An introduction to the spiritual journey of Pujya Bahenshri Champaben

The land of Saurashtra has remained pious owing to the footprints of numerous holy masters. A number of Jain temples adorn its villages. Historically it has been fortunate to witness the various life stages (‘Kalyanak’) of Tirthankaras. On Friday, Shravan Vad Beej in Vikram Samvat 1970, a divine soul descended in the Piplawala residence located near Mahalakshmi temple in ‘’Wadhwan’ (a small town in the virtuous land of Saurashtra). Not only was the entire locality rejuvenated with fragrant and joyful vibrations but its residents also felt elated by this epoch. Looking at the quiet and graceful face of the baby, everyone including the parents overwhelmed with joy. In such a pleasant and rhythmic atmosphere, the village astrologer proclaimed - the arrival of an exalted soul from another dimension, ‘Maha Videh Kshetra’ and destined to be a future ‘Gandhar deva.’ The following sections will provide an overview of the spiritual journey of our beloved Pujya Bahenshri Champaben :

(1) Childhood

From an early age, Bahenshri was gentle, balanced, graceful, dispassionate and soft spoken. After the death of her mother at the age of three and half years, she lived with elder sister (Samrat ben) in Karachi. Owing to her wisdom and intelligence, she topped her class during her school education in Karachi. Her gentle nature can be recognized from the following life incident: In the locality of her residence, water was supplied through a single shared tap. Along with other residents, Bahenshri would queue up to collect water at this tap. Despite her turn, she would stand aside and refrain from entering the crowd. She would collect water only when other ladies explicitly asked her to. Apart from being polite, firm and dedicated she possessed numerous other good qualities.

From early childhood, she loved the company of virtuous individuals and made an effort to learn from them. She ardently read numerous books on morality and good conduct. She would regularly study spiritual books, perform Samayik (maintaining a state of equanimity for a prescribed amount of time), ‘Pratikramana’ (Introspection) and implement various religious practices at home. Despite having all these qualities, on account of predisposition from past impression, she persistently focused inwards. As if unapparent impressions were seeking to get expressed from within. Her disinterest in worldly activities appeared similar to a swan that prefers pearls over other worldly foods. Due to previous life impressions, she consistently desired to walk the path of renunciation. On account of her shy nature, she could neither communicate nor realize her noble desire. Despite these limitations, it is observed that such noble seekers of the self cannot remain associated in worldly affairs for long. They continue to vie for 'satsang' (company of the virtuous people) and prefer to move away from an environment where such company is not available. Due to the absence of satsang in Karachi, Pujya Bahenshri’s soul was constantly seeking company of such individuals and a better pious environment. Her heart was anxious to find the company of seekers like herself. She was concerned that despite the quest for seeking the truth within herself, the absence of a pious environment would delay her spiritual growth.

(2) Pratyaksha Yoga

In Vikram Samvat 1985, Pujya Bahenshri had an opportunity to listen to Pujya Gurudev's spiritual discourse for the first time. The philosophical and self­motivating discourses began to revive and reawaken past life impressions. Inner consciousness was rekindled and inner knowledge began to bloom akin to a lotus blooming in the presence of sunlight. What more could one ask for? Just like a stream of water finds its path by piercing through rock and moves forward, appropriate perception and refined inner knowledge began to gradually replace 'Darshan moha' (inappropriate perception). Apathy towards the world began to increase. Pujya Bahenshri would attentively listen and note down Gurudev’s discourses in complete awareness. In 1985, after hearing Gurudev's discourses in person, she went back to Karachi and continued to reside there for some time. Later, following the persistent inner urge to live and learn at the master’s feet made her leave Karachi and return to her native place ­ Wadhwan. 'The universe is bound to genuine intention'­ an axiom propounded by innumerable Tirthankaras cannot be in vain, Can it?

(3) Sense of futility, inner pain and intense urge to break the eternal cycle of birth and death

Pujya Bahenshri deeply contemplated on a variety of real worldly issues like: How to end the eternal birth and death cycle, existence, liberation and the path of a soul’s liberation. Being goal oriented since a very young age, her urge for liberation is apparent from the following excerpts from her letters :

'..feeling an intense urge to end the birth and death cycle, how to initiate and motivate efforts towards it and how to realize the self (Karachi).'

