Haribhadra Suriji





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Haribhadra Suriji

Haribhadra Suriji was a Jain sage, who was regarded for his contribution towards the Jain Dharmic literature. He was a monk of the Swetambar Jain Murtipujak Sampraday. His works are a part of the major Jain libraries in the country.


During the sixth century A.D., there lived a learned Brahmin named Haribhadra. He was highly intelligent and proficient in the philosophies of all religions. Among his many talents, he had the ability to determine the point of his opponent’s argument almost immediately. During that time, it was common for scholars to travel and engage others in debate to  increase their wealth of knowledge. Therefore, Haribhadra traveled and debated many brilliant scholars. Other scholars were unable to win discussions with him. His talent allowed him to dominate all conversations. It was not long before he earned a formidable reputation, and scholars began avoiding entering into a discussion with him.

Anecdote from his life

When no one came forward to counter him, he concluded that he had no rival in the entire country. Confident in his ability to comprehend any subject being discussed, he issued a public challenge that if anyone could present a topic that he could not understand, he would readily become his/her pupil.

One day, as he was walking through the village, he came across a royal elephant so angry that it was completely out of control. His keeper was trying his best to bring him under control, but the elephant was not responding to his efforts. The elephant was running directly towards Haribhadra. In grave danger of being trampled, Haribhadra frantically looked around for a safe place and saw a Jain temple. He entered just in time to avoid being crushed by the charging elephant. Once inside, he paused to regain his breath and then looked around the temple with disrespect. Haribhadra had no regard for Jainism. Because of his prejudice, he remained ignorant of Jain philosophy. Brahmins were usually staunch Shaiväites (followers of Lord Shiva in Hinduism) and looked down upon those going to Jain temples.
As he looked around, he saw the white marble idol of Lord Mahävir facing him. Instead of seeing the graceful compassion flowing from the eyes of the Tirthankar’s idol, Haribhadra only noticed that the stomach of the idol did not epitomize the slim body of an austere saint. He surmised that Jain Tirthankars must have enjoyed sweet foods.[ref]  

He therefore made the following remark:

Haribhadra Suri  listening to Yakini Mahattara’s explaining Jain philosophy

“Vapurevatavachashte Spashtam Mishtann-Bhojitamit”

“Your stomach clearly indicates that you must enjoy eating sweet foods”

When the elephant left the area, Haribhadra stepped outside the temple. On his way back, he passed the Upashray of Jain nuns (Sadhvis). He heard the following verse that was recited by a Sadhvi named Yakini Mahattara:

Chakkidugam Haripanagam Panagam Chakki Ya Kesavo Chakki

Kesav Chakki Kesav Du Chakki Kesi Ya Chakki Ya

Mahattara was explaining the order in which the Chakravartis (sovereign emperors) and Vasudevs were born in the current Avasarpini time cycle. Jain philosophy believes in time cycles of very long durations occurring one after another. One half of a cycle is called Utsarpini, or the ascending order marked with continuing improvements, and the other half is called Avasarpini, or the descending order marked with continuing deterioration. Tradition also holds that 24 Tirthankars, 12 Chakravartis (sovereign emperors), 9 Vasudevs or Narayans, 9 Prativasudev or Prati-Narayans (enemies of Vasudevs) and 9 Balrams are born in every Utsarpini and in every Avasarpini time cycle.
As a student, Haribhadra had studied some Jain philosophy. However, his understanding was very shallow and he could not comprehend the meaning of what sadhvi Mahattara was reciting. Haribhadra was at a loss. Finally, he had stumbled upon a subject he did not dominate, but to seek more knowledge required him to become a pupil of the Jain sadhvi Mahattara. Despite his arrogance, Haribhadra was also a man of his word, and without further hesitation, he presented himself to the Jain nun Mahattara. He explained his pledge and requested that she accept him as a pupil. Mahattara explained that Jain nuns could not have males as pupils. She advised Haribhadra to go to her guru, Jinabhatta-suri, who could explain the meaning of the verse and he could become a pupil of her guru. Accordingly, Haribhadra went to acharya Jinabhatta-suri, who explained the verse in the proper perspective.

