Saturday, March 07, 2015

Swami Vishwananda's Bhakti Marga and Parampara

It has been a little strange here at Jiva these past few days. Swami Vishwananda is here with his troupe of disciples, of whom there are a goodly number, perhaps 80 or so.

When I arrived in Vrindavan already a couple of weeks back, almost the first thing I noticed at the corner of Mathura Road and the Parikrama Marg was a big billboard with Swami Vishwananda’s charming smile and glowing tilak staring charismatically out at the world and announcing that he would be giving darshan on March 8 at the Jiva Institute. Below him, in a smaller frame was Satyanarayana Dasa Babaji, who besides being his host will be speaking on the Bhāgavatam at the darshan event.

This is not the first time that Vishwananda and his group have been at Jiva. Satyanarayana Dasaji calls Vishwananda a friend, and indeed the relations between the two are very cordial. Vishwananda's group is mostly young and enthusiastic, predominantly European (German and points east), who are very enthusiastic about kirtan and generally float around in a bubble of love for their guru.

I took it that I was watching a fledgling religious movement – hopefully benign – in its early stages, centered around this Mauritian Indian’s personality as the “embodiment of pure love.” Being such, he has devised his own bhakti-mārga, claiming adherence to the Sri Sampradaya as well as the receipt of grace from the legendaryHimalayan kriyā-yoga master,Mahavatar Babaji” with whom he is in mystical communion. Indeed, he has written two books in which he "channels" Babaji and brings his message down from the Himalayas to today's world.

Bhakti Marg devotees whooping it up on Holi at Jiva.

Being brought up in Gaudiya Vaishnavism, like many others I naturally had a bit of discomfort with Swami Vishwananda's group from the onset. It comes down to legitimacy. We were trained by Srila Prabhupada to give importance to paramparā, the disciplic succession, despite the technical dubiousness of the Gaudiya Math's own antecedents and Saraswati Thakur's revisioning of the concept. Charismatic leaders like Vishwananda are endowed with great amounts of personal charm and natural leadership abilities can make others trust them with their spiritual lives, In our tradition we have always been quite openly sectarian, and that samskara is still with me.

When I asked about his disciplic succession, Vishwananda wrote to me the following:
I understand the nature of your doubt. I am unconventional. We are from the Sri Sampradaya and yet we worship Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and adopt many customs of other traditions. I count many Gaudiya Vaishnavas as my friends, including of course Mahant Sri Satya Narayan Dasji. 
From my point of view I am acting in accordance with what it means to be a real Vaishnava. What is the purpose of being a Vaishnava if we cannot embrace the love and bhakti of our brothers simply because they belong to a different Sampradaya? I recognise those who love God as my friends and family, irrespective of their tradition. 
Yet it is as you said, tradition is still important for guidance and focus, and with the information attached I hope your doubts are laid to rest regarding my own legitimacy and that of Bhakti Marga.

Guru Parampara 
Peria Perumal Thiruvadikalay

Peria Pirattiyar Thiruvadikalay

Alhwar Emperumanar Thiruvadikalay

Koorathalwar Thiruvadikalay

Sri Ramanuja Acharya

Sri Parangusa Das
Srimath Yamuna Muni

Srimath Rama Misra

Srimath Pundarikaksha

Srimath Natha Muni

Srimath Satagopa
Sri Venkatarya Patha Saktham

Sri Ramakya Bhattar Swami

Sri Raghunatha Harithakula Bhushanam
Sri Veddhavyasotharam Srimath Rangaraja
Sri Vedhavyasa Raghunatha Bhattar Swami Kumarar
Sri Vedhavyasa Rangaraja Bhattar Thiruvadikalay
Sri Vedhavyasa Rangaraja Bhattar Swami Vishwananda

According to Babaji, who spoke to me personally about their relation and also in his introduction at the "darshan" event, they met by accident when SND was taken to Vishwananda's German center, the two became friends and the younger Swami showed respect for SN's learning and spiritual acumen, etc.

