by Jayaram V
The Life of Swaminarayan
The Swaminayarana movement was founded by Sahajanand Swami. His
name was Ghanashyam Pande. Born in a Brahmin family in 1781, at
Chapaiya in Uttra Pradesh, he showed spiritual bent of mind from an
early age. At the age of 11 he went on a seven year holy pilgrimage and
wandered from place to place seeking spiritual answers to the questions
that troubled him. During such wanderings he met Ramanand Swami
who admitted him into his ascetic
order known as Uddhav Sampraday and gave him a spiritual name Sahajanand Swami. When Ramanand Swami died in 1802,
he became the leader of the sect. His charismatic appeal, inner purity,
personal touch and wisdom drew many new
followers to the sect. They considered him as God himself in human form
and addressed him as Bhagawan Swaminarayan and
the ascetic order he was heading as Swaminarayan sect. The sect drew
large following from various parts of Gujarat, Saurashtra and Rajasthan.
Inspired by his teachings, people from various castes and different backgrounds
Swaminarayan attempted to reform Hinduism in many ways. Considering
the fact that it was early nineteenth century it must have been a very
courageous move. He was compassionate towards widows and the socially
under privilege. He preached against superstition, violence, animal sacrifices,
caste discrimination, female infanticide and sati. He advocated strict
adherence to ancient vedic traditions and pure Vaishnava dharma. He laid emphasis on devotion and encouraged people to worship
images and idols of their personal gods and goddesses by visiting temples. He believed in the segregation of
sexes, the importance of virtuous living, the need for inner purity and
self-discipline and adherence to scriptural injunctions. To establish a
tradition of temple centric image worship and devotion to God, he undertook the construction of nine temples
in various parts of western India installing images of Narnarayan, Lakshminarayan, Radha, Krishna and
Swaminarayan left a record of his teachings in the form of two works
which together constitute the sacred literature of the sect. One is a
compilation of his commandments for his followers to abide by. It is
known as Sikshapatri or a document of education. The other is a
collection of the discourses he delivered at various places during his
life time, which is known as Vachanamrit or nectar of speeches.
Shiskhapatri - The Teachings of Swaminarayan
The Shikshaparti is meant for the education and discipline of the
monks who joined the sect. They are considered to be inviolable by the
followers of the sect. It contains 212 Sanskrit
verses prescribing do's and don'ts on a wide range of topics. Reproduced
below are a few sample summarized instructions from the Shikshapatri to convey an
idea about the nature of its content.
- Not to kill intentionally any living creature including insects
- To observe the rules of ethics without fail
- Not to sacrifice animals in rituals
- Not to commit homicide
- Not to commit suicide even in a holy place
- Not to eat meat unless there is an extreme necessity
- Not to mutilate any part of one's body
- Not to commit theft
- Not to indulge in vice such as gambling, adultery, drinking wine
or other intoxicating drinks.
- Not to make false accusations
- Pay respect to deities in the temples
- To follow the varnashrama dharma faithfully.
- Not to speak any truth that may harm oneself or others
- Not to associate oneself with thieves, wicked people and sinners
- Not to make or take medicine which contain alcohol or meat.
- Male disciples should never listen to discourses given by
- Not to go empty handed to a guru, deity or king.
- Not to wear clothes that would expose one's body indecently.
- To stay away from the opposite sex inside a temple
- Different marks and symbols for followers different castes.
Vachanamrit - The Sayings of Swaminarayan
The discourses of Swaminarayan, preserved by his close disciples,
constitute the subject matter of Vachanmrit. They contain the profound
wisdom of Swaminnarayan on various subjects such as renunciation,
devotion, anger, lust, delusion, dharma, jiva, Ishwar, types of faith,
soul and body, the form of God, tattvas, salvation and so on. The
recording of the discourses were personally approved by Swaminarayan to
preserve their purity and authenticity. Some sample statements are
reproduced below from the Vachanamrit for the benefit of the readers.
- Lust: Feeling and behaving totally as Atma, implicit
observance of eight fold celibacy, observance of five injunctions
– and realizing the infinite glory of God in human form,
would help one to eradicate carnal desire in full.
- Happiness: A true devotee should always be in a pleasant
mood and should offer devotion to God in a happy mood. In spite of
all adverse factors, he should never loose his happy mood
- Attachment: One who observes Dharma fully and also
possesses the knowledge of God should yet be avoided if he has gross
attachment to worldly objects; viz he is pragmatically wise and yet
has ego of his position.
- Mind: When such thoughts arise in the mind and they can not
be suppressed, one should leave meditation at once and should at the
top of his voice chant the `Swaminarayan' mantra. He should pray to
God, pray to such great saints like Muktanand Swami.
