Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Sadhvi Shilapiji

She wears the simple white sari, having 12 years ago renounced the material world to enter the spiritual world of a Jain nun. Much of her days are spent in silence, in meditation, in prayer.


The telephone on her desk rings, but her mobile phone is already at her ear as she gives instructions to one of the contractors working to build new school campuses. Much of her long days are spent in business meetings or bleary-eyed in front of a computer monitor, attending to a never-ending string of administrative details.

It is hard to imagine that these are portraits of a single woman. But then, Sadhvi Shri Shilapiji is no ordinary woman. Scholar, leader, humanitarian, educator -- these are all suitable epithets for this soon-to-be PhD nun, though not one of them alone captures the depth of her intellect, charm, eloquence, warmth, humility, or down-to-earth openness. While some may see contradictions between her spiritual devotion and hands-on, high-tech competence, it is really more a matter of versatility for this thoughtful, masterful woman.

She has inspired thousands around the globe. Just by being who she is, Shilapiji tends to attract many visitors from around the world. When Mark Jacobs recently visited their work in Bhuj, he had this three word summary: "Shilapiji radiates love."

On Wednesday, August 13th, we will have the opportunity to hear about Sadhvi Shilapiji's personal journey and serendipitous inspirations that led her to a life of service and interfaith spirituality. This inspiring evening of dialogue and conversation is hosted in our home and there is no cost to attend; please RSVP for more details.

Veerayatan: Compassion in Action

Shilapiji's greatest pillar of strength is her highly revered teacher, Acharya Chandanaji, the first woman in the 2500 year Jain tradition to be granted the Acharya title. Thirty years ago, Chandanaji founded a humanitarian group called Veerayatan, which runs an important ophthalmology hospital in Bihar that has performed over 100,000 sight-restoring surgeries to indigent patients, free-of-charge. It also runs orthopedic clinics, prosthetic-fitting camps, dispensaries, and mobile health units for the underprivileged of Bihar, India's poorest, most lawless state.

Following the devastating Kutch earthquake in January of 2001, Acharya Chandanaji -- often called the 'Mother Teresa of North India' -- dispatched Shilapiji to Gujarat to survey the situation and lead Veerayatan's participation in the relief effort. Finding that many other Indian and international NGO's were dealing with housing, food, water, clothing, and medical issues, Veerayatan aimed its energies at helping to educate the thousands of school children whose schools had been destroyed in the quake, and has now become an eminent part of the Kutch development.

Shilapiji: Compassion Incarnate

If Veerayatan defines its mission as "compassion in action," then it is apt to call Shilapiji, like her mentor Acharya Chandanaji, "compassion incarnate." Shilapiji has been the pillar of Veerayatan's extraordinary relief work in the aftermath of the earthquake, overseeing the education of more than 14,000 children in earthquake-ravaged Kutch. In Bhuj, she administers an extraordinary boarding facility for hundreds of children who were orphaned in the disaster. She also runs an innovative vocational training program for older students who have fallen by the wayside of the formal educational systems.

Shilapiji's interest and work in education is as deep as it is broad. Only the relentless demands on her time and her incessant desire to help others are preventing her from completing her doctoral dissertation at Kings College, London. She has been instrumental in establishing the Shri Chandana Vidyapeeth school of Jainism in London, and is actively involved with religious education for Jain youth around the globe. She has served as a representative of the Jain religion at a number of international interfaith conferences, has participated in academic symposia on issues of the relationship between spirituality and worldly problems, and has written widely on topics theological, historical, and service-oriented.

Shilapiji's intellectual brilliance, heartwarming compassion, thorough dedication to service, and profound faith and spirituality will continue to create ripples of inspiration this Wednesday.

[ Prayer Sung by Shilapiji ] (Audio)