How Do We Visit the Temple?

Path to Siva Commentary, Lesson 61

Good morning everyone. This morning we’re reading from Path to Siva, Lesson 61:

“How Do We Visit the Temple?

“We go to the temple to be close to God. Though Siva is everywhere, it is in the holy temple that we can most easily feel His presence. Knowing that Siva and the devas can see us, we want to look our best. Before our visit, we bathe and put on clean, traditional clothing. We bring an offering, such as fruits, milk and incense or a lovely garland of flowers. The act of giving makes us receptive to blessings. Outside, we remove our shoes and wash our hands, feet and mouth and seek blessings at Lord Ganesha’s shrine. Next we walk clockwise around the temple or the central chamber, then pay respects to each Deity. If it is puja time, we sit quietly and enjoy the ceremony being performed by the priest. Through his chant, gestures, visualizations and offerings, he purifies himself and honors the Deity with choice offerings, as one would receive a king. He calls upon God to come and shower blessings on all. During the puja we focus on the acts of worship, not allowing our mind to wander. Over time, we learn the meaning of the priest’s chants and rituals and mentally follow along. After the arati we prostrate and rise to receive the flame, blessed water, holy ash and other sacraments, receiving each item with the right hand. Then we sit quietly and meditate, or just feel the blessings wash over us. This is also a good time for japa. Worship takes many forms in a temple. Devotees can be immersed in the joys of devotion, lost in prayerful communion, seeking consolation for a loss, singing devotional songs, chanting mantras or celebrating a rite of passage. Arriving home, we light a lamp in our shrine room to bring the devas from the temple into that sacred space. Pujas and rituals give us a chance to pause, look inward and concentrate on something more meaningful and profound than the mundane matters of life. Puja is holy communion, full of wonder and tender affections. The indispensable part of any puja is devotion. Without love in the heart, outer performance is of limited value. But with true devotion, even simple gestures are sacred ritual.

We have Gurudeva’s quote:

“In our religion there are altars in temples all over the world inhabited by the devas and the great Gods. When you enter these holy places, you can sense their sanctity.”

Number of years ago I wrote up a list of ten suggestions for getting the most out of visiting the temple. The idea was, if you’re going to the temple why not maximize the benefit, right? So, do it in a certain way we get much more out of it than doing it in other ways. So here’s some suggestions:

[#1] Attend the puja at the temple at least once a week. This allows us to experience the Divine energy of God and the gods on a regular basis and helps keep us pure as well as strong in our religious commitment.

Gurudeva has an interesting way of expressing this. I think it’s the idea that if he said go once a week then maybe you’ll go once every two weeks. So what he says is: “Hindus should attend the temple every day.” So at least once a week. So, therefore, you probably won’t go every two weeks, end up going at least once a week.

Well, why is that important? We can talk about that at length but just to make one comment. One of the benefits is the flow of our karma. Karma is the experiences we’re going to attract to ourself and the karma doesn’t happen in a totally fixed way. The general experience will come but it can come in different or intensities, shall we say. And, particularly for negative karma we want the intensity to be as the least possible. We don’t the intensity to be full force. If the intensity can be reduced on negative karma this is good. That’s one of the benefits of coming to the temple on a regular basis such as once a week. The karma assuming we’re worshiping in, with sincerity and all, the negative karma will work out with less intensity. It will still happen but it won’t be as destructive in our life. This is one of the benefits that Gurudeva explains in his writings.

# 2. Have special traditional Hindu clothing that you only wear to the temple, simply wearing this elegant attire helps put you in a religious mood. Of course, the children should also have their own traditional outfits for the temple.

Maybe something we don’t think about that often but the clothing we wear does change our mood. Take a sports team for example. If they were all wearing their own individual clothes and trying to function as a team they would have more trouble than all putting on uniforms. So they all put on the same uniform and help them function better as a team just wearing the uniform. Changes their state of consciousness. So, having special clothes for the temple makes us, changes our mood. Just that simple act of putting on the clothes, we’re going to, for the temple. And this is important for children as well. I remember going to Chennai a number of years ago and probably a couple of weeks for our temple there, number of the young boys had their baseball caps on backwards at the temple. Didn’t seem particularly appropriate. Wasted trip.

Whereas you go to Holi for example and it sets the high standard even with, the youngest of children are wearing traditional clothing. Every person who goes to the temple looks so elegant, even the two year olds. So they value it somehow in the culture it’s looked at as very important. We need to have our children dressed right to go to the temple.

#3. Make your travel time to the temple a religious time. Don’t allow yourself to focus on problems at home, work or school. Don’t think about politics or business instead play religious music, bhajan or Sanskrit chanting on the car’s audio system. Tell the children uplifting stories. This centers the family and helps them arrive at the temple in a religious frame of mind making everyone more attentive to the sacred ceremonies.

In other words, if we don’t do that, we just perpetuate our normal concern and discussions about mundane things. We come to temple and we’re thinking about mundane things. And it takes a while to shift our mind from those to being in a religious mood. So we’re wasting time. We’re at the temple and we’re doing what we could have done in the car. We could have shifted our mind into a religious state of mind before we came.

#4. Bring an offering. Ideally bring a flower or fruit for each shrine at which you are going to worship. Each act of giving opens you to the blessings of the deity. When we give first we increase our receptivity. Therefore never visit the temple empty handed.

That’s very important, “receptivity.” We were talking about that last talk. We used the word openness. Means the same thing “receptivity” or openness. Very important to be as open as you can to receiving the blessings of the deity or as receptive as you can to receiving the blessings of the deity. So the opposite of receptivity is you’re closed off. This mudra. It’s closed off mudra, sometimes you see men at the back of the temple standing there like this and you can tell that their wife forced them to come. So they’re there under protest. “I’m not going to receive any blessings.” I am not receptive. So, I’m just joking but it does happen. But the important point is we want to be open. We want to opposite of this. And one way to be open is to bring an offering and to give it in the right spirit and then that helps us to be more receptive to receive it. We want to give before we expect to receive.

