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The Vachanamrut (Gujarati: વચનામૃત) of Swaminarayan is the most sacred and foundational scripture of the Swaminarayan Sampradaya. It contains the profound wisdom of the Vedas, Upanishads, Brahma Sutras, Bhagvad Gita, Bhagavata Purana, dharma shastras like Yājñavalkya Smṛti, Vidurniti, and epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata (Vachanamrut Gadhadha II-28). Swaminarayan says in Gadhadha II-28, "What is this discourse which I have delivered before you like? Well, I have delivered it having heard and having extracted the essence from the Vedas, the shastras, the Purans and all other words on this earth pertaining to liberation."
The Vachanamrut is the essence of ancient Indian wisdom as told by Swaminarayan and compiled by his five contemporary scholarly-sadhus who were known for their asceticism and scholarship in Sanskrit, besides their devotion to him. In fact every statement of the Master is packed with and based on His in-depth religious knowledge, spiritual insights and practical experience. It contains practical and philosophical answers to the sincere enquiries of all types of aspirants regarding life in this world and the life hereafter.
The Vachanamrut is not only a sacred shastra in the Swaminarayan faith, but a shastra of every day study. All the literate followers read it daily and the illiterate listen to at least a page everyday. It is read and elaborated upon daily in the Swaminarayan mandirs the world over. It is a landmark shastra, philosophically and in all other aspects. It is the first modern Gujarati prose work which the noted Gujarati critic and poet, Shri Uma Shankar Joshi, acclaimed as the very pinnacle of Gujarati prose. The Vachanamrut, a compilation of 273 spiritual discourses, is divided into 10 sections. The discourses were delivered by Swaminarayan in the last decade of his life, between 1819 and 1829 CE in Gujarati. They were mostly delivered in ashram-like ambience in secluded places like Ahmedabad, Gadhada, Sarangpur, Kariyani, Loya, Panchala, Vadtal, Aslali, and Jetalpur.
The book records the dialogues and conversation between the master and his disciples, answering philosophical and religious questions, explaining doctrines, and formulating terminology concerning both theoretical and practical points of view in daily life and spiritual sadhna.
Etymology and Usage
Vachanamrut is a compound word of two Gujarati words, vachan and amrut. Vachan means words or speech and amrut means nectar. Hence the Vachanamrut comprises the nectarine or divine words of Swaminarayan. The Vachanamrut is the amrut (divine nectar) of Swaminarayan in the form of His divine words. This amrut leads the jivas to moksha.
The discourses were transcribed not by a 1 editor but by four contemporary scholarly-sadhus while they were being delivered. These editors were:
- Muktanand Swami, the senior most sadhu of Ramanand Swami, 23 years senior to Swaminarayan. He was the teacher of Swaminarayan when he first arrived in Gujarat. Muktanand Swami is the author of Brahmasutra Bhashya Ratnam, a commentary on the Vedanta Sutra of Badrayana Vyas.
- Gopalanand Swami, who had mastered ashtang yoga, wrote a commentary on the Dashopanishad and Bhagvad Gita.
- Nityanand Swami, a profound Sanskrit scholar, authored the Hari Digvijay Kavya in Sanskrit.
- Shukanand Swami, was a well-known Sanskrit scholar from Dabhan and the personal secretary of the Master.
In one of the Vachanamruts, one of the editors, namely, Nityanand Swami, presents 114 edited discourses to Swaminarayan for his approval. He was pleased with the efforts of the editors and authenticated their compilation.
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Not only the recitation by the master is truthfully recorded but even the criticism of their answers and their utter ignorance pointed by him are put down in writing by them. For example in describing the company and qualities of worthy and unworthy sadhus, the master states, "A sadhu who strictly observes religious vows with firm faith in God but does not sharply rebuke those who don't observe the rules and regulations and pampers them, then even if he is a greatly honoured sadhu like Muktanand Swami, his company must be given up." 6. Similarly in another discourse Swaminarayan says that Gopalanand Swami and others have at present profound love for God but if they were to encounter adverse circumstances, their mind would be slightly affected. It means their foundation appears to be weak and if they were to face an extremely adverse situation, their love for God would not remain stable at all.7 But the most trenchant criticism of all the five editors comes in a discourse where the Teacher after praising the five editors, Muktanand Swami, Gopalanand Swami, Nityanand Swami, Shuk Muni, Brahmanand Swami and other disciples, states, "All of you presently behave very well. However, if factors like desh, kal, sang and kriya were to become unfavourable, then there is no doubt at all that your enthusiasm would not remain as it is now." And then he adds, "It is precisely for the purpose of somehow instilling this gnan in your minds that I continuously deliver discourses."8 An equally important quality of the editors of the Vachanamrut is the keen sense of history and documentation. Disproving the common Western complaint that Indian religious history lacks firm and definite dates in all respect, every discourse of the Vachanamrut in the very beginning mentions the year, the month, the day, the time, the village, the location, the direction of the assembly and the speaker, the dress and the seat of the master and the names of important persons in the assembly. Even the village of the questioner and his caste is described. Thus, John Carman, former Prof. of School of Divinity, Harvard University, said, "In this book, every discourse is precisely dated. This is a chapter of religious history which one might say is in the full light of day as far as our knowledge of history is concerned."9 Simultaneously it is clear that the purpose of writing down such minute details, especially about the Master was much more than merely recording them for history. It was to create almost a three-dimensional perspective of the whole situation with the object to facilitate the perception and meditation upon him.
