TEMPLES PLAY AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN HINDU WAY OF LIFE
(COMPILATION BY N. R. SRINIVASAN, NASHVILLE, TN, USA, JUNE 2018)
The orthodox Hindu Temples are symbolically designed. Its very construction indicates the path of Self-realization. Hindu Temple symbolizes live human body which consists of gross, subtle and casual bodies and the inner Self which is called Aatman, representative of Universal Brahman, the Supreme Principle or Consciousness. Hindu temples are built and consecrated as per Silpa Sastra and Aagama Sastra, well developed architectural science and ritualistic codes of practices. It has a tower rising directly over the sanctum called Vimaana, a four sided diminishing square area. The apex of the Vimaana is a Kalasa or a copper pot. Around the sanctum is a narrow path for circumambulation called Pradakshina-patha. There is a rectangular porch called, Mukhya Mantapa where devotees offer their prayers and observe rituals performed by the priests. At the outer edge is a large hall, known as Mahaa Mantapa, for larger gatherings. The four walls around the temple cover the pillared halls as well as smaller shrines housing other deities. Gopuram or the gate-way tower leads magnificence to the temple structure. As one enters the temple, a seat for giving offerings to the deities called Balipeetha is seen. A flag-post called Dwajasthambha is located between Balipeetha and sanctum rising to great heights. The innermost chamber of a temple, where idol is consecrated is called Garbhagriha. It is the location for Supreme Spirit symbolized in the form of deity which is an important part of Hindu temple. It is for the communication between mortals and the Supreme. No one enters this place other than the priest. He too enters the place after seeking the permission of the Lord by prayers and gestures.
The vision of temple in India or overseas evokes among Hindus feelings of reverence and spirituality as it symbolizes an abode of God and place of worship. It also serves as a unifying force for all Hindus drawn from different traditions of India providing a common forum for its cultural activities overseas. As a center of worship, the temple is mainly a product and instrument of the Puranic tradition. Hindu temple is conceived of as a cosmos in miniature, a replica of the cosmos, which brings alive the cosmic man Purusha, Saguna Brahman. Its sanctity and unwavering reverence accorded to it, undisturbed by the influencing culture of the country of adoption in overseas temples, is manifested in the elaborate rituals performed within its precincts by devotees, and the festivals celebrated by them.
Temples play an important part in the practice of our religion. In every Indian village there is a Vishnu temple at one end and a Siva temple at the other. On the banks of the river and tanks (Bathing Ghats) there are temples dedicated to Ganesha. We do not attach importance to congregational prayers on specific days and specific times, as in founded religions. There are icons ubder the spreading Banyan and Aswattha trees being worshipped along with the trees, a sort of Worship of Nature. Worship with Hindus is a private, personal affair in the privacy of home or standing alone before the Sun, the divine source of energy and life.
We take delight in seeing fine things, in tasting delicious food, in smelling fragrant substances, and in hearing sweet music. When we enjoy these pleasures, we must think of God from whom they came, whose aspects the divinities are presiding over the elements that determine the sense organs and their respective sensations. It is our duty to gratefully offer to that God these several things that contribute to our sense pleasures and receive them back from Him as His gift to us, as His Prasaada (blessed things). Such offering to God is what constitutes worship or Pooja. But it may be that everyone does not have the facility to do such Poojaa (worship) at home. Therefore, it has been ordained that in every village, a common Poojaa of such kind should be conducted on behalf of the entire village community. The temple bell announces such an occasion. A specific set of people are charged with the duty to perform this Poojaa governed by rules of discipline regulating it which are known as the rituals of worship. The people of the village go to the temple to be present when these offerings are made and to remind themselves that the good things in life which they enjoy are God’s gifts and utter forth their gratitude to Him in prayer, Bhajan and songs. In modern life this has also extended to town life. In a room or building where frivolous conversation of mere rush of ordinary life prevails, it is far harder to concentrate the thought than in a place where religious thought is being carried out year after year. There the mind becomes calm and tranquil and that which would have demanded serious effort in the first set of places, is done without effort in the second place like temple.
We have to worship God to get His grace. The Aagama saastras tell us how this could be done. The sun’s rays contain a lot of heat energy. If we keep a piece of cloth in the sun it does not catch fire. But if we place a lens and focus the sun’s rays on the piece of cloth, after some time we find that the cloth catches fire. Similarly, electrical energy is everywhere; but in order to bring it to our daily use, we need to have generators to channeling it and build transmission systems to distribute it at places where we need it. In the same way, in order to get the grace of omnipresent Lord, we need to build temples where we can focus the power of the Lord in a consecrated idol for our benefit in an easy way.
Generally a rectangular site is chosen for a temple to be located on the outskirts of the city. After testing and leveling of the site, the plan is prepared by drawing the Vaastupurusha Mandala. This refers to visualizing the site in a square and dividing it into sixty- four or eighty one parts. Each part is then identified with various deities representing the different functioning aspects of creation. Based on this Vaastupurusha Mandala, the locations of the different components of the temple are determined. A rough sketch of the Vaastupurusha shows the location of the sanctum in the heart region presided over by Brahma along with the temple layout showing some of its main components.
