Who is a Jain Shravak: 33.1 Meaning of Being a Terapanthi

Published: 28.03.2020

Terapanth holds an exclusive status amongst various religious orders existing today because of its solid foundation, strongstructure, shape, and background that staunchly relies on spiritual reasoning or soul-oriented outlook.

The premise of Terapanth is the abandonment of 'ahankaar' (ego) and 'mamakaar' (possessiveness). Only those who let go of ahankaar and mamakaar will truly understand the essence of Terapanth. Eliminating the ego has been regarded as one of the most important spiritual practices in Terapanth. There has been a tradition of the saints believing in mysticism in the history of Indian spirituality. They were not confined to any sect. They emphasized more on eliminating the ego.The tradition does not emphasize on vows and great vows. They proclaim that if one wants to attain spirituality, he needs to overcome his ego. It is said, based on the experience of the great saints, that where ego and duality dissolve, materialism disintegrates and one's feelings can be put forward as such:

jab main tha guru naahi, ab guru hai main naahi,
prem galli ati saankari, taa main do na samaahi.

It means this path of love, non-violence and amity are so straight, that dualities cannot coexist. As long as ego and I remain dominant, I could not find guru. When I found guru, ego and I melted down. Overcoming ego is an arduous practice. A person who goes beyond ego obtains everything in life.

Vital Elements of Terapanth

Elimination of ego is a vital element of Terapanth. Ego causes various conflicts and struggles in all spheres of life, be it social, political or religious. Ego is the root cause of breakdown and conflicts. To be a Terapanthi means:

  1. The elimination of ahankaar
  2. The elimination of mamakaar

A follower of Terapanth should practice and preach the following: 'Being a Terapanthi, I believe in the spiritual practice of terminating ego. Hence I will always value this practice and I will abandon ahankaar and mamakaar.'

Simple Definition of Religion

'I am a Terapanthi because I have understood the principles of spirituality.' Understanding spirituality is an intensely difficult task. It has several definitions. Thus, a person may get confused. To make it easier for comprehension, AcharyaBhikshu gave a perfect and easy definition of religion. He outlined religion in a simplistic way that draws a fine line between religion and non-religion:

  • Renunciation materialism is religion; consumption is non-religion.
  • Abstinence is religion, non- abstinence is non-religion.
  • Self-restraint is religion, non-restraint is non-religion.

The aforementioned is the easiest definition of religion and non-religion, which guides people to analyze the nature of religion. The demarcation line between religion and non-religion clarifies that the greater the renunciation is, the more the spirituality will be.

Critical Examination, A Necessity

I understand the aspects of Terapanth, hence I am a Terapanthi. Being a Terapanthi does not imply being a blind follower. The practical assessment (testing) of aspects in Terapanth is very important and that's what AcharyaBhikshu advised. He has explained this through an illustration.

When someone goes to buy a clay pot and before finalizing his purchase, he examines the pot for cracks and other defects by tapping it. If a person goes to great lengths to examine a mere pot before buying, then how can one accept religion or guru without scrutinizing?

Kaanch tano dekhe minkalo, ansamajhu ho jaanai ratan anamol.
nazar padai jauhari tani re, kar deve ho kodyan ro mol

AcharyaBhikshu further elaborates on this fact though the following parable:

Two brothers ran a jewelry business. When the older brother passed away, his widow gave a bag full of diamonds to her son and instructed him to get them evaluated from his uncle. As directed by his mother, the son went to his uncle to ascertain the value of those diamonds. When he opened the bag in front of his uncle, he assessed the value and advised the boy to give it back to his mother to keep in safety. His uncle said that he would inform them when a good customer was interested to purchase them. The son returned the diamonds to his mother.

Meanwhile, the uncle trained his nephew in the business, teaching him how to assess the quality of diamonds. The boy took great interest in every minute detail his uncle explained to him. Eventually, he became an efficient assayer. One day, his uncle asked him to bring the bag of diamonds. He brought the bag and as soon as he opened and examined it, he threw away all the items. The uncle asked about what he was doing.

He replied, 'Uncle! These are all glass pieces, not diamonds. Why did you tell me that they were diamonds?'

