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Acharya Shri Shanti Sagar Maharaj

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The First Acharya of 20th Century

Introduction of Acharya Shri Shantisagarji Maharaj

(quoted from the book 'Religion & peace')
Late Pt. Sumer Chand Diwaker, Seoni (M.P.)

From hoary antiquity India has been esteemed and venerated for her charming and divine philosophy and highly cultured saints. Countless inhabitants of the country had renounced their material comforts and amenities of life in order to drink deep at the blissful fountain of human life in extreme seclusion and attain their goal of deathless divinity, the summum bonum. It is they who by their pure and brilliant lives and sermons dispelled inner darkness and showed the infallible path of peace and rectitude.

Birth of noble soul :

Even in this age of lust and licentiousness and spiritual darkness, a selfless and mighty soul named Acharya Shantisagarji Maharaj was born at Yelgula village Bhoj situated on the confluence of rivers Veda Ganga and Doodha Ganga in the Belgaum district in the month of July, 1870 (On the 6th day of the dark half of the month of Ashadha). His father Shri Bhim Gauda Patil was a rich, pious, talented, chivalrous and powerful landlord. He was a mighty personality, and was honoured by persons of all ranks. Mother Satyavati was a religious, charitable and saintly lady. This benevolent, honest and generous parentage had much influenced the life of our would-be saint, who was called Sata Gauda, which meant Lord of Peace. He had three brothers and one sister. It is remarkable that the child had in him something unique, which indicated that he is destined to be a great and world-venerated figure. He was a child without being childish. He took no interest in the fun or frolic common to boyhood. He was fond of solitude and was used to meditation. He has a great love for virtue and virtuous persons. I had the good luck to be in contact with him for long.

In one of his reminiscences he had told me that he had some recollections of the past and that he was also in his previous life an ascetic; therefore he had the remarkable temperament of detachment from temporal and evanescient pleasures of the world. Satagauda's physique was exceptionally good. He was robust, strong and sturdy like his father. He was a fine wrestler and had the reputation for his feats of valour. He possessed amazing memory, sharp intellect and philosophic mind. As a matter of fact he was a born saint, a great thinker, and a living philosopher, who might have been blessed with the majestic vision of reality. He had in him all those remarkable virtues and qualities which are indispensable for righteous sainthood. He had from his boyhood adopted the habit of speaking truth, love for all beings and keen interest in amazing austerities (to lead the life of a saint). Soon after the demise of the father, his mother also died. This made his path quite clear to fulfil his noble ambition.

Spiritual preceptor :

Satagauhda without disclosing his mind left for Uttura village, where a life-long celibate and nude Saint renowned for his high spiritual attainments, Devendrakirti Maharaj alias Devappa Swami was staying. His Holiness Devappa Swami was not only a nude Jain saint, he was adorned with several miraculous attainments as a result of his supreme vow of celibacy and sparkling penances. Outworldly such noble souls appear without anything astonishing in them, yet their inner life is rich with extraordinary treasures, which the materialists cannot conceive in their branis. One day in the afternoon His Holiness left for Gokak town of Mysore state. Due to nightfall in the way the saint had to stay over a hill infested with terrible beasts of prey. The saint had one Jain devotee with him. The nude Jain monk does not move from place to place in the night in due regard to his vow of absolute non-injury, therefore he said to his disciple, "This forest abounds in ferocious animals. It is just possible that some tiger or other wild beast may come here in the night. I shall be busy with my Dhyana-meditation; but you need not be terrified. I have drawn this circle with a piece of stone and we shall remain within this area. You need not go out of this spiritualised area; thus you will not get any kind of trouble." So saying the Saint commenced his meditation in that dreadful forest with equanimity and composure.

As the night advanced the roaring of the wild animals was echoing in mountainous area. Soon after a tiger came over that place. It moved round the circle but could not break throught it. It terribly roared, whereby the disciple was nonplussed and confounded, but as per orders of the Master he carefully kept himself with in the limit of the circle.

The saint was unmoved by this roaring and terrifying noise. He was perfectly peaceful. After dawn the tiger went away. Due to the high attaniments of the saint no untoward incident took place. Because of such outstanding virtues Satagauda went to Devappa Swami and begged of him for being initiated into sainthood. Devappa Swami apprised Satagauda of the arduous path of Supreme renunciation culminating in the abandonment of all garments and embracing nudity. Nudity is not an end in itself, it is the means to acquire that serenity and equanimity, which contribute to perpetual bliss. The truth is that to burn all the filth of passions and mental flaws the fire of concentration must be kindled to its highest capacity.

Initiation into Junior Monk-hood :

Satagauda thought over the entire matter as explained by the saint Devappa Swami and agreed to first become a junior monk called 'Kshullaka' who had to lessen his needs to the extent of a loin-cloth and a small piece of cloth. He was allowed to keep a brush of peacock feathers to protect the small insects that came in contact with his body or which needed protection. A wooden bowel was also permitted to keep water with a view to cleanse himself after answering the calls of nature etc.

