Jain community mourns loss of major spiritual leader who made U.S. his home

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The Jain community recently lost a gigantic figure who spread the word about this religion of peace throughout his life, establishing it in the United States and other parts of the globe, and unifying devotees.

Jain spiritual leader Chitrabhanu, who died in April in Mumbai, but who made the U.S. his home for many years, setting up a Jain center in NYC, and spreading the teachings of Jainism in North America and elsewhere around the globe. (Photo: courtesy chitrabhanuji.com)

“On April 19, Jains lost Gurudev Chitrabhanuji, a true hero, a torch-bearer for Jainism in West, “Columbus who brought Jainism in USA”, a crusader against animal suffering, great visionary thinker and author,” declared Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA) Public Relations and Media Committee Chairman Hemant Shah, in a press release.

Guru Chitrabhanu who made New York City his home for many years, died in India at his residence in Mumbai, surrounded by family members, Shah, who is also the past chairman and member of board of trustees of  Jain Society of Metropolitan Chicago, told Desi Talk.

In his book “Chitrabhanu: Man of the Millennium,” author Dilip V. Shah, traced the life of the man who made Jainism known around the world – from the time when as a young man in 1970, he enjoyed the height of popularity in Mumbai for his deep knowledge of Jainism and his “powerful oratory,” to when he decided that after walking 30,000 miles barefoot, he would take an airplane to travel abroad and spread the word.

He lived by the words of the religion, leading many relief operations for those who suffered natural calamities, Shah recounts. He got invitations to speak at multi-faith forums in Africa, Europe and America, but it was the invitation from the second Spiritual Summit in Geneva organized by Temple of Understanding in the United States that finally took him overseas.

He decided to follow in the footsteps of his hero – Virchand Raghavji Gandhi who introduced the western world to a religion of non-violence almost 100 years earlier, notes Shah. In Geneva, his message to the delegates of the “Second Spiritual Summit” was a mixture of hope for the humanity and the need for unity among different faiths.

After Geneva, Chitrabhanuji visited many European cities and America including traveling in Africa for 45, lecturing Jain centers in many cities residents of which had never seen a Jain monk in seventy-five years of Jain migration to the continent of Africa, Shah says.

Jain spiritual leader Chitrabhanu with a follower. (Photo: courtesy chitrabhanuji.com)

He came to the U.S. for the Third Spiritual Summit at Harvard University. “His speech in front of august leaders of 40 different religious leaders earned him the title of “Hit speaker of the Day” in the local Boston newspaper,” notes Shah, a headline that resulted in invitations up and down the east coast.

Chitrabhanuji decided to settle in the U.S. and chose New York as his new home, where within two years, he opened the “Jain Meditation International Center” with the money he had saved from teaching, Shah says.

Almost all of his students were American but gradually, Jains of New York started visiting the center, and when a small marble statue of Teerthankar Shri Mahavir swami was installed, “it became the first Jain place of worship in the US,” Shah says.

“As the years went by, Chitrabhanuji contributed enormously to organizing Jain communities in US and Canada. His organizing principal was that of Unity,” Shah notes.

Chitrabhanu was married to Pramoda Shah in 1971, and renounced his monkhood.  The New York Times called him an “Iconoclatic” Jain leader likening him to Pope John Paul.

Chitrabhanu was born in Takhatgarh, a small town in Rajasthan as Rup-Rajendra Shah in 1922. He became a monk in 1942 and remained one for 29 years. He has two sons, Rajeev Chitrabhanu and Darshan Chitrabhanu.

On a blogsite – gurudevchitrabhanu.org – established by a follower, Mukta Tana,  she says, “Gurudev Chitrabhanu and Pramoda Chitrabhanu have been a part of my life for more than 20 years, although, it has taken me some time to acknowledge and begin to understand how much they have given to me and guided me through my life.”

On his eponymous website, chitrabhanuji.com – the spiritual leader says in a section entitled “Today’s Quote”- “This is the beginning of a new day. My good fortune has given me this day to use as I will. I can waste it or use it for good.

What I do today is important because I am exchanging a day of my life for it. When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever, leaving in its path something that I have traded.

I want that to be gain, not loss; good, not evil; success, not failure; so that I shall not regret the price I have paid for it.”

 

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