Holy Pilgrimage - Hindu temples in USA -193

Holy Pilgrimage - Hindu temples in USA  

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, San Francisco, CA

San Francisco
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
950 Avalon Avenue,
San Francisco, CA 94112, USA
Tel: (1-415) 469 9121
Fax: (1-415) 469 9121

Daily Aarti:
7:00 a.m. & 6:30 p.m.
Darshan Timings:
Monday - Saturday
9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon
5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Saturday- Sunday:
9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Weekly ScheduleSatsang Sabha:
Ravi Sabha:
4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m
Free Bharatnatyam Class:
10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
Free Gujarati Class:
2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Free Mahendi Class:
2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Free Computer Class (over age of 40):
1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Bal Sabha (6 to 14 years):
4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Kishore Sabha (15 to 22 years):
2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Yuvak Sabha (23 years or older):
3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Balika Sabha:
4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Events - 2012
Sunday, Jan 08
Makar Sankranti / Jholi
Sunday, Jan 22
Vasant Panchami
Sunday, Mar 11
Holi / Fuldol
Sunday, Mar 25
Swaminarayan Jayanti / Ram Navmi
Sunday, May 20
Yogi Jayanti
Sunday, Jul 01
Guru Purnima
Sunday, Aug 05
Sunday, Sep 23
Jal Jhilani
Sunday, Nov 04
Sharad Purnima
Sunday, Nov 18
Diwali / Annakut
Saturday, Dec 15
Pramukh Swami Janma Jayanti
Sunday, Mar 25

How Festivals Enrich Society :
India is a land of a thousand holy festivals and rituals. Its colorful panorama reflect the religion, culture and custom of one of the most ancient and richest of civilizations. Hinduism worships and celebrates the birth and victories of its deities and holy men through festivals and rituals.
Through colors, sounds and profound sentiments it elevates and motivates the inner core of individuals. Its festive ambience invigorates and enthuses the individual from the monotony of daily life.
This special section provides a window to the history, significance and experience of a selected number of annual festivals, rituals and customs in Indian culture. Like the golden sun, festivals refresh and recharge humanity in more than one way.
Aesthetically : Festivals are a poetry of arts and crafts, and encourage the latent talents of people.
Emotionally : Festivals lend joy and zest to the monotony of life, providing entertainment and enrichment through discourses and seminars, music and melodies, dances and rhythms of a meaningful life.
Socially : festivals bring man closer to man in peaceful understanding. Social harmony is nourished as people of different nationalities, races, religions and backgrounds come together to share their joys and delights.
Morally : Festivals promote higher and better life. Guiding masses away from drugs and addictions, hatred and violence, they nourish the values of service, sacrifice, discipline, unity and cooperation - restoring man's moral dignity.
Culturally : Festivals retrace old traditions and strengthen our cultural roots by providing deeper insights.
Spiritually : Festivals inspire and consolidate faith in God. An atmosphere of purity and prayers elevate the soul and helps generate a feeling of universal brotherhood, inter-religious harmony and personal piety.

The Guru Tradition In Hinduism (Part 1)
The following is an excerpt from the
PhD thesis accomplished by Dr Brian Hutchinson in 1988, titled ‘The Guru-Devotee Relationship in the Experience of Members of the Akshar-Purushottam
Swaminarayan Sampradaya’.
In its general sense the term guru has been applied to any person, even one’s father, who is in a position to provide some aspect of the education of the individual in Hindu society (McMullen, 1976:13). A more specific meaning applies in the case of the traditional family guru to whom a boy would be given for training in the Vedic lore once he had reached the age of twelve.
According to Ramesh Dave, a prominent householder scholar of the movement, in conversation with the writer, the family guru who acts more in terms of the priest is fast disappearing, whereas the guru-sampradaya tradition is continuing at greater intensity.
The guru, independent of the subject matter being communicated, is seemingly always ‘more’ than the message which he communicates. In other words, he enters into the process to such a degree that he himself becomes part of the message. Cenkner (1983:184) uses the image of the ‘catalyst’ [aiding change in other bodies without undergoing change in itself] for the guru. He says, “He is not only the teacher of doctrine but also the sacred center of a socio-religious institution, around which people gather to worship the gods and pursue liberation paths. Faith experience is engendered within the context of the sampradaya; this always occurs, however, in direct relationship to the living guru [that is, the individual relates not so much to the group as to the guru himself].”