Before beginning the temple construction, the site is purified with a ritual called Bhu-suddhi, sanctifying the earth. A fire ritual, Vaastu Pooja, is done to please the deities of the Vaastupurusha mandala and to obtain their permission to use the site for temple building. Then, another rite known as Garbhanyaasa or Garbhaadaana is performed. In this ritual, a copper pot filled with precious stones, herbs, metals and soils from holy places is lowered into a hole dug at the center of the Mandala, presided over Brahma. It is at this point that the deity will be installed later. The hole is then covered with Aadhaara-sila, a stone slab. The inner sanctum, Garbha Griha, which houses the idol, is the most important part of the temple. Over the centuries the architectural details of the sanctum have been strictly adhered to as per the Vaastu texts, while the sculptural embellishments of the rest of the temple complex kept changing with the changing society.
The Vaastu texts prescribe that the sanctum must be constructed before the other parts of the temple are built. The tower that rises directly above the sanctum is known as ‘Sikhara’ or ‘Vimaana’. The height of the Vimaana is always proportionate to the height of the sanctum. The vimaana has generally four sides and rises in tiers of diminishing square area. Six and eight-sided vimaanas are also seen in some temples. At the apex of Vimaana is a Kalasa, a copper pot. Around the sanctum is a narrow path for circumambulation known as ‘Pradakshinapatha’. The rectangular porch in front of the sanctum is known as ‘Mukha mandapam’. The devotees offer their prayers here and observe the rituals performed by the priests in the inner sanctum. On the outer edge of this hall is another large hall known as ‘Mahaa mandapam’ that accommodates larger gatherings. The four walls around the temple, sometimes sculpted, are called ‘Praakaara’, enclosure. The praakaaras cover the pillared halls as well as smaller shrines housing the other deities.
An important component leading magnificence to the temple structure is the ‘Gopuram’, the gateway tower. This is an exquisitely carved gigantic structure, sometimes reaching a height of more than two hundred feet. As one enters the temple through the tower, a ‘Balipeetha’, a seat for giving offerings to the deities is seen. Another important element is the ‘Dwajasthambha’ flag-post, located between the Bali-peetha and sanctum, rising to fifty to eighty feet in height. Its direction indicates the position of the altar. Just as on religious festivals, a flag hoisted at the temples signifies a resolve taken by the community for collective worship during that period, the flag-post signifies the ‘sankalpa sakti’, power of resolve, of the community.
Once the majestic temple is built, the Lord is installed in the sanctum on an auspicious day with an elaborate ritual known as ‘Praana pratishta’ and ‘Kumbhabhishekam. These ceremonies signify the consummation of the temple building endeavor and people congregate in large numbers to witness this sacred event.
A temple is looked upon as the abode of the Lord. The method of temple worship, while more elaborate, is essentially similar to the pooja done at home. There are certain religious texts called aagamas, which are the authority with regard to the different aspects of temple worship. There are three main aagamas connected with the worship to Siva, Vishnu and Sakti. They describe in elaborate detail the selection of the site of the temple, temple construction, making of idols, installation of the deity and the consecration of the idols. They also describe the methods of worship, prayers and mantras associated with the temple worship and the monthly and yearly celebrations for a given temple.
Temple architecture is based on symbolism. The structure as a whole represents the entire creation viewed as the whole form of Lord. The Lord enshrined in the sanctum is the intelligent cause of creation. The various structural components of the temple symbolize various limbs of the Lord as the material cause of the creation. Vaastu Saastra such as Silparatnam and Aparajit priccha present the entire temple as the physical body of the deity for whom the temple is built. Vaastu texts visualize the sanctum as the head of the Lord; the tower above the sanctum as the braid of His hair; the Mandapams, the pavilions as His hands; and the gateway tower as his feet. Agnipuraana, however, identifies the inner sanctum alone with the body of the Lord. Another beautiful imagery given by the tradition suggests that the temple be looked upon as one’s own physical body and the Lord in the inner sanctum as one’s Self. A prayer verse describes the imagery as follows: “Deho devaalayah prokto jeevo devassanaatanah”, the human body is said to be the temple and the individual Self, the eternal Lord.
Thus, the human body is viewed as temple, housing the Lord within. The temple structure and mode of worship also symbolize the discovery of the truth in a person’s journey through life. The entrance tower with innumerable sculptures of deities, kings, celestial beings, dancers and animals represent this manifold Universe. Slopping into the temple through the entrance signifies one’s readiness for the journey having already gone through the experience of the world. After entering the first gate one comes to Balipeetha, an altar where offerings are made to the deities. Here the devotee prostrates, signifying surrender to the Lord. The temple structure and mode of worship symbolize the discovery of truth in a person’s journey through life.
