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Peace and Contentment, Talk for Hindu Temple of Atlanta

Bodhinatha's message to devotees at the Hindu Temples of Atlanta puts forth the role of the temple and the home in bringing peace and harmony to the world and the importance of the temple in keeping Hinduism and it's culture alive, bringing forth the presence of our Great Deities. He illustrates several ways one can achieve blessings from temple attendance. Bodhinatha then discusses the benefits of worship in the home shrine and gives suggestions for maintaining joy and contentment. The home is a sanctuary not a place for stress or argument. The temple is a place to release emotion. Gurudeva's metaphysical tools for rising above the cycle of desire, unhappiness, regret and worry are taught.

Unedited Transcript:

Good Morning. We're still in the process of preparing our talks for our trip to Atlanta we're going to the Hindu Temple of Greater Atlanta at the end of May, for Memorial day weekend. And they have two temples, which is unusual, two large temples, the original one is to Venkateswara and the new one is to Siva as Ramalingeswara. So giving two talks, so you have to give the right talk in the right temple, [laughs] so this is the talk for the Venkateswara Temple. So you have to pretend you're sitting there in Atlanta.

The Venkateswara and Ramalingeswara temples here at the Hindu Temple of Atlanta both beautifully fulfill the inner purpose of inspiring devotees to uplift themselves and experience some of the peace, the shanti, that is within each of us, that is our soul nature, that is our very essence. Individuals who experience peace at a temple, such as these, carry it back into their home and make their home a more harmonious place. They also carry it out into the community and help the community be more tolerant of one another, and be more united.

One of the amazing aspects of Hinduism is its ability to make a place truly sacred. We were here a year ago for the kumbhabhishekam of the Ramalingeswara Temple and on the day before the event were given a tour of the building. It was of course still a construction site and had no sense of sacredness at all. Now, a year later, after the consecration ceremonies of the kumbhabhishekam and after a year of daily pujas, it has a tangible feeling of sacredness. Such is the knowledge within Hinduism's priestly traditions to make a place holy.

My Guru was very direct in many of his statements. Of peace, he declared: andquot;For peace in the world, stop the war in the home.andquot; This was his message to 1,200 delegates at the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders at the United Nations in August of 2000. Certainly the most effective way to make the home more peaceful is for husband and wife to each take the time to regularly visit Hindu temples and shrines.

Many people think that world peace will come about when the United Nations or the leaders of the developed nations somehow change the world and make it a peaceful place. While Gurudeva recognized the importance of governmental peacemaking, he placed even greater emphasis on the role of the individual. He stressed, at the United Nations and elsewhere, that each individual who becomes more peaceful inside himself or herself creates a more peaceful planet and moves us a tiny step closer to world peace--one person, one home, one community at a time.

Beginning in the 1980's Gurudeva helped establish 37 temples in the United States, Canada, Guadeloupe, Denmark, England, Fiji, Germany, Mauritius, New Zealand, take a deep breath, huh, Reunion, Russia, Sweden, and Sri Lanka--giving each community or temple an icon of God, usually Lord Ganesha, and guidance when needed. He has also helped dozens more with direct advice or by publicizing their project in Hinduism Today. The temples range in size from small to quite large ones such as the Shiva Vishnu Temple in Livermore, California and the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago in Lemont, Illinois. Here is a story about the beginnings of the Murugan Temple of North America in Maryland.

andquot;We wanted to build a temple in our area,andquot; said Arumugan Saravanapavan, one of the founders of the multimillion dollar Murugan Temple, a few miles from America's Capitol. andquot;Since we didn't have land, or a clear idea of how to proceed, someone suggested we see Subramuniyaswami in Hawaii. The next week my wife and I went to visit him, in 1982. I explained the problem, and the next day he presented us with a three-foot-tall Ganesha. He said, 'You take Pillaiyar with you, and He will show you the way to build the temple.'andquot; As instructed, they began the worship of Lord Ganesha, first in homes. The community's devotion came to the fore. Gurudeva visited several times, helped with the planning and personally blessed the land they purchased. When Gurudeva spoke at the blessing, recalls Mrs. Guruswamy, wife of the temple's first president, andquot;The children were carried away. He was able to explain our religion in a way they could understand.andquot; End of story.

You may be wondering why Gurudeva placed such an emphasis on establishing Hindu temples. It was because he felt temples were the support for Hindu culture and religion. Without temples, Hinduism could disappear. Temples keep Hinduism alive, particularly for the younger generation. To quote Gurudeva:

andquot;Temples are indeed the center of our lives, with everything we have coming from them. Through temples the Great Gods are able to contact and inspire us to improve our lives, to see God everywhere, to seek love and harmony in all situations, starting in our home and then out to all we meet. As we become more stable in this harmonious relationship we are inspired to bring forth the culture, to share what we have, so it may be passed on to the next generation. The world needs temples and their cultural activities and festivals to bring forth the presence of our Great Deities more than ever before.

