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Monday, 7 June 2010

On Vaisnava sects and deviations

Saurav Sarmah: Hare Krishna prabhuji, dandavat pranam. I had a few queries:

Is Swaminarayan a bona fide Vaisnava sect? What is meant by the Uddhava sampradaya they trace their lineage to? They believe in the visistha advaita philosophy of Sripad Ramanujacarya. Is it linked to Sri sampradaya?

Another sect confusing me is Sikhism. Although they follow the devotional process of chanting Krishna's name, still they don't accept His form nor believe in avatarhood. Some of Ramananda's disciples like...Kabir and Ravidas, including Ramananda ...himself are quoted in the Granth Saheb; however, they reject any sort of Vaisnava lineage. Could you throw some light on these doubts?

Basu Ghosh Das: Please let me know your e-mail address. I have an e-mail that I send to those who inquire about Swaminarayan, a kind of "overview in a nutshell" of their sect.

As for the Sikhs -- "shishya" in Samskritam -- I look at them as a "defence force" created by Guru Govind Singh to protect the Hindus from Muslim aggression at the time -- 300 years ago.

As for their ideology, it is "quasi-vedic". The vedas, the basis of Hinduism, are accepted as "true" by Guru Nanak. They do believe in "naam kirtan", and the Golden Temple is called the "Hari Mandir", although there is no Deity worship, most likely due to the influence of Islam & the Moguls at the time.

Saurav Sarmah: Thank you prabhuji for your reply. I have sent my email id to your message box.

Basu Ghosh Das: Check your e-mail! :-)

Here's a bit of the history of the Swaminarayan Sampradaya:

A boy born in a brahmana family in the sub-caste of "saryupari" brahmins,
was named "Ghanashyam Pande". He left home at an early age and wandered
about India seeking spiritual truth. He met his guru at at place in
Saurashtra (now a part of present day Gujarat State), who's name was
"Ramanand Swami".

He was initiated into Vaishnavism by his guru and given the brahmachari name
"Sahajananda" (or "Sahajanand").

He built 6 large temples during his lifetime. He was born approximately 222
years ago... and lived for 49 years. He wrote down his basic tenets in a
book of 212 samskrita verses entitled, "Shikshapati".

That he was a devotee of Lord Krishna is apparent from his teachings in
Shikshapati and the temples he built. However, there is a bit of a mixed
ideology that is apparent from some of the verses in Shikshapati.

Also, he appointed his nephews as "diksha gurus". One was the "head" of the
"North", and he was headquartered at Ahmedabad - in the Swaminarayan temple
at "Kalupur", where he personally installed Deities of "Nara Narayana", and
another for the "South", at Vadtal, near Anand (40 kilometers North of
Baroda), where he installed Deities of "Lakshmi Narayana".

Apparently, his successors, the descendents of the nephews he appointed (or
those very nephews themselves - it's unclear when this began) declared him
as "Bhagawan" - an incarnation of God. This is clear from the websites of
the "original" "Swaminarayan Sampradaya", still intact and headed by his
nephews descendents - who are much like the "caste Goswamis" of Bengal, or
the "Goswamis" of the "Vallabh Sampradaya", etc.

Their Sampradaya spread quite bit throughout the 3 regions of Gujarat,
(Gujarat, which stretches from the Maharastra border to the Rajasthan border
[there is a "natural border" on both ends in as much as both areas on the
borders are "hill areas"], the Saurashtra peninsula, and Kutch) and
especially amongst the "landed farmer" community, the "Patels". However,
certainly not nearly all Patels became their followers. Persons from other
castes, such as brahmanas, vaishyas ("vania" in Gujarati), and various
shudra castes also follow the Sampradaya.

In the interim time between the passing of Sahajanand himself until the
present (some 173 years ago), the Sampradaya constructed numerous temples of
Lakshmi Narayan and Nara Narayan (depending on which side of the
"North/South" divide those temples came up on) throughout Gujarat State and
also in the "Khandesh" region of Maharastra. They also constructed a few
temples in Western Madhya Pradesh.

Now, within the past 25 years, they have spread outside of Gujarat, but
their followers are mostly Gujarati speakers.

