The author of these words was an unparalleled phenomenon, a courageous champion of truth, an embodiment of limitless compassion. He was Lord Shri Swaminarayan, the great revolutionary reformer and one of the truly great pillars of Hinduism.
The philosophical position of Lord Swaminarayan may be described as Navya Vishishtadvaita, i.e. ‘Neo Qualified Non Dualism’. It holds that Jiva, Ishwar, Maya, Aksharbrahman and Parabrahman are the five fundamental realities distinct from one another.
Parabrahman or Purushottam is the highest reality, the supreme Godhead, one and unique. He is, at once, superior to everything and immanent in everything. He is concrete reality with perfect personality. The Jiva, Ishwar, Maya and Aksharbrahman constitute the body of Parabrahman - and Parabrahman is their Soul.
Aksharbrahman (Akshardham or Brahman) is superior to Jiva, Ishwar and Maya but subservient to Parabrahman. It is a buoyant, all-pervading and pure consciousness. It serves the supreme Lord in a two-fold manner : In its personal aspect it serves the Lord wherever He incarnates Himself. He is the ideal devotee and the most appropriate medium for the aspirant striving to reach the supreme Lord. On the other hand, in its impersonal aspect, it serves the Lord by being His divine abode which is formless, infinite and all-pervading and in which infinite muktas (liberated souls) serve the Lord. It is also the basis of all that is subservient to it.
Maya or Prakriti is an inert primordial substance from which the universe comes into existence. It is constituted of three gunas (modes) and causes confusion and delusion in the Self.
Ishwar is a cosmic self, a conscious spiritual being conditioned by the adjuncts of Maha (higher) Maya. There are innumerable Ishwars and each is assigned the duty of taking care of a universe, or at least a department of it.
soul is the finite individual Self
- a conscious spirit, knower, enjoyer and doer of things. It is conditioned
by the adjuncts of Maya. It pervades the whole body and yet its power
of knowing and willing ultimately depends upon God and is governed by
God. Salvation consists in the realization of Ekantik Dharma comprising
dharma (righteousness), jnana (knowledge), vairagya (detachment) and
bhakti (devotion unto God). This is the goal to be pursued under the
guidance of a saint who is in constant rapport with God, the manifest
form of Aksharbrahman. This is the highest state one can realize now,
in an embodied state of this worldly existence.
The attachment towards such a guru should be deep. He should be worshipped on par with God. When a seeker approaches him he explains the cardinal truth that ‘Thou art Atma, the eternal truth and the knower whereas thy body, mind, indriya and prana are all perishable.’ This preliminary knowledge distinguishing the Atma and body as separate is essential for setting apart Sat from Asat or Chit from Achit. It is the first step in the divine ladder to become one with the guru of Brahman.
The seeker should serve such a guru through
thought, word, and deed. He should constantly meditate upon his form
because it is only through the bondage of divine love with Brahman,
that association with Parabrahman becomes possible. This is called jnanyajna.
One who successfully performs it ultimately attains Brahmic consciousness
and becomes the instrument for the revelation of God. He becomes fully
established in dharma (righteousness), jnana (knowledge), vairagya (detachment
from material pleasures) and bhakti (devotion unto God). He becomes
a jivanmukta (liberated in this very embodied state) realizing the infinite
greatness and powers of Parabrahman.
Lord Swaminarayan graced countless people with samadhi called kripa-samadhi (grace-trance), because it by-passed all the steps of the traditional Ashtanga Yoga. Samadhi became a common word in those days, inasmuch as the chanting of the name of Swaminarayan, hearing his voice, having his darshan or his mere touch carried people into this state, in which they saw what they desired and enjoyed the supreme bliss. They had the darshan of Rama, Krishna, Shiva, Vishnu, Dattatreya, Ganapati and various gods and goddesses according to their mode of upasana or worship. The Jains saw Tirthankars and Mahavira, and the Muslims saw Prophets. Many of them saw the divine form of Lord Swaminarayan in His divine abode Akshardham. All these devotees lay motionless, enjoying the darshan of their deities and when Lord Swaminarayan desired they all awoke. Some were even shown the horrors of hell. Consequently their faith was established either for the first time or deepened or they changed over to a new life of piety.
