – local and national were attracted to him. He used his popularity to lead in humanitarian work in the aftermath of devastating floods in Bihar. Harijan community in Mumbai invited to speak and after listening to him, many gave up alcohol. He became a founder president of The Vegetarian Society which is still functioning in Mumbai. He persuaded mayor of Mumbai to close slaughterhouses on Mahavir Jayanti and later expanded the ban to 7 other Hindu holidays. He established “Divine Knowledge Society” to publish books in English on Jainism. He was being visited by foreign students from all over the Europe and carried back his writings to their home countries.

The year 1964 was a hundredth birth anniversary of Shree Virchand R Gandhi. A Jain citizen scholar and an accomplished Barrister, who had accompanied Swami Vivekanand to the Parliament of world religions in Chicago in 1983. Although he was the first person to introduce Jainism to the west, the Jain community in Mumbai was not happy about him for having traveled overseas. He was largely forgotten. But having read a lot about the life of VRG, Chitrabhanuji thought that the Jain Samaj owed him a debt of gratitude and he commemorated his centennial year in the presence of Jain leaders like Shri Lalchand Heerachand, C T Shah and Ratilal Nanavati. He reminded everyone of Veerchandji’s other accomplishments - campaign that shutdown slaughterhouse at Samet Shikharji and abolishment of head tax for pilgrims to Palitana. Local newspapers and magazines took notice of first ever honoring of VRG but Muniji wanted more. He wanted to see VRG’s overseas mission revived. But did not know how. He wanted to spread Mahavira's message of compassion, service to the poor and sick transcending sectarian divides but was slowly getting impatient with limits of what he could preach in Upashrayas.

In 1968, Chitrabhanuji was invited to the newly formed “Spiritual Summit Conference” promoted by Shri G D Birla in Calcutta. Many international faith leaders were going to participate but due to prior commitments and great distance from Mumbai, Chitrabhanuji could not accept the invitation and sent one of his disciples – Kumari Vatsala Amin in his place. Her presentation on Jainism so impressed the delegates that they wanted to know more about Jainism and Chitrabhanuji. They invited him to the second conference organized by them was going to be in Geneva in 1970.

The invitation stirred many thoughts in Chitrabhanuji’s mind. Is it not a Jain sadhu’s duty to minister Jains where ever they lived? But what about the ban on travel by vehicles or airplane? (for Jain sadhus). How could spiritual hunger of thousands of diaspora Jains in Africa, UK and the USA be satisfied? He remembered a tearful father talking about dilemmas of his son who was in the USA studying and not being able to receive any religious guidance and difficulty in remaining strict vegetarian.

Chitrabhanuji made a decision to attend the conference in Geneva. The night of his departure, there was going to be a public meeting in Birla Matushri Sabhagruh where his book “Mukti Ane Bandhan” (મુકતી અને બનધન) was going to be inaugurated. The book was a compilation of a lecture he had delivered to prisoners at Sabarmati jail just before coming to Mumbai. It talked of mental shackles as far more devastating to the human spirit than the prison walls. Ironically outside the hall, a furious crowd had gathered hell-bent on preventing Munishri from boarding the plane by any means necessary including violent confrontation. There were several busloads of Jains at the airport intending to block Munishri from leaving. But the Mumbai police had undertaken assurance of safe passage to Chitrabhanuji and that was enough for Muniji to board the plane.

The organizers of the Geneva conference were aware of the troubles Chitrabhanuji had reaching Geneva. So, they honored him by giving him the privilege of opening the conference. The theme of the conference was “The Practical Requirements for World Peace”. Chitrabhanuji addressed the gathering by speaking of Non-Violence and Anekantvad as guiding principles for a peaceful world. For the entire week, both inside the lecture hall and outside in the Swiss countryside thousands came to listen to Chitrabhanuji as they wanted to learn more about Jainism.

After the conference, Chitrabhanuji traveled to France and the UK. He spoke at Oxford University and Cambridge University. His talks were covered by BBC, Voice of America radio and also Radio Canada. He proceeded to Amsterdam, Munich and Rome where he met with Pope Paul VI. It was time to return to India.

After the six weeks visit to Europe, Chitrabhanuji realized how timely and useful the Mahavir’s message was for the world. He did not think it was essential to limit his universal message confined to one community and one nation. He was ready to be a citizen of the world and a Mahavir’s messenger.

As it happened, a large community of Jains in Africa – Visha Oswals - had been urging Chitrabhanuji to visit them for years. Chitrabhanuji decided to accept their invitation and also accepted the invitation of World Vegetarian Congress in Hague.

