The Primary Mission of the Vedic Temple
by Stephen Knapp
It is not often recognized, but the primary mission of the temple, over and above everything else, is to inspire others to take a serious look into the real purpose and practice of the Vedic spiritual path and to participate in the tradition. Many think the main purpose of the temple is to provide a place where people can simply go to do their prayers, pujas and observe the holy days. Of course, that is part of it or it would not be a Vedic temple, but without invoking the inspiration to do that, especially in the youth, then in another 2 or 3 generations many of our sparkling new temples will turn into mere warehouses, or at best museum pieces.
If temples can provide and invoke the proper inspiration in its members and visitors, this will help secure the continuation of the temple, the Vedic community, and the culture itself long into the future. Some of the most difficult assets the temple has to attain are funds and manpower, or the help to continue its programs. If it can invoke the inspiration, then the funds and voluntary service will follow so that it can continue with its programs, whether they be pujas, holy day festivals, educating the youth, and so on. Therefore, it is imperative that temples and the managers and priests must arrange things in a way so that everyone becomes increasingly inspired to participate in temple activities and the Vedic tradition itself. People should be inspired and, thus, motivated to:
1. Recognize the benefits of the Vedic traditions;
2. Understand the tradition and its purpose more deeply;
3. Realize why they should participate in the culture and its spiritual practice;
4. Through service or seva, get a deeper taste and spiritual happiness, and a sense of fulfillment from the Dharmic path that cannot be attained through the temporary glitter of material pursuits or the mental preoccupation of sensual desires;
5. To acquire what is the secret knowledge about life and its purpose, knowing that it cannot easily be found anywhere else;
6. Understand our eternal spiritual identity and connection with the Divine;
7. Help in the operation of the temple for oneself and others, knowing the temple is like the launching pad to the higher purpose of life, and the spiritual dimensions of existence, and certainly to the more refined states of consciousness and fulfillment that everyone seeks, and which the Vedic literature describes.
In this way, the temple and the way it conducts itself should help in the transition of people from being mere observers, to appreciators, to participants, up to taking responsibilities to help the temple in service to the deities and other temple members, or the general community. If the temple can do this, then it and everyone associated with it will secure a bright future, not only for the temple, but for the whole Vedic community, for the Dharmic tradition, and for humanity as a whole.
So first, let us look at these basic points of inspiration the temple must provide, and see how a person can progress from one point to the next:
1. To recognize the benefits of the Vedic tradition.
When you visit a temple, the benefits are not always apparent. Naturally, you may see the beautiful grounds around a lovely temple building. Or you may get darshan of the gorgeously decorated deities, which should be inspiring in and of itself. You may also see the intricate rituals and hear the prayers or chanting and realize you should attend the temple more often. But without understanding the benefits, it may only take a cricket match or ball game on television to distract you away from attending the temple. So it should go deeper than that. People need to be able to comprehend the activities and rituals, at least on a basic level, and then perceive the benefits and blessings we get from such activities, and why it is good to participate. This leads to the next point, which is:
2. To understand the tradition more deeply. We have seen that if the priests or pujaris explain the rituals while they are performing them, or if there is a class in the temple on the meaning of the rituals and the philosophy, or if books are available, or if there are temple study groups to join, we can begin to see and understand the deeper purpose of what goes on at the temple, and why we should be a part of it. Another thing that has always been helpful is if there are prayer books that contain the words of the mantras or bhajans that are used in the temple. But these should be in the original Sanskrit or Hindi with Roman transliteration, and with English interpretations. Then people can follow along or understand it with more appreciation, especially the youth who may not know the traditional languages.
In this way, as people begin to perceive the benefits and purpose of the temple and the meaning of the activities that go on there, people will be encouraged to increase their appreciation for what the temple has to offer, and to support it.
3. The next step is to participate. It is one thing to be an observer with appreciation, but it is another thing to be a participant. When a person decides to participate, no longer is he or she merely watching what others are doing, but he begins to be a part of the pujas, and prayer or chanting sessions, bhajans, or he even begins to help organize festivals on holy days, or with cleaning the temple, and so on. This opens the door for one to receive the higher taste of seva or service, not only to the temple, but for the deity in the temple. This is how a person begins to get to the next point.
4. Getting the higher taste of spiritual happiness and fulfillment by being engaged in spiritual activities. This is the reciprocation between oneself and the Divine. This is when temple management should be able to guide a person in the proper services that guests and progressing devotees can do. This is when one enters the stage of being convinced by direct experience and perception, however simple it may be at first. Combined with Vedic spiritual knowledge, along with sadhana or practice, and with the performance of seva, no other process can deliver one to deeper and deeper levels of that higher taste more effectively than this.
When a person begins to feel this reciprocation, or also begins to understand the importance of this culture, then they naturally want to give back. They feel that they want to provide support for this great path of Vedic Dharma and spirituality, and for the connection with God that they feel. Then they want to do service, they want to contribute to the cause and the temple. I have seen this with people so many times.
5. The temple can also inspire people to recognize it as the preserver and protector of sacred spiritual knowledge, and the center for educating people in it for those who can humbly approach it. The temple can be viewed as the center for the secret knowledge that can hardly be found anywhere else, and which can give a person the means for point number 6.
