Question: What is the purpose of temples?
Radhanath Swami: A temple is a place where people are in a selfless spirit of compassion and love, and are truly worshipping God and surrendering their hearts to him. A temple is a place that transforms your life, by illuminating you and bringing you to higher states of consciousness and higher states of living.
Temples are not just places where you give donations, see the deities and say a prayer. It’s pious to go to a temple and give a donation and walk away. That’s nice, but you will not get enlightened by that. Temples have always been established by acaryas as spiritual, educational institutions.
We have so many educational institutions. My Guru Maharaj, Srila Prabhupada, went to MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Boston. He said, “You have thousands of courses in your syllabus but there’s not a single course in this whole college that’s teaching people who they are and what the ultimate aim of life is. In all of these great tools that they are learning in MIT, they are only really as valuable as the ideals and intentions of a person’s utilization of them.” The most dangerous people in the world are not the uneducated peasants, but the people with big educations but filthy, dirty hearts filled with envy, pride and hatred.They are the greatest dangers to the world. Academic knowledge are facilities, they are tools. The more powerful the tool, the more they could either do benefit or harm depending on whose hand it’s in.
So the purpose of religious buildings is to educate people to be first-class human beings, people who can actually be examples of integrity and spiritual principle. When you go to that type of temple, church or mosque or gurdwara, if we go to that place, where we are actually getting that higher consciousness, then our life becomes very deep and substantial.
( अज्ञानी और ज्ञानवान के लक्षण तथा राग-द्वेष से रहित होकर कर्म करने के लिए प्रेरणा )
सक्ताः कर्मण्यविद्वांसो यथा कुर्वन्ति भारत ।
भावार्थ : हे भारत! कर्म में आसक्त हुए अज्ञानीजन जिस प्रकार कर्म करते हैं, आसक्तिरहित विद्वान भी लोकसंग्रह करना चाहता हुआ उसी प्रकार कर्म करे॥25॥
As the ignorant perform their duties with attachment to results, similarly the learned may also act, but without attachment, for the sake of leading people on the right path.
A person in Krsna consciousness and a person not in Krsna consciousness are differentiated by different desires. A Krsna conscious person does not do anything which is not conducive to development of Krsna consciousness. He may even act exactly like the ignorant person, who is too much attached to material activities, but one is engaged in such activities for the satisfaction of his sense gratification, whereas the other is engaged for the satisfaction of Krsna. Therefore, the Krsna conscious person is required to show the people how to act and how to engage the results of action for the purpose of Krsna consciousness.
यदि उत्सीदेयुरिमे लोका न कुर्यां कर्म चेदहम् ।
संकरस्य च कर्ता स्यामुपहन्यामिमाः प्रजाः ॥
भावार्थ : इसलिए यदि मैं कर्म न करूँ तो ये सब मनुष्य नष्ट-भ्रष्ट हो जाएँ और मैं संकरता का करने वाला होऊँ तथा इस समस्त प्रजा को नष्ट करने वाला बनूँ॥24॥
If I should cease to work, then all these worlds would be put to ruination. I would also be the cause of creating unwanted population, and I would thereby destroy the peace of all sentient beings.
Varna-sankara is unwanted population which disturbs the peace of the general society. In order to check this social disturbance, there are prescribed rules and regulations by which the population can automatically become peaceful and organized for spiritual progress in life. When Lord Krsna descends, naturally He deals with such rules and regulations in order to maintain the prestige and necessity of such important performances. The Lord is the father of all living entities, and if the living entities are misguided, indirectly the responsibility goes to the Lord. Therefore, whenever there is general disregard of regulative principles, the Lord Himself descends and corrects the society. We should, however, note carefully that although we have to follow in the footsteps of the Lord, we still have to remember that we cannot imitate Him. Following and imitating are not on the same level. We cannot imitate the Lord by lifting Govardhana Hill, as the Lord did in His childhood. It is impossible for any human being. We have to follow His instructions, but we may not imitate Him at any time. The Srimad-Bhagavatam affirms:
naitat samacarej jatu manasapi hy anisvarah
vinasyaty acaran maudhyad yatha 'rudro 'bdhijam visam
isvaranam vacah satyam tathaivacaritam kvacit
tesam yat sva-vaco yuktam buddhimams tat samacaret
"One should simply follow the instructions of the Lord and His empowered servants. Their instructions are all good for us, and any intelligent person will perform them as instructed. However, one should guard against trying to imitate their actions. One should not try to drink the ocean of poison in imitation of Lord Siva." (Bhag. 10.33.30)
We should always consider the position of the isvaras, or those who can actually control the movements of the sun and moon, as superior. Without such power, one cannot imitate the isvaras, who are superpowerful. Lord Siva drank poison to the extent of swallowing an ocean, but if any common man tries to drink even a fragment of such poison, he will be killed. There are many psuedo-devotees of Lord Siva who want to indulge in smoking ganja (marijuana) and similar intoxicating drugs, forgetting that by so imitating the acts of Lord Siva they are calling death very near. Similarly, there are some psuedo-devotees of Lord Krsna who prefer to imitate the Lord in His rasa-lila, or dance of love, forgetting their inability to lift Govardhana Hill. It is best, therefore, that one not try to imitate the powerful, but simply follow their instructions; nor should one try to occupy their posts without qualification. There are so many "incarnations" of God without the power of the Supreme Godhead.
It is described that the mercy of Krishna is like the Sun. The Sun does not discriminate, whether you are from this family or that family, this nationality or that nationality. The Sun rises for our benefit, giving itself to everyone. But if you hide in a cave that is your own misfortune. And those representing the Lord, they are like mirrors of the Sun of Krishna’s mercy. They are reflecting the divine mercy of the Lord in all directions to anyone who is simply accepting it.
And what is the problem in this world? The problem is that such great souls are so rare to find. Everyone is pursuing their own petty, selfish ambitions in life. They are missing the whole point of human civilization, which is to act as a servant of God for the welfare of all living beings. And you should know, until you accept that principle in your life, you will never find real happiness. The more you take the less you have. The more you give the more you have. This is the spiritual principle. Of course, if you have nothing, what have you to give. So therefore a devotee is very serious about their own spiritual practice. The great devotees of the Lord do not want to practice sadhana or Bhakti-yoga for their own spiritual advancement. They will be very attentive in their execution of devotional service so that they can make spiritual advancement. But the reason why is because the more advancement they make, the more they can give to others. They do not want to take anything for themselves. – Radhanath Swami