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Chapter 15: They Say Believe; I Say Explore

Before the meeting, Acharya Tulsi greeted the guests, those twenty special guests. It must have been 1960, in a small, beautiful place in Rajasthan, Rajsamund. It has such a beautiful lake, so big and vast, hence the name, Rajsamund. Samund in Rajasthani means the ocean, and raj means royal. It is so beautiful that the name suits it exactly. It is a royal ocean, very emperor-like. The waves on it are almost as big as in the ocean. It is only a lake but you cannot see the other shore.

He called us to meet - before we all went and talked to the fifty thousand people who had gathered there - just to be introduced, and because he was the host who had invited us there. But from the very beginning, trouble started.

The trouble was that he was sitting on a high pedestal and all the guests were sitting on the ground. It was not a problem to anybody except to Morarji Desai, the politician. He was the only politician among those twenty people - somebody was a scientist, D.S. Kothari who was chairman of the atomic energy commission in India, somebody was a vice chancellor. Those people had come from different directions, but it was not a problem for any of them.

Morarji said, “I would like to start the conversation.” He was just sitting by my side. Neither he nor I knew that now a lifelong friendship was starting. He said, “My first question is that you are the host, and we are the guests. Guests are sitting on the floor and the host is seated on a high pedestal. What kind of courtesy is this? If you were addressing a meeting it is understandable that you should sit higher so the people can see and hear you. But here there are only twenty persons, and you are not addressing a meeting, just chit-chatting, just introducing people to each other before the conference, the real conference starts.”

Acharya Tulsi was at a loss. It would have been so easy for a real religious person to come down, and apologize: “This is really a most idiotic error on my part.” But he did not budge from his place. Instead he told one of his chief disciples, who has now become his successor, Muni Nathmal, “You answer the question.”

Muni Nathmal was even more nervous - what to say? Morarji Desai at that time was finance minister of India and that’s why they had invited him. They were making efforts to create a university for Jainism, and he was the man. If he was willing, then finance would not be a problem. Muni Nathmal said, “It is not any discourtesy to the guests, it is just our tradition that the head of the sect sits higher. And just a convention is being followed, nothing else is meant by it. Nobody is insulted by it.

Morarji is not an easy person to be silenced by such answers. He said, “We are not your disciples, you are not our head. None of these twenty people here recognize you as their master or head. You may sit on any pedestal you want amongst your disciples, your sect, your people - but we are guests. Secondly, you proclaim yourself a revolutionary saint, so why cling to a convention, tradition, which is so uncivilized, uncultured?” That was one of the claims of Acharya Tulsi, that he was a revolutionary saint.

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