As one proceeds further into the temple it becomes progressively darker. Approaching the sanctum, one finds an idol made of black stone in darkness in South Indian Temples. An oil lamp barely reveals the outline of form of Lord with his glittering ornaments. The darkness symbolizes one’s ignorance about the Lord. The shining ornaments representing the glories of the manifest world reveal His presence. To have a Darsan, a complete and clear vision of the Lord, one requires more light. When the priest burns a lump of camphor at the time of the Aarati one sees the Lord clearly in the new light. What was vague impression of the Lord is now a compelling vision. Similarly in life, the seeker comes to discover the truth when the Guru unfolds the words of the scriptures and reveals the truth. The light of knowledge, like the light of camphor, removes the ignorance completely and all that remains is the vision, free from any sense of limitation. Looking upon temple as microcosm of creation, the ancient architects, craftsmen and masons depicted the deities and every aspect of divine and human existence in the temple precincts. The ancient temples of India, like its scriptures, are cornerstones of the rich Vedic heritage. The Vedic culture has been nurtured in these temples for thousands of years. Temples were looked upon as centers for all religious and cultural activities.
One of the ways of worshipping God is to consider our body as the Temple of God, and whatever we do as the act of worshipping God. In a prayer addressed to Lord Siva, Sri Sankara bids us to think as follows in relation to Siva: “My inner Aatman is Thou alone. My buddhi is Thy consort. My praanas are Thy companions. My body is Thy temple. The way in which I enjoy things of the senses is Thy worship. My sleep is samaadhic contemplation to Thee; my wanderings are the circumambulation of Thee; all that I talk is praise of Thee; Whatever I do is worship of Thee”
(Excerpts from the speeches of Jagadguru Sankaracharya of Kamakoti Peetham, suitably abridged and edited for a discourse to the Vedanta Class at Sri Ganesha Temple, Nashville, by N.R. Srinivasan)
WHY WE VISIT TEMPLES?
Our parents have taught us why we should go to temples instead of worshipping at home: Temple high towers teach us to aim high in life. Our kings thought about huge temples, planned them and built them. Temples teach us to think big and achieve it following their footsteps. Temples teach us good things can never be destroyed. Temples have withstood vagaries of time standing tall in spite of thousands of foreign invasions. Temples teach us community spirit-think together, work together and execute together. Temples keep us fit mentally and physically also. Temples are huge. When we walk through the corridor and circum-ambulate we exercise a lot. The festivals in temples lift our spirit. Temples are power houses. They charge our battery because great saints like Adi Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Vallabha, Chaitanya, Azhvars, Nayanmars, Nivrutti, Jnanadev, Sopana, Muktabhai, Eknath, Namdev, Tukaram, Ramdas, Tamil Siddhars and hundred thousand more saints have stored their energy in the temples for generations to come. Adi Shankara has installed Jan Akarshan (attracting people) and Dhan Akarshan (attracting money) Chakras in Varanasi and Tirupati. Temple visits help us to focus attention and to develop concentration power.
There are thousands of temples all over India in different size, shape and locations but not all of them are considered to be built the Vedic way. Generally, a temple should be located at a place where earth's magnetic wave path passes through densely. It can be in the outskirts of a town or village or city, or in middle of the dwelling place, or on a hill top.
The Essence of Visiting a Temple:
Now, these temples are located strategically at a place where the positive energy is abundantly available from the magnetic and electric wave distributions of north/south pole thrust. The main idol is placed in the core center of the temple, known as "Garbhagriha" or Moolasthanam.
In fact, the temple structure is built after the idol has been placed. This Moolasthanam is where earth’s magnetic waves are found to be maximum. We know that there are some copper plates, inscribed with Vedic scripts, buried beneath the Main Idol. What are they really? No, they are not God’s / priests’ flash cards when they forget the shlokas.
The copper plate absorbs earth’s magnetic waves and radiates it to the surroundings. Thus a person regularly visiting a temple and walking clockwise around the Main Idol receives the beamed magnetic waves and his body absorbs. This is a very slow process and a regular visit will let him absorb more of this positive energy. Scientifically, it is the positive energy that we all require to have a healthy life.
Further, the Sanctum is closed on three sides. This increases the effect of all energies. The lamp that is lit radiates heat energy and also provides light inside the sanctum to the priests performing the worship. The ringing of the bells and the chanting of prayers takes a worshipper into trance, thus not letting his mind waver. When done in groups, this helps people forget personal problems for a while and relieve their stress. The fragrance from the flower and the burning of camphor give out the chemical energy further aiding in a different good aura. The effect of all these energies is supplemented by the positive energy from the idol, the copper plates and utensils in the Moolasthanam /Garbagraham.
Theertham, the “holy” water used during the pooja to wash the idol is not plain water cleaning the dust off an idol. It is a concoction of Cardamom, Karpura (Benzoin), saffron, Tulsi (Holy Basil), Clove etc . . . Washing the idol is to charge the water with the magnetic radiations thus increasing its medicinal values. Three spoons of this holy water is distributed to devotees.
Again, this water is mainly a source of magneto-therapy. Besides, the clove essence protects one from tooth decay, the saffron & Tulsi leafs protects one from common cold and cough, cardamom and Pachha Karpuram (benzoin), act as mouth fresheners. It is proved that Theertham is a very good blood purifier, as it is highly energized. Hence it is given as prasaadam (blessed food) to the devotees.
