The Vachanamrut is a compilation of Parabrahman Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s teachings in 273 discourses. During this current year, BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha is celebrating the bicentenary of the Vachanamrut: 1819–2019. In this first article of the series, we consider its uniqueness among Sanatan Dharma’s shastras by discussing its authenticity, teaching style, mahima (glory) as revealed by the guru parampara, scope and selected contemporary events during the decade of the Vachanamrut discourses.
First, a word about the compilers. The four paramhansas, namely Muktanand Swami, Gopalanand Swami, Nityanand Swami and Shukanand Swami were sadhus of such great integrity that they noted even their own failings which Shriji Maharaj pointed out. Secondly, they were present throughout the discourses which they heard firsthand. Thirdly, in every Vachanamrut they noted details such as the date and location. An eminent scholar of Gujarat, Bhogilal Sandersara, commented:
“Among all these sacred shastras the position of the Vachanamrut is unique because the discourses of Bhagwan Swaminarayan were compiled verbatim. There is a reference to the place and time of the discourses; a note of the year, month and day; a description of Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s garments and even the names of people participating in the dialogues are mentioned. Bhagwan Swaminarayan has himself authenticated it. Thus there is no room for interpolation.”
John Carman, former professor of comparative religion at Harvard, noted, “Students of Indian religious history are constantly faced with the difficulty of the lack of firm and definite dates in this history. But in this book (Vachanamrut), every discourse is precisely dated.”
After compilation, the four paramhansas showed the collection of the Vachanamruts to Shriji Maharaj for scrutiny. We glean this from Loya 7, in which Nityanand Swami shows the collection (as completed up to that date) to Maharaj, who examines it and is greatly pleased with it.
Finally, Maharaj also testifies to the truthfulness of his talks on several occasions, by taking an oath on the names of his beloved paramhansas. In Gadhada III 2, he says, “I swear by this assembly of sadhus that there is not even the slightest untruth in this matter.” He has also similarly sworn by the names of the paramhansas in Gadhada II 13.
Hence, among the shastras of Sanatan Dharma, the Vachanamrut is unique from the point of view of its scholarly compilers, the dating and the endorsement by the speaker – Bhagwan Swaminarayan himself – about the contents.
The discourses are similar to that of the Upanishads in which dialogues occur between the guru and pupils. In the Vachanamrut the questions occur as follows:
Shriji Maharaj to paramhansas
Paramhansas to Shriji Maharaj
Gruhasthas to Shriji Maharaj
Gruhasthas to paramhansas
Paramhansas to each other.
In Loya 8, Maharaj teaches young paramhansas how to pose questions. In Gadhada I 78, Gadhada II 6 & Loya 6, he debates with young paramhansas, while in Gadhada I 32, 66 & Gadhada II 66, he debates with senior paramhansas. In Gadhada I 31, he summons Muktanand Swami and Brahmanand Swami to answer Yoganand Muni. He agrees with the answer and then adds his own wisdom. This technique, of Maharaj asking the paramhansas to answer questions and then adding his own remarks when necessary, is often witnessed throughout the Vachanamrut.
The katha assembly is so informal that besides paramhansas and gruhastha scholars, questions are also posed by women devotees (Gadhada I 31, Gadhada III 25), a 12-year-old boy, Bhagubhai (Vartal 10), Maharaj’s teenage nephews, Raghuvirji and Ayodhyaprasadji, and farmers such as Kakabhai of Rojka (Gadhada I 70) and Kandas of Bochasan (Vartal 2).
A vitally important attribute of a religious teacher is the ability to be strict and objective in the interpretation of the shastras. When the need arose, Maharaj was direct enough to point out fudged beliefs of either the listeners or by society. In Gadhada I 42, he noticed some Vedantis in the assembly. Hence, he expounded on Shankaracharya’s true teachings and the misinterpretations by his later followers.