The Anuvrat Movement In Retrospect



(Genesis, History and Growth)


India became free after centuries of slavery. The Congress and the Muslim league jointly took over the reins of Government. Riots broke out between Hindus and Muslims. Communalism made its ugly appearance resulting in the partition of India. Pakistan came into existence. Large-scale migrations of Hindus and Muslims took place. Both the countries were plagued by countless refugees. Their rehabilitation posed a complex problem.

India gave herself a new Constitution which came into force on January 26, 1950. She became a republic. All adults were granted franchise. Elections were held. The Congress formed governments at the Centre and in almost all the States. It set itself the goal of establishing a socialist pattern of society. New commercial and property taxes were levied. The princely states were merged into the union and feudal landlordism was abolished. Untouchability was made a cognizable offence. Food controls were introduced as a result of shortages. Many development plans were formed and all-out efforts were made to implement them. Such were the conditions at the beginning of independence. Everything was new - elections, the Government, the administrative experience and the social order. Mahatma Gandhi vanished from the scene. Other leaders got bogged down in their respective political parties. The unity attained during the struggle for freedom was lost. Basic problems which remained hidden under the dazzle of independence surfaced gradually Casteism, untouchability, communalism, economic disparity, dearness and beggary are India's basic problems. Then there are post-independence problems like indiscipline, love of office, over-ambition, regionalism and language controversies. These and other similar problems caused a lot of suffering to the people as well as a decline in their character.

Meanwhile, there was growth in education and general intellectual development. Old beliefs were weakening. New principles were coming into existence. Religious leaders were decrying intellectuals who in turn were trying to reinterpret the past to the former.

On the whole the situation was more destructive than constructive and generated more excitement than introspection. None was satisfied with it. Dissatisfaction prevailed in all fields-social, religious and national. People were growing impatient of loss of character and indiscipline. The Anuvrat Movement was born in these circumstances. Emphasizing old vows and values, although it had nothing new in it, it gave a correct assessment of the prevailing situation. The people felt assured because the movement was launched as both a diagnosis of and a remedy for the prevailing malady.

The Original Draft : Acharya Shree and his companions did not imagine the wide extent of the Anuvrat Movement's welcome and impact. Initially they had a modest desire to change the outlook of those in their immediate contact. These people should regard religion not merely as part of worship but as an instrument of purifying character. They should be models of good religious living. This thought troubled his mind for a year or two. Occasionally it was also talked about. If finally matured in 1949. Keeping the shravaks in view a list of vows were drawn. Acharya Shree saw it. It was felt that it should be further expanded. More and more thought was given to it. Compilation of lists of evil habits as well as of vows went on. Finally an outline emerged and Acharya Shree launched the Anuvrat Movement in Sardarshahar on March 1, 1949. Earlier, nine-point and thirteen-point programmes had been propagated in an experimental manner.

These programmes had been adopted by some twenty-five thousand people. They could be regarded as a prelude to the Anuvrat Movement. The Movement was originally called Anuvrati Sangh (Anuvrat Association). It started with Acharya Shree's long marches. In the prevailing situation movements aimed at developing character were greatly needed. Anuvrati Sangh or Anuvrat Association fulfilled a felt need and therefore it did not take long to become popular. The public welcomed it as a beacon. Hundreds of people would gather in small villages, hear the vows of the Movement and adopt them.

The First Step : It got a further fillip during the chaturmas (the four-month stay at one place during the rainy season). The first annual session was held at Delhi. It was only there that the Movement became truly popular. Up till then Acharya Shree was regarded as a traditional religious head and as a leader of a particular community. People then could not even imagine that a movement started by him could be nonsectarian. There were a number of misgivings . For example, the Movement was negative, not constructive and it was a ruse to boost a particular sect. But the fine shape it took during the inaugural session on April 30, 1950 was beyond anyone's wildest dreams. It was this that led Acharya Shree to believe that the Movement would be able to sustain itself. The people felt its need. All that was required was a little help in fulfilling that need. When hundreds of people collectively repeated the vows on the Delhi Corporation grounds, it looked as if a new chapter was opening in human history . The space given to it in newspapers was unprecendented in the history of nonpolitical movements.

