There are 11 Niyams that are recited in Nirvikalp Uttam Ati. Which should be followed, as they relate to Dharmas that Swaminarayan Bhagwan has written in the Shikshapatri. These 11 niyams with reference to the Shikshaparti Shlok are as follows:
1. Hinsa na karanee jantukee (Do not harm any being)
“My followers shall never kill any living being under any circumstances. Knowingly, not even small insects like lice, bugs, etc.” Shlok 11
Ahimsa Dharma is as big and majestic as Sanatan Dharma (the eternal law) which is common for all. It is the very root of Hindu Dharma. It is the basis of humanity and its deep message of compassion for all of God’s creatures is the essence of the teachings of our great Rishis (enlightened saints). Therefore a good grasp or understanding of the underlying principles of Ahimsa is an important factor for all. The Shloka addresses the non-killing of all creatures no matter how great or small they are from whales to fleas. No animal, bird, fish, insect or human whatsoever should be killed or even harmed in anyway. This is the prime directive for humans. It is written that we commit sin by intentionally or even unintentionally killing or harming a creature just as we are scolded by fire if we intentionally or unintentionally go too close to it. The great Shrimad Bhagwad further adds: ‘Those who inflict pain upon God’s creatures are firmly consigned to Andhakupa Narak (a specific infernal region). There, he is forced to endure great pain from various animals, birds, snakes etc. as they bite and torment him.’ Shatanand concludes by urging us to keep this in mind and to never harm any creature.
2. Parastriya sangako tyag (Do not touch other women. This does not include relatives)
In Shlok 40 - Shatanand here clarifies that men should not touch women i.e. married women, as touching a widow is prohibited ordinarily. However this code of conduct should really be obeyed to a much wider context to prohibit the touch of any woman or even girl. Similarly a woman should not touch a man.
It is a fact that mutual attraction exists between man and woman. It is very much abundant and often very difficult to control. Through the sight of women, it is unquestionable that man’s decency and self-control are jeopardised. Indeed he can in such situations act foolishly without thought. The sight of an attractive woman affects even the best of us. What then can be said about the touch of such a woman? There is a saying that the touch of a woman is like the sting of a scorpion and so this prohibition exists to prevent imminent destruction of oneself, one’s faith and self-control.
Lust is a great tool for destruction that weakens a man. We must learn not to become hypnotised and subdued by lust for a woman, especially in a temple. Lust for a woman destroys our faith in God and Religion and therefore its control is vital. For such reasons this code of conduct is fully practised in temples of Lord Swaminarayan by segregating the sexes by sitting separately during Sabhas.
3 & 4. Mans na khavat madhyakun (Do not eat meat), Peevat nahi badabhag (Do not drink alcohol)
“None shall ever eat meat, even if it be an offering in a sacrifice or shall ever drink liquor or wine even if it be offered to a deity.” Shlok 15
There are many important messages in this Shloka, firstly: Na Bhakshyam Sarvatha Mamsam – Never eat meat under any circumstance. Eating meat is a beastly act for those who do not understand what they are doing. As humans, we are able to understand and know what is right and wrong. As humans we are able to understand the sacredness of life and so can make the choice of not killing and eating animals when there is plenty of food such as fruits, vegetables, and grains. Such foods are highly nutritious and provide man with all the vitamins and minerals. Only such food is healthy with the ability to give man good health, fitness and long life. ‘One who offers meat, who cuts it, who kills, who sells, who purchases, who cooks/prepares, who brings and who cuts meat, all such people are slayers.’ Hence it is not a requirement to abstain from eating meat only, but also to refrain from all of the above acts.
Now the second important commandment: Na Payam Cha Suramadhampi – to refrain from the use of liquor. Manu first and foremost defines what liquor is ‘Liquor is the dirt or filth extracted from fruit and vegetables. Such filth is considered as a means of sin and therefore members of all four castes should refrain from consuming alcohol.’
Manu Raja has explained eighteen bad habits or addictions of Man, of which addiction to intoxicants he has noted as amongst the worst. Ten of these are evolved from Kama (lust): (1) hunting, (2) gambling, (3) sleeping during the day, (4) slandering of others, (5) relations with other women, (6) intoxicants, (7-9) three types of desire for musical instruments and (10) donating in vain. Eight of these are evolved from Krodha (anger): (11) wickedness, (12) rash thoughtless actions, (13) maliciousness, (14) begrudging, (15) envy, (16) spending wastefully, (17) speaking harshly and (18) judging harshly.
5. Vidhavakun sparshat nahi (Do not touch widow women)
“Householder men should not touch Vidhvas (widowed women) who are not closely related to them - i.e. who are not Pasa Sambandhi, such that the death of whom does not result in observing Sutak (period of untouchibility).” Shlok 135
Other males should not come into contact with the widow because if she gets attracted to the male, she will not be able to serve Lord Shree Swaminarayan, whereas they are supposed to serve him just as they would serve their husband. This means that they must accept God as their husband and if any other male touches them, it is an insult to God. Therefore, if a male becomes attracted to a widow, he becomes a sinner.
6. Karat na atmaghat (Do not commit suicide in any circumstances)
“None shall commit suicide even at a place of pilgrimage out of superstition or out of anger frustration caused by some unworthy behaviour, or by consuming poison or by strangulation or by drowning.” Shlok 14
Himsa is of two kinds explains Shatanand: Parahimsa (injury towards others) and Swahimsa (injury to oneself.) Never should we commit the act of suicide as our Smrutis say: Sarvat Evatmanam Gopoyed – ‘Secure thyself’, thus strive to always keep the body and soul intact and never cause either harm. Human sacrifices are strictly forbidden also. Killing oneself at a place of pilgrimage will never bring salvation as anticipated.