Gurudeva continues: andquot;When culture is flooding out of the temple, our actions are productive and our minds are creative, our speech is pure, our hearts rejoice and we become good citizens. Religion makes us good citizens, because we are peaceful inside and want peace in our land. Peace comes first from the individual. Peace comes first from the individual. It is unrealistic to expect peace from our neighbors unless we are peaceful first, unless we make ourselves peaceful through right living, right worship and right religious culture in the home.andquot;

A few comments on the importance of Hindu culture--culture refers to refined ways of thinking, talking and acting. It manifests in the pursuit of fine arts such as traditional Hindu music and dance, in elaborate temple festivals and in interpersonal relationships that are respectful and courteous. Without culture, the pursuit of wealth tends to dominate consciousness and interpersonal relationships lack traditional respect and courtesy. The presence of a strong Hindu culture is a refinement that is necessary for deep devotion and a true love of God to be able to manifest.

Sometimes I am asked by devotees andquot;What should I do to obtain the maximum blessings from my visits to the temple?andquot; Here are some practical suggestions.

1: Attend a puja at the temple at least once a week. This allows us to experience the blessings of God and the Gods on a regular basis and helps keep us pure as well as strong in our religious commitments.

2: Have special traditional Hindu clothing that you only wear to the temple. Therefore, simply wearing this elegant attire helps put you in a religious mood.

3: Make the travel time to the temple a religious time. Don't allow yourself to focus on problems at home, work or school, politics or business. For example, play some religious music, bhajans or Sanskrit chanting on the car's audio system.

4: Bring an offering. Ideally bring a flower for each shrine at which you are going to worship or, if that is not possible, than at least a leaf. The act of giving opens you to the blessings of the Deity. Never visit the temple empty handed.

5: Put as much time and prana into the offering as possible. Prana is the energy that exudes from your hands. Buying a garland at the store is good but making it yourself is even better. When the garland is placed on the Deity, and you have made it, your prana in the offering is as if you had touched the Deity and this, of course, creates an even greater closeness.

6: During the puja keep focused on the murthi and the priest's chant. Pay attention, don't let the mind wander. When singing bhajan keep focused on the meaning of the words.

7: After the puja, don't rush away. Rather stay, sit, meditate awhile and bask in the shakti, the blessings radiating out through the murthi to the devotees.

8: Some of the religious atmosphere of the temple can be brought home with you if you simply light an oil lamp in your shrine room when you return from the temple. This sacred act brings devas who were at the temple right into the home shrine room, where from the inner world they can bless all family members and strengthen the religious force field of the home.

9: The blessings, the shakti of the Deity, is stronger on some days than others, so attending the temple on the strong days is helpful to attuning oneself to the shakti. For example, there is a stronger shakti on yearly festival days for each Deity.

Having a shrine in the home is quite important. In fact, Hinduism is in no way more dynamically strengthened in the lives of children and the family than by establishing a shrine in the home. The home shrine works best when it is an entire room. That way it can be strictly reserved for worship and meditation, unsullied by worldly talk or other activities. This is the ideal. However, when that is not possible, it should at least be a quiet corner of a room, and more than a simple shelf or closet.

Naturally, as important as having a shrine is worshiping there daily. In the shrine room offer fruit, flowers or food. Visit your shrine when leaving the home, and upon returning. Worship in heartfelt devotion, clearing the inner channels to God and the Gods, so their grace flows toward you and loved ones. Make the shrine a refuge for all family members, where they can find peace and solace, where they can contact, where they can connect with the Gods and offer their praise, prayers and practical needs. Train your children to worship in the shrine before any important event in life, such as a major exam at school, or when faced with a personal challenge or problem. Following this simple, traditional practice in a sacred space within the home will do much to make Hinduism relevant to them on a day-to-day basis.

A popular saying in English is andquot;The family that prays together stays together.andquot; In Hinduism, ideally this refers to all members of the family participating in the morning worship in the home shrine before breakfast. The children can be trained to always bring an offering of a flower or at least a leaf. The exact routine followed depends on the family's religious background and lineage. Typical practices include a simple arati or a longer puja, singing devotional songs, repeating a mantra, reading scripture and then meditating or performing simple sadhanas and yogas. As the children get older, they can take on greater responsibilities during the morning worship. A number of Hindus have told us that what kept them a staunch, practicing Hindu, despite exposure in their youth to other religious traditions, at school and elsewhere, was the fact that the entire family practiced Hinduism together in the home.

Even though we may manage to find peace, shanti, when we go to a temple, it can be difficult to maintain that sense of peace and contentment when facing the duties and challenges of our daily life. Perhaps we hold on to it for a day or two, but then it is gone.

