Holy Pilgrimage - Hindu temples in United Kingdom-18/2

Holy Pilgrimage - Hindu temples in United Kingdom

 BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
Ribble Bank Street
Off Gerrard Street Preston PR1 8NF Lancashire UK
Phone: 01772 497367/200256

E-mail: info.preston@uk.baps.org

Central Hindu Scriptures

Hindu theology is based on the Vedas and Hindu philosophy has been clarified in the Prasthantrayi. The Vedas are revered as the oldest scriptures and contain spiritual and philosophical knowledge. The four Vedas - Rig Veda, Sam Veda, Yajur Veda, Atharva Veda - are supplemented by the Upanishads, the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras as pillars of Hindu philosophy. Hindu philosophies are derived from the Prasthantrayi, which is the collective name for the Upanishads, the Bhagwad Gita and the Brahma Sutras. These have been accepted as treasures of wisdom for centuries in India. Bhagwan Swaminarayan placed emphasis on studying the Vedas and the historic Hindu scriptures of the Prasthanatrayi. 

The Vedas

The foundational scriptures for Hindus are the Vedas. A practising Hindu is generally defined as one who believes in the authority and sanctity of the Vedas. Hindus consider the Vedas not man-made, but to be revealed by God. Before being written down, the Vedas were taught for a long time from generation to generation in oral tradition.    
The Rig Veda is considered the most important Veda, containing Sanskrit 'mantras' or prayers to the nature gods to grant riches, progeny, long life, peace  and eternal happiness. Many Hindu philosophical ideas have their basis in the Rig Veda, including that of one Supreme Reality, monotheistic worship and bhakti. The Yajur Veda mantras deal with the rituals of worship or the ceremonial aspect of Hindu worship and belief. The Sama Veda contains Rig Vedic mantras set to music, with all its mantras being set to the seven basic notes. The Atharva Veda has mantras that deal with health, friendship, trade and commerce, and many other aspects of life in Vedic times. 

The Upanishads

The Upanishads refers to that divine knowledge which loosens the bonds of attachment, removes ignorance, and helps one understand one's true self and the true form of Bhagwan. The dialogues in the Upanishads are conversations between the enlightened guru and their disciples in the gurukuls - ancient forest academies - of India. 
The Upanishads are also referred to as Vedanta, the conclusion of the Vedas, both chronologically and philosophically, as they teach the highest spiritual knowledge. There are over 200 Upanishads, each with a unique identity and a theme. Out of the 200, only 10 to 12 are considered to be the older works; they are the basic sources of ancient Hindu philosophy. The Upanishads contain the enlightened teachings that are the essence of Hindu philosophy dealing with the nature and relation of God, jiva, moksha, and the material world. 
The ten main Upanishads are the Isha, Katha, Kena, Prashna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chandogya and Brihadaranyaka. Each of these ten Upanishads has been interpreted and discussed by the different Acharyas: Shanka, Ramanuj, Madhva, Nimbark, Vallabh, and Chaitanya. All Hindu schools of thought must establish their philosophy based on the mantras of these 10 scriptural masterpieces.
The ancient Katha Upanishad’s story of child Nachiketa’s encounter with Yamaraj, the God of Death, and the explanation of what happens after death is presented everyday at Swaminarayan Akshardham-Gandhinagar’s Sat-Chit-Anand Water Show with live actors and special effects. Moreover, BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha’s sadhus study many of the Upanishads as part of their training and have authored detailed essays on the Upanishads,  

The Brahma Sutras

The Brahma Sutras are the second scripture considered a pillar of Hindu philosophy. The Brahma Sutras are known as tarka scriptures, or scriptures based on logic. Badarayan Rishi or Veda Vyas wrote the Brahma Sutras to share the knowledge of the Upanishads in short mantras using logic. However, towards the end of the text Veda Vyas says, “tarko apratishtitaha,” which means, “logic is not the basis of spirituality.” Logic can be argued and debated. Faith in God and spiritual progress is only attained by faith.
According to Sankara, the earliest commentator of the Brahma Sutras, there are 191 adhikarans and 555 sutras arranged in 4 chapters (adhyãyas). Each chapter is further divided into 4 sections called pãds.
The first chapter, Samanvaya (harmony), explains that all the Vedantic texts speak of Bhagwan, the Ultimate Reality, and to reach Him is the goal of life. The second chapter, Avirodha (non-conflict), discusses and refutes the possible objections against Vedanta philosophy. The third chapter, Sadhana (the means), describes the process by which the jiva can achieve moksha. The fourth chapter, Phala (the fruit), talks about the state that is achieved when one has attained moksha.
The sutras are brief, containing mostly two to four Sanksrit words. Almost all renowned acharyas have authored a commentary based on the Brahma Sutras, and thus, the Brahma Sutras have influenced all schools of Hindu philosophy. 

