About Swaminarayan Sampraday
SwaminarayanRamanand Swami was born of Ajay Sharma (father) and Sumati (mother) in Ayodhya in Vikram Samvat 1795 in a Brahmin family. His child-hood name was Shri Rama Sharma. Ramanand Swami was considered to be the incarnation of Uddhavaji and he resembled Uddhavaji in knowledge and all other meritorious qualities. As he was inclined to asceticism from childhood, he decided not to enter worldly life. He invariably worshipped the idol of Lord Shri Krishna every day. Leaving home-life andvisiting pilgrim spots he arrived in Talaja village in Saurashtra and studied Vedic and Indian Philosophical scriptures under scholar Kashiram and became the chief disciple of Atmanand Swami, the great ascetic at Gopnath. His contact with the Guru (Preceptor) led him to the Darshan of divine light of Brahman, considered as the ultimate reality in the universe. But Ramanandji always cherished a strong desire to have the Darshan of Lord Krishna.

His Guru Atmanandji believed in the principle of non-dualism. So he left that place and arrived at Sri Rang Kshetra in the south. There he accepted Bhagawati Diksha (prescribed procedure to initiate a person into particular discipline of religion) in meditating state at the hands of Shri Ramanujacharya and after attaining the Darshan of Lord Krishna he went to Prayag, where he happened to meet Dharmadev, the father of Lord Swaminarayan. Ramanand Swami first offered Mantra Diksha (to initiate into Holy Fellowship) to Dharmadev and then touring through religious places arrived in to Saurashtra region and set up a hermitage in Loj village. About fifty sadhus became his disciples; the chief among them was Muktanandji. When leaving worldly life Lord Swaminarayan known as Neelkanth Varni arrived at Loj, He came in contact with Muktanandji.

Neelkanth Varni cherished a desire to meet Ramanand Swami. The meeting between Ramanand Swami and Neelkanth Varni took place in Piplana village. As Ramanand Swami asked Him about His caste and family; from this it was discovered that His father too, was his disciple. Ramanand Swami offered Diksha to Neelkanth Varni and initiated Him and gave Him two names Sahajanand Swami and Narayan Muni. On the 11th day of the bright half of Kartik month in Vikram Samvat 1858 Ramanand Swami assigned religious responsibility by consecrating Shri Sahajanand Swami on the High Seat of the Holy Fellowship. On that occasion Shri Sahajanand Swami asked for two boons from Ramanand Swami.

1. If any of your devotee suffers the pain of one scorpion-bite, let the pain come to Me in crores of bites (stings).
2. If any of your devotee is fated to hold a begging bowl, let it come to Me and let not any of your devotees should feel the want of food and clothing.

Even to day these boons are magical and mysterious blessings, which bring blissful happy life to the devotees of Lord Swaminarayan. He left his material body on this earth in Faneni village on the 13th day of the bright half of Margashirsha month of Vikram Samvat 1858 and left for heavenly imperishable abode.
SwaminarayanBy His own grace and at His own will Lord Swaminarayan manifested (born) Himself for the protection of religion and devotion in Kaliyuga for the welfare of numerous embodied souls. Lord Swaminarayan is the direct incarnation of Narayan Himself, at Whose will infinite universes create, sustain and destroy.

Thus His biological manifestation (birth) took place on 9th day of bright half of Chaitra month in V.S. 1837, known as Ramanavami in Chhapaiya, a village near Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. His father Dharmadev was Samavedi scholar Brahmin and mother was called Bhaktidevi owing to her devotional virtues and sacred qualities. After the passing away of His parents, when He was only eleven, the ascetic minded Neelkanth Varni later called Lord Swaminarayan, renounced His home with all its wealth and comforts and set out as a pedestrian pilgrim visiting Indian pilgrim spots and holy sites.

For the period of several years of His pilgrimage He performed severest penances for His devotees. As a part of His pilgrimage through Gujarat He happened to arrive in Loj village, situated midway between Somnath and Porbunder in Saurashtra. There He met Muktanandji, the chief disciple of great master Ramanand Swami; and later He came to have a face-to-face meeting with Ramanand Swami in a village called 'Piplana'.

