[Excerpts from letters and articles by Swami Chinmayananda]
God, the Lord is All-pervading, but to invoke Him we need an Altar. Even though Narayana pervades everywhere, He can directly be contacted in a TEMPLE. The Temple is a place conducive to ‘fine-tune’ your mental equipment in order to receive the Divine Message.
In every country it is a general practice to have monuments representing great national heroes. These monuments act as reminders and inspire the generations to live up to the ideals set by these heroes. Since ours is a spiritual culture, drawing sustenance and strength from the spiritual ideals lived and demonstrated by the avataras, it is our tradition to preserve and cherish the sacred idols of avataras in TEMPLES, for the idols represent the ideals they lived. TEMPLES served as holy halls of retreat for the masses. Their architecture provided an effective medium where the creative arts were fostered, and education for the cultural revival of the country was made available.
As a devotee visits a temple and in true spirit of devotion, kindled by the epics and puranas, is inspired by the vision of the idol he feels a thrill of joy and inner peace, inspite of the prevailing tensions around. It need hardly be emphasized how much more temples are necessary these days. They would serve as “speed-breakers” to soften our hectic blind rush-forward in life. They would also serve as source of inspiration and solace during times of depression and disappointments, which are mostly beyond our control. Building of temples was, therefore, considered as a sacred activity in ancient times, as sacred as any other community service.
Temples are the monuments of our Culture. Temple is a social centre and must become the place of cultural revival. A temple is a place of reverence (Sangam) where the love of the mind and respect of the intellect (Ganga and Jamuna) join together. Temples should function as the very heart of the community, responding most sensitively to all the changing needs of the society. The “Houses of God” in the past stood as intelligent guards protecting the needs of the community and therefore, they were extremely respected and revered and very devotedly served by the grateful members of the community. The love and care and the enormous sacrifice that they had made in building these edifices of beauty and grandeur eloquently speak volumes of their loyalty and gratitude. These are to be generated in their hearts by the service, both secular and sacred, rendered by the temples.
A Temple becomes famous not because of its elaborate architectural beauty nor its dimensions. When a large number of devotees continue to visit year after year, day by day, the center gathers a growing glory of divine presence. Within a community, such temples declare the beauty and culture possessed by the society. Temples are where large masses of people congregate and thereby develop in their thoughts and actions a RHYTHM, at once loving and divine. For centuries, temples and worship of the Deities held the Hindu society together, providing a common bond of love and devotion, creating among them a great sense of pride and brotherhood. Temples: community inspiration centres from where spiritual ideas and thoughts are spread out into the community.
To revive a true interest in the Temples, we must gain a clearer understanding of what are the significance of their “Divine Representations” (Deities) and in what way each one of them is suggesting some aspect of the Infinite Self within. No piece of stone in any temple can provide for the devotee his life’s goal of achieving happiness and peace. But, without an idol self-improvement ‘is impossible’. The method of superimposing a meaning upon an object is the technique called IDOL-WORSHIP. The idol is the means; self-discovery is the goal. To confuse the means with the goal is the Grand Trunk Road leading to sorrow. The idol serves the spiritual aspirant as a spring-board to heave himself out of samsara and plunge into himself. The IDOLS in temples are to remind the devotee of the IDEAL, the Supreme. To the earnest devotee, the idol appears as a living embodiment of his Lord. All “poojas” are techniques by which you learn the art of putting the mind where the hand is working. However, it is necessary to remember that the idol is NOT God, but represents God.
TEMPLES are only places to discipline one’s mind. The mind must be perfectly tuned to receive the message of the Divine. The temple visits and worship should elevate the mind of the seeker and help him to keep his mind in a higher plane. A temple fulfils itself successfully in a “bhakta” when he comes to enquire into the nature of Godhood, the nature of himself, the structure of the world and the relationship between these three. At “this” moment the integrated personality of the “bhakta” though physically standing in front of the “sanctum sanctorum”, has grown to such a stature that he no longer can be contained within the confines of any Gopuram….
Just as a gymnasium is for the science of health, the temple is for the science of Reality. Temples are gymnasiums for the mind. You have to go there and apply your mind in it. Remember that it is a mental gymnasium. Surrender the mind in devotion unto Him. He will purify it and return it back to you immediately. You must go to the temple, and tune up yourself in order to get the message of the Divine.
In India, we don’t build a temple because we have money or we can collect money. It is always ordered or commanded by an Acharya. When an Acharya decides what deity or deities should be installed in the temple, thereafter there is no difference of opinion amongst the public. Temples are built by the members of the community, through a temple building committee. But every such temple committee is fulfilling the wishes of a Guru, or of an Acharya. The Guru accepts the plan, sanctions the administrative set up, decides upon the altar to be raised, and generally lays down the tradition to be followed by that DEVASTHANA. He watches over its conduct and appoints one or two of his people into the Executive Committee to be his eyes and ears in the day-to-day affairs and conduct of the temple.
Religion is to bring out the best in man by helping him to shed his animal passions still lingering in his mind which has evolved through the animal stage. This self purification is gained through devotion to the Lord, by everyone, through meeting and interacting in a common place like a TEMPLE, which serves more than the modern concept of a community Hall. Temple has to serve as a total schooling for the growing children. MAY WE USE THE TEMPLE IN THE CREATIVE FIELDS OF MOULDING THE CHILDREN AND THE YOUTH OF OUR COUNTRY.
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