23 May 1892
Dhari, Gujarat, India
|Died||23 January 1971
|Titles/honours||Global Expansion of Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha|
Yogiji Maharaj (23 May 1892 – 23 January 1971), born Jina Vasani was a sadhu, guru and the fourth spiritual successor of Swaminarayan in the Bochasanwasi Shree Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), a Hindu denomination.:55:10 According to the metaphysics of the sect, he is considered to be the next iteration of Akshar after Shastriji Maharaj in the Guru Parampara, an unbroken line of "perfect devotees" who provide "authentication of office through Gunatitanand Swami and back to Swaminarayan himself.":86:634Together with Pramukh Swami Maharaj, who acted as the administrative head, Yogiji Maharaj was instrumental in expanding the growth of BAPS "through new programs, expansion into new areas, and the construction of temples".:50He consecrated over 60 temples and is said to have visited 4000 towns and villages.:10 Yogiji Maharaj was particularly effective in attracting the devotion of youths and initiated a large number of them as ascetics.:50 Furthermore, his multiple tours to Britain and East Africa were integral in the overseas expansion of BAPS.:10:51 Yogiji Maharaj died on 23 January 1971 and appointed Pramukh Swami Maharaj as the next spiritual head of the organisation.:178
Yogiji Maharaj, was born as Jina Vasanji on 23 May 1892 in the small town of Dhari in Saurashtra, India to father Devchandbhai and mother Puribai.:1 Throughout his childhood Jina was a diligent student and his work-ethic made him popular among his contemporaries. He also took a distinct interest in spirituality, often engaging in devotional service by performing the daily worship and service of the murtis in the mandir at Dhari.:1 Due to his failing health, Mohanbhai, the caretaker of the temple, asked Jina to take over the full responsibility of running the temple. Jina readily agreed and despite his young age was unencumbered by the new duties.:9 He prepared offerings for the deities installed within the mandir, tended the mandir grounds, taught meditation techniques and made sure everyone received sanctified food. Just after Jina had taken his seventh standard exams, Krishnacharandasji, a prominent disciple of Gunatitanand Swami, was visiting the mandir with a group of sadhus.:10 After observing Jina's dedication in volunteering at the mandir and service to the community, he inquired about Jina's interest in being initiated as a sadhu and pursuing the path of asceticism.:11 About a year later Jina obtained his parents' permission to become a sadhu and on 1 November 1908 he left for Junagadh to meet Krishnacharandasji.:10:11
As a Sadhu
On 8 November 1908, Jina was initiated into the parshad fold (a probationary period before full initiation).:107 During this time, not only was Jina entrusted with the care of the cattle and oxen owned by the mandir but also the general upkeep of the mandir itself and related buildings. He was initiated into the sadhu fold on 11 April 1911 as Sadhu Jnanjivandas by Acharya Shripatiprasadji Maharaj.:19 As a sadhu, he completely renounced the life of a householder and lived according to the rules prescribed by Swaminarayan for ascetics: “absolute celibacy and the avoidance of women, separation from family relationships, detachment from sense objects, non-avarice and restraint of the pride of ego”.:150 Typically, Sadhu Jnanjivandas would rise early in the morning and work throughout the day to fulfill the commitment of service to both God and society. He would sweep the mandir, clean the kitchens, and serve the devotees that visited the mandir.:108 His adoption of a spartan lifestyle and adherence to the principles laid down by Swaminarayan earned him the byname, Yogiji. The term "yogi," commonly used to denote a person who practices asceticism and attains yoga, or communion with God, is followed by the suffix "ji" which is used as a sign of respect.:176 It was during this time that he met his guru, Shastriji Maharaj.:176 Shastriji Maharaj's identification of Gunatitanand Swami as the personal form of Akshar had led to a doctrinal split with the Vadtal diocese and he formed a separate entity, BAPS, as a result.:54 This meeting in Rajkot-where Shastriji Maharaj expounded the principles of the Akshar-Purshottam Upasana-ultimately resulted in several sadhus from the Vadtal diocese including Yogiji Maharaj and Krishnacharandas Swami, leaving to join Shastriji Maharaj.l " Under the guidance of Shastriji Maharaj, Yogiji Maharaj played an integral part in nurturing the fledgling BAPS organisation and facilitated its growth in India and beyond.:61:178