According to Padhye (1946:102), evidence from the Mohenjo-Daro excavations suggests that the institution of the guru is as old, or perhaps older than the Vedas. Mlecko (1982:21) says that the guru-shishya relationship was first recorded in the Vedas, “Here the guru was usually a Brahman, a priest-teacher of the Vedas. At the very least, he was god-like. He embodied the Vedas and was given the same respect as the Vedas perhaps, thereby, laying the foundation for the later, intense devotion directed towards the guru.”
Respondents interviewed occasionally quoted the Vedas and other scriptures in their discussion of the guru-devotee relationship. They do not regard the relationship they experience with their guru as an innovation of the movement – though their guru is considered to be superior to those of other movements – but they understand the relationship to be that which is supported by scripture and tradition, and which is here being experienced in its most pure and true form.
Dasgupta (1927:16), reinforces the importance of this understanding with his comment that, “No change, no new idea could be considered right or could be believed by the people, unless it could also be shown that it had the sanction of the Vedas.”
Here Dasgupta follows the convention of including the Upanishads in the Vedas.

The very term ‘Upanishad’ implies the centrality and existence of the guru in its meaning of ‘sitting down near’. In other words, the term may specifically refer to the method by which spiritual truths were communicated, that is, by a teacher or guru whose pupils gathered around him to receive instruction.
The Upanishads present the guru as essential to the attainment of the higher wisdom, knowledge of the Self, which is the primary goal of the Upanishads, cannot be attained without the guru.
“Only by knowledge received direct from the guru does one attain to the most beneficent. It is only he, in whom that knowledge is alive, that can communicate to the seeker” (Pandit, 1963:388).
The Katha Upanishad 2, (quoted by Pandit, 1963:388), has, “Unless told of Him by another, thou canst not find thy way to Him; for He is subtler than subtlety and that which logic cannot reach. This wisdom is not to be had by reasoning; only when told thee by another, it brings real knowledge.”
Sacrifice is insufficient to attain it, “The highest wisdom, which is the supreme stage, cannot be reached by sacrifice. One must go in a proper manner to a guru and discover from him the imperishable Man, the supreme reality” (Gonda 1965:409).
This belief in the importance of the guru is held so strongly that even the avatars, Bhagwan Swaminarayan included, have conformed to this pattern and have themselves had their own gurus.
The relationship between the devotee and the guru begins in the profound respect felt towards the teacher. Not only on the basis of the knowledge which he is understood to have, but for what he is in himself.
“The esteem given to the guru in the Indian tradition grows out of this initial conception of the teacher as both a knower of Brahman and a dweller in Brahman” (Cenkner, 1983:9).
It seems that such profound respect can easily merge into that of the love that is characteristically felt for the guru, not only in the bhakti movements, but in all guru-devotee situations, even where the teaching matter stresses mainly intellectual attributes.
The grace of the guru receives more emphasis in the later Upanishads, there, according to Cenkner, “liberation is virtually impossible without the knowledge and grace of the guru” (1983:10).
In these Upanishads there is a theistic emphasis, and ultimate reality is seen to consist in personal terms. The idea of impersonal Brahman is superceded. The most prominent of these is the theistic Svetasvatara Upanishad, which served as one of the main sources of the later doctrine of bhakti and to which tradition the movement belongs (Griffiths 1982:79). In the Svetasvatara (VI.23), (Tyagisananda 1964:136) devotion to the guru and to God are placed on an equal level, “These truths, when taught, shine forth only in that high-souled one who has supreme devotion to God, and an equal degree of devotion to the spiritual teacher. They shine forth in that high-souled one only.”

