Swami Swarupanand is an embarrassment to acharya parampara

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Hinduism  is the only religion in the world which has the beautiful concept of  Ishta Devata - of choosing a favourite personal deity towards whom  the devotee can direct single minded devotion. Yaska, the 9th century  philosopher, comments that when the population of India was 33  crores, the Indians also worshipped 33 crore Gods and goddesses!  Sanatana Dharma grants the freedom to all its practitioners to choose  their own ‘god’ or even create a new form to invoke Ishvara!

Ishvara,  the intelligence which governs and pervades this universe, can be  invoked through any form – this is the simple and yet profound  principle on which is based the Hindu culture of broad minded  acceptance of all sects.

Adi  Sankara, who revived Sanatana Dharma from the jaws of decay and  decline, established the shan-matas or six forms of worship which  have come to occupy a central place in Hindu religion today –  Ganapatya (invoking Ishvara in the form of Ganesha), Kaumara  (Kartikeya or Murugan), Shaiva (Shiva), Shakta (Goddess Durga), Saura  (Sun).

Our  shastras emphasise that while single minded devotion to a particular  form (Ishta Nishtha) is necessary for a spiritual novice, but to  encourage intolerance or hatred towards worshippers of other forms is  unnecessary.

The  place accorded to a Guru in Hindu tradition is even more significant.  The guru who removes ignorance and bestows the highest spiritual  knowledge is regarded by the disciple as equal to greater than God  himself. Thus, Guru Bhakti (devotion to the Guru) is as much an  established practice in Hinduism as murti puja.

The  Bhagavad Gita lays down this golden principle of non-interference in  matters of faith:

“Let  not the wise create any disturbance in the understanding of the  ignorant who are attached to the results of action.” (Gita, 3.26)

Commenting  on this verse, Swami Dayananda elaborates: “People who are thought  to be enlightened, are considered to be the elite in a given society  and whatever they do tends to become law for the others. Therefore,  such people are leaders, sresthas. And these leaders... should not  disturb the minds of those who follow them. Just as you cannot alter  the direction of a river unless you do it very gradually, so too, the  direction that a person’s life is taking can only be altered  gradually. A sensitive person, one who really cares for another  person, brings about a change in that person by going with the flow,  altering the direction of his or her life, little by little, in a  helpful way.”

This  indeed has been the wise and mature approach which all the great  spiritual leaders and reformers took to bring about a positive  transformation or a lasting change in society. They never condemned  or cursed the faith of the masses, but if they felt the need to  reform some practices, they did it gently without causing hurt or  agitation to their followers.

Swami  Swaroopanand’s hate-filled campaign against Shirdi Sai Baba and his  devotees has demeaned the sanctity of the Sankara Peetham and is  clearly aimed at driving a wedge into Hindu society. His statements  prohibiting the worship of Shirdi Sai and exclusivist interpretations  of Hindu shastras are reminiscent of Abrahamic cultures.

What  is the basis for Swarupanand’s claim that Rama and Krishna alone  are allowed to be worshipped as deities? Which scripture says so? The  majority of devotees who owe allegiance to the four Sankara Peethams  established by Adi Sankara are predominantly Shaivas. But even  Mahadeva Shiva does not seem to find a place in Swarupanand’s  myopic and distorted understanding of Advaita.

Going  by this logic, Swarupanand will also eventually attack other Hindu  movements centred round saintly figures like Ramakrishna Paramahamsa,  Ramana Maharishi or Swami Narayan. None of these saints went around  tom-tomming their divinity, but their followers recognized their  extraordinary character and contribution and continue to look up to  them as God incarnate even today.

All  centres of Sri Ramakrishna Math have a shrine with only the murtis or  photos of Sri Ramakrishna, Sarada Devi or Swami Vivekananda. On  festival days like Rama Navami or Krishna Janmasthami, an image or  photograph of Rama or Krishna is kept in the shrine and special  worship offered to it. This does not in any way mean that devotees  and disciples of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa considered Rama or Krishna  as inferior deities. A typical puja room in any Hindu household is  adorned with the pictures of at least a dozen deities. In order not  to displease any of them, the average Hindu lights a camphor and  waves an arati around each deity and makes sure that each picture  gathers an equal amount of black soot emanating from the karpura  arati!

All  Akshardham temples of the Swami Narayan movement have an image of the  child saint Nilkanth who came to be known as Swami Narayan after  taking sannyasa under his guru Swami Ramanand. Devotees of Mata  Amritanandamayi Devi look upon her as an incarnation of Devi and  Krishna. Ammachi occasionally gives darsan to her devotees in ‘Devi  Bhava,’ in which she even assumes the attire of Goddess Durga  including a crown and other ornaments which Durga is usually adorned  with.

Will  Swaroopanand now start issuing fatwas against the Ramakrishna Math,  Swami Narayan Sanstha and scores of other smaller sampradayas which  worship their own saints, looking upon them as incarnations of  divinity?

It  is disappointing that with the sole exception of Uma Bharati who  challenged Swami Swaroopanand openly, Hindu organisations and leaders  are keeping a studied silence over the controversy. Earlier, when  Swami Swaroopanand objected to the use of the slogan ‘Har Har Modi’  during the run up to the Lok Sabha polls, Hindu leaders meekly  submitted to his bullying. If a section of Hindus look upon Modi as  an avatar purush, who has come to rescue them from corruption,  terrorism and a host of other ills plaguing the nation, so be it.  They have the right to adore their hero and acknowledge him as an  expression of divine intervention.

Swami  Swaroopanand’s divisive agenda must be exposed and refuted  decisively. If Hindu society succumbs to such bullying, we will soon  be on the road to irreversible decline and disintegration.

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