Saturday, June 1, 2013

ONE HINDU TEMPLE-COMPLEX FOR MANY TRADITIONS OVERSEAS

 ONE HINDU TEMPLE-COMPLEX FOR MANY TRADITIONS OVERSEAS

(I-DISCOURE BY N.R. SRINIVASAN, BRENTWOOD, TN, MAY 2013)

CHANGING FACETS OF HINDU RELIGION AND TEMPLE WORSHIP
Let us examine the origin of current trends in Temple Worship, the changes that have taken place over a period  in following Aagama and Tantric worship which started  on wrong note in some of its thinking, some of which still practiced in India in limited pockets and which have been avoided in overseas temple worship practices. Overseas temples follow the guidelines of popular Aagama and tantric worship practiced in India, eliminating the fast vanishing isolated practices based on wrong understanding of morals and scope of Sanatana dharma.

Champakalakshmi and Kris In their book on Hindu Temples say: “Hinduism is a more recent nomenclature given to a conglomeration of heterogeneous traditions and plurality of beliefs and worships with long history of development from the Vedic sacrificial religion, through the worship of Epic and Puraanic heroes and personal deities, cults and sects, as well as philosophical systems rather than a monolithic tradition or a structure based on a single system of beliefs and worship or a single text as scripture”. Buddhism and Jainism sprang out of Vedic Sacrificial religion out of its aversion to sacrificial form of worship which went too far; sacrificial form of worship (Yajna and Homa) has now been blended into the present system of Hindu worship with proper understanding of spirituality on a low key, avoiding extremes, acceptable to orthodoxy, religious followers as well as progressive thinkers.

The temple in more than one sense represents the multiple facets and complex processes of this development through its architecture, sculpture, iconography, rituals and institutional organizations; it is like a text which has to be read and understood in the various contexts of evolution into a monument of enduring value. This evolution process  continues  overseas though has come to a sort of  halt   in India, as noticed in the  popular current practices of worship in India directed by  Aagama Saastra, Tantric Worship and Saktaagama by trained priests.  One thing that surprises other religions is the trend that is developing to build temples for saints and worship them after their demise as per the traditions of Aaagama and tantric practices conducted for various Vedic and Puraanic deities.   It is something more than the raising to sainthood noble souls in Christianity. Here such noble souls are added to the pantheon of Hindu Gods of 33 Crores! We can thus see Aacharaya Devo Bhava (treat gurus as gods) practically implemented for general observance in temples!
The Taamaasa-mode (inertia or dullness mode) of worship in Sakta cults involves the actual employment of five articles, the names of all which in Sanskrit begins with the letter “MA”, hence called Pancha Makaara Tatva; Wine (Madhya); meat (maamsa); fish (matsya); occult gestures (mudra); and copulation (maithuna), probably drawing wrong conclusion from Brihadaarnyaka Upanishad which deals with mamsa and maithuna at length. Poorva-kula adherents among Saktas have turned these into five ritualistic articles symbolically; honey in copper vessel or cow’s urine for madhya; garlic and ginger for maamsa; milk of buffalo for matsya; fried grains for  mudra and roasted fruits or roots for maithuna. This is further refined by Saatvika (righteousness) attitude. The five articles of worship are translated into five stages of the ascent of Kundalinis, copulation being the union of Siva in the thousand petal lotus. It also identifies them with five primary elements: Fire (Madhya); Air (Maamsa); Water (Matsaya); Earth (Mudra) and Sky (Maithuna). Lord Siva is worshiped in the form of these five elements in the five famous temples in South India in Linga form.   One of the texts speaks of wine as Sakti and meat as Siva and explains the devotee who consumes them both is himself Bhairava—Suraa Saktih Sivoe maamsah tadbhoktaa Bhairavah svayam (Kulaarnava 5, 79).

In early period of first Millennium a separate cult form of Saivism called Paasupatha cult worshiped Siva in Rudra (fearful) aspect ignoring his auspicious aspect. This is almost extinct now but still exists in pockets in North India. This was developed to absurd lengths by certain degenerated Hindu sects called Kaapalikas or Kalamukas who adopted grotesque practices, such as using the cremation ground as their habitat and indulging in other weird practices, such as use of narcotics completely devoid of spiritual thinking. In due course some Hindus  started hating the word CULT in English because of its association for certain disgusting and hateful practices in practicing Samay-aachaara and Kaul-aachaara which  name and practice still continues and the word Achaara  meaning cult is still used in Sanskrit in good sense. Some loathsome practices brought criticism for the word cult in English but not aachara in Sanskrit for the same loathsome acts, which is most respected by all Hindus including critics of cult without going deep into the basic problem of loathsome practices. Is it the word or the practice to be hated?  Aaachara is a favorite word in Sanskrit today and popular in usage though they frown at its translated word cult in English treated as Pariyah. Yet the word cult is often used for Tradition (sampradaya) in good sense like Vaishanva cult, Saivite cult and Sakta cult, Saibaba cult, Raghvendra cult etc.  by many authors of Hindu scriptures attracting criticism often by conservative Hindus. Periodic house cleaning as in Christianity has never taken place in Hinduism and changes do take place slowly but steadily by a process of elimination and changes brought over a long period, but old practices linger on to the point of annoyance. Hinduism is not authoritative religion dictated by a leader or Authoritative Institution.

In some forms of Hindu ritualistic worship, based on Tantra, animal sacrifice is sometimes permitted. This is still prevalent in many parts of India though not popular including Kaali temple in Dakshaneshwar Kolkata, Kali Temple in Puri-Jagannath Complex on specific days and Maariamman temples in the South. In ancient times the so called Indo-Aryans ate meat with certain self-imposed restrictions. Rather than recklessly butchering animals and eating their meat, it was considered better to sacrifice the animal as an offering to God and then eat the sanctified meat. Any meat not offered to God was treated as inedible. In this way a restraint in indiscriminate killing was imposed. With the impact of Buddhism this fire sacrifice has been almost eliminated. Animal sacrifice in the presence of God was interpreted as killing the animal or lower nature of the worshiper in order to manifest his higher nature or divinity. Today, animal sacrifices are few and far between in India. It is nil abroad in American Hindu Temples. Today even the scriptures of Tantra allow other symbols, such as pumpkin, ash gourd, squash or any other fruit to represent the worshiper’s lower nature or animosity.  Such symbolic fruits are sacrificed instead animals in the presence of God in Temple ritual practices to-day.  