Having taken birth in material body Lord Swaminarayan, too accepted Ramanand Swami, as His preceptor (Guru) and as per set religious rules got initiated, receiving Diksha at the hands of the great preceptor. Then the great preceptor handed over the control and management of entire Uddhava Religious Discipline to Lord Swaminarayan, Who inspired people to have Darshan of their family God instance without practising the Ashtang Yoga. Many people became His-words and His disciples after properly checking and testing the meditation process by the Lord. Without giving much importance to mysterious performances and miracles He engaged Himself in enriching the society by teaching them purity of thought, food, conduct by removing bad habits, addiction, blind faith, suspiciousness, immorality, corruption, luxury, inertness, theft, dacoity etc. Some scholars believed that there can be no incarnation of the God in Kaliyuga, He convinced them through proofs from the Geeta, the Bhagawat and other scriptures that Lord Swaminarayan is the Supreme incarnation and made them His wards and disciples. Lord Swaminarayan is the Supreme Brahman and the proof to this fact is found in ancient scriptures e.g.,

"Whenever religion suffers tormented regression I re-create myself to uproot irreligion and re-establish good religion to protect the gentle folk and to destroy the evil ones in every age". (Geeta 48-49)

You don't, but I know them all, for good many a birth yours and mine, have gone in the past (Geeta 45). According to the Geeta there is no such rule that incarnation should take place in Triyuga having 10 or 24 in number, other scriptures also offer similar description.

To protect religion I get another body, to eradicate irreligion I do manifest when the age demands (Shrimad Bhagawat) Brahmapurana says:

In Satyuga I manifest as Dattatreya, as Raghunandana in Treta Age, as Vasudeva in Dwapara, as Vrishatmaja (i.e. born of Shri Dharmadev) in Kaliyuga. Vishwaksena Samhita says :

Among all parts of universe I take birth on the Earth, I shall adore Vaikuntha adopting the name Sahajanand. All these scriptures prove Lord Swaminarayan as the Vedic acceptance of incarnated Supreme Reality.

Like the previous incarnations He did not destroy demons but He removed the demonic inclinations and turned demonic persons into divine ones. He uplifted and elevated the classes like Kathi-koli, Ahir, Shudra, Bhil, Moslims, illiterate peasantry etc. Apart from backward classes but great scholar-poets, officials, rulers and kings renouncing worldly life joined the Holy Fellowship, got initiated into asceticism, became stoics and set out for the spread of religion. Scholar saints offered valuable devotional prose-verse literature by offering volumes written in Sanskrit, Hindi, Brijbhasha and Gujarati. He opposed violent killing of animals before deities and in the Yajnas and offering scholarly counseling, stopped violence done in the name of religion. He advocated and popularised non-violent Yajnas. Lord Swaminarayan did welfare to many humans and animals by creating free-food centres, wells, step-wells, tanks and temples. He declared in Shikshapatri-47,

Both Narayan and Mahesh (Shiva) should be understood as one, both are proven forms of Brahman confirmed by Vedas. Thus he brought an end to the hostility between the Shaivas and Vaishnavas.

In order to bring complete chastity of character into the Holy Fellowship, He ordered that the temples, meeting assemblies and initiating rites should be quite separate for male and female followers. So he appointed married persons as chief of the Fellowship, from His own family line, and ordered the saints to observe eight types of aloofness from females. So that there would remain no possibility of corruption by crossing boundaries of self-control.

In order to prevent any blind tradition in the pure devotion of the Lord with a form (figure) he got large and beautiful temples constructed and wrote a sacred volume called Shikshapatri for the welfare of many souls even after His leaving the human body. Having fulfilled His mission of establishing the Bhagawat Dharma and the task of rejuvanising and revitalizing the ancient Vedic path, He left His mortal coil and assented to His divine abode Akshardham at Gadhpur (Saurashtra) on the 10th day of the bright half of Jyestha month of Vikram Samvat 1886; thenceforward He has been offering His divine vision in the form of an idol installed by Him in various temples in Holy Fellowship.
Five Vows of Shree Swaminarayan Sampraday:

Bhagwan Shree Swaminarayan established five (5) Vows Panch Vartaman for people in Ghruhashram i.e. house-holders and five (5) Vows for people in Tyagashram (Swamis/Saints).

The basic five Vows of house-holders:

The followers were increased in a large number. Only devotion and worship is not enough for salvation. The virtuous moral and devotional human life is absolutely necessary. So He (Lord Swaminarayan) preached the five basic Vows compulsory for all.
  • NOT to drink wine, liquor or any intoxicating drug of any sort in any form in any case, NOT even as a medicine.
  • NOT to eat meat in any form in any case. NOT even as the offerings of evil deities or sacrifice or as a medicine to save one's own life.
  • To abstain from adultery. NOT to look at a lady passionately. NOT to keep close contact with ladies except the nearest relatives.
  • NOT to steal even a smallest thing. Even the worthless flowers should NOT be taken for offerings to deities without the permission of the owner.
  • NOT to take food and drinks from improper persons and by improper sources.