The Shrimad Bhagwad Gita

The Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, also known as the Gita, is the third and final scripture forming the foundation of Hindu philosophy. Hindus have great reverence for this divine manuscript. The text is composed of 700 verses spread across 18 chapters, or adhyayas. It is part of a much larger work, the Mahabharata, the great Indian epic poem written by Veda Vyas.  
The Gita speaks of performing one’s own swadharma, or duty, without the expectations of merit or its fruit. This is the only way to please God and realize His true form. This learning is delivered in the Gita as a dialog between Shri Krishna and Arjun, on the battlefield of the Mahabharata war. The warrior Arjun loses heart and the strength to face his enemies in battle, which includes his gurus, elders, and relatives. The loss of this strength symbolizes a greater loss; it symbolizes Arjun unable to perform his duty.
The questions raised by Arjun about right and wrong, duty and responsibility  - and the answers given by Shri Krishna - are still relevant and valid today, nearly 5,000 years later. The knowledge of the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita is eternal. Shri Krishna elaborates on various Vedantic philosophies with examples and analogies. He describes the knowledge of self-realization and the process by which a human being can establish an eternal rapport with God. Some of the most famous verses discuss the concept of stability of the body, mind, and soul. A famous shloka from the Gita’s introduction gives the beautiful anology of Arjun being a calf drinking the nectar-like milk of the Gita from the Upanishadic cow offered by Shri Krishna, the cowherd.
After much discussion, Arjun is still unconvinced. Lord Krishna then utters the conclusive shloka, “Sarva dharmaan parityajya…,” which means, “Oh Arjun, leave all your ideas about right and wrong, and surrender to my will. I shall free you from any consequences of your actions and deliver moksha to you.” Thus, the Bhagavad Gita is a call to action, a dialogue between God and man in which God is exhorting man to perform his duties as per the wish of God and thus fulfilling his spiritual as well as worldly duties.
The Shrimad Bhagavad Gita’s simplicity and universal messages can be imbibed by all, thus making the Gita an important philosophical and religious classic of our world. 

Other Swaminarayan Scriptures

 Bhagwan Swaminarayan bequeathed a legacy of mandir, scripture, and sadhu to His followers for their continued guidance on the spiritual path. He gave talks which were written down in the Vachanamrut, wrote His devotees’ ideal code of conduct in the Shikshapatri, and inspired Gunatitanand Swami to speak of the glory of God which has been recorded in Swami ni Vato.
In addition to these main scriptures, Bhagwan Swaminarayan inspired many of His sadhus to study languages and write poetry and prose in Sanskrit, Braj, and Gujarati. The matchless treatises written by His sadhus include the Bhaktachintamani, the Satsangi Jivan, and the Haricharitramrut Sagar. Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s teachings, immortalized during His own lifetime in these scriptures, reinforced the principles of ekantik dharma. Nishkulanand Swami prominently extols this fact at the end of every chapter of his Bhaktachintamani. To Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s name he attaches the prefix, Shrimad Ekantik Dharma Pravartak, or ‘Propounder of Ekantik Dharma.’
In addition, the daily occurrences of Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s spiritual successors have been recorded, and these biographies also serve as scriptures for devotees.  

Bhakta Chintamani

 The Bhaktachintamani is a scripture detailing the divine exploits of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Bhaktachintamani literally means ‘the wish fulfilling gem of the devotee,’ as those devotees who wish to ponder upon the divine actions of Bhagwan Swaminarayan may look upon this book as a wish fulfilling gem.
Nishkulanand Swami authored this scripture in Gujarati and chiefly employed the famous Chopai stanza form. Although Nishkulanand Swami was illiterate, he could compose in verses, highlighting his deep devotion to Bhagwan Swaminarayan. This work is comprised of 164 chapters. In addition to depicting the divine occurrences of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Nishkulanand Swami vividly describes the celebration of Holi and Annakut festivals. The authenticity of this work is seen in the great detail provided about the places visited by Bhagwan Swaminarayan and the list of eminent devotees belonging to respective towns and villages. Key chapters include chapter 64, the Fagva Chapter, and chapters 76 and 103 to 105, which discuss the supremacy of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Chapters 106 to 110, which discuss the subjects of non-attachment and freedom from passion, avarice, taste, and ego, also merit study. Shastriji Maharaj, the third spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, often recommended the chanting of the verses from this scripture to overcome difficulties.

