The Vachanamrut or the nectarine discourses of Bhagwan Swaminarayan is the most sacred and foundational scripture of the Swaminarayan Sampraday. It contains the profound wisdom of the Vedas, Upanishads, Brahmasutras, Bhagvad Gita, Bhagvat Purana, Dharma shastras like Yagnavalkya Smruti, Vidurniti, and epics like the Ramayan and Mahabharat.1
It is the essence of ancient Indian wisdom given by Bhagwan Swaminarayan and compiled by His four contemporary scholarly-sadhus who were known for their asceticism and scholarship in Sanskrit, besides their devotion to Him.
In fact every statement of the Master is packed with and based on His in-depth religious knowledge, spiritual insights and practical experience. It contains practical and philosophical answers to the sincere enquiries of all types of aspirants regarding life in this world and the life hereafter.
The Vachanamrut is not only a sacred shastra in the Sampraday, but a shastra of every day study. All the literate followers read it daily and the illiterate listen to at least a page everyday. It is read and elaborated upon daily in the Swaminarayan mandirs the world over. It is a landmark shastra, philosophically and in all other aspects. It is the first modern Gujarati prose work which the noted Gujarati critic and poet, Shri Uma Shankar Joshi, acclaimed as the very pinnacle of Gujarati prose.
The Vachanamrut, a compilation of 273 spiritual discourses, is divided into 10 sections. The discourses were delivered by Bhagwan Swaminarayan in the last decade of His life, between 1819 and 1829 CE in Gujarati. Its simplicity of diction and style invariably reminds one of our ancient Upanishads. They were mostly delivered in ashram-like ambience in secluded places like Gadhada, Sarangpur, Kariyani, Loya, Panchala, Vartal, Aslali, and Jetalpur.
The book records the dialogues and conversation between the Master and His disciples in such a way that even the most abstruse and esoteric problems of philosophy and religion are answered, doctrines explained, terminology formulated and concepts cleared, both from the theoretical and practical point of view concerning daily life and spiritual sadhna.
The protagonist of the shastra, Bhagwan Swaminarayan, was born on 3 April 1781 - Vikram Samvat 1837, Chaitra sud 9 in Chhapaiya, near Ayodhya. His parents were a respectable Brahmin couple, Hari Prasad Pande and Murti Devi. They are known as Dharma Pita and Bhakti Mata in the Sampraday. His childhood name was Ghanshyam. He mastered all important Hindu scriptures under the guidance of his father by the age of seven. He renounced His home at the age of eleven and embarked upon a pilgrimage of sacred places in the country. He walked bare footed and had only a piece of cloth or two on his body even when He was in the Himalayas. He gained mastery over Ashtang-Yoga at the age of 14. It was a memorable event in the religious history of India when this unknown teenager from U.P., called Nilkanth, a total stranger to Gujarat's culture and language, arrived at Lojpur on 21st August 1799. He was given diksha by His guru, Ramanand Swami, on 20th October 1800 and named as Sahajanand and Narayanmuni. Ramanand Swami revealed the supreme divinity of Sahajanand Swami to his disciples. Within a year Ramanand Swami appointed Sahajanand Swami as the head of the fellowship when He was only 20 years old.
In December 1801, Ramanand Swami passed away. A few days after that, Sahajanand Swami introduced to the disciples the new 'Swaminarayan Mantra'. Very shortly people identified 'Sahajanand' with the 'Swaminarayan Mantra' and He thus became popularly known as Swaminarayan; the preacher became the message and the highest object of worship for both the householder and ascetic disciples who had been the followers of Ramanand Swami till then.
Lalji Suthar (later Nishkulanand Swami), a staunch follower of Ramanand Swami and a renowned poet, in his book called the Yama-Danda, written in 1804, described Him as 'God'. These momentous events speak volumes for Bhagwan Swaminarayan's greatness and glory.
From the time of His diksha in 1800 to His departure from this world in 1830, He initiated 3000 sadhus, 500 of whom were paramhansas of the highest spiritual calibre. With their help He ushered in a social, moral and spiritual renaissance in the lives of people in the first three decades of the 19th century.
To understand the depth and significance of Bhagwan Swaminarayan's teachings, it is also necessary to know about His personality and work which was accepted and appreciated by people who were not His followers.