And, it's been during these past 25 years or so, both in Gujarat and in
places where there are sizeable populations of expatriate Gujaratis, they
have been eclipsed by the "BAPS" (Bochasanvasi ["Bochasan" is a village,
about 35 miles from Baroda, "vasi" = "resident" {"Vrajavasi" = resident of
Vraja}], Akshar Purushottam Sanstha, of Pramukh Swami.

The "BAPS" institution/splinter group/subsect, is just one of several such

The other prominent ones are:

1. Maninagar Swaminarayan Sanstha, Ahmedabad
2. Shokda Haridham of Hariprasad Swami, near Baroda
3. Anupam Mission of Pujya Pappaji at Vallabh Vidyanagar
4. Gunatit Samaj of Pujya "Kakaji"

And numerous other smaller breakoffs, who are independent, like the present
"Gaudiya Math diaspora" situation.

However, the "BAPS" institution, mentioned above, has expanded rapidly.

This is due to the personal charisma of the present "head" of the sect,
Pramukh Swami, and his immediate predecessor, "Yogiji Maharaj".

Throughout Gujarat they have constructed, mostly in the past 15 years, large
solid stone - and quite costly - temples. The "Akshar Dham" temple, which
saw a terrorist attack that killed 30+ persons during September of 2003
(, and since become a kind of
"fortress", is now famous throughout India.

Located on 23 acres of land in the capitol of Gujarat, it attracts thousands
of visitors everyday. It's a kind of "spiritual" Disneyland.

The guru of Pramukh Swami and his predecessor "Yogiji Maharaj", "Shastriji
Maharaj", was the one who split away from the "Southern" headquarters of the
old Sampradaya in the middle 1920's. His complaint, as far as I understand
since I've yet to see any documents in that connection, is that the
"grihasta guru" of the South was corrupt.

One of the major "claims to fame" for the BAPS sect is that their saffron
clothed sadhus - all of whom, by the way are brahmacharis, including Pramukh
Swami and his predecessors mentioned above - don't "touch" or keep money.

They are "not allowed to" according to the principles of their sect. So
their expenses are borne by the BAPS institution, which is managed by
grihastas. Due to this, you will see their sadhus always accompanied by
grihasta "devotees", who take care of their transportation and general

Believe me, they live "comfortably", and eat well too! Presently Pramukh
Swami is 84 years old, and continuing an active life. He's had 2 "coronary
bypass" surgeries, but otherwise maintains "robust" health. He has any
number (inestimable) fanatic followers, and their sect appeals to the
Gujarati diaspora in many places as mainly a "social gathering place", for
more religious minded Gujaratis. Many people who visit their sect don't
consider their "deviant" philosophy.

And, that philosophy, based on a new concept that was propagated by
"Shastriji Maharaj" (who's initiated brahmachari name was "Yagna Purush
Das") was called by him "Akshar Purushottam" "Upasana". "Akshar" =
"indestructible brahman", "Purushottam" = "Supreme being" (in their
concept... a more literal translation would be "topmost man") and "upasana"
= "worship".

In "Shastriji Maharaj's concept", Sahajanand "Swami" (Ghanashyam Pande), the
founder of the sect is the original form of the "Supreme Personality of
Godhead". "Krishna in Goloka is meditating on "Shriji Maharaj" ("Lord
Swaminarayan/Sahajanand Swami/Ghanashyam Pande") in "Akshar Dham" = the
indestructible spiritual world!

Quite different from the 1st verse of "Shikshapati", where Sahajanand writes
that he's meditating on Krishna in Vrindavan!

But this concept has been made popular by this sect, where the Deities of
Nara Narayan and Lakshmi Narayan have been replaced, or moved to the side
(in BAPS temples, they have Radha Krishna Deities on the side) and "Akshar
Purushottam" Deities, are in the middle.

Also, in this concept, besides "Sahajanand Swami" being considered
"Purushottam", Gunatitanand "Swami" (again, a brahmachari, not a sannyasi),
a contemporary and disciple of Sahajanand Swami, who was incharge of one of
the original 6 temples (the one at Junagadh, in Saurashtra) is considered
the incarnation of the impersonal, indestructible "brahman", and his figure
is the one, now deified as "Akshar" in "Akshar Purushottam upasana".

