Spotting fake Āchāryas

Śrīḥ
Śrīmathē śatakōpāya namaḥ
Śrīmathē rāmānujāya namaḥ
Śrīmath varavaramunayē namaḥ
Śrī vānāchala mahāmunayē namaḥ

Our tradition has a great history and is very diverse and de-centralized. This has induced quite a few people to falsely claim to represent (or even be an Āchārya in) our tradition. Being the diverse and de-centralized tradition we are, there is no central decision body nor a list of Āchāryas which could be used to check such claims.

However, it is fairly easy to spot fake Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchāryas, so auxiliary means are usually not needed. This is because the lineage of our Āchāryas has set a crystal clear standard on how a Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchāryas behaves. As the behaviour of an Āchārya is very intricate and complex, we shall restrict outselven on rather obvious and simple points, which are easy to understand but should still suffice to spot 90%+ of all fake Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchāryas.

As example we shall take the statement that Swami Vishwananda is a Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchārya as claimed on this webpage (as of November 2018): https://www.paramahamsavishwananda.com/the-master/sri-vaishnava-acharya.

In order to avoid being sued for copyright breaches (which is very easy under German law and the site is run by a German for profit limited liability company under German law) we shall not use quotations or screeshots from that respective website. Sorry. 

Following, we give a list of reasons why the claim that he is a Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchārya is utterly false. Note that each single point suffices to induce severe doubts that the respective person is a Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchārya.

Name & Titles

  • His name lacks any reference to a lineage: Śrī Vaiṣṇavas receive a spiritual name. This name is usually related to the birth name and is extended by Rāmānuja Dāsan, which means servant of Rāmānuja. If a Śrī Vaiṣṇava is installed as suceeding Āchārya, he uses a different name that usually relates to the lineage of Āchāryas he represents. For example, if the Āchārya hails from the lineage of Āchāryas that goes back to Embar, the cousing of Rāmānuja who followed him as the leader of our tradition, he is called „Embar Jeeyar Swami“.
  • His names‘ ending (–ananda) is extremely uncommon for a Śrī Vaiṣṇava. In fact, names like this are commonly used in the lineage of Śankarāchārya, i.e. in the Advaita tradition. This tradition has been our main opponent in debates for the last 1000+ years, as their  philosophical views differ considerably from the views of our tradition.
  • The title Paramahamsa (literally: „transcendent swan“) is not used by Vaiṣṇavas to address themselves. Paramahamsa is a honary title used for Sanyasis (renouncers). Other people may address such a person as Paramahamsa, but the humbleness of a Vaiṣṇava makes him abstain from addressing himself as such. The usage of Paramahamsa in the url of the website presenting him to the general pubic is thus inappropriate for a Vaiṣṇava.

Initiation

There is no reference on who (which Āchārya) performed his initiation into our tradition. The Āchārya is extremely important for Śrī Vaiṣṇavas. His thaniyan (honorary verse) is recited every day, his picture is placed prominently in our homes and we feel grateful for him connecting us the the chain of grace started by Rāmānuja. So if we are initiated, we always state who performed the initiation as this is central for us.

Reference to teachers far outside the lineage

Being committed to our lineage and having the rich body of literature and many pasttimes from Āḻvārs and Āchāryas, Śrī Vaiṣṇavas and Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchāryas in particular do reference solely Vedic scriptures and the rich heritage of our tradition. Vishwananda cites Mahavatar Babaji as his guru. Mahavatar Babaji is a mythical figure cited by dozens of (often self-proclaimed) gurus and is usually seen as an avatar of Lord Śiva.

While we respect Lord Śiva as a great devotee of Śriman Nārāyana, our tradition strictly abstains from worshipping Śiva or in fact even associating with his devotees.

Outward appearance

Śrī Vaiṣṇavas follow the prescripions of the scriptures as closely as possible. While common devotees may compromise in some respects, particularly if they live abroad, an Āchārya is also teaching by example and is thus extremly strict in every way. This means in terms of outward appearance:

  • He wears Śikhā, i.e. his head is shaved except for a tuft of hair at the back of the head.
  • Having the title Swami, i.e being an ascetic renouncer, he does not wear any gold ornaments, pearls etc .
  • He does not wear sewn clothes. Instead, he wears a Dhoti and (in cold environments) a smaller piece of cloth to cover the upper body.
  • He wears Urdhva Pundra (also known as Thilak), and he wears it in the same way his Āchārya has prescibed it, i.e. there is no variation.

None of the above points applies to Vishwananda.

