Vedic Temples as Centers of Sacred Knowledge
By Stephen Knapp
Vedic temples should be known as centers of sacred spiritual knowledge and practice. Such temples are often known as being places of worship where devotees can go and see images or Deities of the Divine, offer prayers and service, or pujas to uplift us or for other various reasons. They are also the places where we can stay in touch with the Vedic tradition and observe the holy days and its customs, and get association with other like-minded people. These are only a few of the important purposes of our temples.
For most of us this is enough, and we are content to continue going to the temples for such reasons. But for some of the younger generations, this may not be enough. Many will continue to respect the traditions found in the temples, at least in their own way, but they may also look at the worship to the Deities as less important, that it may not apply to their own lives so deeply. So, the meaning and the purpose of the temples need to be viewed as more than this. Thus, Vedic temples should also be viewed as centers of sacred spiritual knowledge, or places where we can attain the wisdom of the purpose of life that can be acquired no where else.
If temples are also viewed as centers of deep spiritual knowledge, then it takes on a different role than only a place of worship. The Vedic spiritual knowledge offers the most profound level of insight and understanding on the purpose of our existence and what is our real identity. It provides a rare and unique view of how we fit into this world and what we are meant to do here. This knowledge needs to be preserved and distributed. And temples are the best places to provide that kind of education. But to be viewed as centers of deep spiritual knowledge, such awareness must also be found in the ability, character, and knowledge of the priests and managers within, and they must also provide the means to distribute such knowledge. This can be done in an assortment of ways, but primarily through classes and the distribution of books, not only in the rituals or pujas that are performed.
Books on the spiritual Vedic knowledge are very important to hand out and sell to one and all, but examples of this knowledge must also be made available. Thus, classes should also be arranged so everyone with the time and interest can go to gain the additional insights through discussions with others who know the information and how it can be applied in this day and age. This is one thing that has been said amongst Hindus themselves, that most are not educated enough in their own culture. So, this is only a part of the responsibility of our Vedic temples, which can allow them to be viewed as more than merely a place of worship, but a place where the unique Vedic wisdom on life can be attained.
This Dharmic perception is not simply temporary knowledge, but is something that can be used throughout one’s whole life, up to and including the time of death. This, combined with the facility of approaching the Divine in the Deity and offering worship, prayers, meditation, etc., makes the temples similar to launching pads wherein we can propel ourselves to higher dimensions, or even get a glimpse of the spiritual atmosphere. It is through this transcendental knowledge and the process to realize it that enables us to begin to understand the importance of the temples and how to see who we really are and our connection with God.
Being viewed as centers of sacred spiritual knowledge adds a level of respect to the institution and what it can provide for us. The younger generation, along with everyone else, needs to feel that the temple is hollowed ground for allowing us to approach and view the Divine in the Deity, but also for the sacred spiritual knowledge that allows us to attain a higher view and understanding of who we are, as well as the importance of the Vedic tradition that we follow and why we follow it. If we do not provide this view, or if the Vedic process is seen only as a vehicle of faith and not a path of personal realization, gradually the whole Vedic system will fade. Its importance will become forgotten and the main reason for going to the temple will slowly become lost with each succeeding generation. Thus, the temple must remain places of worship, but also centers for preserving, upholding and distributing the sacred Vedic spiritual knowledge.
HANDING OVER TEMPLES TO THE YOUNGER GENERATIONS
I have seen many times how the temples we have today are organized and maintained by a management team that is increasing in age, growing older and less able to do all that they once did. So, how are these temples going to continue? And how is this spiritual Vedic knowledge going to remain available and handed down through the generations? Thus, it is imperative that the younger people realize the importance of not just going to the temple and observing the rites and pujas, but also realize how the temples can help them in their preparation for life’s ultimate purpose.
This Dharmic information cannot be attained through secular schooling or colleges and universities. This knowledge cannot be attained through all the time spent playing cricket or basketball, or by engaging in whatever social organizations and activities that we often find in schools or society. Naturally, there may be a need to play sports to stay fit, and to develop one’s self socially at different times, but for how long does one use such knowledge or ability in life? And how much longer can one use the spiritual knowledge that can be provided from the temples? We all need to realize this difference and the value of the latter.