By Lord Swaminarayan’s
powers many were not only thoroughly convinced that their true identity
was atma and not body but they could see their atma. They could also
leave their body and return when they so wished.
All these miracles are documented, with proof of the place and details of the eyewitnesses present. Preachers of other faiths have also written of his powers.
He had shown miracles only to develop and
consolidate faith in morality and spirituality and that, too, when he
felt it necessary but they were not meant as an occult display. Otherwise
why would he say, "Wretched is he who desires a miracle."
Definition Of Knowledge
of the Self (Soul or Jiva)
of Knowing Reality
of Logical Knowledge
of Intuitive Knowledge (Anubhav)
From among the scriptural texts of Lord Swaminarayan has accepted eight of them as dear to him : the Vedas, Vyasa-sutras, Shrimad Bhagavatam, Shri Vishnusahssranama, Shrimad Bhagavat Geeta, Vidurniti, Shri Vasudev Mahatmya from Skanda Purana, and Yajnavalkya Smriti.
Scriptures are the authority by themselves. They are recognized as the special source of knowledge of the infinite establishing the existence of God. But they are required to be studied at the feet of a Guru who has the fullest realization of his self and God.
How is the process of the elevation of consciousness effected? Lord Swaminarayan says that either God manifests on the earth in a human form or He reveals Himself through God-realized sadhu for the redemption of Jivas. The Jivas do attain Brahmic consciousness by concentrating their jnatritvashakti (consciousness) on such a God or His sadhu.
But it may be argued that
God seated inside as witness can also inspire the knowledge of Himself.
Why then should He descend on the earth assuming the finiteness and
limitations of the human form? To which Lord Swaminarayan replies, "The
infinite virtues and attributes of God are better visualized only when
He reveals Himself in human form. His profound divinity radiating from
His person, attracts the sense-organs and the mind. His redemptive virtues
penetrate within the Jivas, driving out the desire of enjoying sense-objects
and elevating it to Brahmic consciousness. And he alone is a true knower
who has realized such a God through his sense, intellect, and intuition."
Since time eternal, the ‘Ekantik Dharma’ has been mentioned in the holy scriptures of Sanatana Dharma. But it was Lord Swaminarayan who gave a practical thrust to it and raised up a vast following wedded to the four pillars of Ekantik Dharma, that is:
Dharma (Discipline): the ethical code prescribed by Srutis and Smritis (Ancient Hindu Scriptures)along with observance of Brahmacharya (celibacy) and Ahimsa (non-violence).
Jnana or Atmanishtha (Discrimination, spiritual):the comprehensive knowledge of Jiva, Ishwar, Maya, Brahman and Parabrahman, and also realization that one is Akshar and Shree Swaminarayan is Supreme Godhead.
Vairagya (Detachment): Non-attachment to all objects of the senses except to Lord Swaminarayan.
Bhakti (Devotion): deep attachment to Lord Swaminarayan, the Supreme Godhead, together with a fully developed awareness of His grandeur and glory.
Lord Swaminarayan has said that Ekantik Dharma is upheld by the saint who is singularly attached to God and who possesses the attributes of Dharma, Jnana, Vairagya and Bhakti. The Ekantik state can be attained only in the company or by the grace of an Ekantik saint who has no vasana (worldly attachment) except that of God, and is brahmanized and offers undivided devotion to God.
One who desires to be fully redeemed and be brahmanized shall have to cultivate Atmanishtha, Bhakti, Vairagya and Swadharma all fully and simultaneously, since each of these if devoid of the other three cannot produce an effective condition for a total release. Liberation is attainable through devotion alone, but in order that devotion may remain untainted, the necessity of Dharma, Jnana and Vairagya is prescribed.