So you have these two Deities seen in their temples, right in the middle -
and you can have a look at the BAPS website:

Sorry for the length of this explanation, but I've tried to give as brief an
overview as possible, for your information. Of course, I'm sure that this
explanation will raise questions, but I've tried to cover the main points.

If you need any further information, please feel free to let me know.


The "original" or "old" Swaminarayan Sampradaya, represented by the "guru of
the North", and based at the old Kalupur Swaminarayan temple at Ahmedabad,
has it's websites:

For an overview on their "shastras", see:


For the entire English text of "Shikshapati":

To read some histories of the "grihasta gurus" of the original sampradaya:

Here are a few excerpts from "Shikshapati" that show the Vaishnava nature of
Sahajanand's teachings:

Shloka 1
"I meditate, in my heart, upon Lord Shree Krishna, on whose left stands
Radhikaji, on whose bosom resides Laxmiji and who sports in Vrindavan."

Shloka 39
Those of my Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya disciples who have been initiated
into the devotion of Shree Krishna by their Guru shall always wear around
their neck a double Kanthi prepared from Tulsi wood and shall mark their
forehead, chest and both arms with a Tilak.

Shloka 40
The Tilak shall be made with Gopichandan stick or with consecrated sandal
paste mixed with Kum-Kum (saffron or red powder) duly offered to Lord

Shloka 54
Then they shall, with due respect, bow down before the images of Shree Radha
Krishna and recite the eight syllabled holy Mantra of Shree Krishna
according to their capacity and then attend to their daily routines.

Shloka 94
Shrimad Bhagwad Gita, the code of ethics enunciated by Vidura and Vasudeva
Mahatmya of Skanda Puranass Vaishnava Khanda.

Shloka 95
And of the Dharmashastras, the Smruti by Yagnavalkya Rishi. These eight
Shastras are dear to me.

Shloka 100
They shall acknowledge the Bhashya (commentaries) on Vyaas-Sutra and Shree
Bhagwat Geeta by Shree Ramanujacharya, as My Vedantic Philosophy.

Shloka 101
Those text in these scriptures which speak the greatness of divinity of
Shree Krishna, Dharma, Bhakti and Vairagya shall be considered to be of
greater value.

Shloka 102
The message of these scriptures is that the devotion of Lord Shree Krishna
is inseparable from Dharma.

Shloka 108
And that Ishwara is Lord Shree Krishna, who is Parabrahman Purushottam and
our most cherished deity. He is worthy of worship by us all. He is the
source of all incarnations.
Some of the "splinters" have websites:

Saurav Sarmah: I did. Thank you. Its amazing that people can go to such an extent to manufacture their own religious system.

Basu Ghosh Das: Well, Sahajananda Swami himself seems to have been a Vaishnava who didn't manufacture an ideology.

However, he seems to have desired a "separate identity" -- the "Swaminarayan Sampradaya" (instead of joining the Ramanuja or Vallabh Sampradayas) -- and also seems to have desired to make the Sampradaya a "family business", by appointing his nephews as the Acharyas (which he did in the "Shikshpatri" itself).

However, Yagna Purush Das, aka "Shastriji Maharaj", a hundred plus years later did indeed introduce an ideological "hybrid" -- "akshar purushottam upaasana", now famous as the BAPS, of Pramukh Swami (now 90 years old), his disciple.

Basu Ghosh Das: Sorry I don't remember where or why Sahajanand mentions he "Uddhava sampradaya", but it could mean that they aspire to be Lord Krishna's intimate devotees, like Uddhava (my speculation).

Saurav Sarmah: Thank you prabhuji.

Saurav Sarmah: How do we trace Sri Vallabhacharya's link to Rudra sampradaya... I read a text on his life and teachings. It states that he (an incarnation of Agni or the mouth of Krishna) received Brahmasambandha initiation directly from Krishna. On the other hand, Cc states that he accepted mantra from Gadadhara Pandit...I had also read from an article by HDG Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, that he is a follower of the third Visnuswami. How to reconcile these scattered ideas into a single logical understanding?

Basu Ghosh Das: It's a tough one -- one that I never was able to fully accomplish.

