Path to Siva Commentary, Lesson 60
Good morning everyone. Today’s lesson is from Path to Siva, Lesson 60:
“What Is the Purpose of the Temple?
“The temple is where we worship and commune with God and the Gods. Here, devotees are uplifted and receive the inner help they need to live a positive, fulfilling life. Temples are sacred for three reasons: they are constructed in a mystical manner, they are consecrated with special, complex rites, and thereafter continuous daily worship builds a holy force field. Our grand Saiva temples are like no other place on Earth. Some are more than 1,000 years old. Strict rules from the Agamas are followed to create such holy spaces where holiness, God, can reside. Gods and people work together to establish the temple and assure it will be used only for worship. Over the years, the power becomes strong, forming an invisible, glass-like bubble or shield around the temple. This keeps out gross vibrations and allows the heaven worlds to be strongly present. As you approach God’s home, you can feel the spiritual energy, and as you go inside you are engulfed in peace. Here the devas and Gods can easily hear your prayers. Here the ancient scriptures are chanted, the traditional rites knowingly performed. Here joyous festivals are celebrated and arduous pilgrimages concluded. At the high point of puja, as bells ring loudly and conches blow, the Deity sends rays of blessings through the enshrined image, or murti. Flooding your aura, this energy can erase worries, clear confusion and relieve sadness. Devotees leaving the temple feel inspired and lightened of burdens. Gurudeva explained that the stone or metal images are not mere symbols of the Gods. The image is the physical-plane form through which the God’s love, power and blessing flood forth into this world. The image is like a temporary physical body the God uses during temple ceremonies. The temple, God’s home, becomes a truly sacred place for us when we know that the Gods are real beings and the purpose of going to the temple is to experience their blessings.”
And we have Gurudeva’s quote:
“A Siva temple marks an agreement between God Siva and the people on the Earth as a meeting place where the three worlds can consciously commune.”
Earlier this year, Yoganathaswami, we attended the kumbabishekam of the Ganesha Temple in Phoenix Arizona which is actually slightly outside of Phoenix in Maricopa. We’ve been working with that temple since the very beginning and they always ask us to come for ground breakings and kumbabishekams. This was a twelfth year anniversary kumbabishekam. So temple’s been around a while, twelve years.
And I developed a standard talk. I said: Well, I’m going to get organized here and develop a standard kumbabishekam talk. So I pulled together the best of my previous kumbabishekams’ talks into one talk. And the talk was in different parts. The first part was four common questions. These are questions that young Hindus like to challenge older Hindus with shall we say.
So first one relates to the first part of the lesson: “Since God is everywhere why do we need temples?” That’s a good one, huh? Oh this question was actually asked at a kumbabishekam originally. But the story has grown over the years as they do when you reach out and retell the story it gets more and more interesting.
At the Perth Siva Temple, they built this very large temple in Perth Australia and they moved the Sivalingham which is interesting. They had a smaller building and they had a Sivalingham in it and they moved it; they moved an existing Sivalingham. Somehow they didn’t do it correctly cause it messed up the weather. And everything was blowing for a couple of days. The yagnasala tents almost blew away, the planes were having trouble landing, you know, it was a mess. Have to be careful when you move a Sivalingham to do it carefully.
But this was during the kumbabishekam, the story itself, and the group of youth, youth in Hinduism is usually defined as anyone up to thirty years of age. So the group of youth was talking to me during the break. The spokesperson for the group was the daughter of the temple’s president. And she was a budding young lawyer fresh out of law school and not too recently and set up to give me a hard time I think. You ask him these questions, you know. So she asked this question. “Since God is everywhere, why do we need temples.” And then she went on to explain it costs so much to build them. And then, Perth gets very cold in the winter, this huge airspace. You know you have to heat it and spend all this money on utilities to keep the temple warm. Wouldn’t the money be better spent on something else?
Very good question, right? God’s everywhere, why do we need a temple? As I say, I’ve told this story so many times it keeps changing. But, the current version is this. Well, God is everywhere; God permeates this room, right? How many of you can see God permeating the room? So they had to admit they couldn’t. It’s a great theory, right? God permeates this room but you can’t actually see God permeating the room. So, I went on to explain that you have to be a great yogi to perceive God in the room, to perceive God anywhere. Can be done but it’s not something most people can do. Have to be a great yogi to be able to see God in any place you are. Actually perceive God’s presence cause it’s very subtle. God is a very subtle presence. We go outside and try and see God in the trees and in this and that. It’s a very subtle presence.
And then I gave the comparison. If you want to see a distant galaxy what do you do? You go to an observatory, you use a powerful telescope and you can see the galaxy which otherwise you can’t see. If you want to see into a cell, what do you do. You go to a laboratory and you use an electron microscope and you can see anything you want in the cell. So God’s the same way. You go to the temple and through the sanctified murti that’s how we can easily see, see God. So that the temple and the murti within it are set up so that anyone can feel God’s presence once they have enough devotion. You have to qualify it. If you haven’t developed devotion you won’t be able to feel God in the murti as an energy which is the first way we perceive God. Why is that? Because we’re not open enough. Devotion comes first, that leads to openness to the deity. We have trust the deity, we have to open up just like we’re opening up to someone we’re close to. We have to open up to the deity in order to feel the energy. One, two, three. Devotion creates openness. Openness allows us to experience the deity.
