Bhikṣu, Ācārya

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Bhikṣu, Ācārya (also Bhīkanji, 1726–1803). Founder of the Jain reforming sect, the Terapanth. He founded the Terapanth in 1759 on the basis of extreme discipline and rigour. He followed the life of a wandering beggar, and by the time he died, he had initiated forty-nine monks and fifty-six nuns.

The name ‘Terapanth’ is variously explained: tera means (in Rajasthani) both ‘thirteen’ and ‘your’. Thus the ‘Thirteen Path’ may be the reliance on the thirteen basic elements of ascetic practice which Bhiksu was restoring (the Five Great Vows, the Five Attentive Actions, samiti, and the Three Protections, gupti); or it may be the number of early followers (thirteen monks and thirteen laymen); or it may be the devotion to ‘you, Lord Mahāvīra’. He elevated the role of the ācārya, to become the sole authority over adherents, and to appoint his own successor. The eighth ācārya, Tulsi, who succeeded in 1936, took this out into the world (especially of politics and economics), arguing that the accelerating power of humans to destroy must be counteracted by an accelerating power to reform spiritually. He therefore founded the Anuvrata Movement, from aṇu (‘atom’, with deliberate reference to ‘atom bomb’) and vrata, ‘vow’: ‘A small, or atomic, vow alone has the power to ward off and counter the threat of an atom bomb.’