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Bodhinatha Visits BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir in Houston

Last Sunday in Stafford (Houston), Texas, we visited the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir. This is the same temple of which we attended the inauguration ceremonies in 2004. It was exciting to be back after almost seven years at this ornately carved marble and sandstone temple in exquisite Gujarati style. We were hosted by Pujya Kaivalyamurti Swami, one of the BAPS swamis who was born in the United States and who currently staffs the Houston mandir full-time along with three or four other swamis.

The main event, of course, was a talk by Bodhinatha for a group of about 700 devotees who had gathered for their usual Sunday satsang. Now you can begin to get an idea of the size of the Hindu community in Houston with several groups having weekly satsangs of such size!

The BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir in Houston is one of several such temples that have been erected around North America in a massive temple-building spree inspired by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the current head of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, whom we had the privilege of meeting with at length during the 2004 festivities here. Bodhinatha and Senthilnathaswami were brought to worship first at the Uma-Maheshvara-Ganapati shrine. "But, a Siva shrine at a Vaishnava temple?" you ask. Yes. In Shikshapatri, an important scripture in the Swaminarayan sect, Bhagwan Swaminarayan says in verse 47, "Narayan and Shiv are one according to the Vedas, which proclaim both as the form of Brahman." Later in Shikshapatri, Bhagwan Swaminarayan also declares that all his followers shall celebrate Mahasivaratri among their festivals and worship Siva by performing Lingam abhishekam that night and on other days auspicious to Siva. The Shikshapatri, a guidebook for Swaminarayan devotees written at the beginning of the 19th century, is similar in many ways to our own Nandinatha Sutras. In fact, when Gurudeva revised the Nandinatha Sutras he included new verses that were adapted from verses he found and liked in Shikshapatri.

Here Bodhinatha and Senthilnathaswami worship the main Deities of this temple, Bhagwan Purushottam Swaminarayan (1781-1830), the founder of the Swaminarayan parampara, and his successor, Shri Aksharbrahma Gunatitanand Swami (1785-1867). This lineage carries forward with unbroken continuity, today with 862 sadhus and over a million devotees worldwide.

A beautiful feature of this temple is a cave shrine below the main steps in which devotees can make offerings and perform abhishekam to a panchaloka murti of Nilkanth, a childhood form of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. We thank our brother swamis at BAPS for hosting us for such a wonderful visit to the Houston mandir. Jai Swaminarayan. Aum Namah Sivaya.

Bodhinatha's Visit to Chinmaya Mission Houston

One of the main events during Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami's visit to Houston, Texas, was a pair of satsangs at the Chinmaya Mission facility. This is their Siva temple, which Swami Chinmayananda insisted they build here. It was finished just a few years ago.

A solemn procession took us next to the Chinmaya Smriti hall for the satsangs.

The massive Sivalingam on the roof of the temple makes it visible from around the neighborhood, which also has many churches and a mosque.

Chinmaya Mission's facility in Houston is massive and impressive. There group is so large (about 800 adults and 800 children) that they have to split the group into two separate satsangs, back to back, every Sunday.

It was a beautiful welcome for Bodhinatha. The group was so excited. All the Bal Vihar teachers, who wear beautiful red and white saris, held candles while Bodhinatha, the priest and several musicians walked past toward the stage.

Here Bodhinatha sits with Acharya Gaurangbhai Nanavaty. He and his wife are the acharyas, or head teachers, at Chinmaya Mission Houston, probably the Mission's largest group in the US, perhaps in the West. Acharyaji and his wife attended Swami Chinmayananda's 2-year resident teacher training program in 1979 in Percy, California, and then shortly thereafter moved to Houston and started the center here. It has grown and grown ever since.

Bodhinatha's talk focused on many areas, including faith, and, of course, putting Hinduism to practice in our daily lives and not leaving it at home when we go out to work and school. After the first 15 minutes, the children left for their classes, which are held in a series of classrooms in a large adjacent building. The group is so large that they have a class for every grade level from 1 to 12, with a methodically laid-out curriculum.

One of the things that impressed the group the most was Bodhinatha’s use of quotes from Swami Chinmayananda. Bodhinatha remarked that sometimes it is hard to know whether Swami Chinmayananda (whom the call Gurudeva) or our Gurudeva, Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, is the source of a given quote--their remarks are often that similar in nature, content and boldness.

Between satsangs, a couple hundred of the Bal Vihar students sang a song that the wrote and practiced just to welcome and honor Bodhinatha.

Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami, Acharya Gaurangbhai Nanavaty and Sannyasin Senthilnathaswami

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