Before going overseas again, Chitrabhanuji debated with himself the new direction he was taking and norms of being a Jain Sadhu. He realized that he had to choose. He became fully aware of certain vibrations he had been experiencing in the presence of one long-time student, Pramoda Shah but was not allowing himself to express them. He felt that Usha - the girl whom he had considered his soul mate during his college days and who had died of malaria had come back in his life in the form of Pramoda. It was time, to be honest with himself. in the privacy of his own mind and soul, he renounced his high position and disengaged himself from monkhood.

They married in early 1971 in a private ceremony - Gandharv Vivah – no rituals or family participation just two witnesses. Out of consideration of feelings of many people who were incensed by his decision to travel to Geneva, he decided to not make any public announcements of his marriage at that time. He reasoned that it would not be right to demonstrate his boldness or be provocative in any way and incur their ire and disapproval. He knew that one day, their emotions would subside, and they would be ready to receive the news. In July, he then proceeded to Africa, his first stop was Nairobi, Kenya.

A Jain sadhu in Africa? The Jain community’s in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda responded tremendously. During his 52 days in Africa, Chitrabhanuji emphasized the message of Maitry- the religion of friendship. Chitrabhanuji praised humanitarian initiatives of the community and encouraged them to do even more for their adopted homeland. He then flew to London. He spent a week addressing thousands of people – Asians as well as westerners. He talked about the possibilities of blending the Eastern wisdom with the technological advances of the west. By synthesizing two modes of living, modern man can attain the peak of evolution and perfection of his human qualities.

The World Vegetarian Congress in the Hague was his next destination. He shared his thoughts and perceptions on the vegetarian way of life from a variety of viewpoints including spiritual growth, morality, health, aesthetics and ecology. He added, “Human beings ask for the mercy of their creator, but one who has lived mercilessly on the flesh of animals all through his life, how he can ask for mercy from God? Before returning to Mumbai, he flew a couple of weeks in USA visiting Jains of various large cities like Philadelphia, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

As soon as he returned to India, an invitation to deliver a speech at the Third Spiritual Summit Conference at the Harvard Divinity school was waiting for him. He was chosen as a keynote speaker with an air ticket was awaiting his consent.

Chitrabhanuji landed at JFK airport on September 11, 1971, without even a penny in his pocket. In contrast to the hundreds who would greet him on his arrival, Chitrabhanuji, in all white Indian attire stood alone – searching for a person from New York Jain community who was to receive him and help him along to Boston. A kind American woman helped him when she realized that he was in America to speak at the Harvard Divinity School. She was so impressed with the calm and radiance he was projecting even in the adverse circumstances, she took down the details and attended Chitrabhanuji’s speech hundreds of miles away at Harvard and again in New York a few days later. You can say Chitrabhanuji had attracted a western follower within one hour of arriving in America.

Chitrabhanuji’s presentation at the Spiritual Summit Conference at the Harvard Divinity College was dubbed by local newspapers as the “Hit Speaker of the Day”. He was invited to a reception at the home of the Governor Sargent Shriver after the conference. The accolades and respect he received made him a speaker very much in demand at churches, universities and seminars all over the east coast. America became his third Karmabhoomi.

After the summit conference Chitrabhanuji went to Chicago where Pramodaji flew in from Mumbai. For a few months, they lived with a former Chitrabhanuji’s student. On January 26, 1972, Pramodaji gave birth to their first son Rajeev as Chitrabhanuji was busy giving lectures at various centers. He was committed to an interfaith forum in Mumbai, so he made that trip. He felt that this was the right opportunity to share with the students and the trustees of the Divine Knowledge Society the various decisions and path he had chosen for himself. Later he wrote a long open letter which was published in the newspapers through which public came to know that he had relinquished the responsibilities of the Divine Knowledge Society and moved into a new life as a free global citizen and a householder to share the message of non-violence around the world.

Meanwhile, in America, Pramodaji flew to New York with her six-week-old son. One of Chitrabhanuji’s American student Elizabeth Cattell had given them an open invitation to stay with her which they did for fifteen months. Their second son Darshan was born in that home. Chitrabhanuji returned from India in March 1972 with renewed energy to New York. He began teaching meditation at a college at night. On Friday nights he would give talks at a Yoga center. In 1973 Chitrabhanuji led the Mahavir Jayanti celebration at the United Nations Chapel.