Harichritramrut Sagar

 Haricharitramrut Sagar literally means ‘the ocean of the nectar episodes of Hari,’ which is another name of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Considered as the authoritative biography of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, an eye-witness account, its staggering length of 80,000 sakhis (a system of poetic versification), renders this an epic in its own right, over three times the length of the Ramayana.
The history of the creation of this masterpiece is as intriguing as its contents. On several occasions, Bhagwan Swaminarayan related His life, from birth until arrival in Loj, to Muktanand Swami. In Vikram Samvat Year 1881 (1825 CE), Bhagwan Swaminarayan bestowed upon Muktanand Swami the opportunity to offer bhakti by writing His life episodes until his last breath. Muktanand Swami performed this task diligently, writing details in the form of Kharda, a rough format to be systematically restructured later. He continued writing and dictating the Khardas prolifically until Bhagwan Swaminarayan passed away in 1830. Grief-stricken by His departure, Muktanand Swami's poor health deteriorated rapidly, and he passed away one and a half months later. In Vikram Samvat Year 1914 (1858 CE), Adharanand Swami, himself an artist and sculptor, but not a poet, commenced the mammoth versification of the Haricharitramrut Sagar from Muktanand Swami's Khardas. Divinely inspired, Adharanand Swami composed the sakhis, akin to that of the Ramayana, in Vraj Hindi. The work is comprised of 28 chapters, beautifully named as purs, or waves, each divided into tarangs, or ripples, in consonance with the sagar's (ocean's) imagery.

Satsangi Jivan

‘Satsangi’ signifies a member of the fellowship of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, and ‘jivan’ means life. This scripture contains details of the life to be lived by a disciple in Satsang. It was written in Sanskrit by Shatanand Swami.
In Gadhapur, Shatanand Swami composed some verses in praise of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, who upon hearing such praises became pleased with Shatanand Swami and requested that he ask Him for a boon. Shatanand Swami asked permission to compose a work depicting Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s divine exploits on this Earth, to which Bhagwan Swaminarayan agreed. The writing of this scripture commenced on Magshar Sud 6 Vikram Samvat Year 1885. During the course of its composition, Shatanand Swami continually verified its content with senior sadhus and Bhagwan Swaminarayan, establishing its authenticity.
Comprised of 5 volumes and 17,627 verses, it incorporates: the constitution and brief history of the Sampraday; details of festivals and rituals; vows of disciples; modes of worshipping God and expiation of sins; Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s philosophical principles, such as Vishishtadvaita and dharma, gnan, vairagya, and bhakti; and the divine episodes of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Also included are the vows and penances for sadhus, known as the Dharmamrut and Nishkam Shuddhi.  

Jivan Charitro

A guru’s life can teach as much to a follower as his lectures. The lives of Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s spiritual successors have been recorded, and these biographies also serve as scriptures for devotees. Their lives illustrate the principles and philosophy taught by Bhagwan Swaminarayan, providing an ideal example of spiritual living for all devotees.
·         Gunatitanand Swami was the first spiritual successor and guru and is recognized as Akshar, the eternal abode of God. He was the mahant of Junagadh mandir for 40 years and led a life of great simplicity. He continuously conducted discourses to explain Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s philosophy. His teachings have been compiled in the Swamini Vato, revered as one of the three main scriptures, along with the Vachanamrut and Shikshapatri, of the Swaminarayan faith. His cremation place, Akshar Deri in Gondal, is regarded as a sacred place of pilgrimage. 
·         Pragji Bhakta , commonly called Bhagatji Maharaj, was the second spiritual successor. He was not a sadhu but a householder from the lowly tailor caste, both of which would have been considered shortcomings anywhere else but in the progressive Swaminarayan faith. His spirituality shone through in spite of insurmountable problems, and he clarified the role of Akshar in Swaminarayan philosophy. For those who understood this philosophy, he promised, “I will take away your robes of illusion and clothe you in robes eternal.” 
·         Shastri Yagnapurushdas , known as Shastriji Maharaj, was the third spiritual successor. He displayed his intellectual and divine powers from childhood. He never compromised on the truth and remained firm in his principles. He left the Vadtal diocese to propagate Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s philosophy of Akshar Purushottam. To further this philosophy, he founded the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha as a formal organization in 1907 CE. Beginning with just five sadhus and a few devotees, he erected five mandirs and worked tirelessly to spread Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s message. He appointed Yogiji Maharaj and Pramukh Swami Maharaj as the next successors of Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s spiritual lineage. 
·         Sadhu Gnanjivandas was the fourth spiritual successor. He was initiated into the sadhu fold at the age of 16 and was called ‘Yogi’ by everyone because of his transparent divinity and abundant joy. He established special children and youth centers to involve youths with satsang. Yogiji Maharaj initiated many youths into the sadhu fold, forming an educated core for the organization’s spiritual and humanitarian activities. His spontaneous joy, unassuming humility, and unflinching faith in God and the goodness of each individual captivated thousands. 
·         Sadhu Narayanswarupdas is popularly known as Pramukh Swami Maharaj and is also referred to as ‘Swamishri’ by devotees. He is the fifth spiritual successor and President of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha. As a sadhu, he leads an austere life without any personal wealth or belongings. His profound love for God rises beyond any borders of nation or race. He is the inspirer of all BAPS spiritual and humanitarian projects, from mandirs in the United States to medical camps in India. His belief in the power of prayer and his affinity for all people are the foundations of his leadership. He has traveled to thousands of villages and towns and sanctified thousands of homes with his visits. He still meets devotees everyday despite his age and continues to personally inspire and lead people towards better lives.  