Fortunately, Gurudeva gives some specific suggestions in this regard: andquot;Maintaining joy and serenity in life means being content with your surroundings, be they meager or lavish. Be content with your money, be it a small or large. Be content with your health. Be content with your friends. Be loyal to those who are your long-time, trusted companions. Basically contentment, santosha, is freedom from desire gained by redirecting the forces of desire and making a beautiful life within what one already has in life.andquot;

Here are some examples to illustrate maintaining peace and contentment. First example: A man is passed over at work for a promotion that he thought was a certainty. His first reaction is to feel discouraged and sad, but after a few days he pulls himself out of his mood by the decision to accept his current employment circumstances and be happy with them, but also to continue to strive for the desired promotion.

Second example: A wife feels the apartment they live in is too small and complains to her husband about this and expresses her discontent. Later in the day when playing with her young daughter, her mood changes into one of gratitude for the child and husband she has, and the feeling of discontent for the size of their apartment leaves.

Third example: An attorney has spent his day doing difficult research on a technical legal issue. He finds his intellect over-stimulated as a result, and he feels somewhat agitated. On the way home he stops at a park, takes a walk, relaxing and observing the natural beauty of the place. This quiets his intellect, and he is at peace again within himself.

Fourth example: A teenage boy tells a lie to his mother about where he went one afternoon. Afterwards, he finds that his mind is agitated as a result. Disturbed by his guilt, he tells his mother the truth and soon finds himself peaceful again on the inside.

Let's look now at some specific suggestions on what we can do to experience the peaceful state of mind called contentment. Certainly the most basic requirement for experiencing contentment is avoiding adharmic or unvirtuous actions, such as dishonesty and lying, which will keep our mind and emotions stirred up and prevent us from being peaceful on the inside.

Not allowing ourselves to let disagreements turn into arguments is an essential practice in nurturing contentment. Disagreements are natural, but they need to be handled in an intelligent and harmonious way. By always being willing to compromise, we can keep difficult discussions from turning into arguments.

One of the major causes of arguments in the home is holding the attitude that the home is the right place to let off steam. The husband is frustrated with his boss, but he can't, of course, talk to his boss about it. The daughter is upset with her teacher, who unfairly picks on her, embarrassing her in front of her classmates. Each brings these frustrations home and takes them out on other family members. This generates discord, frequent arguments and keeps everyone in the family inwardly disturbed. The home loses its function as a protective refuge.

Gurudeva has an interesting insight into the home. He says that we need to consider the home a sanctuary for the entire family and never look at it as a place where we can let off steam or vent our frustrations. He stresses that the home must have an even higher standard of professional behavior than school or the workplace. In such a home, parents interrelate in a cultured, religious way, without disharmony or argument. Children are respectful, parents are loving, and all are inwardly at peace.

If we cannot let off steam at home, where then can we let off steam? Leaving work or school in an emotional state, we can stop at a temple before going home or take a walk through a beautiful place, such as a park or botanical garden, or walk along the beach and let the beauty of nature quiet our mind. Another place to let off steam is an exercise facility where you can swim, run and bicycle away your stress. When you reach home, you will be calm and ready to enjoy the family and not disturb it.

Those who are at home all day, such as a housewife raising a young child, can also become stressed. The same remedies apply. Leave the home for a while and visit a temple, a beautiful place or an exercise facility. Getting out of the house on a regular basis for stress-reducing activities is quite important.

Gurudeva also just suggests that certain kinds of stress can best be released at the temple. The temple is the special place where can let our emotions pour out to the Deity. Whatever we feel, we can express it to God and the Gods and relieve ourselves of that burden without burdening others with it. This may result in our crying a lot, but that is acceptable behavior at a temple.

Another way to lose contentment is through getting caught up in the cycles of desire. In our modern world we constantly encounter advertisements promising that we'll be, that we will be happier if we spend money and acquire some new product. Fancy new cars, faster computers, high-tech cellular phones, attractive clothes--all promise the elusive state of mind called happiness. Of course, new possessions do make us happy, but that happiness is short-lived and we eventually end up in the same discontented state of mind we were in before we acquired the new possession.

The key is to rise above this cycle of unhappiness, desire, acquisition, happiness and unhappiness again. To overcome desire's powerful impulses, hold the perspective: andquot;I am grateful for and content with what I currently have. I am acquiring this product not because it will make me happier because, but because my family will benefit in a meaningful way by having it.andquot; Being content with what you have, however, does not mean you should not seek to progress in life. It does not mean you should not use your willpower to fulfill your plans. Rather, it means you should not become upset while you are striving toward your goals, nor frustrated if you do not get everything that you want.

