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- 1 Beliefs
- 2 Scriptures
- 3 Membership
- 4 Succession of Swaminarayan
- 5 Opinions
- 6 Criticism
- 7 References
- 8 Cited sources
- 9 External links
The Swaminarayan Sampradaya originated from the Uddhav Sampradaya, led by Ramanand Swami. In 1800, he initiated Swaminarayan, then known as Nilkanth Varni, into the fellowship and named him, Sahajanand Swami (also called Narayan Muni). Just prior to his death in 1801, Ramanand Swami appointed Sahajanand Swami as his successor. Sahajanand Swami instructed his followers to recite the Swaminarayan mantra, and his fellowship became known as the Swaminarayan Sampradaya. :17-18:xviii:246
The Swaminarayan Sampradaya has its roots in the Vedas. It follows the Vaishnava tradition and to its followers represents a form of Hinduism. Swaminarayan built a number of temples during his time and except in Sarangpur, installed Krishna as central deity in each. The faith focusses on salvation through total devotion (or bhakti) to the God developed through virtues (dharma), spiritual wisdom (gnana) and detachment (vairagya).
The Swaminarayan Sampradaya is devotion-focussed and advocates God within the disciplines of virtues. Swaminarayan propagated a philosophy called Vishistadvaita, which says that God is supreme, has a divine form, is the all-doer and is completely independent. He simply stated that souls (jiva) never merge or dissolve into God and neither are they part of God, but are always subservient to God. Redemption consists in the realisation of ekantik dharma, comprising righteousness, right knowledge, detachment and devotion to that God.
Considered a Vaishnava Bhakti sect following philosophical teachings of Uddhava as per Ramanujacharya. Since its origin, Swaminarayan Sampradaya 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. 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.:16 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.:81
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.
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 include the Satsangi Jeevan, Nishkulanand Kavya, Bhakta Chintamani, and Gunatianand Swami's sermons known as the Swamini Vaato.
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).
According to Raymond Williams, when Swaminarayan died in 1830, the movement had 1.8 million followers, and in 2001, this number was estimated to be 5 million.:68:215 Householder members of the Swaminarayan Sampradaya are known as a satsangis and are expected to maintain integrity in their actions while avoiding meat, intoxicants like alcohol, theft, gambling, and adultery.:162:344
Tradition maintains that Swaminarayan initiated 500 ascetics as paramhansas in a single night. Paramahansa is a title of honour sometimes applied to Hindu spiritual teachers who are regarded as having attained enlightenment. Paramhansas were the highest order of sannyasi in the sect. These paramhansas practiced strict restraint and spread the message of purity to many people.:22 Notable Swaminarayan Paramhansas include:
- Muktanand Swami was initiated by Ramanand Swami, Muktanand Swami was instrumental in Swaminarayan's entry into the Uddhav Sampradaya. He wrote the Swaminarayan Aarti and literary works such as Muktanand Kavya, and co-wrote co-authored the Vachanamrut. Swaminarayan sometimes called Muktanand Swami the "Mother of Satsang".:76
- Gopalanand Swami arranged for the image of Hanuman to be installed in the Sarangpur temple:28 and co-authored the Vachanamrut.:187
- Gunatitanand Swami was the mahant of the Junagadh Temple. He contributed spreading the Swaminarayan Sampraday in that region for over 40 years. His works are compiled in the book Swamini Vato.
- Brahmanand Swami was a notable poet who wrote almost a thousand poems and co-wrote the Vachanamrut. His works are compiled in the Brahmanand Kavya, a copy of which is preserved in the British Museum in London. He was also distinguished in architecture – as evident in the temple buildings in Muli, Vadtal and Junagadh.
- Premanand Swami was a poet and a singer. He compiled the Cheshta Pad and Vandu Pad among other works. The Cheshta Pad is recited daily at all Swaminarayan temples, describes Swaminarayan's daily routine and habits. Vandu Pad describes the features and appearance of Swaminarayan.
- Nishkulanand Swami wrote the Bhakta Chintamani, which describes the life of Swaminarayan, his activities, sermons, theories and obstacles faced by him. He also wrote 22 other scriptural works on various subjects, such as Purshottam Prakash and Yamdanda, and poems which are compiled in Nishkulanand Kavya.