'I do not wish to waste a single moment of this valuable human birth.'

'Since I am now blessed with a spiritual master like Kanji Maharaj, the primary purpose now is to focus on ending the cycle of life and death and hence it is difficult to continue to reside in Karachi.' (Vikram Samvat 1987)

Her intense urge to break free from the birth and death cycle is apparent from the above excerpts. This persistent urge and the resultant anguish are also noteworthy. In one of the letters she writes :

'Sister­in­law, numerous days have passed… not just days but eons have passed without realizing true knowledge. Isn’t it painful? What is this universe, its structure? What do we mean by Soul, rebirth, various mental constructs and external objects? So many questions leave you perplexed! Life seems to lack purpose. The heart cries in agony! Yet this emotion is inappropriate. Why do we not tire and shudder when realizing the eternal nature of this pain? Why are we not eager for the eternal truth? Why do we not realize the underlying unhappiness and loneliness?'

She was constantly contemplating on such questions causing her immense and intolerable agony. The effect of bereavement from the inner self is apparent from the following excerpts:

'O inner self, O God! Have you realized the pain and unhappy-ness caused by the separation from your true self? Has your heart cried from within with the urge to unite with the inner true self? Doesn't the separation from your inner true self pain you? What you have seen and experienced is nothing. How can you achieve and realize the true self? Innumerable years will be lost in this way… …(Vikram Samvat 1987­88)"

Despite her heart being immensely pained due the separation from her inner true self, she writes that her pain is miniscule.

(4) Detachment

Due to the previously described anguish, her mind was unable to maintain focus in anything. Her detachment continued to rise. Despite being involved in household chores, her inner detachment is apparent in the following excerpt :

"Realizing that it is not possible to accomplish spiritual upliftment here makes me sad. Sometimes am so engrossed in thoughts that I not only fail to realize someone calling me but also forget to work. Being so engrossed in the inner self, I do not like to talk to others. (Vikram Samvat 1986, Karachi, Jeth Sud ­ 14)"

Her detachment is praiseworthy!

(5) Goal of holistic perfection

Pujya Bahenshri had an urge to end the eternal birth and death cycle at any cost from an early age. Due to her inner anguish and detachment, she writes in one of her letters :

"Am going to focus only on liberation after coming there…(Vikram Samvat 1986, Karachi, Jeth Sud ­ 14, Tuesday)'

What an extraordinary manifestation of her inner urge! Her inner condition yearned to achieve liberation. Just like the sun pierces through the thickest of clouds rather than turning away from them, similarly her intense urge was determined to pierce through eternal spiritual ignorance. Her desire to achieve perfection is apparent from the following excerpt :

'My current condition is such that I want to step back and remove each and every demerit to achieve the seed of liberation.' (Vikram Samvat 1987)

Her inner condition was impatient and anxious to move forward. An unstoppable urge was manifested! Just like warriors riding towards war cannot remain hidden, similarly, by proclaiming war against delusionary beliefs, her soul had laid the foundation of liberation.

(6) Urge for company of pious and virtuous individuals as well as devotion to her spiritual master

After experiencing Pujya Gurudev’s satsang (spiritual discourse) in person, Pujya Bahenshri had to live in Karachi for some time. While she was physically in Karachi, her heart and soul were at the feet of Pujya Gurudev. Hearing the exceptional and life altering discourses first hand, her heart was unable to bear the regular absence of satsang. The genuine urge for satsang is apparent from the following excerpts :

"There is no opportunity for Guru Darshan, his teachings and satsang here. As a result, it is difficult to continue to live here. The desire to identify a remedy that would end the life and death cycle makes it difficult for me to live in Karachi"

In a separate letter, she writes further:

"Now, I have found a spiritual master in Kanji Maharaj. Now the primary purpose is to end the life and death cycle which makes it difficult for me to continue to live in Karachi" (Wadhwan, Vikram Samvat 1987)

Hearing Pujya Gurudev's teachings in person had made Pujya Bahenshri very happy. She writes : "It is difficult to describe the positive thoughts that arose in my heart after hearing Pujya Gurudev's teachings in person. I pray for the continued satsang of Kanji Maharaj and other such spiritual masters."