The Guru Tradition In Hinduism (Part 2)
The relationship between teacher and pupil is partly determined by the type of knowledge sought. The law books reflect a basic parental relationship between teacher and student because obedience to the laws is the basic orientation. In the earlier Upanishads, where knowledge of Brahman or knowledge of the Self is the aim, then a more intimate personal association between the guru and devotee comes about. It is the epics, Puranas and the early bhakti literature which establish the basis for the refined love relationship between guru and shisya (Cenkner, 1983:27), and which belongs to the understanding of the guru-devotee relationship in the movement.
According to Mlecko (1982:40), the epics highlight “another response to the guru besides propriety and obedience; namely, devotion, the paramount dimension of bhakti. The Epics record the attempt to move away from the Brahmanic tradition in two areas: away from ritualistic (Vedic) and philosophical (Upanishadic) forms of worship to divine-human gods, the avataras, with emphasis on their human dimension.”
Spiritual progress in the devotee is seen in all instances of the relationship to be dependent upon assistance from the guru. Even the gods in human form, the avatars, conform to the system, and they themselves become devotees of a guru. In so doing, in addition to effecting their spiritual development within the human order, (again, their need for a guru for this purpose is a matter upon which persons hold differing views), they legitimise the guru-devotee relationship and reveal it as belonging not only to the human but to the divine order. A sadhu explained to the writer, “This is the traditional way that he [Swaminarayan] has accepted…. This is Hindu tradition; the belief that everyone must have a guru. Rama had a guru. The Lord having a guru helps to stress the desirable state of affairs. If the Lord himself had a guru then I too must have a guru.”
The classical model for the guru-devotee relationship occurs in the Bhagavad Gita where Krishna appears to Arjuna in the guise of a charioteer. In guiding and advising him on the right way to think and act, he functions in the role of guru for Arjuna. Krishna is addressed as father, Lord and most venerable guru. Here devotion to the guru becomes indistinguishable from devotion to the Lord (Mlecko, 1982:21).
The Gita’s model, though representing the avatar-human encounter, is also accepted as the divinely ordained model for the guru-devotee relationship.
A leaf, a flower, a fruit or water,
Who presents to Me with devotion
That offering of devotion I
Accept from the devout-souled.
Be Me-minded, devoted to Me,
Worshipping Me, pay homage to Me.
Just to Me shalt thou go, having thus disciplined
Thyself fully, intent on Me.
- Gita IX: 26 & 34, Edgerton 1964:48
In the Gita, Krishna, as avatar-guru, commends this relationship of obedience and devotion not only to himself but also to the human guru (Gita IV.34. Edgerton, 1964:26), “Learn to know this by obeisance (to those who can teach it), By questioning (them) by serving (them).”
That is, the attitude of loving devotion (bhakti), here being encouraged from Arjuna towards Krishna as God-incarnate, is understood to be the attitude which a devotee should show to his guru as the personal and immediate manifestation of the deity.
This humanizing of the concept of God which is strongly evident in the epics (Mlecko 1982:44) was continued in the Puranas and strongly influenced the understanding of the guru. Increasingly, devotion to the guru and devotion to God become indistinguishable. This identification of guru and God at least in the experiential area can also be seen in the Puranas, according to Mlecko (1982:44), “In the comparatively late portions of the Puranas, the devotional attitude towards the deity is shared by the guru. Even more, the guru is often identified with the highest deity of the sect.”
This attitude towards the guru has been a characteristic of bhakti movements in general.
The Swaminarayan sect, the ‘old’ and the Akshar-Purushottam branch, provide evidence to support this statement. Swaminarayan, during his ‘earthly’ lifetime, (1781-1830 A.D.), was apparently regarded as a sadguru. He evidently evoked an adulation and devotion in his devotees which elevated him in their understanding to the level of God himself. After his death, this conviction remained as the central moving force in the ‘old’ movement, focused on the murti of Swaminarayan and on his teaching. In the Akshar-Purushottam branch this continuing presence of Swaminarayan is also experienced as residing in his murti, and in his teaching, but in particular his presence is considered to reside in the guru. Thus for members of the movement the guru provides the most dynamic evidence of the presence of Swaminarayan.
The name ‘Swaminarayan’ itself carries the conviction of the whole sect that their founder was the holy man, the ‘Swami’, in whom the ultimate divinity, Narayan, was manifested. Members chant the name as a mantra in public and private worship, and at other times in the life of the temple, notably at meal times before commencing to eat. The chanting affirms the belief that their founder was the human manifestation of the divine, and, as is the purpose of mantras, is believed to induce consciousness of God.
In the Akshar-Purushottam group the name has an additional meaning. It indicates that their guru is the ‘abode’ of God. Swami indicates the guru and Narayan the Lord. The guru is Akshar in whom Purushottam manifests, the Swami in whom Narayan is encountered.
A further similarity of the guru of the movement to the guru of the Puranas, is that the guru is not required to belong to any particular caste. The emphasis is upon the spiritual level of the individual rather than a traditional caste role. According to Mlecko (1982:44), in the period of the Puranas, “Religious authority was significantly shifting from orthodox Brahmans who knew the Vedas to the guru whose devotion and knowledge of Tantra led him to liberation.”
Pandit (1963:388) emphasizes the influence of the Tantra in the guru tradition. He says, “It is the Tantra that has given firm shape to the tradition and worked out in minute detail the dynamics of the guru-sishya operation… In the tradition of the Tantra, the guru is the central pivot on which every movement in spiritual life turns. He is not just a learned man who can teach. It is profane to look upon him as human. He is much more; in fact, he is looked upon as the Divine, even the very Divine Himself.”
Mlecko (1982:57) makes the observation that in the Tantra the personalization of the deity moves to another level. He points out that there is a change in emphasis from the avatara, ‘god descending’, to the guru as ‘man ascending’ into divinity. Here, the guru, as jivanmukta, has attained freedom from karma and its limitations whilst still living physically. However, the belief in the movement is that the guru, as Akshar, has not needed to ‘attain’ the state of jivanmukta in order to grant release. With him, as one sadhu explained, “There is no question of development.” The belief is that he is, by his very nature, ‘eternally beyond maya’.
The association of guru and deity appears to reach its height in the Tantras. McMullen (1976:22), extracts the following statements showing the understanding of the guru from a number of Tantric sources, “There is no god higher than the Guru…. He walks on the earth, concealed for bestowing grace on the good disciples…. The worship of the Guru yields infinitely more merit than any number of observances, gifts, rituals, sacrifices, pilgrimages, mantra, japa, etc…. In this world all holy actions are rooted in the Guru…. Even when god Shiva is angry, the Guru is the saviour, but when the Guru himself is angered there is none to save. Ruin follows from the anger of the Guru, bad death from the criticism of the Guru, catastrophes from the displeasure of the Guru.”
The guru has here become the dominating influence in spiritual life. All activity, book learning, ritual, must be “energized by the personality of the guru. It is only those acts that are inspired by the guru that yield bhakti and mukti” (Pandit 1963:388).
In the movement it is only obedience to the ‘agna’, the command and will of the guru that constitutes liberating action. Things which seem good in themselves are necessarily beneficial for the devotee; they need to receive the sanction of the guru’s command.

