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Vedic-Agamic approach to temple tradition.

Bodhinatha gives a talk during the Guru Purnima Festival and the day of the 2005 open house. He begins by diferentiating between the Vedic-Agamic and the Puranic approaches to Hinduism. Bodhinatha emphasises the importance that temples, especially in the U.S. and Canada, define their tradition so that devotees and others understand the purpose of the temple and it's worship, so that clarity is present concerning the Hindu belief in One Supreme God. Bodhinatha then gives an example: The origen and description of Kadavul Temple by listing the traditions for Kadavul: Mata, Agama, Murti, Archaka, Darshana, and Anubhava.

Unedited Transcript:

Have a short talk this morning. Starts with a topic we've touched on a few times, it's the difference between the Vedic-Agamic approach and the Puranic approach to Hinduism. And we're writing a Publishers Desk on it for the coming October issue. So, I'll start by quoting from that.

The Publisher's Desk for the October issue of Hinduism Today is covering the topic of the Vedic/Agamic approach to Hinduism versus the Puranic approach. I would like to read from the last part.

"The misunderstanding created by the Puranas is not a new problem. Arumuga Navalar (1822-1879) was a devout and brilliant Saivite working to reeducate the Saiva community of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, following the departure of the Portuguese and two centuries of foreign domination and anti-Hindu preaching. The Christians were criticizing Hinduism as superstitious, childish and polytheistic, quoting from the Puranas to prove their point. Navalar boldly defended his faith, even translating the Bible into Tamil to show its own failings and immaturities. The missionaries loved the Puranic tales which speak: 'Absurdly,' Navalar declared, about the marriages of the Gods and promote a multiplicity of Supreme Gods.

Navalar believed in the Gods, the Mahadevas, and worshiped Lord Murugan devoutly. But he knew his faith spoke of a single Supreme Being and wanted his fellow Saivites, who were languishing under missionary assaults, to understand the traditional view. He spoke against the storybook aspects of the Puranas, making it clear to Saivites that the Agamas are spiritually superior and should be the source of their faith and practice. Still, he defended the greatness of the Kanda Purana, which he saw as high-minded and inspiring. He succeeded in bringing Saivism back to life by showing his people the true, mystical purity of Hinduism."

The point that Arumuga Navalar was making is: Don't take the Puranic stories literally. They are a major source of misconceptions about Hinduism. When the Puranas are taken as the authority on Hinduism, the high philosophy of the revealed scriptures is obscured and confusions arise.

For temples in the West, the Vedic-Agamic approach is what is needed to create clarity about Hindu temple worship in the minds of Hindu youth, as well as the non-Hindu community. We are encouraging all temples to help create this clarity of Hindu belief by stressing on their web sites and in their publications that, first and foremost, Hindus all worship a one Supreme Being, though by different names and through different traditions.

We also suggest that temples share more information on their traditions, such as: 1) Mata: whether the liturgy is of the Vaishnava, Saiva, Shakta or Vaidika tradition; 2) Agama: the name of the Agama (or other scripture) which governs the ceremonies; 3) Murti: the form of the main Deity and a brief history of its worship in India; 4) Archaka: the background of the priesthood; 5) Darshana: the philosophy or philosophies being taught at the temple; 6) Anubhava: any divine experience, dream, vision or inspiration that led to the creation of the temple. "

For a sample description for our own Kadavul Hindu Temple go to: then it gives this long web site; www. So we're going to read our own description. What we did is we said: We want everyone to do this, guess what, we should do it ourselves. [laughs] So we'll read that in just a minute here.

"There is no reason for Hindus to endure the criticism of polytheism when we have the glorious Vedas and Agamas to guide the way and offer wisdom about our worship of the one Supreme God. Hopefully this article will help Hindus respond to misconceptions they may encounter. "

So, this is ours and goes through the different sections: General Introduction: Mata: mata means denomination. Agama: Murti: Archaka: Darshana: which means philosophy; Anubhava: which means a vision. So the general introduction you'll probably learn something new about Kadavul Temple, at least one thing.