A disciple’s true place is at the feet of the master. Her devotion and reverance for Pujya Gurudev continued to grow. Teachings of Pujya Gurudev became an intricate part of her being and her heart was fully devoted to his teachings. This change is apparent from the following excerpt:

"My days in Porbandar were spent in remembering and thinking about the satsangs with Pujya Gurudev and his teachings and even dreaming about them. I dreamt of the same when I had come from Porbandar."

Aren't the qualities manifested in those urging for liberation adorable? They are worth salutation for it is the seed of 'Samkit' (True faith).

(7) Detached awareness and evaluation of demerits

Detached awareness of incidental demerits is a natural state for those who intend to break free from all types of inner demerits and causes of unhappiness. True happiness is associated with inner merits like equanimity, detached awareness and in unbiased understanding. Unhappiness is associated with the absence of these inner merits. Detached awareness is the state that facilitates the achievement of one’s inner objective. How is it achieved? How do inherent simplicity, equanimity and centeredness feel like? These concepts can be understood from the following excerpts :

"Today individuals are careless, negligent and lazy. Due to their inherent laxity, they are unable to differentiate between truth and illusion when faced with synchronous and circumstantial stimuli. I feel insignificant when I compare my current state with the state of learned masters. On numerous occasions the self becomes involved, attached and negligent."

Pujya Bahenshri writes further… …"A few months back, my state was much higher than my current state of being. I was motivated to take efforts and was able to rise above incidental passions. Currently, am in a negligent state. I frequently get lost in confusing thoughts and mental constructs while trying to determine appropriateness and inappropriateness.My inner state changes from time to time." (V.S. 1987)

This excerpt demonstrates her subtle and detached state which comes naturally to individuals whose discriminatory awareness has become active.

"There is no major change in me yet. Attractions towards worldly affairs seem to persist, which is not ideal. Verbalizing and writing topics down is a fruitless and worthless exercise." (Vikram Samvat 1987­88)

(8) The search within

"Living with the utmost transformatory objective of ending the cycle of birth and death, the soul does not like to talk with anyone. While, I have stopped associating with imaginary and inappropriate constructs, am persistently searching for natural inner self. How does the true inner self look like? Where is it? Consistent experiential awareness and understanding of the inner self will facilitate the realization of my urge for complete purity and will end this mundane existence. This unbearable urge and desire for self realization is not allowing me to rest in peace. My heart cries out in search of true happiness and self realization."

Why are you away from me, oh inner self!
Please hurry, am uninterested in this play,
Remove the restraint on realizing the inner self,
am uninterested in this play,
Desiring the taste of 'Sudha' (ambrosia that will end the life and birth cycle)
Am wandering in its search,
And received a cup of poison,
.. am uninterested in this play,
Am unable to bear the pain of separation, oh inner self! Oh God!
without self realization .. am uninterested in this play

Such unbearable pain and urge for realizing the inner self results in a much awaited breakthrough and the spring of purity starts flowing within. Nature is bound to reward a sincere urge for self realization. If not, emptiness will prevail in the fourteen universes. Nature thus gives in to the urge for self realization.

(9) Ascertainment of the true self

Gradual advancement in clarity and purity in knowledge facilitates the search of pure inherent nature of the self. Partial release from attachment redirects knowledge inwards and through undivided experiential understanding achieves a natural state having infinite qualities. Oh! The inner experience and bliss that the heart impatiently craved and cried out for ­ was clearly sensed within the inner self. The iota of clear experience pointed inwards. An explosion of pure consciousness followed and self effort intensely moved inwards to realize the true self. An existence marred by impurities accumulated over innumerable lifetimes was replaced by a pure natural form having infinite qualities. A bond was formed with the inner natural self and further efforts aimed at merging into the inner self began. A matchless urge to consistently experience and remain within the inner self manifested.

