Vaishnavism is a sect of the Hindu religion which differs in that it worships Vishnu or his associated avatars, principally as Rama and Krishna, as the original and supreme God.
God is recognized as Vishnu and often as Narayana, Krishna and Vasudeva.
Although it is monotheistic in its belief system it still makes reference to other Hindu deities such as Shiva. Shiva being the God principally worshipped by many Hindus.
The followers are referred to as Vaishnava(s) or Vaishnavites. A large percentage of Hindus are Vaishnavas, with the vast majority living in India.
Awareness, recognition, and growth of the belief has significantly increased outside of India in recent years.
The principal belief of Vishnu-centered sects is the identification of Vishnu or Narayana as the one supreme god. This belief contrasts with the Krishna-centered traditions, in which Krishna is considered to be the supreme god and the source of all avataras.
Included is the central beliefs of Hinduism such as pantheism, reincarnation, samsara, karma, and the various Yoga systems. There is a particular emphasis on devotion to Vishnu through the process of Bhakti yoga, often including singing Vishnu's name's, meditating upon his form and performing deity worship.
The practices of deity worship are primarily based on texts such as Pañcaratra and various Samhitas.
Vaishnavas commonly follow a process of initiation, given by a guru, under whom they are trained to understand Vaishnava practices. At the time of initiation, the disciple is traditionally given a specific mantra, which the disciple will repeat, either out loud or within the mind, as an act of worship to Vishnu or one of his avatars.
The practice of repetitive prayer is known as japa. The system of receiving initiation and training from a spiritual master is based on injunctions throughout the scriptures held as sacred within the Vaishnava traditions:
There are four main philosophic disciplines of the Vaishnavism:
Lakshmi sampradaya Brahma sampradaya Rudra sampradaya Kumara sampradaya
Three sects associated with the religion are:
The Ramanandi movement, begun by Ramananda. Mahapuruxiya Dharma, espoused by Sankardeva. Vaisnava-Sahajiya, a tantric school
Vaishnavas mark their foreheads with tilaka, either as a daily ritual, or on special occasions.
Vaishnava theology has been a subject of study and debate for many devotees, philosophers and scholars within India for centuries.
In recent decades this study has also been pursued in a number of academic institutions in Europe, such as the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and Bhaktivedanta College.
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