Satagauda becomes Shantisagar :

Now with due religious ceremonies Devappa Swami initiated Sataguda into junior monk-hood with a view to prepare himself for the superior life of complete nudity. In keeping with his nature and mental equipment he was named Shantisagar, the Ocean of Peace. This function took place in the summer of 1918 on the 13th day of bright half of the month of Jyeshtha. This auspicious day gave the world a great saint, who will heal the wounds not of the body but of the soul. Shantisagar Maharaj is no more the powerful and rich land-lord, but in fact he is the lord of himself. He has severed all bonds of affection or aversion. He is no longer a member of the Patil family of Bhoja. He has become a citizen of the world. He thought of establishing harmony in the hearts of all.

Nude Monkhood :

In the year 1915 there was a huge congregation of Jainas at Yernal village to witness the 'Pancha Kalyanaka Mahotsava'-a most sacred Jain religous function. On that auspicious occasion Shatisagar Maharaj was also present with his Guru-spiritual preceptor Devappa Swami. All eyes were concentrated upon this great soul Shantisagarji, who rose, touched the feet the Devappa Swami and implored for 'Muni Diksha'- initiation into the Order of holy nude monk. The Master had already known of the rapid and extra-ordinary progress achieved by the novice, still reflecting upon the great responsibilities which one has to undergo after initiation into the holy order of nude monkhood. Devappa Swami reminded Shantisagarji of the hardships and difficulties which beset the path of the saint. The man, maddened by the liquor of infatuation, is not in a position to appreciate and comprehend the real position. This was a very serious affair. The preceptor apprised him of the whole thing.

Shantisagar Maharaj solemnly promised that he shall keep his vows intact even at the cost of his life. The whole congregation was over-joyed to hear the sublime resolution of Shantisagarji and they whole-heartedly commended the noble determination.

Memorable Coincidence:

The occasion was unique and memorable because that day the Diksha Kalyanaka of the idol of the Tirthankara was scheduled to take place at that sacred time. There was really unparalleled harmony of outward and internal circumstances. Reflecting upon the entire fact the preceptor condescended to fulfil the innermost and long cherished lofty longing of him. Now Shantisagar Maharaj had discarded his loin cloth and had become nude. In a moment this momentous initiation to the great spiriutal honour took place. Thousands of pepole deemed themselves extremely fortunate for witnessing this ceremony. Shantisagar Maharaj became nude physically as well as internally.

Ennobling influence :

Saint Shantisagarji was deeply engrossed in amazing penance. He used to observe long fasts. He was only taking milk and rice in the palm of his hands during the day time once in 24 hours or after a longer period in the standing posture. He always kept the vow of silence in the night. He used to lie down on the ground during the night. He was ever active either in the study of scriptures, meditation or doing good to the people, who used to come for his discourses or blessings. He was very keen to abide by the code of conduct prescribed for saints in Jain sacred literature.

He used to pass his night and most of the day time in the forest or lonely places. He had no fear of the ferocious animals which infest the forest. He was moving undauntedly like a lion. He was a man of few precious and remarkable words, which had marvellous effect upon all to elevate and ennoble themselves. Every word of his was very impressive. It entered into the heart and had its desired effect. His glorious example made his precepts very enchanting. Whosoever came in his contact took several vows pertaining to non-violence, truth, non-stealing, chastity, limitations of possessions, honest and fair dealings, life of love and affection towards all beings and many other virtues which make an ideal man and useful citizen. What the powerful governments and other institutions failed to achieve, his mere contact and few words could easily produce that noble and salutary effect. Innumerable souls got enlightenment from him without the distinction of caste, creed or nationality.

Confunding Cobra Incident :

His fame as a great saint reached all corners of the country, when he was in a cave outside the village known as Konnur, district Kolhapur. It was the noon time when Shantisagar Maharaj was sitting inside a cave deeply engrossed in meditation. A big and terrible cobra came out of a bush close by and entered into the cave. The ferocious creature wound itself round the saint's neck for long. The saint was motionless like a statue. When in the after-noon several devotees went for the saint's darshan they were much amazed and impressed by the extraordinary sight. The snake was sometimes moving over the body to cause sufficient consternation and disturbance, but the saint did not mind the presence of the agent of death. When I had once enquired of him about the snake incident, he said to me, "I was then immersed in meditation of the Siddhas-the bodyless perfect souls, therefore I had no idea of what was taking place outside. After the termination of my meditation the cobra had left the cave." I further inquired of him if he had any kind of fear or uneasiness, he replied, "From my boyhood I never had any kind of fear either from snake or tiger or any other ferocious being." This outstanding incident, which was witnessed by several pepole brought into light the greatness of the saint. Thousands used to come for his darshan and blessings.

These astounding and amazing austerities of Shantisagar Maharaj were developing his personal magnetism. For several years he remained indulged in such hard austerities.