A Nonsectarian Movement : The approach of the Movement was from the very beginning nonsectarian. It did not seek to initiate  the people into Jainism or Terapanth. It simply aimed at character-building. In Acharya Shree's view the essence of Jainism is also character-building. The name of the Movement had its origin in the Jain tradition. Lord Buddha laid down the Middle Path for the monks. Lord Mahavir set forth a Middle Path for the ordinary householders. It is anuvrat. As a way it stands between violence and non-violence. As far as possible, it is the path of nonviolence. A life without any restraint results in violence, whereas complete  restraint leads to nonviolence. The former is harmful to man; the latter is very difficult to achieve. It was this insight that lay behind anuvrat. If one finds complete restraint impossible, let him exercise minimum restraint. While naming it a doubt arose as to why it should be called Anuvrat Movement when it was mean for Jains and non-Jains alike. How shall people take it to be nonsectarian? Quite a few other names came up, but none were found suitable. Acharya Shree felt that the name should not sound bigger than the actual work. Anuvrat captured the above feeling . A number of small vows can cumulatively bring about impressive results. The name Anuvrati Sangh was given against the above background.

Initially there were eighty-four vows. The Movement underwent changes as it spread. Its outlines changed during the Bombay chaturmas. By that time it had crossed the five-year mark. Thousands of people had adopted it . Hundreds of thousands had extended their support to it. And its message had reached many more millions. During discussions with Acharya Shree the idea came up that it was time the name 'Anuvrati Sangh' (Anuvrat Association) was changed to 'Anuvrat Andolan' (Anuvrat Movement). The word 'Sangh' (Association) was rather restrictive. 'Andolan' (Movement) is much more inclusive. The idea appealed and the name 'Anuvrat Movement replaced 'Anuvrati Association'.

Beyond India's Frontiers : The Movement had already crossed the boundaries of India. At the time of the inaugural session newspapers in England and America had commented on it. The well-known New York Weekly Time in its edition of May 15, 1950 wrote under the caption 'The Atomic Bomb' : 'Like some people in other places a lean, short, bright-eyed Indian is extremely worried about the present world situation. He is thirty-four year-old Acharya Tulsi, who is the head of the Terapanth sect of the Jains. It is a religious community which believes in nonviolence. Acharya Tulsi founded the Anuvrati Sangh in 1949. After he has won over the whole of India to his vows, he plans to do the same with the rest of the world'.

The Anuvrat attracted notice in Japan also. The reactions of the people of all these countries reached the Acharya. Briefly the feeling of those people was that the vows had been propounded keeping India in mind and that a number of them were not useful for them.Then the Acharya decided to effect changes in the outline of the vows. The changes were necessary if the Movement was to have a world wide impact. They were motivated by the thought that since the basic nature of man is universally uniform, only vows in consonance with it may be widely propagated. Thus the number of basic vows went up to 42 . According to the original outline there were no graded steps or stages for the followers of the Movement. Those who accepted the thirteen -point plan did not consider themselves members of the Movement. Then while there were some people who did not resort to malpractices like pay-offs and income tax evasion, there were others who found themselves unable to avoid them. Under these circumstances it was felt that it would be good to lay down progressive stages for the anuvratis (followers of anuvrat) . On the basis three classes of anuvratis were prescribed :1 New Entrant Anuvratis, 2. Anuvratis 3. Advanced Anuvratis. The vows prescribed for these classes were 11,42 and 4, respectively.

Cooperation and Criticism : Popularizing anuvrats was a great undertaking. Its greatness lay in its aim to transform the common man into an anuvrati and to wean him away from immoderacy into continence. Acharya Shree wanted everyone to observe anuvrats. It was different matter whether they would call themselves anuvratis or not. It would be their own choice. When Dr. Rajendra Prasad (former President of India) told Acharya Shree 'If you want me to hold any office, I will like it to be that of an anuvrat supporter'. Acharya Shree replied, 'I want you to hold the office of an anuvrati'. To make anuvrat a mass movement Acharya Shree has marched thousands of miles, has met millions of people and has given several discourses in a day, each day of the year. He explained and talked about the Movement both with the lowliest and the highest, including the highly educated people. Despite stormy opposition he tried to spread enlightenment and unmoved by praise he continued to say what he felt was true. Once when he was in Lucknow he said, 'The number of supporters and admirers of anuvrat is very large. I am rather tired of hearing its praise. What I want to see is not supporters but anuvratis'. Underlying his deep concern is only one aim: good of the people, development of character and spiritual upliftment. Bearing the torch of anuvrat he visited schools, colleges, offices, business centres in different localities and acquainted the public with the Anuvrat Movement. His disciples also worked a good deal in this direction. For carrying out this sublime task Acharya Shree has got a great and dedicated band of people. It owes its greatness to Acharya Shree himself and it has significantly contributed to the fulfilment of the sublime task.