This way, one can claim to remain healthy by regularly visiting the Temple. This is why our elders used to suggest us to offer prayers at the temple so that you will be cured of many ailments. They were not always superstitious. Yes, in a few cases they did go overboard when due to ignorance they hoped many serious diseases could be cured at temples by deities. When people go to a temple for the Deepaaraadhana (final waving of lamps), when the doors open up, the positive energy gushes out onto the persons who are there. The water that is sprinkled onto the assemblages passes on the energy to all. This also explains why men are not allowed to wear shirts at a few temples and women are requested to wear more ornaments during temple visits. It is through these jewels (metal) that positive energy is absorbed by the women. Also, it is a practice to leave newly purchased jewels at an idol’s feet and then wear them with the idol’s blessings. This act is now justified after reading this article. This act of “seeking divine blessings” before using any new article, like books or pens or automobiles may have stemmed from this through mere observation.
Energy lost in a day’s work is regained through a temple visit and one is refreshed slightly. The positive energy that is spread out in the entire temple and especially around where the main idol is placed, are simply absorbed by one's body and mind.
Our practices are NOT some hard & fast rules framed by any one man and his followers or God’s words in somebody’s dreams. All the rituals and all the practices can be well researched, studied and scientifically backed to pave the way to lead a good healthy life natural way.
The scientific and research part of the practices are well camouflaged as “elder’s instructions” or “granny’s teaching’s” which should be obeyed as a mark of respect for individual’s gain and to avoid stress to the mediocre brain.
--Contribution from a Participant
Paying obeisance to Five Elements as Vyahrtis of Brahman
If you closely observe orthodox devotees visiting temple they take care to pay respect to Panchabhootas or five elements of nature in their act of worship. These five elements are often referred to as Vyaahritis or embodiment of Brahman and so they are meditated upon as Brahman alone. Linga is worshiped as five elements in five famous temples in South India. Orthodox Vaishanvites prostate before the flag-post with their eight body parts touching the soil and with folded hands called Sastaanaga Namaskaaram. Then they touch the mother earth and place the little dust on their head. This is in veneration of Mother Earth (Prithvee), one of the elements. As he watches the Lord he receives the Aarati with respect and touches his eyes. This is second obeisance to the element Fire (Agni) which he receives into his eyes. Then when the holy water is offered by the priest he first sprinkles a bit on his head; the next three little servings are consumed. This is his third obeisance to the element of water (Aapah). Then he circumambulates himself three times with folded hands. This is for paying obeisance to the Self within (Aaatma Pradkshina). No prostration is done body touching the floor near the sanctum which is divine charged atmosphere to avoid pointing his feet towards some of the deities installed during Vaastu pooja. He then leaves the premises and takes a bigger circumambulation with folded palms (Namaskara Posture). He then feels the air (Vaayu) around, and in that posture pays obeisance to the fourth element Air. He then sits at the Northern end gazing at the cupola of the temple tower rising to great heights. Here he pays his obeisance to the last element space (Aakaasa). He then leaves the temple premises chanting Om Namoh Naaraayana! This is his final obeisance to the Supreme Principle irrespective of whatever deity he might have worshiped. Thus his focus is on Brahman and the five great elements in all his worship.
"One fundamental thing that I would like to clear up about the Hindu way of life is, with the Hindu, there is no “ism” because it is a geographical and cultural identity. Anyone born in the land of Indus is a Hindu. There is no particular belief system, god or ideology which you can call as the Hindu way of life. Whatever you do in this culture is Hindu. You can worship a man-god and be a Hindu. You can worship a woman-god and be a Hindu. You can worship a cow and be a Hindu. You can worship a tree and be a Hindu. Or you don’t worship anything and you can be a Hindu. Hindu is a cultural identity, not a religious identity. In the Hindu way of life, the only important thing in human life is his liberation. Mukti is the only goal” says Sadguru. Hinduism is therefore better known and understood as Eternal Tradition or Sanatana Dharma.
--Contribution from NRS
SOME RANDOM THOUGHTS ON HINDU TEMPLES
(a) Hindu temples have been under unprecedented attack for a thousand years. They suffered desecration, destruction, confiscation of their property and iniquitous taxation under the Muslim rulers. Under the British, the more physical methods ceased but fiscal methods were adopted for undermining "heathenism". A large part of the land and properties of the temples were taken away under all kinds of pretexts.
(b) After independence, the temples have fared no better. Their properties have not been restored to them and they continue to exist in deepening poverty. In the South where there are still many noble structures left, the temples are under the control of a Government which takes pride in being "secular", and whose secularism is thoroughly anti-Hindu in orientation.
(c) Hindus should study the problem of the temples in all its ramifications. They should run their religious institutions themselves. They should build temples once destroyed, and build new temples where they are needed. They should rejuvenate the temple life and they should take all measures to put the temple institution on a sound financial footing.
(d) Temples should become more active in the teaching of the culture which upholds them. They should become more than mere places of formal worship. They should become centers for promoting Hindu dharma.
(e) Wherever possible, the temples should have more open space, more halls for such religious activities as kîrtanas and kathâs and religious discourses. Such activities make a religion more living.
(f) With these activities is connected the institution of wandering monks bards and bhajan-mandalîs. Once this was a very living institution but like other religious institutions of the Hindus it is also declining now. Let us do our best to revive it too.
Inevitably the priests too have suffered along with the temples. They have become indigent and illiterate. Thanks to their indigence and illiteracy, they have suffered in prestige too. It is a great national loss. Effort should be made to rehabilitate them and raise them educationally and financially.
