"Some persons disgusted with religious conflicts speak hastily of abolishing religion (but) to uproot religion successfully they must first exterminate pain and death. So long as human beings experience and fear these they will not cease to crave the consolations of religion."
Dr. Bhagwandas, The Essential Unity of All Religions.
Amidst all uncertainties of life there is nothing more certain than pain and death. Indeed a death certificate and of course pain are affixed to every birth! It is needless to say that we can escape both pain and death if we are not born. But, why at all do we take birth? Why does a soul get a body?
Hinduism says that the soul is unborn and it doesn't die. It is our body that passes through the phases of birth, childhood, adulthood, old age and death. Just as a piece of clothe swathes our body, so too the body clothes our soul. When our clothes get old and worn out we wear new ones. Similarly when our body gets old and worn the soul within gets a fresh body. This is transmigration, a cycle of births and deaths (metempsychosis). Another question is raised. Why transmigration?
Cause for Births and Rebirths
The soul, though a spiritual entity, is in a state of bondage from beginningless time. Out of ignorance it is drawn towards pleasurable objects of senses. Thoughtlessly it enjoys. Enjoyment, far from extinguishing the flame of desires, adds fuel to it. Therefore the soul craves for more and more; it enjoys more and more. The desires harden. One life is too short a time to satisfy these desires. Consequently this hardened insatiated core of desires called vasna is the cause of births and rebirths.
The great epic Mahabharat shows a way to break this almost unbreakable cycle. It says, "So long as our soul does not acquire the qualities of Akshar, we cannot transcend metempsychosis."
It remains to be known what Akshar is. He is variously known as Brahma, Aksharbrahma, Akshardham, Atma and some other names.
Out of the five eternal realities - jiva (soul), ishvar (devas), maya (a power that causes ignorance to jiva and ishvar), Akshar (Brahma) and Parabrahma (God) accepted by Bhagwan Swaminarayan - Akshar is next only to God. He is dependent only on God but is independent of the other three eternal realities.
Two forms of Akshar
Akshar expresses himself simultaneously in two aspects: (i) personal and (ii) impersonal. In fact these are the two ways in which he serves the Supreme God simultaneously.
(i) In his personal aspect Akshar serves God eternally in His highest abode, where He resides eternally. Wherever God incarnates Himself with His retinue (different places in the universes), Akshar also always incarnates to serve Him. He is the nearest, dearest, and choicest devotee of God.
(ii) In his impersonal aspect he serves God as the highest divine abode. He is a mass of one, homogeneous, infinite, illuminating, all-pervading consciousness. The Supreme God, Akshar in his personal form as a devotee and all the liberated souls reside in this divine abode. This aspect of Akshar is formless (i.e. not visible to the human eye because of his immeasurable greatness). Chidakash, Brahmamahol, Brahmapur, Paramdham and Akshardham are his synonyms.
Luminosity of Akshar
Describing the beauty of Akshar, the highest heaven, Bhagwan Swaminarayan says, "If the whole earth with all its mountains, trees, etc. and human beings, animals, birds etc. was and made of pure glass and all the stars and heavenly bodies shining like the sun illumined the earth what a dazzling and bright sight would it be! The Divine Abode Akshar shines in a similar way."
The light of infinite suns is utterly insignificant when compared to the light of Akshar. Even then, the light of Akshar is pleasant, cool and tranquil.
Greatness and Glory of Akshar
Before the vast and immeasurable greatness of Akshar, even the endless and infinite number of macrocosms appear as atoms. Just as an ant moving on the body of an elephant is too tiny to be seen, likewise before Akshar, the whole cosmos appears infinitesimal.
Although God is immanent in everything, His immanence is greatest and fully pronounced in Akshar.
Apart from God, Akshar is larger and greater than the largest and greatest - and is also smaller and finer than the smallest and finest.
Akshar is so subtle that by his power of immanence he not only pervades the space between atoms, the subatomic particles, but even the space within the atoms. In fact he is the support, the substratum of the infinite universes.
Akshar is the supreme devotion and highest wisdom personified. He is endowed beginning lessly with all auspicious and redemptive attributes. He is an ideal worthy of emulation for all the spiritual aspirants. He is inseparably related to God. The relation between him and that of God is always that of servitor-mentor. He always has a form and personality that is divine. He is indescribable in the sense that no description can explain his beauty and glory. Having reached Akshar - the divine abode - there is no returning back into the world of maya.
The position of Akshar is unique in the scheme of salvation presented by Bhagwan Swaminarayan. "Just as ice which is frozen water resumes its form through heat, so through the spiritual alchemy of Akshar, the jiva (soul) gains a divine body." A mother cleanses her child of the dirt and filth by giving it a good bath. After dressing it with clean, bright and attractive clothes, she presents it to its father who fondles it lovingly, Likewise, Akshar cleanses the soul of its ignorance, its evil instincts: hatred, jealousy, anger, hypocrisy, ego, lust, greed, etc. Then he presents that pure soul to God. Only then does God accept the soul's devotion and services. Only then does he become fit to stay with God and enjoy His bliss perpetually.
When Bhagwan Swaminarayan descended on this earth. Akshar incarnated himself in the person of Swami Gunatitanand. He was appointed as the pontifical head of the Swaminarayan Mandir at Junagadh. He served this office for 40 years 4 months and 4 days. By his contact, during his own lifetime, he raised thousands to the highest spiritual level - the Brahmic Consciousness, the consciousness necessary to serve God.
He was the first spiritual hierarch of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. At present His Divine Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj is the fifth spiritual hierarch. He is Akshar. He serves as a source of spiritual inspiration and guidance for thousands of people. He lives for God only. His only mission is to help people love and reach God.