Over a period Hindus have developed fresh belief regarding the divine incarnation of God   even though they claim to be not a religion based on beliefs. All human beings evolve by leading a highly righteous and pious life. They get enlightened and become noble souls and believed to finally release the people from worldly bondage (samsara). They transform the society for a new world order.   19th and 20th century India saw several human beings declaring themselves to be either avatars or representatives of the Supreme Being or their devotees superimposing avatars on their preceptor or Guru: The main ones among them are:
1) Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950), Tamil Nadu; 2) Aurobindo Ghosh (1872-1950), Bengal; 3) A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, West Bengal; 4) Krishnaprem Vairagi (Ronald Nixon Chltenham) (1898-1965) UK; 5) Satya Saibaba, Andhra Pradesh; 6) Ananadamayi Ma (1896-1983), West Bengal; 7)  Ma Jnanananda 8) Osho Rajneesh (claimed him-self to be incarnation of Buddha).  This concept started with Andal of Tamil Nadu; Swami Narayan of Gujarat; Sankara of Kaladi, Ramanuja of Tamil Nadu,   Chaitanya Mahaprabhu of Bengal, Madhva of Udupi (one may see his image being worshiped in all Udupi hotels!),  Raghavendra of Karnataka; Basaveswara of Karnataka;   Saibaba of Shirdi and others to whom temples have been built and worship is being done employing established modes of Hindu ritualistic worship. Who knows where this list will end to complete the pantheon of Hindu Gods and Goddesses.  In South Indian Temples you see images of row of saints 63 Naayanmars in Siva Temples and 12 Azhwars in Vaishnava Temples being consecrated and worshiped. Hindu Americans drawn from intellectuals are well-learned and progressive; it is natural to expect that they would limit the number of pantheon of Gods to Vedic and minimal Puraanic deities,  celebrate only popular festivals in temples and confine to few sacred rituals in the adopted country with more focus on meditation and spirituality. Surprisingly it is not so; old habits do not vanish easily. They enjoy the pomp and show of festivals and   rituals and take every opportunity to try to imitate India and also add more to the list, celebrating   American National holidays with religious fervor in their temple-complexes. Of course, it is a clever strategy to keep the temple revenue growing but unfortunately they all cannot be forced to the week-end as in American Western Culture as Hindus still believe in “Vaara and Nakshatra”!

Surprisingly Hare Krishna, Saibaba and Swami Narayana Temples are becoming more popular and glamorous off the shores of India than in India itself promoted by high intellectuals and rich and affluent Hindu community settled overseas drawing support from Westerners. Those followers who have their strong base in India draw inspiration from them. Temples for traditional orthodox saints like Aandal, Sankara, Ramanuja etc., has not found favor in overseas nor temples like Santoshi Ma, Bharatmata, Mariamman etc., as in India.
Hindu Temple worship is by and large is based on Vedic disciplines side by side with another set of disciplines called the Tantras (the scripture on which the knowledge is spread). Tantra is an all-inclusive religious system which helps individuals towards spiritual growth.  Tantric texts are same as Vedas. Tantric worship involves use of Yantras and Tantras (geometric figures etched on gold, silver and copper plates). It is not possible for everyone to take part in the intellectual exercises of metaphysics to quench his spiritual thirst. Aagamas come into play here. They are based on various Hindu philosophies and serve as practical guides. Aagamas prescribe code of conduct for building of temples and conduct ritualistic form of worship. It started as Nigamas in the North as Worship Regulations.  They may said to be responsible for the origin and growth of Bhakti Maarga. There exists to-day many Saiva, Sakti and Vishnu Aaagamas which follow their own respective Tantric system in which priests are trained to conduct ritualistic worship with main focus on formalities than spiritual explanation behind such rituals. They are more complex and varied today with sectarian approach than non-sectarian universal approach but based on varied thoughts of Upanishads; initially they were intended to simplify and translate Upanishadic thoughts to practical day-to-day ritualistic worship.  Sankara did not find any use for Aagamas. He is believed to have consecrated Chakras (diagrammatic presentation of the divine) in temples and also installed them in idols of different Gods and Goddesses similar to the practice of inserting Brahma-padaartha in Jagannatha wooden sculptures in Puri during periodic renovation of the idols.
Saiva Siddhanta is based on Tantric system. Saiva aagamas are not uniform. They are both Advaitic and Vishishtaadvaitic. Vaishnava aagamas are Vishishtaadvaitic. There are about 28 Saiva Aaagamas in Sanskrit available today. Sakti aagamas are advaitic but their tantric system varies from North to South in India. We also have what are called Upa-Aagamas to-day on specific subjects like the worship of particular God or Goddesses. Tantric Aagamas as followed in the North in famous temples like Puri-Jagannath vary widely from the Southern practice.  Ramanuja tried to bring uniformity in worship all over during his whirl-wind tour of the North but failed to implement uniformity.  We can thus see how difficult it is to organize rituals with the help of guides of Aagamas and Tantras and with the priests trained in them each pulling in his own direction of sectarian approach to cater to multiple Sampradayas (traditions) purely based on ritualistic worship overseas.  Further priests are not family tradition bound to serve temples abroad as in India and are of migratory nature. They always look for better emoluments and comforts as they are not spiritually motivated but attracted by opportunities available in the rich and prosperous land of adoption.  They purely work as professionals practicing priesthood. The Hindu crowd drawn from complex traditional systems from India is also of migratory nature who participate in mass worship. In order to have uniform and meaningful worship and ritualistic practices it is advisable to have home published manuals and guides with complete explanation in English for the guidance of oft-changing priests and the participants from different traditions. Plenty of literature is available in India to help the task of the Publication committee of the temples abroad. They are rich and prosperous unlike in India if they are serious about spiritual progress and promotion.
A brief revelation above of the past and progress made presents the constant changes that have been taking place in Hindu mode of worship which has arrived at the current popular forms of Hindu worship as prevalent in India.   Hindus abroad have adopted appropriate forms of worship bringing   knowledgeable priests from India to suit their needs. While adopting and practicing the same overseas they are compelled to make certain changes deviating somewhat from Aaagama and Tantric practices but in addition there seems to be a timely focus needed on spiritualism of Sanatana Dharma which in principle is not opposed to Aaagama or Tantric worship of Hinduism and which is at the same time more appealing to other faiths and their critics as well. Many of the Westerners are also fed up with ritualistic worship of their own religion as well as hearing to repeated sermons and are diverting their thoughts more towards spiritualism in theory and practice.  Over-stretching ritualistic form of worship and forcing sectarian form of worship on majority by Hindus may lead them to opt out of Hinduism and lean towards politically favored or popular religious faiths or atheism.  



