Temples as Centres of Learning
Many a times, a question that arises in our minds is whether do we really need spiritual education? Especially in the age of science? The fact is that science tells us how to do things, but spirituality alone teaches us why to do things. For example, the medical colleges teach how to cure a patient, but they don’t teach why to cure him. Consequently, many doctors see their patients as money minting machines and often subject them to needless tests and treatments so as to earn more out of them. Similarly, in every profession, when the motive of earning takes primacy, professionals end up exploiting their clients.
The purpose of real education is not just to train students in technical skills, but also to rectify the lower human tendencies. Sadly, modern education fails to do that. Learning is not just for earning, but for service. The doctor’s real duty should be to serve the patients, to free them from their pains and to heal them. One can imagine how much better our world would be if everyone were working to serve each other, not exploit each other. Spiritual education can create the culture of service. Without spiritual education, most people will not be able to stay good or do good for a long time; they would soon succumb to an immoral, exploitative mentality.
Being good and doing good or living by moral principles is like following traffic laws for smooth and safe travel. The purpose of travel, however, is not merely to follow the laws but to reach the destination. If a traveller feels that the traffic laws delay or obstruct his reaching the destination or that there is no policeman to catch him, he will soon become tempted to break the laws.
Like traffic laws, moral principles promote order, especially orderly social interactions. But modern education doesn’t teach us about the goal of social transactions or the goal of life itself. So, most people choose by default the incessantly glamorized goals of modern consumerist society – wealth, enjoyment, prestige, power, possession, position. The Bhagavad-Gita, which has been acknowledged as a philosophical masterpiece by Emerson, Einstein, Gandhi and many other thinkers worldwide, explains graphically how such a materialistic worldview leads to corruption and degradation. When the social culture aggressively propagates materialistic goals and education does nothing to counter this propaganda, then morality appears unnecessary and even undesirable, resulting in the mentality:If the goal of life is to earn money and enjoy life, then why be honest, when honesty will severely limit my earning and enjoyment? By hook or crook, earn and enjoy. There’s no God in front of whom I have to account for my deeds; there’s only this one life for me to enjoy. I just have to make sure that whatever I do, I do it cleverly enough to not get caught.
More the materialistic propaganda spreads, more the immorality increases and not just in earning, but in every form of enjoyment. According to the US Congressional Quarterly, in the 1960′s, the top disciplinary problems in US schools were sticking gum under school desks, noise during classes, breach of dress code, littering the classroom and running in halls. Now, the top disciplinary problems in US schools are drugs, alcohol, pregnancy, suicide, rape, robbery and assaults on teachers. As India is becoming westernized, these problems have started showing up will come here also.
Ultimately, everyone is seeking happiness. Spiritual education helps us understand where to find the highest happiness. Most people like materialistic happiness, but such happiness is always temporary; we have to lose it all at the time of death and sometimes even earlier. Moreover, even that temporary happiness is illusory. The Bhagavad-Gita explains that we are not our material bodies; but are spiritual beings, souls. We are temporarily occupying material bodies, which are like our vehicles. Satisfying the body by material enjoyment is nothing more than giving fuel to the car. Just as car fuel cannot satisfy the car driver, material enjoyment cannot satisfy the soul and so it is essentially illusory. And worse still, even this illusory happiness always brings misery with it. The Mahabharataexplains that before we acquire material pleasure, we hanker for it; when we acquire it, we worry about losing it; when we inevitably lose it, we lament over the loss. We can summarise the nature of material enjoyment by the acronym TIME: Temporary Illusory Miserable Enjoyment.
Spiritual education doesn’t stop with condemning material happiness, it also points the way to a better form of happiness, a source of happiness that can never be taken away from us. The Vedic texts explain that as souls, we all have an eternal loving relationship with the all-attractive Supreme Lord. In loving and serving God, we can relish supreme and everlasting happiness; the more we love God, the happier we become. The scriptures of the other great religions like Christianity and Islam also describe love of God as the ultimate goal of life .Hence, love of God is the non-sectarian, universal, spiritual goal of life.
Love of God certainly directs our vision to the other world, the eternal spiritual world beyond the temporary material world. But this other-worldly goal does not make us impractical; rather, it builds the most solid foundation for living practically in this world. Just as when we switch on the master switch in a house, all the lights in the house automatically turn on, love for God similarly results in love for all living beings. We realise that all of us are brothers and sisters in the one universal family of God. When we love all living beings, we no longer desire to exploit or manipulate others for our selfish interests. Instead, our love for God inspires us to love and serve each other. This creates a culture of warmth, trust and service, which encourages moral behaviour. This contrasts sharply with the modern culture of alienation, suspicion and exploitation, which fosters immorality.
When we follow a genuine spiritual path, even in its early stages, it triggers our inborn value system. We intuitively realise that God is our greatest well-wisher and that the rules He has made for us are in our ultimate interest. So we voluntarily and lovingly choose to lead a life of moral and spiritual integrity, as ordained by God, and as we find inner happiness by loving God, we become free from selfish, lusty, greedy and egoistic drives. No longer do we feel we are missing something because of our morality. Morality ceases to be the difficult but right choice. Rather we choose morality as the natural path to our spiritual growth.
Just as food, clothing and shelter are the basic needs of the body, peace is a basic need of the mind. Today, there is practically no system to provide for this basic mental need. Worse still, our fast-paced, stress-filled lifestyle agitates our mind a lot. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared that the greatest medical challenge of the current century will be not AIDS or cancer but mental health problems. The temple is one of the few places where once can immediately experience a deep peace just by going into the premises.
The tranquility is a natural result of the divine vibrations that constantly pervade a temple. Those vibrations result from both the presence of the Lord in his deity form as well the constant chanting of His holy names. Many, many people come to the temple in the evening to de-stress themselves before returning home. They take darshan of the deities, attend the worship or sit in the temple hall taking in the divine atmosphere. Thus they became mentally recharged to cope with the challenges of life.
Many of us feel that peace of mind is a luxury that we call ill afford when we have so many duties to perform for our family, office and society. The fact is that peace of mind is not a luxury, but a necessity that enables us to perform our duties sustainably. To lift a 5 kg weight for a few minutes is not difficult. But if we were to lift it continuously for the rest of our lives, it would soon become a burden, an unbearable burden. We would need to relieve ourselves of the weight by short breaks that would allow the muscles of our arm to rest and regain strength. Similarly our duties and the anxieties that inevitably come with them are like burdens on our minds. If we let these burdens weigh our minds constantly, they exhaust us mentally. We need short breaks that allow our minds to rest and regain strength.
People try to get these breaks through entertainment, by watching TV and movies. Entertainment may sometimes refresh us, but often it leaves us with more agitating thoughts, desires and memories.
On the other hand, when we go to the temple, we take those mental burdens off and sooth our minds with the healing serenity that pervades the temple. Then when we are mentally rested and refreshed, we restart our duties with greater effectiveness. In fact, because people don’t take such nourishing breaks, they become ineffective in their personal functioning and irritable in their interpersonal dealings, leading to so many avoidable problems.
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