It’s one way you can tell a Hindu or someone who’s been exposed to Hindu teachings with Hindu at heart, you sense an openness. You don’t sense it in all people. You can watch on tour day and see who comes and see who has an open, openness that they’ve cultivated through developing devotion and who doesn’t. So, not a criticism, not criticizing people for not being open, not that’s not the point. The point is, it’s, you can that someone is in the Hindu flow if they have that openness. You know, they’ll greet you in a certain way and so forth. There’s an openness there.
So, the temple has that quality to it and explains there why: construction, consecration and continuous daily worship. That’s the phrase I choose cause I like illiteration. Everything begins with the same letter, right? So construction, we can’t just build a temple any way that we want we need to build it according to the agamic guidelines, it’s obvious. Consecration is the English word for kumbabishekam and kumbabishekam basically turns on the temple. Before then it’s a construction site. We need a kumbabishekam; a very powerful ceremony to turn on the temple. And, then you need to follow that up with continuous daily worship. If you turn it on and you don’t do the continuous daily worship it’ll dissipate. So the continuous daily worship initially perpetuates what was created at the kumbabishekam and then over the years it, it strengthens it. So that’s why the text says, you know, over the years the temple develops a protective shell, for example. It takes a while. And then when you go in the temple it really feels like a different world. Why does it feel so different? Cause it’s got a protection around it it built up over the years.
In my keynote there’s a little dome and the temple’s inside of it. So graphic dome which shows it has a half circle over it to protect it from astral forces, astral beings. Well those are the three things that are required and of course we’re talking about an agamic temple. This whole lesson, there’s many temples that aren’t agamic. But again that’s not a criticism of temples that aren’t agamic, they’re just run a little differently. Quite often the devotees touch the murti for example. In the agamic temple can’t touch the murti, boy, everybody would yell at you: “No, no, you can’t touch the murti.” So it’s different. It’s intended to be different. That’s that idea.
Then there’s one more question here, see what it is: “Do Hindus worship idols?” That’s the second question. Idol worship. Course my original joke about idol worship is Hindus sometimes are described as idol worshipers but if you watch them you can see they’re very energetic in their worship. Most people didn’t get that. They’re not ‘idle.’ You know, they’re moving around a lot, they’re very energetic. Told that joke in Canada first time. But very wonderful talk. This was a kumbabishekam in Texas at Fort Worth Temple. And they have a Pancharatra Agama priest who they brought who was also a scholar and able to explain things in English. So they actually had him periodically through the ceremony which is something we might consider explain. Well this is what happened, this is what’s going to happen and so the people could relate better to what was going on. Really nice. And so this was at the point where, you know, I think this is the Siva lin.., well it was all the murtis but the Sivalingham was the largest one because the bottom part goes into the ground so really long this one I remember. You don’t see most of the Sivalingham when it’s a carved granite piece, it’s inside in the ground.
His point was they were pouring milk over the murtis to purify them, that’s so the devotees got to do that. It was a high point. The devotees got to pour milk over the murti and then later on they got to oil the murthi when it was put into the shrine. That’s the last time you can touch the murti so special in that type of ceremony.
He explained that right now we’re purifying, I think he called it the statues. We’re purifying these statues or idols. But, tomorrow we’re having a ceremony, prana pratishtha which infuses energy into them or transforms them into the Deity depending on exactly how what tradition you’re in. So right now you could call them idols or statues but once they receive prana pratishta they’re holy. They’re not a statue anymore. They’ve been infused with divine energy from that point on. So, we’re worshiping something that’s been infused with divine energy and the deity, during the puja, resides in the murti. So that’s the agamic concept. It’s true for both the Vaishnava and Saiva Agamas. And lots of temples have both. They have images of the Vaishnava tradition, images of the Saiva tradition, they even have priests of both traditions. So but what they have in common is they’re both following agamas. So they both have this same concept about the murti. So the quote from pancharatra text, pancharatra is one of two Vaishnava agamic traditions. It’s the more prevalent one. The other one is called Vaika Natha, so in case you’re interested.
This concept is explained in the pancharatra text Satvata Samhita. This is how that tradition looks at it:
“When the perfectly designed image is systematically installed He occupies the concerned image. By his gracious presence in that image He gives concrete and visible expressions to all of his transcendental and imperceptible qualities.”
Nicely said, hmm?
Then we have Saiva Ajita Agama.
“Sivalingham puja is for the purpose of invoking the presence of Sadasiva in the lingham.”
Pretty direct, right? So, during the puja, depending on the tradition you look at it a little bit differently but what they have in common is during the puja the deity is in the murti. Either during the whole puja or the part of the puja.
And Gurudeva says the same idea:
“We worship God Siva and the gods by their infinite powers spiritually hover over and indwell the image or murti which we revere as their temporary body. We commune with them through the ritual act of puja.”
And Gurudeva goes on, I won’t read the rest of the quote, it compared to the telephone. How the murti is like the telephone, we’re using it to communicate.
So those are the two of the four common questions. “Since God is everywhere, why do we need temples?” And the answer of course is: God’s too subtle as we said, to experience by most people. We need the temple to give us the murti through which we can experience God if we have enough devotion and openness to experience the God’s blessing. If we don’t have the devotion we won’t have the openness. And we don’t have the openness we won’t experience anything.
And: “Do Hindus worship idols?” Prana pratishta transforms it. So it’s no longer an idol or a statue afterwards.
Thank you very much. Have a wonderful day.
Aum Namah Sivaya.