Haribhadra suri accepting monkhood under Acharya Jin bhatta

The acharya’s explanation of the verse induced Haribhadra to learn more about Jainism, and he requested the acharya to accept him as a pupil. Jinabhatta-suri agreed to accept him only if he obtained the consent of his family and other close relatives. Haribhadra knew that it would be an ordeal to get their consent to study Jainism. Indeed, his family immediately opposed his decision. His father challenged him, “But you have studied so much to become a Brahmin scholar. Why would you want to give that up now?” His relatives, who had been so proud of his reputation, cried, “But you are the best debater. Who will you be now?” However, Haribhadra persevered in the face of this resistance. He explained to them that his knowledge would remain incomplete without gaining knowledge of Jainism in detail. For that purpose, as well as for adhering to his word, it was necessary for him to become a Jain monk. He ultimately succeeded in gaining the consent of all his family members. Then he renounced his worldly life and became a disciple of acharya Jinabhatta-suri.

He diligently studied Jain scriptures and other sacred books. His intelligence and perception soon allowed him to achieve mastery of Jain scriptures. The study of the agams showed him the depth of Jain philosophy in seeking the truth. Once he mastered all the relevant Jain literature, and when his guru Jinabhatta-suri was thoroughly convinced about his true faith, his guru decided to bestow upon Haribhadra the title of acharya. As Acharya Haribhadra-suri, he managed the Jain order very capably and efficiently. By virtue of his knowledge and intelligence, he attracted many people to Jainism. Many of them also renounced worldly life and became his disciples. Under his stewardship, Jainism gained a newfound popularity.

Amongst his many pupils there were two pupils named Hans and Paramhans who were his sister’s sons. They were very intelligent, and Haribhadra-suri had high expectations of them. Once, Hans and Paramhans requested him to allow them to go to a well-known Buddhist monastery in order to study the weak points of Buddhism. Then, they could defeat the Buddhist monks in debate. Initially, Haribhadra-suri did not approve, but Hans and Paramhans persisted and ultimately secured his permission. They went to the monastery disguised as Buddhist monks. Unfortunately, their secret was quickly revealed. They decided to leave the monastery in disguise, but Buddhist people chased them, which ultimately resulted in the loss of their lives.

When Haribhadra-suri learned about the tragic fate of his nephews, he was furious and vowed to punish the Buddhist monks for their cruelty. He challenged them to a debate in the royal court, with the stipulation that whoever lost would be put to death. Haribhadra-suri’s violent reaction to his nephews’ deaths saddened Guru Jinabhatta-suri and Sädhvi Mahattarä. Haribhadra-suri won the debate. Luckily, sädhvi Mahattarä convinced him to abandon the idea of killing his opponent. Haribhadra-suri realized from this episode that his undue attachment for Hans and Paramhans had led him to indulge in a violent attitude. He therefore begged for atonement, and Guru Jinabhatta-suri advised him to compose verses that would enlighten people to the right faith. This became another major turning point in his life.

Scholarly Contributions

Haribhadra-suri was a prolific writer. He wrote 1444 religious books, covering many aspects of Jainism. Unfortunately, only about 170 of his books are presently available. The commentaries on Dash Vaikälika-sutra, Tattvärtha-sutra, Pancha-sutra, and Ävashyaka-sutra are among his well-known compositions. Moreover, he wrote Lalit-vistarä, Dharma Sangrahani, Upadeshapad, Shodashtaks, Dharmabindu, and Anekänta Jayapatäkä. He was probably the first Jain scholar to write on yoga in the compositions. Yogabindu, Yoga-vinshikä, Yoga-shatak and Yogadrashti Samuchchaya were among these compositions. With such an output, Haribhadra-suri will always be remembered for his valuable contribution to Jain literature.


The entire life of Haribhadra-suri depicts his keen desire for learning. Even though he was an established Brahmin scholar, he was humble enough to learn from a simple Jain Sadhvi. This is a great lesson in humility. One should not let pride come in the way of acquiring knowledge. Jain agams describe the essence of Jainism in a logical and convincing manner. A deep understanding of the agams will lead one to practice the principles of Jainism with more discipline and faith. The various compositions of Haribhadra-suri are very precious and help us gain a better understanding of this complex but well-defined and logical religion.

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