“The Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is greater than all, is attainable by unalloyed devotion. Although He is present in His abode, He is all-pervading, and everything is situated within Him.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.22)
There’s a restaurant that you frequent because of the combination of good food and low cost. Granted, you’re not enjoying a gourmet meal or anything, but for the price and the speed in which the food arrives, you’re getting a good deal, a bargain worth entertaining. There is a difference this time you patronize the place, however. The inside of the establishment has changed. The food items on the menu are identical, but the ambiance inside is ramped up to make the place look more stylish. This way a patron won’t think that they’re eating at a low-end establishment. In essence, by consuming the same food but in a better looking place, the hope is to appreciate the experience more, as ambiance is an important factor in getting repeat customers. Taking the same principle but to the largest scale, by sanctifying the areas around us, especially the place of worship, we can begin to better appreciate and notice the Supreme Lord, who is all-pervasive.
God is within every living being and every atom. There is not one inch of space where His presence is absent. Though personally He may not be inside of everything, His influence through His energies expands to every sphere. Indeed, just the ability to make that assertion represents God’s energy. To make an assertion, one must be able to think, and to think one requires a mind. The mind is then cased inside of a form composed of earth, water, fire, air and ether. The subtle element of the mind is coupled with intelligence and ego, and finer than those elements is the spirit soul. The original storehouse of spirit is the Supreme Spirit, who we know to be God.
As everything begins from the original spiritual energy, all manifestations, all beings, both moving and nonmoving, come from Him. The concept of an existence is an indication of His influence, so there is no denying the Supreme Lord’s existence and standing. But during the course of dealings with the material elements, and operating under the influence of a deluded ego, the human mind can erroneously believe that there is no God. The mistaken notion is that visual manifestations occur on their own, through either random collisions or the actions of autonomous beings endowed with free will. The concept of a “God” is something concocted by the mind to help cope with the inevitable and unexplainable death.
In this deluded mindset, temporary enjoyments are sought out through fruitive activity. The flaw with this pursuit is that the enjoyment will be short-lived and require much effort. To help fuel the illusion is the false ego’s best friend known as forgetfulness. Think of the cycle through fruitive activity, which is also known as karma, to be like the soap opera on television. At the end of every episode, there is a cliffhanger or some sort of unresolved issue. The issue is intriguing enough to make you want to watch the next episode, where it is promised that everything will be resolved.
There is illusion, of course, because once the issue is dealt with, a new one will come up. When the new episode ends, the previous issues are forgotten, as if they never happened. But at the same time, you, as the viewer, were previously quite interested in the outcome, in seeing how the affair would settle itself. Another way to think of it is to observe the pattern of behavior in watching sports or a reality television series that features a contest. You’ll notice that the reality shows based on contests typically don’t release DVD sets of their seasons. That is because once the season is over and a winner is announced, all concern for the episodes vanishes. Perhaps the old episodes are used for reference purposes in subsequent seasons, but there is no thrill derived from watching the episodes again because the interest was entirely rooted in the outcome, which was unknown at the time. Once that outcome occurred, it was soon forgotten and replaced with a new uncertain future outcome. The same principle applies to watching sports, as each new season erases the memory of the previous season.
The concept of fruitive activity, or karma, represents the largest abstraction of the same pattern. Within the umbrella of karma, so many decisions are made and so many past issues are forgotten, repeatedly, in lifetime after lifetime. The aim of the human life is to use the advanced intelligence to notice God, as that cognizance brings an end to the cycle of birth and death. Remembering the Supreme Lord is the only issue worth resolving, as it strengthens one’s attachment to Him as time goes on. Instead of forgetting that connection, the devotee suddenly feels more invigorated to take part in divine life, to further purify their devotional consciousness.
Of course the primary issue is getting to that stage where God is noticed. If the mind is consumed with thoughts of pursuing temporary rewards through fruitive activity, the divine presence goes unnoticed. But just as we saw with the restaurant that changed its ambience, if we can purify our surroundings and associate with godly people and qualities, we will better appreciate the same experience through the environment composed of material nature.
The temple is the ideal example to show how the transformation can take place. The house of worship is no different from any other house. It has a worshipable statue made of wood, stone, or resin, but these elements can be found anywhere. The difference, of course, is in the environment, the purification of the scene. There are flowers around the deity, with food in the mode of goodness offered to hopefully become prasadam, or the Lord’s mercy. There is constant chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, accompanying the worship.
The best gift is the association of the saintly class, which spends so much time in the temple to both worship God and spread the science of self-realization to those who are sincerely interested in learning and practicing it. Just as we visit a local business society to connect with fellow businessmen of the community, to know about God, His transcendental features, the meaning to life, and why consciousness should be purified, the association of people already in the know and who already practice bona fide religious principles is extremely helpful.
The deity is the chief resident of the temple and is an authorized non-different representation of the Supreme Lord and His transcendental features. We don’t possess the eyes to properly see God, sort of like how we can’t make out an extremely large number without the help of commas. The entire material creation, with its inconceivable complexities, is but just one aspect of the Supreme Lord. We can’t even fathom the universal creation, so how can we see God? We have difficulty noticing that we are spirit and not matter, so how are we going to be able to see the Supreme Spirit through the giant collection of matter?
“[O mystic] First see your manifested self, then see your identity as Brahman, and then see the material nature standing in between. O wretch, without seeing these how can you understand what the unmanifested [invisible] feature of the Absolute Truth [alakh] actually is? Chant Shri Rama’s holy name instead, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 19)
We can take the difficult route of studying Vedanta or meditating in yoga to properly understand God, but the easier approach is to just chant the holy names. To chant, hear and dance in devotional ecstasy, the ambiance should be conducive to devotional life; hence the purpose of the temple. God resides everywhere, but by visiting a house of worship where the holy names are chanted, one can learn to better appreciate the nature around them, noticing the divine influence. The same aspects of the creation that were previously ignored or thought to operate on their own are noticed by the devotee to be benefits granted by God. The sun that may have been previously despised for its intense heat turns into an object of affection for supplying the limited human eyesight with the ability to see the deity and to draw pictures of the transcendental features of the Supreme Lord Krishna as they are described in sacred texts like the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Mahabharata. The inanimate matter that was previously the cause of bondage turns into a wonderful benediction that allows the human being to write books about Krishna, build houses of worship, and travel to holy places of pilgrimage.
In the restaurant with the improved ambiance, you get the same food, but you notice it more clearly. In the same way, through practicing the devotional principles in the association of devoted souls you notice God’s influence that already surrounded you before. Through enough observation and association, you will eventually love God’s influence and never want to leave it. As the Supreme Controller, Krishna ensures that the desired connection is then never broken.
God is all around you, don’t you see?
Without Him none of this could ever be.
But what with your limited powers do you know?
Only aim is for sense pleasure, bank balance to grow.
But think of how you like to eat food in a nice place,
The experience enhanced by ambience’s grace.
Temple valuable because within the deity resides,
Same matter but divine influence presides.
Chant holy names and temple atmosphere create,
Always think of God and fruitful your life make.