An English contributor to the reputed 'Asiatic Journal' of England has written an article named 'Indian Sect: Memorandum respecting a sect, lately introduced by a person calling himself Swamee Naraen.' In this article he concludes, "most intelligent people in the country believed that his preaching had produced great effect in improving morals of the people... my own dialogues with natives lead me to form the same opinion. People of all castes and persuasions resort to Swamee Naraen. The number of his followers is very great, estimated by the most intelligent natives at about one hundred thousand."2
The British Government census of 1872, the last census which gives a breakdown of membership in different religious groups, gives the membership of the Swaminarayan religion as 287,687 in a total population of 6,693,289.3 Bhagwan Swaminarayan and His disciples were physically attacked, abused and harassed by both religious and secular powers because they felt threatened at the increasing size of His following. Despite persecutions the Sampraday grew to such an extent, even qualitatively, that the well known historian R.C. Majumdar calls it 'the greatest of the reforming sects of Gujarat' in his work Maratha Supremacy. Behind the exponential growth of the Sampraday are the universal teachings of the Master exemplified by the Vachanamrut and the Shikshapatri - the latter being a book of moral code of conduct of 212 shlokas. His band of three thousand sadhus and innumerable householder-devotees had listened and imbibed these discourses which were delivered from such diverse places as mandirs, farms, dining rooms, centres of festivals, homes and houses of followers.
As has already been mentioned the discourses were written not by a single editor but by four contemporary scholarly-sadhus while they were being delivered. These editors were:
Muktanand Swami, the senior most sadhu of Ramanand Swami, 23 years senior to Bhagwan Swaminarayan. He was the teacher of Bhagwan Swaminarayan when He first arrived in Gujarat. Muktanand Swami is the author of Brahmasutra Bhashya Ratnam, a commentary on the Vedanta Sutra of Badrayana Vyas.
Gopalanand Swami, who had mastered ashtang yoga, wrote a commentary on the Dashopanishad and Bhagvad Gita.
Nityanand Swami, a profound Sanskrit scholar, authored the Hari Digvijay Kavya in Sanskrit.
Shukanand Swami was a well-known Sanskrit scholar from Dabhan and the personal secretary of the Master.
So, the editors of the Vachanamrut were highly competent scholars and deeply spiritually inclined. We as readers or listeners, can understand that the editors must have listened, written and accepted the discourses of Bhagwan Swaminarayan through their high level of scholarly and spiritual competency. This makes the content of the Vachanamrut all the more valuable and significant for all aspirants.
In one of the Vachanamruts, one of the editors, namely, Nityanand Swami, presents 114 edited discourses to Bhagwan Swaminarayan for His approval.4 He was pleased with the efforts of the editors and thus authenticated their compilation.
The devotion, dedication, scholarship and above all the transparency and honesty of the editors is unique. When an answer given by the editor/editors to the question was not correct or complete it was rejected by the Master. The editors clearly mention their ignorance and inability with their specific names in the discourses."
Not only the rejection by the Master is truthfully recorded but even the criticism of their answers and their utter ignorance pointed by Him are put down in writing by them. For example in describing the company and qualities of worthy and unworthy sadhus, the Master states, "A sadhu who strictly observes religious vows with firm faith in God but does not sharply rebuke those who don't observe the rules and regulations and pampers them, then even if he is a greatly honoured sadhu like Muktanand Swami, his company must be given up."
Similarly in another discourse Bhagwan Swaminarayan says that Gopalanand Swami and others have at present profound love for God but if they were to encounter adverse circumstances, their mind would be slightly affected. It means their foundation appears to be weak and if they were to face an extremely adverse situation, their love for God would not remain stable at all.
But the most trenchant criticism of all the four editors comes in a discourse where the Teacher after praising the four editors, Muktanand Swami, Gopalanand Swami, Nityanand Swami, Shuk Muni and other disciples, states, "All of you presently behave very well. However, if factors like desh, kal, sang and kriya were to become unfavourable, then there is no doubt at all that your enthusiasm would not remain as it is now." And then He adds, "It is precisely for the purpose of somehow instilling this gnan in your minds that I continuously deliver discourses."
An equally important quality of the editors of the Vachanamrut is the keen sense of history and documentation. Disproving the common Western complaint that Indian religious history lacks firm and definite dates in all respect, every discourse of the Vachanamrut in the very beginning mentions the year, the month, the day, the time, the village, the location, the direction of the assembly and the speaker, the dress and the seat of the Master and the names of important persons in the assembly. Even the village of the questioner and his caste is described. Thus, John Carman, former Prof. of School of Divinity, Harvard University, said, "In this book, every discourse is precisely dated. This is a chapter of religious history which one might say is in the full light of day as far as our knowledge of history is concerned."9 Simultaneously it is clear that the purpose of writing down such minute details, especially about the Master was much more than merely recording them for history. It was to create almost a three-dimensional perspective of the whole situation with the object to facilitate the perception and meditation upon Him.