Preparation for Samadhi :

Since the great sage Acharya Shantisagar Maharaj was an uncommon figure, who had been blessed with the faculty of discrimination between self and non-self, he could easily start his preparations for the great fight with the demon of death. The first thing that he did was to devote most of his time in Samadhi-Self contemplation and meditation utterly forgetting the fact that he had the body. In his meditation he fixed his attention upon the self, the treasure house of infinite virtues and everlasting joy. He has once told me, "When I am deeply engrossed in meditation, you do whatever you like with my body. I will not experience the physical pain or pleasure.

Places of Choice :

Acharya Maharaj had a desire to spend his last hours at the Parasnath hil in the Bihar State, for infinite souls had attained liberation therefrom. His second choice was for Pavapuri, the place of nirvana of Lord Mahavira, the revivor of Jainism but who is wrongly called the founder of Jainism. Pavapuri is a wonderful and sublime place.

However, from the beginning of his spiritual awakening he had a very high regard and respect for Brahmacharya-the vow of celibacy and so for the Kunthalgiri Hill. He said, "The hill was asociated with the Nirvana of two young princes, who were life-long celibates." Encounter with Death : Therefore Acharya Shantisagarji ultimately came to Kunthalgiri Tirtha just before the commencement of rainy season in 1954. The saint felt that this is the right time when he ought to lanuch upon the world astounding encounter with death. Life is most dear to all, but to the man of honour and principle death is not a terror, but it is a courteous comrade, whose arrival is eagerly awaited.

Self-Guidance :

Shantisagar Maharaj needed no outward guidance since his preparation for duel with death was complete. When I reached Kunthalgiri during the period of his samadhi and requested for service to me in the form of reading from the scriptures or delivering discourses as in the past, he said; "Now I do'nt need any guidance or outward help. I see all the sacred books shining before my mind's eye. I have resorted to the 'Ingini' type of Samadhi-maran from the 14th of August 1955." This is a very high type of death, wherein the saint forbids receiving help or assistance from others.

Last massage :

It was the 26th day of the fast when upon the request of the people the saint condescended to give his last and lasting message to the bewildered humanity for 22 minutes. In his memorable sermon the Saint of Ahimsa laid special stress upon the fact that the soul should try for its release from the bondage of material karmic shackles. He dealt with upon the great potency of self-control. He said, "Oh, do'nt fear, exercise the principle of self-control in your life. Develop the faculty of discrimination. It is essential to cut the cord of transmigration and the series of deaths and births in the world. Your soul is distinctly separate from the souls of your so called relations. In fact the Jiva-soul is all alone. The jiva puts on different bodies and roams in this universe all alone. If the self tries to develop the habit of meditation and concentration, it will achieve the bliss of beatitude."

Universal Desire for Saint's Darshan:

Every day thousands of devotees-Jains and non-Jains were blessed with his 'darshan'-sacred glimpse, but in the end the people were disappointed since the condition of the body was taking a serious turn, still it was arranged that a queque be made so that one by one all may bless themselves by the sight of the greatest man of the spiritual world. The queque was about half a mile long. Thousands of males, females, boys and girls were awaiting for several hours with the intense longing for the noble sight even for a moment.

Last Moment :

Time was passing quickly. The last moment of the great saint was at hand. It was six o' clock when it appeared that there are very few moments for the body to be without the breathing saint. When there were only ten minutes to seven on the 18th day of September, 1955, the sage slowly utterd the syllable ‘‘Ô efmeæeÙe vece:’’-Om Siddhaya Namah-my salutations to the liberated souls, and the body became motion-less.

This great travel-Mahayatra took place when the morning sun was on the horizon. Words fail to depict the grief of the people when they learnt that today the great sage of Ahimsa, whom, the world venerated as Shantisagar Maharaj is no more. Long live Shantisagar Maharaj. In his duel whith dreadful death he was in fact victorious, since he kept his vow of Ahimsa with all its supplementary vows intact against the onslaughts of death. The saint never moved in the night with due regard for his vow of non-injury even to small insects, therefore I surmise that on the eve of his final departure from this land of ours to far off unknown world his breath did not leave as long as the sun did not rise. To me it appears, that Death might have thought that this good old sage never moved in the night all his life, why should his vow be disturbed? Therefore the soul started on its final travel having seen the radiant sun on the horizon. The religious rites were performed according to the Jain scriptures by Swami Lakshamisen Maharaj of Jain monastery at Kolhapur. The news was flashed by the All India Radio, New Delhi in the noon. The entire nation was shocked. A mammoth condolence meeting was held in New Delhi, the capital of India. The Vice-President of Indian Goverment-Dr. S. Radhakrishnan presided.

He paid eloquent tributes to the great saint and observed; "It is very easy to talk about knowledge and renunciation, but it is very difficult to translate them into action. Acharya Shantisagarji Maharaj was a saint of very high order, upon whose blessings our world is living. He was one of those exceptional beings, whose spiritual greatness fashions bricks and mortar for the tall edifice of human civilisation. He has been a super-man, a prince among ascetics. His passing away is a loss to human race. Such people incarnate the spirit of our country." "It is the sacred duty of every one to give a practical shape to the great ideals of the sage of Ahimsa." May his memory live long and inspire the world for Self-realisation.