Religion

VSNA Philosophy & FAQs

  1. What is Veerashaiva Samaja of North America
  2. What is the mission of the VSNA
  3. Who are Veerashaivas or Lingayatas
  4. How many Lingayatas are in the USA, Canada, and India
  5. What is the structure of the VSNA
  6. How many members are in the VSNA
  7. What are the activities of VSNA
  8. What are the activities of VSNA chapters
  9. Who is the founder of Lingayatism or Veerashaivism
  10. What were the religious and social conditions in India before Basavanna
  11. How did Basavanna change these conditions
  12. Is Veerashaivism organized around an institution like the Church
  13. Does Veerashaivism have a scripture like the Bible in Christianity
  14. What is Anubhava Mantapa
  15. What are the basic beliefs of Veerashaivas
  16. What are the six steps of in the spiritual path
  17. What are the eight aids of worship
  18. What are the five rules of conduct
  19. Is Veerashaivism a caste, a sect, or a religion
  20. What is the distinction between Hindus and Lingayatas
  21. When and why do Veerashaivas worship
  22. Which important life events are celebrated by Veerashaivas
  23. What do Veerashaivas believe in terms of afterlife
  24. What makes Veerashaivism unique and how is it similar to other religions

What is Veerashaiva Samaja of North America

The Veerashaiva Samaja of North America commonly known as VSNA is a non-profit, tax exempt, religious organization in the USA and CANADA. It was founded in 1978 by the immigrants from USA and CANADA.[Top]

What is the mission of the VSNA

The VSNA’s mission is — to preserve and foster Veerashaivism (Lingayatism) in the North America- and to impart the Lingayata spiritual heritage, its universalistic, democratic values to the posterity through the teachings of Basavanna and his contemporaries.[Top]

Who are Veerashaivas or Lingayatas

Lingayatas in the USA and Canada are immigrants from India, a majority hailing from Karnataka and Maharashtra states. They are called as Lingayatas because they wear Istalinga (a symbolic representation of Shiva or God), on their bodies. They are also known as Veerashaivas meaning courageous worshippers of Shiva.[Top]

How many Lingayatas are in the USA, Canada, and India

At present, nearly 1000 Lingayata families live in north America, of them nearly 100 families live in Canada. In the USA they are concentrated in California, New York, Michigan, Illinois, Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. There are more than 20 million Lingayatas constituting about 20% of the population of Karnataka. They are concentrated in Bijapur, Dharwar, Belgaum, Chitradurga, Shimoga, and Gulburga districts.[Top]

What is the structure of the VSNA

The VSNA operates in the framework of its constitution which was framed in 1979 and amended as time passed. It has two major branches — the Board of Directors(BoD) and the Board of Regents (BoR). BoD has four elected officers, six elected members, and ex-officio membership which is composed of chapter presidents (currently 16), the immediate past president of the VSNA. The BoR has seven elected officers and the president of the VSNA serves as the ex-officio of BoR.[Top]

How many members are in the VSNA

Nearly 790 families are listed in the VSNA directory. Of them 135 were life members and 190 were regular (annual) members in 2001.[Top]

What are the activities of VSNA

There are 16 chapters of the VSNA. The chapter members are involved in many activities at regular intervals. Members’ main focus is to educate the young Veerashaivas of their religious heritage by doing Istalinga pooja, reading and interpreting Vachanas, educating them about the life and work of the 12th century devotees, explaining Hindu festivals, and discussing the similarities and differences in Veerashaivism and other religions. Some chapter members are practicing dasoha by serving in the shelters and soup kitchen on designated days. Chapters host annual VSNA conventions.[Top]

What are the activities of VSNA chapters

There are 16 chapters of the VSNA. The chapter members are involved in many activities at regular intervals. Members’ main focus is to educate the young Veerashaivas of their religious heritage by doing Istalinga pooja, reading and interpreting Vachanas, educating them about the life and work of the 12th century devotees, explaining Hindu festivals, and discussing the similarities and differences in Veerashaivism and other religions.[Top]