Hindu Beliefs:
Hindu Sanatan Dharma is often known as a democratic religion. The Vedas say that there are many paths to the same destination: moksha. That is why Hindu Sanãtan Dharma embraces a great diversity of beliefs about God or Bhagwan, the universe, and the path to moksha. Though followers of Hindu Sanãtan Dharma may seem to be following different paths to Bhagwan, the core beliefs are the same. These core beliefs form the essence of Hindu Sanãtan Dharma and have been practiced since the beginning of time. All Hindus believe in the revealed scripture (the Vedas) and one Supreme God. All paths lead to a common goal of salvation, of the soul's freedom from a temporal body. Hindus also believe in the sacredness of life, compassion, service, reincarnation, and the laws of karma and dharma. Most Hindus build mandirs which are dedicated to the Supreme and believe that a true guru is needed on the path to moksha.
The two qualifying features of a Hindu are faith in one Supreme God and belief in the authority of the Vedas and following the principles enshrined in them. The Vedas are accepted by everyone in Hindu dharma. The Vedas are ancient shastras taken as direct revelations by God to the enlightened rishis of India. As such, they have not originated at a particular time in history and are believed to be eternal and of divine origin. The Vedas are also known as the Shruti Shastras. Shruti means ‘that which is heard,’ i.e., the divine utterances revealed to the rishis by Bhagwan.
The Vedas consist of over 100,000 verses with additional prose. There are four Vedas: Rig Veda, Sãm Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda. Each of the four Vedas are comprised of four parts: Samhitã (hymns), Brãhman (manual of rites and rituals), Ãranyak (forest treatises), and the Upanishads (enlightened teachings that contain the essence of Hindu philosophy dealing with the nature and relation of God, jiva, maya, and moksha). In past centuries, students would devote their entire lives to learning the Vedas orally from their gurus, passing on this knowledge for generations. The shlokas would be recited during the performance of a yagna, a common form of the early Vedic religion. Students would recite them as they were written, some would recite them backwards, and yet others would recite them in different patterns to make sure that each mantra was accurately passed down word for word. These methods have ensured the consistency and credibility of the Vedas through the centuries of their existence.  
Another core belief of Hindu Dharma is that of Parabrahma, Paramãtmã, Parameshwar, One Supreme Bhagwan, or God who is unparalleled and the highest entity. Parabrahma manifests in various forms, but He is one and supreme. The Rig Veda proclaims, “Ekam sat viprãhã bahudã vadanti,” meaning “Truth is one, but the wise describe it in many ways.” Hindu Dharma is monotheistic, worshipping one but with respect for all Gods and spirituality. To be more precise, it is henotheistic, meaning the belief in and worship of one Supreme God without denying the existence of other ‘gods’ or forms of the Supreme God.
Parabrahma is sat-chit-ãnanda, that is, eternal, consciousness, and bliss. Parabrahma is 'sarvopari', supreme and all-powerful; 'sãkãr', possessing a divine and personal form; 'sarva kartã', the all-doer; 'antaryami', the all-knower; and 'pragat', ever-present on Earth through a gunatit guru. Parabrahma comes on Earth in human and other forms to liberate the pious souls, to fulfill devotees spiritual wishes, and to destroy evil. He possesses infinite divine qualities, out of which six are prominent: gnãn', knowledge; 'shakti', strength; 'virya', power; 'aishwarya', divinity; 'tej', brilliance; and 'bal', strength.
Parabrahma is independent, and His divine power prevails over all.  He is the creator, sustainer, and destroyer. He is the only controller of infinite universes. He is above maya and controls it with His power. Through His association, jivas and ishwars can become divine. In His transcendental form, He has a human form and resides in His divine abode called Aksharadhãm. In His immanent form, He pervades Aksharbrahma, ishwars, jivas, mãyã, and infinite universes. Parabrahma is also present as antaryãmi and sãkshi, or witness in each of us.  
The guru is one of the most important concepts of Hindu Sanatan Dharma. The word ‘guru’ can be defined as one who dispels the darkness of ignorance. The term guru was originally used to refer a spiritual teacher, but over time has come to refer to any teacher. The main duties of the guru are to perform the initiation ritual of aspirants into satsang, dikshã ceremony of youths into renunciation, murti pratishthã ritual, and offer discourses to devotees. The guru pacifies the inner turmoils of countless followers by meeting, counseling, and blessing them, whether in person, through letters, or telephone calls. He strikes a rapport with the devotees, fulfills their wishes, and inspires love for and faith in Bhagwan. It is through the guru that the disciple realizes and attains Bhagwan.
On a spiritual platform, Parabrahman or God is present on Earth through the satpurush. In Vachanamrut Gadhada I-54, Bhagwan Swaminarayan cites the Shrimad Bhagavata Purana and says that the true guru, the satpurush, is the only pathway to God and to moksha. He is responsible for helping the jiva realize Parabrahman. Parabrahman works and accepts the devotion of spiritual aspirants through the satpurush. It is only through Aksharbrahman - the true guru in Akshar Purushottam philosophy - that a jiva can associate itself with God and understand Him well enough to seek complete refuge in Him. Due to maya, the jiva is clouded and distracted from its association with God. By associating with Aksharbrahman, the jiva becomes divine. All of the actions and experiences of the jiva become divine, thereby bringing the jiva out of the darkness of maya and into the light of Parabrahman.
