Temples and shrines are considered spiritual havens for several reasons. Hindu temples and shrines are built with optimum ground plan or Vastu, with the presiding deity placed in the Bramhasthana.
The location of most swayambhu temples such as the Vaishnu Devi and all Jyotirlingas is significant in that the idols, Shivlingas or Shaligrams appeared here on their own and are not manmade. These shrines are enlivened or made jagrat with by ritual pujas where the deity is awakened in the morning, given a bath, fed during the day and lovingly laid to sleep daily.
Many temples idols are made of makrana marble, shaligrams or panchaloha all of which has the property of absorbing negative energy. If the temple has been constructed with due diligence, keeping the above things in mind, then visiting these shrines will bring positive energy and inspiration even for the brief time that you are there.
However, faced with long queues, lots of noise, pushing and jostling and overall temple mismanagement, it can be difficult to maintain one’s peace and calm in busy temples.
My personal experience
I have had some blissful darshan at many temples including Tirupati and the Jyotirlingas. The experience starts from the time you take the journey and are absorbed in the thought that you are visiting the Lord. You are concentrated on your inner-Self. When you reach the city of your pilgrimage, you wake up early morning for the darsham and attend aarti in the evening and overall it is a wonderful spiritual experience.
Over time, I have been able to connect with the Divinity within and I find that if one goes within, he doesn’t need to visit anywhere else. Now my meditations provide me the same inner bliss and spiritual connection wherever I am.
The four steps of Self Realisation
The spiritual journey of self-realisation comprises several steps. Once you have developed the connection outside, it is easier to go within with the same sanctity. To have Yoga with God, all four paths are important and they are mutually compatible. You need bhakti (selfless service), you need karma (living your life purpose and your duties). Also you need dhyana (self-contemplation and meditation). And You need Gnana through spiritual books and satsanga. Bhakti is invoked through visiting temples and shrines, doing kirtans, bhajans, rituals and participating in festivals. Bhakti is pure devotion. In Bhakti there is no judging of crowds, the rituals, the difficulties involved in making the pilgrimage, the hardship of walking barefoot. Just as Mira Bai loved Krishna beyond reason, Bhakti involves surrender to the Divine beyond logic. The heart has to be awakened with love.
Lessons I Learnt
In my personal journey, I started on the path of Gyana Yog equipped with logic and reasoning. The Trimbakeshwar templehad a strong attraction for me and in every visit to that shrine, I have learnt lessons. On each visit I encountered many situations that I found hard to accept: There were priests accepting bribes to let you overtake others in the crowd. Inside the temple I found the priests shouting and calling out to each other when I was trying to meditate. Surprisingly, people in the garbha griha talk the loudest. Some will even signal you to put money in the offering thali. From the moment you reach the temple, you don’t have a single moment of peace with the deity. I had intense anger from this experience. I asked the Lord : why do you allow this chaos, this injustice? Have you no compassion for the people who stand in long queues to reach you? Again when I visited at night, I saw the same people sweeping the area and putting the deity to sleep. On my return, I again questioned Him – why? And then He responded: These are people I allow to come closest to Me. They are with Me 24×7 – if I can accept them, what’s your problem? Do you consider yourself a devotee bigger than everyone else?
Understanding and acceptance dawned on me at this. I realised that if temples became really accessible and convenient, people would be flocking there always, possibly spending all their time there. People wouldn’t realise the value of self-contemplation, and seeking the Self; they would have become grossly dependent on temple deities.
I was humbled at the thought. I could meditate a few seconds, be considerate of the temple management and leave. But what about those who manage the thousands of people visiting every day and by regulate their entry and exits? These people are doing their duty to the Lord.
Another time, I was climbing the hill beyond the Trimbakeshwar shrine, thinking myself to be a big devotee for climbing the five hundred steps. I had on my sports shoes, sunglasses and hat. Then I was humbled to see village women and children climbing alongside me barefoot, their thin bodies barely nourished. As I panted at every few steps, they were smiling and encouraging me to climb with them – their joy was written on their faces. To me it seemed like a task, and for them it was a joy to see the Lord. This taught me the meaning and power of Bhakti.
Another instance from Triambakeshwar: Flowers and garlands are not allowed inside the temple. Even though they are sold outside, these are tossed into a bin few metres away from the shrine. I was in the queue at 5 am to visit the temple and I had gone empty handed because of this logic. But I saw people were carrying baskets and were very particular about asking the flower vendor for the biggest and the freshest flowers for the Lord. I asked one person: why are you taking these? He replied: Are we going to meet our beloved empty handed? This humbled me so much, I went and bought a flower basket myself.
Bhakti is Supreme
Bhakti is love beyond logic. Bhakti is very important or else we will become logical creatures with stone hearts. I believe in following rituals and service to society alongside my meditation on this path of Gyana Yog. Devotional songs, prayer and kirtan – all these connect you to the pure love of the Divine, love that is beyond logic. When loves comes, logic goes out. Know that the essence of the Divine is only Love – logic, dharma, purpose and knowledge are offshoots of this main ingredient. Visiting temples and shrines is an important aspect of cultivating and celebrating this love. Once you have surrendered in love to the Divine, you will find it easier to go within and connect to the Supreme Consciousness wherever you are.