Who is the founder of Lingayatism or Veerashaivism

Basavanna (1105-1167 A.D.) is credited as the founder/reformer of Veerashaivism. Many contemporaries of Basavanna, and post Basavanna Veerashaiva literature have candidly declared that Basavanna is the first teacher of Veerashaivism. Secondly, according to beliefs and traditions of many Veerashaivas, Veerashaivism was founded by five acharyas (gurus) who sprang out of the five faces of Shiva and founded five lineage of Veerashaivism. They are believed to have founded five matthas. Their lineages, matthas, and followers’ allegiance continues in present day.[Top]

What were the religious and social conditions in India before Basavanna

During the pre-Basavanna period idol worship of many deities, feuding sects, beliefs in superstitions, evil spirits, and sacrificing of animals for deities were abundant. The Indian society had evolved into a social and religious hierarchical order with four classes and thousands of subclasses (castes). The upper classes exploited the lower classes which did not have rights for property, education, or worship in the temples. Common women did not have freedom or rights.[Top]

How did Basavanna change these conditions

Basavanna brought a new light to the underprivileged section of the society and women. He built a society of Shiva devotees with the help of many spiritual contemporaries. In this society there was no discrimination based on caste, color, birth, wealth, sex, age, occupation, or status. Honest work, equality, compassion, individual freedom, spiritual growth, and brotherhood were the foundations of this society. Women’s emancipation was a major part as well. This was the socio-religious movement of the 12th century and it was so dynamic that it revolutionized religious, social, economic, language, and political arenas of the time. Modern scholars have commented that Basavanna reformed Hinduism.[Top]

Is Veerashaivism organized around an institution like the Church

Mattha headed by a swamiji (usually called jagadguru i.e., preceptor of the world) is the institution or the religious and cultural center of Veerashaivas. Matthas preserve, interpret, and propagate Veerashaivism. People go to matthas to get guidance from swamiji and congregate in matthas to listen to devotional stories. There are many matthas throughout Karnataka. Each mattha has a tradition or history that it is connected directly to Basavanna, or his contemporaries, or the five acharyas. However, there is no one central mattha or a swami like the Pope in the Vatican. Matthas operate schools, colleges and free boarding schools for the needy Veerashaiva and non Veerashaiva students throughout Karnataka and have uplifted the society. Apart from the their major interest in the educational sector, matthas have done a tremendous work in compiling Vachana literature, publication, and translation into other languages.[Top]

Does Veerashaivism have a scripture like the Bible in Christianity

Vachanas, the pithy sayings in Kannada composed by Basavanna and his contemporaries serve as scriptures and a major source of guidance. Vachanas contain observations, feelings, analysis, findings, and philosophy of the 12th century devotees. They are the treasures of Lingayatism.[Top]

What is Anubhava Mantapa

The spiritual assembly of the 12th century Shiva society built by Basavanna, is Anubhava Mantapa. In this assembly men, women, children regardless of their caste, occupation, status, or creed discussed and expressed their opinions and spiritual findings freely with fellow devotees. We can say it was the first parliament of the world.[Top]

What are the basic beliefs of Veerashaivas

The basic beliefs refer to the relation between individual, world, and some higher power – God. Lingayatas believe in a supreme principle called Shiva which is the cause of everything — the ultimate reality. They also believe that Shiva created the world and innumerable souls which are many forms of Shiva.[Top]

What are the six steps of in the spiritual path

The 12th century devotees laid down this path and practiced it. In the beginning of a seeker’s spiritual pursuit, there is a distinction between individual soul (anga) and the universal soul (Linga, that from which every thing originates and in which everything is absorbed, i.e., God). Bhakta is the phase of devotion; Mahesha is the phase of strong will- in Prasadi phase seeker becomes aware of God’s grace; in Pranalingi phase seeker realizes the presence of ultimate soul in the breath; Sharana is the stage of total surrender; and finally Aikya is the phase of sublime union of Linga (Shiva) and anga (soul). That is merging of individual soul in the final state of perpetual Shiva consciousness.[Top]

