THE SIGNIFICANCE OF TEMPLES
September 01, 2003
Des Plaines Mandira

India's first temples were memorials at sites significant to various incarnations and saints of God, such as their birthplace. These places held much significance to devotees and people visited often to offer their respects. For example, during Rama Bhagwan's time, people began worshipping those sites sanctified by Rama Bhagwan in Ayodhya. Temples were also created in devotees' hometowns. These local temples made it convenient to offer worship everyday. Local temples included the placement of a deity or symbol in a town's common gathering place or more privately, such as in the home. As a result of diverse needs and customs, many different types of temples evolved. Hindu scriptures explain temple design that supports devotees' experience of God's presence.

Historically, there were also cases in which the people running temples, instead of giving proper advice and inspiration, became more concerned about keeping people from going anywhere else. Also, instead of keeping people at their temple by offering love and personal care, some heads began to nurture a fear complex amongst devotees. For example, much of society back then was based on farming, and thus dependent on the weather. Due to this, priests would often be called upon to pray for a good harvest season and favorable weather. But as education became more prevalent and with the advent of the industrial revolution, temple heads gradually brought focus back to devotion.

During His travels as Neelkanth Varni, Swaminarayan Bhagwan saw many impurities and bad activities going on in temples. (In Vachanamrut Gadhada First 68, Swaminarayan Bhagwan explained, "That moorti may appear to be wooden, but through its eyes [in samaadhi during the famine of VS 1969] I observed everything. I observed both the bhakti and the deceitful ways of the temple priest.") Swaminarayan Bhagwan put much effort in changing these negative practices and developing temples with worthy spiritual heads. For example, in Shikshapatri verse 126, Swaminarayan Bhagwan put guidelines such as forbidding temple heads to sell grains that have been given as donation; further, if the grains become old, they may be traded but not sold.

Perhaps as a result of some sour experiences, today there are many that have the philosophy that temples are not needed. But it is important to understand the actual important role of temples. Imagine if there was only one single gas station in an entire city. It would be extremely cumbersome to fill gas because the line would be very long. Similarly, as there are more and more temples, it should be considered a greater boon to society. For one thing, temples give shelter to saints and visitors. Individuals gain a lot from temples too. At temples, people make vows to become good citizens and lead pious lives. Blessings of saints, moral teachings, and cultural ways are all picked up from temples. People usually have the desire to contribute to a temple and thus a temple supports humanity and general religious growth. If India did not have temples (or America did not have churches), there would be many outlaws and unimaginable problems!

Spiritually, a temple is a place where one's journey to God often begins. Just as one cannot earn a degree without a school or without a teacher, temples bring maturity and depth to a devotee. Besides finding peace at a temple, one also learns to live in harmony with others in the temple. An important thing to keep in mind when going to a temple is to not see negative in anyone there - otherwise the purpose will never be accomplished!

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