- Nityanand Swami wrote several important works, such as the Hari Digvijay and the Hanuman Kavach, produced the first Gujarati translation of the Shikshapatri which was approved by Swaminarayan, and co-authored the Vachanamrut.
Succession of Swaminarayan
In 1826, Swaminarayan appointed two of his nephews as acharyas, or administrators, to oversee two gadis or dioceses. Ayodhyaprasad, son of his elder brother Rampratap, became acharya of the Nar Narayan Dev Gadi (Ahmedabad diocese), and Raghuvirji, son of his younger brother Ichcharam, became acharya of the Laxmi Narayan Dev Gadi (Vadtal diocese).:35 In the twentieth century, several controversies involving the acharyas led to litigation resulting in restrictions on the acharyas’ authority along with schisms and the formation of new groups within the Swaminarayan Sampradaya.:2, 43-47
Nar Narayan Dev Gadi (Ahmedabad diocese) & Laxmi Nayaran Dev Gadi (Vadtal diocese)
Swaminarayan outlined the divisions of the dioceses and the succession of acharyas in a short document, entitled The Lekh (Desh Vibhag Lekh) in 1827.:188 The current acharyas are Koshalendraprasad Pande, of the Nar Narayan Dev Gadi, and Nrigendraprasad Pande, of the Laxmi Narayan Dev Gadi.
Within the tradition, there have been territorial disputes over the Vadtal temple and other assets since the conflict of 1902. The conflict between the Dev faction, led by ascetics, that maintains that the temple is nobody's ancestral property and the Acharya faction, led by the former acharya of Vadtal, has seen some tensions in recent years. In May 2001, the conflict escalated when the schismatic faction brought in Tejendraprasad Pande from Ahmedabad for a diksa ceremony instead of, the then Acharya of Vadtal, Ajendraprasad Pande (the ceremony was performed without Acharya Ajendraprasad as he allegedly refused to give diksa to men under age of 18). The Government of India intervened by setting up an arbitration panel in June 2001. A settlement was brokered by a panel between the two factions in June 2002, but the Dev faction led by Nautam Swami (Mahant of the Vadtal temple) refused to cooperate, leading to an intensification of the dispute. A number of sadhus of this faction were subsequently exposed in a sex scandal only three months after another five sadhus were sentenced to death for murdering their guru in the Vadtal branch.
Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS)
Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Sanstha (BAPS; IAST: Bocāsanvāsī Akshar Purushottam Sansthā) was formed in 1907, by Yagnapurushdas (Shastriji Maharaj), on the principle that Swaminarayan was to remain on earth through a lineage of Aksharbrahma gurus.:55 The doctrinal difference in the interpretation of Akshar (Aksharbrahma) was one of the major reasons for the separation of BAPS from the Vartal diocese. Based on the Akshar-Purushottam Darshan, followers believe Swaminarayan manifests through a lineage of Aksharbrahma gurus, beginning with Gunatitanand Swami followed by Bhagatji Maharaj, Shastriji Maharaj, Yogiji Maharaj, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, and Mahant Swami Maharaj as of August 13, 2016.
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. In 1979, Muktajivan Swami nominated Purushottampriyadas as his successor and heir on Wednesday 28 February 1979.
Muktajivandas Swami left the Ahmedabad Gadi to form the Maninagar Shree Swaminarayan Gadi Sansthan in the 1940s, claiming Gopalanand Swami was the spiritual successor to Swaminarayan. Muktajivandas Swami took responsibility in 1942 CE and established Shree Swaminarayan Temple in Maninagar, Ahmedabad, India as the headquarters of the Swaminarayan Gadi Faith.
Swaminarayan Mandir Vasna Sanstha
The group's founder is Devnandandas Swami.Swaminarayan Mandir Vasna Sanstha also known as SMVS is an organization within the Swaminarayan Sampradaya which spreads teaching of Swaminarayan. SMVS was formed on 2 February 1987 by Devnandandasji Swami, respectfully addressed as Bapji by his devotees and followers.