What are the eight aids of worship

Veerashaivism uses eight aids to help followers to enter the inner spiritual world and to progress in the spiritual path. Guru is the spiritual teacher and removes the darkness of ignorance. Istalinga is not an idol, but an ideal, the absolute, given to a disciple by a guru. Jangama is a spiritual teacher who moves around to spread the word of God and guides followers. Padodaka, is the blessed water or grace received from guru, Istalinga, and jangama. Prasada, food consecrated by guru, is a devotee’s reverence that all food and materials are offerings of God. Vibhuti is sacred ash applied on the forehead, indicating an aspirant’s adherence to the spiritual way of life. Rudrakshi are seeds worn to adorn oneself with spiritual thoughts. ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ is the holy mantra meaning ‘Salutations to Shiva.’[Top]

What are the five rules of conduct

Sharanas laid down five rules to practice in everyday life. Lingachara is consistent monotheism that is belief in one God that is represented only as Istalinga. Sadachara is honest work and simple living. There is also emphasis on sharing the honestly earned wealth with society Then work itself becomes worship and service becomes salvation. Ganachara is the courage o fight all injustice, immorality; and destroying the ills of the society and of the mind. Shivachara is the practice of social equality — a non-discrimination policy. Brityachara is the practice of humility — not just as a show, its foundation is the purity of thought.[Top]

Is Veerashaivism a caste, a sect, or a religion

The membership in a particular caste is inherited by birth. So, a person cannot choose another caste. Veerashaivism is not a caste, because membership in Veerashaivism is not automatic at birth. Every child has to be initiated into Lingayatism, by Istalinga which is given by a guru. Veerashaivism is considered as a sect of Hinduism by many Hindus, while Veerashaivas call it an independent religion. The Indian government has not recognized Veerashaivism as a separate religion, despite a strong movement. Veerashaivism exhibits many dimensions, such as ritual, ethical, social, experiential, and doctrinal dimensions which are exhibited by all major religions of the world. It has a body of literature which is a record of teachings of its central figures. It is organized around an institution called mattha just like the major religions. So, we can say that it is an independent religion.[Top]

What is the distinction between Hindus and Lingayatas

Veerashaivas have maintained a distinct culture from the rest of the Hindus through the practice of the following principles: (1) rejection of castes, and hierarchical social and religious order of Hinduism; (2) worship and wearing of Istalinga; (3) non-subscription to Vedas and Vedic rites; (4) rejection of five ritual pollutions; (5) integration of five ethical codes, eight aids, and sixfold spiritual path in everyday life; (6) dignity of labor of all sorts; (7) equal rights to all; equal rights to women and approval of widow marriages; women can become gurus; and (8) acceptance of non Lingayatas within the Lingayata fold through istalinga initiation.[Top]

When and why do Veerashaivas worship

Veerashaivas worship every day, often more than once a day by doing Istalinga pooja. Istalinga is a small token of the all pervading force – God. That God is within us. So, Basavanna said that body is a temple of residence of God. Istalinga pooja should not be just a ritual. Practicing honest work, equality, fraternity, social justice, sharing, respect for nature, compassion for all living beings – in every moment of life is worship. This is how we realize God within us. Finding this everlasting peace is the spiritual goal of Lingayatas.[Top]

Which important life events are celebrated by Veerashaivas

Istalinga diksha (the initiation into Lingayatism), naming ceremony, marriage, and death are major events that Lingayatas undergo.[Top]

What do Veerashaivas believe in terms of afterlife

Many Vachanas of sharanas indicate that they believe in past lives of different life forms. They have also candidly said that heaven and hell exist right here and now depending on a person’s conduct. So, following the Veerashaiva principles and realizing God, that is merging of the individual soul with the ultimate soul there is no more rebirth of the soul.[Top]

What makes Veerashaivism unique and how is it similar to other religions

The uniqueness of Lingayatism lies in the fact that it advocates universal and egalitarian values that are beyond the bounds of time, place, and people. Specifically it advocates fundamental rights to all. Freedom of expression of thought; strict observance of non-discrimination; equal rights to women in all respects; compassion to all living beings; caring and sharing with fellow human beings; dignity of labor- practice of spiritual path without renouncing the world; absence of priests as mediators to worship God — are important ideals that make Lingayatism unique. Veerashaivism combines the virtues of many religions — it is puritan in spirit like Catholicism-, monotheistic like Islam; respects labor and is community oriented like Sikhism, and it is based on compassion like Buddhism and Jainism.[Top]