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Seeking the Self – The University of Ladnun

A rare opportunity to peer into myself and wonder where I was heading, was given by my stay at the campus of Ladnun.

I was not very excited when I packed my clothes. A holiday was welcome, but I was not looking for any spiritual succour or religious indoctrination. The promised trip to the University of Ladnun, The university set up by the Jains, made me feel those were the things I could access. I wanted nature, beauty and a peaceful silence.

Anyway, plans were made and bags packed. The drive was uneventful till we were about 50 km from our destination. The desert area had begun. Sand dunes gallped one behind the other. Brambles few uncomplainingly and the air seemed reverberant with the vivacity of the Rajasthan folk. I could not believe my eyes when I actually saw women in bright clothes, with their upper cloth covering their head and faces, and carrying a pot on their heads.

I used to think this was a subject for painting and pictures from our distant past. But it was real. The sheer bright colours the women wore and the lovely sight they made against the desolate brown sand made my heart do a hopscotch.

From then on the whole four day trip of ours began to acquire the quality of the unreal. It is not dramatization when I say suddenly the sky darkened and clouds rushed to cover us. Raindrops on sand dunes were beautiful. More beautiful were the peacocks which came in from nowhere. They leisurely spread their feathers and began a detailed promenade.

There were as many peacocks as people in the University of Ladnun. Ladnun had a strange sense of calm and contentment so much so that I believed there is something called vibration: they say when sages meditate in a certain place, the place acquires a halo and sends out peaceful vibrations.

We were led to a comfortable air conditioned guest house. My visions of ascetic life were further dispelled. The next day we met Acharya Shri Mahapragya. He was the leader of this sect of Jains called the Terapanths. I had met a revered Muni (saint) of the sect, Shri Kishan Lal in Delhi. He had made an impression on me because of his sheer transparent goodness.

He too was here in Ladnun. We met him before we met the Acharya. The Muni welcomed me warmly. Was he really happy to see me, I wondered. But saints are detached, are they not? But I was happy that he welcomed me warmly.

When I met the Acharya I saw a tall straight man, who had clear eyes. The eyes seemed deep, full of learning and had the quality of reading my mind. During the days that followed I knew I was right. He was indeed so learned. I also met Sadvi Kanakaprabha. She was the leader of the women monks. She was equally learned. With one hundredth of that knowledge, I would be so arrogant, I wondered, where they had lost that!

A Strange sense of meaning came to me. Yes, life is not all an upward movement in the social ladder. Here was an opportunity to pause and take stock. IT was like taking a high jump and landing at a higher plane of thinking. It made something in me quieter, calmer and observe the mind’s perception rather than the eye’s.

The four days proved to be very short. I learned to meditate, I learned the art of concentration. I learned to discover that which lay beyond the eyes. At the same time there was no religious flavour to anything: it was an atheistic, ascetic experience of moral and spiritual discipline, encouraging honesty and kindliness in personal relations, as well as non-violence. This university provides value-neutral, and self determining courses which aim at helping one understand the self and the society we live in better.

The campus had many students who were puruing graduate studies in jainology and Comparative Religion and Philosophy, Peace studies, Yoga and Preksha meditation, Prakrit and Jain agamas (texts), social Work and Computer Sciences. There were also short term courses and facilities fir doctoral studies. One often dreams of studying in a university which is well equipped and which has a beautiful campus. Ladnun university is one such! From the moment you enter this university you forget that it is in the desert.

The beautiful buildings and the peaceful atmosphere enthuse you to serious and good work. The subjects that this university offers, in addition to those mentioned above, are English, History, Sociology, Psychology and Maths. The other courses that you may choose to major in fall into the broad category of the Science of Living courses.

An excellent library housed some of the ancient Jaina treasures and literature. I met the Vice Chancellor of the Deemend University, Prof. Lodha and he seemed happy with the progress made by the thirty year old university.

Seated in comfort I watched monk walking to and fro in the campus. The degree to which the month deny themselves of any worldly conveniences seemed more accentuated. I found myself asking some fundamental questions. What is monkhood? What is truth? If they pursue truth, then is their search ever a fulfilling one? Can one control the mind? Can one increase productivity with just a few sample exercises? Though was given many answers, the monks I met also let me discover them for myself.

Spread over sixty acres the University of Ladnun is 380 km west of Delhi. The nearest airports to Ladnun are at Jaipur and Jodhpur. Thereafter one can take a bus or taxi. It is four hour journey from there.