HINDU TEMPLES ABROAD

By and large Hindu Temples abroad are Temple-complexes in which multiple deities are consecrated and to whom special worships are conducted on significant days while mass worship is conducted to the main deity only on regular basis.  These temple-complexes bewilder the local populace with its row of number of sanctums often with no circum-ambulation provision even being space restricted. The temple is named after the main deity consecrated by the founding fathers at the start of the temple.   They continue to be jam-packed with permanent as well as processional deities. Hindus are a minority community of limited population and of multiple traditional practices overseas. Hindu Temples overseas are built on the philosophy one temple-complex  for all deities and single mass worship for all traditions on regular basis except for special festival and ritual days.  But even here some rich and affluent groups have built temples exclusive to their traditions, conventional and  sectarian, moving away from the main stream though running such compartmentalized temples are uneconomical and difficult to run with handful of people; even  this  specific crowd dwindles in its migratory nature to greener pasture and patterns change. But yet these small groups want to stick to their regional biased traditions with which they are grown to the letter in practice but not in spirit to promote Universal Oneness. They live in minority amid different cultures and amid different traditions even among Hindus.

In practice, a standard worship is designed to the main deity overseas on routine basis where all from various Hindu traditions are able to participate. Here they depend largely on the services of priests trained in India with sectarian outlook and conservative in approach.  It is a common sight to see a priest with Vibhooti (religious mark of a Saivite) conducting worship for Venkateswara, a priest with Urdhva pundram or Naamam (Vaishanva religious mark on the forehead) conducting worship for Siva Linga overseas and on orthodox priest conducting worship for Saibaba, Buddha or Jina with Aagama Saastra.  You may not witness such a scene in Hindu Temples in India which are sectarian and conservative.  Hindus in India mostly go to the temple of their own tradition and choice deity during important religious festivals even though they talk about the one Supreme Principle and Sanatana Dharma. Temples in India only focus on festive days of their choice appropriate to the sectarian deity. In overseas, temples are busy celebrating all sectarian festivals and rituals  at one place which majority of the participants do not understand as to what goes on (for e.g., Karadiyan Nombu, Arudraa darsanam, Karawa chauth, Akshay Triteeya,  Vishu, Aavani avittam etc). Temples are also finding difficult to make them appealing for mass participation by multiple traditions while trying to satisfy few donors. It is often based on arbitrary decision taken by founding fathers at the time of performing Kumbhaabishekam (Consecration ceremony) and throwing open the Temple for public participation. They do not change with the growing needs of the changing pattern of Hindu migrants. Here one thing needs to be remembered that religious Hindu never feels that his nityakarma (daily rituals) is complete by just visiting the temple. He indulges in elaborate worship of his choice at home if he is religiously inclined deeply. Many temple-complexes want to show their National spirit of the adopted country and so try to celebrate as many National Holidays as possible too by over-stretching imagination but  with a Hindu religious approach. This indirectly helps their smooth functioning without criticism and ill-will from the main religion of the country of adoption.

The temple authorities overseas are taking all efforts to take care of the religious needs of Hindus drawn from different traditions and to find a common mode of worship though confused somewhat by the complexity of the situation.  This is evident from the most popular “Om Jaya Jagadeesa Hare” prayer, a lyrical composition of Pandit Sharada Ram Philluri of Punjab composed in 1870. Though in Hindi this hymn composition is powerfully employed overseas by Hindus to bring all traditions together singing as concluding prayer and as an appeal to Supreme Principle, though at all other stages of worship,   Sanskrit, the divine language, is employed to feel the spiritual vibration from Vedic Mantras as in India. This hymn probably got its inspiration from Jayadeva’s Dasaavataara Keertidhavalam of his famous Geetagovinda of 12th century.  This prayer is focused on the Supreme Principle referred as Universal Lord (Jagadeesa) who is also the inner-controller (antaryaamin) of all beings. It also focuses on the Universal Oneness and our need for spiritual yearnings through the medium of worship and hence popular though not used in South Indian temples in India.
My thoughts were focused to a recent incidence when I participated in the non-stop Hanumaan Chaaleesa (40 Hymns on Hanumaan) in USA. Through an E-mail I communicated my deep thoughts to my global participants. The same is reproduced below:
“Someone among you who participated in the non-stop chanting of Hanumaan chaaleesa on Hanumaan Jayanti Day should have been taken by surprise when the leader conducting the ceremony started chanting “Trayambakam yajaamahe”, a vedic mantra from Srirudram ten times on Hanuman Jayanti Day. It did appear to be divine inspirational and not intentional, and chanting it ten times was also inspirational. This Rigvedic mantra is an appeal to Parabrahman (Please refer to Hindu Reflections: Vedic Prayer Mantras Seeking Immortality) which Saivites effectively use in all the worship of Siva. Though I am brought up  with Srivaishnava tradition this did not appear strange to me but with my spiritual bent of mind appeared logical drawing support from Puraanas and Vedas.  As most of the participants were followers of Siva, they could easily chant this mantra though the priests stood wondering as to the repeated chanting and its appropriateness to the occasion, Hanumaan Jayanti! If you all recall my past discourses the logics behind this inspiration would be clear.

Srirudram is directed to Brahman though apparently it looks directed to personal deity Siva.  I have also given two different interpretations of these mantras one as it is generally understood as applicable to Siva the other to Primordial Energy and Parabrahman if you recall my past discourse on the subject.  My thinking is based on yet another group of mantras called Panchabrahma mantras found in Vedas.  Saivites use it as Panchaanana mantra for the five faced Siva, Sadyojaata, Aghora, Vaamana, Easaana and Tatpurusha. With the same epithets and sectarian out-look of Vaishanava tradition these mantras are addressed to Lord Narasimha with the same five epithets. But in actual sectarian worship practices   these mantras are never focused as Panchabrahma mantras and the devotees are not guided in that direction for spiritual advancement, but focus on mostly for short term gains and benefits from their chosen deity.
Many of you would have had a cursory glance of my lengthy discourse on Hanuman. If you closely study I have projected Hanuman as a compromising deity for all traditions for worship like Aiyappan of Kerala even from Puraanic point of view. Hanuman is said to be an incarnation of Siva born to Punjikasthala an attendant on Brihaspati, who by a curse was born as a monkey. By another story he was a brother of Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Satrughna, but born to Anjana, out of sharing the same nectar of Putrakaameshti sacrifice of Dasaratha.   He is also Vayuputra as you know from Valmeeki Raamayana. His Guru was Soorya by Choice. Both Vaayu and Soorya are aggregates of Supreme Principle Brahman talked often in Rigveda and so he is Parabrahman himself as Jayadeva thinks about Lord Krishna. You all know even Brahmaastra or Agni could cause no harm to him. Hence Trayambaka mantra was not inappropriate for the occasion and most appealing to the multi-traditional crowd chanting Hanuman chaaleesa though Vaishanavites may recent if only the popular meaning is made clear to the participants.  To Vaishnavites Hanumaan is Ramabhakta. Only thing lacking here was their understanding that the focus was on Brahman through Hanuman and conveying this message to the crowd who were blindly chanting Chaaleesa and Trayambakm engaged in Bhakti mode. Here Jnaana   directing Bhakti is needed to make the participation  meaningful.