The Gunatit Samaj was formed in 1966 due to beliefs in regards to women living their lives as ascetics like the saints in saffron-clad. Thereafter, a separate establishment was established in Vallabh Vidyanagar by Babu Patel (Pappaji), his brother, Dadu Patel (Kakaji) and Sonaba whose daughters were the first two to join the establishment and the first to be ordained in saffron-clad, they were then followed by two others and by 1966 a total of 51 women had joined the establishment. Heavy opposition was received from members of the BAPS denomination and as a result, Pappaji and Kakaji were excommunicated from BAPS by trustee members.
Many were also in support of the establishment for the upliftment of women leading their lives as ascetics and thus 40 Sadhus initiated by Yogiji Maharaj who had expressed support for Kakaji and Pappaji had also left. The youth residing in the Akshar-Purushottam Hostel (Chhatralay) in Vallabh Vidyanagar had also been asked to vacate due to showing support and taking the words of Kakaji & Pappaji as the commands of Yogiji Maharaj. Despite continuous efforts between Kakaji, Pappaji and senior saints at BAPS a firm resolution could not be met thus the Gunatit Samaj came into formation. The Gunatit Samaj consists of four wings (Saints, Ordained Women, Ordained Men and Ordained Householders), Each wing is respectively lead under a spiritual head who is in ontological terminology, Akshar Brahman – the present manifestation of Lord Swaminarayan & Gunatitanand Swami. The Gunatit Samaj now spans worldwide with centres in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Australia, France, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates and many other countries.
The Saints 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 women's wing is led by Pappaji in Vallabh Vidyanagar under the name of Gunatit Jyot. The Dedicated [Youth] Brothers wing is led by Jashbhai Saheb in Vallabh Vidyanagar [Mogri] under the name of Anoopam Mission. Each of the mentioned sub-groups include a Dedicated Householders wing, together forming the aforementioned four-winged Gunatit Samaj.
In 1918, Mahatma Gandhi issued two public appeals for Indians to enlist in the British army to fight in World War I. He asserted that fighting in the war would provide Indians necessary self-defense skills that had been eroded by the deep-seated influence of India's ascetic culture, which he disdained.
This advocacy of violence led some of his staunchest supporters, including his nephew, Maganlal Gandhi, to question whether Gandhi was forsaking his non-violent ideals. In a July 1918 letter replying to his nephew, Gandhi stated that any conception of non-violence that prohibited self-defense was erroneous. To support this argument, Gandhi criticized the ethics of love and absolute ahimsa (non-violence) he observed in the teachings of Swaminarayan and Vallabhacharya. According to Gandhi, this love was mere "sentimentalism", and its concomitant absolute ahimsa "robbed us of our manliness" and "made the people incapable of self-defence". Gandhi wrote that Swaminarayan and Vallabhacharya had not grasped the essence of non-violence. Instead Gandhi argued for a non-violence that would "permit [our offspring] to commit violence, to use their strength to fight", since that capacity for violence could be used for the benefit of society, like in "restraining a drunkard from doing evil" or "killing a dog…infected with rabies".
By 1924, however, Gandhi's criticism of Swaminarayan and his ethical teachings had turned into admiration. While arguing in a Navjivan newspaper editorial that it was a duty to resort to violence for self-defense against Afghani terrorists, Gandhi admitted that he could not personally adopt this approach because he had chosen the path of love even against his enemies. Gandhi explained that, according to the Hindu scriptures, a single such self-controlled person could eradicate violence from the hearts of one's opposition. It was through this power of love that Gandhi asserted, "what was accomplished in Gujarat by one person, Sahajanand [Swaminarayan], could not be accomplished by the power of the State". Moreover, he said that "The Age of Sahajanand has not come to an end. It is only devotion and self-control like his that are wanted". Ultimately, Gandhi said that while he was attempting Swaminarayan's approach himself, he did "not have the strength of heart to act upon" it the way that Swaminarayan had successfully done.