By prescribing Dharma, Shree Swaminarayan promulgated the path of action (Karma-marga). Through the prescription of Jnana and Vairagya, he preached the path of knowledge (Jnana-marga), and thereby taught renunciation of fruits of action, so that actions may not create bondage. And by prescribing devotion with the knowledge of the greatness of Parabrahman (Supreme Godhead), he put forth the path of devotion (Bhakti-marg) to make liberation within the reach of all, irrespective of merits and status in the world.
Lord Swaminarayan founded Ekantik Dharma and propagated it through a hierarchy of spiritual successors, who were ‘gunatit’, namely, Gunatitanand Swami, Bhagatji Maharaj, Shastriji Maharaj, Yogiji Maharaj and Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
The Paramhansas uplifted the society by their selfless and unceasing efforts. They eradicated addictions and superstitions from the lives of thousands of people. Unperturbed by hurdles and a sea of troubles, the paramhansas moved from village to village and house to house molding people’s fate. These Paramhansas, the true altruists, inspired the people, not by preaching but by living a life in consonance with the scriptural tenets. And they had besides devotion, a strict discipline of five cardinal vows, namely : freedom from egoism, passion, covetousness, taste and affection.
Many who were heads of muths, great scholars, the veterans and the stalwarts in knowledge, penance and detachment accepted the authority of Lord Swaminarayan. Swaminarayan put them through difficult tests. But they persisted against all odds.
It would be appropriate to see a few life sketches of some of the outstanding Paramhansas who did vital work in the establishment and spread of Bhagwat Dharma under the guidance and inspiration of Lord Swaminarayan. Each one of them proved a coordinating link in the spread of a great mission, unparalleled in the history of religious movements.
Gunatitanand Swami was the chief Paramhansa of Lord Swaminarayan. He was every inch a saint. His life was a fluent communion with God. Whatever God willed, he willed. His heart was the ‘House of God’. Lord Swaminarayan has revealed Gunatitanand Swami as His own abode, Akshardham or Akshar Brahman.
Gopalanand Swami had mastered Ashtanga (eight-fold) Yoga and could transport others into the state of samadhi. He wrote scholarly treatises on the Upanishads and the Bhagvad Gita.
Muktanand Swami was an erudite scholar, a mystic poet, a melodious singer, a graceful dancer, and a herbal doctor. He was so calm and composed that whosoever came in contact with him, when angry or anxious, calmed down at once.
Nityanand Swami had mastered the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Darshan Shastra and was unmatched in scriptural debates.
Nishkulanand Swami was an austere ascetic and a mystic poet. He wrote many books that still inspire spiritual aspirants.
Brahmanand Swami had an exceptional talent for poetry. He wrote and composed thousands of devotional poems. He was adept in temple-architecture, too.
Premanand Swami was a poet, a musician and a singer par excellence. His singing had the charm and the power to change the surrounding atmosphere. He composed fourteen thousand devotional poems.
Today, a cadre of 650 highly
motivated and youthful sadhus comprise the core workforce of the Faith.
Before the ascetic order they were engineers, doctors, chartered accountants
and graduates of science and the humanities. Several of these are from
East Africa, U.K., and U.S.A.
Any new aspirant desiring to join is given a common mantra. A few drops of water are placed in the person’s right hand and asked to repeat the mantra:
"Kal Maya Pap Karma...." and instructed to follow the five vows prescribed by Lord Swaminarayan. He is required to be a vegetarian, eschew alcoholic drinks and drugs, stealing, adultery and to do his worldly duties sincerely. As a mark of allegiance two strings of small beads are placed around the novice’s neck. Whenever it breaks, he or she can put on a new one. This reminds him of his faith and his morals. The initiation of male members is done either by the Guru, Pramukh Swami Maharaj or his saints. The women members are initiated by senior women. She is also inspired to do daily worship or puja which entails meditation, rosary, prostration and reading of Shikshapatri. Only after 20-30 minutes daily worship can the devotee have breakfast or tea. The morning puja molds him and fortifies him spiritually. All practicing Swaminarayan followers begin their everyday duties after puja.