Drawing a lesson from such a situation I often wonder why we cannot draw the attention of such a cosmopolitan crowd in which some from Western culture as well as inter-racial descendants with their divided faiths  too participate with all sincerity and devotion, as to our concept of Universal Oneness, One God and Spiritual goal.  I also wonder why we cannot employ Purushsooktam for Ganesha Abhishekam, Rudram for Venkateswara Abhishekam and Sreesooktam for Paarvati Abhishekam though we go round about explaining we  are not idolatrous, we direct all our worship to one God and yet show our sectarian approach in all worships? As Hindu Americans it is necessary to bring such concepts in all our worship guided by the wisdom of Vedas.

I was impressed by the spiritually inclined worship of a Fiji Hindu Temple of Lakshmee-Naaraayana   in Sacramento, CA which attracted mostly Western crowd freely participating in the worship whereas in the traditional Ganesha Temple in Sacramento there were hardly any from Western culture. So also was the Ramakrishna Math Temple in Sacramento. Fiji Hindus have lost touch with India for generations and their mode of mass worship differs widely from Hindu Aaagama and Taantric directed worship, lacks the usual glamour, pomp and show but serenity and spiritual atmosphere pervades so essential for spiritual evolution”  

I used to visit Latin American Countries every year since 1986 and stopped visiting after 1994. I never got an impression they were so serious about Hindu philosophy then. All I knew about them was they were friendly people loving fun and fiesta. Recently I came to know about their Hastinapura, The City of Wisdom Foundation Project and was astonished. So much has been achieved in so little time due to the Selfless service of one Lady Ada Albrecht from Argentina.

Hastinapura Foundation was established by Ada Albrecht in 1981. She introduced Indian philosophy and became a Guru for the Argentines seeking wisdom. She wrote a number of books such as ¨The Saints and teachings of India¨ and ¨The teachings of the monks from Himalayas'¨ Gustavo Canzobre was one of her students, who is now the Director of the Hastinapur college of professors. He was seventeen years old when he became interested inVedic wisdom.

Many Argentines go to Hastinapur as a retreat from the hectic city of Buenos Aires which is just fifty kilometres away. They practise meditation in the quiet natural environment. They do yoga, read books from the library, discuss philosophy and join the singing of bhajans. Hastinapur is an authentic Ashram.

The founders and directors of the Hastinapura Foundation do not seek publicity. They are humble but devoted people. They have their professions as company managers, engineers or professors. They volunteer their time and talents for the foundation..Hastinapur respects all the religions and beliefs. Their ten temples include one for Buddha, one for Virgin Mary, one for the Greek god Demeter and another one called as the the Temple of All Faiths. Their library has books of all religions and schools of thought.

Hastinapur seeks true wisdom, going beyond the boundaries of established religions. The City of Wisdom is not the ultimate destination. It does not prescribe wisdom doses. It simply helps people to seek, find and pursue their own path to wisdom. They give classes in yoga, meditation, philosophy, devotional singing and sacred drama. They organise workshops, seminars and retreats. They also provide community service. They celebrate festivals such as Ganesh Chathurthi and Baishaki. Their next project is to broadcast through radio.
Hastinapur temples do not have priests or other middlemen between the gods and worshipers.There is no collection of money for any Pooja.  Worshipers pray, recite mantras and sing devotional songs individually or in groups.

Hindu Temple in Albany in USA is a multi-complex Temple with several deities installed and consecrated in separate sanctums while the main deity is Lakshmee-Naraayana who is Parabrahman in Pancharaatra concept projected in Svetaavataara Upanishad. The uniqueness of this temple is it has separate sanctum for Buddha of Buddhism, Mahaveera Jaina of Jainism, Naagadevata the chosen deity of hill tribes of Andhra, Swami Narayan, a Saint of Gujarat for Gujratis and Saibaba, a popular Saint, believed to be an incarnation by sectarian followers scattered in Andhra, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. If a philanthropic rich Sikh contributes to this temple there may be soon a sanctum for Guru Nanak too!  Since Sikhism does not believe in image worship we may have sanctum for Grantha Sahib! Followers of all these deities in USA have  come together under the banner of Hinduism which brings  back to its fold some of the religions that emerged out of Sanatana Dharma and some of the belief oriented faiths popular in India.  In such complexes it becomes too much complicated to decide on which festivals and rituals to focus on and if so in what manner! This also calls for a new definition for Hinduism which goes on changing with changing times adding more Gods to its pantheon.  There had been a strong opposition as to the installation of Buddha idol in this Hindu temple and not others as Buddha is considered to be an atheist by the conservative orthodoxy. Sectarian trained priests also with reluctance wave a lamp before the deity in their daily worship being forced on them.  I was hoping the concept of “Aacharya Devo bhava” will not find favor in a country like USA with its highly educated and intellectual crowd and the Gods will be limited in Temples here; but after visiting Swami Narayan, Saibaba and Hare Krishna Temples after my arrival here my opinion changed. Hindu Americans are leaning more towards faith based worship than even India. Soon we may find many more temples for frequent visiting Saints so popular with the American crowd and received with temple honors too if not Paadapooja (worship of the holy feet)!

It is not difficult to understand the motivation and insistence to install the idol of Buddha in Albany Hindu Temple because it came from a Neo-Buddhist from Andhra Pradesh who happened to be a philanthropist who contributed liberally to the temple.  You will not see Budddha icon in any Hindu Temple in India though Buddha is firmly incorporated in Dasaavatara or Ten Incarnations of Vishnu. Similarly you will not find even Rishabha, the Aditeerthankara in any Hindu temple in India though hailed as an incarnation of Vishnu in Bhaagavata Purana.  But this can take place only in a foreign soil where Hindus are settled and built temples, enjoy freedom of religion, a welcome change indeed!  Observers of Ambedkar Day in India call themselves as Neo-Buddhists instead of being called Harijans under Hindu fold and try to build a casteless society of their own. Grown with Hindu form worship they follow more Hindu way of worship than follow the Heenayaana or Mahaayaana form of worship as practiced by Buddhists in Asiatic countries; Buddhists  are rare species in India confined to few pockets.  This is obvious if you read an article published in Hindu dated May 5th “Buddhist Remains worshiped in Siva Temples in Krishna District”. Worshiping Ayaka Pillar or Ayaka Mantapam made of Dachepalli green stone as Lord Siva Linga is a common feature in 11 Siva Temples of Krishna District in Andhra Pradesh. Here Buddhists Temples were occupied or converted into Hindu Temples in these locations. Bowing before the Stupa Half Lotus Medallions as Satya Pillars, the villagers confess their past sins before the pillars. This vandalism by Hindus in the past has not drawn the attention of Buddhists to raise a hue and cry in India as they are insignificant minority community, unlike the recent Rama-janma Bhoomi and Masjid issue in Ayodhya forced by the numerous Hindu protagonists vexed by the destruction of many temples and the rising of Masjids in India long back during the time of Muslim rulers in India.  They needed an opportunity to show their displeasure over the past watching the silent and disinterested vast Hindu majority for too long. 