The jiva also relies on Aksharbrahman to become brahmarup. Nestled close to the heart, the jiva is encased in emotional and physical attachment that blinds the jiva from realizing God. The Shrimad Bhagavata Purana states, “God dispels the ignorance of maya through His Dham.” Aksharbrahman is that Dham. Bhagwan Swaminarayan elaborates by saying, “That Aksharbrahman has two forms. One, which is formless and pure chaitanya, is known as Chidakash. In its other form, that Aksharbrahman remains in the service of Purshottam Narayan.” (Gadhada I-21). It is only though Aksharbrahman that the jiva can shed the darkness of attachment that surrounds it, those attachments that keep the jiva from realizing God’s greatness. Association with Aksharbrahman to help the jiva realize Parabrahman is known as becoming aksharrup or brahmarup.
In the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Shri Krishna tells Arjun, “One who becomes Brahmarup, whose mind is always content, who does not lament in any way, who does not crave for any object, who has equanimity for all living creatures – that individual attains my bhakti.” For the jiva to reach this state, it must be guided by Aksharbrahman. That Aksharbrahman should become the jiva’s guru and teach the jiva about the glory of God so that the jiva may understand Him. 
At the time of creation, Purushottam Bhagwan, who transcends even Akshar, inspires Akshar, and as a result, Purush manifests from Akshar. Purushottam Bhagwan through Purush inspires Prakruti. In this way, as Purushottam successively enters the various entities, the activities of creation take place. Thereafter, Pradhan-Purush pairs are produced from Prakruti-Purush. From Pradhan-Purush, mahattattva (cosmic intelligence) is produced. From mahattattva, the three types of ahamkar (that which produces the sense of ‘I,’ ‘mine,’ and ego) are produced. From ahamkar, the bhuts (five fundamental elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether), the vishays, the indriyas (the sense-organs), the antahkarans (the inner instrument – the mind), and their presiding deities are produced; from those, Virat-Purush is produced. From the lotus extending from Virat-Purush’s naval, Brahma is produced. From that Brahma, Marichi (mind-born son of Brahma) and the other prajapatis (progenitors of mankind) are produced. From them, Kashyap, the son of Marichi, is produced. He is the creator of the gods, demigods, demons, animals, and the whole of creation. Purushottam Bhagwan enters and dwells in all of the above entities as their cause and antaryami.
Pralaya refers to the dissolution of the world which occurs at the end of Brahma’s life. Brahma has a life span of 100 years on the divine scale, which is equal to 3.1104 x 1014 human years. At the end of this period, everything up to, but not including, Akshar gets destroyed, after which the process of creation starts again. 
Karma and Dharma:
“As you sow, so shall you reap” is a common phrase in life which concisely sums up the law of karma. Karma is the universal Hindu law of cause and effect which holds a person responsible for his or her actions and effects. According to one’s good or bad actions, Bhagwan rewards or punishes. The word ‘karma’ means human action or deed; we are constantly performing karmas whether physically, mentally, or emotionally. A person’s karma is responsible for good or bad consequences in his or her life. Nothing in this world happens accidentally or coincidentally; there is a reason behind everything though it may not be clear to us at that time. Good actions produce happiness and bad actions lead to suffering and misery in the present or next life. A person’s past actions govern his present, and his present actions have an effect on his future. This means that every person is, to a certain degree, the creator of his own destiny.
All of our karmas are performed in one of two ways. The first way is called nishkãm karma, when actions are performed without any expectation of material gain, ego, or material desires. Nishkãm karmas are only performed to fulfill one’s duties and please God. The second way is called sakãm karma, when actions are performed with an expectation of material desire or purpose. Bhagwan Swaminarayan taught the ideal of performing one’s karmas without the expectation of material gain. He stressed the need for an aspirant to have one desire – to please God even while performing nishkãm karma.
In Hindu Dharma there are 3 types of karmas:
1.      Kriyamãn karma are karmas being acquired every moment. The fruits of these karmas can be attained in this life, the next, or after many births.
2.    Sanchit karma is an accumulation of karmas containing the sum total of all a person’s karmas from one or many past lives. The fruits of these karmas are being experienced or have yet to be experienced.
3.    Prãrabdha karma is a part of one’s sanchit karma that is being experienced in this birth. For example, the attributes and conditions of one’s physical body and mental capacities are due to one’s prãrabdha karmas.
Bhagwan Swãminãrãyan has explained in His discourses that God has given every person the freedom of action, and therefore, he or she is responsible for performing karmas that either result in punya (merits) or pãp (sins). Furthermore, Bhagwan is the giver of the fruits of one’s good and bad karmas when He determines the consequences of one’s karmas. No karma by itself can produce or give results, but when Bhagwan so decides, only then can one experience its good or bad effects. The karma principle is not a self-operating system in which karmas automatically bring or give one results. This is because karmas by themselves are inanimate. 


