The Way of the Vaishnavas: Iskcon Dwarka

Vaishnavas

Vaishnavism, also referred to as Vishnuism, can be understood as one of the modern forms of Hinduism characterised by the worship of Lord Vishnu and His incarnations. Any devotee of Lord Vishnu is therefore known as a Vaishnava. For Vaishnava worship, the devotional texts which emerged between the 10th and 16th century in Sanskrit are used along with the later oral and written narratives. 

According to Vaishnavism, the absolute reality is demonstrated in Lord Krishna who is also incarnated in other avatars such as Vishnu and then as Lord Rama. Lord Vishnu guards the morals and righteousness through his incarnations. While Lord Krishna is the Original Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Rama is the most known avatar of Lord Vishnu. Rama can be seen depicted in the epic with his wife Sita and Supreme Lord Krishna is shown as a friend of Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita as well as in the company of Radha and other gopis. 

The goal behind praying to Lord Vishnu can be different for different people. Some people worship Him intending to attain liberation (moksha) from the cycle of birth and death while others pray to Him for good health, prosperity and success. 

Under the category of Vaishnavism, different sects have varied interpretations of the relation between God and the individual. The Sri Vaishnava sect follows the doctrine of vishishtadvaita also known as qualified nondualism. In this sect, it is believed that Maya can be the medium of gaining access to the Lord. Another sect is known as dvaita which can be understood as dualism, a philosophy that believes that the soul and God are separate and the existence of the soul is completely dependent on God. 

The Pushtimarg sect believes in Shuddhadvaita which stands for pure nondualism that does not understand the phenomenal world as an illusion. Lastly, the Gaudiya sect believes in achintya-bhedabheda that stands for inconceivable duality and nonduality as per which the relationship between an individual and God is beyond human comprehension. Not just these sects, but some other sects and groups can be found across India with different ideologies. 

Who Are Vaishnavas by Caste?

Vaishnavas are a denomination of the Hindu just as Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism. Vaishnava is in fact the largest group among Hinduism constituting almost 641 million Hindus accounting for 67.6%. Vaishnava falls under the category of the Bairagi section of Hindu Brahmins. 

Who Is a True Vaishnava?

Vaishnava

A true Vaishnava is the follower of Lord Vishnu who prays to Him for either attaining moksha thereby attaining liberation from the cycle of birth and death or for attaining prosperity and success. 

Jiva Gosvami proceeds to cite three verses in defining a Vaishnava which has been stated below: 

In the Skanda Purana, Markandeya instructs Bhagiratha: “Those people for whom the purpose of life is religion, for whom the purpose of sexual intercourse are children, and for whom the purpose of cooking is to serve the brahmins, they are Vaishnavas.”

In the Vishnu Purana: “He who does not abandon his specific varna-dharma, who is equiposed, who is a well-wisher to his enemies, who does not steal, who does not injure anyone, and who is steady in his mind, he is understood as a Vishnu-bhakta.” Thus a simple definition of being a Vaishnava is presented.

In the Patala-Khanda, Vaisakha-mahatmya: “Those who in this world live for the purpose of dharma, and for whom the purpose of dharma is Hari, and who act for the purpose of piety day and night, are known as Vaishnavas.

Who Is the Founder of Vaishnavism?

The founding of Sri Vaishnava has been linked to Nathamuni from the 10th century CE whose central philosopher was Ramanuja. 

Vaishnavism can be understood as a devotional, eternal and functional characterization of all individual souls to the all-pervading soul, Vishnu. He is the supreme power that gives life as well as meaning to life and shows the truth devoid of any illusion. He is present in the Jivas and the Jivas are present in Him. The service to the master is the function of all the jiva and hence it is inherent in them known as Vaishnavata or Vaishnavism thereby making every jiva a Vaishnava. That jiva who does not serve the Lord as the ultimate purpose in life is known as Non-Vaishnavas or A-Vaishnavas. 

It has also been stated that One who even once chants Krsna’s name is described as a Vaisnava; therefore you should offer all respects to him. (CC 2.15.111)

“Whoever says the holy name even once is considered a Vaisnava, and the householder should be careful to respect such a person. But one who is constantly chanting the holy name of Krsna is even a better Vaisnava, being endowed with all good qualities. And one who, by his very presence can make others chant the name in devotion, is the highest Vaisnava. Now describe to Me exactly all the ways that the living entities take up this name of Krsna.” (Harinama Cintamani ch. 2)

“It is concluded that one who is solely devoted to Krsna and sings His name is known as a sadhu. Other than the devotee of Krsna, no one else is considered to be a sadhu. One who considers himself a sadhu is filled with material pride. But one who thinks himself to be the lowest rascal, humbly takes shelter of Krsna and sings Krsna’s name, is the real sadhu. Knowing himself to be less than a blade of grass, considering himself as a tree of tolerance, not expecting honor for himself and giving honor to all other living entities, he chants the name and attains attraction for Krsna.

“If a person of the above qualities chants the holy name even once, he is considered a Vaisnava, and should be respected. The Vaisnava is the friend and spiritual leader of the universe; he is an ocean of mercy to all living entities. Whoever criticizes such a Vaisnava goes to hell birth after birth; for there is no path for real liberation other than bhakti, and bhakti is obtained only by the mercy of the Vaishnavas.” (Harinama Cintamani ch. 4)

After gathering the basic knowledge on the origin, the concept of Vaishnavism and the types of Vaishnavas, you must now also study Gaudiya Vaishnavism, chattada Sri Vaishnava and Vaishnava Ekadashi.