"Kadavul Hindu Temple is a traditional South Indian style Siva temple. It is part of Kauai Aadheenam, a 458-acre monastery/temple complex also known as Kauai's Hindu Monastery. As it is the primary temple for the 20 resident monks, the monks rotate in three-hour-long shifts around-the-clock during which time they worship, meditate and perform other spiritual disciplines. This sadhana has been maintained in unbroken continuity since the temple was established in 1973, adding to the temple's profound power which changes the lives of many a visitor, much like the ancient temples of South India. Supreme God Siva, in the form of Nataraja and a crystal Sivalinga, is enshrined in the main sanctum. In front of Siva's sanctum is the temporary abode for the 700-pound, 3-foot-tall, naturally formed crystal Sivalingam (the largest known sphatika svayambhulingam in the world) which will one day become the primary image of worship in the hand-carved white granite Iraivan Temple now being built nearby on the monastery property. Six-foot-tall black granite murtis of Lord Ganesha and Lord Murugan (Karttikeya, riding on a peacock and thus called Shikivahana) are installed in two large side shrines. There is also an Ardhanarishvara murti and an elaborate, full-size silver trident (trisula), symbol of God Siva's three fundamental powers of desire, action and wisdom. Lining the main walls of the temple is a rare collection of Siva's 108 tandava dance poses in 16-inch-tall bronze icons covered with gold leaf. A shrine for the temple's founder, Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, affectionately known as Gurudeva (1927-2001), was established on the first anniversary of his mahasamadhi. Just outside the entryway is a pavilion for Nandi the bull, Siva's mount and devotee, a giant form weighing 32,000 pounds, carved from a single stone.

Mata - The Hindu Denomination

Kadavul Hindu Temple is of the Saivite tradition, the oldest of the four main denominations of Hinduism. In the Tamil language of South India, our religion is known as Saiva Samayam, or simply Saivam. As Saivites, we worship the one Supreme Being as God Siva, and Lords Ganesha and Murugan, whom God Siva created to assist Him in the care of His great creation. In Saivism, Shakti is God Siva's power and is not separate from Him. This is depicted most clearly in the image of God Siva as Ardhanarishvara, whose left side is female and right side is male. Here there is no separate Deity representing Shakti, for in our tradition the Supreme Being is neither male nor female, but encompasses both.

Agama - The Scriptures

Every Hindu temple relies on a sacred text as its source of spiritual ritual, usually an agama. The Agamas are an enormous collection of Sanskrit scriptures which, along with the Vedas, are revered as revealed scripture. Like the Vedas, the Agamas (literally 'that which came down') were part of an oral tradition and are as old as 7,000-8,000 years old. They are the primary source and authority for ritual, yoga and temple construction. In the South Indian Saivite tradition, there are 28 Saiva Agamas. As in temples run by the Sivacharyas of South India, the traditional liturgy performed in Kadavul Hindu Temple takes as its spiritual authority the Kamika and Karana Agamas, and their derivative priestly manuals.

Murti - The Deity

We worship the Supreme Being as Siva, enshrined in the main sanctum in the form of a spotless crystal Lingam and a 6-foot-tall bronze murti of Nataraja. Worship of the Sivalingam in India dates back to the very beginning of the Saivite religion, millennia ago. The Lingam is the most prevalent emblem of Siva, found in virtually all Siva temples. It is the simplest and most ancient symbol of God representing Absolute Reality, beyond all forms and qualities, Parasiva. Nataraja, 'King of Dance,' is perhaps Hinduism's richest and most eloquent symbol, representing God with form, known as Parameshvara, the 'Supreme Ruler' or Primal Soul. The dance of Siva is the dance of the entire cosmos. Within the symbolism of Siva's dance we find His five shaktis, and powers: creation; preservation; destruction; obscuring grace (the power which hides the truth, thereby permitting experience, growth and fulfillment of destiny); and revealing grace (which grants knowledge and severs the soul's bonds). Temples with prominent Nataraja images are rare and are found primarily in South India, most notably at Chidambaram.

Archaka - The Priesthood

As Kadavul Hindu Temple is part of a monastery, the mathavasis, or monastics, naturally form its primary priesthood. The monks' potent spiritual disciplines make the temple powerful, its vibration pure. The monks perform pujas every three hours in Kadavul Temple, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The primary daily puja is held at 9:00am. Under the aegis of the late Sivashri Dr. T.S. Sambamurthy Sivachariar, head of the South India Archaka Sangam, Sivacharya priests came to Kauai's Hindu Monastery in the mid-1980s to train qualified monastics in the art of parartha puja, 'worship for the benefit of others,' to be performed daily in the Aadheenams' established temples. Up until this time, only Saivite brahmins of the hereditary Adisaiva, or Sivacharya, priest lineage were entitled to conduct rites in Agamic Siva temples. Kadavul Temple brings adept Sivacharya priests from South India or elsewhere for special ceremonies, such as kumbhabhishekams and other major events. Sometimes we also have unmarried Sivacharyas help with the daily pujas in the temple and provide additional chanting and pujari training to the mathavasis.

Darshana - The Philosophy

The philosophy followed and taught at Kadavul Hindu Temple is the non-dualistic Saiva Siddhanta (Advaita Siddhanta) of Rishi Tirumular and his guru, Maharishi Nandinatha, which proclaims that God Siva is Love, both immanent and transcendent, both the creator and the creation. He is the totality of all, understood in three perfections: Parameshvara (the Personal Creator Lord), Parashakti (the energy which permeates all form) and Parasiva (Absolute Reality which transcends all). Simply put, God Siva is all, and is in all. Souls and world are identical in essence with Siva, yet also differ in that they are evolving. This philosophy differs from the dualistic form of Saiva Siddhanta propounded by Meykandar, which teaches that God is Lord and Creator, but He remains ever separate from man and the world.