Among diverse groups of people there are bound to be differences in thinking and the latter cannot but give rise to criticism. In public life there is hardly anybody who may be beyond criticism or who may deserve nothing but criticism. The Anuvrat Movement has passes through many stages of criticism. Acharya shree himself wanted to know the public reaction to the Movement and for this reason a number of thinkers were invited to comment on it critically. Destructive criticism being merely an outburst of passion did no good to the Movement. Factual criticism, however, has from time to time given positive directions to it.

Such a criticism by Shri Kishore Lal Mashruwala provided an occasion for rethinking. He wrote in the Harijan, 'This movement welcomes everyone irrespective of caste, colour, religion or sex. For its members it has created many categories under different labels like Truth , Nonviolence, Non-stealing, Celibacy and Non-possession with each of which are attached its respective atomic vows. Although the Movement is open to the believers of all religions and though the rules and sub-rules of all its vows except that of Nonviolence have been framed on a non-sectarian basis keeping social obligations in view, the rules relating to Nonviolence bear a clear imprint of the Panth (Terapanth). For example, howsoever desirable pure vegetarianism may be, the fact cannot be denied that considering the present state of social organizations all over the world including India, the vow of complete avoidance of meat, fish eggs, etc. and even of industries associated with them can be taken only by a small section of Jains and Vaishnavas... But these minor shortcomings notwithstanding, it is undeniably true that this effort at rousing the people's conscience against the current attitude of disrespect towards principles is laudable'.

Acharya Shree thought that an anuvrati must be a Vegetarian. The question can be asked: Why can't non-vegetarians be ever regarded as anuvratis? There must be some place for a man who is desirous of observing moral vows. It is certainly true that there must be a vow prohibiting non-vegetarianism. But it is equally true that one cannot avoid feeling concerned about keeping the non-vegetarians outside the pale of anuvrat. Acharya Shree reconciled these opposing views. He neither withdrew the vow prohibiting non-vegetarianism nor deprived the non-vegetarians of observing vows.

Many thinkers criticized the negative aspect of the Movement. They thought all don'ts and no do's merely discourage people. The Movement should be constructive. Acharya Shree met the criticism by saying that the Movement was constructive in so far as it had a positive goal.

Acharya Vinoba Bhave criticised the atomic vow concerning truth. He felt that there can be an atomic vow of nonviolence, but truth is indivisible and it therefore admits of only totality in the form of Mahavrat (total allegiance to truth). Acharya Shree gave it a serious consideration but Vinoba's argument did not carry conviction with him. Truth is no different from nonviolence. There can be no truth where there is violence. Both nonviolence and truth are intrinsically in divisible. Height cannot be divided but it takes several steps to reach it and each step is different from the other. The anuvrats or atomic vows are graded steps to reach spiritual heights.

Original Thinking : In some quarters there was a rumbling that the Anuvrat Movement does not go to the base. It merely skims the surface. Without solving the economic problem it is in vain to think of moral development. Acharya Shree did not term it a one-sided untruth but he did not subscribe to the view that people having no economic problems are necessarily moral. People have a very limited view of morality. Is the aggressive instinct not immoral? The Movement mainly aims at creating a climate of nonaggression, peaceful living and satisfaction with one's rightful share of things. Is this not something basic?

Some thinkers expressed the opinion that if individuals like Lord Mahavir, Lord Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi could not make the world moral, how could Acharya Shree do it? To this Acharya Shree replied, 'When do I say that I am going to make the whole world moral? Of course our efforts should be directed towards that goal. The torch of morality should never be allowed to go out. Our efforts may not succeed, but we will at least not be blamed for not making them.

The work relating to anuvrat made some headway. But a new confusion arose. Our own followers started saying, 'Acharya Shree no longer insists on the people becoming Jains. He has slackened the propagation of Terapanth... On the other hand some non-Jains started saying that Acharya Shree wanted to convert everyone to Jainism under the cover of anuvrat. If on one side there were these reactions, on the other quite a few people stressed the great need for the Movement. C. Rajgopalachari had written at the time of the first session, 'In my opinion this (Anuvrat Movement) is the first step in the direction of people's moral and cultural emancipation'.