Guruship and legacy
Construction of mandirs and travels
Yogiji Maharaj led the construction of numerous temples in India and abroad during his guruship.:176 He consecrated two shikharbaddha mandirs and 41 smaller hari mandirs in India. In addition, he built 7 mandirs in Africa and the United Kingdom. Concurrently, Yogiji Maharaj arranged for the organisation of large festival celebrations in India and abroad and arranged for devotees to go on pilgrimages around India.:61Throughout his time as guru, he visited over 150,000 homes and maintained correspondence with devotees through letter writing among other activities.:62
Yogiji Maharaj extensively propagated the Akshar-Purushottam philosophy in parts of East Africa and London.:50 He interacted with devotees around the world via letters that offered encouragement and guidance in maintaining spiritual enthusiasm. :62:50 Yogiji Maharaj's travels outside of India followed a surge of immigration by Gujaratis to these locales At the behest of the devotees that migrated outside of India, Yogiji Maharaj went on several spiritual tours, initially to East Africa, and later to England.:178 As the first BAPS guru to travel outside of India, Yogiji Maharaj added to the cultural migration that further augmented the physical migration of Indians outside of India. The first mandir that he consecrated was in Mombasa, Kenya during his tour of East Africa in 1955. Despite his old age, Yogiji Maharaj went on a third overseas tour in 1970 during which he installed the image of Akshar-Purushottam in hari mandirs in Nairobi, Kenya. On the same tour, he also established the first Swaminarayan mandir in London, England.
In his speeches and correspondences, Yogiji Maharaj placed an emphasis on engaging the youth to develop a spiritual inclination. He organised the first meetings for youth during weekly assemblies and initiated the weekly Swaminarayan Satsang Patrika featuring news of Satsang events and an agenda for weekly assemblies. This provided a forum for youth to grow spiritually, academically and personally by creating specialised activities suited to their needs. Before these efforts, the youths in BAPS normally sat with adults during weekly congregations. In 1952, Yogiji Maharaj officially founded the Yuvak Mandal (Youth Wing) to foster activities specific for youth, so that they could understand the spiritual messages catered to their own needs. He is remembered for treating youths with respect and affection and was well known for giving a '’dhabo,'’ (hearty pat on the back) while giving his blessings.:179 He also advocated for camps and seminars promoting academic and personal spiritual growth for youth and arranged for the construction of schools, hostels and '’gurukuls'’ (spiritual academies). During Yogiji Maharaj's spiritual tours, young aspirants often decided to join him during their school vacations. These teenagers gave up the comforts of home and householder life to perform service, in line with the lifestyle of the sadhus they travelled with.:50
Under Yogiji Maharaj's guidance, the fledgling BAPS organisation gained formation throughout India and abroad. He established systems such as weekly assemblies, publications and recurring festivals that encouraged greater focus on spiritual endeavours. His efforts in facilitating the smooth co-ordination of these increased activities provided an infrastructure for the organisation's continued expansion and growth under his spiritual successor, Pramukh Swami Maharaj.:60–61:178–179
Shortly after an overseas tour of East Africa and Britain, Yogiji Maharaj died on 23 January 1971 at the BAPS Swaminarayan mandir in Mumbai:53Before Yogiji Maharaj's death, he appointed Pramukh Swami Maharaj as his spiritual successor and the two "functions of temporal administration and spiritual oversight were reunited in him".:60–61 A memorial shrine called the Yogi Smruti Mandir was constructed in Gondal, Gujarat to commemorate the site of his cremation.:135:53
Literally meaning "Yogi's song" (From the Sanskrit root geet), it refers to a collection of spiritual teachings and prayers of Yogiji Maharaj. The Yogi Gita encapsulates the necessary attributes one must imbibe to progress spiritually and become Brahmarup or attaining the highest level of spiritual enlightenment. The Yogi Gita also provides an expansive view of the Akshar Purushottam Upasana, the doctrinal foundation of BAPS philosophy.