Younger generations need to see that temples are an important aspect of one’s social, cultural, and spiritual development as well. They need to see that without the facility provided by the temples, and without the special knowledge given within the Vedic system and its numerous texts, life remains incomplete. Regardless of whatever else is accomplished in life, the disregard for spiritual development leaves a gap in one’s fulfillment of reaching our highest potential.
In this way, viewing the temples as centers of great spiritual knowledge can help young people and everyone recognize the importance of such institutions, and why they also need to become involved in managing them and helping with their continued operation. One problem is that they often do not feel they are respected by their elders. They may be interested, and the elders may want their participation and discussions, up to the point where there is some disagreement in ideas. Then the youth feel the elders no longer want their involvement. So, the younger people go on their way and then lose interest in helping with the temple operation.
Thus, there needs to be some give and take. Naturally, elders often feel the younger generation does not always want to listen to them. Of course, when it comes to traditions, such as the rituals and how they are performed, the principles for worshiping the Deities and things like that, there should be no changes or reduction in the set standards. Things should be done according to the directions given in the Vedic texts and commentaries. Otherwise, there will be a loss in the traditions that are meant to be observed and performed. The younger generations need to understand this, but in the proper manner. And understanding the reasons for such rituals and what they represent through the Vedic spiritual knowledge will help instill the necessary insights for their continued observance and preservation.
This is one of the responsibilities of the priests, to not only know and uphold the proper standards of worship and in doing the rituals, but also to be able to explain the meaning of them in ways in which people, especially the youth, can understand. This can be done in supplying explanations while doing the pujas, or with special classes and demonstrations wherein such things are explained, or even in brochures and handouts made by temple management so people can read them for their own learning. Also, all the prayers that are used in the rituals can also be typed and supplied, in Sanskrit, Hindi and English, or whatever languages are best, and made into prayer books, so that people can understand the prayers and mantras that are recited during the pujas and relate better to what is going on, or in some cases even sing or chant along with the puja. This always helps convey the practicality and purpose of what is being done, which is more important than ever these days. This is another of the ways in which the temple can distribute the unique and sacred spiritual knowledge for which it must be known.
However, when it comes to the operation of the temple, or the outreach programs, the way the temple newsletter or website are designed, the way people are involved in the temple, and how to interest the youth, the ideas of the younger generation can and should be heard. Things change with every generation. There is almost a new language that is used between them, and the way we reach them may also need to change. They can help with that. Plus, if they feel their ideas are at least respected and heard, if they can actually do things in the temple and feel they are a contributing factor in the success of certain things, like a Janmastami holiday celebration or other activities, they will feel like they should be more involved. Their enthusiasm will increase. And they will be more willing to honor the elders of the temple and learn the ways of the Vedic standards. Respect breeds more respect. When the older generation feels respected by the younger ones, their fondness for the younger generation increases. It also works the other way in that when the youth feel respected by their elders, they also feel more respect for them. Thus, they become more willing to work with the elders and understand why things are done a certain way, albeit a certain latitude for change needs to be exhibited for the youth.
This sort of development needs to be there if we are to see a continuation of the temples we are building. There is no point in building more or bigger temples now if they only become empty later on after another generation or two. Thus, they need to be viewed as places of practical worship for the devotees, places of service, prayer, and meditation, but also as places where we preserve our culture and the Vedic tradition by the sacred knowledge held within, which must be carefully disseminated to one and all.
WHY GO TO THE TEMPLE?
I will end this article with something someone sent me through email.
A 'devotee' wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to the temple. “I've gone for 30 years now,” he wrote, “and in that time I have heard something like 3,000 mantras. But for the life of me, I can't remember a single one of them. So, I think I'm wasting my time and the Gurus are wasting theirs by giving services at all.”
This started a real controversy in the 'Letters to the Editor' column, much to the delight of the editor. It went on for weeks until someone wrote this clincher:
“I've been married for 30 years now. In that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But, for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I do know this... They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to the temple for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!”
When you are DOWN to nothing..... God is UP to something! Faith sees the invisible, believes the incredible and receives the impossible! Thank God for our physical AND our spiritual nourishment! And thank God that we can still go to our temples, and that we have temples to go to. Let us not waste the opportunity. Let us go to our temples and absorb the Vedic knowledge and wisdom which nourishes our soul and fills the emptiness left from materialistic endeavors.
Jai Sri Krishna.
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