Anubhava - The Vision

It is said that the most powerful temples are those founded by the Gods themselves through visions. Kadavul Hindu Temple is such a temple. Gurudeva describes his vision and the events leading up to the temple's founding: 'At Mahasivaratri time in 1973, in the jungles of Kauai, our Kadavul Nataraja Deity, Lord of the Dance, arrived at Kauai Aadheenam and was placed in the gardens overlooking the sacred Wailua River, where it was spontaneously decorated, bathed and worshiped. That night the exact location of the Deity's installation was chosen by Lord Muruga Himself when He appeared to me in an early morning vision, upturned His glistening vel, His scepter of spiritual discernment, and powerfully pounded its point three times on the cement steps at the Aadheenam entrance, marking the precise spot to place the Deity.' This mystical vision marked the founding of Kadavul Hindu Temple. Shortly after the installation of the Nataraja Deity, Gurudeva received what he called 'a magical boon' of reading clairvoyantly from inner-plane manuscripts, which he then dictated to his monks over a two-year period. These writings from the devas and Mahadevas formed the shastras, spiritual instructions, that now guide his monastic order. During the same time, Gurudeva received devonic instructions that written prayers could be sent to the inner world devas by being burned in the sacred fire inside Kadavul Hindu Temple. On auspicious days, hundreds of prayers from all over the world are offered into the temple fire. The magical happenings and answers to these petitions have become part of the temple's renown. Writing and delivering prayers to the Devaloka through the sacred fire is an ancient Natha Sampradaya practice. Today this method of communication is still employed in Shinto and Taoist temples in Japan, China, Singapore, Malaysia and other areas of Southeast Asia. The prayers are written down and placed in the temple fire. As the paper burns, the astral double of the prayer appears in the Devaloka. The prayer is then read by the devas, who proceed to carry out the devotee's requests. These temple devas are fully dedicated to assist all who come through the temple doors with their emotional, mental and physical problems."

So that's our write-up, did you learn something new? At least one thing I hope. So we, for our guests from Malaysia it's not clear the problem we face in North America. In Malaysia you go up to a temple and it's very clear, you know this is a Saivite temple. It doesn't need a sign: "I'm a Saivite temple," you just know. Or you go up to a temple and you know it's a Vaisnavite temple. You know what to expect. In the U.S. it's all mixed up as well as in Canada. So we're trying to help minimize the confusion some would say, by encouraging temples to speak out more. We know a number of temples for example that tell us privately and proudly: "We're Saivite just like you." But you look at the web site and the publications and nowhere does it even say they're Saivite. So why doesn't it? Why don't they say that? That would create clarity. You know that that's a Saivite temple that they're following Saivite traditions there. It would be even better if they stated the philosophy they're teaching. You know, what will my children learn if I send them here? You know, what is the darshana, what is the philosophy that's being taught here? So those kinds of statements aren't being made but they're needed. You know otherwise it gets very confusing. It seems confusing who is the Supreme God in some of the temples, let alone what philosophy is being taught.

So the purpose of the Publisher's Desk and creating our own example is just that; to encourage temples to do the same as much as they can. At least state the denomination they're following and what scriptures they're using for the ceremonies you know that should be easy for any temple to state and clarify. For example I went to the Hindu Temple of Atlanta for their annual festival in the end of May for Memorial Day. And they have a Venkateswara deity there. They have two temples, one for Venkateswara and one for Shiva. So, I have to learn more about Venkateswara because so many temples I go to in the U.S. are Venkateswara temples. And so I had been reading up on Venkateswara and we're doing an article on Tirupati, which is the main Venkateswara temple in Andhra Pradesh. And I found out that in Andhra Pradesh they use what's called the Vaikhanasa Agama instead of the Pancharatra Agama. So I figured, well the temple in Atlanta probably uses the Vaikhanasa Agama. So I said so in my talk and afterwards one of the more senior trustees came up and said: "You know we use the Pancharatra Agama."

I said: "Well see, you should put that on your web site. [laughs] How can I know?" [laughs] But he knew exactly what they were doing. Of course the priests know. But when the trustees know, why don't they share it? You know it would be very useful. And we would find out: Oh they're following the Pancharatra Agama, what is that? I wonder what it says? And we'd start to learn more about the temple worship side of Hinduism and create clarity. So that's the general idea there. So, thank you very much, have a wonderful open house in a few minutes.

[End of talk]