3. Other Functionaries: Hindu Samskaras
What is happening to priests in the temples is happening all along the line to all the priestly functionaries connected with such events as birth, wedding, death, Srâddha, etc. Illiteracy and poverty have overtaken them. Many times these functionaries are not available at all. They are dying out fast as a class. Hindu leaders must give their attention to this problem too.
Hindu Samskaras are profound and deeply significant. They teach one to see the infinite and the eternal in the finite and the perishable. They widen the vision and they are deeply integrative. Their profound significance should be explained and every effort should be made to make the Hindus familiar with them, reflect on them and perform them.
The performance of Hindu Samskaras need not be costly at all for they can be performed "internally" as well. But their outer performance is also important, particularly of re-educative and social purpose. Therefore, means should be found whereby not even the poorest have to go without having to perform them for lack of even small funds.
SIGNIFICANT ROLE OF HINDU TEMPLES & RELIGIOUS INSTITUTIONS IN USA
“The Mandirs have to play a significant role in the growth of the Hindu community in terms of its capacity to uphold Hindu Dharma. We need to make temples not just a center of rituals and congregation but lighthouses of philosophy and knowledge, which are the basis of Hindu Dharma. Creating an environment where the youth understand, appreciate and love their Hindu culture is a crucial need today, as is uniting all Hindu temples under one umbrella” say the wise men.
The church belongs to a parish, which has a priest in charge of the parish and a congregation. So it is a place of assembly, of congregation, and collective prayer. And they have some ritual also. A mosque is also a place for collective prayer. Once a week they all assemble for that. But the temple is an altar of worship and therefore people come at different times, during the day, offer their worship, and go. In Tirupathi, for instance, you can stand before the deity for only half a minute. You wait in the queue for darshan and it takes only one or two minutes. That is the darshan. It is over. The man has been waiting for that for one day in the queue…It is darshan, because it is an altar of worship.
The priest doing puja etc. is fine, but that is not enough. We need to have a hall of congregation for collective prayer in USA or we live as a minority community. This is very important. Every temple has to evolve a certain simple form of collective prayer, and provide an explanation of it. Hindu American children when they were young, went to the temples along with their parents. Now they are in college, or perhaps working. They do not come voluntarily to the temples. They have to participate, and for that there should be a collective prayer and the meaning of it should be made known. For every word the meaning must be there, it must be simple, a few lines, not something elaborate. They should be able to come and pray and leave.
We must begin to call our religion by its true name ‘Sanatana Dharma’. We must never use the words ‘idol’ and ‘mythology’ to describe our Murtis and sacred stories that are used by others to ridicule us. We must reclaim our heritage. Such positive change might come about slowly. The religious culture which now goes by the name Hinduism gave itself no name because it set itself no sectarian limits; it claimed no universal adhesion; asserted no sole infallible dogma; set up no single narrow path or gate of salvation; it was less a creed or cult than continuously enlarging tradition of the Godward endeavor of the human spirit. We should also not call followers of Sanatana Dharma as Hindus. Names of cities in India have changed. Why not “Hindu” which is a geographical name to mean all those who are from the Land of Sindhu River and not the followers of Sanatana dharma.
The Christian concept of God is that He is a Creator separate from His creation, sitting somewhere far away, behind and beyond the clouds, not easily accessible to us, the poor mortals. But the Hindu concept is that not only God exists, but whatever exists is God only, in fact, God only is (Isavasya Up.), and God is immanent in everything and is beyond everything as well.
Hindus are neither monotheists nor polytheists. Hindus are panentheists, i.e. they believe that God is in all things and that all things are in God: God is everything, God is in everything, and everything is in God only. In other religions of the world God is a unit, not a Unity. Monotheists believe God exists “someplace” outside of His creation. To them God is formless but has a location and that he is male! But to Hindus God is not only the efficient cause but also the material cause of the entire creation and God transcends everything, seen and unseen, and as such God is the Isvara. The English word “God” as it is understood today cannot convey all this. So it is better that we use the word Isvara than the English word “God” which carries along with it a tint of an anthropomorphic view of the Semitic theology. The word GOD had no root. It was coined joining three capital letters: G=Generation; O=Operation and D=Dissolution. But its meaning is forgotten today by Western religious followers. Isvara is essentially nirguna (attributeless), niraakara (formless) and nirvikaara (immutable), in its static aspect as the Pure Consciousness which is the One Infinite-Eternal-Existence -- Sat-Chit-Ananda (Existence Knowledge-Bliss Absolute). And in Its dynamic aspect is the Sakti, the infinite Power, inherent in all names and forms. Sakti is feminine word in Sanskrit that encouraged Puranic Projection of Devi worship. In Its immanent aspect Isvara alone has become everything, manifest or un-manifest, and Isvara also transcends everything, while at the same time being the indwelling spirit or consciousness in all names and forms, and therefore every soul being potentially divine, no one is born with the so-called ‘original sin.’ Every one, being the child of Isvara, is the heir to immortal bliss. And, Isvara reveals to the one who chooses Isvara with a firm conviction, endowed with steadfastness, unflinching devotion and burning aspiration. And as such, no intermediary or an agent, like a prophet or savior is necessary except the guru, the guide, who is also Isvara’s manifestation, who helps just as a signpost does.