A prayer is our communication with God. We pray to him for many things – for peace,
for happiness, for health …
We pray to him for ourselves, for our family and friends, for others, for our Guru …
We pray to him during our daily puja, in arti, or in our daily routine …
Here is a chance to offer prayers to the holy place of Akshar Deri in Gondal.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q.1 What is Hinduism?
A. Summary Answer:
Hinduism or Sanatan Dharma is the world’s oldest religion. It is the native religion of India. It predates recorded history and has no human founder. Vedic records dating back 6,000 to 10,000 years show that even in that time period, Hinduism was considered an ancient religion. Today, there are almost 1 billion Hindus spread around the world. That makes one out of every sixth person in the world a Hindu. Its modes of worship are complex and range from grand festivals such as the Kumbhmelã (a religious gathering of over 45 million people) to the simple darshan (devotional seeing) of home shrines. Its places of worship include millions of ancient and contemporary shrines and mandirs. Hinduism recognizes the Vedas as the most ancient and authoritative body of religious literature. They are the foundational scriptures common to all branches of Hinduism.

Hinduism: Unity in Diversity
There are two aspects of Hinduism. One is easily seen in the outward expression of the faith – the ritual worship, customs and traditions and codes of social conduct – the practices of Hinduism. The other aspect of Hinduism is inward – faith itself – the inner world of belief. To an observer it would appear that there is a bewildering array of often contradictory beliefs embraced by the various branches of Hinduism. It is because Hinduism encompasses such a wide range of beliefs and practices that people find it difficult to cast it into a single mold. Yet, within this amazing diversity of thought and behavior, there are common threads that unify the faithful underneath the umbrella of Hinduism.

Common Beliefs of Hinduism
Regarding God
Hinduism acknowledges the existence of many deities but believes in only one Supreme God who is all-pervasive and transcendent. Hinduism states that God manifests (avatãr) on earth for the salvation of infinite souls and is always present through the murtis, consecrated images of God. Hinduism teaches that this universe along with infinite other universes undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation, and dissolution by this Supreme God.

Regarding the Ãtma (soul)
Hindus believe that all living entities have a soul, or ãtma. Each is eternal – it was never created and will never perish. The ãtmã is characterized as unchanging truth, consciousness and bliss (Satchitanand). Moreover, each has the potential to attain God.
Hinduism propounds the law of karma, cause and effect, wherein the fruits on an individual’s thoughts, words, and deeds are given by God. Hinduism teaches that the ãtmã casts off old bodies and is given new ones based on it karmas. In this way the ãtmã passes through infinite cycles of birth and death (reincarnation) until it realizes God and attains moksha. Hindus believe that one requires a spiritually enlightened and God-realized guru to attain God.

