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David Christopher LaneDavid Christopher Lane, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992).

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A BEACON OF PEACE

A personal remembrance of Acharya Sushil Kumar

David Lane

“Syādvāda, in Jaina metaphysics, the doctrine that all judgments are conditional, holding good only in certain conditions, circumstances, or senses, expressed by the word syāt (Sanskrit: “may be”). The ways of looking at a thing (called naya) are infinite in number. The Jainas hold that to interpret experience from only one naya, or point of view, to the exclusion of others is an error comparable to that of the seven blind men feeling an elephant, each of whom concluded that the part he was holding represented the elephant's true form.” - Encyclopaedia Britannica
Which religionists would make you feel the safest? The answer is always the same: Jain monks.

I first learned of Acharya Sushil Kumar, the renowned Jain monk and teacher, when I was twenty-one years old.[1] It was back in the Fall of 1977 and I was doing research work at the UCLA library. I had secured a relatively rare copy of World Religious Conference, Delhi, 1957 which detailed the pioneering work of Acharya Sushil Kumar and other distinguished spiritual masters, including Kirpal Singh, the founder of Ruhani Satsang, to bring various religious factions together and emphasize their common goals. Near the end of the proceedings, Sushil Kumar (who during those days was known with the honorific Muni) was unanimously elected as the chief convener and asked (along with Sant Tukdoji Maharaj) to develop the fellowship of goodwill worldwide.

A Beacon of Peace, A personal remembrance of Acharya Sushil Kumar, David Lane
Sushil Kumar (1926-1994)

At that time, I didn't know much about Jainism and was deeply impressed by Acharya Sushil Kumar's philosophical outlook. He was pictured with bushy hair, glasses, and wearing all white. I was intrigued about why he had a cloth covering his mouth. I decided there and then to learn more about him and Jain philosophy.

I have been a Professor of Philosophy for the past thirty years and I am often asked about which religion or which ethical system I find most impressive. I always give the same answer: Jainism. Why? Because, unlike almost all other systems of belief, Jainism advocates a philosophy of non-violence (ahimsa) in all directions, and encourages showing compassion to all life forms—from an ant to a dolphin to a human. Jainism also stresses the need to have a multi-faceted worldview, where different angles of perception are appreciated and understood. The concept of anekāntavāda (Sanskrit: अनेकान्तवाद, "many-sidedness") is such a profound and necessary injunction. It is a unique contribution to spirituality and one wishes that the twin concepts of ahimsa and of anekāntavāda could be the guiding pillars of world civilization.

I illustrate the greatness of Jainism with one simple thought experiment. It is late at night and you are walking alone down a dark alley and five very devout believers are coming towards you and they all belong to one religion. Which religionists would make you feel the safest? The answer is always the same: Jain monks.

This is a revealing response and demonstrates why I feel strongly that the ideals of Jainism are worthy of being much more widely known.

Thus, back in 1983 I was excited to meet Acharya Sushil Kumar, one of the great modern exponents of Jainism, who broke with tradition and decided to venture to America to spread the teachings of this most ancient philosophy.

I am not quite sure how I learned that Acharya Sushil Kumar was going to be in Long Beach, California, for an extended period, but I distinctly remember that the Movement Newspaper in Los Angeles encouraged me to write a brief article about my visit which was published just weeks later.

It was a typically sunny day in southern California when I finally did meet Acharya Sushil Kumar. He greeted me warmly at the small center he was staying at, along with several other Jain monks. I was fortunate to be able to ask any question I wished and we conversed for over two hours on a variety of subjects. Although we touched upon many aspects of Jainism (from strict vegetarianism to the monk's habit of not eating past sunset), I was particularly interested in Acharya Sushil Kumar's meditational discipline, since he spoke at length about the efficacy of Arhum yoga, which centers on the divine inner sound. We discussed how this yogic system had much in common with shabd and nad yoga, which also focuses on listening to an inner sound current or melody wherein the meditator's body goes numb and one experiences higher states of awareness and begins to see a resplendent light.

