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Today the Akshar Purushottam

Sanstha has expanded into an

international organisation. With

centres all over the world and

over 550 sadhus, it is a firmly

established Faith in today’s

society. Its activities range from

building a traditional seven-spired

temple in London to teaching the

backward classes of Gujarat

to read and write.

However, with the growth of any

organisation there are always a

few people who are curious

about the objectives of the new

Sanstha. For example,

“Why do you spend so much

money in celebrating big

festivals?”, “Are you not

damaging the future of the country

by initiating young graduates as

sadhus?”, “Is the Swaminarayan

Sanstha a part of Hinduism?”

Such questions are put to

Swamishri by reporters, sceptics

and even detractors of the

Sanstha and its activities.

Whatever their motives may be,

these questions give us a clear

picture of this Sanstha and its

objectives; for today’s

society and for the future.
    As The Pramukh

Swamishri as President (Pramukh) and spiritual master, is the person to answer such queries. For it is through his efforts that the Sanstha has become what it is today. In fact, it is fair to say that Pramukh Swami is the Sanstha...
    Question 1

Navin Soni (Journalist) : Do you possess some secret formula or spell which attracts educated youths to surrender their lives to you?

Swamishri : Lord Swaminarayan played down the importance of miracles. We live our life according to the wishes of God, and so people are inspired by us. Our guru Yogiji Maharaj led a pure and honest life. His life was so inspirational. Seeing this, many youths, who were otherwise immersed in the joys of college life, were drawn to him and were willing to become sadhus. These youngsters became sadhus for the attainment of elevated principles such as redemption of their atma and service of our country. [Jokingly] If we did possess any magic spells then wouldn’t we make the whole world into sadhus in one go!

Society also needs doctors, engineers, etc. Don’t you feel that by initiating such qualified youths into sainthood, you are in effect wasting our country’s young talent?

Swamishri : Society is not affected by our initiating these youths. Besides, they can now help society in even more ways. By combining their knowledge and creativity with the ideals of the spiritual path, they are able to give society new ideas and inspirations. It doesn’t matter whether you are a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer, the main goal in life is to attain redemption. Elevation of the atma is real progress. There is a need to improve people’s lives. If the sadhus are virtuous, then society will be virtuous and people will be inspired to change their lives for the better. Through these sadhus, people will be encouraged to follow dharma. Thousands will be freed from addictions and inspired to worship God. These graduates may have renounced the world but they will continue to serve it. Those who are doctors help in the Sanstha’s hospitals, accountants help in the Sanstha’s financial affairs and engineers take an active role in the construction of temples. So in the end, society will benefit from their work through the activities of this Sanstha. An ideal example is the way they helped to organise and set up Swaminarayan Nagar in Amdavad in 1985.

What is the purpose in spending so much money in celebrating such big festivals?

Swamishri : In every organisation money is an important factor. However, if it is spent wrongly, then it is a waste. But if it is used to stage such big festivals during which thousands of people receive inspiration and guidance as well as many other benefits, then the cost is well justified. During festivals our volunteers develop unity and learn to co-operate with each other. By seeing them other people are inspired to also lead pure and caring lives. That is what we have experienced. Festivals are a symbol of co-operation. A festival’s success lies not in how many thousands of people attend but rather in how many lives are transformed.

What is your opinion of the millions spent by different religious groups out of competition to build temples in our society?

Swamishri : Temples are a haven of good qualities. Temples are pools of inspiration. Only through temples will mankind return to dharma. If a temple is built with the noble ideal of pleasing God, then the divinity of the temple will increase and that is beneficial to the public. We have seen how England and other foreign countries have been inspired through their churches. Even here good thoughts only generate in people’s minds whilst in the temple. So far, temples have benefited society. Also dharma has been reinforced because of them. As yet we haven’t heard of any disadvantages.

Hindu dharma stresses the importance of character and restraint of one’s mind. However, there is one group who claims that indulgence induces samadhi, implying that indulgence is a means of attaining God. How true is this?

Swamishri : Character and restraint are the main foundations of dharma. We are never fulfilled by indulgence and never can be. Just as pouring too much fuel onto a fire only smothers it, similarly over-indulgence only smothers our endeavours to attain God, making it impossible to ever realise God. Only character and restraint are the true ideals through which to attain God.

In the scriptures, women have been described as possessing divine powers too. So by distancing women in the Swaminarayan Sampradaya, are you not discriminating against them?

Swamishri : No. It is not out of discrimination, but out of respect for them that there are such rules. Lord Swaminarayan has taught that it is essential for His sadhus to observe eightfold celibacy. In respect of such niyams and to make them feasible to observe, we separate male and female. But there is no intention of discrimination. Many of the sadhus who come here are often inspired by their mothers and sisters. But if they felt degraded by this Sanstha, why would they inspire their sons and brothers to become sadhus? Lord Swaminarayan has done a lot for the upliftment of women in society. He was strongly against the evil practices of dudh piti (drowning of baby daughters in milk to avoid having to pay huge dowries) and sati pratha (burning of the widow on her dead husband’s funeral pyre ) and He organised a campaign against such customs. He also stressed the need for women to be educated and He built separate temples wherein women could worship God in peace and also where ladies could learn to give discourses. This tradition is still in practice today. Now where amongst all this can you see any type of discrimination.

Can ladies become sadhvis in this Sanstha as in other Sansthas?

Swamishri : No. Lord Swaminarayan has not given any such agna, so we do not accept ladies as sadhvis. However, they may be initiated as sankhya yogis. These are mostly widows or women who wish not to marry, and who remain in the agna of their parents or brothers and stay in the ladies’ temple to spend their days engrossed in bhakti. They too can take part in social upliftment activities aimed at women. They also go around preaching and encouraging other women to follow dharma. But as sankhya yogis, not sadhvis.

Please explain Lord Swaminarayan’s philosophical principles.

Swamishri : To realise oneself as atmarup and do bhakti of Paramatma. Just as Radha-Krishna and Lakshmi-Narayan represent the dual philosophy of God and His devotee, so does Akshar-Purushottam, meaning Swami and Narayan. This is an eternal philosophy. Akshar means to become Brahmarup and then to do bhakti of Purushottam meaning God.

Have you ever had any regrets as a sadhu?

Swamishri : No. By meeting God and my guru, everything has been fine.

(17 December 1986, Bombay)

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