The Anuvrat Movement: Theory and Practice ► Origin, Vision And Evolution Of The Anuvrat Movement ► Introduction

Posted: 28.05.2013

On a dark day in January of 1948, Jawaharlal Nehru - the first Prime Minister and the architect of modern India - addressed Mahatma Gandhi's death to the mourning nation in the following words: "The light has gone out of our lives, and there is darkness everywhere, and I do not know what to tell you how to say it. Our beloved leader Bapu, as we called him the father of the nation is no more."[9] Hostility had been simmering between Hindus and Muslims since India's partition in 1947, and Gandhi's death led to open violence in post-independence India. The situation of resentment had tremendous adverse effects on the creation of the new nation. When the fresh constitution was being formed, India was declared a secular nation with no official state religion. By means of a secular strategy, India attempted to facilitate tolerance for all religions.

In many ways, the declaring of "a secular nation" was appropriate, especially because the nation's culture and heritage was largely shaped by divergent religious viewpoints, imprints of various invasions as well as a long history of colonial rule. However, conducive as the decision was, it still could not eliminate the oppressive divisions of castes, untouchability, sectarianism, communalism and disharmony within the country. Such "dark side" led to dissatisfaction in all fields - social, religious, political and economic in the new emerging India.[10] In response, multiple post-independence political and non-political movements - for example, the Bhoodan and the Chipko Movement arose concerned with addressing the gloomy side of India. Many social, religious reformers and leaders like Ram Manohar Lohia and Jay Prakash Narayan also came forward with new varied action-plans in the enormous task of rebuilding India.

In a similar vein, was the campaign of the Anuvrat Movement - a spiritual, ethical movement emphasizing character development through self-effort. The movement was built upon the traditional Jain practice of anuvrat[11] (vows for laity) that had evolved from the original teachings of Mahavira, the 24th Jain preceptor. The Anuvrat Movement was the brainchild of the late ascetic Acharya Tulsi (1914-1997), a socio-religious reformer and the ninth religious leader of the Jain Svetambara Terapanth sect. The anuvrat vows were modified versions of the five mahavrat, or "great vows" taken by Jain renunciates.

The five categories of vows are constructed as follows: ahimsa (nonviolence), in which the renunciates vow not to destroy any life and the laity vow to take care whenever possible and not to destroy life; satya (truthfulness), in which the renunciates vow not to lie and the laity vow to take care and not to behave in a deceitful way or to spread gossip; asteya (non-stealing), in which the renunciates vow not to take what is not given and the laity vow not to covet or steal the possessions of others; bracmacharya (celibacy), in which the renunciates vow to abstain from sexual intercourse and the laity vow not to commit adultery and to be modest; and aparigraha (non-possession), in which the renunciates vow to renounce all interest in worldly things and the laity vow to limit their possessions to only what is essential whenever possible. The mahavrat are meant to be absolute and permanent, whereas the anuvrat are goals that laypersons strive to attain and could be undertaken for limited periods of time, depending on one's capacity, in order to bring one closer to the ideal way of life exemplified by the renunciates. Because these five categories of vows have been so pervasive in many religious traditions in India, Tulsi used them as a foundation for his movement.

In tracing the birth of the movement, I straightaway begin with the response received from one of the early Anuvrati interviewee: "Acharya Tulsi was disenchanted by human psyche rooted in selfishness, over-competiveness, over-consumerism, and maximization of profits by wrong means. Such conditions in post-independence India were the immediate inspiration for the emergence of the Anuvrat Movement."[12] Thereupon, Tulsi adopted an innovative perspective and modified the existing traditional anuvrat vows with a hope-for major impact of the movement. His strategy was twofold: on the one hand, the movement was geared towards creating a platform for interfaith dialogue by overcoming the cultural and religious barriers between Jains and non-Jains. On the other hand, he did not want to limit the movement to the Terapanth sect, as Jains are already a minority group in India and Terapanth a minority within Jainism. The small, close-knit group of Terapanthis may have formed Tulsi's core base of followers, but his goal from the beginning was to address social ills of the wider Indian society.