Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

What is a swami? Is that anything like a maharishi?

The term swami comes from the Sanskrit svami, meaning “owner, master.” It was originally applied mostly to monastic sannyasis as an acknowledgment of their self-mastery. More recently the term has become a widely used title of reverence for a broader spectrum of religious scholars, teachers, and renunciants. One often hears Hindu religious leaders referred to as “swamiji,” a term of both respect and affection. The term maharishi, literally “great seer,” is also an honorific title with roots deep in Hindu mythology. Great seers are individuals celebrated for their profound wisdom. Popular tradition designated as “great” a number of the ancient “seers” associated with the communication of primal religious insights. But several historical persons have likewise merited the title. Ramana Maharishi (1879-1950) attracted a great following in the south of India. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1914-2008), founder of the school of Transcendental Meditation, gained fame initially when he taught Indian spirituality to the Beatles.


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