The aged Arya leader of the province of Sindh Tara Chand R.D. Gajra had written, 'Your ideas are sublime and your efforts noble... I would like to humbly submit that if you wish to succeed in achieving your object, you should get booklets and pamphlets published in all languages and have them distributed free in the schools'. The great philosopher S. Radhakrishnan said, 'We live in an age of acedia, spiritual drought and torpor of the soul. Youngmen are more inclined towards materialistic doctrines and any movement which recalls to us the spiritual character of human nature is welcome. In our country the Anuvrat Movement is fulfilling this function . Its work, therefore deserves encouragement.'

The Popular leader Jai Prakash Narayan said, 'We are really fortunate now that great personalities like Acharya Vinoba Bhave and Acharya Tulsi are leading us. Both these great public figures want to establish equality and tolerance by asserting the essential humanity of man and want to end all exploitation. Bhoodan (land donation as propagated by Vinoba Bhave) and the Anuvrat Movement are powerful agents in bringing about a change of heart and thus creating a nonviolent society... Acharya Tulsi has put forward a very good programme. Vinoba and Tulsi belong to all castes and classes: both of them want to do good to everybody.'

Of course there were also counter voices which held that Acharya Shree had become utterly fond of publicity. Thus the Movement ran its course through a large number of criticisms and reactions. They might have caused a few lean periods for it but the Movement undoubtedly gained from them . It faced two questions: Should it grow quantitatively? or should it grow qualitatively? Acharya Shree chose the latter course. At the time of the first session he said , 'I have no liking for mere numbers... it does not matter how few or how many people become anuvratis, so long as those who do become are the ideal ones.'

Another question which cropped up was who would lead the movement. All those who supported the Movement wanted Acharya Shree himself. This created complications. It was hard to believe that one and the same person could lead both the Terapanth and the Anuvrat Movement. Acharya Shree declared in the first session, 'At present I have taken upon myself to lead the Sangh (originally the body was called Anuvrati Sangh). This does not mean that members of the Sangh will also have to become members of the Terapanth. Believers of all religions can join the Sangh'. This liberal attitude attracted the people and in a few years the Movement became universal Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, all of them became anuvratis. The movement thus became a common denominator of all religious.

Matching Thought and Action : According to Acharya Shree the development of character remains incomplete until there is perfect consonance and unity between thought and action. There was much need for such an integrated form of religion as would cut across and transcend all sectarianism. The Anuvrat Movement met this need. At the same time religion had ceased to be coextensive with life. People had begun to think that it was only at prayer-time that religion came into play. The Movement made people realize that one misses the true meaning of religion by confining it to a place of worship and keeping it out of the office or the shop.

The success of a movement is to be measured by the results it produces. Of course the Anuvrat Movement has in no sense failed. In fact it has succeeded in all places. It has left its imprint on the Indian psyche and has effectively contributed to a moral renaissance. Success encourages more action. New vistas opened as people of different classes and categories got attracted towards the Movement. It grew in new directions. Different vows were fixed for students, businessmen, government servants, teachers, workers, etc. From time to time students' weeks, government employees' weeks, businessmen's weeks and prohibition weeks were celebrated. Anuvrat Student Councils were formed at Delhi and many other place. The Anuvrat Committee was formed to coordinate various activities of the Movement. It started the publication of the fortnightly 'Anuvrat'. The Anuvrat Thinkers' Forum was started.

Anuvrat activities are not confined to towns; they are carried on in villages also. As a matter of fact, efforts are on in a few cases to change whole villages into anuvrat village. Whether these efforts to make the Movement popular were adequate is not possible to say. As a matter of fact full advantage was not taken of the widespread contacts that had been made, of the attraction of the people towards the Movement and of the almost magical effect of Acharya Shree's personality on the people. There were also other weaknesses like lack of proper organization and absence of direction before the field-workers. A situation developed in which the mellifluous voice a Acharya Shree flowed like torrent wherever he went but lost its momentum for want of an adequate follow-up. Consequently the results were not commensurate with the efforts.

In the Eyes of the National Leaders : A congruence of the will to work automatically results in mutual sympathy. The Movement never begged for sympathy but unexpectedly it got it in abundance. Dr Rajendra Prasad said, 'I have known the Anuvrat Movement for many years. From the very beginning I welcomed it and expressed my views about it... A life of self-control is the best life. Therefore it is my wish that the Movement should be popularized among all classes and everyone should be encouraged to be drawn towards it'.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said, 'If we want to build a great country, it should have a firm foundation... such a foundation is of character ... What a good piece of work is being done within the Anuvrat Movement! I think the more this work progresses, the better it is.

