Adventures in Advaita Vedanta, the philosophy and science of spirit. We are one you and I; are you curious why?..


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Hari OM

Story-day is for cultural exploration, puraanas and parables and finding out about leading lights in spiritual philosophy.

During the past three months, reference has been made to 'swami' this and 'swami' that, sometimes with 'ji' and sometimes not.  Other times Guru, Gurudev and Guru-ji are used.  Then there is aachaarya, amma... It occurred that perhaps an explanation of what is used and when might be welcome.

Honourifics are utilised the world over.  In Western society, however, there has been a tendency to become 'familiar' very quickly - or indeed to drop any use of a title at all.  The trend towards personalised retailing, marketing, banking, et cetera has resulted in this.  It is not necessarily a 'wrong' thing. However, when one has become reacquainted with a greater level of etiquette and social decorum, there is a small lament for loss of courtesy.

At basic level within Chinmaya Mission, which considers itself extended family, peers refer to each other as भाई/bhai (brother) and बहिन्/bahin [pronounced 'ben'] (sister). Youngers are either called by their given name or sometimes बेटा /बेटी - betaa/betii - son or daughter. They in turn would refer to their elders as 'uncle' or 'aunty', or for women for whom a little more level of respect is required, अम्म/amma.

The term 'amma' is also used for the female swamis and teachers.

सेवक/सेवका - sevak/sevakaa - one who serves; all who participate in assistance of the mission and more immediately to the swamis. (The ending 'aa' is applied for the feminine.) Sevaks who facilitate study groups are known as 'class sevaks' and not as aachaarya.

आचार्य/aachaarya is the term for teacher.  It might be used for a swami who is in teaching mode, but is also used by the authorised teachers who are not necessarily wearing the yellow or orange. They will have attended the full Vedanta training under a senior swami and will have the skills for pastoral guidance over and above presentation of the scriptures.

ब्रह्मचारि/ब्रह्मचारिणी - brahmachaari/brahmachaarini - male and female in yellow clothing who have committed to monasterial vows and under full order of the mission. They will go wherever required; most within CM go to centres and ashrams around India and the world to be the lead aachaaryas in full missionary mode. A little confusion comes when in India itself, as those in yellow are mainly called as 'swami-ji' in the same manner as those who wear the orange. However, brahmacharins are still shishya-s and have yet to fully attain status as swami.

स्वामि/swaami - wearing the orange signifies professorial rank, in terms of the teaching side of things. In theory, it also denotes one who has attained a high level of spiritual maturity; not necessarily 'realised', but on their way to it.

गुरु/guru - the highest title of honour for one who is recognised as having truly mastered not just theory, but practice also and who exhibits the ability to bring others from their darkness into the light of such knowledge. Within establishments such as CM, the founding guru, who has passed on from the physical, is referred to as Gurudev (teacher now in the divine).  The current head of mission is referred to as Guru-ji.  

The use of '-ji' can be made at any time after any name or title to boost it into another level of respect. Between peers, it is also used, as well as to elders or social/spiritual seniors. Thus it is, if you overhear your South Asian neighbours calling 'Bala-ji! Shweta-ji! Neighbour-ji!', you now know it is not because they are trying to urge on the horses, but rather honouring their family and you!!!

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Hari OM
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