Common Practices in Hinduism
These common beliefs of Hinduism manifest in several common practices. All branches of Hinduism emphasize the need for a moral and ethical life. Hinduism upholds the eternal values and ideals of Satya (Truth), Dayã (Compassion), Ahinsã (Non-violence), and Brahmachãrya (Celibacy). Remaining faithful to these values and other scriptural injunctions, the Hindu always tries to maintain a balance in life among the four endeavors of Dharma, Artha, Kãm, and Moksha.

  • Dharma – to live righteously, in accordance with scriptural commands - purity of diet, thought, and social interactions.
  • Artha – to accumulate earnings for one’s subsistence.
  • Kãm– (1) to use one’s honest earnings for the fulfillment of one’s wishes
    (2) and for a man to only keep one wife and regard other women as a mother, sister, or a daughter; and for a woman to only keep one husband and regard other men as a father, brother, or son.
  • Moksha – to use the previous three endeavors to attain salvation.
Thus, the Hindu system of beliefs provides guidance for both the spiritual and material realm.
Q.2 Who is a Hindu?
A. Summary Answer:
A Hindu is a follower of Hinduism, the native religion of the people of India.
A Hindu accepts the authority of Vedic scriptures and follows the common practices of Hinduism. A Hindu is inclined to revere the divine in every manifestation and is tolerant of the peaceful practices of other faiths.
The word “Hindu” was originally coined by the ancient Persians to describe the people living east of the “Sindhu”, or Indus River. The term spread westward, and eventually it became popularized throughout the world. It was only with the invasion of India, first by the Muslims and then by the British that the term “Hindu” came into use in India. Prior to that, the practitioners of the native religion of India called their religion, ‘Sanãtan Dharma’ – the Eternal Religion. It was known as eternal, because the Truths revealed by it are true today, were true before this universe existed, and will be true even after the destruction of the universe.
Q.3 What is unique about the Indian Calendar?
A. The modern western calendar that we are accustomed to is based on the sun in which a year (365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds) is the time required for the earth to complete one orbit around the sun. This solar year is composed of 12 arbitrarily assigned months which have either 30 or 31 days, with the exception of February.
The Indian calendar is based on both the sun and the moon. The Indian calendar uses the solar year but divides it into 12 lunar months. They are listed in order from beginning to end: Kãrtik, Mãghshar, Posh, Mãgh (Mahã), Fãlgun, Chaitra, Vaishãk, Jeth, Ashãdh, Shrãvan, Bhãdarvo, and Ãso. A lunar month is the time required for the moon to orbit once around the earth and pass through its complete cycle of phases. These months are formulated not arbitrarily, but in accordance with the successive entrances of the sun into the 12 rãshis, the 12 constellations of the zodiac marking the path of the sun.
A lunar month is precisely 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 3 seconds long. Twelve such months make up a lunar year of 354 days, 8 hours, 48 minutes, and 36 seconds. To ensure that the corresponding seasons according to the lunar months coincide with those of the solar year, an extra month is inserted every 30 months (approximately every 2½ years) because 62 lunar months are equal to 60 solar months. As a result of the adjustment, the seasons and festivals retain their general position relative to the solar year.
Each lunar month is divided into two pakshas (two parts) – the sud or shukla paksh (the bright half of the month when the moon waxes from a new moon to a full moon) and the vad or krishna paksh (the dark half of the month when the moon wanes from a full moon to a new moon). Each paksha is divided into 15 tithis (lunar days) which follow the names of Sanskrit numerical system.
The era that is currently used in the Indian calendar is the Vikram Samvat Era, which began in 57 BCE when King Vikram drove off a Greek invasion of the Malwa region and came to the throne. Thus, we have the following conversion to the Indian year. If the western calendar date falls between Kartik sud 1 (the beginning of the Indian Year) and December 31st (the end of the western calendar year), then 57 years should be subtracted from the Indian year to make the conversion. If the western calendar date falls between January 1st (the beginning of the western year) and Aso vad 30 (the end of the Indian year), then only 56 years should be subtracted to make the conversion.
Q.4 What are the seasons of the Indian Calendar?
A. In the Indian calendar, the 12 lunar months of a solar year are divided into six rutus (seasons), each comprising of approximately two months. Since the seasons are solar based, each of the six seasons – Sharad (late monsoon), Hemant (early winter), Shishir (winter), Vasant (spring), Grishma (summer) and Varshã (monsoon) commence around the 21st of each even month of the Western calendar.
Q.5 What is Ahinsã?
A.  Summary Answer:
Ahinsã is not just non-violence. It also encompasses respect and consideration for life and peaceful, harmonious living.
The Concept of Ahinsã
Ahinsã is the feeling that attempts to reduce harm to all living creatures. The concept of Ahinsã is meant to be practiced by:

