An Indian humanitarian organization that draws inspiration from the Jain faith, is implementing some unique projects, one, a university for women aspiring to monkhood complete with four years of study; and two, a concerted effort to help Nepal, a Hindu nation on India’s northern border, to build a better life for its citizens.
The organization, Veerayatan, which derives its name from the words ‘Veer’ for Lord Mahavir and ‘aayatan’ which means holy place, was was founded in 1973, by Acharya Shri Chandanaji, and was inspired by the teachings of Tirthankar Mahavir and Rashtrasant Amar Muniji Maharaj, according to its website. On its Facebook page Veerayatan describes itself as “a non-profit, non-governmental, socio-religious organization.”
Speaking to News India Times while in the United States for the JAINA Convention held in Edison, N.J., June 30 to July 4, Acharya Shri Chandanaji told Desi Talk, the projects had been well received by the approximately 5,000 attendees. She was one of the keynote speakers at the Convention, and Veerayatan was recognized as the “Best Institution of the Year,” by JAINA.
Acharya Shri Chandanaji’s message at the Convention was that action should replace talk about non-violence and compassion. “For thousands of years we have spoken of these things – non-violence, compassion — but it is necessary that, where we live and are surrounded by people who need food, whose eyes are filled with tears … we do something about that,” she told Desi Talk June 2, on her visit to the U.S.. “One does not have to ‘search’ for God. God will come to those who will do these acts,” was her message. “Veerayatan is just a drop in the ocean in what should be a worldwide effort,” she said, noting, “JAINA (Convention) very patiently listened and our message was well received.”
On the ‘Nepal Project,’ Acharya Chandanaji said Veerayatan had been working in that country for the last 2 years and wants people from surrounding countries in the South Asian Subcontinent, the U.S., and around the world, to step forward and the Nepalese achieve a better life and good governance. The people of Nepal, she contended, were hard-working and gentle, who need and deserve help from people skilled in various areas of endeavor, and that was the message she also shared at the JAINA Convention. “Our vision is that surrounding nations (and others) can help Nepal in the effort for development – both spiritually and to establish a good government,” Acharya Chandanaji said.
Since its inception in 1973, Veerayatan says it has striven to bring about a tangible change to maximum people irrespective of their backgrounds. The organization’s ‘Palitana Project ‘ named after the place where Veerayatan was first formed, seeks to create a center for Jain studies for sadhvis and those wanting to become sadhvis. That effort is being led by Jainesh Mehta, a Texas-based longstanding IT software professional in the oil industry, and philanthropist whose Mehta Family Foundation is well-known for its charitable efforts.
“The vision is for Palitana to be a university with a four-year program of studies,” which will include study of Jainism and also science education, a modern curriculum with a spiritual base, Mehta indicated. The campus would also offer, one-day, one-week, one-month or other durations of courses to those needing them, he added. “Palitana is a place where education and worship go together,” he said.
Last year alone, some 1,000 girls and women took ‘diksha’ in Palitana, Mehta said. Diksha is the vow by which worldly life is given up for a an ascetic life. In making this transformation where they give up their households to live in poverty “They don’t get an opportunity to have an education,” Mehta said. “This project helps them live their life but also get this education. It is a one-of-a-kind campus being built,” specifically to help fill the gap, Mehta told Desi Talk.
Mehta said Veerayatan was extremely grateful to JAINA for offering a platform to spread awareness about these projects.
According to its website, “Veerayatan stands on the three pillars of Seva (service to humanity), Shiksha (education for all), and Sadhana (self-development) to inspire and empower lives.”
Its various activities include Seva Mandirs, which include medical camps, eye surgeries, and post-surgery care for the most underserved populace; schools, colleges, hostels, and vocational training; rehabilitation and emergency relief programs in the wake of natural calamities; Brahmi Kala Mandir, an art gallery comprising inventive media to better understand life, culture, and religion; guest houses and libraries; and prayer halls, spiritual retreats, and inspirational programs for all age groups.