1. Who is a Hindu?
a. The spiritual people of geographic India were called Hindus. Vedic scriptures calls the way of life, "Sanatan Dharma."
b. Hindus believe that God manifests on the earth (e.g., Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, etc.). They also believe in the Vedic scriptures (e.g., the 4 Vedas, the 18 Purans such as the Shrimad Bhagavat, the Mahabharat, etc.).
c. Other common concepts for Hindus are moksha (liberation), reincarnation, karma, and a guru (spiritual teacher).
d. Also core to the Hindu faith is ahimsa or non-violence, religious pluralism, and tolerance.
2. What are the five eternal entities?
a. There is one God (called Purushottam among other names) and He is the supreme entity. All entities devote to that one God. Devotees also see God's pervasiveness in all.
b. In God's abode, there are infinite liberated souls (called mukta, brahma, or akshara). God's abode also has a manifest form. The goal of the liberated souls is to become like God's manifest abode, to be in God's devotion.
c. Maayaa is the entity that separates liberated souls and demigods/souls. In other words, maayaa is that which keeps entities from devotion to God.
d. There are infinite demigods (called ishvaras or devataas) who are refined or advanced souls (and may have functions in the running of a world), but have not crossed maayaa.
e. There are infinite souls (called jeeva when ignorant, and aatmaa when knowledgeable). Humans, animals, plants, etc. have a soul.
3. Who is Swaminarayan Bhagwan?
a. In Bhagavad Gita 4/7-8, Lord Krishna states, "Yadaa yadaa hi dharmasya...sambhavaami yuge yuge" or "Dear descendant of Bharat [Arjun], whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, and a predominant rise of irreligion, at that time I descend Myself. In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the wrong, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I advent Myself age after age."
b. Swaminarayan Bhagwan (or Ghanshyam Maharaj or Neelkanth Varni or Sahajanand Swami) is Parabrahm Purushottam Narayan or the manifestation of God, born on April 2 (Chaitra suda 9, Ramanavmi), 1781 in Chhapaiya (near Ayodhya, North India). He passed away at the age of 49 in Gadhada (in Gujarat, India).
c. Swaminarayan Bhagwan's glory is given in the Vachanamrut, Swami Ni Vato, amongst other scriptures. The Vachanamrut is the scripture compiling Swaminarayan Bhagwan's discourses, recorded by 4-5 saints during the last 10 years of Swaminarayan Bhagwan's life. Swami Ni Vato is the scripture compiling Gunatitanand Swami's discourses, recorded by devotees - one of whom was Jaga Swami.
4. Who is Gunatitanand Swami?
a. Gunatitanand Swami is Anaadi Mool Akshar Moorti, God's Original Devotee and Abode (Akshardham) in a manifest form, born on October 17 (Aso suda 15, Sharad Poornima), 1785 in Bhadra (in Gujarat). He passed away at the age of 82.
b. Gunatitanand Swami's glory is given in the scriptures, Jaga Swami Ni Vato and Krishnaji Ada Vato, and was explained by Bhagatji Maharaj throughout his life.
c. Similar to Radha-Krishna, Sita-Rama, Parvati-Shiva, etc., in "Akshar-Purushottam," Swaminarayan Bhagwan is Purushottam and Gunatitanand Swami is Mool Akshar. "Akshar-Purushottam upaasanaa" is the worship of Purushottam after becoming brahmasvaroopa or attaining the understanding/qualities of Mool Akshar Gunatitanand Swami.
5. Who are Bhagatji Maharaj, Jaga Swami, and Krishnaji Ada?
a. All three were householders that became dedicated to Gunatitanand Swami.
b. Blessed by Gunatitanand Swami, they were "brahmasvaroopa" saints.
c. Gunatitanand Swami equally talked about the glory of Bhagatji Maharaj and Jaga Swami in many Swami Ni Vato. Shastriji Maharaj and Yogi Bapa equally placed Bhagatji Maharaj, Jaga Swami, and Krishnaji Ada in old writings (e.g. in Yogi Gita), pictures (e.g. in Akshar Deri, the memorial shrine of Gunatitanand Swami), etc.
6. Who are Shastriji Maharaj, Yogi Bapa, and Kakaji?
a. Blessed by Bhagatji Maharaj, Jaga Swami, and Krishnaji Ada, Shastriji Maharaj was a brahmasvaroopa saint. He worked to have the moortis of Swaminarayan Bhagwan and Gunatitanand Swami in the central shrine of temples. The first such Akshar-Purushottam temple was in the village of Bochasan in 1907.
b. Blessed by Shastriji Maharaj, Yogi Bapa was a brahmasvaroopa saint. He worked to make many "living temples" or brahmasvaroopa saints.
c. Blessed by Shastriji Maharaj and Yogi Bapa, Kakaji was a brahmasvaroopa saint. By Yogi Bapa's grace, Kakaji was given a saakshaatkaara samaadhi (of Swaminarayan Bhagwan) at the Gondal temple in front of Ghanshyam Maharaj on February 3, 1952.