Hindu Temples may be regarded as direct descendent of Buddhist Stupas.  Stupa in turn has been evolved from the primitive funerary mound or Agnidriya, a spot set apart for the fire ritual associated with the tradition of Manes (Pitrus) which some wrongly refer as Vedic tomb. There is a custom to install a stone block or Linga in the spot where the burial had taken place as prevalent in India. The tomb of   saints continue to function as shrines for example that of Saint Raghavendra.  This gives the clue how Siva worship has started in Andhra Pradesh in India where stupas stood once.

Buddhists and Jains from India who are insignificant in numbers overseas are attracted to Hindu Temples overseas.  I have also seen shaven Sikhs (those who are not Panj-pyaare), Arya Samajists and even Christian-Hindu married couples of Indian origin, some Hindus of African descent besides home grown such couples walk into Hindu Temple Complexes to satisfy their religious hunger. I have also seen some of them soon get disillusioned and walk out resorting to atheism or to other religious gatherings depending on the forceful influence of husband or wife. Recently a large number of Bhutanese and Nepalese refugees have started attending mass worship in Hindu Temples with no direction or focus but indebted by the generosity of Hindu community. To quote some examples, I came across a couple where one of the partners is an Arya Samajist focused on Vedic fire sacrifice while the other is a non-traditional Sikh.  Both are not comfortable with focus on image worship or rituals as practiced in Hindu Temples but like Homa and Yajna fire sacrifices. However they both started attending Hindu Temple as a compromise. Later when few Sikhs who were not comfortable to attend ritualistic oriented Hindu Temple started their own little gathering in a small house, calling it a Gurudwaara to focus on the Satya Vachan or Truth, they were both attracted to join them more often! They would have been comfortable with the focus on Om in Hindu Temple for meditation in lieu of Grantha Sahib!  Now the couple above or confused whether to attend make-shift Gurudwara or the Hindu temple to satisfy their spiritual thirst.  They will not be satisfied either way. Yet another couple from India where one of the partners is a strong Christian and other a strong Hindu are confused as to where to seek religious solace. Catholic influence being strong they attend Church of Western culture. Brought up in cultural tradition of India they are often attracted to Hindu temple though they attend Western Church. In the case of Home grown inter-racial couples the dilemma is much more either to focus on religion or walk away from all beliefs and religious aspirations to turn atheists. Their children are brought up purely with focus on materialism. To all such crowds the ideal solution will be a spiritual focused, minimal meaningful ritualistic mass worship with the goal of Universal Oneness of Sanatana Dharma within the sanction of Vedas to be guided by the wisdom contained therein. With this approach with appropriate changes in our ways of traditional practices of Hindu worship copied from India, we will be fulfilling most of the needs of the Hindu society as well as other religions that are eager to come back to Hindu fold without upsetting Aagama or Taantric worship as practiced to-day. The need of the hour is a spiritually focused ritualistic worship keeping in mind the Vedic dictum, “Vedokhilam Dharmamoolam”—Vedas are final authority in any such decision.

THE ROLE OF TEMPLES IN HINDU SOCIETY OVERSEAS AND NEED FOR COMMON WORSHIP AND SPIRITUAL APPROACH

Visiting temples is not obligatory for Hindus though dedicated philanthropists have built temples overseas to sustain community religious pursuits.  Even in India Hindus generally go to their temples only during important days. It is much less obligatory and attractive for Hindus to visit these temples if they find their tradition is not being followed.  Some have moved out and set up their own small houses of worship. To run them on day to day basis they need public support and participation. Hindu temples do not have as much hold on Hindus as Christian churches or Jewish synagogues have over their members.  Therefore unlike in India,   temple authorities overseas are running them as centers of social activity in additions to running them as places of worship. Marriages and other Hindu sacraments are conducted in temples overseas though not common in India, following the pattern of churches. Trustees run temples as non-profit organizations with main support from the Hindu community.

Hindu Temple priests are salaried workers hired by the temple authorities. They are normally drawn from the sectarian trained priests in Agaama or Taantric  religious schools  who have studied Aagamas in Sanskrit Schools and well experienced in Hindu worship and conducting sacraments. Once in a foreign soil authorities are able to prevail upon them to a limited extent to deviate from sectarian approach and orthodoxy which priests reluctantly do. If there is an opportunity they try to get out and adhere to the chosen tradition with their orthodox background. Hindu Temple priests are not to be confused with Swamis (all renouncing monks) who do not work for the money. Traditionally they come from Brahmin priestly caste in India. They are also not to be confused with the pastor known to the Western world who is a spiritual overseer.  Temple authorities overseas prevail upon the priests to perform religious ceremonies called Samskaaras like the clergyman who or ordained to perform a sacerdotal functions in a Christian church. In India this is the job of a Purohit or Vadyar.

Highly educated Hindu crowd overseas do realize mental worship or meditation is the best form of worship.  But vast majority of them do not find time or find mental worship that is as appealing as grand showmanship of religious worship.  So they resort to casual ritualistic worship standardized by the temple overseas without going deep into it or trying to understand the meaning and the message contained in the mantras. They do realize the need for awareness to focus on spiritualism but feel this is needed more for their children brought up overseas than for themselves worried about their future.  They just go to the temple only to have a vision of the Lord (Darsan) but mostly for a cultural meet. They think they understand the objective and goal of ritualistic worship! They are also worried by the constant criticism and influence from the major religion of the land.  This anxiety can be seen in their enthusiasm for Sunday-School religious activities and the annual show of talents based on their children’s year-long study.  They themselves do not find time to guide them at home spiritually, and often because of lack of knowledge too, with their struggle to succeed in a foreign soil against stiff competition. They also feel the growing aversion for ritualistic worship without convincing explanation in their children who are influenced by the major religious followers of their adopted country or the society in which they are born and brought up  and are strongly influenced by them. If one observes closely Sunday school attendance thins down as the children grow up with age and start resenting to their parent’s religious sermon or attracted to multiple activities.  To Hindus’ advantage some of the followers of the major religion are fed up too with their own monotonous and quite often meaningless and authoritative ritualistic approach and proselytizing tendencies, and so are eager to lean towards spirituality and in its absence turn to atheism.
The popularity of Yoga turns their attention towards that spiritual thinking and concentration.