As already mentioned these discourses were approved by the Master in His own life time, unlike many scriptures of India's main religions. This thus prevented any chance of additions and subtractions. Not only the main work in Gujarati belongs to the time of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, even the Sanskrit translation of the Vachanamrut named Harivakyasudhasindhu by His disciple Shatanand Muni, which appeared during that time has almost the same subject matter, the same number of discourses and the same chronological order. There is also a translation of the Vachanamrut in Vraj-Bhasha by Brahmanand Swami, a favourite saint-poet of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Thus we have the Vachanamrut in Gujarati, Sanskrit and Vraj languages and the chances of interpolation are almost none.
Adi Shankaracharya made a very valid statement while commenting upon the first mantra of the Kenopanishad: "The exposition of a subtle theme becomes easy to understand by means of dialogues in the form of questions and answers between the teacher and the disciples."10 This method was used in the Upanishads but in the Vachanamrut it is employed extensively and in a truly participatory manner.
In the entire Vachanamrut there are 456 questions out of which the Master Himself has asked only 138 questions. Simply speaking 70% of the questions are from the audience and only 30% are from the Master. 11
A pertinent question would be who were the questioners or the members of the audience? They were mainly His sadhus, who were philosophers, poets, scholars, mystics and musicians. There were also householders who were rulers, farmers, merchants and people from lower castes.12
Obviously, amongst themselves their levels of formal education, knowledge of Shruti and Smriti texts, epics and traditional history or Puranas differed in various degrees yet all of them were true mumukshus, having firm faith in Bhagwan Swaminarayan. In one of the Vachanamruts, Bhagwan Swaminarayan mentions the names of sixteen such followers: householders and ascetics, men and women, rulers and farmers who were ready to do and had actually done everything for the sake of God i.e. for Himself and His sadhus. 13
The Subject Matter:
He explains the purpose of His discourses, "O paramhansas, the seniors and the wise ones please come to the front and listen attentively. What I am about to say is not said out of any pretence, self conceit or to spread My greatness. It is because I feel that amongst all of you, sadhus and householder devotees, if someone can understand my message it will benefit him tremendously." 14
He explains concepts like jiva, ishwar, maya, Brahma, Parabrahma, dharma, gnan, vairagya, bhakti, ekantik dharma, importance of God, God-realised Satpurush, shastras, satsang and the importance of close and deep attachment to the Gunatit Guru. Let us see how he tried to explain some of these concepts, in a very simple way:
In the very first discourse He states, "For a devotee of God anything that obstructs his attention while meditating on God is maya."
He explains, "Moha or infatuation is feeling of delusion wherein a person loses all sense of discrimination, of what should be done and what should not be done." 15
The Great Devotee:
"One who always thinks of God but not about the worldly objects of pleasure is the great devotee in our Satsang."16 And, "one who gives up ego and worships God is great."17
True Ascetic or Renunciant:
"A true renunciant is one who treats garbage and gold equally and has genuine affection for God only."18
"In our Uddhav Sampraday one who possesses dharma, gnan, vairagya and bhakti is ekantik bhakta." 19
"To keep the focus on God continually is the highest aim of human life but it is the most difficult."20
Thus the teaching style is so lucid and simple that it is easy to understand even for untutored persons who were free to ask any question without reservation. The questions varied from deeply theological, metaphysical and philosophical to moral and ethical but answers to all of them were soul-satisfying to the members of the assembly - especially because the explanations to complex concepts were given through day-to-day examples, through well known stories, famous examples from the epics and Puranas, similes, metaphors and analogies.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan describes in one of His many analogies about how to keep one's mind engaged in God. He states, "Consider, for example, a pot that is filled with water and emptied somewhere. If another pot of water is subsequently emptied at the same place on the following day or the day after that, a pool of water will not collect there. Why? Because the water poured on the first day dries up on that very day, and the water poured on the second day also dries up on that same day. On the other hand, if a trickle of water were to flow continuously, a large pool of water would soon be formed. Therefore, while eating, drinking, walking, engaging in any activity whatsoever - whether it be pure or impure - in fact, at all times, one should constantly keep one's vrutti on God. While maintaining one's vrutti constantly on God in this manner, one attains that abiding elevated spiritual state."
In another analogy Bhagwan Swaminarayan describes about how to introspect. He says, "From the time a satsangi enters the Satsang fellowship, he should examine his mind by thinking, 'In the first year, my mind was like this; then it was like this. Previously, I had this much desire for God and this much desire for the world.' In this manner, he should repeatedly reflect on this yearly total of desires and always strive to gradually, yet constantly eradicate all worldly desires that remain in his mind. If, however, he does not introspect in this manner and allows those desires to accumulate, then they will never be overcome. Consider, for example, the analogy of opening an account with a merchant. If one settles one's debts to him regularly on a monthly basis, then it would not be difficult to repay the debt. But if one waits to pay until the end of the year, it would be extremely difficult to settle the account. Likewise, one should introspect constantly."