Chitrabhanuji made his presence so well known that in December of 1973, The New York times did a long story on him calling him Pope John Paul of Jainism. The elaborate report said that “…He is no evangelist seeking to convert followers to Jainism. He encourages them to become strong in body, mind and soul to take charge of their own spiritual journey. And use their energies for the benefit of all through Ahimsa. But that is not surprising. Even before setting foot overseas, Chitrabhanuji’s writings had helped a young doctor Dhiraj Shah, a new immigrant to America avoid military draft telling to the US army court that as a follower of Non-Violence, he could not be forced to take up arms. The ruling of the court recognized Jainism and forever exempted all Jains from any combat duty. In New York he was a sought after speaker at Interfaith seminars, colleges and Universities were inviting him to speak on Non-Violence and peace in support of Antiwar sentiments against Vietnam War.

Many of Chitrabhanuji’s American followers urged him to establish a place where they can avail themselves the opportunity to hear him regularly. Chitrabhanuji, from the savings of his teaching and speaking jobs, spared some funds to rent a place in Manhattan and established “Jain Meditation International Center”. Eventually Jains also started coming to the center. They brought with them a marble Murtie of Shri Mahavirswami, thus Chitrabhanuji established the first Jain place of worship in America.

Chitrabhanuji began for his American student's annual pilgrimages to Shatrunjay and Mt. Abu. Students were required to adopt vegetarianism and meditation as a condition for Joining him in Yatra. After completing the yatra, students were given new names like Vikas, Prema and Prachi, etc. signifying their new spiritual life. In one of the annual yatras, in 1974 students got to meet with the Prime minister Indira Gandhi and attending “World Fellowship of Religions” in Delhi. The organizer of the conference – Muni Sushil Kumarji – was impressed by hearing Navkar Mantra from the westerners that Chitrabhanuji had brought with him. Muni Sushil Kumarji expressed his desire to go to America and join hands with Chitrabhanuji to Spread Mahavir’s message. Chitrabhanuji warmly agreed to help him get to America and pledged to work together.

Chitrabhanuji traveled all across America and helped establish 40 Jain centers. He and Muni Sushil Kumar inspired formation of JAINA – a federation of Jain Associations in North America – representing all the Jains without distinction of sects or the region they came from. Today almost forty years later, JAINA is the largest Jain organization outside of India representing over 100,000 jains. In the seventies and eighties, Chitrabhanuji made many trips to UK, Antwerp, Singapore and African nations. Chitrabhanuji also attracted the attention of a group of Americans in Michigan – The Lighthouse Center -who adopted him as their spiritual leader. The members of this group are not only vegetarians but also Vegan. It is estimated that about 1500 Americans have turned Vegetarian because of Chitrabhanuji’s message.

Chitrabhanuji learned of Veganism almost by accident. In one of the American groups, he was addressing someone asked him how was it that as a messenger of Non-Violence he consumes milk. Chitrabhanuji was shocked. He admitted that it had never occurred to him that milk is a product of so much violence. He promised to study the subject.

True to his word, Chitrabhanuji and Pramodaben started their research on Veganism once they were back in New York. It was a new awakening for them. Not only they both became lifelong devout vegan but Chitrabhanuji changed his message completely. He was no longer preaching about finer points of Jainism. He argued in Jain Center against use of Milk in Pooja or Ghee in Dipak. The campaign for veganism did not impress many adult Jains of America. In fact, there were many who opposed him for that message arguing that our Tirthankars used milk and never forbade us from using. but hundreds of Jain youngsters converted to Veganism.

The criticism did not deter Chitrabhanuji. He considered words of the immortal Song he had composed.

"કરે ઉપેકશા એ મારગની તોયે સમતા ચીતત ધરુ"

He continued to speak at various venues spreading the message of Non-Violence. He was honored by many politicians, universities and churches etc. The pinnacle of the honors was the 2001 invitation from House of Representatives in Washington with opening prayer in recognition of 2600th anniversary of Mahavirswami.

Later in 2014 Claremont Lincoln University in California awarded “Ahimsa Award “ to both Chitrabhanuji and Pramodaben. Thus the Ahimsa Yatra of Chitrabhanuji that began at Harvard University in 1971 reached another University on the west coast. As of that time Chitrabhanuji decided to stop all his public appearances bowing to his age.

But there is one more thing I must take note. In June of 2018, Jain Society of Chicago decided to honor Chitrabhanuji during 25th Anniversary of their Temple. Chitrabhanuji had officiated their Prathistha ceremony and made numerous visit to their Temple after that. The Chicago Jain center had installed a bust of Shri Virchand Raghavji in their center and recognizing the pioneering work of Chitrabhanuji in the footsteps of VRG, they installed a bust of Chittrabhanuji as a Jivant Smarak.
From: CHITRABHANUJI - Man of the Millenium by Dilip V Shah
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