Vishnuism (Vaishnavism) is one of the main denominations of Hinduism, which preaches the worship of Vishnu, as well as its incarnations (avatars), Krishna and Radha.
The word “Vishnuism” comes from the Sanskrit name of God, Vishnu, meaning “all-pervasive.” Followers of this faith consider it to be the cosmos, the source of the entire universe.
This religious tradition is based on the scriptures The Bhagavata Purana, The Vishnu Puranna and The Bhagavad Gita.
Vishnuism differs from Hinduism in the following ways:
– There is no hostility towards other religions. Vishnuism presents itself as a universal, eternal law (Sanatana Dharma). Followers do not consider other faiths as competitors but believe that they have a similar description of the same beliefs about God.
– God for Vaishnavites is the Supreme Being (Brahman), which can be both impersonal and personified in the human form or in the image of an animal.
– Vaishnavites believe that human souls are immortal. They are part of God. They strive to find God and merge with the Supreme Being (Brahman) in the form of Vishnu (Krishna). Souls seek to free themselves from attachments in the material world that have arisen as a result of illusions (Maya). The ultimate goal of life is to interrupt a series of endless cycles of birth and death of the unreleased soul. By realizing its spiritual nature, it will achieve liberation (Moksha).
“After attaining Me, the great souls, who are yogis in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection.” (The Bhagavad Gita 8.15)
– The path to salvation of the soul is possible through Bhakti yoga, the content of which is revealed in the scriptures.
– To free the soul, you have to perform certain actions (Jnana yoga, Karma yoga). The salvation of the soul depends on developing a love for Vishnu (Bhakti), taking refuge in him (Saranagati), and surrendering to his will (Prapatti).
The Supreme personality, Vishnu—the protector and guardian of life, is a beautiful young man with four hands and dark blue skin, wearing yellow clothes and lots of jewellery. While Brahma creates a new world, Vishnu sleeps on a snake with a thousand heads in the waters of the Causal Ocean. Then, together with his wife Lakshmi and his avatars, he will settle in his eternal abode in Vaikuntha. These descriptions create magnificent pictures in the mind. When the Earth is in chaos and full of lawlessness, Vishnu descends to restore justice. He appears in one of his four main incarnations: turtle (Kurma), fish (Matsya), boar (Varaha), half lion, half man (Narasimha). Krishna, Rama, Buddha, and Kalki are also believed to be his avatars.
Gaudiya Vaishnavism or Bengali Vaishnavism is one of the most common denominations of Vishnuism, which is based on the teachings of Saint Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. His coming to Earth was predicted. Krishna and Radha are the supreme personalities of God and the followers of this faith believe that the founder of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, Saint Chaitanya, was their joint embodiment on Earth.
According to this religious tradition, human life is divided into four periods. The first stage begins at the age of five and ends at the age of 25 and is called apprenticeship and obedience. Students devote much their time to the study of religious literature and rituals and they learn Sanskrit. In the process, they develop such personal qualities as humility, obedience, asceticism, purposefulness, and chastity. Diksha, a spiritual initiation, is the result of the first stage.
Having reached a certain age, the student marries and the second stage begins – householder, husband, and father (Grihastha).
Not everyone chooses this path. Some disciples observe chastity and dedicate themselves to serving God. They become what they call Brahmacarya.
The main goal of man in Bengali Vaishnavism is to achieve renunciation towards the end of life (Sannyas). It is a condition that helps to free an individual from all material wealth and be reunited with God. Therefore, between the stages of family life and renunciation, there is an intermediate preparatory stage— Vanaprastha. After a husband and wife have raised their children, they begin to devote more and more time to the spiritual aspects of their lives, gradually immersing themselves into it completely. It is believed that by the end of his life the man had fulfilled his duty as a husband and father. Therefore, he leaves his wife in the care of his eldest son and begins his life in renunciation (Sannyas).
Gaudiya Vaishnavism calls for respect for everyone. The elders are revered and the young are cared for. Krishnaites often bow to each other, showing respect, forgiveness, and joy in the meeting. A man treats a woman with the same respect as with his mother.
Krishnaites give a special role to the mentor, the true guru. He guides his disciples through the difficulties of the material world in order to enter the spiritual world. There are two kinds of gurus: initiating and instructing. The disciple chooses among the older Krishnaites. Then tests the guru by asking questions. And then the disciple receives a spiritual initiation, Diksha, from him.
Krishnaites believe that the body is the temple of God. Therefore, it is necessary to take care of it. They exclude meat, fish, eggs, garlic, onions, and mushrooms from food. Food cannot be tried while cooking it. Prepared meals first should be offered to Murti, a statue or an image of God.
Krishnaites observe the Ekadashi fast. This occurs on the eleventh day after the new moon and full moon when followers do not eat grain and legumes.
Thanks to its peace-loving principles, this religion has found many responses in people’s hearts.
In the 20th century, Gaudiya Vaishnavism spread far beyond India and became known in the West. The movement was recognized at the International Society for Krishna Consciousness or ISKCON. Now it is widespread all over the world, including Russia, where it was officially registered in 1988.
Followers have beautiful Indian names with the title “Das” (servant of God), each woman wears a sari with a distinctive tilaka mark (two vertical lines, connected at the bottom in the form of the letter U) on the forehead. In Gaudiya Vaishnavism, tilaka is applied with clay from the sacred place of Vrindavan. Followers of the Vaishnava tradition love the lush religious festivals, worshipping services and the singing of mantras. They hold concerts and put on performances illustrating the sacred scriptures.
Vaishnavas are very friendly to everyone, regardless of religion. They will gladly invite anyone to their temple, offer sacred food (prasad), offer to dance with the visitor and ask for nothing in return.
In Gaudiya Vaishnavism, the adherants believe that no matter who you are by nationality and origin, you are a particle of God and he lives in you. All people are equal before God. Living with God in the heart is what a human being should aspire to.