Dharma is the very foundation of life. It is moral law combined with spiritual discipline that guides one's life. Dharma means ‘that which holds,’ i.e., the people of this world and the whole of creation cannot exist without dharma to hold them in place. Dharma is an all-inclusive term used to mean righteousness, morality, religion, responsibility, and duty. Dharma includes the practice of religious disciplines and duties, such as honesty, brahmacharya, and non-violence. The purpose of dharma is not only to help one’s jiva come closer with Bhagwan, but it also suggests a code of conduct that is intended to secure both worldly joys and eternal bliss. The practice of dharma gives an experience of happiness, strength, and tranquility within one's self and makes life disciplined.
Reincarnation, or punarjanma as it is called in Sanskrit, is the principle of rebirth in which a person’s jiva progresses through many births on its path to moksha, or liberation. Hindu Dharma preaches that while death may destroy the body, the jiva is immortal—it never dies. The jiva is intrinsically pure, but because of the layers of desires and ignorance of ‘I-ness’ and ‘my-ness,’ it goes through transmigration in the cycle of births and deaths, which is refered to as samsar. At the time of death, the jiva takes on another body with respect to its karmas. Every karma performed produces a result which must be experienced either in this life or the next.
As long as the jiva is warped in maya, it remains attached to material desires and is subject to the cycle of births and deaths. According to the Purãnas, the jiva passes through 8,400,000 different births, which includes all of the phyla in the animal and plant kingdoms, before it attains a human form. Depending on our karmas, our jiva will regress into a lower life form due to base karmas or progress into a higher life form due to righteous karmas. A jiva’s birth into a human body is the highest and rarest of all births. In a human birth, the jiva’s main purpose is to worship God in order to achieve moksha and to free itself from maya and the cycle of births and deaths. 


