The monk who told things literary
Reviewed by Humra Quraishi

The Sun Will Rise Again: Selected Poems 
by Acharya Mahaprajna 
Translated by Sudhamahi Regunathan. 
Pages 97. Rs 250.

Whilst going through Khushwant Singh’s essay On Religion, I was pleasantly surprised to read these particular lines: "It was only in the sixties when I had to teach a course in comparative religion at Princeton University and later, at Swarthmore College and the University of Hawaii that I read books on Jainism in order to pass on the information to my American students. I was deeply impressed with what I learnt. I admitted if I had to choose a religion to subscribe to, it would be Jainism. It came close to agnosticism and the code of ethics to which, as a rationalist, I subscribed to`85In the seventies, when I was the editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India, I wrote to the chief ministers of all the states of the country that if they imposed a blanket ban on shikar in their states in honour of Jain Mahavira, I would give them all the publicity they wanted. Eight chief ministers responded to my appeal and banned killing for sport".

Acharya Mahaprajna
Acharya Mahaprajna

And then, there’s another non-Jain in our midst who is an ardent admirer of the Jain philosophy and of the teachings of the monk Acharya Mahaprajna. And she is the well-known Delhi-based academic Sudhamahi Regunathan, a former vice-chancellor of Jain Vishva Bharti University. She has been translating the writings, teachings and the verse of the spiritual head of the Jain community, Acharya Mahaprajna. And here, in this volume, she has translated his verse, which relays the basic truths of everyday life, of everyday realities.

And this 89-year-old (born in the summer of 1920) Jain monk practises what he preaches and lives with just the bare basics. For the last 75 years, he has been traveling by foot across this land, spreading the message of non-violence and restraint and that of sheer simplicity, all so well-reflected in his words, in the very lines of his verse. Some of these lines from Acharya Mahaprajna‘s verse tucked in this volume are laden with much thought and carry those subtle relays, apt for the present day and for the times to come:

Today’s politician is one

Who does not know how to wake people up

Or even how to let them sleep`85

Perhaps, these lines of his carry forth the very crux:

Everything is right

And everything is wrong

That which appeals to the mind

Is right

That which does not appeal to the mind is wrong ...

And needless to add, the very role of the translator is absolutely crucial. It helps in bringing about a connectivity, a flow of an ongoing sort. How else would the verse and very philosophy of Acharya Mahaprajna reach out globally to the English-speaking people if, for the last 10 years, Sudhamahi had not been translating it. She throws light on another relevant aspect: "On the basis of his (Acharya Mahaprajna) understanding of different religions, he feels that every religion presents an aspect of truth, and a collection of all these truths may perhaps lead us to greater progress. This led to his new and contemporary exposition of a fundamental principle of tolerance found in Jain philosophy, which is anekanta.

Demystifying the principle of anekanta, Acharya Mahaprajna interpreted it in terms of relativity in all spheres of life, be it an opinion or the mutual interdependence of all beings. It is from this principle that he derives his formula for peaceful co-existence, equanimity and a positive outlook ... ."