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 todays
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 todays
society and for the future.
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
Navin Soni (Journalist) : Do you possess some secret formula or
spell which attracts educated youths to surrender their lives to
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 wouldnt we make the whole world into
sadhus in one go!
Society also needs doctors, engineers, etc. Dont
you feel that by initiating such qualified youths into sainthood,
you are in effect wasting our countrys 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 doesnt 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 peoples
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 Sansthas
hospitals, accountants help in the Sansthas 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 festivals 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 peoples minds whilst in the temple. So far,
temples have benefited society. Also dharma has been reinforced
because of them. As yet we havent heard of any disadvantages.
Hindu dharma stresses the importance of character and
restraint of ones 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 husbands 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
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 Swaminarayans philosophical
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
(17 December 1986, Bombay)