Swami Vishwananda (born Mahadeosingh 'Visham' Komalram on June 13, 1978, in Beau Bassin-Rose Hill, Mauritius) is a Hindu guru and 'godman' from Mauritius.[1] He is the founder of Bhakti Marga, a neo-Hindu organization that has ashrams and temples in many countries. He lives in Germany, where his main ashram is in the small village of Springen (Heidenrod) in the Taunus.

Swami Vishwananda
Swami Vishwananda

LifeEdit

Vishwananda was born into a Brahmin Hindu family on the island of Mauritius. Allegedly he had an apparition of Mahavatar Babaji as a child and claims to have been initiated by him into the swami order later on. Yet Babaji is a mythical religious figure, therefore there is no evidence of him belonging to a particular swami tradition. According to other reports, he became a disciple of the controversial Sathya Sai Baba. Like Sai Baba, he is also a 'miracle-worker'.[2] In 1998 he visited Europe for the first time, initially England and Switzerland, later also other countries, e.g. Germany, where in July 2005 he established his first ashram and Bhakti Marga.[3][4]

He also claims to be an acharya of Sri Vaishnava founded by Ramanuja, which is disputed by leading representatives.[5] He has been granted the title Mahamandaleshwara by Nirmohi Akhada. Critics claim that he bought the title for 30,000 dollars.[2][6]

Bhakti Marga activitiesEdit

LineageEdit

Bhakti Marga views itself standing in the tradition of Sri Vaishnava, into which Vishwananda has been initiated.[5] It represents vishishtadvaita as philosophy, translated as qualified monism. According to it, all souls are a part of God and can reflect him, but are not identical with him.[7] The aim of the teaching is to purify the soul through devotion to God. This is done by repeating mantras (e.g. the ashtakshara mantra), singing bhajans, rituals (pujas and yajnas) and karma yoga.

Vishwananda established his own lineage called Hari Bhakta Sampradaya on July 24, 2021, which is independent of the Shri Sampradaya, even though it is based on similar principles and is philosophically linked to Vishishtadvaita.[8] Bhakti Marga elaborates: Most of what devotees have learned and practise remains unchanged. However, having our own sampradaya means we are independent of any other movement or lineage. All our philosophical beliefs, rituals, rules and spiritual sadhana are exclusively approved and aligned with Guruji and His teachings. "[9] In the ashrams, however, Ramanuja, the founder Acharya of Shri Sampradaya, continues to be worshipped along with Babaji as the guru of the movement, and the Ashtaksharamantra continues to be taught.

Apart from that, Vishwananda claims to be a master of kriya yoga in the tradition of Babaji, teaching his own version of the technique, called Atma Kriya Yoga.[2]

AshramsEdit

 
Narasimha, a fierce avatar of Vishnu, is prominently worshipped in Bhakti Marga ashrams

Every Bhakti Marga Ashram has at least one temple, which in turn often contains several idols representing deities. In addition to various Hindu deities, Vaishnava and non-vaishnava, Babaji and Ramanuja are worshipped as gurus in the main temple in Springen.[3] The main deities in Sri Vaishnava are Narayana and Lakshmi,[10][11] who are also worshiped in the Bhakti Marga temples.[4] However, many other deities are also worshiped, some of which belong to the Vaishnava pantheon (Radha and Krishna), but some of them do not. This worship of non-vaishnava gurus and deities, like Shiva and Durga,[12] distinguishes Bhakti Marga from other Vaishnava religions, like Shri Vaishnava, or Gaudiya Vaishnava, which is known in western countries mainly through the Hare Krishna movement.[13][5]

In addition, the Ashram in Springen contains a Russian Orthodox chapel, in which there are also relics of Christian saints.[2] It is not uncommon in the syncretistic system of Hinduism for Christ to be viewed as the avatar of Vishnu. However, there are currently no liturgical services in the chapel. Building of the temple has cost more than one million euros. The movement claims to have between 30 and 50 centres or temples worldwide, some of them rather small.[3]

In November 2020 it became known that Bhakti Marga in Kirchheim in the Hersfeld-Rotenburg district of Hesse wants to set up its Hindu Germany center in the area of the Seepark Kirchheim holiday complex, which includes its own lake.[14][15]

In January 2022 Bhakti Marga purchased a former Catholic Church in West Elmira, the former Our Lady of Lourdes parish, to become its first Ashram and temple in America.[16][17] According to Swami Tulsidas, Bhakti Marga's representative in North America, the main deity in the new ashram will be that of Narasimha, the Hindu man-lion, an Avatar of Vishnu.[18]