The followers of Vallabhacharya themselves don't show much of a "pre-Vallabha" history, if I'm correct. Years ago I read some of their literature -- English books all, and couldn't find anything about that history.

Saurav Sarmah: Sorry prabhuji, I am shooting too many questions.

Saurav Sarmah: In pusti marg, they don't worship the deity with the pancaratrika vidhi, but only perform spontaneous service. What kind of process is this?

Does Sridhar Swami belong to Rudra sampradaya? I have found in some books that he belonged to the Mayavadi parampara. Caitanya Mahaprabhu considered him the authority, so he must be a Vaisnava.

You might know that in Assam, there is a "neo Vaisnavite" sect of Srimanta Sankaradeva.His teachings are also based on Sridhar Swami's commentary on Bhagvatam. Many of their scriptures claim that he is also incarnation of Visnu and they cite many scriptures. Ramanandis also believe Ramanand to be an incarnation of Rama. Amidst all these so-called incarnations of the Lord, how can we establish that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is Krishna Himself? Is it that there are so many incarnations of the Lord?

Another problematic thing on incarnations is that different scriptures claim the same person to be incarnation of so many persons. How is that possible? Garga samhita says that the four sampradaya acaryas are Sesa, Brahma, Vamanadev and Sanak Kumar...while in other scriptures, most probably in Padma Purana, they are called as incarnations of Sesa, Vayu, ... and Sudarsana... even the characters of Gaur lila are referred to like that...Ramananda Raya, Haridas Thakur, Advaita many...

Basu Ghosh Das: The above are, indeed, "tough questions".

The belief that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is an incarnation of Krishna is based on quotes from the Bhagavatam, Mahabharata and other Puranas.

As well as the "testimony" of books like Chaitanya Charitamrita, Chaitanya Bhagavat, etc.

For instance:

"In the age of Kali, intelligent persons perform congregational chanting to worship the incarnation of Godhead who constantly sings the names of Krishna. Although His complexion is not blackish, He is Krishna Himself. He is accompanied by His associates, servants, weapons and confidential companions." SB 11.5.32

You can read more by clicking/cutting pasting this link:

Or just go to and do a bit of searching there for more quotes on Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's appearance.

As for Shankaradeva of Assam, I don't know much about him. So commenting wouldn't be "in the fitness of things" for me. So kindly excuse me on that.

Offhand, I don't remember which sampradaya Sridhar Swami belonged to, if any of the four vaishnav sampradayas. It's true that certain mayavadis revere him. But frankly, I haven't studied his commentary, so can only take Prabhupada's & Mahaprabhu's testimony on it! (Oops!) :-)

Saurav Sarmah: Thank you prabhuji.

Saurav Sarmah: Prabhuji, what is our undersatnding of Kabir? I wrote a few points on him and am sending it to your message box as I am not sure about their correctness.

Saurav Sarmah: 1. He does not accept the authority of the Vedas, neither sruti nor smriti. In fact, he criticises Vedic rituals like pilgrimage, tonsuring the head, nitya karmas, brahmacharya, etc.

2. He rejects the spiritual form of the Lord, criticizes deity worship and avatar of the Lord. He says the Supreme all-pervading and transcendental being cannot be limited to forms and temporary persons.

3. Although born in Muslim family, he even rejects Muslim practises and considers Quran as imperfect. In fact, he believes in learning from nature and experience, rather than scriptures. So, he cannot even be termed as a Sufi.

4. He is not an advaiti, as he considers the world as real. In fact, he criticizes ascetism and renunciation of the world.

5. I remember in one Bhagavatam class, HH Gopal Krishna Goswami was asked about Kabir's criticism of worship of deities and saligram (he says worshipping mountain would be more fruitful, although he uses the name Hari), Maharaj said, "We don't consider Kabir a great saint."

In light all these, although it is believed that he was a disciple of Ramananda and a realized soul, what can be our understanding of Kabir? Since I may write on the subject, I want to verify as to what is the correct interpretation.

Basu Ghosh Das: Kabir was a "mayavadi". Yes, he had his "own form" of mayavada, separate from the mayavada of Adi Shankaracharya, the "most popular" of the mayavadis.