According to the Hindu shastras, moksha should be the ultimate goal of human life. Moksha is the liberation of the soul from maya, all material bondages, desires, and the cycle of birth and death. The liberated jiva then resides in Bhagwan’s divine abode, Akshardham, where it eternally experiences the divine bliss of Bhagwan. In Akshardham, each jiva has an individual identity, as they have always had. In Akshardham, the jivas are eternal and countless, each different from one another. After a jiva leaves its mortal body, it attains a divine body by the grace of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, who comes to take it to Aksharadhãm. In Aksharadhãm, all the muktas (souls who are released from the cycle of births and deaths) are subservient to Bhagwan Swãminãrãyan and forever remain absorbed in the bliss of His darshan.
The ignorance of maya cannot be conquered by the jiva alone. For this reason, it needs the contact and association of the human form of Bhagwan or the gunatit sadhu. Only through a profound spiritual association with either Bhagwan or the gunatit sadhu and their grace, can a soul become brahmarup or ãtmarup, realizing oneself to be ãtma and rising above maya.
Mandirs are a longstanding Hindu tradition. A mandir is a place of worship for Hindus. A mandir is a place where the mind becomes still and man experiences inner peace. For centuries, the mandir has remained a hub for life, a community forum where people forget their differences and voluntarily unite to serve society. It functions as a center for learning about man, nature, and Bhagwan. A mandir is where ethics and values are reinforced into the lives of children and adults. It is where people celebrate festivals and seek refuge during difficult times. It cultivates talents in various arts, music, and literature that are offered in the service of Bhagwan and the community.
Devotees visit mandirs to offer worship and devotion to the murti of Bhagwan, which is installed within the inner sanctum. The murti is consecrated by reciting Vedic mantras after which it becomes the manifest form of Bhagwan, not just a statue sculpted from stone or metal. Devotees revere and worship the murti as a living form of Bhagwan; they bathe it, adorn it in exquisite garments and ornaments, feed it, and put it to sleep. Furthermore, devotees come into contact with sadhus who reside at the mandir. The sadhus hold spiritual discourses to impart knowledge to the devotees and explain the philosophical doctrines of Hindu Dharma. The sadhus help transform hundreds of lives by leading people on the path of spirituality and morality. Moreover, the sadhus help console and free people from their addictions and bad habits.
In the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha there are two types of mandirs. The first type is known as the shikharbaddha mandir. These mandirs are built according to the principles of ancient Hindu Shilpa Shastras in the north Indian Nãgara style in which there are three shikhars and domes. Mandirs also represent a living form of Bhagwan, which is why devotees lovingly build such grand and majestic mandirs with intricate carvings. Footwear is removed upon entering a mandir because it is not only a place of worship but an object of worship as well; every part of a mandir is sacred. In the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, shikharbaddha mandirs usually have the following features:
1.      Aarti – performed five times a day.
2.    Mahapuja – performed every morning between the two morning aartis.
3.    Katha – performed 3 to 5 times a day.
4.    Sadhus – the only individuals allowed to care for the murtis, such as adorning the murtis with clothes and ornaments, and live within the mandir complex.
5.     Murtis – made of either stone of metal; in the first shrine are Shri Harikrishna Maharaj and Shri Rãdhã-Krishna Dev; in the center shrine is Shri Akshar Purushottam Maharaj – Bhagwan Swaminarayan and Aksharbrahma Gunatitanand Swami; in the last shrine is Shri Ghanshyam Maharaj – Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s childhood form.
The second type of mandir found in the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha is known as the hari mandir. Hari mandirs are generally built of cement, concrete, and steel and serve as a place of worship. They mainly have stone murtis of Shri Akshar-Purushottam Mahãrãj, Shri Rãdhã-Krishna Dev, and the BAPS guru paramparã. The pujari of a hari mandir is generally a householder devotee who performs ãarti twice a day. He is also responsible for adorning the murtis with clothes and ornaments and looks after the upkeep of the entire mandir. He holds katha twice a day. BAPS sadhus regularly visit the hari mandirs to deliver discourses and for home visits in the neighboring cities and villages.
All of the ideals of Hindu wisdom can be summarized into one word: ahimsa. Nonviolence is an ancient principle of Hinduism. Hindus are known to be peace-loving, and India is possibly the only large nation to not have had any colonial conducted war campaigns despite its great wealth. Even the Indian independence movement to free it from British colonial power was uniquely and successfully conducted in a nonviolent manner.
Ahimsa is the Hindu belief that symbolizes love, genuine care, and compassion towards all living beings. The principle of ahimsa extends far beyond avoiding causing physical harm; it also includes avoiding causing harm through speech and thought. Ahimsa is non-injury in mind, speech, and action towards any creature. Specifically:
  • In Mind – not to think maliciously of others.
  • In Speech – not to use foul language, swear, backbite, or quarrel.
  • In Action – avoid injury to any person or creature.
The Swaminarayan faith, like most branches of Hinduism, is non-proselytizing—it does not believe in using force for religious ends. Other than defensive purposes, the use of weapons is discouraged. Bhagwan Swaminarayan preached this principle of ahimsa to His followers and asked them to conduct their lives peacefully with respect and love for all. In the Vachanamrut Gadhada I-69, He explains that in order to attain moksha, one should practice ahimsa dharma.
  • There are many reasons why Hindu Dharma strongly advocates ahimsa. Hindus believe that Bhagwan pervades all living and non-living things. Bhagwan pervades humans, animals, plants, mountains, and the whole of creation; hence, all life is sacred and should be loved and revered. In addition, the law of karma teaches that whatever we do through word, thought, and deed will return to us whether it is in this life or the next. If we cause harm in any way, it will eventually revert back to us in an equal or amplified intensity.