Charging disciples money for teaching

On the below webpage, a 7 part course by Vishwananda on the Śrimad Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana) is offered for 225$ in total or 35$ pers session.

http://shreemadbhagavatamcourse2015.vhx.tv/

While it is suitable and common for disciples to give Dakshina to the Āchārya, this is always a voluntary contribution by the disciple and is not a pre-condition for listening to discourses. All of our Āchāryas have taught the highest wisdom free of charge. They may restrict discourses to close disciples in case of very confidential teachings, but such restrictions are never about money.

Missing references to teaching of previous Āchāryas

All of our Āchāryas make extensive refereces to the lifes and teachings of Āḻvārs and previous Āchāryas. We listened to a few random excerpts from Vishwanandas Youtube videos and found no such reference. For example, on the discourse on deity and statue (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iy9FqK6Fc9M), should have some references to pasttimes from the Āḻvārs, where many beautiful incidences in the relation to temple deities happend. But there are none.

Adiyēn Mādhava Rāmānuja Dāsan

Autor: koyildeutschland

Sri Vaishnavam in Deutschland

2 Kommentare zu „Spotting fake Āchāryas“

  1. Jai Sriman Narayan!

    Very interesting article!

    Have you tried to contact this guru or somebody from his organisation to challenge them on these points? I don’t see that being mentioned in the article…

    In my opinion, Hinduism at large (including Sri Sampradaya, as you’ve pointed out) allows for adaptations depending on circumstances under which the teachings are being presented. 20th century Europe is quite different to 12th century India, which in my mind would even make sense. Sri Ramanujacharya himself has made quite a few changes to the teachings which existed at the time in order to solidify them as superior to Advaita.

    Thank you for your answer,

    Padmanabhadasan

    Gefällt mir

    1. Jai Srimannaryana!

      Honestly no, we did not request him to remove that title before writing the article. The article was triggered by complaints of (alleged, can’t check on that) very severe misbehavior of Vishnwananda, on which the person complaining requested the Sri Vaishnava community to take action.

      Now, we were all suprised to hear that Vishwananda claims to be Sri Vaishnava, but found proof on the linked website. Many people in the community suggested to do nothing about it, as there are dozens of people wandering around India claiming to be Sri Vaishnava Acharya without any base – debunking all of them would be a full time job for a whole team. Others opposed that view, as – if some of the complaints have a bit of truth in them – he would severely damage our tradition’s reputation.

      Taking his claims as an example on how to check such claims was the compromise we found. In fact, his claims are a fantastic model on how to spot fakes.

      Concerning the adaptations, yes and no. Yes, because Ramanuja has indeed adapted the relation of our community and temple rules to the extremly strict and rigid Varna system of his time. No because he adhered strictly to tradition otherwise and had very sound and clear philosophical and theological arguments for his adaptations.

      This is a template which our tradition tries to follow: adjust when there are sound reasons to do so, otherwise be as strict as possible and follow the path of the teachers and saints of the past. For example, most Sri Vaishnavas outside India do not follow the orthodox rules of food (which essentially probhibit all vegetables not native to India plus most vegetables growing underground) as this rule is simply impractical in, say, Europe. But we still are lacto-vegetarian and still try to offer all of our food to Sriman Narayana, as by the tradition.

      Taking a wider perspective, being eager to adapt Santana Dharma has both been a blessing, as millions of people outside India practise Yoga and meditate these days, but also a curse, as all meaning and philosophy has been ripped out from them in the adaptation process, leaving them as mere excercises for well-being. Which is not bad per se, but still an extremely severe loss relative to what they originally were.

      The core problem is the hyotheses if „radical universalism“, the idea that all paths within Santana Dharma and even outside lead to the same goal. It implies as a corollary that we can adjust everything back and forth as we like, as the results do not change anyway. However, this hypotheses is completly false, here is a detailed refutation by a learned American scholar: http://www.srimatham.com/uploads/5/5/4/9/5549439/does_hinduism_teach_……pdf

      Coming back to Vishwananda, what he teaches is something very very different from what our Alvars and Acharyas have taught. He is about ISKCON style Bhakti, about Mahavatar Babaji as a teacher, about a cult on him as a person – all of that is opposed by our lineage. So it is wrong to see his preaching as a valid adjustment of our tradition’s heritage to another environment. He teaches his own stuff, and while nobody may prohibit him from doing so, we followers of Ramanuja strongly recject his claim of representing us!!!

      Adiyen Madhava Ramanuja Dasan

      Gefällt mir

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