(10) Self realization

It is around 3.30 PM in the afternoon of Monday, Falgun Vad 10, Wakaner, Vikram Samvat 1989. Pujya Bahenshri is practising equanimity in solitude in the upper storey of her residence. The understanding of natural inner self is getting strengthened. Self effort is moving forward unabated. The cycle of life and death is in its final stages. Nearing the goal of realizing the true inner self, the ‘observer­knower’ state strengthens further. Single pointed meditation on the natural form of the inner self results in tremendous inclination towards the inner self. Attention detaches from the outer world and settles within the inner self. Consciousness becomes aware of and experiences itself! The knower is known! Realizes and enjoys absolute meditation, the state of indeterminate ecstasy! The inner self experiences waves of ecstasy.

Oh! The true self that was hidden for innumerable years has manifested itself! Providing a taste and unique experience of the nectar of happiness hidden within it. Oh! What a amazing moment! Lucky were the city, soil and ancestors! The inner self satiated itself with the unique experience of this state. It fulfilled the prime and ultimate purpose of human birth that is vied by the gods themselves! Not only did gods pay homage from heaven but also began vying for a human birth that afforded this unique opportunity to realize the inner self. Innumerable Siddhas delighted by the inclusion of this soul within their fold paid their own respects. Waves of sound and music began to play :

"Today the auspicious doors of the inner temple have opened up,
auspicious doors have opened up,
Today have experienced the inner self,
auspicious doors have opened up!"

The soul settled in indeterminate perception. The 'doer' state was transcended paving the way for the 'knower' of indeterminate knowledge. The soul was now truly beyond this world!

(11) Knowledge of previous lives

Pujya Bahenshri's penance progressed without obstruction or resistance and disregarding the current inferior fifth period of time cycle, is focused on achieving the state of perfection in this very birth. The ability to sustain the state of enlightenment is increasing by the day and her inner self is enjoying itself! Amidst this inner spiritual state, at 10 AM on the eighth day of Chaitra Vad of Vikram Samvat 1993 Pujya Bahenshri is meditating with focus on the inner self. She settles further into her inner state and the ‘Samavsharan’ (preaching hall) of Lord Simandhar becomes visible. Numerous scriptural omniscient are present. Kundkundacharyadev is also present in human form and engaged in experiencing Omniscient’s preaching. Such a revelation occurred amidst the flow of pure scriptural knowledge. As her penance progressed, memories of previous births were revealed. This knowledge facilitated a meeting with Lord Suryakirti (future Tirthankar) and entire country was moved with joy! Entire ‘Bharatvarsha’ (Indian subcontinent) acknowledged the arrival of this esteemed guest from 'Videh Kshetra' and sang out with joy :

"You are the direct disciple of Simandhar bhagwan,
You have his noble company,
You are the one, who will uplift us poor individuals,
You the compassionate one have arrived"

(12) Inner spiritual state

Such extraordinary penance was manifested at the young age of 19 years. An overview of her noteworthy inner spiritual state is also worth describing here. In one letter she writes :

"Observer and discriminatory state of awareness and understanding exists within, while outer and contrary inclinations are falling off.
It is not possible to re­attach the soil and dust dislodged from a mountain during a lightning strike. Similarly, awareness directed away from outer inclinations continues to move inwards. This inner state continues to strengthen."
(Vikram Samvat 1989)

In a letter written on Chaitra Sud 7, Vikram Samvat 1991, she writes :

"Unrelated to the inner self and manifested due to circumstantial effect of material body, auspicious/inauspicious outward inclinations/dispositions are the cause of bondage. On numerous occasions, I naturally feel detached and indifferent to such outer inclinations. A feeling of exhaustion towards such outer inclinations and tendencies arises within. The inner self becomes indifferent and naturally settles down within."

In the Pausha month of Vikram Samvat 1993, she writes :

"Inconsistent outcomes of external circumstances are to some extent the result of prevailing/existing conditions. On the contrary, prevailing conditions do not have and cannot have an influence on an individual settled in knower­observer understanding and its outcomes."

Here it is important to understand both internal and external types of states. The prevailing knower­observer state resulting from experience of inner self is worth observing here! Salutations to this state and perseverance!

The unwavered expression of inner self in the form of knower­observer state is worth observing here! Both the transformatory state and intense individual conviction are praiseworthy.

"How can partial success be acceptable to such individuals who have begun with the objective of attaining complete purity? Why would they prefer to consume nectar slowly? Such individuals are drawn towards isolation in the forests so that they can consistently experience this inner state."