I certainly do not know Babaji as someone who would compromise his own integrity or Jiva Goswami's teachings for the sake of any personal benefit. Babaji recognizes Vishwananda has some charismatic power, since he can attract hundreds of people to these darshan events, even in secular Germany where he himself is lucky to attract a dozen or two. But more than that, Babaji appears to have great confidence in the sincerity Vishwananda's desire for bhakti.

It seems to me that Vishwananda has "outsourced" philosophy to Babaji, and he himself along with his disciples all regularly attend Babaji's classes when they are in Vrindavan. Certainly, he is evolving in his practice and teachings, in part due to Babaji's association.

In the beginning I expressed a bit of frustration that a Swami who seems to be in a constant state of philosophical flux should be able to stir up so much interest. "It is all just made up," I said, Then, half seriously, "I think I should also start my own sampradāya," Implying that if he can do it, why can't someone with a little more depth innovate and create appeal?

"What will you call it?" Babaji asked.

I had no quick answer because I could not think of ever being anything other than a Rupanuga. Nevertheless, I know that in terms of strict adherence, it is almost impossible to be a true follower. I said to Babaji, "How can one claim to even understand the words or mood of people who lived 500 years ago when the world has so changed? No matter how faithful we are to a teaching, the times challenge us to adapt to them."

It does indeed seem necessary to adapt or innovate if we want to avoid irrelevance. We came to do good. We wanted to find the highest good so that we could do the greatest good. It is the art of the sāra-grāhī to communicate the essence. But the trouble with scholarship is that we tend to get caught up in intricate details and lose the fundamental simple message that can have an immediate impact on a seeker. Oversimplification, of course, is probably worse, since it leads to facile sentimentalism. Vishwananda talks of "Just Love" and Babaji talks about purifying the concept of love in accordance with Jiva Goswami's philosophy.

Naturally, a person of great charisma attracts various kinds of rumors, usually prurient. For the moment I prefer to see the positive side of individuals like Vishwananda because I believe in the positive side of his teaching. His disciples are keen for the practices of bhakti, which their guru has given them, so what can be the harm? If you believe in the positive values of Harinama and kirtan, then certainly he is leading them in the right direction.

Vishwananda Swami has bought a house just a few meters from the Jiva Insitute, which indicates that the relation between the two is set to continue into the future. Let us hope that Radharani's mercy and the grace of the Goswamis guide both of them.


Jagadananda Das said...

In case the article is not clear. Naturally, I expected that in the Facebook comments to this article there would be people who are critical of Vishwananda Swami, and I don't doubt that he has encountered people with the same samskara (ISKCON, etc.) as myself and had the kinds of reactions that I expressed. But I hope that the final notes played in this article make it clear where I stand.

I should make it clear also that as to the accusations of impropriety against Swami Vishwananda, I have no knowledge of their truth or falsehood.

Here are my comments in response to some negative statements on Facebook:

I honestly do not think that SN would do this without having thought it through.

He knows Vishwananda better than you or I do and feels that he gets the appropriate respect from him, and furthermore thinks that he can benefit him and others because of that relationship.

If V is a complete charlatan, through good association he may be transformed. If he finds friendship with a senior Vaishnava to be in his interest -- on any level -- he may have come into contact with a touchstone.

The Vaishnava position is that people's character is not immutable, but can be transformed by good association.

I am willing to give them both the benefit of the doubt as a result of my personal relationship with SN. But I wrote the article because I thought it would be worth discussing openly.


With regards to the question of "seeing the Guru as God." Vishwananda is not my guru, I observe him as a phenomenon. He is not a friend, but an acquaintance. Satyanarayana Dasa calls him a friend, so my assumption is that there is a bond of trust between the two men. Although we may think that SN is

(a) a sinner for associating with a sinner or
(b) sure to be affected by association with a sinner

There is also the possibility that the influence is going the other way. As I already said, saintly sat-sanga is the cure for materialistic mentality. I don't think SN is unaware of what he is doing, or of Vishwananda's past. But as a Vaishnava, he is a guna-grahi and sees his potential. Why not? If advanced Vaishnavas are not confident enough to mix with the less advanced, there would be no preaching, no spreading of the positive effects of bhakti.