From what you've written, above, Kabir is ideologically similar to Buddhism, but sans the asceticism.

In order to write on his link to Ramananda, you'll have to do a bit of research on Ramananda, no?

Here's what I came up with quickly:


You can search using "google" to find more in depth information.

Saurav Sarmah: Prabhuji, I am reading this book: Ghurye G.S. (1964), Indian Sadhus, Bombay Popular Prakashan. Although it has many mistakes, it contains some valuable information about many sects in India.

On Swaminarayan, it says he accepted diksha from mahant of Sri Vaisnava centre at Pipalana. His guru's name was Ramanada (as you already mentioned), who is considered to be incarnation of Udhava. So, they call themselves Uddhava sampradaya. Later Swaminarayan became mahant of the Ramanuj centre at Jetpur, Saurashtra. Only later that he founded a separate party.

Basu Ghosh Das: This Ramananda is different from the Ramananda of Eastern UP, who has many followers there. The Swaminarayan Sampradaya Ramananda was living at Saurashtra, years, even centuries, after the other, who never went to Saurashtra.

Saurav Sarmah: I understand that. I was talking about the term Uddhava sampradaya. It came from Swaminarayan's guru, so-called incarnation of Uddhava.

Basu Ghosh Das: Well, I don't know the details about that -- from their point of view -- but it seems to be linked to their own interpretation of Ramananda being an avatar of Uddhava, which of course neither they nor we can confirm.

Saurav Sarmah: okay.

Saurav Sarmah: Kabir emphasises on chanting the holy names with concentration...shruta nama yoga. The same system is followed by Sikhs. Infact, all the disciples and so-called disciples of Ramanada have tinge of mayavad (desire to merge with God) in their philosophy, including the orthodox Tulsidas (so I have heard from devotees who say we should not read Ramcharitmanas).

Ramananda himself is the disciple of Raghavendra Swami, an acharya of Sri sampradaya. I had read in the History of India by V.D. Mahajan that Ramananda during his preaching tours used to take food cooked by non Vaishnavas; therefore, he was expelled. He then took on the task of preaching Sita Ram bhakti all over North India, without consideration of any qualification. Many of his disciples and he himself are honoured in Sikhism as bhagats.

Basu Ghosh Das: Kabir and some Sikhs (there are MANY subsects of Sikhs - Namdharis, Nihangs, etc., and other seemingly non-Sikh sects with Sikh gurus, i.e. Radha Soami [Beas, Punjab], Nirankaris, etc.) have overtly mayavadi ideologies: God is formless, etc.

As for Tulasi Ramayana, yes, Prabhupada somewhere said it was "tinged" by "mayavada". Prabhupada's godbrother, the late BV Puri said it was tinged with "jnana mishra bhakti".

Prabhupada also praised Tulasi das for his detachment from his wife & attachment to Lord Ramachandra.

Since we have access to the more ancient Valmiki Ramayana, it's preferred over the Tulasi Ramayana.

Saurav Sarmah: Thank you prabhuji.


  1. He is Allah, the One and Only! Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not nor is He begotten. And there is none like unto Him.

    Transliteration English Translation
    A'uzu billahi minashaitanir rajim I seek refuge in Allah from the outcast Satan
    Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful
    Qul Hu-walaahu 'Ahad Say: He is Allah, the Monoreal!
    'Allahus-Samad; Allah (the Monoreal) is Eternal.
    Lam yalid, wa lam yuulad; The Monoreal does not take or give birth.
    Walam yakul-la-Huu kufuwan 'ahad. And there is none comparable to the Monoreal.

  2. In his Prameya Ratnavali, the Gaudiya Vedantacarya Srila Baladeva Vidyabhusana, paraphrasing Sri Vyasa Tirtha, has written nine points of Madhva that the gaudiya vaisnavas accept —

    sri madhva praha
    visnu paratatvamakhilamnayavedhyanca visvam
    satyam bedhamca jivan hari-caranajusastaratamyan ca tesam
    moksam visnvanghrilabham tadamalabhajanam tasya hetum pramanam
    pratyaksaditraya cetyupadisati hari krsna caitanya candrah

    "Sri Madhva has said —

    1. Visnu is Supreme.
    2. He is known by the study of the Vedas.
    3. The Material world is real.
    4. The jivas are different from the Lord.
    5. The jivas are by nature subservient to the Lord.
    6. In both the conditioned and liberated condition, the jivas are situated in higher and lower statuses.
    7. Liberation is the attainment of Lord Visnu’s lotus-feet.
    8. Pure devotion grants liberation.
    9. Direct perception, logic and Vedic authority are the three sources of actual knowledge.
    These truths are also taught by the Supreme Lord Himself in His appearance as Krsna Caitanyacandra."

