Remarks on the Occasion of the Celebration of the 90th Birthday of Gurudev Shree Chitrabhanu

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JainCenterNJJain Center of New Jersey, Franklin Township
July 29, 2012

Professor Gary L. Francione

Jai Jinendra!

When I was asked by Dilip Shah to do this presentation, I was happy to be given the great honor and privilege of sharing my thoughts with you about Gurudev Chitrabhanuji on the auspicious occasion of his 90th birthday.

But I was also anxious.

There are very few people that I have met in my entire life for whom I have as much respect as Gurudev. How would I do justice to one as remarkable as he? There is so much to say about him that anything I say will necessarily be incomplete.

So I start my presentation with micchami dukkadam to Gurudev and to you all. I will try my best amet but my task is most challenging and I ask your pardon for what will necessarily be an incomplete and inadequate tribute to this marvelous soul.

Although Gurudev has accomplished a great deal, I am going to focus on three aspects of his life.

First, I will talk about the role that Gurudev played in establishing the Jain community in North America.

Second, I will discuss Gurudev’s important contribution to restoring meditation as a central focus of practicing Jainism and to teaching meditation to non-Jains.

Third, I will discuss Gurudev’s commitment to Ahimsa and his teaching that all animal foods involve himsa.

Bringing Jainism to North America 

Gurudev was born in 1922 in Rajastahn. He became a Jain monk in 1942, and, for 28 years, was known as Muni Chandraprabha Sagar. During that time, Gurudev became the spiritual leader to millions around India. His lectures were attended by literally tens of thousands of people and the size of the crowds that he drew would often cause Mumbai to come to a halt.

But in 1970, Gurudev faced a difficult decision. His reputation had spread and he was invited to speak at the Second Spiritual Conference For in Geneva Switzerland. As a Jain monk, Gurudev was forbidden from such travel. But he knew and understood the importance of bringing the message of Ahimsa to a world that was engulfed in war, racism, materialism, political corruption, and economic injustice. Gurudev saw a world in great spiritual crisis. His overwhelming sense of compassion required that he respond.

So Gurudev left the monkhood and the security of his position as a spiritual leader in India. He married his student, Pramoda, who is his soul mate. He became the first Jain spiritual master in 2,500 years to leave India and travel to the West.

Gurudev attended the 1970 Conference in Switzerland and he then attended the Third Spiritual Conference in 1971, which was held at Harvard Divinity School. He established the Jain Meditation Center in New York City in 1973 and he invited Jain monk Sushil Kumar to the United States in 1975. With the blessings of Gurudev and Acharya Sushil Kumar, the Federation of Jain Associations in North America—JAINA—was begun in 1981. JAINA is, in many ways, the brain child and the heart child of Gurudev.

To put the matter simply, if it were not for what Gurudev did in 1970, the vibrant Jain community that presently exists in North American would not exist. In a very real sense, Gurudev is the founder of that community and remains its most Jersey visible presence and its spiritual leader.

I remember when I first met Gurudev—at the JAINA Convention in 2009 in Los Angeles. Gurudev and Pramoda were quite literally engulfed by a crowd of devotees for hours. I had to wait until the evening to spend a few minutes with Gurudev. As I watched how person after person sought to approach him, receive his blessings, and speak with him briefly, I thought about what it must have been like in 1965, when Gurudev had an enormous crowd attending his lectures in Mumbai. Forty-five years later and it was still the same. The light of Gurudev’s spirit draws us.

Gurudev is not only the founder of the Jain community in North America and its spiritual leader but he has, as part of forming that community, taken the extraordinary step of insisting that the North American Jain community put aside the divisiveness of sectarianism. Gurudev is often heard to remark that Svetambaras are not wearing white and Digambaras are not naked. All Jains look the same; all Jains are the same in that the common embrace of Ahimsa is the only thing that matters. That is a similarity that overwhelms any and all differences. Indeed, Gurudev quite rightly sees sectarian divisions as a form of himsa. Sects divide; Ahimsa unites. That is Gurudev’s vision.