In the context of the above there is an urgent need to divert all our religious thoughts and efforts towards spirituality not only in the interest of our children but also to spread the message of Universal Oneness instead of Universal Brotherhood by our religious thoughts which would bring different cultures together including the major culture of the adopted country to divert all attention towards Peace on Earth. Universal Brotherhood is a subject matter of our social activity. Of course in the long run Universal Oneness will result in Universal Brotherhood. Christianity started with the theme of One Heavenly Father and the importance of love the neighbor as oneself but failed in its mission by its wrong execution and proselytizing. It did not have the depth of Sanatana Dharma to be guided by the Wisdom of Vedas to create a peaceful world.

American Hindu Temples have started this process by opening the vision of the one track minded orthodoxy of our priests in conducting worship, introducing some Vedic mantras not generally used in India, encouraging chanting together concluding prayers like Mantrapushpa and “Om Jagadeesa Hare” though not in Sanskrit, encouraging individual participation in waving the lamps to the Lord on special occasions and individuals doing Abhishekam (bathing ceremony) on miniature Linga of Siva. But all these tireless efforts have gone unnoticed or their effects seen not being  felt,  since these have  not been  properly explained or brought to focus or the deep meaning of the worship conducted in Sanskrit made to understand. Sanskrit language is one unifying force for all traditions and also divine casting a magical spell on the mind of a devotee. There is therefore no chance for its substitution by English! There is much more to be done in this area. One encouraging factor is some of our intelligent priests are co-operative in this Herculean task for they are also worried about the future of their children in the migrated country who do not walk into their father’s shoes to continue the family profession; often we find even their children’s aversion to priesthood having seen the hard life of their parents with poor income and lack of modern secular education needed to become rich and prosperous.

There are too many rituals conducted in Hindu temples in India and are also sectarian based. These cannot be blindly followed overseas even if they are within sectarian Aagama standards. Here is an example.  Hindu American Temples welcome holy-men and saints with temple honors as is customary in India. So far they have not started Paadapooja (washing and worshiping feet, and then consuming sacred water) of these holy-men by the priest and devotees as is in vogue in selective Sampradaaya (tradition) temples of South India. In North India Paadapooja is confined to Gaya Temple of Vishnupaada though they practice widely Charan spars (respecting elders and holy-men by touching the feet with their head and paying respect). The wooden clogs worn by the most celebrated Vaishanva saints are worshiped in temples managed by monasteries (Ashramams and Maths) within the scope of Vaishnava Aaagam Philosophy. This will look bizarre and strange to visitors from other cultures who visit Hindu Temples overseas if observed. Srivaishnavas draw inspiration and support from the pair of sandals of Srirama that ruled Ayodhya for 14 years in Tretaayuga looking after Dharma during the banishment of Srirama.  Bharata ruled on behalf of these pair of sandals. There are 1000 sacred hymns by Vedanta Desika (a well-known scholarly saint) sung in Vaishanva Temples glorifying Rama Paaduka (Rama’s sandals) called Paadukaa Sahasram. In Vishnu Temples Sataari carries the symbol of pair of sandals of Nammazhwar, a celebrated Vaishnava saint and main author of Thiruvoymozhi, considered to be Tamil Veda. The practice of receiving this Sataari with reverence by devotees on their head offered by the priest has been adopted in temple practices in America also like in India where Vishnu shrines are consecrated. This is well received by other traditions knowingly or unknowingly. Often these foot symbols on the crown are misunderstood for the feet of Lord Vishnu! Worship of Vishnupaada including Paaduka of Srivaishnava saints based on Vishishtaadvaita philosophy is not very popular in North India.  It has not yet caught the imagination of rich American-Srivaishnava donor like what happened in Albany temple for Buddha to start this tradition!  It may not also, for Srivaishnavas are generally philosophical, conservative and submissive and restrict their activities to home worship in the manner they desire and not as strong and forceful as followers of Advaita philosophy. Hindu Americans will certainly move away from this in Temple practices and in rare cases may install Vishnupaada drawing support from Vedic Mantras (charanam pavitram) and Hymns in rare Temples.

Jagaannath Society of North America (JSNA) has made a little bit more progress toward this cause of spiritual progress drawing some inspiration from the holy temple of Puri Jagannath but mostly need based. They have one uniform worship; there are no  caste-based rituals or festivals; no showmanship in Abhishekam as Abhishekam is carried on mirror image of Jagannath as advised in Geetaa “patram, pushpam , phalam,  toyam” etc.  JSNA has made their mantras and bhajans (chanting hymns) more appealing addressed to the Universal Lord both in their native language and Sanskrit. They have also stopped the practice of 3Ms in Taantric Worship which is still followed for Goddess Kaali even within the temple complex of Puri (3Ms of the 5 Ms are Matsya, Madhu and Maamsa=Fish, Wine and Meat offered to the deity during worship). They also offer Saatvic food to the deity as advised in Bhagavadgeetaa and later distribute it to the devotees as blessed food.  Of course no temple overseas goes after meat and meat products in their worship like some rare temples in India probably being afraid of the strict Food Regulations of the adopted country. Any food offered to the deity is consumed by the devotees with reverence as Prasaadam or blessed food. Also the food offered to the Lord  in USA  is made simple but nutritive by JSNA (Saatvik Food),  unlike in Puri Jagannath where God is pampered with 32 varieties of food with huge kitchen establishment   diverting their thoughts from Universal  Lord  Jagannath to child prodigy Krishna who was very fond of rich food and the varieties, a puraanic approach. Rich Prasaadam attracts more crowds to Vishnu temples than Siva temples! Overseas, Prasaadsam distribution is a normal and attractive feature in all temple-complexes. Food attracts some to temple rather than spiritual urge!


American Hindus should refer to the divine aspect of a Hindu Temple. Vaastu Mandala or the charged atmosphere in the temple is the imaging of the cosmos which is achieved by the presence of 32 divinities who are planets, stars and guardians of directions who are accommodated on the perimeter of Vastumandala with various other deities subsidiary to the main deity who is the central shrine who occupies Brahmasthaana, the place of realization of Supreme Brahman. This is the place assigned to Brahma, the Lord of creation in the Vedic tradition. In Puranic tradition this position is assigned to the major Hindu Gods, Vishnu and Siva, making Brahma subordinate and placing this deity on the northern wall of the sanctum. But the concept of Trinity worship continues in Hindu Tradition. Siva manifests as Linga (Vyakta-avyakta form) while Vishnu manifests himself in his divine forms and incarnations (avatars). Both these are the Universal Brahman in their sectarian systems of beliefs and worships while the other Vedic deities remain as subordinates in their positions as pada-devatas.  Later Puranas also brought in two sons of Siva as main deities for worship. Jayadeva hailed Krishna as Jagadeesa  or Brahman. Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha, family members of Krishna were introduced as Vyuha deities for worship by Pancharatra (Chaturvyuha) Theology of Vaishnavas.  In all these it should be remembered that  in reality worship is directed to Trinity or Saguna Brahman only, be it a Siva temple or Vishnu temple leaving the opportunity  for  contemplation on Nirguna Brahman. In Vaishnava tradition when a devotee   leaves the temple  the devotee circum-ambulates the outermost praakara or compound wall and sits at the northern end gazing at the cupola rising to heavens meditating on Nirguna Brahman as Narayana. This is their spiritual thinking of contemplating on Paravasudeva in the Pancharatra Theology. 