Just Love FestivalEdit

Since 2015, Bhakti Marga has held a large, multi-day festival in Germany every year, the Just Love Festival, which attracts up to 3,000 visitors. The duration of the festival varies between three and ten days. During the festival, various spiritual music bands from different countries play, mainly bhajans and kirtans, but these can be interpreted differently, so Sanskrit hymns are also being rapped. The event is usually in the summer, the focus of the festival is Guru Purnima, a Hindu festival held every year in honor of the guru, spiritual or academic, on a full moon day. As a supporting program there are exhibitions of arts and crafts, a bazaar, a vegan restaurant, and various teaching lectures and workshops by Bhakti Marga teachers.[19] "Just Love" is also the slogan of Bhakti Marga. It is meant to express the ideal of the movement, which places love at the center of life, love for God, but also love for the guru or the community.

ControversiesEdit

Theft of relics in SwitzerlandEdit

Various newspapers in Switzerland (Tagesanzeiger, Basellandschaftliche Zeitung) reported that Guru Vishwananda stole relics from 25 churches and monasteries with the help of two women who were his disciples. According to the newspaper, Vishwananda claimed that his actions only wanted to save the relics from destruction in an imminent war of relics.[20] According to the managing director of Bhakti Marga, Swami Vishwananda has a previous conviction in Switzerland for disturbing the peace of the dead.[21]

Allegations of sexual transgressionsEdit

There are known allegations of sexual misconduct by previous followers of the guru's homosexual activities with disciples, including Brahmacharis of his organization. Sect representatives of the Evangelical Church in Germany Institute for Research on Religious and Ideological Issues are aware of this and have reported sexual assault, ranging from social pressure to rape.[2][1][22] This led to the temporal dissolution of his organization's national branches in the US and UK in 2008.

In a TV documentary by the Hessischer Rundfunk from January 2022, several alleged victims were interviewed and the guru was accused of sexual abuse.[23][24][25] The office of the district attorney in Wiesbaden confirmed several reports, which, however, would not have led to charges since they didn't find any clear proof. Vishwananda dismissed all allegations of sexual transgressions through his lawyer as reported by the HR.[26]

In a lawsuit between Bhakti Marga and the HR, seven provisional injunctions were issued by the district Court of Hamburg in March 2022, which prohibited public allegations of sexual misconduct as reported widely by major German newspapers.[27][28][29] Vishwananda filed an affidavit at the court, declaring that he never sexually assaulted anybody. Other injunctions though were rejected by the court, for example, it was permitted to report, that the guru was seeking devotion, and sexual contact to young men. Reports about 'abuse of power', the organisation being 'totalitarian' were seen as a legitimate opinions by the court, or the evaluation, that former members would be still traumatized and suffering, were also allowed. Consequently, the TV report was taken down from the media library of the ARD. From the podcast, still 5 of the original 6 episodes are online, while one was slightly modified.[24] Since the court case is still ongoing, the HR did not make any statements if they would contest the injunctions.

Distancing by Sri VaishnavaEdit

Vishwananda refers to various traditions that he claims to represent. He claims to be in the tradition of Sri Vaishnava Sampradaya and to carry out initiations in their name. Officials of the Sri Vaishnava, however, state that he is not authorized to teach in the name of this tradition.[5] In the meantime, however, Vishwananda has established his own Sampradaya which he calls Hari Bhakta Sampradaya, and which is based on the Shri Sampradaya.[8]

Excommunication by the Russian Orthodox ChurchEdit

Vishwananda also pretended to be the bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church. Bhakti Marga maintains a Russian Orthodox style chapel in Springen, which also contains a box with relics. In fact, Vishwananda was originally ordained as Priest Michael by the Apostolic Orthodox Church (AOC). However, he has since been excommunicated by the Catholic Orthodox Apostolic Church (COAC), a splinter group of the AOC. Among the reasons given was Vishwananda's appointment as Mahamandaleshwara, a Hindu dignitary. The Vishwananda causa was one of the causes of the COAC split.[30]

Om chanting at concentration campsEdit

On March 17, 2018, Bhakti Marga carried out a group chanting at the Buchenwald concentration camp, which led to protests from politics in advance. Corresponding om-chanting sessions were also held in other locations of former concentration camps, for example on December 10, 2016, at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. Critics accused Bhakti Marga to exploit and relativize the holocaust.[31][32]

External linksEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b Cult news website - Swami to be probed over claims of abuse
  2. ^ a b c d e Critical Article by the Evangelical Church in Germany
  3. ^ a b c Ashram in Taunus (German) Article by the Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung
  4. ^ a b Bhakti Marga (German) Relinfo, Swiss anticult evangelic church site.
  5. ^ a b c d Spotting fake Āchāryas Kōyil Germany
  6. ^ Swami Vishwananda becomes first Mahamandaleshwar from outside the country. Times of India article.
  7. ^ Stafford Betty (2010), Dvaita, Advaita, and Viśiṣṭādvaita: Contrasting Views of Mokṣa, Asian Philosophy: An International Journal of the Philosophical Traditions of the East, Volume 20, Issue 2, pages 215-224
  8. ^ a b Announcement of Hari Bhakta Aampradaya, retrieved May 31, 2022
  9. ^ Hari Bhakta Sampraday Handout, retrieved May 31, 2022
  10. ^ Bhakti schools of Vedanta / by Svami Tapasyananda, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Madras, ISBN 81-7120-226-8, pages 31-33
  11. ^ Sri Ramanuja Gita Bhasya, translated by Svami Adidevanand, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Madras, ISBN 81-7823-290-1, Introduction by Svami Tapasyananda, pages 9-40.
  12. ^ The Hindu community in Porto that worships Rui Patrício's guru as a god. TSF - Portuguese newspaper article.
  13. ^ Caitanya caritamrta of Krsnadasa Kaviraja: a translation and commentary / by Edward C. Dimock, Jr.; with an introduction by Edward C. Dimock, Jr. and Tony K. Stewart; edited by Tony K. Steward, Harvard Oriental Series, v. 65, 2000, ISBN 0-674-00285-7, Adi Lila, Chapter 17, verses 33 ff.
  14. ^ German newspaper announcing the purchase of the property for the new ashram
  15. ^ Religious community opens headquarters in Kirchheim (German) Video of German state sponsored TV station hessenschau
  16. ^ Hindu spiritual group moves into former West Elmira Catholic Church, by Mytwintiers, retrieved April 28, 2022
  17. ^ Hindu Temple in closed N.Y. church raises questions, by The Pillar, retrieved April 28, 2022
  18. ^ ELMIRA: New Ashram and Mandir Announcement, YouTube Video
  19. ^ "Der Ashram im Taunus". Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. 2018-09-10. Retrieved 2022-06-15.
  20. ^ Hohler, Stefan, Tagesanzeiger, Switzerland (June 15, 2007). Knochen in Kirchen gestohlen (Stealing of bones in churches)
  21. ^ Love guru buys Seepark Kirchheim (German) Newspaper website Lokalo24.de.
  22. ^ Kapitel 1: Miles, German, HR -Just Love Podcast, Chapter 1: Miles,
  23. ^ Just Love? Sektenaussteiger packen aus, German, 'Just Love: Cult dropouts blow the whistle', TV-documantary by the Hessenschau from January 27, 2022, retrieved January 25, 2022.
  24. ^ a b Just Love - Bhakti Margas Guru und sein Geheimnis, German, Bhakti Marga's guru and his secret, Podcast by Hessenschau, retrieved January 25, 2022.
  25. ^ Just Love: Bhakti Marga's Guru and His Secret, Cult News 101, retrieved January 25, 2022.
  26. ^ Paramahamsa Vishwanandas Stellungnahme zur jüngsten Fernsehsendung des Hessischen Rundfunks, Statement by Paramahamsa Vishwananda regarding the recent broadcast by the HR (German) | Bhakti Marga website, retrieved January 25, 2022.
  27. ^ Guru vor Gericht, A guru at court, Süddeutsche Zeitung, retrieved April 27, 2022
  28. ^ Mann wird zum Missbrauchsopfer erklärt, 'Man has been declared abuse case', Der Spiegel, retrieved April 27, 2022
  29. ^ Statement by the lawyer at the Bhakti Marga website, retrieved April 27, 2022
  30. ^ Excommunication statement by the Catholic Orthodox Apostolic Church of Russia
  31. ^ Spiritual group wants to heal concentration camp. (German) In newspaper: Die Welt.
  32. ^ This cult wants to meditate at concentration camps.(German) Vice article.