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Recognize false chāryas
Śrīmathē śatakōpāya namaḥ
Śrīmathē rāmānujāya namaḥ
Śrīmath varavaramunayē namaḥ
Śrī vānāchala mahāmunayē namaḥ
Our tradition has a great past, but it is also very diverse and decentralized. Unfortunately, this mixture often leads to people falsely claiming to represent our tradition or even to be one of our Āchāryas (teachers who teach by example). Since we are diverse and decentralized, there is (unfortunately?) No “Council of the chāryas” or any other central body or even an official list of Āchāryas with which one could compare such claims.
But it is not difficult to recognize false Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchāryas when one knows what to look out for. Aids such as lists are therefore usually not necessary at all! The line of our Āchāryas has set an absolutely clear standard as to how a Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchārya behaves - and the “wannabes” can usually not even begin to adhere to this standard. The behavior of an Āchārya, however, is very diverse and complex. So this article only deals with the simple and relatively obvious points. But these alone should be enough to detect 90% + of all "forgeries".
As an example, consider the claim that Swami Vishwananda is a Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchārya, as it is claimed (as of November 2018) on this website:
In order to avoid lawsuits due to infringement of copyrights (which is very simple under German law - and the above website is operated by a German GmbH under German law) we will not use any quotes or screenshots of the page - we apologize for that.
We give a number of reasons below why Vishwananda is definitely not Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchārya. It should be noted that each point is sufficient to cast serious doubt on the claim that someone is Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchārya.
Name and title
- His name has no reference to any lineage within tradition. Śrī Vaiṣṇavas are given a spiritual name. This name is usually related to the birth name and is supplemented with "Rāmānuja Dāsan", which means "servant of Rāmānujas". When a Śrī Vaiṣṇava is called as a subsequent Āchārya, he takes on another name, which is usually related to the lineage of Āchāryas he represents from then on. Example: If an Āchārya comes from the line of Embar, the cousin of Rāmānuja who succeeded him as the leader of the tradition, he is called “Embar Jeeyar Swami”.
- The ending of his name (-ananda) is extremely unusual for Śrī Vaiṣṇavas. But it is so that names of this kind in the lineage of Śankarāchārya, i.e. the Advaita tradition, are very common. The Advaita tradition has been our most important opponent in philosophical debates for over 1000 years.
- The title Paramahamsa (literally: “transcendent swan”) is not used by Vaiṣṇavas for oneself used. Paramahamsa is a common title for sanyasis (renounced monks). Other people address them that way, but the modesty of a Vaiṣṇavas forbids him to use that name. So the use of Paramahamsa in the url of a website that presents Vishwananda to the public is inappropriate for a Vaiṣṇava.
There is no indication of who (which Āchārya) took the initiation into our tradition.The Āchārya is very important to us Śrī Vaiṣṇavas. His Thaniyan (boasting verse) is recited by us every day, his picture hangs in a prominent place in our apartment - because we are grateful to him that he connects us with the chain of grace that comes from Rāmānuja. Hence, when we are initiated, we always joyfully declare which Āchārya has initiated us.
Reference to teachings far beyond our tradition
Since we are committed to our tradition and since there is a rich treasure trove of incidents from the life of our Āḻvārs and Āchāryas, Śrī Vaiṣṇavas in general and Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchāryas in particular only refer to the Vedic literature and the rich heritage of our tradition. Vishwananda cites Mahavatar Babaji as his guru. Mahavatar Babaji is a yogi shrouded in myths, who is given as a reference by dozen (often self-proclaimed) gurus and is generally seen as the avatar of Śiva.
We respect Śiva as great devotees of Śriman Nārāyana, but our tradition strictly refrains from worshiping Śiva or having fellowship with the devotees of Śiva.