It is an age of politics. It colours the view of everything. Dr. Rajendra Prasad and Pt. Nehru were both the pillars of the Congress. The Movement was funfolding itself against the backdrop of the Congress. Naturally quite a few people like Dr Ram Manohar Lohia felt that Acharya Shree was strengthening the Congress. The Movement was unfolding itself against the backtion, 'You are rendering support to a weak Congress'. Acharya Shree replied, 'I am not associated with any political party and at the same time there is no political party with which I am not connected. therefore, I don't think I'am lending support to anybody's weakness'.

It was for the above reason that a little later the Anuvrat Parliamentary Forum was formed. At the time of the first general election a seminar was organized in the presence of Acharya Shree for ensuring clean elections. Representatives of many political parties took part in it. The Congress President Dhebarbhai, the leader of the Praja Samajvadi Party Acharya Kriplani, the Communist leader A.K. Gopalan and many others came to attend it. Everyone gave an assurance to act upon and observe the vows of the Movement. Shri Gopalan's assurance was so firm that everyone was taken aback. In reality the Anuvrat Movement could get such a massive support simply because its workers never sought any financial assistance from the government.

In the Legislative Assemblies ; Shri Sugan Chandraji, a member of the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly, moved the following resolution in the Assembly, signed by twenty-seven MLAs : 'The house resolves that the Government of Uttar Pradesh should render the necessary cooperation and support to the Anuvrat Movement launched by Acharya Shree Tulsi'.

Shri Lalta Prasad Sonkar, an MLA, said, 'This resolution demands neither money nor anything else from the Government. It only asks of it that people under its rule improve their character morally and spiritually'.

On the same lines a non-official resolution was moved in the Rajasthan Legislative Assembly on January 30, 1968 by three MLAs, Shri Prem Singh Sanghvi, Shri Mahendra Singh and Shri Adityendraji. It read as follows:

'This House resolves that the Anuvrat Movement launched by Acharya Shree Tulsi be supported and be recognized as a national, moral movement'. Speaking on the motion the then Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Shri Mohan Lal Sukhadia, said, 'Personally I fully support the Anuvrat Movement. It is very useful for putting the country on the right road. No one in the country, whatever his affiliations, could diagree with it.'

It is therefore obvious that the followers of the Anuvrat Movement never felt dependent upon the government for financial assistance. Like the ordinary people State Governments also have their duty to make their contributions to moral development. From time to time they have carried out this duty. Many States like Bihar, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa and Mysore (now Karnataka) made efforts to encourage the Movement and also passed orders to acquaint members of the educational institutions with anuvrats.

Towards Collective Reforms : In the absence of adequate preparation the anuvrats cannot have any meaningful effect on life. The life of the masses is so shackled with cramping traditions that without breaking them it would not admit of anything new. For this reason while camping at Rajasamand during the rainy season Acharya Shree gave the following message to the people:

The rituals observed at the time of birth, wedding and death must be given up, dowry must be put an end to and the use of the veil must be discontinued. Once these basic problems are resolved a new way of progress will open itself.

Even today the Movement is engaged in many-sided activities aimed at the welfare of the people. It is going on thanks to Acharya Shree's inspiration, active work by the monks and the nuns and the devotion of sympathetic householders. If it succeeds in creating a band of dedicated workers, India will once again earn the right of preaching morality to the world.

When Acharya Shree was leaving Bombay, the President of the Indian National Church, Father J.S. Williams, said, ' A few days ago I was going to take part in the peace Council meeting being held in Norway. Under the inspiration of Acharya Shree I pledged myself to observe the anuvrats. I reached there when it was terribly cold in December. My friends said, 'Without liquor you will be frozen to death". But I was bound by anuvrats. How could I take liquor? My determination did not in the least weaken. I returned home unharmed. I talked to the westerners about the Anuvrat Movement and acquainted the people of Britain, Norway, Sweden , France and Russia with it. They evinced a great interest in it. I will appeal to my Christian brothers here that they should cooperate with the moral movement in our country'.

Preksha Meditation and Anuvrat : Mental tension has emerged as a dreadful disease of the age of industrial progress. To remedy it th e Anuvrat Movement has added a new chapter to itself in the form of Preksha Meditation. Through its practice thousands of people have had a profound experience of both physical and mental peace. An organized programme to include Preksha Meditation as the science of living in the fields of administration and education has also been undertaken. The possibilities of future growth are in fact infinite.



By : Yuvacharya Mahapragya (Acharya Tulsi's Successor and a prolific writer)


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