Over time, Gandhi's religious thought showed a further influence of Swaminarayan's teachings, as, by 1930, he had included many hymns composed by Swaminarayan poets in his Ashram Bhajanavali, a book of prayers which were used in his twice-daily prayer service. In his writings, he often drew inspiration from the spiritual teachings of Swaminarayan saint-poets Nishkulanand Swami and Muktanand Swami, the latter being the author of his most frequently used prayer. Indian sociologist and Gandhian contemporary, N. A. Thoothi, had argued by 1935 that Mahatma Gandhi was "most influenced in his inner-most being… by the teachings of the Swaminarayan Sampradaya above all". Thoothi concluded that "most of [Gandhi’s] thought, activities, and even methods of most of the institutions which he has been building up and serving, have the flavor of Swaminarayan, more than that of any other sect of Hinduism".
Although his father had been a devout follower of the Swaminarayan sect, Vallabhbhai Patel, Indian independence leader, and the first home minister of India had a low opinion of the sect, and had made sarcastic comments about one of the leaders of the sect.
Since his followers understood Swaminarayan to be God they regularly asked him to accept their offerings, which he often did. Those who saw Swaminarayan not as God but as an ascetic renouncer criticized him for accepting these large gifts from his followers. Swaminarayan explained that he accepted the gifts "to satisfy the devotion of his followers but not out of personal desire." In fact, he asserted that despite his external circumstances he maintained the understanding of a renunciate wherein he regarded a nugget of gold as equal to a lump of clay.
Some scholars have cited excerpts from Swaminarayan sect literature, such as the Shikshapatri, to criticize Swaminarayan as supporting caste discrimination. Other scholars and the followers of the Swaminarayan sect dispute these criticisms, stating such criticism to be unsupported by the history and context of those statements. They argue that overall, Swaminarayan's followers, practices and teachings helped reduce the oppressive nature of caste-based customs prevalent in that era and drew individuals of lower strata towards the Swaminarayan sect.
According to David Hardiman, the sect has had a class and caste bias and is an "ideological voice of commercial farmers and capitalist entrepreneurs" of Hinduism. The lower classes are attracted to it because they aspire the same success and merchantile ideology. It grew, states Hardiman, in an era of British colonial rule where land taxes were raised to unprecedented heights, lands were "snatched from village communities", and poverty spread. Sahajanand's pacifist approach to community re-organization and reaching out to the lowest classes of his day found support with the British rulers, but it also furthered their exploitation by the British, the local moneylenders and richer farmers. The followers of Swaminarayan "swallow the sect's view of the world uncritically", states Hardiman, and accept Shikshapatri teachings such as:
"None shall receive food and water, which are unacceptable at the hands of some people under scruples of caste system, may the same happen to the sanctified portions of the Shri Krishna, except at Jagannath Puri."
This excerpt has been interpreted as an endorsement of class and caste discrimination by the Swaminarayan sect. Vibhuti Parikh disagrees and states Swaminarayan used these instructions, possibly to gradually undermine the caste system without "negating it outright". According to Sadhu Mangalnidhidas, the historical facts suggest Swaminarayan did not encourage discrimination and did the opposite. For evidence, he states that in the early years of the Swaminarayan Sampradaya, high-caste Hindus criticized Swaminarayan for his teachings, inclusiveness, and practices that undermined caste-based discrimination. According to Kishorelal Mashruwala, "Swaminarayan was the first to bring about religious advancement of Shudras in Gujarat and Kathiawad region…And that became the main reason for many to oppose the Sampraday".
An 1823 memorandum from a British official in the Asiatic Journal notes that the native upper classes "regret (as Hindus) the levelling nature of [Swaminarayan's] system" resulting in their violent opposition to and frequent merciless beatings of Swaminarayan's disciples. Swaminarayan's doctrine that everyone's true self is the pure atma within which God resides, led him to reject caste-based discrimination and welcome those of all caste backgrounds equally in his religious community. According to Sadhu Mangalnidhidas and Vibhuti Parikh, Swaminarayan rejected caste prejudices but practically accommodated 19th-century social norms and caste language in his public writings. The aim and strategy was to protect and reform the community, though it may have had "unintended negative consequences such as the reinforcement of caste identities".
Numerous historical accounts show that in practice Swaminarayan himself and his followers shared food and openly interacted with everyone without discrimination. When asked for clarity on his views on caste by Anglican Bishop Reginald Heber, Swaminarayan explained that since he considered the distinctions of caste to be ultimately false, "he did not give the subject much importance, but that he wished not to give offence", and thus gestured towards some minor accommodations to the practice in his public writings.
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