To understand Hindu concepts and ideas, we have to have a working knowledge of Sanskrit. But as that is not possible for many of us today, we do the best we can with English. Today, English is the language we have to use to convey Hindu ideas to the educated general public, especially for Hindus residing outside of India. But why not we make Sanskrit a spiritual language of the world as in the beginning of the world, making it a spoken language as there is worldwide enthusiasm to learn it through faculties in colleges and universities?
Temple is a very natural and common place for Hindus coming together. Temples overseas should be used for strengthening Hindu society. We Hindus can, and should, educate and guide the Hindu masses in temples at least once in a week on a suitable day (perhaps Sunday) of a week, when people are relatively free from their daily routine work. The Chief of the Hindu Temple or some other knowledgeable person with the permission of the temple authorities should devote a part of his religious sermon time highlighting the need to preserve Hindu Dharma in a place where major culture is opposed to Hindu Dharma or has not understood it. In this context, the Tirupathi Declaration jointly made by the prominent Hindu Dharma Acharyas assembled at Tirupathi, gains relevance and significance: “We Hindus assembled here declare that we do not support, directly or indirectly, any group, institution, religion, media, or political force, which preaches, practices or works against Hindu Dharma in this country.” Unfortunately Government Control of Hindu Temples in Secular India is a blatant violation of secularism & religious freedom, while we enjoy greater freedom and non-interference in USA!
Now, it is time to give special attention to remove the dross that has gathered around the Hindu traditions through the ages. We have to clear the many misconceptions about temple worship amidst our youth. They should be adequately informed about the well-coordinated science evolved by the rishis of India based on subtle facts of evolution of the universe, the interconnections in the human life, universe and the Ultimate Reality. Once the new generation is educated about these facts, they will discard the misconceptions that they may have acquired from the false propaganda against our spiritual traditions. Once that is accomplished, the Hindu youngsters will themselves become the best ambassadors of their cultural heritage. Weekly and monthly classes on Sundays (to take advantage of the weekly holidays) can be held in temples focused on the new generation. Temples can and should establish suitable environments for discussing and exploring various aspects of the concepts of Dharma and its relevance to everyday life. The temples should be maintained with utmost care for cleanliness and order. They should function as centers of solace and wisdom in every respect. The priests should be well trained, should have modern education, should be well-versed in traditional knowledge, be service-oriented and well-paid. They should at least have a modicum of knowledge of the Abrahamic faiths so that they can converse with inquiring Westerners who come to our temples. There is much virtue and value if a practicing Hindu can share his or her own insight of Sanatana Dharma with a Westerner just as the latter will often share his or her tradition with an Indian walking into a church or a mosque.
Another special role, which the temples can adopt overseas, is in initiating “inter-faith” dialogues with people of the Abrahamic faiths, just as the latter do. In recent years, Churches and Mosques have initiated interfaith meetings, often with an ulterior motive of identifying future prospects for possible conversion to their own faiths. It is here that the religious traditions arising from Sanatana Dharma have greater advantage over the Abrahamic faiths since our traditions are devoid of such inhibitions and confer no special virtue on those who attract others to our spiritual traditions. No doubt, we also welcome those who want to earnestly explore our paths to self-knowledge. By ourselves initiating a monthly or quarterly inter-faith dialogue sessions within the portals of our temples, we can perhaps dispel many misconceptions, which are spread by the adherents of Abrahamic faiths about our forms of worship and our religious traditions. We can also thus be effective communicators with our neighbors who are of the Abrahamic faiths.
Modern man should develop a rational and scientific understanding of the use of temples in refining his spiritual, mental and physical life. It is in the absence of such understanding that these institutions evolved by the sages to elevate man have often degenerated into centers of priest-craft and empty ritualism or business centers. A priest who just parrot-like recites some Sanskrit verses without any understanding of their content steeps himself and others in ignorance. Rituals are meant to discipline the mind, to refine it and tune it to the higher facts. They give a sublime, artistic quality to worship. To that extent they are desirable. But when they are given more importance than the human factor itself, making them an end, they degenerate into empty ritualism. The priests should equip themselves with modern education and specialization in ancient knowledge. They should be able to give spiritual solace to people and give them guidance. All those who are to be employed in temples should be carefully selected, for they should have special cultural ability to serve. They should reflect brightness, love and divine grace, which are the fundamental characteristics of the atmosphere in a temple. Those who do not have a philosophical bent of mind and faith in the greatness of their duty are unfit to be employed in temples. The vital purpose of the temple will be defeated if it is managed by the narrow-minded and the ignorant.
As one spiritually advances, naturally the rituals become less important. Over-emphasis on ritualism is unhealthy. Everything has to be examined and accepted with a balanced frame of mind. Blind acceptance and blind rejection are both irrational. Let us maintain temples as a Spiritual Dynamo that bestows solace and strength to one and all. A temple is a place where jnana (knowledge), bhakti (devotion) and karma (service) are blended into a harmonious whole. A temple should be managed in such a way that all these three aspects are given expression. Young people should be trained as volunteers to promote a proper perspective about these vital aspects. For this purpose the authorities of the temples have to make themselves well informed about the potentials of temples as spiritual and social institutions. All these are as need to be budgeted properly. In the USA the temples also serve more intense social purposes and therefore there is bound to be some confusion about the concept of temples as they are in India and those in the USA. We cannot simply copy India for the same reason.