6. Understanding your true, eternal spiritual identity and connection with the spiritual strata. This only has to be reawakened by being guided in the Vedic formula and process, a part of which is observing the activities in the temple which helps make things easier. Why is this secret knowledge? As it is described by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita: "This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed." (Bg. 9.2)
This means that it is a natural process of purifying or spiritualizing our consciousness so that we can actually perceive that which is spiritual. It is not a mere dogma that must be followed without understanding or without question. But that we advance according to our own development until we eventually reach direct perception of the self. There are few processes that can do that. Nonetheless, just by following the path we can attain the supreme spiritual peace, which is something that is not easy to find. As Lord Krishna also explains in the Bhagavad-gita: "In this world, there is nothing so sublime and pure as transcendental knowledge. Such knowledge is the mature fruit of all mysticism. And one who has achieved this enjoys the self within himself in due course of time. A faithful man who is absorbed in transcendental knowledge and who subdues his senses quickly attains the supreme spiritual peace." (Bg. 4.38-39)
Now tell me, where else can you find this kind of advice? This is the significance of this sort of information from the Vedic culture, which everyone should understand. This brings us to point number seven.
7. When a person fully understands all that we have described so far, and especially when one begins to experience the higher taste of such spiritual practice, then he or she will also help in the operation of the temple in some way. This will not only be for his own continued progress and spiritual development, but he will be inspired from within to work for the development of all others in order to give them the same opportunity to experience this deep Vedic culture. There is also no faster way to develop spiritual merit than to assist or help make arrangements for the spiritual progress of others.
ADDITIONAL WAYS TO DO THIS
This list should also pave the way to brainstorm to develop new ideas for expanding this purpose of the temples. For example:
1. There can also be Festivals of Inspiration, or festivals to celebrate the Dharmic tradition. Holding such festivals, either combined with other holy days or not, can bring people together to celebrate the Vedic path, and to become more inspired by what it has to offer. Such festivals at the temple can have special events and guest speakers to present such topics as:
A. The history and significance of the tradition;
B. How to overcome certain problems while on the Dharmic path;
C. How to raise or have a spiritual family;
D. How to increase one’s progress on the Vedic spiritual path;
E. How to be practical and realize deeper levels of spirituality.
2. Home study groups, where people get together for basic classes and discussions to help everyone become more familiar with the philosophy, get acquainted with others on the path, enjoy that uplifting association, and also serve prasada, sacred food, and savor a comfortable environment with others that are like-minded.
3. Special classes that outline instructions for home activities in the practice of Vedic spirituality, such as how to establish a prayer and meditation or temple room in the house, or how to engage in a process for one’s own spiritual practice or sadhana at home, etc.
4. How to engage in outreach programs to reach the local community, or how to share your own experience of Vedic culture with other people you meet so they can appreciate it and become more curious about it, or even invite them to visit the temple to see it for themselves.
5. Develop more ways to involve the youth.
These and other programs can be utilized to increase everyone’s enjoyment and involvement in the culture, and use the temple as the center of the tradition.
BASIC SERVICES THAT GUESTS
CAN OFFER FOR THE TEMPLE
These are ideas and services that guests can perform in their service to the temple, but, of course, should be offered under the guidance of temple management who can show people first what and how things should be done. No one should come to the temple and then decide for themselves whatever they want to do, which can be contrary to the overall plan, or in some cases can even be destructive to what is trying to be accomplished.
1. Remove weeds from the flower or vegetable garden.
2. Help with planting flowers,
3. Water flower beds,
4. Assist with Vegetable garden,
5. Lawn Mowing, or raking or blowing leaves,
6. Edging sidewalks,
7. General gardening, mulch & landscaping work,
8. Cleaning the
9. General pot washing or kitchen clean up,
10. Helping clean hallways, carpets, stairways, etc. in the temple,
11. Assist with Sunday feast clean up or pot washing,
12. Help with picking
flowers for deity garlands,
13. Help with flower delivery set up & clean up,
14. Clean up temple: floor, altar gates, Vyasasan, charanamrita set up & hand cleaning area, drain and clean water pots, clean mirrors and windows, dust walls, etc.
15. Clean up bath rooms,
16. Organize shoe area and glass doorways,
17. Assisting with festival preparation & organization or clean up, or car parking,
FOR THOSE SPECIALLY QUALIFIED
18. Help with Sunday feast vegetable cut up,
19. Deity kitchen floor & stoves,
20. Help with deity garland making,
21. Deity laundry,
22. Deity dress repair,
23. Assisting with caring for Tulasi plants,
24. Making a daily
sweet for the deities,
25. Brick & cement & stucco repair work,
26. Painting: outdoor & indoor,
More ideas can be suggested according to the needs of the temple. But these duties should be planned and ready for those who want to offer service for the temple. Anyone who is willing to do service should not be turned away as if they are not needed. Everyone, if they are qualified and can accept direction, should feel they have something to contribute, and be shown how. This is the beginning in a person’s spiritual growth, which can be very important, and how they continue to contribute to the well-being of the temple, which in turn contributes to their own spiritual well-being.
[This article in from www.stephen-knapp.com]