Swaminarayan (spiritual tradition)
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Swaminarayan Hinduism, also known as the Swaminarayan faith or the Swaminarayan sect, is a modern spiritual tradition, as a subsect of Vaishnava Hinduism, originating in the state of Gujarat, in which followers offer devotion to and worship Swaminarayan as a form of Parabrahma. The Swaminarayan faith has a large percentage of Gujarati Hindus who are followers of Swaminarayan.
- 1 Beliefs
- 2 Travels as Nilkanth Varni
- 3 Scriptures
- 4 Succession of Swaminarayan
- 5 Notes
- 6 References
Considered a Vaishnava Bhakti sect following philosophical teachings of Uddhava as per Ramanujacharya. Since its origin, Swaminarayan Hinduism has been noted by its preservation of Gujarati cultural and linguistic traditions, devotion to the personality of Swaminarayan as supreme deity and the reason of all avtārs, dedication to social service and a strict ethical code including uncompromising segregation of the genders. Monier Williams, on at least one of his visits, had long discussions with Swaminarayan and his followers and did his best to ascertain the way Swaminarayan's principles were preached. He visited the temple in Vadtal in the company of the Collector of Karira during a popular Kartik Purnima festival that took place there and recorded the basics. Those who are initiated into proper worship of Krishna deity are instructed to wear a Tulasi kanti or rosary beads in two rows around their necks, one for Krishna and one for Radha. Followers are also instructed to chant the mantra of śrī-kṛṣṇa sharaṇaṁ mama (great Krishna is my soul's refuge) and wear Urdhva Pundra Tilak markings on their forehead. Daily worship of Krishna in the temple was instructed and the Krishna mantra was central to the Swaminarayan's initiation (diksa). Supreme Being is believed to be referred by various names: Para Brahman, Bhagavan and Purushottama. While no detailed statistical information is available, most of the followers of Swaminarayan share a belief that Swaminarayan is the complete manifestation of Narayana or the supreme person and more superior to other avatars.
Swaminarayan teachings are sometimes categorized as monotheism. It is not, however, the monotheism of Abrahamic religions. Unlike most other Vaishnavite schools such as those of Ramanuja, Madhva and Chaitanya, Swaminarayan, although leaning in preference towards Vishnu/Krishna, did not differentiate between Vishnu and Shiva; moreover, he followed a Smarta approach (scripture-sanctioned deities are viewed as different manifestations of the same Brahman) by instructing his followers to venerate all five deities of the Panchayatana puja with equal reverence. Verse 84 of Shikshapatri, a key scripture to all followers of the Swaminarayan faith, makes reference to the Smarta-like belief. In making no distinction between Vishnu and Shiva, Swaminarayan, held that Vishnu and Shiva are different aspects of the same God, instead of according Shiva a lower status as Madhva and Ramanuja had done, for example. Verse 47 of the Shikshapatri, makes reference to this belief.
Manifestation of Narayana
Followers of Swaminarayan believe that it was events that took place at Badarikashram, the abode of Nara Narayana, that led to the incarnation of Swaminarayan. It is believed that Narayana took birth as Swaminarayan due to a curse of sage Durvasa Muni which he accepted at his own will. The curse led to Narayana taking the form of an avatar on Earth to destroy evil and establish ekantik-dharma, religion based on morality, knowledge, detachment and devotion. Important Hindu scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita and Bhagavata Purana confirm that Narayana descends in human form to destroy evil though there is no direct reference to Swaminarayan. He was a human & then a sage or philosopher. Only the Swaminarayan followers specifically interpret the Visvaksena Samhita, 11th part of the Brahma Purana, as well as the Skanda Purana as giving a direct reference to Narayana taking birth in the form of Swaminarayan. None of the Puranas even mention "Swaminarayan". In the liturgy of the sect, the story of the announcement of the coming birth of Krishna in the Bhagavata Purana is similar to the story of the birth of Swaminarayan, and merging of the images and stories of Swaminarayan and Krishna has occurred. Some people believe him to be reincarnation of lord Krishna. Krishna promised to come back in Govardhans & he did in form of Shreenathji. In Vaishnava theology Uddhava, who is considered to be the chief disciple of Krishna, was ordained to spread his message in a future birth, and some groups of Swaminarayan Faith believe that he reappeared as Ramananda Swami to prepare the way for another manifestation of Krishna. Swaminarayan is said to have intimated that he was a manifestation of God Supreme in a meeting with the Reginald Heber, the Lord Bishop of Calcutta, in 1825.
Fundamentals of the Swaminarayan philosophy
- Dharma (religion): Proper conduct as defined in the revealed scriptures: 'Srutis' and 'Smritis'.
- Bhakti (devotion): Supreme love of soul combined in the consciousness of the glory of the Supreme God.
- Jnāna (enlightenment): Awareness of the concepts of the soul, illusion, and God.
- Vairagya (renunciation): Detachment from all material possessions and absolute attachment towards God - known as 'Vairagya'.
- Māyā (illusion): Named 'tri-gunatmika' i.e. illusion prevalence in three qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas; To be possessed by māyā is considered to be caught in darkness; God is the lord of māyā; It breeds ego in one for his body and for the relatives of the body.
- Mukti - (liberation or moksa): Loving worship of God.
- Ātman - (self): Recognition of the ātman, after which one experiences a transcendental bliss, is achieved through bhakti yoga as outlined in the Bhagavad gita, according to the teachings of Swaminarayan. It is the source of energy and is the real knower; It pervades the entire body and is the essence that differentiates matter and life; in character it is inseparable, impenetrable, indestructible and immortal.
- Paramātman - (Supreme Soul): It is omnipresent within the souls, just as soul is present in the body; it is independent and is the one who rewards the phala (fruits of karma) to the souls. It is the source of infinite material universes and the First Cause. It has no prior causes, and is the inherent cause of all effects (i.e. law of causality or karma).
Some did not understand and rebel against the notion of Swaminarayan's worship of Krishna while Swaminarayan also considered himself to be a manifestation of God. It is believed by his followers that just as Krishna assumed as many forms as the number of divine maidens (gopis) with whom he danced, he may have manifested himself simultaneously in many forms.
Travels as Nilkanth Varni
After the death of his parents, Ghanshyam Pande left his home on 29 June 1792 (Ashadh Sud 10, Samvat 1849) at the age of 11. He took the name Nilkanth Varni while on his journey. Nilkanth Varni travelled across India and parts of Nepal in search of an ashram, or hermitage, that practiced what he considered a correct understanding of Vedanta, Samkhya, Yoga, and Pancaratra, the four primary schools of Hindu philosophy. To find such an ashram, Nilkanth Varni asked the following five questions on the basic Vaishnava Vedanta categories:
While on his journey, Nilkanth Varni mastered Astanga yoga (eightfold yoga) in a span of 9 months under the guidance of an aged yogic master named Gopal Yogi. In Nepal, it is said that he met King Rana Bahadur Shah and cured him of his stomach illness. As a result, the king freed all the ascetics he had imprisoned. Nilkanth Varni visited the Jagannath Temple in Puri as well as temples in Badrinath, Rameshwaram, Nashik, Dwarka and Pandharpur.
In 1799, after a seven-year journey, Nilkanth's travels as a yogi eventually concluded in Loj, a village in the Junagadh district of Gujarat. In Loj, Nilkanth Varni met Muktanand Swami, a senior disciple of Ramanand Swami. Muktanand Swami, who was twenty-two years older than Nilkanth, answered the five questions to Nilkanth's satisfaction. Nilkanth decided to stay for the opportunity to meet Ramanand Swami, whom he met a few months after his arrival in Gujarat. He later claimed in the Vachnamrut that during this period, he took up a severe penance to eliminate his mothers flesh and blood from his body so that the sign of his physical attachment to family, was completely removed.
Swaminarayan propagated general Hindu texts. He held the Bhagavata Purana in high authority. However, there are many texts that were written by Swaminarayan or his followers that are regarded as shastras or scriptures within the Swaminarayan sect. Notable scriptures throughout the sect include the Shikshapatri and the Vachanamrut. Other important works and scriptures include the Satsangi Jeevan, Swaminarayan's authorized biography, the Muktanand Kavya, the Nishkulanand Kavya and the Bhakta Chintamani.
Swaminarayan wrote the Shikshapatri on 11 February 1826. While the original Sanskrit manuscript is not available, it was translated into Gujarati by Nityanand Swami under the direction of Swaminarayan and is revered in the sect. The Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency summarised it as a book of social laws that his followers should follow. A commentary on the practice and understanding of dharma, it is a small booklet containing 212 Sanskrit verses, outlining the basic tenets that Swaminarayan believed his followers should uphold in order to live a well-disciplined and moral life. The oldest copy of this text is preserved at the Bodleian Library of Oxford University and it is one of the very few presented by Sahajanand Swami himself. Acharya Tejendraprasad of Ahmedabad has indicated in a letter that he is not aware of any copy from the hand of Sahajanand older than this text.
Swaminarayan's philosophical, social and practical teachings are contained in the Vachanamrut, a collection of dialogues recorded by five prominent saints (Muktanand Swami, Gopalanand Swami, Nityanand Swami, Shukanand Muni, & Brahmanand Swami) from his spoken words. The Vachanamrut is the scripture most commonly used in the Swaminarayan sect. It contains views on dharma (moral conduct), jnana (understanding of the nature of the self), vairagya (detachment from material pleasure), and bhakti (pure, selfless devotion to God), the four essentials Hindu scriptures describe as necessary for a jiva (soul) to attain moksha (salvation).
- Satsangi Jeevan
Satsangi Jeevan is the authorised biography of Swaminarayan. The book contains information on the life and teachings of Swaminarayan. It is written by Shatanand Swami and completed in Vikram Samvat 1885. Swaminarayan decided to make Gadhada his permanent residence on the insistence of Dada Khachar and his sisters.Swaminarayan instructed Shatanand Swami to write a book on his life and pastimes.
To enable Shatanand swami to write from His childhood, Swaminarayan had blessed Shatanand Swami with Sanjay Drishti - special power to see the entire past right from His childhood.
Once written by Shatanand Swami, this book was verified and authenticated by Swaminarayan. He was much pleased to read the book. Swaminarayan then asked his disciples to do Katha of Satsangi Jeevan
Succession of Swaminarayan
Prior to his death, Sahajanand Swami decided to establish a line of acharyas, or preceptors as his spiritual successors. After his death several divisions occurred with different understandings of the succession of leadership.
Swaminarayan established two gadis (seats of leadership). One seat was established in Ahmedabad (Nar Narayan Dev Gadi) and the other one in Vadtal (Laxmi Narayan Dev Gadi) on November 21, 1825. He appointed an acharya to each of these two gadis to pass on his message to others and to preserve his fellowship, Swaminarayan Sampraday. These acharyas came from his immediate family; he formally adopted a son from each of his two brothers, Rampratap and Ichcharam, and appointed them to the office of acharya. Ayodhyaprasad, son of his DESIGNATED brother Rampratap, was appointed acharya of Ahmedabad Gadi, and Raghuvira, son of his younger brother Ichcharam, was appointed acharya of the Vadtal Gadi. Swaminarayan decreed that the office should be hereditary so that acharyas would maintain a direct line of blood descent from his family. The administrative division of his followers into two territorial dioceses is set forth in minute detail in a document written by Swaminarayan called Desh Vibhaag Lekh. The current acharyas of the Swaminarayan Sampraday are Koshalendraprasad Pande, of the Ahmedabad Gadi, and Rakeshprasad Pande, of the Vadtal Gadi.
After his death several divisions occurred with different understandings of the succession of leadership. Apart from this, there has been some conflicts in the Sampraday itself. Controversy over Vadtal gadi had attracted attention of national media in the past. Besides these the sects has produced a number of schismatic groups.
Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha
Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) followers hold Gunatitanand Swami as the spiritual successor to Swaminarayan. Members of BAPS assert that on several occasions Swaminarayan revealed to devotees that Gunatitanand Swami was Aksharbrahm manifest. These instances claimed by the devotees of BAPS have come to embody the philosophy known as Akshar Purushottam Upasana. It was in 1906 that a prominent ascetic named Shastri Yagnapurushdas separated from the parent organization and established this institution, claiming Gunatitanand Swami as the rightful successor. Yagnapurushdas, who formed the schism, is believed by the devotees of BAPS to be the third spiritual successor of Swaminarayan; he left the Vadtal Gadi of the Swaminarayan Sampraday and was later legally excommunicated from the Vadtal Gadi. The current leader of BAPS is Keshavjivandasji, more commonly known as Mahant Swami
At the time of legal dispute between Akshar Purushottam group and the Swaminarayan Sampraday the judge summarized his understanding of the root of the schism. He confirms that the "new group, now known as BAPS, "they have put Sahajanand Swami, an ascetic, over Shri Krishna, who admittedly enjoyed the pleasures of human beings. That is why the sect has set aside Goloka as the supreme heaven, because there Krishna is supposed to be enjoying himself with his gopis. This is I think one of the fundamental differences between the two sects and the schism cannot be bridged." BAPS found these statements blasphemous.
Shree Swaminarayan Gadi Sansthan
The followers of the Shree Swaminarayan Gadi Sansthan believe that Gopalanand Swami was the spiritual successor to Swaminarayan. This difference in belief of succession led to the creation of Swaminarayan Gadi in 1941. The current leader of the Swaminarayan Gadi is Acharya Purushottampriyadas.
A group who had split from the BAPS sect is the Gunatit Samaj. The Gunatit Samaj consists of four separate factions for the Santo (Saints), Beno (Dedicated Women), Bhaio (Dedicated Brothers), and Gruhasto (Dedicated Householders). Each faction respectively has its own Spiritual Head leading devotees unto the path of becoming Brahmarup akin to that of the philosophy of BAPS.
The Gunatit Samaj came into formation in 1966 due to differences in beliefs in regards to women living their lives as ascetics like the santo in Safrron-clad. This belief was instilled by the spiritual head of BAPS at the time, Yogiji Maharaj who had a wish for women to also dedicate their lives to the service of God this wish had been expressed to Pappaji (A founder of the Gunatit Samaj) in 1952 after a question was posed by Pappaji to Yogiji Maharaj regarding Sonaba's (A founder of the Gunatit Samaj) daughters who wanted to lead a life dedicated to God just like the Saints. Yogiji Maharaj had given his blessings regarding what path the two sisters should take "Beno bhagwan bhaje to shu khotu? Maharaj jog gothavi apashe ane e jog e karya tamare karvanu che.” (What is wrong if [these] sisters want to devote their lives to God? Maharaj [Swaminarayan Bhagwan] will ensure that this will happen, and further more you are to undertake this task.”). The two sisters have led out their lives in dedication to the Lord.
Thereafter, a separate establishment was established in Vallabh Vidyanagar by Pappaji, his brother, Kakaji and Sonaba whose daughters were the first two to join the establishment ordained in the saffron-clad, they were then followed by two others and a total of 51 women had joined the establishment in 1966. Heavy opposition was received from members of the BAPS sect and as a result, Pappaji and Kakaji were excommunicated from BAPS by trustee members.
Many were also in support of the establishment for the uplifment of women leading their lives as ascetics and thus around 1/3 of Sadhus initiated into the youth-fold by Yogiji Maharaj who expressed support of Kakaji and Pappaji had also left. The youth in the Akshar-Purushottam Hostel in Vallabh Vidyanagar had also been asked to vacate due to showing support and taking the words of the two brothers as the commands of Yogiji Maharaj. Despite efforts between Kakaji, Pappaji and senior saints at BAPS a firm resolution couldn't be met. The Gunatit Samaj now spans worldwide with centres in the United States, UK, Canada, Germany, Australia, France and many other countries. Each wing or faction is respectively lead under a spiritual head.
The Saints/Santo wing known as Yogi Divine Society is being led by Hariprasad Swami and also Aksharvihari Swami who leads saints in Sankarda under the name of Akshar-Purushottam Satsang Kendra. The Dedicated Womens wing is led by Pappaji in Vidyanagar under the name of Gunatit Jyot (The organisation which led to the excommunication). The Dedicated Brothers wing is led by Jashbhai Saheb in Vidyanagar under the name of Anoopam Mission. Each of the three mentioned sub-groups include the Dedicated Householders wing.
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