Temples should impart sound knowledge about the rituals and ceremonies and their rationale, and clearly explain the meaning of various mantras chanted on the occasion, their significance, etc. Language should not be a barrier since Sanskrit usages can be properly and accurately rendered into English or any other language familiar to the seeker. It is essential to link the performance and the objectives of the hoary rituals and practices to the theories and principles of modern science so as to render them logical and intelligible to the modern man. The seemingly wide gap between old-world postulates and recent directives should be narrowed down or eliminated so as to prevent doubters raising irrelevant queries and issues. The knowledge imparted should be perfect and unambiguous. No doubt, a clear presentation of the Dharma will appeal to the Hindus as well as non-Hindus, all alike, because basically Hinduism contemplates an ideal, all-inclusive way of life for mankind and not a set of unverifiable doctrines and dogmas, and unalterable religious edicts for a section of them. With a view to drive home this aspect of our Dharma it would be advisable to hold effective interactive sessions with the followers of other faiths as well. But before attempting such a step the Hindus themselves must be adequately equipped. Hence it is essential that they should be well-informed and adequately trained. Temples of yore used to render yeomen service in this regard. There is no reason why those of the present day also can’t achieve similar results. Instruction calls for capable instructors and the temples cannot afford to ignore this aspect.
Invoking and installing spiritual power in a Murti is a very engaging and illuminating subject for study. The Murti of a Deity in a temple is a dynamic source of spiritual power. There is an efficacious science of mantras and rituals for the installation of power in the Murti of a Deity by invoking the spiritual power from the infinite source, Brahman. The relevant mantras and rituals are used for invoking the special spiritual powers represented by a particular form. According to Vedanta, Brahman (Isvara) is at once Intelligence and Energy. We tend to consider a block of stone or metal as inert and lifeless. But today’s science knows that there are tremendously moving energy fields within them that are in a sort of web-like relationship with the whole universe. Hindu INDU ijndu philosophy compliments this view of science by highlighting the fact that the stone and everything else are the manifestations of Paraa-Shakti, the transcendental supreme Energy of Brahman, which is at once Energy and Intelligence.
Energy vibrations and forms are two important aspects of the phenomenal universe. The world of forms is the gross expression of energy. Both these aspects are used in invoking the spiritual power and for communion with the Divine. The energy vibrations are employed in the form of suitable mantras and the form aspect as the Deities. Thus, there is a well-coordinated science in the background of temple worship and it is the bounden duty of temples to make the modern world sufficiently aware of this fact. This is very necessary to counter effectively the fallacious and malicious ideas spread by vested interests against this highly rational form of Hindu spiritual practice for communion with Isvara and spiritual expansion.
Only when man comes in communion with his inner Self, the Divinity within, he can find freedom from such maladies that affect his body-mind-sense complex. Hindu philosophy offers the know-how to achieve this communion and freedom. The temples are founded on a practical science that helps establish this reinforcing contact with the Divine. With a deeper understanding of this fact, the youth in the U.S.A. can make the best use of the temples for their cultural and spiritual evolution and all-round progress, thereby benefiting them and enriching others who come in contact with them. The modern man endowed though with a scientific bent of mind, intellectual upbringing and a technological background, not infrequently tends to be influenced by misguiding views and is often pestered with needless doubts and skepticism.
The temples in the USA are duty-bound to promote a better understanding of the Hindu Dharma, especially among the younger generation, who must become aware of the rationale of their rich cultural heritage with a modern perspective. The Mandirs have to play a significant role in the growth of the Hindu community in terms of its capacity to uphold the Hindu Dharma. Much of this super-scientific wisdom of the Hindu heritage is couched in symbolic and esoteric representations and anecdotes, the most intelligent means adopted by the ancient explorers of Truth, so that the knowledge can survive and percolate through generations and can be rediscovered in any age by way of proper study, guided research and introspection. The temples, particularly in the U.S.A. have a great part to play in inspiring and motivating the younger generation, particularly the young and budding scholars, to dive deep into these treasures of our hoary wisdom.
The growth of Hindu Dharma in America critically depends on the extent to which the Hindu children remain anchored in their timeless traditions. Ensuring this will require collective thought and action. Educated Hindus need a demythologized and less ritualistic Hindu Dharma to blend modernity with the vision of the Vedas, Upanishads and other Hindu scriptures. In addition to normal activities, temples need to raise funds to support various institutions such as universities, yoga and meditation centers, senior citizen centers, and hospitals. Such institutions would be the symbol and model of the modern Hindu Dharma. Additionally, temples need to get actively involved in establishing harmonious and respectful relations with American public in their local communities. This could be done by occasionally inviting them to our temple festivals, helping the local charities and working actively with the Council of the World Parliament of Religions to improve inter-community relations. Though Hindus can worship at shrines in the home, a temple also provides a focal point for the community, and an opportunity to translate their Dharma into collective practice. One of the important functions of a temple should be to have a support system to help Service of people and helping each other in times of hardship is an important aspect of Hindu Dharma, forming one of the ‘five duties’ enjoined on Hindus which they should perform as a matter of compassion. If they do not incorporate such functions, it will only serve to disintegrate and erode the Hindu community.