7. What about brahmasvaroopa saints today?
Today, we are blessed with many brahmasvaroopa saints:
a. Pramukh Swamiji (whom Shastriji Maharaj appointed as the pramukha or president of the group in 1950),
b. Mahant Swamiji (one of Yogi Bapa's first initiated saint),
c. Papaji (the elder brother of Kakaji, whom Yogi Bapa asked to help in establishing a separate dedicated women's center),
d. Hariprasad Swamiji (once Yogi Bapa's secretary, he was initiated and blessed by Yogi Bapa, and supported Kakaji and Papaji),
e. Saheb (who led Yogi Bapa's youth group, Yogi Bapa asked him to become a saint, and then to support Kakaji and Papaji),
f. Dinkar Uncle (a disciple of Kakaji), and others.
8. What is Dhaam-Dhaami-Mukta?
a. Many Akshar-Purushottam temples have the moortis of Dhaam-Dhaami-Mukta or Anaadi Mool Akshar Moorti Gunatitanand Swami, Swaminarayan Bhagwan, and Anaadi Maha Mukta Gopalanand Swami. This is also called "Mukta-Akshar-Purushottam Maharaj."
b. Swaminarayan Bhagwan established two gaadees (seats) for two aachaaryas (heads), Ayodhyaprasadji Maharaj (son of Rampratapji, Swaminarayan Bhagwan's elder brother) in Ahmedabad, and Raghuvirji Maharaj (son of Ichharamji, Swaminarayan Bhagwan's younger brother) in Vadtal. Swaminarayan Bhagwan instructed the two aachaaryas to stay under the care of Gopalanand Swami. In turn, Gopalanand Swami talked about the glory of Gunatitanand Swami as Mool Akshar.
c. Symbolically, this depicts that Swaminarayan Bhagwan, Gunatitanand Swami (and gunaateta saints), and all muktas or devotees in Akshardham (represented by Gopalanand Swami) are all divine.
9. What is brahmasvaroopa?
a. A brahmasvaroopa (or brahmaroopa) saint (or param-ekaantika-sant or uttama-mahaa-mukta) is totally liberated or gunaateeta ("like Gunatitanand Swami" i.e. with Gunatitanand Swami's understanding/qualities), offering loving devotion to God.
b. God resides in all brahmasvaroopa saints (just as God resides in all moortis).
c. The Vachanamrut, Swami Ni Vato, and other scriptures, talk about the greatness of a brahmasvaroopa saint.
d. In Swami Ni Vato, Gunatitanand Swami says that His mission was to make those who come in His or His saints' contact, like Him. Thus, to become brahmasvaroopa, and offer worship to God is the goal of life.
e. To become brahmasvaroopa is made easy by the loving association of a present brahmasvaroopa saint.
10. What about women?
a. As given in the Shikshapatri, Swaminarayan Bhagwan instilled strict rules of celibacy for saints. He did this to protect women and to help saints perfect the vow of non-lust. The Shikshapatri is the "code of conduct" given in 212 verses for devotees written by Swaminarayan Bhagwan Himself.
b. Hindu history is filled with women devotees such as Mirabai (a devotee of Lord Krishna in 16th century India) who desired to live a life dedicated to God.
c. Swaminarayan Bhagwan established separate centers where women could lead dedicated lives (there were about 1500 dedicated women called saankhya-yogi benos during Swaminarayan Bhagwan's time). In Gadhada (Swaminarayan Bhagwan's principle place of stay), there were about 150 dedicated women (e.g. Dada Khachar's sisters, Jivuba and Laduba). Today, the Ahmedabad/Vadtal branch has many separate centers for over 700 dedicated women.
d. In the Akshar-Purushottam branch, Yogi Bapa himself inaugurated the Gunatit Jyot in 1965, a separate center for women who desired to lead dedicated lives. Today the Gunatit Samaj (the Akshar-Purushottam branch that supports separate women centers) has about 700 dedicated women.
e. In Vachanamrut Gadhada Last 26, after describing the qualities of a brahmasvaroopa saint, Swaminarayan Bhagwan says, "Indeed, even though that saint appears to be human, he is still worthy of being worshipped on par with God. Therefore, whoever desires to attain liberation should serve such a saint. Also, women should serve women possessing such virtuous qualities."
11. What are the basic qualities that a Swaminarayan devotee strives to imbibe?
a. Swaminarayan Bhagwan repeated four qualities in the Vachanamrut: dharma (religion), vairaagya (detachment), gnyaana (knowledge), and mahaatmya-sahita-bhakti (devotion with realization of God's glory).
b. The panchavartamaana (five vows) that Swaminarayan Bhagwan gave to saints are: nirmaanee (without ego), nishkaamee (non-lust), nirlobhee (without greed), nihsnehee or nihspruhee (non-attachment), and nirsvaadee (non-taste).
12. What is the essence of divine knowledge, given by Yogi Bapa?
a. Do not see negative in others.
b. Look after your own liberation.
c. If troubled, pray to God (do rosary), but while praying, do not think of anything else.
d. Keep nirdoshabuddhi (see everyone with divinity).
e. Keep sampa (harmony), suhradabhaava (heartfelt oneness), and ekataa (unity).
f. Constantly remember the glory of God in the form of the brahmasvaroopa saint you have met.