    (copied from

  3. My dear Friends, I will share my experience with you. Please refer to japji sahib. God is latin word which means truth

    1. Ajuni : God is never born and he never dies. This answers most of questions.
    2. In japji sahib Guru nanak clearly mentioned about Brahma, Vishnu and mahesh and there are so many of them in universe. According to Nasa it is very clear that there are millions of other planets with life and I am sure they have their own brahma ,vishnu , mahesh with different shapes , sizes and colours. This was said in japji sahin 500 yrs ago when there was no Nasa.

    3. Ek onkar - God is only one but there is no one else like him.

    4. If human was God human always dies but God never dies ( Try to think on this very carefully).

    5. over period of time, Lot of people mix up their own thoughts in Holy books Its because they think that they are right because they cannot accept the truth.

    6. There have many teachers , Avtars in Hindus, prophets in Muslims and christians and they have reapeted tha same thing again and again. God is only one and there is no one else like him and he can see us we cannot see him.
    7. If you do not go far please listen to teachings of shirdi sai baba. This was about 100 yrs ago, so very new and he says Sabka malik ek. Now, we have to understand he never mentioned about God'ssss ( Brahma, Vishnu , Mahesh). He is talking about One God - Sabka Malik Ek.
    8.Counting starts from 1 and there nothing before one. So, If you reach 1 then you will be part of very one. God is inside you and everything around you. In a milk there is Ghee but can't see it. In the same way you cannot see God.
    9. Soche soch na hovi je sochi lakh var- Even If you think million times you cannot find answers about God because God is beyond your thinking. So, when you reach that level when you stop thinking with your brain then you will start thinking about God.
    10. Guru Gobind singh- Saach kahon sunlo sabhe Jin prem kiyo usne hi prabhu payo- One who loves God will only find God no one else. So, people who tink they can reach God with their intelligence, they are wrong because God created intelligence and God is beyond our intelligence.

  4. 1.Lets talk about Vedas they clearly say that Brahma , Vishnu and mahesh were born from Om. So, Even Vedas are refering to One God( without any shape colour and size). God is creator and he is has got many creations includings us but we don't worship ourselves.

    2. If there is painter and that painter has got many beautiful paintings. We have to praise painter because we cannot praise his all paintings. There are so many of them. In a same way There is One God(painter) and has many creations(paintings).

    3. There 1 crore devi, devtas & avtars and there is no way we can worship all of them. If we worship one God we have worshipped all of them.let me explain this with a example - If you put water in a root of tree it goes to whole tree only through the root. In a same way If chant the name of One god , One creator like Brahmans Say Om, Muslims say Allah, Christians say God, Sikhs say - Waheguru( you are the only greatest guru) be assured that you have chanted the names of all Devi, devtas and avtars but chanting one's name.

    I hope you guys learn from this. May God bless you and show you the right path.

    Thank for reading.

  5. "My dear Friends, I will share my experience with you. Please refer to japji sahib."

    Japji Sahib is a portion of the Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib. As my research on this subject gets deeper, I need to revise my opinion. Guru Granth Sahib is a neo Vaisnava (a mixture of orthodox Vaisnavism and some ideas based on conditional circumstances, other examples: Sankardev, Tulsidas, etc.) text based on the Nirgunavad tradition of Kabir.

    Also please read: “Vaisnava Teachings in Sikhism" by Radhika Kripa Devi Dasi.

  6. "God is Latin word which means truth"

    God is not a Latin word and it does not mean truth. Please read:

  7. Read:

    1. A Vedic Response to Sikh Theology

    2. "We do not consider Kabir a great saint." Contextualization of the statement and examination of its validity

  8. Please read a proper response to Nitinji: