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 outselves 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 cousin 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.
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.
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.
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.
A follower of Vishwananda commented this article, citing that the website
as reference explaining Vishwanandas lineage (see comment section). However, as of 2019-10-16, the website (besides not confirming that he is a Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchārya) actually confirms a major point we see as proof that he is no Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchārya:
Mahavatar Babaji is called on a linked website as Satguru, meaning „true guru“. No Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchārya would state a guru so far out of our lineage as his true guru.
The website states that a person named Sri Vedavyasa Rangaraj Bhattar intiated Vishwananda into our Sampradāya. We might first analyse the name:
- Vedavyasa is a honorary title, as it refers to Vyasa, the complier of the Vedas.
- Rangaraj seems to be a name.
- Bhattar is the traditional name-postfix of a temple priest, particularly in South India. So the person is either a temple priest or from a familiy of temple priests.
The last point makes us skeptitical. While our Sampradāya had some famous Āchāryas who had the name Bhattar (like Parāsara Bhattar), it has become increasingly uncommon since the Middle-Ages that an Āchārya is also temple priest – simply because being temple priest is a full-time job, with very limited time left to teach, as an Āchārya does.
Using Google’s options to find older websites, we struggle to find tangible traces of this person in the web from before 2017 (after that, websites linked to Vishwananda start to give the name). This does not necessarily mean much but it is still strange.
The best evidence is from the website of an ISKCON priest, where a person of the name Rangaraj Bhattar is stated as teacher: https://www.salagram.net/jtcdbio.htm. However, it seems unlikely that this person is a Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchārya, as the Śrī Vaiṣṇava and Gaudiya lineages are spiritual relatives but rarely mix.
We also find evidence of a Śrī Vaiṣṇava temple priest by the name of Rangarajan Bhattar, who serves at the Eri-Katha Ramar Temple. This temple is very special as Rāmānuja was initiated there. But we find no indication that this gentlemen is also an Āchārya.
In a Facebook discussion around Western Śrī Vaiṣṇavas who visited Śrīraṅgam (and turned out to be followers of Vishwananda instead of „normal“ Śrī Vaiṣṇavas), a devotee from India commented
Vishwananda was initiated into Srivaishnavam by grandfather of present Sri Veda vyaasa bhatt swamy who is 37th descendant of Sri Kuresh , a close disciple of Sri Ramanuja.
Devotees from koyil.org are aware that there is a Veda Vyaasa Bhatt Swamy in the line of Kuresha or Kūratāḻvān, as he is known in the Tamil land. He is an Āchārya living in Śrīraṅgam as a householder. Devotees are currently checking the claim with this family.
Summing up, the quoted website does not state that Vishwananda is a Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchārya. Evidence that he has indeed been initiated at some point has recently be uncovered, but is still to be checked.
Adiyēn Mādhava Rāmānuja Dāsan