  • thought - not having thoughts of ill-will towards others
  • word - not using speech to slander or malign others
  • deed - not performing violent physical actions
In renowned Hindu scriptures such as the Mahãbhãrat (3-207-7), the Vãsudev Mãhãtmya (20/21), and the Padma Purãn (1.31.27), Ahinsã is referred to as the highest virtue of life: Ahinsã paramo dharma. Bhagwãn Swãminãrayan has referred to the practice of Ahinsã throughout His Shikshãpatri - the code of conduct for devotees:
  • “All scriptures advocate Ahinsã as the highest dharma.”(Verse 12)
  • “My devotees should not harm any living being. They should not intentionally harm even small insects.” (Verse 11)
  • “Even for performing yagnas (ceremonial and divine sacrifices) to please deities or ancestors, no harm should be inflicted on any living being.” (Verse 12)
  • “Even for acquiring women, wealth or a kingdom, one should never, in any way, harm or kill any person.” (Verse 155)
Vegetarianism: An Application of Ahinsã
A practical application of Ahinsã seen in Hinduism is vegetarianism - as it fosters the sentiment of respect for other living creatures. The most ancient Hindu scriptures curbed the practice of killing animals by imposing strict ritualistic regulations which are very difficult to ordinarily meet. Those who were following the spiritual path and wanted to attain God were prohibited altogether from killing animals and consuming animal flesh because such consumption hinders spiritual progress. Hindu scriptures say that killing animals and consuming their flesh leads to violence in our thoughts and behavior. It spoils one’s character and obstructs one’s acquisition of noble virtues.
Today, some people feel that because they are not actually killing the animal themselves, eating the flesh and other body parts of a dead animal does not violate the code of Ahinsã. However, Hindus consider the consumption of dead animal flesh to be a barbaric practice. The Vãsudev Mãhãtmya and other Hindu scriptures state that one who consumes animal flesh, who sells animal flesh, or who prepares animal flesh – all of these people accrue the same sin as the person who slaughters the animal. This is similar to the Western idea that the murderer and the accessory to the murder are both guilty of the killing.
Some people argue that God has given us the ability to kill animals and digest animal flesh; therefore God must have wanted us to eat animals. One could easily respond that God has given us the intelligence and ability to kill humans and digest human flesh, so in that belief system, did God give us this ability because he wanted us to eat human flesh? The flaw in this argument becomes clear here. These people have made the grave error of confusing ability and civility, or ethics. Men may have the ability to kill animals and eat animal flesh, but that does not make it right. Humans have the ability to do some very bad things. But civilization, ethics, morality, and dharma are all meant to restrain man from exercising his full barbaric, animalistic capability and instead, to elevate him from this animalistic condition to the plane of humanity and even higher to the plane of spirituality. It is with this intent of elevating mankind from just a human being to a spiritual being that Hinduism has propagated the value of Ahinsã and its corollary vegetarianism. 

Q.6 How does the practice of self-defense fit into the concept of Ahinsã?
A. Ahinsã is not just non-violence or not resorting to arms, but it is also the feeling that tries to reduce harm to all living creatures. Sometimes, force or violence may in fact be necessary to prevent harm. Suppose a train is heading towards a child who is standing in the middle of railroad tracks. We would be inclined to push the child out of the way to save his or her life. Suppose that a wild animal is running ferociously to attack a group of tourists. The animal may need to be wounded to prevent harm to numerous people. Ahinsã recognizes the right to defend one’s self, family, community, and country through the most feasible and appropriate, yet least violent, means necessary. However, defending oneself should never be used to justify violence that is not provoked or warranted. One should be careful that defending one’s self does not become a hidden form of aggression.
Q.7 What is the Ãtmã?
A. The ãtmã is the soul. It is the individual self, the conscious spirit, the knower, the enjoyer and the doer of actions. There are innumerable ãtmãs, fundamentally the same, yet each distinct entities. The ãtmã is eternal. It was not created at anytime by anybody nor will it ever perish. Weapons cannot cut it, nor can fire burn it; water cannot wet it, nor can wind dry it. Each ãtmã pervades the whole organism, and is different from the three bodies – gross (sthul sharir – physical body), subtle (sukshma – mental body), and causal (kãran sharir – accumulation of impressions from past karmas). Yet, it is bound by worldly desires that are formed according to its karma. Though conditioned by mãyã, the ãtmã can be eternally released from mãyã by the grace of a God-realized guru or God.
Q.8 What is Karma?
A. Summary Answer:
Karma is the law of action and reaction (cause and effect) applied to life. The ãtmã reaps fruits, good or bad, according to its past and present actions; these fruits are experienced either in this life or in future lives. God is the giver of the fruits of all living beings’ actions.
There are three types of karmas – sanchit, prãrabdha, and kriyamãn.