It should similarly not be undertaken in times of hardship or depression. One may think that they can’t cope in life and so commit suicide as an ‘easy way out’. However by doing so, you are committing yourself to numerous births and deaths in the animal kingdom, through which you will endure endless pain and distress. Human life is the only means to the heavens. If we waste this life we will have to wait an awful long time before we may again have the chance to secure a place at the Lord’s blessed feet. Therefore we must never waste this precious life that we are given.
7. Choree na karanee kahukee (Do not steal)
“None shall ever commit theft, even for the sake of performing an act of Dharma. Even articles such as firewood, flowers, etc. owned by others shall never be taken without their permission.” Shlok 17
The Lord forbids the act of stealing: Stainkarma Na Kartavyam – even to the extent of forbidding taking something for religious or ‘Dharmic’ reasons – Dharmarthampi Kenachit. Shatanand here explains the unacceptability of use of articles or wealth earned dishonestly in the name of Dharma (such as donations). Such use is without merit and even sinful.
Stealing has many forms, many of which may not always be obvious. We may even pass off these ‘steals’ as little and negligible. ‘Fiddling’ is often a cover word for stealing. Fiddling the tax, falsifying information or lying for personal gain, all constitute stealing. We must all realise that God is the very embodiment of truth – ‘Sat’. He is not interested in any wealth offered to him which is earned dishonestly and so to use such wealth in Dharma Karyas is futile and sinful. Therefore it is imperative that our wealth is earned honestly. Stealing is taking that which is not rightfully theirs to begin with. We should learn to accept that which is ours and not have this urge to further our wealth through dishonest means. Many commit all sorts of sin to increase their wealth, further their standard of living and to enjoy the luxury and happiness derived from this. Only through truth (Sat) will we gain a level of consciousness (Chit) which derive eternal bliss (Anand).
8. Kalank na koikun lagat (Do not make false accusations)
“No one should level false accusations against anyone, even for the sake of achieving some self–interest or shall utter indecent words/abuses to others.” Shlok 20
Mithyapavadaha – false accusation; thus one should never falsely accuse somebody of something, especially in order to acquire money. Yagnavalkya writes, ‘If a great sin is committed and somebody is falsely accused of such crime, then the accuser receives double the sin of actually committing the crime. He also receives the sin of lying and for falsely accusing. Additionally the accuser inherits other sins committed by the accuser.’ Hence it is quite striking that such an act can have such mammoth consequence and so one must never falsely accuse anyone, adopting the philosophy of ‘innocent until proven guilty’
9. Nindat nahi koy devakun (Do not insult deities)
“None shall ever speak or hear ill of deities, places of pilgrimage, Brahmins, chaste women, Sadhus and the Vedas.” Shlok 21
To utter even a word which in anyway defames the greatness of any God is Deva Ninda. Much of this slander is often through a superiority complex that their God is greater than any other. There seems to be too much talk of one God being greater or better than another. Instead, we need to change this ideology to the fact that a specific God is better for me and say – ‘Rama is best for me,’ or ‘Swaminarayan is best for me.’ There is only one God. The various incarnations are mere instruments of that one supreme Lord. To slander any one of these God’s is to slander the supreme Lord, their own ‘Ishwara’. Those who cannot accept the greatness of the various God’s – Rama, Krishna, Swaminarayan, Shiva, Ganapati, Surya, Parvati etc. have not yet understood the Sanatan Dharma. A person should believe his own personal God – Ishwara, to be the greatest and in this way strengthen his devotion to his personal God. However he has absolutely no right to slander any other deity and their devotees. Sometimes slander of deities takes place as a result of some irreligious practice.
10. Bin khapto nahi khat (Don't eat food from improper sources)
“Accepting water or cooked food from the people of some category is forbidden by scriptures….” Shlok 19
All devotees shall not eat food cooked or food prepared by stranger or someone who deals in unholy things, such as meat. This is because food has the power to influence the mind. The thoughts and the habits of the person cooking or preparing the food are absorbed by the person who eats it. Therefore if the person who prepares the food eats meat or had no interest in religion, then eating that food can poison one’s mind against devotion to god.
11. Vimukh jivake vadanase katha sunee nahi jat (Do not listen to speeches or Katha by those who have turned their backs on God)
“None shall listen to religious discourses or narrations or stories (even the divine stories) of God from a person whose speech may lead to a fall from the path of devotion to God or from one's religious duties.” Shlok 25
Shatanand explains that discourses upon the Sat-Shastras, by those who refute the nine forms of Bhakti or the Caste system, should never be listened to. Shrimad Bhagwat explains, ‘Those who do not listen to Katha (religious discourse) of God which is likely to destroy sin, but instead listen to Vartas (talks) of desires which destroy intellect, can never reach the heavens. Therefore we must listen to discourses from those who are Krishna-Bhaktas - devotees of Shree Krishna, who are ever faithful to their Dharma. We must always listen to Katha from those who have a true understanding of Shastras and who know the nature of God.
Sanat Kumar Samhita explains the nature of those who should be listened to: ‘Those who follow Swadharma, who are not sinful, a staunch devotee of God, one who speaks of true Vedic knowledge, who is well learned in the Shastras and who has overcome his senses; such a person is a true Purani or Vakta (deliverer of Katha).’ Therefore it is very important that we listen to the right person who displays all such qualities, so that we are never led astray through imperfect knowledge.