As already mentioned these discourses were approved by the master in his own lifetime. Not only the main work in Gujarati belongs to the time of Swaminarayan, even the Sanskrit translation of the Vachanamrut named Harivakyasudhasindhu by his disciple Shatanand Muni, which appeared during that time has almost the same subject matter, the same number of discourses and the same chronological order. There is also a translation of the Vachanamrut in Vraj-Bhasha by Brahmanand Swami, a favourite saint-poet of Swaminarayan.
Adi Shankaracharya made a statement while commenting upon the first mantra of the Kenopanishad: "The exposition of a subtle theme becomes easy to understand by means of dialogues in the form of questions and answers between the teacher and the disciples." This method was used in the Upanishads but in the Vachanamrut it is employed extensively and in a truly participatory manner.
In the entire Vachanamrut there are 456 questions out of which the Master Himself has asked only 138 questions. Simply speaking 70 percent of the questions are from the audience and only 30 percent are from the Master.
He explains the purpose of his discourses, "O paramhansas, the seniors and the wise ones please come to the front and listen attentively. What I am about to say is not said out of any pretence, self conceit or to spread My greatness. It is because I feel that amongst all of you, sadhus and householder devotees, if someone can understand my message it will benefit him tremendously." He explains concepts like jiva, ishwar, maya, Brahma, Parabrahma, dharma, gnan, vairagya, bhakti, ekantik dharma, Ekantik Mukta, Param Ekantik Mukta, Anadi Mukta, importance of God, God-realised Satpurush, shastras and satsang.
Maya : In the very first discourse he states, "For a devotee of God anything that obstructs his attention while meditating on God is maya." Moha : He explains, "Moha or infatuation is feeling of delusion wherein a person loses all sense of discrimination, of what should be done and what should not be done." 15
- The Great Devotee:
"One who always thinks of God but not about the worldly objects of pleasure is the great devotee in our Satsang."16 And, "one who gives up ego and worships God is great."
- True Ascetic or Renunciant:
"A true renunciant is one who treats garbage and gold equally and has genuine affection for God only."18
- Ekantik Devotee:
"In our Uddhav Sampraday one who possesses dharma, gnan, vairagya and bhakti is ekantik bhakta." 19 Highest Aim: "To keep the focus on God continually is the highest aim of human life but it is the most difficult."20
Explanations to complex concepts were given through day-to-day examples, through well known stories, famous examples from the epics and Puranas, similes, metaphors and analogies, making the teaching accessible to all.
Swaminarayan describes in one of his many analogies about how to keep one's mind engaged in God. He states, "Consider, for example, a pot that is filled with water and emptied somewhere. If another pot of water is subsequently emptied at the same place on the following day or the day after that, a pool of water will not collect there. Why? Because the water poured on the first day dries up on that very day, and the water poured on the second day also dries up on that same day. On the other hand, if a trickle of water were to flow continuously, a large pool of water would soon be formed. Therefore, while eating, drinking, walking, engaging in any activity whatsoever - whether it be pure or impure - in fact, at all times, one should constantly keep one's vrutti on God. While maintaining one's vrutti constantly on God in this manner, one attains that abiding elevated spiritual state." In another analogy, Swaminarayan describes about how to introspect. He says, "From the time a satsangi enters the Satsang fellowship, he should examine his mind by thinking, 'In the first year, my mind was like this; then it was like this. Previously, I had this much desire for God and this much desire for the world.' In this manner, he should repeatedly reflect on this yearly total of desires and always strive to gradually, yet constantly eradicate all worldly desires that remain in his mind. If, however, he does not introspect in this manner and allows those desires to accumulate, then they will never be overcome. Consider, for example, the analogy of opening an account with a merchant. If one settles one's debts to him regularly on a monthly basis, then it would not be difficult to repay the debt. But if one waits to pay until the end of the year, it would be extremely difficult to settle the account. Likewise, one should introspect constantly."
- Williams, Raymond (2001). Introduction to Swaminarayan Hinduism. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-65422-7.