The application of tilak and chandlo during puja is a mark of the Swaminarayan Faith where the tilak - a U-shaped application of sandal paste - symbolizes the holy feet of Lord Swaminarayan and ‘chandlo’ - round vermilion mark of kumkum - represents His ideal devotee - Gunatitanand Swami. It inspires the aspirant to remain morally upright.
‘Arti’ (the singing of devotional songs while waving of lights before the image of God) at home or in temples is also a daily prayer for all devotees. It is a ritual among all Hindus where they sing the glory of God and thus encourage a spiritual elation within. In the Swaminarayan Sampraday the ‘Arti’ is a song of Lord Swaminarayan’s glory. "Jay Sadguru Swami...." as described by Muktanand Swami - a disciple saint of Lord Swaminarayan. In pinnacled temples we have the practice of 5 artis. The atmosphere is charged with devotion and adoration for the Lord. During Arti saints and devotees chorus the prayer in unison and stand before the image of the Lord. The Arti and other verses of glory last for at least 15 minutes. This symbol of worship pacifies the mind and heart and inspires God-consciousness.
Essentially the Akshar Purushottam Sampraday is a leading stream of Vaishnavism where devotion involves murti-puja. The images are not looked upon as mere statues of marble or metal but revered as divine and holy. The images of Lord Swaminarayan, Mul Akshar Gunatitanand Swami, and that of the successors, viz: Bhagatji Maharaj, Shastriji Maharaj, Yogiji Maharaj and Pramukh Swami Maharaj, become a medium where the mind can concentrate and engage itself in devotion and prayer. No abstract idea, or formless concept can help elevate one’s mind on the path of devotion. The daily worship of the images inculcates a feeling of humility, righteousness and an awareness for God. In huge pinnacled temples the worship is done by saints. They adorn the idols with clothes, jewelry and garlands. In fact the very core of any temple are its images. All activities center around them and lead to the progress and development of the temple and the devotees.
‘Yagnas’ are performed occasionally, mainly during an idol installation ceremony, or on a birthday celebration of the guru or sometimes during the ‘diksha’ ceremony. The main motive for the yagna is to offer prayers for world peace and harmony.
Festivals in the Akshar Purushottam Sampraday cover a major part of the Indian calendar. Lord Swaminarayan has instructed that His disciples should celebrate festivals in temples with great enthusiasm (Shikshapatri, 56). And this exalting motive and spirit is revealed by the following words of Bhagwan Swaminarayan.
‘I perform Vishnuyag and hold large congregations on festivals like Janmashtmi, Ekadashi, etc., and celebrate such festivals every year, and therein gather all brahmacharis, sadhus and satsangis with a purpose that if anyone who attends these festivals, even if he be a sinful man, would be redeemed of his sins and would attain the divine abode of God if through remembering the sadhus or devotees he remembers God." (Vachnamrutam Gadhada Sec I, No.3)
Festivals play a redeeming and elevating role. Through festivals Lord Swaminarayan purged whatever indecency and laxity that had crept in Hindu festivals. The huge yagnas He performed - ahimsa yagna (non-violent sacrifices), exemplified the true sattvic yagna and negated the distorted prevailing ‘hinsa yagnas’ where animals were sacrificed. The moralizing role of festivals was a principle boldly advocated by Bhagwan Swaminarayan. He introduced disciplines to safeguard the chastity of both men and women who congregated in large numbers in temples and festival occasions. The separate seating arrangements for men and women during Swaminarayan festivals blazed a new and safer path in Indian society. Even today after more than 150 years since its inception the discipline for devotees and sadhus are being followed in the Akshar Purushottam Sampraday.
Even the then rigid caste laws which created barriers and whipped up hatred were reformed by Swaminarayan. He invited all and thus His festivals provided spiritual seekers to even the unlettered and low born. People of different castes (Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas & Sudras), congregated in festivals which thus promoted peaceful coexistence and brotherhood.
The Swaminarayan festivals also became occasions where people from far and wide gathered and thus communication of news, conditions in their respective regions became possible. Devotees derived living inspirations for their spiritual uplift. All Swaminarayan festivals that continued for decades mainly featured spiritual talks, devotional singing and personal ‘darshan’ of Lord or the subsequent Gurus. However, in 1981, the festival, held in Ahmedabad, India, commemorating the Bicentenary Celebration of Lord Swaminarayan, Pramukh Swami Maharaj took a giant leap in addressing relevant contemporary perspectives that were never before introduced or displayed.