And Gurudev resonates with the Jain youth, many of whom are, as second-generation, trying to understand what Ahimsa means in a culture that celebrates materialism. Although he is 90, Gurudev speaks to the youth with a spirit of joy and equanimity that allows him to be an ageless force of Ahimsa in their lives. Gurudev’s very presence makes the young people excited about Jain Dharma. They are attracted to him like a magnet. He makes spirituality relevant to them and for them.

So, to sum up this first aspect of Gurudev’s life, he brought Ahimsa outside India; he established the Jain community in North America and that community is a true Jain community that is united and unified by the acceptance of Ahimsa as Truth.

The Importance of Meditation

Gurudev Chitrabhanuji was instrumental in helping to restore the regular practice of meditation as a central focus of practicing Jainism. There were others who were involved in this effort, such as Acharya Tulsi and Acharya Mahapragya, as well as Acharya Susil Kumar. But it was Gurudev who was in the forefront of reversing a long period of hundreds of years where meditation had stopped playing a central role in Jain Dharma, at least as far as lay people were concerned. Gurudev made clear that the path to spiritual progress and equanimity for Jains made meditation essential.

And Gurudev was a pioneer in teaching meditation to people in the West. He established the Jain Meditation Center in New York City in 1973 and he has written a number of excellent books on meditation, including Realize What You Are: The Dynamics of Jain Meditation, one of the most important books on meditation that has been written by anyone. In this marvelous book, Gurudev teaches a system of meditation based on Jain principles. It is a wonderful book. I have read it many times and I will read it many more times. I learn something new from it with every reading.

He wrote other books on meditation, such as The Psychology of Enlightenment: Meditation on the Seven Energy Centers. In that book, Gurudev teaches us that we must

“give up our small ego—our self-imposed limitations, our fears, our feelings of inadequacy and impotence, and our identification with temporary gains and losses. When we have dissolved these, all that will remain is the sweet essence of our Real Self. Only then will our lives be fully illuminated by our invisible soul. In this sense, losing is our gain, our real and permanent gain.”

He wrote these wise words in 1978 and they remain as relevant now as they did then and they will remain relevant forever. This is the essence of Jain Dharma; losing the ego and putting aside everything that is nothing more than the manifestation of karma.

In teaching meditation—to Jains and non-Jains alike—Gurudev teaches the fundamental principles of Jain Dharma. Gurudev is, without doubt, one of the—if not the—most important teachers of meditation—to Jains and non-Jains alike—of the modern era.

The Meaning of Ahimsa and the Ahimsic Way of Life

Any discussion of the life of Gurudev would be incomplete without a discussion of the tireless efforts that he and Pramoda have exercised to make clear that Ahimsa, which prohibits us from inflicting any harm on mobile, multi-sensed beings, requires that we adopt what Dilip Shah calls the “Ahimsic way of life,” and what some others may call being vegan.

I very much like Dilip bhai’s description because it captures a fundamental truth. Living in samsara, the material world, means that we cannot avoid harming other beings. When we move; when we breathe; when we travel; when we consume, we harm others. That harm is inevitable. That is the problem of samsara. Perfect Ahimsa is not possible until we reach the state, which most of us will never achieve, of vitaraga, or perfect equanimity.

Mahavir understood the limitations of samsara. But he provided us with certain rules of living that are necessary, but not sufficient, to guide us on the path. In the Acharanga Sutra, Book I, Lecture 4, Lesson 1, we are told:

“The Arhats and Bhagavats of the past, present, and future, all say thus, explain thus: all breathing, existing, living, sentient creatures should Is not be slain, nor treated with violence, nor abused, nor tormented, nor driven away.”

This passage makes absolutely clear that it is not just killing animals that is prohibited. It is any treatment with violence; any harm that is prohibited. It is clear and beyond dispute: the very clear words of the Acharanga Sutra do not just prohibit eating meat; they prohibit consuming all animal products.

Dairy (milk, ghee, raita, paneer) and eggs—these foods all involve imposing suffering and death on mobile multi-sensed beings. This is not a matter of opinion. It is a matter of fact.

Dairy involves death and suffering. In order to produce milk, cows are artificially and forcibly impregnated every year so that they are continually lactating. There is a resulting steady stream of calves who are taken from their mothers shortly after birth as the calves must be prohibited from taking the mother’s milk. No one seriously disputes that this causes distress to mother and baby alike. Many of the female calves will become dairy cows, and the remaining females and all the males will become meat animals with the babies being slaughtered at about six months and sold as veal. All cows, whether raised for meat or milk will end up in the slaughterhouse. Dairy cows, who can live for 25 years, are usually slaughtered after four or five years when their milk production decreases.

Almost all dairy products—whether produced in the United states or India or anywhere else—come from animals kept in intensive conditions known as “factory farming” that involve unspeakable brutality and violence. Animals who are supposedly raised in “free-range” circumstances, or whose products are advertised as “organic,” are raised in conditions that may be slightly less violent than the normal factory farm, but there is still a great deal of violence, suffering, and death. Recent investigations into the dairy industry in India indicate that there is a great deal of violence, suffering, and death even on small rural dairy collectives.

India is now one of the largest dairy producers in the world and, in 2011, India produced 3,244,000 metric tons of beef and veal, which was higher than the production in Argentina, which is a major beef and veal producer. There is no way to separate the beef and veal industry from the dairy industry, particularly in that there would be no veal industry without a dairy industry.

As for the egg industry, after hatching, the chicks are separated into males and females. Because male chicks will not be able to produce eggs and, because laying chickens are a specific laying breed that are not suitable to be “meat” animals, hundreds of millions of male chicks are killed annually. Laying hens, whether in conventional battery cages, “enriched” cages, “cage-free” or “free-range” barns are all subjected to brutal treatment and are all slaughtered in violent ways. When you eat a baked good that contains eggs, you consume death and suffering.

Gurudev’s message is clear: Jains can no longer ignore the fact that all of these animal products involve a violation of Ahimsa that is no different from the violation of Ahimsa that occurs with meat. Jains can no longer ignore the fact that all of these animal products involve a violation of Asteya or Achaurya in that they involve taking from animals that which is not ours to take. When we drink milk or use any dairy product, we steal from the mother cow who produces the milk for her baby. As Gurudev reminds us: we are not babies! We have no right to steal the milk from the mother and her calf. We have no right to steal the egg from the hen.

We cannot say that the doctrine of anekantavada means that it is our individual choice as to whether to consume dairy or eggs. Anekantavada does not mean that there is no truth; it means only that truth is complicated and difficult to know before one achieves perfect equanimity. But just as we cannot doubt that there is no perspective that makes the consumption of meat morally or spiritually acceptable, there is no perspective that legitimizes the consumption of dairy or eggs. It is all himsa and Jains should reject it all in favor of an Ahimsic way of life that excludes the consumption of all animal products.

This has been a central message of Gurudev’s teaching.

Our Birthday Tribute to Gurudev Chitrabhanuji

 There are many more things to say about Gurudev that I have not discussed as my time is limited and his accomplishments are not. But I have tried to focus on three things that I regard as both important to Gurudev, important to Jain Dharma, and important for the cause of advancing Ahimsa in our troubled world.

But it is not enough that we wish Gurudev a happy birthday. If we truly respect and love Gurudev, it is important to honor him by taking to our hearts the things he has given from his.

It is important that we take seriously the principle of Ahimsa as what unites us and we must see past all irrelevant differences that divide us. We should seek through meditation equanimity in our own lives, with the benefits that such equanimity provides to those with whom we come into contact. And we should recognize that just as Ahimsa means that we cannot consume the flesh Living of animals, it means that we can also not consume milk and eggs.

I am proud to call Gurudev Chitrabhanuji my teacher and my friend. I ask you to join me in wishing him many more years to be with us and thanking him for the gifts of Ahimsa that he has given us today.

Gary L. Francione is Board of Governors Professor, Distinguished Professor of Law and Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Scholar of Law and Philosophy at Rutgers University School of Law in Newark, New Jersey.

These expanded, written remarks are based on an oral presentation that was given on July 29, 2012.