Śrī Vaiṣṇavas follow the scriptures as closely as possible. And while normal followers of the tradition, especially if they live outside India, make some compromises in everyday life, our Āchāryas are extremely strict in every respect, because they also teach by example. In terms of their external appearance, this means:
- They wear Śikhā, which means their hair is abraised except for a small tuft of hair on the back of the head
- If you have the title Swami, i.e. a renounced monk, you do not wear any gold, jewelry, pearls, etc.
- They do not have a sewn small size. Instead, they wear a dhoti and (in cold areas) a second piece of cloth to cover the upper body.
- They wear Urdhva Pundra, also known as Thilak - this is the red and white mark of our tradition on their foreheads. They wear it exactly as their chārya showed them, i.e. there is no variation in this mark.
Neither of these points apply to Vishwananda.
Money for instruction
A seven-part course on Śrimad Bhagavatam (also known as Bhagavata Purana) is available on the website below for $ 225 or $ 35 per class:
While it is customary and correct for a disciple to give dakshina to his Āchārya, it always is a voluntary gift and not a requirement for hearing teachings. Our Āchāryas have always preached the highest wisdom for free! It happens, of course, that an Āchārya gives particularly confidential teachings only to his closest disciples, but such restrictions are never about money!
Missing references to previous Āchāryas
All of our Āchāryas refer again and again to events from the life of the Āḻvārs and Āchāryas. We once looked at some excerpts from Vishwananda's discourses and did not find anything like it. For example, in a discourse on divine figures (deities) and statues (English, to be found here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iy9FqK6Fc9M) there should be references to incidents from the life of the Āḻvārs, because there are a variety of things happen in relation to pictorial forms that would fit perfectly into such a discourse. But we haven't heard anything of the sort in the discourse.
Update - October 2019
A supporter of Vishwananda commented on the English version of this article and cited that the website
explains the lineage of teachers in which Vishwananda is found. However, the website (as of early October 2019) does not confirm that he is a Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchārya. Rather, it confirms an important point why we believe he will no Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchārya is:
On the linked page, Mahavatar Babaji is referred to as "Satguru", which means "true guru". No Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchārya would call a guru so far outside of tradition a true guru.
According to the website mentioned, a certain Sri Vedavyasa Rangaraj initiated Bhattar Vishwananda in our Sampradāya (spiritual tradition). Let's first analyze the name:
- Vedavyasa is an honorary title that refers to Vyasa, the saint who compiled the Vedas in their current form.
- Rangaraj seems like a name.
- Bhattar is a traditional addition to the name of a temple priest, especially in South India. So this person is either a temple priest or comes from a family of temple priests.
The last point makes us a little skeptical. Our Sampradāya had famous Āchāryas with the addition of Bhattar (like Parāsara Bhattar, the 3rd Āchārya after Rāmānuja), but since the Middle Ages it has become unusual for temple priests to be Āchārya at the same time. This is simply because the temple priest is a full-time job, there is very little time left to teach, which an Āchārya usually does.
We tried to find traces of this person on the Internet using Google's search functionality, which enables older websites to be found. On websites from before 2017 (after that the name appears on websites linked to Vishwananda), we find no clear evidence that this person (has) existed. That doesn't necessarily mean a lot, but it's definitely strange.
We found the clearest indication on the website of an ISKCON priest: https://www.salagram.net/jtcdbio.htm
There a Rangaraj Bhattar is listed as a teacher. We think it is unlikely that this person is a Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchārya. The Śrī Vaiṣṇava and the Gaudiya Sampradāya are spiritual relatives, but practically never mix.
We have also found evidence that there is a Śrī Vaiṣṇava temple priest named Rangarajan Bhattar who serves in the Eri-Katha Ramar Temple. This temple is a very special place because it is here that Rāmānuja was dedicated in our tradition. But there is no evidence that this person is an Āchārya.
In summary: the website does not say that Vishwananda is a Śrī Vaiṣṇava Āchārya. There is no clear evidence that the Āchārya who supposedly initiated Vishwananda into our tradition actually existed.
Adiyēn Mādhava Rāmānuja Dāsan
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