The spiritual knowledge and revelations in the Vachanamrut are eternal. Its teachings were relevant in the time of Bhagwan Swaminarayan when He uttered them, they are relevant even today in our modern age and in the present and will also be so in the future. The Vachanamrut is a literature of faith in the manifest human form of God. The purpose of this scripture is to understand and take refuge in that human form of God. God as a speculative philosophical problem or a matter of debate and rhetoric has no interest for the Master or His followers.
But to understand and take refuge in the human form of God is extremely difficult because He suppresses His divinity and behaves like an ordinary human being most of the time. That is why Bhagwan Krishna says.
Avajãnãnti mã mudhã mãnushim tanumãshritamÐ
Param bhãvamajãnanto mama bhutamaheshvaramH
But Bhagwan Swaminarayan is very clear on this issue. He empathetically states, "The divine form of God in Akshardham and the human form in front of you are identical. So even though God assumes a human body, He is still divine." 21 Then He adds, 'Realize that the form amidst the divine light is this Maharaj, visible before you." 22
He adds, if you can't accept that the Highest Godhead in the Akshardham is the same as one who is in front of you, then at least realize that Maharaj sees that form. Even if you understand this much you will have affection for me and that will result in your ultimate liberation.23 And after this guarantee to His devotees He promised to remain ever present on this earth through a succession of God-realized gurus.
All references to the Vachanamrut are from its English translation, second edition (revised) 1st reprint, 2002 published by Swaminarayan Aksharpith, Shahibaug, Amdavad.
Vachanamrut Gadhada II-28
N.A. 1823. Indian sect: Memorandum respecting a sect lately introduced by a person calling himself Swamee Naraen. In the Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British India and its Dependencies, 15: (January/June) 348-9.
1872 Gujarat State Gazetteer. Ahmedabad: Directorate of Government Printing, Stationery and Publications, Gujarat State. The revised edition of the original Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency.
Muktanand Swami is unable to give correct reply to the question of Bhagwan Swaminarayan in the discourse Gadhada I-14, Loya-2 and 16, Gadhada II-4; and Vartal-17. And Similarly Gopalanand Swami could not give proper answer in discourse Gadhada II-66 and Gadhada III-11. Nityanand Swami's answers were not accepted by the Master in Gadhada I-71 and Shukanand Swami's answers had been similarly rejected by Bhagwan Swaminarayan in discourse Gadhada II-66 and Gadhada III-29. All these rejections are recorded.
Vachanamrut Gadhada II-56
Vachanamrut Gadhada III-24
Carman, John B. 1981. Vachanamritam: A Note. In New Dimensions in Vedanta Philosophy, ed. R.S. Srivastava, Part I, page 207. Ahmedabad: Shri Akshar Purushottam Sanstha.
Shishyãcharyaprashnaprativachanarupen kathanam tu
sukshmavastuvishayatvat sukhapratipattikaranan bhavati
- Kenopanishad .1.1, Shankar-bhashya
One hundred and forty eight questions are from the group of four editors. All other ascetics together have asked 113. While from the householder disciples there are 57 questions.
Some of them are most well-known saint-poets of Gujarati literature like Brahmanand, Premanand, Nishkulanand, Devanand and Bhumanand; Sanskrit and scripture scholars like Dinanath Bhatt, Muni Bawa, Pragji Dave, Shobharam Shastri; Brahmins like Mayaram Bhatt and Vala Dhruv; members of the ruling caste or Kshatriyas like Dada Khachar of Gadhada, Somla Khachar of Botad, Sura Khachar of Loya, Jhinabhai Darbar of Panchala; Vaishya followers or merchant, farmer, traders, artisans like Gordhanbhai, Parvatbhai, Kakabhai from Rojaka, Kashibhai of Bochasan, Bhagubhai of Bhadran; Muslims like Hirji Thakkar, Miyaji and many from the lower caste. Joban Pagi, a well-known dacoit turned a devotee and Natha Bhakta, a seller of vegetables, women devotees like Laduba, Jivuba, Rajba, Jhamkuba, Premaba; also belonged to different castes and classes.
16 ibid Gadhada I-38, page 71
ibid Gadhada II-41, page 470
ibid Gadhada I-36, page 64
ibid Gadhada II-13, page 403
ibid Gadhada II-13, page 405
ibid Gadhada II-13, page 405