Acharya Shri Vidyasagarji Maharaj (born 10 October 1946) is one of the best-known modern Digambara Jain Acharya (Digambar Jain Monk). He is recognized both for his scholarship and tapasya (austerity). He is known for his long hours in meditation. While he was born in Karnataka and took diksha (undertook spiritual discipline) in Rajasthan, he generally spends much of his time in the Bundelkhand region where he is credited with having brought about a revival in educational and religious activities. He has written haiku poems and the epic Hindi poem “Mukamati”. His life is the subject of the 2018 documentary film Vidyoday released by Landmark Films.
His childhood name was Vidyadhar. He was the second of four sons, the eldest son being Mahavira Ashtage. As a child, he was fond of eating fresh butter which was used to make ghee (clarified butter). He was not a demanding child and accepted what was given to him. Vidyadhar used to visit temples and teach his younger siblings the principles of religion. He called both younger sisters “Akka” (elder sister). He was attentive and was eager to undertake his studies. In his spare time he used to paint.
He was initiated as a Digambara monk in 1968 at the age of 22 by Acharya Gyansagar, who belonged to the lineage of Acharya Shantisagar, at Ajmer. His father Mallappa, his mother Shrimati, and two sisters took diksha and joined the sangha (community of the pious) of Acharya Dharmasagar. Except for his eldest brother, his remaining brothers, Anantanath and Shantinath, followed him and were initiated by Acharya Vidyasagar as Muni Yogasagar and Muni Samaysagar respectively. His elder brother married and continued the blood line.
He was elevated to the Acharya status in 1972. An Acharya does not eat salt, sugar, fruits, milk, in addition to what is traditionally prohibited (like onions). He goes out for a meal at about 9:30 a.m.–10:00 a.m. from Śrāvakas (lay votaries). He takes food once a day in the palm of his hand, one morsel at a time.
Acharya Vidyasagar’s Chaturmas (four-month stay) in 2016 was in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, where he was accompanied by 38 munis. He gave his Pravachana (reading) in the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly by special invitation from Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on 28 July 2016. In 2016, during a trip to Bhopal, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited him. He was also visited by former Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia from the opposing Congress Party, now in BJP.
Union Minister Uma Bharati paid a visit to Acharya Ji at the completion of 50 years of initiation at the Samyama Swarna Mahotsav festival. During the Guru Purnima Celebration in 2018, Digvijay Singh received the blessings of Acharya Vidyasagar Ji in Chhatarpur, Madhya Pradesh. In 2018, American ambassador Kenneth Juster paid a visit to Acharya Vidyasagar Ji and assured him he would follow a full vegetarian diet for one day a week. French Diplomat Alexandre Ziegler visited Khajuraho with his family in 2018 and felt “peaceful and blessed” after meeting Acharya Vidyasagar Ji. He vowed to become a vegetarian.
- Acharya Vidyasagara is a scholar of Sanskrit and Prakrit and knows several languages including Hindi and Kannada. He has written in languages such as Prakrit, Sanskrit, Hindi. His works include Niranjana Shataka, Bhavana Shataka, Parishah Jaya Shataka, Suniti Shataka and Shramana Shataka.
- He has composed nearly 700 haiku poems which are unpublished.
- He wrote the Hindi epic poem “Mukamati”. This has been included in the syllabus of Hindi MA programmes at various institutions. This has been translated into English by Lal Chandra Jain and was presented to the President of India. Several researchers have studied his works for masters and doctoral degrees.
Acharya Vidyasagar belongs to the tradition established by Acharya Shantisagar. Acharya Shantisagar initiated Acharya Virasagar, who was then succeeded by Acharya Shivsagar, Acharya Gyansagar and finally Acharya Vidyasagar.
Some of his disciples are well-known scholars in their own right. As of 2001, about 21% of all the Digambar monks were under Acharya Vidyasagara. Muni Sudhasagar and Muni Pramansagar are also his disciples. One of his best known disciples, Muni Kshamasagar ji, obtained samadhi in 2015.
Acharya Pushadantasagar, the guru of Tarun Sagar was initiated as a kshullak (junior monk) by Acharya Vidyasagar, although he took muni diksha from Acharya Vimal Sagar. Upadhyaya Guptisagar took muni diksha in 1982 from Acharya Vidyasagar although he later joined the sangha (community) of Acharya Vidyanand.
Acharya Vidyasagar has been a source of inspiration to the people for founding institutions for their welfare at different locations. Since the number of monks (munis) and nuns (āryikas) initiated and directed by him exceeds two hundred (117 Digambar Muni, 172 Aryikas), they stay in more than 60 locations in India during Chaturmas, ranging from Gujarat to Jharkhand, and Haryana to Karnataka. This insures that only a few monks or nuns are staying in one place.
His wanderings (Vihara)
As a traditional Digambara Jain monk, Acharya Vidyasagar never stays in a single location for more than a few days, except for the four months of the rainy season (Chaturmas). He never declares where he will be next, although people try to guess his next destination. Since his initiation in 1968 he has had: seven Chaturmas in Rajasthan (1968–74), one in Uttar Pradesh (1974), seven in Madhya Pradesh (1976–1982), one in Bihar (1983), nine in Madhya Pradesh again (1984–1992), two in Maharashtra (1993–94), one in Madhya Pradesh (1995), one in Gujarat (1996), 11 again in Madhya Pradesh (1997–2007), one again in Maharashtra (2008), eight again in Madhya Pradesh (2009–2016).
The fiftieth anniversary of his diksha was celebrated in many cities in India with parades and festivities in July 2018. On this occasion, commemorative columns (Swarna Kirti Stambha) were erected in Ajmer, Rewa, Sravanbelgola and other locations.