  • Sanchit karmas – the stock of karmas, or accumulation of past good and bad actions.
  • Prãrabdha karmas – are the portion of sanchit karmas used up to create the present physical body and the experiences we are to encounter in this life.
  • Kriyamãn karmas – the new actions we perform each day which shape our future experiences of pain and joy.
Karma helps explain the disparities that occur in the human population such as: prosperity or poverty, happiness or misery, good health, illness, or disability. Behind every individual’s existence there partly lies his own past deeds, which are directly responsible for many of the events during his lifespan, be it painful or pleasant. We are what we are because of our deeds and actions.
One may ask: Why do some sinful people seem happy and why do some righteous people experience misery? To understand this, consider the analogy of a large storage vessel for grains. As long as the sacks of good grains are emptied in the vessel, there will be no problems. One will get good grains as one removes them from an outlet at the bottom of the vessel each day. But, when a sack of bad grains is emptied into the container, one eventually comes across it after the layers of good grains have been exhausted. One reaps the benefits of the layers of past good actions until the bad layers arrive. So, until then, the person may seem to live in comfort and happiness, but he has to eventually bear the consequences of his bad actions. There is no correlation, however, between the order that the karmas were performed and the order in which one receives the fruits of those karmas. Thus, although it is possible for one to receive the fruits of one’s karmas in the order in which those karmas were performed, as implied in the aforementioned analogy, this is not always the case. One may receive the fruits of karmas independent of the order in which the karmas were performed.
Karma is not to be confused as the giver of the fruits of our actions. In His Vachanãmrut, Bhagwãn Swãminãrayan says,
“Just as when seeds which are planted in the earth sprout upwards after coming into contact with rainwater, similarly, during the period of creation, the jivas which had resided within mãyã together with their kãran sharir (causal body), attain various types of bodies according to their individual karmas by the will of God, the giver of the fruits of karmas.” (Vartãl 6)
So, in fact, God is the giver of the fruits of our actions. One might think that God is cruel when He dispenses the fruits of bad actions. But, God is impartial towards all. The Brahma Sutras by Ved Vyãs say, “God is not biased in giving happiness and misery to anyone but gives the fruits of one’s karmas.” (2-1-34)
Not only does God give the fruits of one’s karmas, but earning the grace of God or His realized sãdhu can destroy the harmful karmas of one’s past. Many stories from our scriptures show this to be true. Bhagwãn Swãminãrayan also says in the Vachanãmrut Gadhadã I-58 that if a God-realized Sãdhu becomes pleased upon a person, then regardless of how malicious his karmas may be, they are all destroyed. The blessings of that great sãdhu could make a beggar into a king, could transform a bad fate into a favorable destiny, and could dissolve even the most disastrous misfortune.
Accepting and understanding that our actions have causes and effects stops us from performing unrighteous actions for which we would have to suffer from the further accumulation and consequences of harmful karmas.
Q.9 What is Reincarnation?
A. Summary Answer:
Reincarnation is the phenomenon where the immortal soul is continuously born and reborn in any one of 8,400,000 life-forms until it attains moksha.
The ãtmã is characterized by unchanging truth, consciousness, and bliss. The ãtmã is formless and has always been bound by a kãran sharir (causal body). This causal body is not a body in the physical sense. It is simply an accumulation of the sanskãrs (impressions of past karmas). The pure ãtmã together with this kãran sharir is known as the jiva.
Because the jiva is formless in nature, without a physical and subtle body, it is unable to enjoy or suffer the fruits of its karmas, nor can it endeavor to attain God. So, out of compassion, God grants the formless jiva a physical and subtle body according to its karmas. Then, just as we cast off old clothes for new, the jiva casts off its old body for a new one – given to it by God according to its karmas. Hindu scriptures explain that the jiva attains the bodies of 8.4 million life forms in rotation and in them, experiences happiness and misery according to its karmas. It is only possible to attain ultimate liberation through the human body. In the Vachanãmrut [Bhugol-Khagol], while explaining the importance of this rare and priceless human birth, Bhagwan Swaminarayan says,