Hindu Temples overseas should try to focus on spirituality in their worship procedures and details while following the Aaagam or Taantric form of worship. This does not violate the scriptures and in fact will be a welcome step to enhance the value and benefits of ritualistic worship.  I have taken some time to collect all Vedic mantras used in 16 steps worship as is in vogue in India and abroad, all hymns (slokas) used In worship and some not used but very powerful in their message for Brahmoepaasana (meditation on Brahman), some mantras for repentance, some for universal peace and others all in Sanskrit with their deeper meanings for general understanding and for use in the 16 steps worship in my two discourses: “Shoedasa Upachaara Poojaa Vidhaanam (16-steps indu Worship)hin Hindu Worship); “Mantras and Hymns for Temple and Home Worship”.

Hindu American crowd consists of high intellectuals and well educated who are bringing up their children in a society, where major religion of the country is Christianity and also among different cultures and traditions. Inter-caste marriage among Hindus has become common leaning towards casteless Hindu Society.  Hindu children often find their life partners from Christianity which is the major religion, Jewish and occasionally from Asiatic origin of Buddhist belief or atheism. They are also attracted to Sikh, Jain Islam and Jewish partners.  Moved away from their base religions they prefer spiritual thinking or turn to atheism. Hindu Americans’ hunger for focusing thoughts on Universal Oneness of Sanatana Dharma (Eternal Tradition) moving away from details of orthodox ritualistic worship is understandable.  In addition to what temple authorities are already doing, following steps are suggested for consideration with the help of audio visual aids to bring focus on spirituality:

1) Displaying the central meaning and significance of various steps of the rituals being performed during   mass-worship explaining the Vedic mantras chanted in Sanskrit as worship proceeds through visual aids as we do effectively during dance, music concerts. Highly educated Hindu crowds Over-seas need conviction and do not accept unexplained authoritative religion as they are not impressed by blind faith.
2) Display of prayers of Praanaahuti (prayers before taking food) in the Prasaadam hall where food is consumed (part of Pancha Yajanas). This will make it a regular Hindu culture at the dinner table at homes also. Every religion has its code to pray before taking food thanking the Almighty and it is not peculiar to Hinduism alone.
3) Making American Holidays’ celebrations more meaningful and significant aimed at different deities (please refer to my various discourses). Some other suggestions are: Makara Sankraanti   for New-Year   Day to suit  all traditions and even acceptable  to  American  culture, being nearest to Christian calendar January First (which signifies birth of Christ being nearest to  Christmas). America celebrates many holidays as per convenience. Thinking of celebrating Teacher’s Day, Earth Day and Viswakarma Day as described in my discourses. Akshya Triteeya dedicated to Kubera; Vyaasa for Thanks giving Day ; Dattatreya for Teacher’s Day; Saraswati for  Graduation Day,   Viswakarma for Labor Day;  Manu for December 15 First Amendments Day instead of Christmas Day Celebration during Festival of Lights Season. Jews as well as some African traditions also celebrate Festival of Lights Season in their own way on different days during Festival of Lights Season.
4) Observing last five minutes of worship to meditation on Brahmoepaasana (meditation on OM or Brahman) sitting calmly before dispersing to bring home the concept of Meditation on Brahman and Universal Oneness as is prevalent in Vivekananda Rock and Bahai Temple in India as well as some temples in India. Even in India, orthodox worshipers in South India sit for some time gazing at the temple Vimaana at the Northern end of outermost circum-ambulation path and meditate on  Supreme. Here we cannot do that all the time outside along the circum-ambulation path due to weather conditions. This can be practiced in the main hall.
5) Mostly sticking to chosen  festivals significant to all traditions for special days; if sectarian festival or ritual worship is done it should be more broad based (For example  Sivaraatri focus could be on Panchabrahaman with  proper  explanation; Vaikuntha Ekadasi as fasting and Ekadaasi  day for  health consciousness for all; Karadaiyan Nonbu as Vatasavitri Day  or Pativrata Day; Akshya Triteeya as Kubera (who is invoked in all worships) Day; Upaakarma as repentance and atonement day for all by conducting Kamokarshit fire sacrifice  for all besides the thread changing ceremony for Brahmins only. [There are many others but some examples have been cited for guidance and needs further investigation to be based on proper study for common observance suited to all. Some Hindu festivals are common to all traditions too like Deepaavlai, Navaraatri and Makara Sankranti, Rama Navami, Krishna Jayanti, Mahaa Sivaratri, while many or not.]
6) Liberal display of Eco-friendly measures and dedication to Mother Earth to bring Eco-friendly consciousness in devotees. (Earth Day dedicated to Bhoodevi). Sanatana Dharma has several such messages propagating Universal Peace and Tranquility which needs to be explored and explained.
7) Arrange Vedanta Spiritual Discourses for all and spread the message of Sanatana Dharma.
8)  Periodic Spiritual exposure to priests grown with sectarian traditional and outlook.
9) Preparation of home manuals and guides for conducting worships and rituals with detailed explanation in English for guidance of constantly moving-in and moving-out priests and devotees. Ocean of information is available in Hindu literature in India in Sanskrit, English and vernacular languages, especially Tamil.
10) Any other measure and display which contributes to the cause of Universal Oneness and Peace on Earth.   Adoption of Paalika worship during private ceremonies (marriage, Upanayanam, 60th birthday celebration etc.) conducted in temples will be beneficial and will also be acceptable to all to bring awareness of eco-friendly measures (this is at present practiced only by South Indian Brahmin community)..
10) Temple Etiquettes and manners for entering the holy shrine and to maintain serenity of the place near the sanctum sanctorum. 