I do not believe in incorrigible evil except in a few persons. Is Vishwananda a demon, as in the 16th chapter of the Gita? Who is so without sin that he will throw the first stone? Of course, everyone likes to throw stones, especially when their pet peeve is being pulled.

The philosophy is "Love" and I will take it that SN's motivation is to share the path of pure bhakti. I wish him all success. Let him be the guru of the gurus.

Greg said...

The guru parampara that you listed. Was it meant to be in that order? It seems to me to be all over the place and not chronological.

Here is some comments in brackets:

Guru Parampara (The way a guru parampara is listed normally starts with God in this case Sriman Narayana, and the first founder in this case Sridevi, Laksmi)

Peria Perumal Thiruvadikalay (Peria Perumal means lit. Big Visnu in Tamil and normally refers to Lord Ranganatha in Srirangam temple. Thiruvadikalay means "at the lotus feet of" in Tamil, it can be added to any of the acharyas names)

Peria Pirattiyar Thiruvadikalay
 (Peria Pirattiyar refers to Goddess Ranganayaki the Lord's consort in Srirangam, the capital of Sri Vaisnavism. So the first two names indicate Sriman Narayana and Sridevi/Laksmi.)

Alhwar Emperumanar Thiruvadikalay (Alhwar lit. means one who dives deep into devotion to the Lord and can refer to the traditional 12 Alwar saints of Sri Vaisnavism or sometimes to later acharyas. Emperuman means the Lord i.e. Sriman Narayana, but Emperumanar is a name of Sri Ramanujacharya. So this seems to be referring to Ramanujacharya. Of course Ramanuja was not the first chronological acharya of this parampara.)

Koorathalwar Thiruvadikalay (Koorathalwar is a direct disciple of Ramanujacharya)

Sri Ramanuja Acharya
 (Here we have Ramanujacharya's name again? Strange. From here the parampara seems to go backwards upto and including Srimath Satagopa i.e. Nam Alwar)

Sri Parangusa Das (Ramanuja's diksha guru)

Srimath Yamuna Muni (Parangusa Das's diksha guru, Ramanuja's param guru)

Srimath Rama Misra
 (Yamuna Muni's guru)

Srimath Pundarikaksha (Rama Misra's guru)

Srimath Natha Muni
 (Pundarikaksha's guru)

Srimath Satagopa (Natha Muni's guru)

Sri Venkatarya Patha Saktham (I have no idea who the rest of these acharyas are.)

Sri Ramakya Bhattar Swami

Sri Raghunatha Harithakula Bhushanam
Sri Veddhavyasotharam Srimath Rangaraja
Sri Vedhavyasa Raghunatha Bhattar Swami Kumarar
Sri Vedhavyasa Rangaraja Bhattar Thiruvadikalay
Sri Vedhavyasa Rangaraja Bhattar Swami Vishwananda

As you have stated it, this parampara doesn't make sense because of the above observations. If anyone is quoting this as his parampara then it shows that he has very little if any knowledge of the actual common lineage accept by all (even North Indian) Sri Vaisnavas.

I have nothing against or for persons who claim this lineage. If they want to know more information about the actual commonly accepted Sri Vaisnava lineage they can ask me or consult any basic text on Sri Vaisnava history. Otherwise if they insist this is their lineage I would be intrigued to have it explained to me. Gaura Keshava das

Anonymous said...

His folowers think '' He is a Lord Krishna Himself. Like avathara from Bhagavad Gita. He is God'' One - His disciples say me this thinks.
and He says : '' whay you cannot see a this Avatahar. He is Krishna .
???. Its true Vaishnav sampraday???. ...
VishnuPatni Dasi

Greg said...