The principle of ahimsa is the foundation for the Hindu practice of vegetarianism. What we eat affects not just our body but also our thoughts and actions. Man’s appetite for meat inflicts devastating harm on Earth itself, stripping its precious forests to make way for pastures. Moreover, Satguru Sivaya Subramuniya Swami in his book, Dancing with Siva, says “Hindus teach vegetarianism as a way to live with a minimum of hurt to other beings, for to consume meat, fish, fowl or eggs is to participate indirectly in acts of cruelty and violence against the animal kingdom.” He also goes on to say, “The meat-eater’s desire for meat drives another to kill and provide that meat. The act of the butcher begins with the desire of the consumer.” In other words, the desire to eat meat is as sinful as the act of actually eating it. Pramukh Swami Maharaj speaks of the emotional damage caused to another living being: “Imagine someone eating your mother, father, brother, sister, or child. Animals have feelings and dependencies too. By taking away someone’s life we are depriving many around them of what is rightfully theirs.”
Pramukh Swami Maharaj has spoken in his discourses about eating pure, home-cooked food for better health of the body, mind, and soul. Just as unclean food can have an effect on our digestive system, certain types of foods can negatively affect our thinking as well. Bhagwan Swaminarayan prescribed that His followers should eat only vegetarian food, strictly avoiding meat, fish, and eggs. He also prescribed that onions and garlic, which have tamasic properties, should not be consumed by His followers.
The purest food is that which is prepared at home or in the mandir for offering to God. To promote healthy food, the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha now provides food courts serving vegetarian food at its mandirs and centers.
Hindu Dharma believes that no particular religion is better than another; all genuine religious paths are facets of Bhagwan's pure love and light, deserving tolerance and understanding. Hindu Sanatan Dharma not only teaches tolerance for other religions but respect as well. Everyone is entitled to their own path, and none should be mocked or persecuted. Hindu Sanatan Dharma is classified as henotheistic: belief in and worship of one Supreme Bhagwan without denying the existence of other Gods or forms of the Supreme Bhagwan. The often quoted proverb that conveys this attitude is, "Ekam sat anekah panthah," which means, "Truth is one, paths are many." No one path is correct; we are all striving for the same goal in our own unique way. It is this tolerance and belief in the all-pervasiveness of Divinity that has allowed India to be home to followers of virtually every major world religion for thousands of years. Nowhere on Earth have so many religions lived and thrived in such close and harmonious proximity as in the home of Hindu Sanatan Dharma—India.  
Hinduism preaches serving both God and humanity, as one begets the other. Seva is a Sanskrit word that means more than just service or to serve. It means to serve without the existence of one’s own identity – to serve selflessly. Bhagwan Swaminarayan revived the true meaning of seva and initiated many humanitarian projects among His followers, ranging from digging wells to serving the ill. His personal example, set as a teenager while traveling through southern India, was the selfless service of an ill stranger. Sevakram was a Brahmin who had contracted dysentery. Neelkanth Varni, as Bhagwan Swaminarayan was known at that time, stopped on His travels to nurse Sevakram back to good health, staying for over two months until he was well again.
Pragji Bhakta, the second spiritual successor, set very high standards of seva. For many months, he served the mandir, sadhus, and devotees for twenty hours every day and slept for only four hours. Yogiji Maharaj, the fourth spiritual successor, stressed seva as a form of bhakti and personally engaged in seva like washing utensils and sweeping the floor. Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the fifth and current spiritual successor, has shown the same inclination for seva and never tires of it. Even over the age of 90 , he still spends hours personally meeting and writing to devotees for their well-being and personal growth.
Following the lead of Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the devotees of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha also regularly engage in seva. Medical activities are organized to help communities. Educational initiatives guide children on future courses to follow. Volunteers engage in relief activities when a disaster strikes in their area. Blood drives, career fairs, walkathons for charity are among the activities conducted regularly by volunteers from BAPS centers across the world. Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s adage, ”In the joy of others, lies our own,” propels the organization to devote time and energy towards humanitarian activities in the service of others.  
Morality is a component of spirituality. The BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha encourages a lifestyle rooted in spirituality and purity. Followers of the Swaminarayan faith lead a life of non-violence, service, and devotion to God. Pramukh Swami Maharaj emphasizes the importance of living honestly, working ethically, and giving back generously to the community. These values thus lend to a strong spiritual foundation for devotees. Bhagwan Swaminarayan enunciated key moral disciplines for sadhus and householders.
For Householders:
  • Live an addiction-free life; Do not partake in drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.
  • Consume a strict vegetarian diet free from tamasic foods, such as onion and garlic.
  • Refrain from stealing, violence, slander, and fraud.
  • Live a morally pure life free from adultery.
For Sadhus:
  • Nishkam - Live a life free from lust; Follow the discipline of eight-fold celibacy.
  • Nisneh - Live a life free from attachment; Offer complete servitude and love for God.
  • Niswad - Live a life free from gluttony or vicarious taste; Relish only in the flavor of God’s splendor.
  • Nirman - Live a life free from ego; Practice humility and selfless service.
  • Nirlobh - Live a life free from greed; Satisfaction is only derived from attaining God.
Additional moral disciplines that all devotees and sadhus follow are as follows:
1. No Violence 
Not to abuse, hurt, or kill any living being.
2. No Adultery
Not to commit adultery or excessively associate oneself with the opposite sex.
3. No Consumption of Meat
Not to eat meat or take medicines derived from meat.
4. No Consumption of Alcohol
Not to consume alcoholic drinks or take medicines mixed with alcohol.
5. No Suppression 
Not to suppress or take advantage of those who are helpless.
6. No Committing Suicide 
Not to commit or even contemplate suicide.
7. No Theft
Not to steal or take anything without the owner’s permission.
8. No Slander
Not to slander or blacken the character and lives of others.
9. No Vilification
Not to vilify other deities or religions. Respect all faiths.
10. No Impurities
Not to take food which is impure, not prepared with filtered water, or prepared by unknown hands.
11. No Atheistic Association
Not to keep the company of atheists or listen to lectures given by non-believers. 

Om Tat Sat

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

(The Blog  is reverently for all the seekers of truth, lovers of wisdom and   to share the Hindu Dharma with others on the spiritual path and also this is purely  a non-commercial blog)


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