To this, his uncle replied, 'If that day I would have told you that the bag was full of glass pieces and not diamonds, your mother would have accused me of stealing them and replacing them with glass pieces. Hence, I did not examine them myself that day and I wanted you to do it yourself. Today you have become expert in it and have ascertained its value.'

From this, we learn that to an ignorant, who does not know the facts, even glass pieces may be valued as diamonds. For the one who knows, glass is only glass and not diamond.

AcharyaBhikshu emphasized on scrutinizing religion, truth and guru. Scrutinizing minute details makes one an unbiased person. Thus, it helps to develop an important characteristic of a Terapanthi i.e. being an unbiased assayer.

A monastery was under construction. A shravak named Parakhji happened to visit the site and met a monk there. The monk explained the layout of the monastery to Parakhji. He supplied details of the living quarters being made for the saints, shelves for the monks to keep books and other belongings of the saints etc. Parakhji could sense the monk's indulgence in worldly pleasures. He said to the monk, 'You should construct one more shelf in the store room.'

The monk asked the reason for this observation.

Parakhji replied sarcastically, 'To shelve your five Great Vows (mahaavrats) ' He said so because monks are supposed to renounce all worldly pleasures and material objects. Hence, no rooms should be specially constructed for the monks' comfort.

Surprised the monk asked Parakhji, 'Are you Terapanthi?'

'Yes', replied Parakhji.

This anecdote shows the distinctive character of a Terapanthi. They are always alert and evaluate the situation they are in. They do not accept anything blindly. They prefer to study things before accepting and affirming them.

Not just the Terapanthi monks, but Terapanthi shravaks too possess this quality. There have been many such incidents where their wisdom is evident.

Definition of Non-Violence

'I am Terpanthi' means I know the definition of non-violence. AcharyaBhikshu has presented a detailed analysis of violence and non-violence. Very few Acharyas have done such extensive analysis over the millennia. The systematic presentation of all dimensions of non-violence reaffirms the absoluteness and completeness of AcharyaBhikshu's philosophy. A vast majority have mistaken violence for the sake of religion and necessary violence (avashyak himsa) as non­violence. To clarify this, AcharyaBhikshu has said that any kind of violence is simply violence and there can be no affirmative reasoning that can establish even necessary violence as non-violence. No instance of violence, for any reason, can be said to be non-violence. It can be equated to the impossibility of obtaining butter by churning of plain water.

Belief in Humility

'I am a Terapanthi' directly implies 'I believe in being humble.' If a follower of Acharya Bhikshu and the lineage of Terapanthi Acharyas are not polite, he has not yet understood the essence of being a Terapanthi. Similarly, if one is clumsy, disorderly, and impolite, it means he does not possess the characteristic of a true Terapanthi. Acharya Bhikshu was very humble towards finding the truth.

During that era, a monk was not supposed to open the door. But Acharya Bhikshu said,

maune to kivaadia me dosh na bhaasai, jaani ne shudh vyavahaar

'I do not find any flaw in opening the door. I find it pure. If in future my successor considers it to be illicit, then it can be prohibited.'

Acharya Bhikshu has expressed in numerous illustrations, 'I have made the decision as per my perspective; if my successors do not agree with any of the views, then they have the liberty to reform them accordingly.'

This is a unique example of politeness. Usually, people are egoistic. Their ego makes them believe that whatever they have said will remain true forever and can never be altered. They think anyone who does or says otherwise is bound to run into problems.

Providing his successors, the freedom to change the prescribed limits reflects the humble attitude of AcharyaBhikshu.


Title:  Who is a Jain Shravak?

Acharya MahaPragya


Sadhvi Vishrut Vibha

Publisher:  Adarsh Sahitya Vibhag, JVB
Digital Publishing: 
Amit Kumar Jain

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharya
  2. Acharya Bhikshu
  3. Acharyas
  4. Avashyak
  5. Bhikshu
  6. Guru
  7. Himsa
  8. Non-violence
  9. Shravak
  10. Shravaks
  11. Terapanth
  12. Terapanthi
  13. Violence
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