A jiva squanders its human body, which it receives after 35,000,000 prãkrut-pralays (i.e. 10,886,400,000,000,000,000,000 human years), for the sake of vain worldly pleasures, and by the refuge of a false guru. Consequently, it has to suffer the torments of Yam and the agonies of the pits of narak. Moreover, it receives another human birth in a place where liberation is attainable only after passing through the sufferings of the cycle of 8.4 million life forms, i.e. after another 35,000,000 prãkrut-pralays. This is the interval before one receives a human birth again.
Therefore, O brother, having understood this today, and having sought the refuge of the Sadguru Sant – the granter of liberation – and having kept your body, indriyas and antahkaran in accordance with his wish, strive for the benefit of your ãtmã and reach the abode of God. If you do not realise this fact today and waste this human body, which is instrumental in attaining liberation, you will have to wait for the aforementioned time before you receive another chance like this. Only after such suffering, and only at the end of that interval will you receive another opportunity to attain liberation, and that too if you strive for it. If you do not, you will not attain liberation. This is a fundamental principle. The wise should ponder over this.
One with exceptionally good karmas, having attained some form of contact with God or the God-realized S ãdhu, maybe released from having to undertake birth within the cycle of 8.4 million life forms. Instead, he would continue to take human births until, offering devotion to God, he earns the pleasure of God or the God-realised Sãdhu and attains moksha.
Q10 What is Moksha?
A. Summary Answer
Moksha is ultimate liberation. This is the goal of human life. Moksha is the liberation of the soul from the cycles of birth and death; thereafter, it remains eternally in the service of God in His abode.
Moksha is when the causal body is destroyed and the pure ãtmã achieves everlasting bliss in the worship of God. The word causal body implies that it is the cause of the jiva having to undertake a physical body and bear out its destiny in accordance to its karmas. It is only through the grace of God or the God-enlightened Sãdhu (guru) that one’s kãran sharir is dissolved and moksha is achieved. Penance, austerities, yoga, yagnas (ceremonial sacrifices), donations, and other pious actions do not directly give moksha. The fruit of doing these pious deeds is the contact and association with God and the God-enlightened S ãdhu. Once such association with God and the God-enlightened Sãdhu has been achieved, understanding their true form, following their commands, and imbibing dharma, gnãn, vairãgya, and bhakti earns the jiva their grace and thus ultimate moksha.

When an ãtmã achieves moksha, God grants it a divine body. With this divine body it resides in the abode of God with infinite other liberated souls. Here it enjoys everlasting bliss in worshipping God. The happiness from infinite universes put together pales into insignificance in front of the bliss of God experienced by these liberated souls. In His divine abode, God grants the ãtmã powers and a form that is similar to His own. Yet, the ãtmã is distinct from God and forever retains a relationship of servitude towards God. In fact, such powers bear no attraction to these liberated souls because their experience of worshipping God brings infinite times more bliss than the exercise of any powers.
Q.11 Why are there so many Gods in Hinduism?
A. Summary Answer:
Hinduism is not a polytheistic religion. For all Hindus, there is only one Supreme God.

The ancient seers of India recognized that all of God’s creation does not just center around man, but that man shares the universe with numerous life forms. Some life forms have less powers and abilities than humans while others have more. God grants some of these various higher beings cosmic powers and assigns them the responsibilities of running the “machinery of the universe.” These higher beings are also known as devtãs, devãs or gods. While Hindus respect these gods to be higher than humans, and even propitiate them in times of need, Hindus also readily acknowledge that these gods are clearly subservient to and have their origin and sustenance in one Supreme God. Hindus are thus monotheists, worshippers of one Supreme God, in every sense of the word.

Historically, many groups have been unwilling or unable to understand the true position and function of the various gods within Hinduism. Consequently, out of misunderstanding or prejudice, they have incorrectly labeled Hinduism as polytheistic in the sense of the ancient Roman or Greek pantheon. However, this is incorrect. Just as other religions consider themselves monotheistic while still accepting the existence of “angels” and other superhuman divinities, Hinduism should be considered monotheistic in the same sense.

Om Tat Sat

(My humble  salutations to the great devotees ,  wikisources  and Pilgrimage tourist guide for the collection )






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