Where before festivals were tailored for the Satsang community, and on a smaller area, the 1981 festival opened up far reaching dimensions of size, topics and commitment. Features never before included were introduced, namely; convention and conferences, anti-addiction drives, blood donation camps, music concerts, folk dances, exhibitions, landscapes, foodstalls and amusement rides. The moral, spiritual and social message of the festival was presented in a palatable manner. The 1981 festival ushered a new age of festivals for the Bochasanwasi Shree Akshar Purushottam Sanstha. It blazed a new trail inspiring other organizations to adopt such ennobling and novel aspects. The novel step in the 1981 festival was that it addressed to the non-believers too. It was a festival for all, no matter of what creed or culture.
The Cultural Festival of India held by Pramukh Swami Maharaj in Edison, New Jersey in 1991, marked an additional step in the evolution of festivals. It communicated to both believers and non-believers, to Indians and Americans. Since the indigenous American environment lack the Indian atmosphere as found at home, the contents of the festival were shaped in an educative fashion. The objective was to consolidate the culture of the resident Indians and to enlighten Americans about the true depth and expanse of Indian culture. It inspired the Americans to preserve their own culture and traditions. The objective of fostering spiritual harmony and peaceful coexistence have been the focus of all the festivals.
Such mammoth festivals - five in the past twelve years - have always commemorated the birth of the Gurus of the faith. However, throughout the year the faith has a calendar of festival days. These include Shri Hari Jayanti or Ram Navmi, Janmashthmi, Vasant Panchmi, Guru Poonam, Sharad Poonam, Ganesh Utsav, Dhuleti (Holi), Jal Jilni, Diwali, Annakut Utsav, in all 13 during the year.
The festivals of the Faith
have played a major role in transforming and molding the character of
people and society. The recent 1995 festival in Mumbai (Bombay), India,
saw the commemoration of the birth date of Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
They are also engaged in environment-friendly programs like planting a million saplings in Gujarat alone. Twenty thousand youth members have pledged not to take dowry. Mass marriage programs by the Sanstha is a cry against the bane of dowry in Indian society. To fight the curse of iliteracy the Sanstha’s volunteers played a major role in helping the government achieve literacy in the villages of Bhavnagar and Kheda district.
To meet the challenges of an ailing educational system, youth hostels, and schools mainly in Gujarat and one in London, have provided the youth and children with an excellent academic environment and a moral and spiritual impetus to prevent them from falling prey to the whims and vices of peer pressure.
To the challenges of materialism and aimlessness, a modern hi-tech cultural complex - Akshardham - in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, is a citadel of culture and inspiration for the modern man and youth. Its novel displays and relevant topics inspire inner peace, social and inter-faith harmony, moral solidarity and fulfilling the goal of human life.
To combat the proliferating
tension of daily life and family disintegration, Pramukh Swami Maharaj
has prescribed the unique remedy of a daily house assembly, also called
‘ghar sabha’. The entire family is required to sit together and spend
at least half an hour in singing God’s glory and reading scriptures.
Dialogue and queries, spiritual as well as mundane, encourage discussions
that gradually enlighten and unify the family. Through such daily interaction
the generation gap and communication gap are bridged. It is also a panacea
for the staggering rise in divorce rates.
During his ‘parshad’ years
his spiritual studies become more intensive. He is also taught Sanskrit
and devotional songs. After at least one year (average three years),
he is initiated into the saffron clothes. He is then taught all he basics
of cooking, ‘maha-pooja’ (special worship) and other necessary requirement.
Further studies in Sanskrit, or English, or music and scriptures continue.
After a minimum of five years training he is then appointed in any one
center where he either makes spiritual visits in villages or actively
serves in the temple.
© 1999, Bochasanwasi Shree Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, Swaminarayan Aksharpith