Since I had met with a number of shabd yoga gurus in the Sant Mat and Radhasoami tradition due to my research work in North India in 1978, 1981, and 1983, I asked Acharya Sushil Kumar about his relationship with Kirpal Singh, Darshan Singh, and other masters in the tradition. He was on intimate terms with each of them and spoke about the underlying unity of these related meditational techniques. It is of historical interest to note that Acharya Sushil Kumar confirmed that Kirpal Singh had personally informed him that he intended to appoint his eldest son, Darshan, as his spiritual successor. This is significant because there was much controversy surrounding succession when Kirpal died in 1974. Additionally, I was fascinated to learn that Acharya Sushil Kumar had visited with Baba Faqir Chand, the famous “unknowing” sage, in late August of 1981, in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, where Faqir had been hospitalized after surgery and was in a coma like state. Acharya Sushil Kumar visited Mercy Hospital and told those in attendance that “Faqir was in Samadhi and was not to be disturbed.”

This later turned out to be true since I was told by the nurse that Faqir had awoken from his “coma” just prior to dying and explained that he was in deep meditation and wanted to die consciously.

Acharya Sushil Kumar was politically active in America despite acknowledging that “politics has been a dirty business from the very beginning.” He was especially keen to ride the world of atomic and hydrogen bombs which he felt was a scourge on humanity. However, the esteemed Jain monk told me that real change can only transpire when the human heart is transformed. This can only happen when we realize the unity of all beings and that we ourselves have a responsibility to lessen violence, first by finding peace within ourselves. Only when we have stilled our own minds can we hope to positively influence the tempestuous behavior of others.

I asked Acharya Sushil Kumar a few questions about his personal habits and he explained that he ate his final meal of the day hours before sunset and that meditation was a key cornerstone in his life. I noticed Acharya Sushil Kumar was not dogmatic in his thinking and explained that the key tenets of Jainism are universal since they dovetail with all of humanity.

He kindly allowed us to take several photographs of him which we later developed in beautiful black and white portraits. Acharya Sushil Kumar was not self-conscious about his appearance and with his relatively short beard and somewhat unruly hair he didn't give off any airs of being spiritually superior. He was humble about his achievements and I could tell that his utmost concern was the uplift of humankind and trying to find a way out of the increasing violence that had overtaken the modern world. He was particularly concerned about the growing violence in the Punjab which reached tragic proportions in the mid-1980s.

I wished I could have spent more time in Acharya Sushil Kumar's presence and learned more details about Arhum yoga since he was adept at its practice and knew subtle details about how to practice it correctly. His health was quite good when we met as he was approaching his sixties.

I was saddened to learn of Acharya Sushil Kumar's death, but by all accounts, he was well prepared for his final exit. Hinduism Today ran a feature about his life and work and described clearly sensing that the end was near put himself into deep meditation and died as he lived: peacefully.

“On April 22, 1994 at his New Delhi ashram, His Holiness Acharya Sushil Kumar Ji Maharaj, one of this century's most prominent international peace workers, head of the International Mahavir Jain Mission (IMJM) had returned from early afternoon meetings uneasy, complaining of internal pains. P.N. Jain reports, "He continued meeting visitors until 3:00 pm, then retired to his room and complained of severe pain. A doctor was summoned. Guruji sat on his bed in the lotus position. He bent forward in that position, leaning his head into a pillow and entered Mahasamadhi a little before 4:00 pm. The mortal being was kept in state until April 25th. Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, the President, almost the entire cabinet and scores of spiritual and religious leaders came to have darshan. A procession was taken through Delhi starting at 10:00 am, joined by an estimated 500,000 people. At about 5:45 pm, the pyre was lit amidst chanting of sacred prayers.”

Acharya Sushil Kumar's influence hasn't diminished in the least and more people today are seeing the great value of Jain ethics and are incorporating these moral values in their day to day lives—from promoting vegetarianism and lessening speciesism to becoming more tolerant of differing viewpoints.

The world is fortunate to have the shining example of Acharya Sushil Kumar as a beacon for how to live a better life. Jainism has much to offer, regardless of one's religious affiliation. As the editors of Hinduism Today insightfully commented, the great Jain monk “knew it was spiritual knowledge that people need most, and he gave it every time, everywhere.”

NOTES

[1] Acharya Sushil Kumar died 25 years ago. This essay is written in remembrance of his mahasamadhi (death) in 1994 for the the Jain center in New Jersey.

Seven blind men and an elephant is a parable found in Indian traditions. It is particularly used in Jainism to explain the doctrine of multi-sidedness (anekantavada) of Ultimate Reality, Absolute Truth. It is also called the theory of non-onesidedness, non-absolutism, manifoldness, many pointedness by scholars. By romana klee from usa - sammati tarka prakarana, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link





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