Jain Master Gurudev Chitrabhanu
In 1970 Gurudev Shree Chitrabhanu became the first Jain Master in 2,500 years to leave India and come to the West. In those days, such an act was very risky because of the ancient Jain injunction against monks crossing water or traveling by vehicle, or by any other means except barefoot.
At the time, Gurudev was spiritual leader to hundreds of thousands, in fact, millions of Jains around India. To understand why such a man might leave such a position of authoity and security, one must understand his life and his message.
The Jain philosophy is one of India’s most ancient schools of thought, scholars often tracing its history to prehistory times. For the many Jains in both East and West who have benefited from the teaching, it is an eternal philosophy of Reverence for all Life and Relativity in Thinking.
Gurudev’s life has been an eventful one, yet always guided by a quest for the spiritual truth. He studied psychology in Bangalore and was involved in Gandhijis Satyagraha.
At the age of twenty, he became a Jain monk. During his twenty-eight years of monkhood, he spent five years in silence and meditation, speaking only to his guru. During this time, he went far down the path of purifying his consciousness. He studied Sanskrit and the various philosophies of India, as well as the rest of the world. He also founded the Divine Knowledge Society of Bombay, which produces humanitarian and educational assistance to the poor and needy.
His discourses were very popular, often drawing crowds in the tens of thousands to hear his words of wisdom. As a result, he was invited to attend the Second and Third Spiritual Conferences, held respectively in Geneva in 1970 and Harvard Divinity School in 1971. It was at this time Gurudev realized that it was time to take this opportunity of sharing the ancient message of Reverence for All Life and Relativity in Thinking, and so accepted the invitations. This would certainly put his authority and security at risk. (Remember, after the Original World Parliament of Religions a century ago, Swami Vivekananda and Shree Virchand Raghavchand Ghandi were greeted in India with garlands of shoes.) Nonetheless, it was time to share a secret too well kept from a world desperately in need of a more compassionate direction for mankind.
In the west, Gurudev has spoken at many colleges and universities, including Yale, Princeton and Cornell, and worked with many church groups drug addiction centers and international-minded groups. He was the first to address the United Nations on Ahimsa and has served as founder-president of World Fellowship of Religions in America. He has many books in print in India and in the West which have also helped to spread his message. They include The Dynamics of Jain Meditation; The Psychology of Enlightenment; Meditations on the Seven Energy Centers; Twelve Facets of Reality (all published by Dodd, Mead) and about ten more in English and twenty in Gujarati and Hindi.
In 1981, by the ocean at San Diego, Gurudev attained the enlightened state of self-awareness, which enabled him to purify further his own consciousness and life and enhance his present global mission of Reverence for All Life. Being a world traveler, centers all over the world regard Gurudev as their spiritual advisor: in America, Canada, Europe, Africa, Asia and India. He is the founder of the Jain Meditation International Center in New York City, in Manhattan, where he has weekly talks and meditation.
“Jain,” Gurudev explains, “is not a religion or an identity, but has its roots in the Sanskrit verb ‘ji,’ meaning ‘to conquer’.” This conquest is very much the result of a personal spiritual struggle against our enemies of anger, jealousy, ego and greed. A “Jina” is one of those enlightened beings who has conquered these inner enemies and thus has seen through the negative clouds which cause to obstruct our natural state of enlightenment.
Gurudev has through the years helped many come closer to their own true, divine nature, by helping them let go of their own inner enemies, through meditation. Thus, by his many talks, guidance, communications and consultations, he is helping to bring about a world full of individuals who realize that compassion for the universe begins with compassion for self. The New York Times in 1973 wrote, “Chitrabhanu… is no evangelist seeking to convert followers to Jainism.” He encourages them, “to become strong enough in body, mind and soul to take charge of their own spiritual journey,” and use their energies for self-realization and for the benefit of all through Ahimsa and Reverence for All Life.
Pramodaji Chitrabhanu is a fine human and a devout Jain, in that order, because to be a truly good human is to be a true Jain. She is an acclaimed Jain scholar and is gifted with refined and chaste upbringing, quality education, and high intelligence, perceptive and insightful mind and, above all, a heart that is perennially flooded with compassion and amity towards all.
Pramodaji’s mission takes her to many parts of the world, hence she is rightly called “A Global Personage.” She connects particularly well with the youth because her approach is genuinely secular and multi-cultural. This is the reason why she has scores of admirers all over the world, whose lives have been transformed by her gentle, rational and persuasive guidance.
Pramodaji is particularly interested in vegetarianism and veganism, education, philanthropy, women’s welfare and animal welfare. Appropriately, she holds positions of inspiration and responsibility in many humanitarian organizations. Just to note a few:
- Jain International Meditation Centre, Mumbai President
- PETA – People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, India Chapter Director
- Vegetarian Society of Mumbai: Reverence for Life Founding Member
- Beauty Without Cruelty – Active Member
- Jain Meditation International Centre, New York, Director
- Jaina – Jain Association in North America – Jiv Daya Committee Chairperson
Pramodaji has written well-researched, insightful and deeply touching books; notable among them are:
- Foods of Earth: Tastes Of Heaven – Book of vegetarian recipes – Gujarati Cuisine
- Jain Symbols
- Book on Evolution and Meaning of Jain Emblems
- To Light One Candle – Mantras – Prayers, Co-authored with Clare Rosenfield
- The Book of Compassion
- Book on Vegetarianism and Veganism, Co-authored with Pravin K. Shah Antim Aradhana – In Gujarati
When in the USA, Pramodaji officiates annually at invited Paryushana celebrations, shares lectures in Gujarati, and gives classes in English to Western students, exposing them to the vision, ideals and concepts of Jain Dharma.