Her urge to ascend further from her existing praiseworthy state and become an ascetic is indeed noteworthy here. She writes,

In Vikram Samvat 2003 she wrote :

"I will feel truly blessed only after freeing the inner self from outer passions and related mental constructs and after settling down in detached state. Blessed is the time when thousands of monks exist and perform penance. I will be truly blessed to attain monkhood in such a time and through penance become vigilant and attentive of the inner self and settle down in a detached state. Their detached state of being and monkhood is worth appreciation and salutation. What else can we do but bow down in reverence."

Pujya Gurudev has truly stated about her soul that each of us bowing down to her feet in reverence would not be enough to appreciate such a state.

(13) Gurubhakti (Devotion towards spiritual master)

The unique combination of devotion and a strong inner state is notable. Only those who live and experience true reverence for a spiritual master know what it is all about!

"Oh Master! It is difficult to bear separation from you and your teachings." (Wankaner, Vikram Samvat 1991, Chaitra Sud­6)
(Wankaner, Vikram Samvat 1991, Chaitra Sud­6)
"I hope that Pujya Gurudev's health does not deteriorate anymore and pray for his good health" Songadh, Vikram Samvat 1993, Maha, Sunday)
"It is indeed a pleasure to note the divine revelations arising out of the heart that is longing for Pujya Gurudev’s teachings. I feel immense respect and appreciation for the sacredness of Songadh. I am unable to remain away. I earnestly pray that the separation period end soon." (Wakaner Vikram Samvat 1993)

Profound salutations to the heart that is full of devotion and reverence for the spiritual master. It can be seen that Pujya Gurudev was always in her heart and thoughts. Every state of her existence seems to begin and end with the name of Pujya Gurudev. Pujya Gurudev can be consistently seen and felt around her existence. Repeated salutations to such devotion and the unique devotee who expresses it!

(14) Prabhavana Yoga (Sharing and propagation of divine knowledge)

In the course of enhancing inner knowledge and understanding, Pujya Bahenshri made a significant contribution to the propagation of Pujya Gurudev’s teachings. She provided valuable guidance in laying the foundation and installation of numerous Jain temples. Numerous devotional verses arose out of her heart and can now be seen incorporated in devotional books. She compiled Pujya Gurudev's discourses and explanations on Samaysar, which were published. All those striving for liberation are indebted and can never forget this significant contribution. Moreover the current community of spiritual seekers is eternally indebted to the valuable and appropriate guidance provided through through her 'Vachanamruta (Elixir speech).' In awareness of this contribution, Pujya Gurudev had expressed the intention to distribute 100,000 copies of 'Vachanamruta'.

(15) Final journey

Oh! It seems even the nature was moved by her pain of separation from Pujya Gurudev! As if unable to bear the pain of separation that Pujya Bahenshri was going through, nature decided to unite the seeker with the sought! Her health was not keeping well for quite some time. Enormous sadness prevailed on the day of Vaishakh Vad 3, Vikram Samvat 2046. In accordance to daily routine, sisters decided to recite the devotional hymn ­ Sukhdham Anant Susant….. before going to sleep. After the recitation, Pujya Bahenshri said, "Proceed towards your inner sanctuary (self) and I shall do the same" What did nature try to hint through this expression? What was it trying to indicate? Consciousness dived deep within to fathom the intended meaning of the hymn expressed by Kripaludev Shrimad Rajchandra. Consciousness began the process of settling down within its own inner endless sanctuary while forgetting the outer existence (body). Outward reflections and comprehension ceased and paved the way for consciousness to dive deeper within. The resulting state ­ full of innumerable attributes began to relish itself in its entirety. Each and every part of this state vibrated with divine ecstasy and consciousness began to experience it in divine content. Consciousness realized and experienced existence beyond the body. Externally, existence confirmed the reality of the soul’s separation and the moment of departure arrived. The heart of spiritual seekers departed and the fifth period of inferior time cycle finally showed its true colours. Through the incessant flow of tears, the hearts of spiritual seekers cried out :

"Righteous meditation and knowledge imparted by you will be an ideal for us all,
Be with us till we achieve the inner state, Mother, please hold our hands…!!!