[Abridged and edited by N.R. Srinivasan to make it appropriate to Hindu Americans from the voluminous writings of Swami Jyotirmayananda commended and contributed by others.]
PURPOSE AND VALUE OF WORSHIP
Dr. Krishnamurthy Ramakrishna of FOWAI Forum presented a talk on YouTube on the above topic. The gist of the subject is: “The word worship as such opens up many questions – What is worship? Why should one worship - purpose? Whom to worship? What does one derive from worship – value? This webinar explores the Vedāntic teachings to arrive at some reasonable understanding of the answers to these questions about worship”.
Worship is contraction of two words: worth and ship. It meant to ascribe or declare the worth of something, or to place value in the thing being honored. To worship, then, is to lift up to the Lord, to appreciate his grace and to place life under the divine mercy and grace. In Hinduism it includes primarily reverent honor and homage paid to God or to Mother, Father, Guru and Guest or any other thing regarded as sacred. Vedas say “aatmavat sarvabhooteshu” the same Self abides in all. That is why Hindus pay respect to others with folded hands and pronounce Namah Te or Namaste meaning—“I pay my obeisance to the Self or God within you”.
Worship, or puja, is the central action of practical Hinduism. Scholars describe Hindu worship as a pre-eminently transactional event; through worship, humans approach deities by respectful interactions with their powers. At every level, from elaborate temple rituals to simple home practice, worship consists of offerings made and blessings received; reverence is rendered and grace pours down. The purpose of many rituals is to promote auspiciousness (kalyana, mangala, shri)—a pervasive Hindu concept indicating all kinds of good fortune or well-being.
Worship is by no means confined to temples. It may be performed at a home altar, a wayside shrine, or anywhere a devotee decides to mark off a sacred space. Actions at home may be far less elaborate than those at temples, more routinized as part of daily household life, and are performed without priestly expertise. South Indian housewives traditionally turn their thresh-holds into auspicious altars for the goddess each morning as they draw ritual designs (Kolam or Rangoli), which are almost instantly trampled back into dust.
Conceptually distinct from worship yet often conflated with it is seva, or service. This refers to regular, respectful attentions to the needs of enshrined deities, or icons (Murti). In temples the person who does seva is normally a ritual expert, regularly present. Although seva is never done with an aim in mind, it is understood to keep the gods beneficently inclined, and flawed seva may cause trouble. Performing seva is good for the soul of the server. In Kannada there is a motto which says “Janasevaye Janardhanana Seve”—Service to humanity is service to God.
Aradhana is a Sanskrit word that was in human usage long before the word worship was coined in English language. It means worship or prayer or devotional effort. Hindus are familiar with the annual event “Thyagaraja Aradhana” held in Tiruvaiyaru and also celebrated all over the world honoring the Saint Tyagraja and his unique contribution to Carnatic Music. We come across this word for the first time in the Adikavya, the first literary composition, Valmiki Ramayana in which Lord Rama directs Vibhishana: “Aaraadhya Jaganntham ikshvaakoonaam kuladaivatam”—Worship Lord Jaganntha, the family deity of Ikshvaku dynasty. Perhaps the tradition of worshiping a deity originated from this Lord’s directive. The word Aradhhan being feminine, it is a very popular name for girls in Hinduism. Astrologically it is the ideal name for those born on Krittika Nakshatra, belonging to Mesha (Aries) Rasi with dominant planet Mangala (Mars).
“In Hindu tradition no one told you that if you go to a temple, you must worship and give money and ask for something. This is something that people have started now. Traditionally, they told you, if you go to the temple, you must sit for a while and come. But today you just touch your bottom to the floor and run away. This is not the way. You are required to sit there because there is a field of energy that has been created. In the morning, before you go out into the world, the first thing you do is you go sit in the temple for a while. This is a way of recharging yourself with very positive vibrations of life so that you go into the world with a different perspective. The temple was not created as a place of God or a place of prayer. No one was ever allowed to lead a prayer. It was created as a place of energy where everyone could go and make use of it” says Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev.
Present day worship mostly aim at appeasing the God of their perception, for favors of physical well-being and happiness Preyas, immediate pleasure and relief and not Sreyas, eternal Joy living in the domain of the Supreme permanently (Saalokya, Saameepya or Saayujya). This short term appeasement is made by singing praises to that God, visualized in human form, and by offering presents in the form of money, gold and other valuables; this is akin to bribing some power-wielding, greedy mortals for securing protection and favors. Scriptures advice do your duty, and leave the results to God: “karmanyeva adhikariste maa phaleshu kadaachana” and “yad bhadram tanma asuva”—Good Lord knows what is good for you based on your Karma. Leave the choice to Him. For you may settle for less being stingy and narrow minded.
--E-Mail by N.R. Srinivasan in June 2018 to HR Forum Participants