The role played by a temple in a society often goes unnoticed and less publicized Sometimes it is even questioned why do we need temples? Critics immediately cite the amount of money spent in building new temples and maintaining existing temples, which according to them can be spent in fulfilling pressing needs of the society namely food, clothing and shelter. Certainly it is quite sad to see people suffering without basic necessities of life and its true that many humanitarian organizations are helping them and huge work can be done in that area. This does not diminish the imperative role played by a temple. Only temples can integrate and develop an entire community and certainly there can be no other substitute for this in our modern society.
Peace of mind
Food, clothing and shelter cover the basic needs of the body. In the same way the basic need of mind is peace. In the current lifestyle where stress and pace are on the increase, mind gets agitated a lot. Sometimes people wonder if peace of mind a luxury one cannot afford. Modern way of life comes with anxieties causing burden to mind. To relieve us of this burden one needs short breaks that allow one to take rest and regain strength. Without such nourishing breaks one becomes less effective in their personal functioning and get easily irritated in their interpersonal dealings. This leads to so many problems that can be easily avoided. Though movies and television give temporary relief it often leaves us with agitating thoughts and unending desires.
Contrast this with the temple atmosphere; temple is one of the few places you can go to and immediately get peace of mind by just being in the premises. This is made possible by the constant divine vibrations that pervade the temple, the prominent presence of the Lord both in the form of His deity and constant chanting of His holy names. People returning from work in busy cities enter this divine atmosphere and participate in the activities like arati, taking darshan and sitting down to relish the healing serenity. This way their burden is taken off, they get mental rest, refreshment and recharge which helps them to cope with the challenges of life. By providing much needed mental rest, temple contributes to the society. So, the first and foremost of the social services provided by the temple is giving peace of mind.
One may question the need for spiritual education in the age of science. Though science tells us how to do things it does not tell us why to do things. Only spirituality can teach that. Modern education produces professionals technically competent in their field with the main motive of earning money. For this purpose they may cheat others. Although this cheating propensity can be attributed to a human defect, real education has to rectify those lower human tendencies and also impart the concept of serving others and not just making an earning. Unfortunately modern education fails to do that. For example if a doctor is professionally trained and also has the right attitude of serving his patients by curing them of their pains, then it creates a new culture. This is more than being moral because morality in itself will not last long. When a person is being taught to have high material ambitions and grow rich that becomes his ultimate goal of life. To achieve this he may follow the moral way for some time but when he sees that being moral slows him down in achieving his goal, he will find ways to circumvent morality or completely give it up.
Spiritual Education has two important aspects by which this deficiency in modern education can be fulfilled. Firstly Vedic scriptures teach us about the impermanent nature of material world and the happiness experienced at bodily and mental level. Secondly they tell us where to find ultimate, everlasting happiness that cannot be taken away from us. We are given adequate explanation about our real nature as soul, more than being body and mind. We occupy the body and mind just as we live in an apartment and don’t identify ourselves as the apartment; we are distinct from the apartment. Our source of real happiness comes from re-establishing our lost relationship with the all-attractive Supreme Lord. This goal of loving God is common in all religions and is non-sectarian.
One may question how by making love for God as one’s goal of life makes one moral and how is this practical. Vedic texts explain how each and every living entity is part and parcel of God and how He loves them all as His own sons. This concept acts as a solid foundation through which we can see how love of God results in love for all living beings. This is the real way of universal brotherhood by accepting God as the all-loving father and all of us being brothers and sisters in that universal family of God. Now our love for all living beings will enable us, inspire us to serve others which in turn creates a culture of trust, care and true love. This way love of God helps us to find inner happiness thus freeing us from selfish, lusty, greedy and egoistic motives. In this way morality does not become a difficult choice but a natural choice through spiritual education.
Temples play a vital role both in imparting spiritual education and also providing an environment to practice what is imparted in Vedic texts. By regularly discussing the cream of Vedic texts like Srimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad Gita in the temple people get the opportunity to hear, think, enquire further and apply it in their life. Just by being connected to temple and regularly attending the sessions, many have started leading a service-oriented lifestyle. This lifestyle involves dealing nicely with others and also doing practical service to God. Temple not only acts as place where we experience God’s love towards us by being present in the Deity form, through His pastimes, holy name and His devotees, but also gives us an opportunity to reciprocate with the Lord. Some of the ways this can be done are by offering fruits, vegetables and flowers, cleaning and decorating the temple, cooking for the devotees, participating in the festivals and so on. One of the important ways of reciprocating the love is by encouraging others to visit the temple. Just as father is pleased with a son who is trying to bring a brother close to the father, similarly those who try to get others close to the Lord by bringing them to the temple, become dearer to the Lord. This is how a temple not only imparts spiritual education but also gives an ideal environment to practice what we learnt.
The spiritual education offered by temple not only enables a person to lead a better life but because it is in line with the Lord’s plan, he can lead the best life and help others also lead the best life. Earlier we saw how spiritual education enables a person overcome his lower nature and also gives him highest happiness. Such a person will always interact with others nicely as he is happy and content; secondly he will not exploit others for his selfish motives but rather serve them. When such a person becomes a leader, he will use all the power, influence and resources given by God to serve others with compassion. The purity of such a leader will enable him to understand the plan of God as revealed in the scriptures and further explained by spiritual master and saintly person. Vedic scriptures state that only those who are ready to be led by the plan of God are qualified to lead others. By imparting spiritual education, temples provide an ample opportunity for the knowledge of the past to be transported into the present generation, thereby creating pure hearted leaders of good character and devotion to God.
Investment or liability
No one objects when people spend money in entertainment which creates a temporary break from material life, then why not invest in temples which provide better spiritual breaks and lasting refreshment. No one objects when new universities are opened for imparting modern education, then why not invest in temples also which are universities for spiritual education. Both private and public sectors need leaders of good character, then why not invest in temples which can produce high quality leaders? If temple as one institution can cater to all these needs then one should understand that it is a necessity and not a luxury. So happily be a part of it, and not criticise it.