Role of a Temple
Published: Apr 14, 2017
I have had the good fortune of visiting beautiful Hindu temples in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, North America and Trinidad, and have come to deeply appreciate the many services they provide to the community. My first experience with temples was in India, with two temples in particular. One was close to the house; the other was on the way to school. Both provided mystery and fascination. Recital of scriptural verses, sprinkling of holy water by the priest, sound of the conch being blown, pouring of milk over the Shivling, glorious sounds of Vedic verses, sweet melodies of keertans, and above all receiving prasad at the end of the Aarti ceremony, made the temple a place full of wonders for me.
Small children enjoy visiting the temple, but as they become older, they begin to lose interest and become experts in finding excuses. “I have too much homework; I need to study.” “I have no time for the temple.” “All my friends are going to the game; no one is going to the mandir.” “I don’t understand anything that goes on in the temple.” These sentences become very popular dodging devices.When the teenager becomes a young man, he says, “I don’t need to go to the temple. God is in my heart, and He is everywhere I go. Moreover, I have a personal relationship with God for which I don’t need to visit a temple.” These excuses are concocted by a mind which no longer delights in visiting a place of worship. The temple has lost its charm, because the mind is becoming more and more attracted to the world and the intellect does not understand the extremely important role a temple plays in life.
It is true that God is omnipresent. The Vedas say, “Sarvam Khalvidam Brahm.” Although He is equally present everywhere, yet we fail to experience His omnipresence. A visit to the temple provides a feast for the senses, and more importantly, for the mind. Looking at the deities of God dressed in beautiful garments and decorated with charming ornaments attracts the mind towards God. The other worldly fragrance of incense burning at the altar transports the mind to a mountaintop ashram, a place of pilgrimage, bank of the Ganges, and yes, even the divine world. The various aspects of the temple serve as powerful reminders of the Supreme.
As Hindus, we are aware that almost every day of the year is an auspicious occasion and a reason to celebrate the glory of God. Our temples become the perfect place to celebrate these occasions, providing nostalgia for the older generation while creating new memories for the younger one. The shared cultural, religious and above all spiritual experience is an extremely valuable and yet overlooked service provided by our temples.
Many prefer to visit the temple when there is no one else around. The solitude and the peace and quiet of the temple make the mind calm and free of worldly worries. Benefits of the time spent in quiet meditation on the Supreme have long- lasting effects. They become an antidote to various anxieties that life in general brings on a daily basis. In the beginning, the devotee may see only idols made of stone. In time, he sees the benevolent Lord looking towards him with merciful eyes.
Temples provide an opportunity to render service, and this service is rendered directly to God. While helping clean the main prayer hall, the lobby, dining hall or any other part of the temple, you get a distinct feeling that you are cleaning the dwelling place of God. If you are engaged in preparing food in the temple kitchen, it is easy to visualize your Lord looking into the pot and appreciating what you are cooking. Whether you are cooking, cleaning, doing yard work, teaching children, serving food, washing pots and pans, making phone calls, working on the website, or writing articles, you receive a unique happiness that can come only from rendering selfless service. Temples give members of the local community the privilege to serve physically as well as financially. By serving the temple, you serve not only God and the community but also future generations to come.
By inviting knowledgeable speakers from time to time, the temple offers community members a chance to strengthen their knowledge of scriptures and to gain spiritual inspiration. Children gain invaluable support through Hindu camps which are made available to them, as well as language, music and dance classes. By meeting others with the same religious background, children may form life-long friendships through the medium of the temple.
Loneliness is a bane of the elderly, who have spent a lifetime serving their families, and in old age they suddenly feel isolated and abandoned. For them, the temple is a blessing. It is here that they can connect with their peers, and provide support to the temple through skills they have acquired in life. They start to feel productive again, and this boosts their self-confidence. Their mental well-being contributes to their physical good health also.
All in all, temples provide valuable services to you and your family. Take advantage of the facilities and services gifted to you by your local temple. Remember at the same time that temples deserve to be supported. They must be served so that they may continue to serve. Be generous and lend financial and physical support to your temple. If you are a donor and a volunteer, you already know how fulfilling an experience this is. If you have not yet begun, start today.