#5. Put as much time and prana into the offering as possible. Prana is the energy that exudes from your hands. Buying a garland at the stall is good but making it with your own hands is even better. When the garland charged with your prana is placed on the deity it is as you had touched the deity. This creates an extra closeness.

Well that’s something you may not have thought about. It actually creates a psychic tie when you touch something, when you touch it multiple times such as in making, such as in sewing a garland, you’re touching it a lot times. You’re hooked up to that and so when that is placed on the deity, you’re hooked up to the deity, touching it. So it’s a wonderful practice where that’s possible just to make one and have it offered to the deity.

#6. During the puja keep focused on the murti and the priest chanting. Pay attention don’t let the mind wander. When singing bhajans keep focused on the meaning of the words even if you don’t know the meaning of every word it is good to have a general idea of what the priest is chanting and what the bhajan means.

The common statement I get told is: “I don’t understand what the priest is chanting. Why doesn’t he chant in a language I can understand?” Well if he did you’d understand it but it wouldn’t have any power. Power comes from chanting in Sanskrit. My response is always: “You don’t have to understand every word you just need to understand what’s going on.” For example, when the incense is going around you know he’s chanting about offering incense. Very simple. It’s not a complicated thing. He’s offering flowers; you know he’s chanting about offering flowers. So if you just study it a little bit you can see what he’s doing and if you want study it more show yourself the sixteen steps that are outlined in lots of literature including ours. He goes through sixteen basic steps.

The main point here is pay attention. As the text says, we want to concentrate on what’s going on. The basic idea there is we’re talking about, we’ll come to the temple but that’s only part of it. It’s what we do in the temple that also counts. It’s not enough just to come. And the example I use for that is someone’s favorite music. Everyone, most people have one or more favorite kinds of music. It really uplifts them. They put on the music and they feel better. It uplifts them. They’re listening to the music and it changes their mood; it improves it. But what happens if you put on the music and you don’t listen to it? Your favorite music is on, you’re there but it’s not uplifting you because you’re not listening, right? You’re not paying attention to the music. And music only influences you when you pay attention to it even if it’s your favorite music. You have to pay attention in the moment for it to influence you. Puja’s the same. You can’t expect it to influence us for us to get the maximum blessing cause our body is there but our mind in thinking about something else.

It’s one of the reasons the deity is made attractive. It helps us concentrate on it. Beautiful colors, beautiful clothing, jewelry, very attractive so it holds our attention. Because we need that to happen in order to get the maximum benefit.

#7. After the puja don’t rush away. Rather sit, stay, meditate a while and bask in the divine energy radiating out through the murti to the devotees. If one of your spiritual disciplines is to perform japa this is also an ideal time for your mantra chanting.

Gurudeva stresses this in the Master Course Trilogy. He says: The natural time for someone to first practice meditation is after the puja. He give a whole all practice of how sitting after the puja you can internalize the energy you’ve experienced, how it can take you within and awaken the amrita, the energy from the head. Beautiful description. What’s the easiest time for someone to first practice meditation is after the puja. Wasn’t, it’s a quiet place, can’t be thousands of people rushing around.

#8. You can really summon the religious atmosphere of the temple home with you by simply lighting an oil lamp in your shrine room when you return from the temple. This sacred act brings devas who were at the temple right into the home shrine where, from the inner world, they can bless all family members and strengthen the religious force field of the home. This is one of my guru’s special insights into the mysticism of temple worship.

I’ve never seen that one anywhere else except in Gurudeva’s writings. The idea you can bring the temple home. It’s the first thing you do when you get home is light a lamp in your shrine room. Brings the vibration, bringing the devas of the temple home. And if you do that at least once a week then you’re creating a strong tie between the temple and the shrine. Or you’re shrine building on the temple’s vibration. Getting stronger by drawing on the temple.

#9. The divine energy of the deity is stronger on some days than others. We just experienced that, Maha Ardra. Attending the temple on strong days is helpful in attuning oneself to the deity’s blessing. For example there is stronger blessings on yearly festival days such as Ganesha Chaturthi for Lord Ganesha. These days are determined by the ancient signs of astrology maximized with the spiritual energy.

One of the challenges many temples in North America have is that people won’t come unless it’s a weekend. Takes too long to drive to the temple and drive back. If they’re working they can’t get there and Hindu festivals in North America are not public holidays yet. May be in the future. So the festival gets celebrated on the weekends. So you’re missing the astrology; vibration isn’t there. The special yearly vibration isn’t there except on that day and except during certain hours. Needs to be done during the time spot. Need to know when the festival begins and when it ends according to the panchangam then you can have the right time. And as the point is stating, if you are still at the stage where you’re trying to attune yourself to a deity if your sensitivity to the deity isn’t that strong yet. It’s really helpful to do so on the annual festival day. So a lot easier to get closer to the deity, get more attuned to the deity on that day than any other day. Once you’re strongly attuned to the deity it doesn’t matter as much.

#10. Taking a vratta-vow. The festival is helpful in intensifying your worship. Festival vratta is to fast during the day, attend the temple festival ceremonies in the evening and only afterwards have a meal.

So there are periods, for example in our tradition Skanda Shasti, six days, very common for fasting on each of the six days. Lots of people worldwide do that. And it helps, helps you get more out of your worship. The more you put into your worship the more you get out. In this case the vratta helps you focus on the deity all throughout the day because you’re not eating so you’re, you’re more conscious of it being a special day devoted to that deity.

So thank you very much for listening to that.

Tags: Upadesha
Author: Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami
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