- Devotion: Bhakti develops in the heart when one realizes
the greatness of the various Vibhutis of God and his various
manifestations in various universes. One should also know the
divinity of the abode of God viz. Golok, Vaikunth, Brahmpuri,
Shwetdweep etc. His divine Leelas in the state of creation, sustenance
and destruction should also be heard with rapt attention when
recounted and should with dedicated devotion also listen to the
divine episodes of the lives of Rama22 and Krishan, the incarnations
Vishishtadvaita, The Philosophy of Swaminarayan Sect
The teaching of Swaminaryan is considered as qualified non-dualism or
vishishtadvaita, according to which the one and infinite Brahman or the
supreme Godhead has attributes and qualities. He is the supreme tattva
who manifests himself into five fundamental realities, or modes (visesana)
or dimensions which are as real as Brahman himself. This is in contrast
to the advaita philosophy according to which only Brahman is real and
all else is unreal or illusory. The five fundamental realities or modes
of Brahman are:
- Parabrahman. He is the transcendental supreme Brahman, the
highest reality, the supreme Godhead, the Purusa or Sriman who has
everything as his body,
- Aksharabrahman. He is the manifested immanent Brahman, who
rises from the waters. He is Narayana or Vishnu, the supporter of
all, who incarnates from time to time to set things right. His
essential nature is infinite bliss and infinite knowledge.
- Iswara. He is the Cosmic soul or Paramatma on whom depends
all sentient beings (bhoktas) and non-sentient objects (bhogyam).
His essential nature is Truth (satyam), Knowledge (jnanam), infinity
(anantam), bliss (anandam) and purity (amalatvam). He is without
blemish and full of auspicious qualities.
- Jiva. It is the individual soul which is described as a
dynamic principle (chetana tattva) whose essential nature is
self-consciousness (jnanasvarupa) and bliss (anandasvarupa). Also
known as atma and purusha, it is devoid of qualities. The souls are
of three types, the bonded souls (baddha), the freed souls (mukta)
and forever free souls (nitya). The last category of souls are again
of two types: those who serve God and those who serve the devotees
- Maya or Prakriti. It is Mother Nature or primeval
substance. It is made up of three basic qualities, sattva, rajas and
tamas. It is constantly subject to modifications. At the end of
creation it becomes unmanifest (avyakta) and at the beginning
manifest (vyakta). In its manifest form it has 23 tattvas or
principles of which the first is mahat and the last earth (prithvi).
Swaminarayan emphasized the importance of cultivation of virtues,
pure devotion to God, practice of dharma, meditation upon the name and
forms of God, image worship, visits to temple, celibacy, control of the
mind and senses, service to people in the liberation of individual
souls. He had visions of several gods and deities and used to converse
with them in his dream state. He identified himself as a follower of
Vishnu without showing any disrespect to other gods.
After the passing away of Swaminarayan in 1830, the movement became
controversy on the question of his successor. This resulted in
a schism within the group and claims and counter claims about their
allegiance to the original founder. Three groups emerged each claiming
to represent his teachings in letter and spirit. One group opted for the
Acharya system which was said to have been proposed by Swaminarayan
himself when he was alive and suggested his own relations to act as the
Acharyas. This group established two gadis or vehicles one in Ahmadabad
and the other at Vadtal each headed by his blood relation. This group
which goes by the name Swaminarayan Sampraday presently owns most of the
temples and properties belonging to the original sect. The second group
believed that Swaminarayan himself nominated a close disciple of him in
his life time as his spiritual successor and therefore the nomination of
hereditary acharyas from the family of Swaminarain unacceptable. They
consider Swami Gunatitananda as his true successor. A third group
claimed itself as as Swaminarayan gadi and declared Gopalananda
Swami as the spiritual successor to Swaminarayan. The Swaminarayan
Sampraday, that is the first group, promptly discredited and
excommunicated the followers of the other two sects which however
continue to exist and carry out their own agenda of social service and
propagation of the ideals expounded by Swaminarayan.
In 2004 the Vadtal Swaminarayana sect received nationwide attention
when four sadhus of the sect were sentenced to death by a court for
their involvement in the premeditated murder of Swami Gadadharanand. The
court was convinced that they plotted his murder because of his refusal
to side with them in a major power struggle between the Acharyas and the
sadhus to gain control over the temple administration and its funds. A
few months after this incident, in the same year, two priests of a
temple of the sect were caught in a video tape in compromising position
with a woman. When the tapes surfaced, the priests absconded. In
2006 three sadhus of the sect were involved in a case of sexual
harassment of a 14 year old boy and sentenced to 14 months'
imprisonment. It is perhaps unfair to judge the true nature of this movement
or its spiritual value by a few incidents such as these in its long history of nearly 200
years. The Swaminarayan movement continues to be a major driving force
in Gujarat and several other parts of the world where Gujarathi
community is found in sizeable numbers.
Suggested Further Reading