The temple….who needs it?

A temple in Eastern Uttar Pradesh.

A two-week get away seems like a great relaxing bonus for enduring the mundane. I recently took what amounted to just that when I drove my RV from Phoenix, AZ to my childhood home of Cincinnati, Oh.

One of the first things I noticed when I pulled into a rest stop and attempted to get some sleep was that I had forgotten my murti, Lord Ganesha. When I travel I always take him and or Lord Shiva with me. It is comforting to have a material representation of my deeply held beliefs, and so I was quite annoyed that I had omitted them. I have Lord Shiva on my car fob. Yet since I was in the RV I didn’t have that one either. I did however have The Gita and my mala beads and so between the reading one and doing jappa on the other, I felt in close contact with my ultimate reality.

I had a nice ride and really enjoyed my visit, the purpose of which was to attend a high school reunion. Reunions are great times to reflect the past, contemplate the future and, evaluate the present.  Having done all three, I realized how fortunate indeed I am to have embraced this path of Sanata Dharma.  Two of my former class mates have converted to Islam, and both have changed their names accordingly. I am still wrestling with that one. There are several factors involved besides just the actual name change which are best left to another post. I enjoyed seeing my friends from high school and recalling old pranks and antics long since submerged into the annals of our childhood.

It was en-route home that I noticed a feeling of void. Initially dismissed as the general decline of excitement following any event which one has long anticipated, I realized it wasn’t entirely that. While saying jappas one day, I realized that it had been over a week since I was in a temple. That was it! I missed the temple. The shoes piled outside, clusters of people greeting each other, the ringing of bells, people chanting,  kneeling, seeing fresh flowers and fruit offered to the Gods and the feel of the soft smooth tile underneath my bare feet.

I am familiar with the concept of some

Arizona Ekta Mandir, Navratr, Hindu communities
Devotees celebrate Navratri at Arizona Ekta Mandir. Much more than “just a building,” temples often serve as the social, spiritual and cultural pulse of Hindu communities.

 Hindus that if you are living right, or doing daily home puja then you “don’t need the temple.”  Until then, I never had a chance to test that theory. Perhaps it was the missing murtis, but then I was doing a bit of Bakti yogi with the “tools” at my disposal.  No, it wasn’t that. I missed all aspects of communion with the divine, I yearned for the temple. 

Temple architecture was designed to provide spaces for effortless meditation and where the various deities radiate their own energy and intelligence. As many people meet in temples to communicate with and perform rituals to these deities, the energy abounds and becomes all-consuming to those who are receptive. Put quite simply, I missed it.

When I returned, I went to the Monday night Shiva Puja. It was very uplifting and refreshing. I prostrated myself before God, participated in the Shiva abhishekam and thanked my Lord for a safe and enjoyable trip. After that, speaking to friends I had not seen in a while and just basking in temple darshan, I finally felt that sense of completeness one gets when he is finally home.

Maybe it is my western upbringing, but I cannot stay away from the temple for an extended period of time without what I call “temple withdrawal”. You see as Christians, we were  taught that “going to worship” was primarily in the church and that the gathering of the faithful should be done as community and as often as possible, which for Catholics is daily (mass), but for Protestants is Sunday, and in many of them Wed., or the mid-week services.

I wonder if other Western Hindus have such a feeling. As more of us embrace the path, we will invariably bring with us remnants of the spiritual ways of life we leave behind.

The temple is very important to some of us, especially westerners, and certainly more than “just a building,” because unlike ethnic Hindus, we do not get the cultural aspect of Dharma in our homes or businesses. No matter how spiritual we are inwardly, it is affirming and satisfying to enjoin our spiritual family at the temple. I am thankful it is there. Who needs Temples? I do.