The Yogi Gita begins with a letter from Yogiji Maharaj to a devout follower and Prarthana or prayer offered in Mahelav, Gujarat. The Yogi Gita continues with the Jivan Bhavna, a collection of Yogiji Maharaj's life philosophy and guidance, and the Hrudayni Vato, a collection of words of wisdom. The letter which forms the core of the Yogi Gita was written over a period of three days, from 28 March to 1 April 1941. In 1940, Yogiji Maharaj came down with a severe case of dysentery in Rajkot. When Shastriji Maharaj, his guru, heard of Yogiji Maharaj's plight, he sent an attendant named Jagivan Ruda Poriya to nurse Yogiji Maharaj back to health. Upon Yogiji Maharaj's full recovery, Jagjivan asked to be sent off with Yogiji Maharaj's spiritual wisdom as "reward" for his efforts. In response to the request, Yogiji Maharaj wrote the letter that would later become a part of the Yogi Gita.
Letter to a Satsangi
In his letter to Jagjivan, the "satsangi," Yogiji Maharaj reinforced the importance of three basic qualities: Samp or co-operation, Suhradhaybhav or friendship, and Ekta or unity, and indicated that all devotees should strive to live by these principles. Yogiji Maharaj also described the following principles that he believed would lead to eternal peace and happiness:
- Service, Humility and Attaining Moksha: Yogiji Maharaj stressed the importance of Atmanishta or believing oneself to be the soul as one of the pre-requisites to attaining liberation. The values of faithfulness and total surrender to God and his sadhu and his belief that one should live as das no das or the servant of God's servant were also succinctly explained within the section.
- Avoiding Gossip: This short section addresses how gossiping reduces the virtues of an aspirant and is one of the biggest obstacles on the path to liberation.
- Realization of one’s Faults: To highlight the need for introspection, Yogiji Maharaj referred to the words of Jaga Bhagat. Yogiji Maharaj wrote that if one begins to look at the faults of other, they should pause and look at their own faults instead.
- Tolerance and Forgiveness: Yogiji Maharaj described these two virtues as amongst the most powerful qualities a spiritual aspirant could have.
- Mutual Affection: Yogiji Maharaj explained the need for a collaborative understanding of various principles.
- Spiritual Discourses: Yogiji Maharaj stated that by constantly listening to spiritual discourses and absorbing the knowledge inherent in them one would experience tranquility and inner happiness.
The second section contains Yogiji Maharaj’s earnest prayer to Shastriji Maharaj while at Mehelav. Yogiji Maharaj used various spiritual qualities of Shastriji Maharaj as examples to illustrate the tenets that devotees should instill in themselves. In essence, Yogiji Maharaj prayed that all devotees could become as virtuous and devout as Shastriji Maharaj.
The editors of the text compiled various proverbs of Yogiji Maharaj that encapsulated his insights and philosophy of life.
Literally meaning "the sayings of the heart," this section explores numerous sayings and empirical teachings of Yogiji Maharaj. It focuses on the spiritual attributes that are necessary for one to attain liberation. Yogiji Maharaj reinforced the fact that devotees would never suffer from misery if they had a firm refuge in God.
Importance to BAPS
To devotees of the BAPS Swaminarayan sect, the Yogi Gita is an inspirational text that aims to increase the spiritual purity of ordinary believers. Yogiji Maharaj’s own virtuous life and esteem in the eyes of BAPS followers give added weight to the teachings present in this work. A theme prevalent throughout the Yogi Gita is the Akshar Purshottam Upasana and the belief that true spiritual awakening and liberation can be achieved only with the help of a Satpurush – a God-realized soul. In the Yogi Gita, this Satpurush was Shastriji Maharaj. Devotees within the sect often use Yogiji Maharaj’s adherence to his guru’s principles and intense devoutness as prime examples of how an ideal spiritual life should be led.
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