Gurudeva proclaimed, andquot;Life is meant to be lived joyously.andquot; Holding this buoyant attitude helps us avoid falling into the misconception that if we are serious about making spiritual progress and being regular in our sadhanas, we must hold tightly to a somber attitude to life. We can be strict with ourselves but joyous at the same time. Of course, if we are struggling with major difficulties, this perspective may temporarily be lost. However, Gurudeva's affirmation reminds us of the need to work with ourselves to regain a joyful perspective as quickly as possible.

Gratitude is an important aspect of santosha, contentment. Gratitude is cultivated by finding happiness with what we have, rather than focusing on what we lack and anticipating happiness-yet-to-be through acquiring something more. We are grateful for our family and friends, grateful for the job or school we have, the home we live in, grateful for the wisdom and practices of our religion. We are content with our surroundings, meager or lavish, content with our income, small or large. We are striving to make a beautiful life with what we already have.

A common problem that robs many people of peace and contentment is the habit of worrying about important decisions. In Gurudeva's words: andquot;Worry is primarily a subconscious state brought on by the conscious mind's irrational jumping from one subject to another, unable to centralize on any one point long enough to complete it, stimulating the imagination into the unresolved and anguished emotion of worry. Worry also provokes fear.andquot;

In this statement is also found the key to conquering this type of worry which is to stick with a subject until it is fully thought through. Don't allow yourself to begin thinking about a subject and before you come to a conclusion jump to another subject. A simple technique for a major decision is to make an appointment with yourself for solving the problem, for example this Saturday at 10 AM. At that time write down the problem, and then write down the various options for it's solution. If it is a complex problem, write down the pros and cons of each option. Think about it carefully and come to a conclusion. This method is quite effective in eliminating worry.

Another type of problem that keeps us from experiencing peace and contentment is regrets about our actions in the past or hard feelings toward others for what they did to us in the past. How do we know if these feelings exist? We know because we think about them regularly. This means that the subconscious mind has not yet resolved them. To rid ourselves of them we can write them on a piece of paper and burn it. As the paper burns, see the problem leaving your mind. Keep doing this until you no longer think about this event regularly. Of course, forgiveness is also part of the process. For regrets we need to forgive our self and to pledge to do better next time. For regrets we need to forgive our self and pledge to do better next time in a similar situation. For hard feelings, we need to forgive others by accepting that what they did to us was in our karma and if they hadn't done it someone else would have.

A central metaphysical tool that Gurudeva gives to us in his book 'Merging with Siva' that is helpful in experiencing contentment, is living in the eternity of the moment. It produces the feeling that one has nothing to do, no future to worry about and no past to regret. Worrying about what might happen, worrying about what might happen in the future is a frequent cause of discontent. Gurudeva teaches us to live in the now. He discovered a useful technique when he was just seven years old and describes the experience in detail in 'Merging with Siva.' He was in the family's 1934 motor sled on the way home to Fallen Leaf Lake in a snowstorm and found himself worried that he would be late and miss his favorite radio program, andquot;Captain Midnight.andquot; He saw his awareness go off in the future and brought it back by telling himself, andquot;I'm all right, right now.andquot; At that moment all his worries about what might or might not happen disappeared.

Gurudeva suggests we practice being in the eternal now by asking ourselves the question: andquot;Am I not all right, right now, right this instant?andquot; and answering, andquot;I'm all right, right now.andquot; You can perform this simple exercise whenever you find your awareness wandering into the future and worrying about what might happen. Keep asking and answering until you strongly feel positive, self-assured and content.

That's it. Pretty good we took twenty-eight minutes, supposed to take thirty minutes. That's very close. [laughs] Amazing how many topics takes to full thirty minutes you know. One talk has to be an hour which is more challenging. Anyway that's it. It was interesting that the quote on the temples, building the temples, comes from Gurudeva's commemorative issue in Hinduism Today, just copying what it says there on the story. So I was looking up some of the temples just to see what they were saying and quite a few temples say the same thing: andquot;In 1982 Sivaya Subramuniyaswami gifted to our temple a murthi of Lord Ganesha.andquot; You know, it's amazing you know you just go, if you searched on Google or something you'd probably pull up quite a few temples but in general they're, they're very appreciative. There's a great deal of appreciation shown with the various temples where Gurudeva gave a murthi, nice acknowledgment is, what surprises some you know, you have to go back in the history, you see it there otherwise you had no clue that Gurudeva ever related to that particular temple because it was so long ago you know, twenty, twenty-three years ago in many cases. But there's very nice statements of appreciation, I'd say, that I found which on those two that I mentioned. Chose them because they're well known and large in the United States, Livermore Temple and the Lamont, Chicago Balaji Temple. Very major temples in their respective areas and Gurudeva was there.

So have a wonderful week everyone.

Photo of  Gurudeva
Being on the brink of Self Realization, having lost consciousness of the physical body and of being a mind, you are only conscious of a vast, bluish white light. You get into this through going into the clear white light and out through the other side of it.