Even in this effortless age of clicks and ‘follows,’ how many people follow you on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter?
You will appreciate, then, how difficult it must be to have two million people follow you 200 years ago. Bhagwan Swaminarayan had that many followers.
Indeed, two million adults, youths, and children not only followed him, but they loved him, practised his message, and quite extraordinarily, believed he was God.
The divinity emanating from Bhagwan Swaminarayan was palpable to all. There was no doubt. The spiritual visions (samadhi) people experienced were real. The tranquility they enjoyed was profound. So many people experienced it, they could not help but follow.
Perhaps most importantly, Bhagwan Swaminarayan stated what they experienced: he was Purushottam himself.
His compassionate statements are well-recorded in many Vachanamrut discourses such as Gadhada II 9, II 13 and III 38. Here’s a translated excerpt from Gadhada III 38:
“Divine Bhagwan resides in Akshardham and brings supreme happiness to the liberated souls in his service. And that same supreme Purushottam Bhagwan, out of compassion, has appeared on this earth, visible before the eyes of all, for the betterment (kalyan) of souls, and is your Lord (Ishtadeva), and accepts your service. And this Purushottam before your eyes and the Bhagwan in Akshardham are not different. They are verily both one. And, this Purushottam Bhagwan before your eyes is the controller of all, including Akshar, is the Lord of lords (ishwar na Ishwar), the cause of all causes, resides above all, is the source (avatari) of all previous descents of God (avatars) and is worthy of being single-mindedly worshipped by you all. And the many previous avatars of this Bhagwan are also worthy of being bowed to and revered.”
Such an announcement is unprecedented in the history of world faiths. Bhagwan Swaminara-yan revealed it numerous times and spoke of it indirectly, almost every day. He even hinted it to Anglican Bishop Reginald Heber. Heber was the Bishop of Calcutta. They met in Nadiad, Gujarat, March 1825. Heber notes the conversation in his diary.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan shone like the sun on all, whatever their faith.
Yes, about 240 years ago, the Creator of this universe appeared on our blue planet! Please take a moment to let that settle.
On the most historic day of this universe, on 3 April 1781, Bhagwan Swaminarayan appeared as a child born to Dharmadev and Bhaktimata. He took birth in Chhapaiya, an idyllic village in north India. It is just 350 miles from Vrindavan where Lord Krishna was born and only 20 miles from Ayodhya where Lord Ram was born. Indeed, he took birth on the same day as Lord Ram, on Ram Navmi.
Fast-forward 18 years. On 21 August 1799, Bhagwan Swaminarayan arrived as a teenager in a small village named Loj, in western India, Gujarat. Muktanand Swami met him here for the first time.
“O, he is a great yogi,” admired Muktanand Swami.
Muktanand Swami was 40 years old. Ever since childhood, he worshipped the small murti of Bal Mukund. He was a staunch sadhu of Lord Krishna, a true Vaishnav and the senior-most disciple of Ramanand Swami, whom he regarded as an avatar of Uddhav. All worship and praises were directed to Krishna Bhagwan and Ramanand Swami.
Just two years later, on 5 November 1802, after several exhilarating experiences, Muktanand Swami composed a new arti. With tears streaming down his cheeks, waving the divo before the 20 year-old from Chhapaiya, he sang,
He who sees the visible Purushottam with his eyes will be freed from death (kal) and past actions (karma) along with his family. Today, the ocean of grace (Sahajanand) has made it easy to attain liberation.
Muktanand Swami realized that the 20 year-old was not just a great yogi, but “visible Purushottam.” It was a transformation unparalleled not only in Vaishnavism but in the history of world faiths.
The epochal new arti, sung directly before Purushottam Bhagwan himself, was a paradigm shift for Muktanand Swami. By redirecting his worship from the paroksha – the invisible, to the pragat – the visible, he transformed his beloved guru’s legacy from the ‘Uddhav Sampradaya’ to the ‘Swaminarayan Sampradaya’.
The name of Sahajanand and Swaminarayan are now recited every day in millions of homes worldwide and will continue in the future.
If we choose.
God always gives choices. He does not rule the universe like a dictator but recommends like a tutor. Even spiritual enlightenment or liberation are not compulsory. They’re a choice. That’s why we have free will. It’s Bhagwan’s first gift to humanity. Enlightenment is his second. We will receive it when we choose it.
Like us, Bhagwan has free will, too. When he appears on earth, he chooses to behave like a human being to achieve his objectives, just as humans must to achieve theirs. He sets an example and lives life the hard way, like us. There is no ‘free lunch’, he says. Enlightenment must be earned, or at least yearned.
We are like children. We can be nice or nasty. Humble or arrogant. Faithful or doubtful. Diligent or lazy. Asleep or awake. These are our choices.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan chose to enlighten all the children who choose it. Every soul in the universe is his child. None are small, insignificant, or expendable. None are greater than others. He loves us all equally. Hence, his visit to our world. He helped people not only spiritually, but also physically.
He renovated villages, dredged lakes, and dug wells. He educated females, stopped the immolation of widows, and the drowning of female newborns. He visited people’s homes. He travelled from village to village, town to town, city to city. All to convince his children to choose enlightenment.
Most astonishingly, he chose to live in a mud hut!
Yes, you read that right. Bhagwan Swaminarayan, the Creator of the universe, lived for thirty years in the mud home of a devotee named Dada Khachar in Gadhada.
Why? Because he and his two sisters – Laduba and Jivuba – chose enlightenment. There were many rich folk living in towns and cities such as Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara and Bhavnagar. Bhagwan Swaminarayan could have lived luxuriously in beautiful two-or three-story mansions and raised large donations. But mud, stone or diamonds meant nothing to their Creator.
Shastriji Maharaj, Yogiji Maharaj and Pramukh Swami Maharaj, too, could have resided permanently in large cities and raised huge capital. But they were yogis, not bhogis (pleasure seekers). Shastriji Maharaj could have set up comfortably in Mumbai or East Africa. Pramukh Swami Maharaj could have set up in Manhattan or California. But they, too, chose the mud huts of India’s villages.
Like Muktanand Swami, Dada Khachar, Laduba, and Jivuba, you also have seen the Creator hidden in human guise. He remains present within Mahant Swami Maharaj. With your gift of free will, what will you ask from him? 1. The transient pleasures of ignorance or 2. the endless bliss of enlightenment?
Hint. If you’re thinking of asking for both, that item isn’t on the menu. And the first one, you already have. Lol.