Whosoever wants to become the follower of Lord Swaminarayan has to take an oath in presence of a great Saint keeping water in his right hand to abstain from these five. If anybody transgresses any of these five is not called a follower of Swaminarayan. He is excommunicated. These are the five basic Vows for house-holders. These are known as Panch Vartman.

The five Vows of Saints (Sadhus):

Saints of Swaminarayan have to observe strictly their special five vows listed below as well as the five basic vows listed above. They are given them at the time of their initiation as Saints. They are initiated by either Vadtal or Ahmedabad gadi's Acharya.
  • Lustless: Desireless:- He has to observe Naishthik Brahmacharya i.e. eight-fold celibacy strictly. He has to observe a fast if he has seen a face of a lady. Not to expect any remuneration even of his good deeds or must not have any desire of anything.
  • Greedless:- He should not be attached at all to the worldly objects. He should keep clothes and things only permitted to him. He should not accept, touch or possess even any sort of currency of his own.
  • Tasteless:- He should not be allured or tempted at all to any taste. Not to eat anything which is not offered to God, that also mixed togather with water.
  • Prideless:- He should not have any sort of pride of renouncement, penance, knowledge, efficiency religious austerity, devotion, etc. If anybody beats him, abuses him or insults him, he should endure patiently, not to be angry at all, should forgive, not to oppose, not to keep any grudge or any ill feelings for him, but to wish good for him and to pity for his ignorance.
  • Affectionless:- He should not have any affection at all towards his body, his relatives, his disciples or anything except Almighty God Supreme.

There are 11 Niyams that each Satsangi of Shree Swaminarayan Sampraday has to follow:
  • Hinsa na karvi (Be non-violentby any means)
  • Parstri no sang na karvo (Do not have any kind of relationship with other woman other than your wife)
  • Mansh na khavu (Do not eat meat, i.e. including seafood, poultry products, eggs)
  • Daru na pivo (Do not drink products that contain alcohol, i.e. wine, beer, medicine that contains alcohol)
  • Vidhva stri no sparsh na karvo (Never touch widow woman whom you do not know)
  • Atmaghat na karvo (Never commit a suicide in any circumstances)
  • Chori na karvi (Do not steal things that belong to others)
  • Koi ne kalank na devu (Never blame others for something that you may not know about)
  • Devo ni ninda na karvi (Never bad mouth about God, Goddesses, or any religion)
  • Jenu na khaptu hoy tenu na khavu (Never eat someone's food who does not follow these eleven rules established by Lord Shree Swaminarayan in Shikshapatri)
  • Bhagwan thi vimukh hoy tena thaki katha na sabhalavi (Never listen holy stories from a person who does not believe in the existence of God, i.e. a person who is an atheist)

Questions and Answers based on "Shikshapatri" Sloks :
  • * What should a devotee ask to Bhagwan ?
    Hey Maharaj! Hey Swami! Hey Krupasindhu! Hey Sharnagat Pratipalak! Ohh Lord! please save me from Kusangi (bad people). There are 4 types of bad people: (I) Kundapanthi - People who won't let you follow the Niyams of Satsangi, (II) Shakti Panthi - People who would force you to eat meat and to drink beer, wine, etc., (III) Shushka Panthi - People who would not let you perform Bhakti, etc., (IV) Nastik - People who do not believe in existence of God.
  • Hey Maharaj! Kaam, Krodh, Lobh, Moh, Ahankar, Irshya, Dehabhiman aa je antahsatru thanki maari raksha karjo.
  • Hey Maharaj! Nitya tamara bhakt no samagam dejyo. (Please give me an opportunity to meet your satsangi everyday)

Reference: "Vachanamrut", Gadhada Pratham - 48Bhagwan Shree Swaminarayan also told his devotee to do one extra Dandvat Pranam everyday after the Puja and prey Him "Hey Bhagwan! mara thi jan ta ajanta mun, vachan ane dehe kari ne aapna bhakt no dhroh thayo hoy to mane maaf karjo." This way Bhagwan will forgive you in case if you hurt a Bhagwan's Bhakt with or without any purpose. ("Vachanamrut", Gadhada Madhya - 40)
Courtsey Vadtal.com