Is it necessary to explain every act of our temple ritual one may ask? After witnessing some of the actions of the devotees in simple rituals without understanding what they do and why we do, it would be clear how ignorant we are and why we need proper guidance. There are so many rituals done  with so much of ignorance? Let us take one simple act of breaking a cocoanut in temples with different significances. It is a common practice to break a cocoanut in front of the house to ward off evil on occasions like wedding, festivals, also before the use of a new vehicle, bridge or new house etc., to ward off evil. This is not prasaadam or food meant for consumption as it gets contaminated with the road dust and bacteria.  This is also done in temples when the processional deity is taken on the road or before starting the chariot or car festival. There was a time when animal sacrifice was practiced symbolizing the offering of our animalistic tendencies to the Lord. This practice faded over a period and the coconut, pumpkin or other gourds were broken on the road before the procession starts as if a Vedic sacrifice was conducted! Unfortunately the devotees consume this as blessed food (prasaadam).  Some may even carry the sacrificed pumpkin home and also cook it in their blind devotion. Hinduism does not propagate such unhealthy and wrong doings. The cocoanut that is broken before the Lord in the sanctum symbolizes the breaking of ego. The juice within representing the inner tendencies is offered along with the kernel—the mind, to the Lord. This is further sanctified with Pranaahuti Mantra. A mind thus purified by the touch of the Lord is used as Prasaada. This is not the same as the one broken on the road and not offered to the lord.  Tender cocoanut water is used in Abhisheka (bathing ceremony of the Lord) since it is believed to bestow spiritual growth on the seeker. Unfortunately such ignorance about these rituals is visibly seen even with the highly intellectual Hindu American devotees too. Volumes of   such acts of ignorance in our act of worship can be noticed and described.  It should also be remembered that the priest conducts worship only on devotee’s behalf and ultimately its fruits good or bad goes to the devotee only. He should therefore know what he is doing and why he is doing. Aagamas do not explain them except telling what should be done and what the benefit derived is; the priest never explains while conducting the worship in his own stereo style; often he may also not know why it is done! It is better to follow few rituals with full understanding than blindly copying it  from somewhere or following someone without understanding! We often see how ignorant we are about our well-intended rituals about which we gloat about and which need explanation! If this can happen with Hindu Americans think of the millions who are uneducated and go to temple with blind faith in India? We often do not even try to understand the little acts of rituals; we often do not understand the meaning of our prayers we offer to the Supreme; yet our aspirations are high-–to attain success in this life and salvation?

Of course we can take the horse to the water but not make it drink. It all depends on the individual, his aspiration and goal to progress towards spiritual evolution or postpone it to the future births and lengthen the process aimlessly feeling happy about what they are doing in this birth in their secular life! One advantage we have here  is the migrants are highly educated intellectuals and it is hoped the logic will prevail to get out of blind faiths and concentrating too much  on ritualistic details without understanding and plan their spiritual life better influenced by the Wisdom of Vedas than Puraanas, which have a  powerful hold on Aaagamas!oliday Celebrations more significant to all Traditions and to spread the message of H



REFERENCES:
1) Swami Bhaskarananda, Essentials of Hinduism, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India.
2) Prof. S. K. Ramachandra Rao, Indian Temple Traditions, Kalpataru Reserch Academy, Sankar Math,  
   Bengaluru, India.
3) Prof S.K. Ramachandra Rao,  Sreevidyaa-Kosa, Sri Satguru Publications, Delhi, India.
4) Balakrishnan S., Sankara on Bhakti, Bharatiya Vidya Bahavan, Mumbai, India.
5) Viswam, Sanatana Dharma, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India.
6) Champaka Lakshmi, Usha Kris, The Hindu Temples, Roli  & Janssen BV 2001, New Delhi, India.
7) Chandradhar Sharma, A critical Survey of Indian philosophy, Motilal Banarsidas  Delhi, India.

 APPENDIX


 Real Spirituality Is a Consistent Regimen

(By Rev. Brian Akers, Religious Science Minister, community leader & purveyor of social & spiritual Basseterre.)
If there were nothing else I could tell anyone about their spirituality I would choose to tell them about the importance of consistency.

Over the last 23 years as a Religious Scientist, many of those being the most formative years of my life, I've observed one thing that's caught my attention more than anything else; New Thought practitioners as well as members of traditional faiths have forgotten the real importance of consistency. This isn't an indictment... it's an observation.
 
When I counsel and teach people who've left a traditional theology I'm often met with stories about how the traditions and rituals had "lost their meaning" or "no longer felt fulfilling" to them. The concerning part? For some reason they also think that tradition and ritual have somehow become a bad thing altogether. I've been given a litany of reasons but none yet that seems to make any sense to me.

As I've mentioned in my writing before, I grew up wishing that my church community had more of these things. I wished for an annual service around the holidays that reminded me of the brilliance of our teaching. I would daydream about being able to share a tradition with the people whom I shared my most authentic spirituality with. I even longed for a "Right of Passage" in which I was honored for growing up, becoming a young man, entering and then graduating high school and the like. Maybe that would have helped members of my original community to see me as an adult when I became a practitioner and eventually a minister.
 
More important than all of those things is the consistency of Spiritual Practices. When I look at some of the traditional teachings and all of their well outlined approaches to Spiritual Practice I can't help but admire the role those things played in the spirituality of countless human lives and in the growth and spread of those traditional teachings. Forget the actual theology, the words they chose to use, the movements prescribed and even the regularity with which certain things were done and replace them all with concepts and ideas that speak to your soul. For me, that's the philosophy of the Science of Mind.

You see, in our teaching the primary key is to use our conscious mind to help clean out the old patterns of thought that have plagued us or otherwise distracted us from our awareness that we are divine by nature. How do we do that? Simple. Commit ourselves to a New Thought! Your welcome to those who may not have understood why the use of the words "New Thought" were popularized as a spiritual movement. Back to the point, changing the way you think isn't something that just happens for the majority of us. Most of us need to work really hard to actually change the way we think about things. It's not because something's wrong with us or anything. We've just spent SO much time thinking the way we already do that changing our thinking can be tough to do, just like any other bad habit.
 
Having a committed spiritual practice and a community that has consistent spiritual traditions and rituals is a vital piece of support that could help us make the adjustments we want to make in our lives. Imagine your spiritual community like a huge group of people you go to the gym with and your ministers and practitioners as personal trainers. That means the things you do together are your exercises. That doesn't mean you can't exercise alone, or in different ways in other places. It just means that with this group of people you are committed to consistent exercises that you share so that the whole community gains the benefits of the exercise AND the communal support. So next time you think about what you may need to do in order to have a better result from your spiritual endeavors, check in with yourself and ask if your prayer, affirmations and other spiritual practices are being done with the same deliberate, repetitive and repeatable approach that we see the many great religions of the world model for us. Again, this is not an indictment of yourself...it is an honest observation. If you're not hitting the gym like you know you need to in order to lose those extra pounds you know it. The same is true about your spiritual regimen. It's not good or bad, better or worse. It's just a way to find out if you're actually practicing your faith with the vigorous enthusiasm required to demonstrate the desired results in your life! www.itsreallyreal.org