On further searching of youtube He seems to be teaching Kriya Yoga not Bhakti and worships and credits Mahavatar Babaji as one of his gurus. He also performs 'miracles' like Sai Baba pulling golden lingams from his mouth. Thus he seems like a little bit of everything. From Yogananda to Sai Baba. No mention of the actual Sri Sampradaya or any other mainstream sampradaya in any of his website or Youtube videos that I could see. Gaura Keshava das

Anonymous said...

"Vishwananda" is a gay guy who was busted here in California a few years ago on borderline child molesting recruiting gay sex from the brainwashed followers. I thought he had dried up and gone away but I am now seeing he is playing a new version of his old game. Why not just be honest, get a job and try to improve oneself. He just likes all the egoistic attention....feels it is something he is "good at" in lieu of getting an honest job or starting a business. This IS his business and its really foolish.

Anonymous said...

Hare Krishna,

i wrote something about the Bhagavad Gita commentary by Swami Vishwananda here, i would very much like to hear your opinion.

Jagadananda Das said...

The last comment was deleted at the link given.

With regards to Vishwananda getting a job, indeed he is doing well.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jagadananda for your reply. I have doubts about Vishwananda as well.

I would like to ask your help to understand another topic.

I was on an ISKCON website today, this one:

and they put a link to a web page called "Vedic illuminations".
Once there, if you click on the "Bhagavad Gita" folder, they put another link advertising this Bhagavad Gita commentary:

I am curious about this book and i'd like to buy it and read it-but i never heard about Abhinavagupta'commentary before.

My question is: because they are from ISKCON as i can see, i must suppose that this particular commentary of the Gita is authorized and is not written by a Mayavadi, am i right? But it seems to me that Abhinavagupta worshipped Shiva instead of lord Krishna, then why they "advertised" such a book on their ISKCON website? I am puzzled.

You can also have a look here:

As i said before the site is authorized by BBT and ISKCON so everything they put on their site is supposed to be authorized material (in the sense that it doesn't go against Srila Prabhupada's teachings)- can you tell me something about this author?

Thanks in advance

kris wiggins said...

a list of a bunch of dead guys doesn't give credibility to this shit swami

Anonymous said...

Swami Vishwananda does not come from an authentic sampradaya, he has no guru except Sathya Sai Baba, but claims lineage from the mysterious and mythical Babaji that Yogananda introduced to the world in his famous book. He is a self proclaimed "god man" and new-age charismatic guru who has been caught "red-handed" several times exploiting young boys, sexually, and is constantly trying to remake himself as some type of "pure devotee" or "self-realized" master, whichever audience he is trying to convert. I am sad to see that people are still being caught in his web of lies and deception. It is also sad to see that most of the people directly affected by his abuse do not speak out against him now. However, even the simplest of tests to determine if a guru or an advanced devotee is genuine, sincere, and authentic will fail terribly when directed at this charlatan. Open your eyes and your minds and see him for who he really is: a hurt, confused, gay, religiously minded, man. Don't say that someone didn't warn you. I lived in his ashram for several years, before he got caught the 2nd time, and am speaking from direct experience with this trickster, I wish someone would have warned me.

Vittorio Fogarizzu said...

Somebody knows if this so-called Vishwananda Swami get the authorization to be part of the guru parampara of the Sri sampradaya or he just proclaimed himself to be part of Sri sampradaya.
I can't and I don't believe that Sri Sampradaya can permit those kind of bogus guru.

Jagadananda Das said...

I have had the opportunity to observe Vishwananda Swami fairly closely for a couple of years now. Mostly I observe the positive effects he has on disciples by giving them this path of bhakti yoga. I don't know how far he can take them, but he certainly does inspire enthusiasm for kirtan and bhakti-yoga ritual. So I extend the benefit of the doubt. You have to see grace where it manifests. That is the devotional vision.